Showing posts with label Booklet 14. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Booklet 14. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Jenny Green (Teeth) by Steve Goodlad

Deep beneath the freezer aisle at Leighton Buzzard Tesco, deeper than the nearby canal, deeper than any cellar, in fact deeper than any mineshaft ever drilled, so deep that any human lifeform would burn and shrivel to dust, lies a catacomb of fault lines and tunnels far more extensive than the London Underground. Occasionally the Richter scale will detect a shimmer of movement, usually so subtle that a human lifeform on the earth’s surface might perceive it as a distant audible sound and rationalise as an aircraft or heavy machinery. But unknown to human lifeform a little door will be left ajar inviting a cool crisp breeze from the back of the freezer, exchanging the smell of cleaning fluid and mouse poison for a breath of volcanic air that nips the ankles of browsing shoppers. Something else is also released upon the earth surface. It rises to the surface initially as a vapour, gradually solidifying as it is drawn up through the shaft of cooler air. In liquid form it oozes from beneath the freezer across the floor undetected by the shelf stackers and in the final contact with artificial light the liquid seems to rise into the air and take on a human form and in the eyes of other humans, a rather attractive human form. Her name is Jenny Green (Teeth) who needs to use all her guile and devious means to now wreak a little mischief and survive well before the next little earthquake can close the door back to the below.


“I don’t understand it” sobbed Anita, “after Mother died, my Father made a will that I witnessed. His inheritance was mine once he passed, but the solicitor says he’s left everything to you.”


“Your Father and I loved each other very much, we were a great comfort to each other in our older years” said Jenny, “I honestly didn’t know of his will or his intentions.”


“But you are not old and Father was only in his sixties.”


“Heart attacks can happen at any age Anita, you heard what the doctor said.”


“But he was swimming in open water in November. I never even knew he could swim, what was he even thinking?”


“He discovered the great outdoors Anita, he loved the countryside, the canals, the rivers and reservoirs. He was happy.”


Anita had no reply to that, she had seen it too, the transformation all too apparent, a new energy and vibrancy. It was like he’d sliced twenty years off his age. His exploits became more extreme, so swimming in a lake in winter was no real surprise.


“But this is our family home, the one I grew up in. He only knew you for about a year, I cannot understand how he would change his mind so drastically. He knew I was living hand to mouth after my divorce. He never liked Kevin and he seemed happier that Kevin would not feature in his arrangements.” 


 


“We may have only known each other a short while, but we still loved one another and I miss him so much. You told me how pleased you were to see your Father happy again after losing his wife.”


Anita could not deny saying these things and meaning them too, when Jenny had met her Father, it took away a lot of the burden of lifting his spirits that had fallen on her and she was grieving too whilst coming to terms with an abusive relationship and subsequent divorce. Now she was living in a rented flat doing pick and pack in a local supermarket to survive. She felt guilty when she thought an inheritance from her Father of the house and his savings would have meant a new start. Despite everything, she would still have preferred her Father being alive and well.


Jenny sensed the vulnerability, the perceived weakness from someone dealing with loss. These were emotions she could exploit, but she did not call it exploitation, more a mutually beneficial bargain.


“Anita, there may be a way we can resolve this,” said Jenny, and she began to weave and spin her words like the river eddies around stubborn rocks, like it meanders around hard clay and inclines. “There is a power, a life force that moves, guides and directs and inspires you. You are one with life, with life’s energy”. The glutinous words seeped into a mind longing for solace, for a solution to her misery. Gradually the drip and drop on her defiance began to take effect, the burble and gurgle of a stream became the gush of acceptance. “If you energise yourself, restore yourself, the power to take action will come naturally like water from a spring.”


“Let’s go shopping,” said Jenny.


Deep beneath the cellar at Betty’s Tea Shop in Harrogate, deeper than the River Nidd, deeper than any sulphur smelling spa or Gaping Ghyll, in fact deeper than any mineshaft ever drilled, so deep that any lifeform would burn and shrivel to dust, lies a catacomb of fault lines and tunnels far more extensive than the limestone speleological exploration of humans. Occasionally there’s a shiver of the earth and small ever-increasing ripples appear in the tea in the tea shops porcelain cups that no customer notices, but down in the cellar something is released from a hidden doorway that has just become ajar. The vapour turns to liquid and the liquid solidifies into human form. It ascends the stairs, puts on the black uniform and white apron and enters the busy tea room.


“Good afternoon sir”, says the waitress to a smart looking gentleman in a tweed suit, seated at a table for two. He catches her eye and for a second stops short. Eventually he orders afternoon tea for two. His daughter will join him soon. “Excellent Sir” says Anita as she turns to walk toward the kitchen. She passes a table where sits a woman who smiles and winks at her. “Splendid. Beginners luck” whispers Jenny.


