by Katie Brown
The bulb above her head was flickering. She was sat in Al’s Diner, frozen as still as the ice she’d asked for in her diet coke, which had since begun to melt. The smell of grease stuck to the walls and the only sounds were the stuttered wheeze of the air conditioning and the distant echo of a car alarm. Yet her eyes hadn’t even glanced through the dirty window she leant against to check whether her own Toyota was still safely parked against the kerb because they were fixed on the mass of brown tangled hair hovering over a table in the corner. And they had been for fifteen minutes.
It was shocking to her that another human being would have entered this diner of their own free will at any time of the day, never mind at 1:30 on a Tuesday morning. It was the perpetual emptiness of the place that made it her favourite retreat. She hadn’t yet seen his face as he’d entered from the door behind her and made his way to a table without once turning in her direction. She’d heard him order an espresso from a tired looking waitress and then watched him sit, tracing his finger around the stains on his table until it arrived. At first she was convinced he was waiting for someone- a date maybe- but no one showed up. She could infer nothing of his purpose from the scuffed heels of his trainers or the dark hood of his winter coat and any attempt to crane her neck would reveal nothing of his expression from her position.
It was even more shocking to her that she regarded this intrusion with neither annoyance nor ambivalence but a strange intrigue. Emily sat there frowning. What the hell was wrong with her?
by Vincente L.Ruiz
The chat prompt blinks. Shall I dare?
“Do you believe in cyber-love? I do. I have quite a few of online friends, and yes, I know they could lie about it, but I’ve seen it happen. To Andy0512 and She’arah, for instance. And we could all see it develop in the public chat, through us realizing they were having lots of private ones, up to the point where they decided to meet in person. I recall thinking they were mad. And they’re married now. Wow. We’ve been years at it, haven’t we?”
“yes. quite a few, now that you mention it”
“Ha. I used to go mad at you not using capitals or periods at the end of the sentences. I think I couldn’t live without it now.”
“you’ll say that to all the girls you meet, i’m sure”
“No. Only to the ones I love.”
There. There it is.
She doesn’t answer.
“what did you just say?”
“You can just read it up there, but here it is again: I love you.”
Pause. So long. I fucked up, I’m sure.
“Are you angry? I’m sorry, I didn’t want to upset you. But it’s how I feel. I can’t help it. If you’re not comfortable with that, I’ll understand and I’ll leave you alone, no matter how I feel. I just want you to be happy. With me if possible. But if you prefer it without me, so be it.”
“wow. that’s a lot.”
It didn’t play out like this in my mind.
“Think about it, please? We can talk later if you want.”
“no. no, it’s ok. i’m fine”
“yes. i just wasn’t expecting it.”
“i think I love you too”
Just words on a screen. How can they make me so happy?
On the Other Side of Midnight
by M. Leland Oroquieta
We heard a panic of feathers once again, departing from a tree, to answer gestures in the wind, or a trill of rhythms cresting high and low above the city, perhaps to summon a migration into a climate more temperate than rooms we occupy with the humid grace of nirvana.
We have a history of staring at curtains after shadows colonize walls we pay for the weekend, to nourish our kind of fidelity, framed in quick episodes of escape from a contract sealed by the silver lining of rings we banish in our pockets and future plans for each other.
And as always, mirrors magnify us into premonitions we gloss over with ecstasies rolling out of our tongues like vultures greedy for what can be had immediately.
But tonight, I sank deeper in stories we told each other about our lives, far removed from the grand designs of animal logic elucidating the unknown on the edges of heels, knees, and other curves we abuse with gentle and rough undulations over and over again.
Later, I liked how the bay breeze on the parking lot blew us beyond the midnight hour, hoping to abolish the idea of each other’s absence, until next week. But this time, the way lights moved on the rear-view mirror took me back to the lines on your hands, and how they licked the edges of my tastebuds.
Soon, thirst led me to a petrol station, where I heard your voice again in my mobile, drowning in spurts of happy voices and dance music in the background. But I don’t know what I heard in your voice that swallowed me into a state of frenzy, like a child moments before exploding into a calamity, after being reprimanded.
It Happened in the Graveyard
by Fran Egan
How shall I begin? What do you want to know? It happened in my favourite month – September; in my favourite city – Winchester. It is lodged in my heart like a fossil. I take it out, turn it around and look at all its facets, wallow in its rugged charm then secrete it again, for next time.
First weeks at college; everything new, everything exciting and, after seven years at a girls grammar school, everything male. “Don’t cross the graveyard at night!” she yelled, but I did anyway, and there he was.
Right beside the biggest gravestone, with the Celtic cross. He was looking for something. Crouched and vulnerable. Thumping heart, breathless chest, wordless mouth, I approached. “You OK?” I blurted out. He glanced up and it began. My senses overwhelmed with such beauty; the lingering scent of patchouli, the grey-green twinkle of an eye, the soft bounce of shaggy chestnut hair, I reached out and touched a denim sleeve. “Have you lost something? Can I help?”
“Just my keys, they’re round here somewhere…thanks.” We searched in tandem, I kept close to his side, our arms brushed against each other, eyes directed down to the grassy carpet. “There!” I exclaimed, pointing. Triumphant in my find, I hugged him. He responded with a glancing kiss of gratitude. I was smitten. “Thanks, see you around.” He disappeared into the shadow of the graves.
