Thursday, November 29

The Stars Confess

by Helen Burke

It is time we owned up.

It is you, your very selves that

are the things we steer by.

Your mortal souls that guide us westward.

Long have we plotted our uncertain course

by the knowledge of you.

You who have been here long before us.

You who will be here long after we

small wizened fry, are gone.

Carefully, by groups of three or four of you,

where so strategically you are placed,

(often you actually LOOK like something),

we can be sure of all our routes.

Be certain of the great divide.

To fall off the edge is not our wish.

So it is, that today, the stars salute you.

We say too, that – in a certain light

and on the clearer nights –

you are, quite beautiful.

Helen Burke has been writing and publishing poems for 25 years. She has just won the Sheffield Festival PoetStars Prize and second prize in Ilkley Lit. Fest performance, which she has won on two previous occasions. She had a show at the Edinburgh Festival this year which was rated highly starred by the Scotsman.

Monday, November 26

Stones In My Shoes

by Bob Jacobs

The stones in our garden move at night. They edge closer to our house. In the morning I put them back, but they don't like it. The stones were Gloria's idea. She started with Green Paddlestones and Plum Slate, then she bought a Blue Drilled Monolith, six feet tall, as a centre piece. She's created a rockery from Iberian Quadrock that came in Candy Stone, Rainbow, Red Laguna and White. I thought we had enough, but since then she's bought boulders of Granite and Schist, Caledonian Pebbles, and a bag or two of Sea Green Granite Chippings.

Last week I found a lump of Red Gritstone on her side of the bed. She claimed she didn't know how it got there, but I have my suspicions. They love her, these stones, and it's easy to see why. She cuddles and strokes them and makes them feel loved, talking sweetly to them, just like she used to do to me.

Sometimes at night I hear them moving. They whisper like children, then drag themselves across the lawn. Every day I find stones in my shoes, and it doesn't happen by accident. They want me out of here, I can tell, but I won't go without a fight. If they want her, it'll be over my dead body.

Jacobs lives in the south-east of England with his wife and kids and Sony Vaio.

Thursday, November 22

Toast, parts I and II

by Simon Stratton

Part I

He crawled a little closer, not believing his luck. Out here, in the remotest of places, there was a man sitting quietly in a foldaway deckchair and enjoying a glass of iced lemonade. He was watching him approach, wearing bright Hawaiian shorts and a loose canvas shirt, only buttoned once.

'Hello.' He said tentatively.

The man didn't reply, but watched him rise shakily from his knees and try to make himself presentable by brushing off sand and grit.

'Can you help me? I've been out here for days.'

There was still no reply, but abruptly, the man in Hawaiian shorts took a long, hard swig at the lemonade that made the wanderer want to jump forward and grab it out of his hand. He held back, just.

'Please, at least give me some of the drink, I have had no water out here, only a brackish pool earlier, and what I have managed to squeeze out of frogs and lizards. I need something to drink, please.'

He stumbled forward and would be crying with joy to find someone, but there was not enough moisture left in him. The man in the Hawaiian shorts jangled his glass, which now contained only ice cubes and a tint of yellow. How the wanderer longed to suck on one of those ice cubes. The man continued to stare at the sunburnt form in front of him and then suddenly stood up.

The wanderer was just saying 'Plea…' but that motion was enough to trigger him into making a dive forward for the glass. Like an experienced matador, the man in Hawaiian shorts stepped smoothly out of the way, holding the glass high, and simultaneously collapsing the deckchair with his other hand, whipping it around like a cloak. The wanderer collapsed into the dust, wheezing.

A truck full of Mexican farmers, out in the desert looking for a lost dog, pause in their search, when they noticed in the distance an emaciated white man alternate between beating the hell out of a large man-shaped acacia cactus and sucking thirstily on a pile of yellow dried gopher droppings.

Part II

The wanderer was surrounded by Mexicans, talking away furiously in Spanish and gesturing wildly, none of which he could understand. He raised his hand hesitantly.

'Um, excuse me?' He said. The talking slowly died down.

'Would anyone like some dog?' He queried, pulling a half eaten mongrel terrier out of his tattered rucksack.

Simon Stratton
lives and works in Manchester, and enjoys his job as a professional strip-o-gram, specialising in wakes and barmitsvahs. You can also book him for hospital visits.

Tuesday, November 20

Falling Woman

by Helen Burke

She falls into my room,
so I fell into conversation with her (it was easy).
She was drinking water upside-down.
Here’s a nice kettle of fish, I thought.
“Don’t take the medication,” she said.
“Especially not the little green pills.”
She says she doesn’t need them. None of them – just cause
everything is falling. Her life, her tits, her bank-balance.
That’s how it starts she says –
your husband stops visiting, your kids lives turn to dust
and your food becomes a fire-engine.
Oh, they mash it up all right, but it’s still on fire when it goes
down your throat.
That and the goldfish they make you wear.
Stay alert, she warns me as she falls
into the jug of water left, (oh so carefully) for both of us.