The Headache by Mike Rymarz

“Mum, I really think you need to get it checked out. You look awful.” Emma was so concerned about her mother these days, ever since she and the kids had moved back in with her. Just so tired and, frankly haggard. It seemed as though she’d aged considerably since the last time she’d spent any proper time with her.


“I’m fine, love. Honestly.” Despite her protestations, Emma could see that Judith clearly needed to see someone.


“I’m not taking no for an answer mum. Let’s get it looked at. After you’ve dropped the kids off at school tomorrow I think you should swing back here, pick me up and we’ll go to the doctor’s and get it sorted for you. You can’t live with this kind of headache for too long.” Her mum was lucky to have her back.


“Honestly love, I think maybe I just need a bit of a break you know, maybe…”


“Oh wait, we can’t go tomorrow. We need to take Woody to the vets don’t we? You said you’d be able to give me a hand. You did take a day off work, didn’t you?” Her mum loved the fact that they had brought their St Bernard back to live with them as well. Okay, so he was a little large, but he was so cute that it totally made up for the little bit of mess he made. “Oh, and I said I’d treat you to a new vase as well. That’ll be something to look forward to.”


“To replace the vase that Woody broke?” Judith replied.


“Well, you know, the old one. Anyway, why don’t you drop the kids off and then pick me and Woody up, we’ll go to the vets and then we’ll buy you a vase. I mean, I’ll probably stay outside with Woody, but you can pop in and choose one for yourself. I’ll then give you the money back at the end of the week when the benefits come through.” Emma loved treating her mum and felt she deserved to be looked after from time to time.


Emma glanced across and saw Judith get up and wander into the kitchen.


“That’s it mum, a bit of exercise will do you some good,” Emma advised from the comfort of the settee. “While you’re in there why don’t you take a couple of paracetamols? Oh, and can you bring me the bottle of white from last night? Might just have a little glass.” It was good for her mum to keep busy, she rationalised. Didn’t want her joints seizing up as well. That would just about be the icing on the cake. She had to relax a bit as well though otherwise this headache could get a lot worse.


It must be getting worse, Emma thought, impatiently tapping her fingers. It was taking her ages to bring the wine through. Maybe she should help her out a bit, just to speed things up. She was on the verge of getting up when Judith reappeared with the bottle of wine and a glass.


“Not joining me mum?”


“Don’t think I should love. Got a busy day tomorrow.”


“Oh well, I’ll drink for two then,” Emma replied, reaching for the alcohol in front of her. “Wouldn’t want you to feel left out!”


She could hear some noise from upstairs, obviously one of her kids being a bit restless. She turned to her mum. “Would you mind going up to see what’s going on? You know they always seem to settle when you tuck them in.”


“Of course, love,” her mum sighed, pushing herself back out of the settee. “I’ll try to get them back in bed as soon as I can.” Emma knew that Judith loved spending time with the kids, although she had to admit that she spoiled them a little too much. Oh well, that was one of the perks of being a granny, wasn’t it?


It had been easy since moving back in, she reflected, although there is no way these would be the circumstances she would have wanted to move back in under. Her mum had done so much for her and she desperately wanted to help out more but knew that just being there with the kids was all the gift her mum really wanted.


Emma was on to her second glass by the time Judith came down fifteen minutes later, looking even more tired and run-down than she had before.


“Are you sure you’re okay, mum? I really am getting worried.” Emma didn’t quite know what to do to help her mum, but knew she had to do something. She could see Judith plucking up the courage to say something, before thinking better of it. Emma knew what she wanted to say, but that her mother was too classy to actually utter the words. She used her arms to push herself more upright and turned her body towards her mother.


“Look, I know we’re a burden. No, I’m a burden, but it will get easier. I’ll get better, I promise. I’m still getting used to it.” She faltered a little, a lump in her throat preventing her from continuing.


“Oh, I know love, don’t worry. I am fine though, and it will be a bit easier when Jim’s parents pick the kids up this weekend. I’ll get some rest then.”


“Let’s do something for you this weekend, mum. Here, pass me my chair so I can take these things through. No, I insist,” she finished, anticipating her mum’s protestations.


Judith brought Emma’s wheelchair around, a daily reminder of the car crash which had stolen her husband from her two months earlier. It was going to take some adjusting for them all, but mother and daughter both knew they’d get through it. This period was a bit of a headache for them all, but there was light at the end of the tunnel, a chance for them all to find their feet.


In a Mood by Andrew Ball

“Can I buy you a drink?”


“No, I don’t think so.”


“Waiting for someone, are you?”


“No, it’s not that.”


“What, then?”


“I’m in a mood.”


“What sort of mood?”


“A subjunctive mood.”


“Huh? How does that work, then?”


“Well, if I were to say ‘yes’, you’d buy me the drink and we’d get talking. You’d probably be quite entertaining and you’d make me laugh. So after we’d had a couple more rounds, I’d be feeling quite mellow, and when you suggested we went back to your place, I’d think ‘Well, why not?’”


“Sounds promising...”