Next time I saw him he had a casual arm slung around an adoring girl and was telling the tale of how they met. “Yeah, she helped me find my keys in the graveyard …” My face reddened, my pride shrank and I quickly turned away. I’d been rejected.
That’s how it ends, that’s what I remember. Forever imprinted in my heart. An unrequited encounter in a graveyard.
by Janelle Hardacre
This was the first night she’d spend without him. Her limbs felt weighted from the exhaustion of those nights sleeping on the wipe clean seat but the thought of home gave her a final push.
‘Cup of tea?’ she whispered to the empty sitting room. She dragged herself to the kitchen, slippers crunching on the crumb-strewn lino. He hadn’t swept.
She sat in the groove of him, in his chair. His cigars were still on the side table, on the doily next to the letter opener. In all these years, she’d never tried one. She wanted his smell. Wilmot always said they tasted better when lit with matches.
She swirled acrid smoke in her mouth for a second and coughed it back out. Plumes enveloped her. He was there. Her body wilted, her breathing slowed. The cigar lolled in her fingers and a couple of ash flakes landed silently on the doily.
by Steve Lodge
“I know you three kidnapped the dolphin. So where is it? Nobody leaves the room until I get a confession.” Inspector Burrito’s fist banged the desk.
The door opened and Sergeant Grace Dollop entered. “Inspector, I need to speak with you outside.”
Burrito stared at the three dolphnapper suspects, then pointed at each of them. “I’ll be back.” He stormed out of the room.
Sergeant Dollop followed him out, in admiration. “Nice storm-off, Inspector.”
Burrito smiled. “Thanks. I’ve been practicing. Got some good news for me? Something even better than Shepherd’s Pie back on the canteen menu.”
In the custody cell was the notorious Hugh Janus, suspected serial killer.
“Now that’s much better. But, how..?” Burrito stuttered.
Dollop pointed to Private Investigator, Paul Savagely, sitting on a chair in the corner of the office. Head tilted back, looking up at the ceiling, he held tissue to his bloodied nose. Janus had put up a fight.
Burrito threw his friend a worried look. “Wow, you took a beating.”
“Burrito, throw away the key on this guy. Only then will otters and badgers be safe on the streets.”
Alone in Interrogation, the dolphnappers unravel.
“That went well, genius. Kidnap a dolphin, you said. It’ll be easy. They’ll pay quick. Now what, Tommy? We’re all in custody and the dolphin somehow escaped from Bobby.”
“Yeah, I’d like to know how that happened myself.” said Tommy, staring at Bobby.
“It wasn’t my fault. He tricked me.”
“He tricked you? He’s a dolphin…”
Tommy tries calming things. “Look, Phil. Don’t panic. It’s escaped, hasn’t it? Can’t be traced to us. Deny everything.”
Burrito had barely got back in the room when Bobby caved.
“It wasn’t my fault. He tricked me.”
“What is wrong with you?” groaned Tommy. Phil’s face dropped and he didn’t catch it.
By Emily K.Martin
“YOU CAN’T STOP THIS TEAM, NO WAY! PEARSON HIGH IS HERE TO STAY!”
The cheerleaders waved their red and white pompoms; the bleachers were jam-packed with rowdy football fans. I bounded along the grass in front of them, sweating profusely, and breathing like Darth Vader behind my mask. Yeah, that’s me. The Alligator. The mascot who everyone loves, but no one knows. I know, I know. I signed up for this, determined to be near Angela, the redhead who just did that awesome flip. I gave her a thumbs-up with my alligator hand.
She doesn’t even know my name.
From one end of the spectators, I stood and pointed toward the opponent’s Pirate mascot. In this black overcoat, the Pirate braced his hands on his hips and stared me down with his fake eye and creepy static smile. The crowd chanted for the customary battle—Pirate versus Alligator!
I swished my tail back-and-forth and strolled near the air-catching cheerleaders. I crouched down like I was going to chase the Pirate; the crowd roared.
From my left came a scream and looming shadow. I thrust my bulky green alligator hands out to stop whatever was falling toward me. The gator’s snout smashed downward as I caught someone; their weight brought me down to my knees, hard. Out of the slits of the mask, I could only see a girl’s, um, you know, chest—not my fault!
Someone graciously lifted the damaged mask off of my head. And there she was: Angela was in my arms, breathless and beautiful. Wow. Never in my life had I revved up the crowd as thunderously as I did at that very moment—the best five seconds of my life—when I leaned toward her. And we kissed.
You know, before she slapped me.
BRIDESMAID NUMBER SEVEN
by Salvatore Difalco
Can’t see a way out of this. Silly me. Wearing my clown clothes to a wedding. I’m betting on the music to distract everyone, the dancing. People dancing like circus bears. I liked the best man’s speech. He said he was sorry to see his friend go. Big laughs. The papier-mâché bride bristled. The fuchsia maid of honour made a pledge to break her boyfriend’s balls before the stroke of midnight. So friendly was the guy to bridesmaid number seven, the bride’s second cousin. In my weak blue suit with a dewy date from a yellow-page agency, I was related to both of the ladies, but last time we spoke must have been another wedding, or Uncle Frank’s funeral, God rest his soul. As children we played with dolls. Never too manly for a little doll play, that’s right, that was me. Make-believe saved me from a few real monsters. They used to all come out at night. Whatever I lack, whatever you see here, whatever is going on, is their fault.