Helen Burke has been writing and publishing poems for 25 years. She has just won the Sheffield Festival PoetStars Prize and second prize in Ilkley Lit. Fest performance, which she has won on two previous occasions. She had a show at the Edinburgh Festival this year which had a highly starred rating by the Scotsman. She has just completed an M.A. in Literature Studies at St. John's University in York.

Saturday, November 17

Cut the Red Wire

by Bob Clay

There are a lot of people who think we know no fear in this job. Take my word for it, that is equine brown stuff. The fear is like a bear trap, buried deep in the stomach, and tightly shut around your guts. If you don’t show it, it’s because you’ve blanked out your imagination. Imagination is a bad thing when you’re dealing with a bomb.

It’s the relay that scares me the most, more than the clock even. The relay has four sets of make/break contacts, all wired. These wires then disappear below the clock. Another four sets of three wires emerge from beneath the other side of the clock to the four detonators, buried deep in semtex.

Each det has three wires instead of two; so our bomb maker has put in another, possibly a dummy, probably a make circuit for the relay. If I cut it, the relay drops out, one of the four contacts makes, big bang, and oblivion.

There are four batteries, all wired, he loves the number four does this fellah, and the clock is extra special too. It’s a cheap thing, and he’s painted red lines on it to tell me how close I am to being a dripping red smear on the ceiling. Right now… perhaps thirty seconds.

I can’t obey rule one (don’t mess with it) because there are people on the floors above me. I can’t clamp or block the relay contacts, he’s resin glued a perspex cover and there’s no time to cut through it. I can’t get to the power connectors on the relay coil, they’re underneath, and I can’t yank the dets out because the whole thing is fitted into a box with the precision of a Harrison clock. It’s not a high tech bomb, but it’s a good one. The way a bad nightmare is good because you wake up from it. Except this nightmare has a cheap tick, and the ticks are running out.

So do I cut the red wire ? … Well, he’s thought of that old cliché too, because in the bowl of spaghetti that is this bomb’s wiring, all the bloody wires are red.

Bob Clay is an ex Merchant Navy / GCHQ / general layabout now living in Cornwall and looking after computers in a comprehensive school.

Thursday, November 15

matthew thirteen

by Mel George

The fingers
of my left hand
are calloused and numb.
Every guitar string
pressed against them
raises their defense;
each time
more self-protective,
nothing hurts anymore.

I can't feel with them.

You tell me
my heart
grows the same
with every disappointment
pressed against it.
Come then
and strip it down,
it can hurt

and feel again.

Mel George is an underqualified psychologist and an overqualified administrator. She is not a poet. If you are, you can raise the standard of Pygmy Giant poetry by sending some in.

Wednesday, November 14

A Small Cheer

Readers, writers, accidental visitors, hello!

A giant thank you to all of you for having got The Pygmy Giant off the ground.

With the number of submissions we have received, we hope to be able to put something up every other day from now on until... well, until we get enough submissions to publish something daily. Or until we come up with another idea.

We're still looking for some more poetry and non-fiction in particular at the moment, though do keep sending in your fiction too.

I know this is a place for British writing, but please don't be all British and reserved about leaving comments. It's the only way we'll learn, as my mother might have said, and this is the first audience these pieces have got. I reckon the authors would like to know how they are being received.

So keep sending in your wonderful small-on-the-outside, giant-on-the-inside pieces. Here's to you for making it happen. Hurrah!


Tuesday, November 13

Plan for a Phone Call

by Emily McPhillips

Hair like fondant icing dripping in the heat, it sticks to her face. Eyes like plumped pillows, discomforting eyes, eyes quietly bulging heavy with tears. She sits by the phone with a sheet of lined paper; she has written a list of twelve topics, they include: university course, the new Robert Redford movie, the name James underlined.

The surface she sits on is a glazed kitchen worktop of marble. The kitchen units are dark mahogany brown, their handles are unfashionable. Her whole body is elevated, her legs tight together and the phone held in her left hand; she nurses it against her ear, her chin against her knee, and her right hand clutched over her legs so tight together. She is making herself feel very small. She dials the number as though she is sure it won't ring; the phone rings and the handset fills her mouth; it is tasteless, like forgotten chewing gum. The phone rings and the words on the sheet of lined paper look like severe sounding notes played on an organ. The sound of the organ filters into the handset, she gets scared; she can't play any musical instruments and she hangs up the phone.

Her cheeks are a shade of stinging red, of cherry blossom in a Japanese garden. She looks very beautiful in the dimly lit light. She sits by the phone like a jilted lover, and lets the shadows cast by the window blinds stripe her skin. Pink tissues surround her feet like soft flowers. She is as delicate as porcelain, and is admired by many as an acutely tuned porcelain doll. Her lips have dried under her lipstick and they crack at the edges. She tastes the copper like taste of old two-pence-pieces, and she is all too formidably aware of the stillness around her, the phone off the hook, and the dead drone emanating from the receiver resting slightly askew.