“After all, tomorrow’s Sunday and I’d be having a good time, so I’d decide to just go with the flow. Anyway, one thing would lead to another and after a few weeks you’d ask me to move in with you, and I’d agree. We’d still be getting on okay and two can live as cheaply as one, you know.”


“Oh, boy!”


“We’d soon settle into a routine, redecorate the flat, get a dog -- or maybe a cat -- collect a few friends...”


“Sounds great!”


“...until the day we fall pregnant.”


We?”


“You bet ‘we!’ I’m not going through this on my own, you know.”


“Oh, okay, I guess.”


“She’d be the cutest little thing. She’d have my eyes and your nose, and by the time she was three it’d be clear she had a mind of her own. She’d be as independent as a hog on ice, a real tear-away. In High School, she’d fall in with the wrong crowd and get busted for doing drugs...”


“Oh, no!”


“...but after a while she’d straighten herself out, until one evening she’d be sitting alone in a bar and a guy would come up and ask: ‘Can I buy you a drink?’”


Arrokoth by Rani Jayakumar

“Can’t you just take the next shuttle over?” she asked. She was always trying to solve my problems for me.


“No, I can’t,” I said, already exasperated. “They won’t let me on the shuttle anymore. Not until I clear my medical.”


“But you’re already here.” She was telling me what I already knew. For the last six months I’d been trying to get off this dwarf planet, Haumea, and make it to the furthest reaches of the solar system, but to no avail. All these years of space travel and my eyes aren’t what they used to be. 


“They’re not sending humans to Arrokoth!” I almost shouted, though she already knew this fact. “Only as far as Makemake.”


Arrokoth was the holy grail - an asteroid, but the farthest known object from home.


“And what about Eris?” she said, a twinkle in her eye.


“What do you know?” I asked, curious.


“I’m scheduled for Explorer this summer.” 


I cursed. She was going to the last and biggest dwarf planet, six billion miles from Earth. A place that could hold clues to where we came from, and what we are doing here. 


“You’ll never beat me, you know,” she chuckled.


“Yeah, I know,” I said. 


“But I was here first.”


Facing Facts by Beverley Byrne

‘You’ve got a face like a smacked arse,’ said Mum.


‘And yours’ll look like a boiled egg if you have a face lift,’ I snapped. ‘Is that what you want?’


‘Better than one that looks scrambled,’ she replied, turning her shoulders away like a scolded child. ‘If you won’t come with me, I’ll kill myself.’


I looked into the face that once mirrored mine and sighed, ‘Grow up Mum, for heaven’s sake.’


Until I was about twenty-five, strangers would stop Mum in the street to state the obvious.


‘You’re Amber Jet!’ they’d exclaim before swivelling their star struck gaze to me to add, ‘Am I seeing double?’


Mum loved it. ‘Taken for twins again, darling,’ she preened.


Mum’s brief career as a pop star stuck in people’s memory. You can still catch her scandalous Top of the Pops performance on YouTube and ‘that’ duet with Prince. Yes, the one where they simulated sex wearing figure defining pink latex. She kept all her costumes until she caught Dad squeezing himself into her famous ‘plectrum’ dress. She wore it the night they met when he, then Screw Ewe’s guitarist, plucked away plectrums to reveal her perfect rosy nipple live on Graham Norton’s Show.


There was a time, before Dad took wearing mum’s clothes to a surgical conclusion, when the three of us looked like a less than wholesome version of the Beverley Sisters. The press loved it but lost interest after Dad left us to join a feminist collective in LA. Mum said she didn’t care but as time passed, his defection and lack of press attention began showing on her face. Staring into the mirror, she tracked each new crevice or drooping jowl. It was like watching porcelain craze and crack. Ultimately, she refused to leave the house in case some paparazzi captured her newly ravaged face and sold it to the world.


To end her incarceration, I agreed to accompany her to Buenos Aires. ‘He’s the top surgeon,’ she said, ‘And nobody knows me there. I was never big in Argentina.’ Pre op tests gave us time to explore. She laughed when I suggested we get an open top tour bus. ‘What like tourists darling?’


‘Yes,’ I sighed, ‘just like tourists.’


From the top deck, we looked down on traffic choked boulevards, exuberant architecture and formal parks. While I tried tuning into the commentary, Mum kept up one of her own. ‘How do they walk on cobbles with heels that high?’ ‘Is that man dead or just homeless?’ ‘Call that redeveloped docklands area chic? Looks like Plymouth.’ But when the bus lurched on to La Boca, she shut up. Walls painted in vivid murals could not conceal poverty and guys gathered on corners looked furtive and feral. ‘I don’t think we’ll get off for cocktails,’ she said, reapplying her sun block. The tour concluded at Casa Rosada, once home to Argentina’s sainted Evita. Outside, a group of silent women held photographs of the ‘disappeared’; children abducted by the military decades ago. I began to think the city, like my mother, had two faces. One for show, the other subterranean and tragic.