End of the War
by Nathan Dabney
Grishmok stood triumphant above the bodies of his slain enemies. His light, his love, Ashkanik stood beside him, her sword bloodied in victory. Together they had taken the war to its conclusion, the only one possible. Their tribes were united, and together they would rule this planet. Their foes were routed, no regroup was possible.
Grishmok looked to Ashkanik and took in her majesty, wondering how he’d been so favored by the gods. She was beautiful, and the way her tusks reflected the light of the faraway star that lit their lonely world entranced him.
Turning to her, he said, “My love, we have triumphed. I could ask no greater boon of the gods than to have you at my side at this moment.”
Ashkanik met his gaze, smiling with a fierceness that made him want to take her there and then, saying, “And never shall our foes rise again! Today shall be sung of far and wide!” She brandished her sword high above her head, green blood spattering Grishmok, but he cared not.
He took her in his arms, and atop the corpses of the slain they kissed. They had fought long and hard for this moment, and they reveled in their triumph. Together they would rule for more than a century, and their children for long after that. Their love had conquered a world, and they would rule well.
And of course all things must end, but for the moment, holding each other close, they were happy. And, gods willing, they would be happy for many years to come, as they crushed their enemies beneath their clawed feet.
Fry’s Chocolate Cream
by Victoria Richards
When it’s been a bad day, a bad week, a bad month, you leave it in the kitchen for me to find when I come home from work. Not lilies, Green and Black’s, or something from Tiffany. But when I tear the blue wrapper to get to the sticky silver folds, a waft of spun sugar mixes dark, and bitter. The outer shell cracks clean across the lines, sometimes jagged and uneven, like a broken tooth, or the pane of glass in the shed at your grandmother’s allotment. It’s so sweet it makes my teeth ache, like the stare from that guy across the pub, or the smile from the girl who hands me my croissant at Pret a Manger on Wednesdays. And at Christmas, if someone buys us Roses, you save me the strawberry, orange, coffee creams nobody else wants. Yesterday,
in the post office, I bought you a bag of raspberry licorice. I know how much you like it.
by Jill Adams
Edward slides his backpack down and sits on a smooth rock above the cliff-top path: Sea Thrift dances, seagulls circle a hazy sun, seawater caresses copper stained cliffs and salt spray infuses his skin.
A family of four pass carrying beach gear. Edward picks a Thrift stem. Sniffing the pink crisp globe, he closes his eyes.
I ran on the wet sand towards the waves, that day. I leaped the thick swirly line of white froth and bounded around bits of brown bobbled seaweed.
August 1993, Edward tilted his blue bucket into the sea. Sandy water slid in. A distance away, a new wave churned out a wall of froth. The receding wave was sucking the sand from under his heels, and before he could move, cold water engulfed Edward’s thighs: he gasped.
Soaked, he meandered back. Dad was reading … another newspaper.
A girl in a turquoise bikini stood looking at his sandcastle.
‘A lovely castle,’ she said.
Edward emptied his blue bucket; the narrow moat sparkled.
‘My Dad built it.’
‘Oh. But why doesn’t the water stay?’
Edward fell to his knees and dug. A tiny pool of water oozed from darker grey sand.
She swung her red bucket — slivers of curly white shells knocked together like the musical shakers at school.
‘These were broken by the sea, but I can make a pretty pattern on it.’
She sang as she pressed out a heart shape.
Edward grabbed his bucket and sprinted — low-tide, so much further to run! At the edge of the water small pebbles and shale pushed in between his toes. He squinted back, at their castle. By dinner-time the sea would lap the copper stained cliffs.
I remember, her freckled nose; I remember her calling, my name as I ran to the sea.
Out of the picture
by Cath Barton
After he’d gone I sought solace in the white rooms of galleries, where the only men were blank-faced attendants who offered me neither hope nor disappointment. But the classicism of eighteenth century landscapes soon bored me, I found the Impressionists too insubstantial and in the twentieth century I was confused, still dissatisfied. I tried to avoid portraits with their accusing eyes.
One day a man stood beside me; in front of us was a painting of a family group round a table with two empty chairs.
“For us,” he said.
The attendant glared at him. I said nothing. I did not want to make a fuss.
Next day I returned to that gallery, that room. The man was in the picture, smiling out at me. He seemed to be patting the empty chair next to him. I walked up to the picture.
“Step back,” growled the attendant.
I ignored him and put up a finger to touch the paint of the man’s smile. The attendant ordered me to leave.
At home there were red roses in a vase, fragrant cooking smells from the kitchen.
“Surprise!” said my friend, appearing in the kitchen doorway.
My dining room was the one in the picture, but now I recognised the people round the table. Old friends, and the man from the gallery, smiling and patting the chair next to him. I sat. He put his arm around me and said he hoped I liked red roses.
We had a dalliance after that, short but very sweet. He did not break my heart and I still visit him sometimes, in the gallery. There’s a new attendant, more friendly. She lets me go up close, though I don’t touch. It wouldn’t be polite, especially as there’s another woman in the seat next to him now.
by Casey Kimberly
He brought her a gift. She ignored him. He tried again with a shinier gift. She tossed her head and stepped away from him. His cronies cawed with laughter.
That night, he asked the moon, “How do I prove to her that I love her?”
The moon replied, “What makes you think that you loving her means that she must reciprocate the emotion?”
He blinked. “Because my love is pure. If she understands that, then she will love me.”