Emily McPhillips was born in 1985. She lives in Manchester. Take a look at her fanzine 'Ministering to a Lunatic' here.

Sunday, November 11

Home Town

by Helen Burke

This is his home town only because
he doesn’t know how to leave.
The way out involves time-tables.
He has trouble with them.
This is his home town.
This is where he cleans his teeth.
Like a bruise, he is not sure how he got here.
Just that he is here.
He offers strangers crisps.

He stands at train-stations
looking at maps.
Eyes as big as gob-stoppers.
“Skegness, it's so bracing,” the poster says.
He wonders where it is.
Once he went to Leeds but
he kept his eyes shut and so
the memory is blurred.
He has come to call for Peter.
Peter is his mentor, rides ladies’ bikes
and thinks he’s from the moon.

We ask him where he’s from, he says
a hospital in Middlesborough.
His mother had him there because of Aunty Sadie
and her breeding dogs like.
He’s never known his dad.
It seemed the best for all concerned.
Though sometimes on his birthday
he wonders if he’s dead.

This is his home town, his I’m–in chains
He used to be a window- cleaner, but
didn’t like heights.
He could only do the bottom ones and people
can be funny. Now
he works at the bookies but has never seen a horse.
He stands and watches trains.
Watches people boarding them
and offers strangers crisps.

Helen Burke has been writing and publishing poems for 25 years. She has just won the Sheffield Festival PoetStars Prize and second prize in Ilkley Lit. Fest performance, which she has won on two previous occasions. She had a show at the Edinburgh Festival this year which had a highly starred rating by the Scotsman. She has just completed an M.A. in Literature Studies at St. John's University in York.

Thursday, November 8

Not a Boat Story

by Simon Stratton

As the boat glided across the lake in exactly the same way a bowling ball wouldn't, she offered him a small hand that was as gentle and steady, as a pneumatic drill was hard and shaky.

'Jason.' She murmured, and the name drifted across and nibbled at his ear, in the complete opposite way a shark rips pieces out of an unsuspecting surfer.

'Yes, my dear?' Her eyes were deep, if up were down, they'd be mountains. But as it isn't, they weren't. 'God,' he thought, 'her eyes are deep.' They were the depth of a million teaspoons.

'Would you… would you call me Steve?' Her diminutive voice quavered and small tears had gathered in the corners of her eyes, as crisp and clean as a sewage pipe after a flush was dirty. He held his gaze as steady, and thought, 'Yes,' his stomach rumbled, not at all like an otter mewls, 'teaspoons.'

'I love you…' he paused, '…Steve.'

'Oh!' She said. And across from his bristling moustache, her face lit up, in exactly the same way an ex-smoker can't.

A struggling writer, Simon Stratton has won awards for:
- The best use of the letter 'r' in a sentence
- Translating David Beckham's Autobiographies into Hutonti (the language of a minor African tribe (pop. 62)).

Saturday, November 3

by Bob Jacobs

My wife can travel faster than light. She thinks it's funny. Yesterday I got up from the sofa and she asked where I was going. "Going for a pee," I said. Halfway up the stairs I saw the tell-tale flicker, a brief shimmer in the air. You have to know what you're looking for or you'd never notice. By the time I reached the toilet the door was locked and she was in there, laughing secretively.

I've never complained about her putting on weight. Over the years she tried every diet going and I gave her every encouragement, but each Christmas she'd be heavier than the one before. I told her that I loved her and I meant it, but at almost twenty stone she didn't love herself and couldn't believe that I did either. She could hardly walk and would barely fit through the door frame.

One night, after she'd gone to bed, she came down without me noticing and caught me on She cried all night. I said I was sorry and tried to reassure her, but I ended up in the spare room. The next day she joined Weight Watchers, the following week she signed up at the gym. She started a five-veg-a-day thing, then took up jogging, and she just got faster and faster.

This morning I knew something was up. The air didn't stop shimmering all the time I was eating my cornflakes. She appeared in front of me and said, "I'm leaving you." I asked why and she said she was bored and wanted to make a fresh start somewhere else. When I asked her where she was going she said, "Gliese 581 c. It's a planet."

I looked it up on Wikipedia while she packed her stuff. "But it's over twenty light years away," I told her. She said she thought she could make it in a few hours if she pushed herself. The last time I saw her she wore a heat resistant suit, with a polo neck jumper underneath, and a sealed glass helmet. She carried an oxygen cylinder, five portions of veg and some clean underwear. The air shimmered, the clouds shuddered, and that was it. She was gone.

After she left I went back on, but as I browsed the pictures it was my wife I was thinking of.

Bob Jacobs lives in the south-east of England with his wife and kids and Sony Vaio.