That evening, without people requesting autographs or photographs, we strolled arm in arm like any other mother and daughter. We chanced upon a group performing an impromptu tango to recorded music. The women, dressed in slashed slinky frocks entwined legs and locked eyes with their peacock partners. Tomorrow, they might return to jobs in bars or banks but tonight it was all about theatre. Mum’s thunderous applause must have made her palms hurt. When thrusting notes into their passing hat, I saw her eyes glistening.


I’d read about Milongas, events where local people gathered to dance. As mum was due for surgery the following day, I hoped this might take her mind off it. When the receptionist at our hotel handed me a bunch of glossy fliers featuring expensive cabarets, I pushed them back explaining I wanted a venue where grieving mothers might go to dance. She suggested Los Laureles, the oldest tango bar in town.


‘Very Film Noir,’ Mum remarked when the cab dropped us in the shadow of a clanking railway bridge on a deserted suburban street. I pushed her through double doors into a dimly lit room with nicotine walls lined with sepia photographs. The waiter showed us to a table set beside a scuffed dance floor in the corner of which


stood an upright piano with keys the colour of mustard. The moustachioed pianist hunched over them, struck seductive chords for dancers who, despite wearing jeans and trainers, might have been making love to music.


The bar filled. At midnight, when a man with shiny black hair grasped the microphone, clattering cutlery, clinking glasses and conversation hushed. Accompanied by a thrumming guitar, he performed jaunty numbers the audience clapped and sang along with. After taking his bow, he beckoned to a round shouldered old woman seated near our table. She rose precarious on stiff knees and shuffled across the dance floor wearing slippers.


The room erupted. Holding sagging arms wide in acknowledgement, a respectful silence fell. Commanding in the spotlight, as her emerald shadowed eyes acknowledged respect, it seemed her back straightened. I glanced at Mum and saw her shiver. The voice, when it came, was molten gold gilding songs in tremulous arcs of anguish and ecstasy. We couldn’t understand the lyrics, but every human emotion was embroidered in the warp and weft of those ageless laments.


With a brisk nod, the woman accepted the deafening applause, but Mum remained silent.


‘Time we left,’ I said. ‘New face tomorrow.’


‘Not doing it,’ she replied, defiance defining her jaw. ‘I’ve just been given a masterclass in facing facts. You’re right. It’s time I grew up.’ Backlit by mellow light, I’d never seen Mum look younger.


Losing Mum by Cindy Pereira

 Cindy has chosen to Opt-Out of online publication.

Suzy’s Bombshell by Graham Crisp

Deep down, the realistic part of me always knew that one day this would happen. I suppose that the inevitable is always, well, inevitable. But even so it was still a big blow, and a really massive shock when she announced her intentions. 


I imagine it’s normal that when a loved one throws an unpinned hand grenade into the mix, the injured persons’ thoughts go into reflective mode.


So here goes ….


I’d met Suzy in a delightfully sleazy wine bar, just off the high street. It wasn’t my usual haunt, but I and a few others thought we’d give it a try after work. It had been an exacting week, and we were all pretty much burnt out, so a few glasses of red would be a welcome sight.


Suzy was already in the bar when we turned up. She was sitting alone, back against the wall tapping her phone, with a bottle of Chilean Merlot and just a single glass on the table before her. I remember that she glanced up when we noisily burst through the entrance, all giggles, and laughter, letting off steam. Although we were all of mature age, we still could act like teenagers when given the chance!


My group settled down at a long wooden table. I arranged my seat so that I could get a good view of this lonesome woman. Our eyes met on several occasions. Eventually, she smiled directly at me, and slightly raised her glass. I smiled back and returned the gesture. But it was soon time to go. My companions, Joan, Ian, and Alice drained the remainder of their glasses and stood up. I stayed sitting. I said to the trio that I was staying for one last drink, and I’d make my own way home. Neither of them tried to persuade me otherwise, they all knew me too well!


As soon as my crew had left the bar. Suzy glanced up and with a slight nod of her head she gracefully sidled over to me with a bottle in one hand and her wine glass in the other. As she sat close to me, a waft of Chanel Number 5 engulfed us. I looked at her intently. She had long brown hair loose around her shoulders and she was wearing a tight navy-blue skirt and a bright white shirt. A silk formal blue jacket was casually slipped over her shoulders. I guessed that she was probably in her mid-twenties. 


She poured me a drink. I watched as her perfectly manicured fingers tenderly caressed her bottle.  We chatted. She told me that her name was Suzy and that she worked in IT. She seemed genuinely impressed when I told her about my role as a Lead Nurse in the local NHS hospital. 


It seemed only natural that she would end up in my bed.


Suzy moved in exactly three weeks later. Her wardrobe was vast and her makeup and perfume filled the house. It was a blissful period for me. We shared a love of the arts, theatre, fine wine and gourmet food. During the week Suzy worked long hours, so when I had my weekend off, we made the most of our time together. We jointly purchased a fancy convertible red Mercedes, and with the roof down, like a modern-day Thelma and Louise, we visited stately homes, art galleries and we ate in five-star restaurants.