The moon laughed. “You are a fool.”
“What do you know?” he squawked. “You’re nothing but a big, shiny rock.”
“Hey, you asked me.”
“You’re not helping…wait, actually, you are! Thanks!” He took off in a great flurry.
Minutes later, he brought her to his tree. He gestured to the moon and said, “I would give you the biggest, shiniest gem in the night sky, but giving you gifts will not make you love me. Your heart must choose on its own, as my heart has already chosen. I am sorry that I insulted you by trying to buy your love. Can you forgive me?”
She stood gazing up at the moon. The light reflected off her black eyes, making them glow. She turned to him and said, “Can you really give me the moon?”
He raised his head and positioned the moon between his open beak. She laughed and threw her wings around him. They kissed.
Two crows flew over a wheat field. One turned its head to the full moon and winked.
by Linda M. Crate
They had shared love or so she had thought. Warm September and October days they explored the constellations of one another’s bodies, they spent hours together whiling away mornings into nights into mornings again.
She still loved him more than anything in this world. She knew that she would always love him because that’s the way she was. In addition to this, she had given him her flowers. Those things she had preserved for a long twenty six years.
She felt a fool for believing him when he said that he loved her.
Evidently he had just said anything so that she would stay. Hindsight was twenty-twenty, and he was a mistake she wished she had never made.
Wistfully, she glanced at a photo of them and dropped the picture frame. There was something freeing in the way the glass shattered as if it were cutting out all the pieces of him from her heart.
She knew it would still sting and the grief would ebb and flow like an ocean wave, but for now it was enough of a catharsis to allow her to breathe without it hurting.
She wiped away the salt from her eyes. He wasn’t worth any of her oceans. One day he would regret giving her hurricanes away for next to nothing when she was always worth more than he could afford.
She would weave a new tapestry of herself beneath the stars which would burn brighter and hotter than he could hold. Should he come sniffing around here again he wouldn’t find the rabbit hearted girl he killed, but rather a warrior of dreams ready to shatter any nightmares.
Her heart was full of longing and intensity, hopes and dreams, laughter and tears. She wouldn’t be drowned by anyone’s desire or lust she vowed.
by Katie Lewington
From the window you can see that the bus is packed.
A young woman gets on the bus. She asks for a return ticket to Regent Street and the man, who accompanies her, follows close behind. He has already in hand his wallet and he puts it on the top of the ticket machine, open. His bus pass – concessionary travel funded by HM government with your local authority.
She is searching for a seat. He picks through a pocket of change and tears off her ticket.
Using the rail as guidance he makes his way to her. The only available seat she gives to him and, with a grunt, he sits down. His knuckles rubbing the seat as he uses his fists for leverage.
He leans to the left and nestles his wallet into the worn back pocket of his jeans.
Father and daughter?
She reminds him to phone his mother. He texts his mother. She shakes her head, untangles her headphones from the bristles of her hairbrush. He asks her what’s wrong with this phone and holds it out. She takes it, presses a keypad button. She gives it to him and he looks at it.
Grandad and granddaughter?
No he tells her, this, why is it doing this? She leans forward. Her loose vest top tents and he peers downwards. He groans.
Stand up straight he tells her. I’m trying to help you she laughs, straightening. You know what you’re doing he mutters darkly, smiling at her and stealing a kiss. Come here and he opens his arms.
by Alexis Milton
We are here, in this moment. We exist in no other.
In all other universes, in every alternate version of Now, we have vanished without a trace. Maybe they are looking for us out there. Maybe there are missing person signs all around alternate-universe-Oregon. Maybe the people on the T.V. are calling us crazed young lovers. Maybe they are calling us runaways. Maybe they think we’ve been caught up in a drug scheme, smuggling ourselves across arbitrary lines on a planet that is far from perfect, in a life far from promised.
None of this is true. We are here and we are sitting on this bench. We are staring at the same river we have been staring at all summer. It’s colder now, though. I thought you would have left by now. But you haven’t. Instead, you keep my arm warm as you press into it. We make stupid jokes and our breath dances, gently, in the air. You lean in to kiss my cheek: territory that has already been crossed. I flinch, but I don’t realize it.
You ask me if I want you to kiss me. I nod, but I don’t realize it. I won’t remember the moments leading up to it. I will only remember the warmth. The racing heart.
I wonder how many times this river has watched people fall in love. I wonder, too, how many times it has seen people fall apart.
Not yet. Not us. Not this time. Listen: our fingertips are buzzing. The kiss lasts only a moment, and our alternate-universe selves return home, and the posters are taken down, and everything goes back to how it was before. But something is different.
Yes, something is different now.
by James Lindsay
“You’ve split my lip.”
[REDACTED] rolled off me, smiling. My lip throbbed with every heartbeat as the world around the bed returned. I raised my fingers to my lip, feeling the blood as [REDACTED] passed me the bottle of ice water she’d been drinking from, kneeling up at the foot of the bed.
“It’s not my fault. I was… enjoying myself.” [REDACTED] said, watching me as I sat up to drink. The cold water made me shiver. I handed the bottle back, my arm shaking slightly, and pulled my underwear from the floor. I rolled over onto my front and out of the sweat patch, teasing the inside of my lip with my tongue. [REDACTED] flopped down into the bed next to me, examining the extent of the damage.
“You’re just a big softie.” She kissed me, deliberately pressing her lips hard onto my mouth. I felt her smile break like a wave as I winced. “You’re definitely going in a story for this. Your moans and your curves and the way you arch your back when you come.” I moved my hand down [REDACTED]’s back as I said this, resting it eventually on her still bare arse cheek. “I’m going to immortalise your orgasms in print for all to see.”
“You only write about love. Is that what this is then?”
I considered [REDACTED]’s question for a moment. “Yeah, I guess.”
[REDACTED] looked at me, her face half obscured by the pillow. “You sure it’s not just lust? If you loved me you’d not put me in a story. You’d order me a Dominos.”
“How about I just leave your name out of it and order Chinese?”
[REDACTED] smiled, kissed me once more, and rolled over, dragging the covers away from me as she fell asleep.
by John Holland
One of the things you find exciting about her is her driving. Stopping at green lights. Indicating left and going right. Undertaking on the motorway. Today you react in a way you think is funny. Gripping the door handle. Pushing your feet against the windscreen. Stuffing your knuckles in your mouth. Rolling from side to side when she corners.
“You’re mad,” she says.
When you stop at Strensham Service Station, without waiting for you, she walks from the car to the services. Something’s wrong, you think. But at least when you’re not with her you don’t have to search for familiar faces. Ones who might recognise you. And not her.
“Sorry, babe,” she says when you find her.
“Fancy a donut?” you ask. It’s the first time she’s said no.
Thrumming along on the motorway again, you lean over and kiss the back of her neck.
“Remember it was near here that we…?”
“’Course,” she says without smiling.
Passing Worcester you slide in the CD of ABC’s ‘Lexicon of Love’. In unison you shout-sing ‘Poison Arrow’. Children in cars stare. You both give some welly to the line, “You think you’re smart. Stupid, Stupid.” You look at the left side of her singing face. When it ends, you hit the repeat button.
The motorway opens in front of her. She presses the accelerator. Her mouth tight. Arms outstretched. Hands bonded to the wheel. You lean over to check the speedometer. Ninety.
“I’ve told him I’m leaving him,” she says, without turning her head.
“You’re going too fast,” you say.
by Paul Thompson
They recognise each other immediately. At least they think they do – greeting each other with the kind of embrace usually reserved for a reunion, which in many ways this feels like.
They do know each other. They just don’t know where from.
This distraction from their current situation is most welcome. Introductions begin with basic details – home, family, careers, acquaintances – expanding wherever they find potential areas of overlap. Mobile phone and social media contacts are ruled out. A sense of desperation begins to take over as they move on to the random, anything that may reveal a common connection between them.
The process is exhausting. Without any conscious approval they unburden – fundamental beliefs, deepest fears, dirtiest secrets – unwrapping each other until every possibility is as exhausted as they are.
Six hours of probing seems to confirm that they do not know each other, despite being convinced that they do.
As if prompted by this conclusion, a masked man enters the room and confirms their release has been secured. They are led from the building to the presence of a small waiting crowd. After a formal handshake she returns to her friends and colleagues, all of whom he is now able to recognise.
Once gone he sends her a text, using her number from memory. He knows how she will answer, and how long it will take to do so.
Exactly twelve minutes later she checks her phone, finally having the courage to do so. A part of her is hesitant, a part of her still sore, but as she reads will you marry me on the screen she rejoices, and it is the other part of her, the part of her that thought that he would never ask.
The Ballad of the Pink Flamingo
by S. A. Melia
It was a two-meter-tall, candy-pink inflatable flamingo
and it sat squashed and sad-looking in the high street window.
“She does not belong there,” Hazel told me.
She’s ten but she’s wise, so I agreed.
We walked with purpose into the shop.
“Sixty-nine pounds,” the till girl told us.
“Oh dear, we can’t afford that,” I told Hazel.
“No, we can’t afford that,” Hazel told me.
The TV news was interrupted by adverts from a holiday company,
all tanned torsos, tiny bikinis and tall cocktails.
And there on the swimming pool
was our friend the two-meter-tall, Barbie-pink inflatable flamingo.
A group of youths shoved and fought as they tried to climb on top of her.
Our flamingo looked embarrassed and just a little scared.
“She does not belong there,” Hazel told me.
I looked at the name of the holiday company and
its resorts in St Tropez, Caprice and Martinique.
“Well, we can’t afford that,” I told Hazel.
“No, we can’t afford that,” Hazel told me.
It was a thin paper catalogue
with pictures of red peppers for 39p and best British beef for £1.69
and there amidst the Thursday specials,
for one week only,
was our sunset-pink, two-metre-tall, inflatable flamingo.
“We can afford that,” I told Hazel.
As the sun set,
we carried her across the mudflats
that stretched out to the bay of birds and onto the sea.
We set her down in the shallow lapping waves,
and for one moment she hesitated looking back at us with delight and relief.
Until at last the wind caught her and she set sail.
“That’s where she belongs,” Hazel said
And we waved goodbye to our two-metre-tall, sunset pink, inflatable flamingo.
“Yes, that’s where she belongs,” I agreed.
“All we had to do was set her free.”
A Young Proposal
by Chloe Gilholy
At ten, Olive Link had decided that she could take on a fully-grown mountain troll by herself. Theodore Cube panicked. He hovered around the rocks, and spied on her, hoping that he didn’t get caught.