We celebrated Suzy’s twenty-fifth at the London Landmark Hotel with champagne and truffles. It was a brilliant day and evening, but as the day wore on it only highlighted to me our age gap. I was pushing forty-five and as much as I tried, with the help of an array of expensive cosmetics, my years were starting to show through. As I was getting ready to go out, I saw myself reflected in the bathroom mirror. To my horror, I could see I was growing ‘bingo wings’, a startling symbol of approaching middle age!


Time drifted on, and although I tried hard to park my suspicions, Suzy began spending a lot of time away. ‘Working’, she told me, but I couldn’t help feeling that something or someone was getting in between us and pulling us apart.


It was a Tuesday. Suzy arrived home early. I had just finished my shift, and I had swiftly changed into my ‘civilian’ clothes. She was plainly preoccupied, her eyes flitted around the room. I heard her draw breath. 


She was leaving. 


After it had all spilled out, Suzy clutched a cushion to her stomach and stared blankly ahead. I turned away as a sharp pain formed and began stabbing, relentlessly inside my forehead. 


After several minutes of total silence, I eventually found my voice. So, who is it, I demanded? I interrogated her with the usual questions; is it anyone I know? Where did you meet? How long has this been going on? Is it someone younger than me?  Still silent, Suzy continued to clutch onto her cushion. Finally, she turned towards me, with glistening eyes, she spoke softly, only slightly above a whisper. I strained hard to hear her. 


Then came the second bombshell, and this was no hand grenade, this was a full-on mortar shell.


You know, as unbearable as it was for me, I could understand her leaving me for a younger model. Someone nearer her own age with similar interests, that’s only natural. But I wasn’t expecting this. She wasn’t taking up with some famous musician, or high-flying CEO of a public company. No, this was a hell of a lot worse. 


Suzy was abandoning me for a man!


My Daughter by Rani Jayakumar

Let me tell you, this has been a long time coming. I told her this might happen if she wasn’t careful, and just look - it has.


Thirty years ago I immigrated here, to this land of milk and plenty, to raise my beautiful children and take advantage of all that America offers. We bought them books, stuffed animals, fancy clothes, breakfasts made of all sugar. We let them go to others’ houses and eat pizza and junk food, giggle about boys, read happy books about childish things. We took them to see the sights, the wax museum, the tall buildings, and the beautiful forests. We marveled at the aisles and aisles of food and clothes and everything you could want, while they insisted on the one thing we could not find there. We invited their friends, offered them our carefully-prepared food, tried to talk with them even as they grabbed a plate and hurried off to the bedroom. 


“Mom, you still have an accent,” she used to say. Well, after living in one country for twenty years, it is inevitable, no? You are the one with the accent, I want to tell her. Learn to speak your native tongue properly, I long to say. But I do not say it aloud, knowing I am also to blame, for not insisting, not teaching her the ways of the old country. For allowing her so much freedom, so that she is now in this predicament. 


I’m not sure if it began with the books, or the TV. On the TV, the shows are always about boys and girls, girls and boys. Even the books are about boys and girls. All the different books with the bright colored covers in pink and purple, with the large words, are all about love. Not serious, deep love, but all this twittering, giggly star-eyed girls in love with the handsome boys, and the boys who do not notice them. I read one of them once - it was kind of interesting, but it is definitely not how life is. 


I want to tell her: life is hard. It is difficult. You must work and save, take care of yourself and your family first, then only can you play. But she does not know this. She thinks life is about fun and love, and “following your passion.” This is not the old way. Back home, if you follow your passion, you will starve. 


Her older sister was more sensible. She also did the giggling and books and TV, but when it was time for college, she went to an Ivy League school, got a good degree in computer science, and became a professor at a good university. She married the son of an old friend from home - a very sweet boy - and has two beautiful boys, my grandsons. She is much too strict with them, but I give them treats and teach them to speak our language while they run circles around me.


But this one - oh, she has always been trouble. In high school, instead of studying, she wanted to join cheerleaders. Why cheerleaders? Nobody knows. As her father says, “They only kick their legs in their underwear.” For this, she wants to be with them? No, again for the boys, I think.


Then she went to college. Not Ivy League but still pretty good. She was studying literature, though I don’t know when she was reading this. Grades were okay but again, the boyfriends, and the parties. Sometimes I call her on Friday night and she is not anywhere, even until 2, 3 o’clock! I think, again, she is with boys.


Then, she had her graduation, she got a good degree, and she wants to do some job in “public relations,” but I don’t know how this is related to literature. So, okay, we let her do that, she is doing okay, and she meets a boy. They do not want to be married, but they are living together. This was too much, and her father was very angry, but I calmed him saying that this is the way of children now. This was my mistake. 