When the troll growled before her, Olive didn’t shiver. She whipped out a sword with three blades and an emerald handle. Theodore gasped. “Where did Olive get that sword from?”
The troll tried to crush Olive with his foot. She dodged his toes and rammed the sword into his groin.
Theodore covered his ears with his tiny hands. He couldn’t fathom the fact that Olive wasn’t flinching.
Olive retrieved her sword and scurried towards the lonely tree by the waterfall. The troll collapsed and rolled down the hill leaving red splats upon the snow.
Theodore had decided right there and then that he was in love with her. Olive was an adorable girl with mammoth power. At the tender of ten, she could defeat monsters, but she still couldn’t get his name right.
Theodore decided that on the day Olive got his name right, that he would bend down on one knee and propose to her.
“Oh,” Olive said with a giggle, “Philip; it’s you!”
“Yes!” Theodore blushed. He was too flustered to correct her.
“It is Philip isn’t it?” Olive asked. She ran up to him and kissed his lips. “Fabio? Finley? Finnick? Fanny?”
“I AM NOT A FANNY!” he roared.
She gazed into his eyes as she spoke. “Don’t tell me,” she requested, “I want to get it by myself. Oh! I know, it’s Theodore!”
Theodore chuckled. “You finally got it.”
As a boy of his words, he knelt before Olive and squeezed her hand, crowning her finger with a ring.
“Olive, will you marry me?”
The Resonance of a Dry Heart
by Chris Drew
“Will you make one for me?” she says.
“For you, my love, anything.”
You tilt the violin toward the open window and rock the instrument back and forth, back and forth through the moonlight. Twilight ripples coruscate through the smooth, quartered wood, chasing each other over the varnished grain like young lovers.
Out of breath, a thousand feet in the Alpine air, she slows, laughing, and reclines against a silver spruce. The stem is tall, straight, cylindrical. Behind it, a hunched mountain looms, wrinkled with snow.
You corkscrew a borer through the dry bark and listen to the music of the rings, pop-p-pop-p-pop. Narrow, smooth, regular.
Shadows float like ghosts across your vision as you squint along the violin’s curved belly. The join is invisible, two separate pieces from the same block of spruce bound in seamless union.
You trace the graceful arch of its ribs and cup the delicate tapered neck in your palm.
Beneath her ribs, a malignant black mass. Beside it, another lump of cells, twitching, kicking. Life and death co-existing in the same space.
A choice unspoken, because there was ever only one.
You lean your head into the violin’s body and tuck the rest beneath your bristled chin. Lifting the bow, you curl your fingers over the strings.
“Piccolina,” you say. “It is late.”
“Will you play for me?”
You offer the finished instrument, but her arms are already full. She whispers a lullaby to the child.
“Fa la ninna, fa la nanna / Nella bracchia della mamma.”
You press your lips to her forehead, raise the violin, and begin to play.
“Fal la ninna bel bambin / Fa la nanna bambin bel.”
Your daughter reclines in a chair. You smile as a breeze strums her hair.
“For you, my love, anything.”
Obscured By The Magical Moon
by Steve Lodge
Oh, it’s all going too fast. Since I moved back to Long Chaney and met up with Sally Forth again, I’ve been acting like a bloody teenager. Truth is, I’m a pensioner and I have to chew soup. 50 years ago me and Sally snogged behind the school bike sheds and she looks as good today….although 50 years ago, I probably had my eyes shut.
Why did I rush things now? It was a bit of a leap, letting her see my celebration dance so early in our relationship. I wasn’t even sure we were exclusive. But my celebration dance is kind of spontaneous. Partly, I like to do it to prove that the replacement hips haven’t slowed me down. Well, it’s done now. She’s seen it. As it turns out, I’m glad she did. It set off a chain reaction.
She’d seen my dance so now, she said it was only fair that I should hear her sing. It is impossible to say if I’d heard the song she selected before, but I’m pretty sure she murdered it right there in her backyard. She just wouldn’t stop, and she thinks she has such a lovely voice. If I agreed with her that she had the voice of an angel, then we would both be wrong. I think she misread my crying too and some high notes she reached for may have loosened a couple of my teeth.
I really thought coming back to my hometown and being with Sally again was like I’d bought a ticket to Paradise. But, if this is Paradise, I don’t like it now I’m here.
It’s all about timing
by Myrto Zafeiridi
Everybody knows that a basic rule of time-travelling is “Don’t prevent your own birth!” I think I might have just broken that rule and I have no idea what will happen to me if I don’t fix this soon.
My father told me the story many times. He first saw my mother when they were mere children, playing in the park across the street from grandma’s old apartment. A gluttonous golden retriever had snatched her sandwich and made off with it. Just as she was about to burst into tears, dad offered her a cookie. She smiled and kissed him on his cheek. They became good friends after that. At some point he asked her out and they suddenly realized they were even better as a couple. Yet I know that for dad it was all because of that moment, that pure and grateful kiss on the cheek had made him love her.
I didn’t realize I was in that park. I just saw a dog running around and a poor teenage girl trying to catch it. Helping her seemed only natural. And then I saw my mother in the distance, wearing a dress I knew from old photos, eating her sandwich and walking towards the swings. Two seconds later I located my dad, sitting on a bench with grandma, eating cookies. That was when they were supposed to meet, and I managed to get in the way.