Now she is sitting here. The boy is gone. Where, no one knows. She is angry with me for not telling her he was not a good boy. How could I know? 


She is going to have a baby. Again, I will be a grandmother. I tell her, I will find you some nice boy and you can marry him. You can have a happy life. But she says no, I will raise this baby, just like you raised me. She knows her father was too busy with work. 


I hope, for her sake, it is not a girl.


Trouble with Anthea by R.T Hardwick

She’s pretty, isn’t she?  Twenty-nine, long dark hair, sloe-coloured eyes, and the figure of someone painted by Raphael.  The one called The Valeta – no, that’s a dance.  I’ll have to look it up. La Velata, that’s it.  She looks like the woman in La Velata.  I ought to know, I’m her mother.  


My name’s Martha, by the way, though that won’t be of much interest to you.  I named my daughter Anthea, after the ancient Greek goddess of flowers and floral wreaths.  My daughter was born in March and Anthea was a poetic symbol of spring.  It’s a fitting name, don’t you think?  


She’s let herself go since The Reptile left her.  You just have to look at her to see that.  That ice-blue ribbed sweater does nothing for her and the white slacks are only fit for the skip.  It's been three months since she went to the hairdresser.  It's been three months since she found herself single again.  Good job there are no children -  it would have been tough on them.  


You might wonder why I look a little careworn.  I’m sure I’ve only developed crows feet recently, and I’ll never get rid of the bags below my eyes.  I still look pretty good for fifty-five, despite my washday hands, and I’ve kept my slim figure.


Well, Anthea’s back living with me and she hasn’t really been easy to get along with.  I mean, 12, Bellshill Close is hardly a mansion, is it? - just a two up, one down terraced house.  It’s one of these modern shoe-boxes thrown up in the seventies when there was an explosion of house-building hereabouts.  


If you look behind where we’re sitting, you’ll see the stairs to the bedrooms are in the lounge, cutting down the space and making the room seem claustrophobic. You should see the kitchen.  It’s so small two people cannot pass each other without turning sideways.  

Anthea sits on the sofa day after day, looking at the wall, feeling sorry for herself.  It’s ironic, isn’t it - my husband left me for a lipless doctor’s receptionist from Oswestry exactly a year ago, and now Anthea’s on the shelf as well.  She doesn’t seem inclined to do anything about it.  If I was her age, I’d be down the disco eyeing up the talent but she just sits there, with a vacant expression on her face like that fellow with a walrus moustache from Parks and Recreation on TV.


You might wonder why I refer to Anthea’s ‘ex-’ as ‘the Reptile.’  You only have to look at him to see why.  Shifty, restless eye movements, never looking at you directly, a lisping way of speaking as if he’s hissing, and a hairless face and body.  I always wondered what she saw in him.  He’d obviously been conducting an affair without her knowledge, because one day he left her a note which read:


Sorry to tell you this, but I’ve found someone else and I’m moving in with her today.  I’ll collect my clothes etc. on Wednesday when you’re round at the old bat’s. Goodbye and thanks for nothing.


I couldn’t care less whether he said I was an old bat or not.  I was chuffed to bits that Anthea was rid of him and I looked forward to her hitching up with somebody handsome who works in a building society.  I pointed out to her that you can get a cheap mortgage if you meet a man who works in a building society.


Yet here she is, sitting on the sofa, slim legs tucked under her thighs, miserable as sin.  She’s clutching one of those striped cushions I bought from IKEA as if it were a baby and it seems she has no intention of making an effort to meet any young men.  I told her to join a book group, or an amateur dramatic society, even to go and join a church choir, for heaven’s sake.  


Even her girlfriends have abandoned her.  I overheard one of them say that Anthea was no fun any more and when you rang her up, she would burst into tears over the phone.  I don’t blame them – she's as morose as a chief mourner at a funeral.


I’ve criticised her to her face, remonstrated with her, told her to get onto the internet to one of those dating agencies where everybody is grinning and seems perfectly matched with their chosen partner.  There’s one bloke on the telly in one of those dating adverts who is grinning so widely it looks as if his face might split in half.


None of this has done any good at all.


Hello, there’s the phone.  By George, Anthea’s stirred herself.  She’s got up and answered it.  The conversation is animated.  She must know who she’s talking to.  Oh, my word, there’s something I haven’t seen in weeks – a smile spreading across her face.  She really is beautiful when she smiles.  She speaks for a few minutes more, and replaces the receiver on its cradle with all the delicacy of a seamstress doing petit-point.


She’s not smiling, she’s beaming.  She speaks, and her words tumble out like confetti.

‘Mum, that was Derek.  He’s finished with her.  He says it was all a big mistake.  She wasn’t what she seemed to be.  She wouldn’t let him play football or have a night out with the lads.  Mum, he wants to come back to me.’


It takes a while for all this to sink in and I am afraid my face drops like a portcullis.  Pounding through my head is something I read at school, from Macbeth.  It’s about a bloke who kills the King of Scotland or someone and cannot wipe the blood off his hands.  He says something like ‘Get rid of that damned bloody spot.’


That’s what I hoped Anthea would do, but it seems she won’t.


I suppose I’ll just have to put up with it.  At least I’ll have my house back again.


Nature and Knives by Beverley Byrne

At catering college Astrid’s profiteroles were likened to clouds and her souffl├ęs rose on angel’s wings. Such pastry skills secured her apprenticeship at Stockholm’s celebrated restaurant, Natur.


Each morning Natur’s kitchen fell silent while Head Chef Erik, like a Viking warrior, mustered his troops. Detecting culinary misdemeanours, he’d point at the neon sign flashing radish red across the stainless steel wall and bark, ‘What does it say?’


‘Respect Your Ingredients,’ the brigade intoned like church penitents.


Chef’s curdling critiques made even seasoned sous chefs wilt like ancient herbs. Before her transfer to the fish section, Astrid prided herself on evading his vinegary tongue. Yet now, confronted with a basket of oysters, her remaining fingers felt like sausages.


‘What these cost could buy a cabin on the archipelago,’ Chef de Partie warned, ‘Shuck carefully.’


Their briny aroma insinuated bitter memories. Her hands shook. The absent little finger, severed during the Grebbestad oyster shucking competition, remained an insubstantial presence, like meringue.


Sweat simmering on her brow, Astrid selected an oyster. Wrapping it in cloth, she took up a knife. Tentatively stabbing and probing, her blade sought entry, but the gnarled shell remained stubbornly sealed. An image of her detached digit leaking blood clouded her vision. The mollusc shot from her trembling grasp to the floor.


‘Put down the knife!’


Chef Erik towered over her. She imagined the walk of shame. Her epicurean ambitions lost, like her finger.


‘Look at me.’


He held aloft a palm scarred by an angry rope-like weal. ‘We have something in common,’ he said, indicating her pomegranate pink stump. ‘Our scars teach reverence for nature and knives. Watch and learn.’


With one deft movement, the oyster yielded revealing ocean scented meat.


‘Perfection demands practice. Now try again.’


Her resolve stiffening like whipped egg white, Astrid grasped the knife.


A Blast from the Past by Sheena Billett

‘That’s where I know him from.’


Emma stood up, the chair crashing to the ground behind her.


‘Emma, wait…’ said Lorna.


She strode over to the group of men grouped around a table on the other side of the pub.


They carried on laughing and joking, not noticing Emma’s angry approach.


‘You!’ Emma jabbed at him with her finger and the tall, powerfully built man turned in annoyance.


‘What the…?’


‘I know you, you bastard!’


By now some of his group were on their feet. ‘Now come on, lady. What’s your problem?’


‘Who the hell are you?’ the target of Emma’s outrage replied not bothering to get up.


‘You don’t even remember me, Tim, do you? Well I’m not the push-over I was back then, so maybe you need reminding of what you did to me.’


Tim gestured to his friends that this was some mad woman, and not to be taken seriously.


‘Okay, so your memory is so short that you don’t remember raping me when we were at school. Or maybe you’ve done it so many times that I didn’t even register.’


There were gasps of shock and a few dismissive laughs as the encounter grabbed everyone’s attention.


‘What the hell are you going on about? Wishful thinking, I reckon!’ he smirked.


Emma stood tall and addressed the group. ‘This man raped me when I was fourteen, on school premises, during a lunch break. I was so ashamed, I didn’t tell anyone. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t his only victim.’


Tim’s friends looked at him with uncertainty, although one or two still seemed to think it was great entertainment.


‘No, you weren’t.’ A voice behind Emma spoke clearly and decisively. ‘He did it to me too.’


Emma turned and locked eyes with her sister.


The Way Things Are Done by Kat Cade

Aunt Minnie was a stickler for etiquette.


“Put down the knife!” She'd playfully scold over breakfast, as I plunged my buttery knife into the marmalade.


She was my father’s sister, but the only thing they had in common was being very particular about the way things are done. Her hands were comforting and her voice gentle as she stroked my hair and told me stories of long forgotten family while I dozed on her polka dot knee.


When I was 14 my father died and Minnie and her husband Reg moved in with us. I adored them.


They were an odd couple. Aunt Minnie was impeccably put together, but if I hadn’t known Uncle Reg, I’d have described him as seedy.


Slicked back bottle black hair, leather jacket and leathery skin. He had the deep furrowed features of a heavy smoker and his cracked yellowing nails were never far from an ashtray. Yet he was smooth and funny, with the wit of a hundred pubs. Aunt Minnie worshipped him.


I’d fall asleep to the sound of the three of them laughing at the kitchen table. Our home, alive with the sound of Reg’s hoarse chuckle, Minnie’s gleeful shriek, and Mum’s uproarious cackle. I felt warm and full.