I’ve been coming to the park for days. People are looking at me like I’m some kind of pervert, sitting on the bench on my own and watching the kids. My parents have been coming every day too, but they haven’t exchanged a word yet. It seems to me there’s only one option now…
…Mmmm… her sandwich truly was delicious!
by Kelly Griffiths
He studies her. Must be she’s grading stories because her smile ebbs and flows. His heart’s been slogging through the desert for years and now this– mirage, his new team teacher. Like all mirages, getting too close strikes the vision, and he very badly wants to keep her.
She’s absent to the aura of her beauty. More than that. Her back is bowed in the fashion of a tied package. He imagines this. He imagines himself unstringing her, pulling her to her full height with his hands.
A paper ball hits him on the cheek. Oh yes, his students. They’re giggling. He rubs his face in mock hurt and tells them sticks and stones will break his bones but paper balls put him in a reading mood. “Due tomorrow: a thousand words.”
She watches too. A wall of glass separates, but doesn’t separate them. The true barrier is the truth he cannot bring himself to speak. Sometimes he imagines he writes her– a love story he’d slip into her pile. It feels like shooting an arrow over a rampart. Once shot, it can never be taken back, and part of him doesn’t want to play the odds. The fantasy, as is, remains intact. Sometimes she glances up and smiles, unreserved, guileless.
First, he loved her through the testimonies: a teacher who could suss passion out of these blocks of teenage cement. She was a fire hose of inspiration. He fell for that. But seeing made it worse. He’d hoped she’d be ugly. Unsure as to whether he wants to rush her, crush and loose himself upon her– or plant a brotherly kiss on the crown of her hair, he’d do whichever she wished. Take it as deep or as shallow as she wished. If only he knew what she wished.
by Jasmine Isaksson
“I don’t have wings or feathers, yet somehow I am flying. The wind pushes me forward and beneath my gaze the world passes by.
I thought I was frightened but fear is just a word.
I dive between the soft candy cotton clouds. The wind calls my name and I am dancing with her. Then, I look down.
The old man waves at me with kind and loving eyes. We are the same, him and I but he is wise and I am just young.
I wish I could take him with me but he tells me not to be sad and wipes my tears.
The old man promises that we will see each other again.
The stars are out now, guiding my way and in the distance, I can see it; the second star to the right.”
James & Kassie
by Jack Koebnig
James wasn’t the type to make the first move.
Some people, like me, prefer to lead while others, like James, are happier to follow.
And when you take a closer look at who was raising him, it’s a miracle he came over and spoke to me at all.
I didn’t think he was interested in me, or at least, I didn’t think he was allowed to be interested in me. He’d never shown any interest before. He’d never once hung out on a Friday night with the kids, drinking beer or bumming smokes.
Then one afternoon I saw them; James and HER. I raised a hand, you know, to say ‘Hi’, but they didn’t wave back. Instead they exchanged a few words with each other, before hurrying down the sidewalk as though their pants were on fire.
Up until then I don’t think I’d ever heard James speak. Which was a shame as his voice was both smooth and strong, like a block of vanilla ice cream covered in thick caramel sauce.
‘James. Hey. Whatcha doing?’
He asked if I’d like to come over for supper.
‘Tonight,’ he said.
‘Okay. Just let me call home first.’
‘You can use our phone,’ he said.
‘Well all right then. Let’s go.’
I didn’t call home.
But as we turned off Main Street and onto Portobello and 6th, I nodded at a deserted fruit shop on the corner.
It was a good thing I did; being tied up and dumped in a damp cellar ain’t my idea of accepting an invitation for supper.
I just need to remain cool like a chilled cucumber. The kids won’t be long.
I’ll make sure they go easy on James though, he is kinda cute.
by Kelsey Winter
He didn’t like Scrabble. I did though, so he bought the game for a $1.99. There were a few letters missing, but I didn’t mind. He strung up Christmas lights, even though it was only September, and lit a few candles so we could see better. He placed the board on the bed making it shift every time one of us moved.
He watched my fingers place each square, and his eyebrows furrowed. I found him most attractive when he was concentrating. His natural state was lanky and a goof. When he was focused, he let his guard down, because he never thought anyone was ever watching him. I was though. I waited for that precious moment when he came out of his head. His face would relax into a smile. I lived for that smile.
The room that surrounded us was simple. Plain walls with a cork board filled up with old pictures and postcards. His bed took up the right side of the room, and on the left, was a brown couch. The room was anything but extraordinary, but it also held the whispers of late night I love you’s. Tucked under the bed were kicked off socks and hair clips I lost. I never got those back when we ended. I wonder if he ever changed his room around in the hopes to erase all those words we exchanged.
In the end he kept Scrabble, he kept everything, including a part of me. I shiver at everything that was never said, the way I didn’t put up a fight, and how I wished he loved me again. Seeing him now in a grocery store, he’s concentrating, and after all this time I still wait for the moment after, just to see him smile once more.
by Alan Pattison
“Tony always enjoyed walking for exercise, the views and as a way to meet people. His favourite place was Hampstead Heath where he thought he knew every tree, most of the dog walkers.and best of all it was only a short, pretty walk from where he lived.
~One day he was near the top of Parliament Hill when he heard a woman’s voice saying ”It couldn’t be Tony McKenzie from Sedgeborne Grammar? You haven’t changed a bit.”
“I’m sorry “said Tony turning around to see a beautiful woman “I don’t recognise you. Maybe like me, you’re fifty years or so older now?”|
~I’m Daphne Foster” came the reply “And you gave me my first kiss on the way back home from school one day.”