For my 16th birthday Aunt Minnie took me dress shopping. I chose a cobalt sundress. I felt like a woman. The shopkeeper let me wear it home and I was overflowing with excitement to show the others.


When we burst through the front door the laughter stopped. Mum and Reg were straight ahead of us at the kitchen table. My mother; bare-legged and red-faced. Only using one chair between them.


I was a girl again, and my eyes darted to my beloved Aunt Minnie. 


“Put down the knife!”


Little Angels by Vivienne Moles

Spit balls and leaking ink cartridges were on intersecting trajectories across the classroom.


“Jonathan Merrithwaite, stop doing that!” said the harassed Miss Tribbington. The rest of the class laughed all the more and the number of missile throwers swelled. She put her hands over her cheeks and groaned loudly.


“I’ll be talking to you mother at parents’ evening,” she said to the boy who clearly wasn’t listening.


“Miss, can you help me with this sum?” said little Trudy Makepeace, doe eyes looking up at the wreck of a teacher.


“Hold on one minute, dear, I’ll just see to these —.” Black ink exploded all over her flowery blouse. For a few moments, the class looked on, open-mouthed. She put her hands on her waist and frowned at Jonathan, hate and murderous intentions clearly showing.


She shook her head. The pins holding her tight bun fell out ... as did her bun.


“I’m not going to tell you again.”


“Miss, Miss,” said Trudy.


“Not now,” said Miss Tribbington.


“Miss, but —.”


“Not now, Trudy,” she said with more determination.


“But, Miss, Mr Birtlewhistle has just come in. Should we stand?”


Miss Tribbington went a funny colour and made a pathetic attempt to smile.


“Hello, Mr Birtlewhistle. Can I help you?”


“Perhaps we can have a word, at break?” he said and left the room.


“Don’t worry, Miss T,” said Jonathan winking, “I’ll go and make it alright.”


Miss Tribbington looked in disbelief at the little angels now in front of her, naughtiness apparently evaporated.


“I’ll just say we were doing role play, you know, the best way to behave in class and how it’s not good when we’re bad.” He winked again. Was that a pair of small horns showing on his head?


It’s Different Now by Elizabeth Breen

Anna looks at Jim and puts down her knife and fork. She chews her food slowly, giving herself time to take in what Jim has just said. 


“That’s where I know him from.”


The man in question walks past their table and quietly says hello to Jim. Anna almost doesn’t notice. Jim and the stranger acknowledge each other in a way that seems to lock others out. 


It all makes sense now. Anna wants Jim to know that this new information changes nothing. It’s part of getting to know one another. Jim pours more water into their glasses and smiles at Anna, even though he looks sad. 


“I would have told you sooner, only the time never seemed right and we’ve only known each other for a short while. It was a long time ago and I promise it’s different now.”


Anna accepts a dessert menu and says nothing as the plates are cleared away. 


“I had an uncle who wasn’t able to talk about it. He didn’t show signs. He was funny and kind and even-tempered. I used to go to the shop with him when I was a little girl and he’d buy me sweets and take me to the park. He was my mum’s brother and I loved him so much. Then, one day, he went up to his bedroom and took the belt off his trousers… My mum never really got over his death.”

“We never know what a kind word at the right time can do. That man saved my life. I was close to the blackness that day.”


Anna and Jim choose a dessert to share, an apple crumble with custard. It’s Anna’s favourite. Jim reaches over the table and holds Anna’s hand. She smiles at him and says I love you.


Walking The Line by Cindy Pereira

Cindy has chosen to Opt-Out of online publication

The Line-Up by Kat Cade

Elliott had never been in a police line-up before. His sunburnt skin tingled with anticipation and aloe vera.


Standing to his full height of 5’3” he felt at least a foot taller. The suspect was the leader of an organised crime gang. A ferocious and powerful man by all accounts. This gave Elliot permission to swagger.


He liked to keep up appearances and had tried a sunbed for the first time. He wouldn’t be doing that again, he thought as his starched shirt collar rubbed against his blistering skin.


The previous evening had been spent in front of the mirror, applying aftersun and practising his most menacing mob boss face. Overlooking that the charges were for fraud in Horsham, and not murder in New Jersey.


Elliott examined the rest of the line-up. None of them looked like a criminal boss, none of them appeared ferocious, none of them had even made an effort. This whole experience was turning out to be a real letdown.


“Look forward everyone.” Boomed a weary voice over the intercom.


Elliot assumed the stance he had perfected in his bedroom.


“Try and look casual.” The last thing the officer needed was someone in the lineup acting out his Scorsese fantasy.


Elliot tried to imagine who was on the other side of the mirrored glass.


“Number 5 stay where you are, everyone else is dismissed.” The intercom crackled and clicked off.


The rest of the line traipsed out, giving Elliot a wide berth. He flexed his shoulders and grinned into the mirror. He didn’t know who was on the other side, but he knew what he was going to do when he found out. After all, he was a ferocious and powerful man by all accounts.