“~I do remember that.”exclaimed Tony “Would you like to try it again some time?”
“No you haven’t changed much ” said Daphne leaning towards him.
An Unexpected Turn of Events
by CR Smith
June displayed the Christmas cards in the window. It was too soon in her opinion, customers would only moan. September sun filtered through the glass temporarily blinding her. As her vision adjusted she noticed he was there again. Three days in a row the brown dog had appeared outside, always without its owner.
When June’s stint in the charity shop finished the dog was still there. Despite her telling him to go home he kept close to her heels, waiting outside the Co-op while she nipped inside, buying a tin of dog food with her groceries. She fed him in her kitchen, welcoming the company. The house was a lonely place since her husband’s death.
June read the address on the dangling dog tag and, attaching a belt to his collar, took Apollo home. The closer they got the more excitable his barking became. The door opened before June had chance to knock giving her the shock of her life. There was Bob, her childhood sweetheart.
After chastising Apollo for running off he invited June inside. From the sofa her eyes settled on a row of photographs, one she recognised — she was in it. They’d gone their separate ways when Bob moved away for work. A far amount of catching up was inevitable. June’s heart fluttered at the mention of his divorce.
Bob thought he’d seen her in the charity shop a few weeks back, but had put it down to wishful thinking. He’d been reminiscing over his old photographs ever since, telling Apollo all about her.
The afternoon ran seamlessly into the evening, the evening ino weeks, the weeks into months. Almost a year later Bob proposed. They married on the anniversary of their reunion, Apollo acting as best man, their rings attached to his collar.
Over the wall
by Cristina Bresser
He came to take me with him. I wish he had not. Deep inside, I was praying that he would never show up again. Ever. I wanted him to let me down. However, he came to rescue me, as he had promised he would.
I could not hide my glee, my insane joy. He took me in his arms and we walked together to the top of the city wall. It was the only way out. When I looked down, I lost the courage. I could not jump. The black Labrador threw himself over the wall. He emerged and started swimming on the lake.
My love understood I was not going to jump. He could interpret my silence. Words were secondary since the day we met for the first time in this life. He held me tight.
He was so strong. He looked scary in that gray leather rudimentary apparel, his giant feet in those rough shoes. To me, he was handsome. I could perceive his generous soul, his immense love for me. It was impregnated in his skin.
It was an eternal embrace. We knew we were meant to meet again in many forthcoming lives. He said to me: “I will be back”. And jumped.
by Laurie Stone
The sister unbuttons her blouse. Her breasts are still small. The brother makes out a reddish scar over a breast where a lump was removed. She tosses her knickers to the floor, and he has an impulse to tidy the room. She pulls him to her, saying, “Kiss me.” He says, “I can’t.” She says, “You were my first love.” He says, “You were mine.”
They would wait for their parents to leave and crawl under the piano. He would ask her to spread her legs and touch her nonexistent breasts. They were ten and twelve. He would slide a finger inside. She wasn’t sure where.
She says, “Touch me.” He says, “I can’t,” running his hand along her hip. She says, “People don’t touch the dying.” His cock hardens. She says, “That’s my boy.” He places his lips on hers. They’ve been drinking.
She says, “Why did you leave England?” He says, “The Danes find me odd and interesting.” She places her head on his shoulder. It feels bony. She says, “Help me die.” He says, “Okay,” thinking her doctors will get it done. It seems to be their specialty.
Her head is velvety. His face is wet. He says, “I’m going to fall asleep here.” She says, “Of course.” He says, “What will we say in the morning?” She says, “We’ll pretend it didn’t happen.”
She sees their parents over cups of tea, always talking. He says, “Are you afraid?” She says, “I don’t think I believe it yet, and I’m not in pain. I suppose I’ll believe it when I’m in pain.” He sees how little he understands and doesn’t mind. He runs his hand along her back, and England disappears. She says, “Are you afraid?” He says, “All the time.”
by Mark Sadler
Isak and Sofia Reznik were born in Leningrad, into apartments on the same floor of adjacent buildings. In their twenties they worked as scientists. The party moved them beyond the reach of the Americans, to a closed city on the Taiga that has no name, or place on any map. Later, a kernel of dissidence was detected in their research. They were moved, for the last time, to the Parakazover Prison, which was once an orthodox monastery.
I only knew Sofia. Her husband, who occupied the stone cell next to ours, was a theoretical presence, his voice masked by strong winds that buffeted the walls. My communications with him occurred through his wife, who mediated as a priest does with god.
We pushed the flimsy wooden bunk up to the small glassless window that was shaped like a compressed arch, set so high in the wall that the apex almost met with the ceiling. Sofia reached between the cold bars and extended her hand along the rough exterior, where it joined with her husband’s, their fingers tapping a conversation in Morse code. Where her wrist pressed against the side of the window a permanent impression formed, like that made by a wedding ring.
When Sofia was dying, Isak held her hand all night through the cold, until an hour before dawn, when it slipped from his grasp and back into the cell. In her final moments she murmured: “I know it is not you who comforts me.”
I was eventually freed, along with many others. I looked for Isak. Instead I found his stand-in. He told me, three years before Sofia’s death, her husband had been executed He had assumed his identity.
I married this man. Our small love flourishes in the shadow of a love greater than our own.