by Leah Armstead
You shrug off conversation as if it's a fussy coat
too tight around your chest, hampering breath.
It's easy to see your mouth as a sliver of moon
hidden by clouds that filter out brightness.
In perpetual silence you've found a way
to fade from focus, to receive vague notice.
They call you a loner, but I've been with you
alone, heard your wit and insight, know that
your silence in a crowd is as necessary
as stone walls that keep a garden intact.
Leah Armstead lives in Aberystwyth and has had poems published in Ragged Raven, Leaf Books, Recusant, and Pipeworks among others.
Monday, September 29
by Leah Armstead
Saturday, September 27
by Yaja Kindermann
At first it’s quite innocent.
But it soon becomes very sordid – very, very sordid, and it all begins with a carrot.
You think that what you’re doing is okay; that every woman does it – at some point. That it’s just normal behaviour. But you’re wrong and you know it.
You’re just deceiving yourself.
And when you feel guilty enough, and dirty enough, you switch the CD player off and turn the volume up on the kid’s T.V. programmes instead – for comfort – for vindication whilst you’re doing it.
If it happens on a Sunday, there’s no more ‘Steve Wright’s Love Songs’ during the session – oh no. You feel too guilty. So you switch on ‘The Country File’ programme instead and mute it because if you can’t hear them, they can’t see you.
The carrot soon progresses to a cucumber but it’s only when you dip the end in low-fat salad cream, that you know you’re really finished. Soon, what’s left of the French-bread ‘sandwich’ and curled up vol-au-vaunts from the day before is history – kids stuff. Ten more minutes and you’ll be deep frying a rich tea biscuit and pouring custard over it that hey, you’d made up without even knowing.
You curse the manufacturers of crisps for making them too ‘sharp’ then realise with fraying innocence that if you weren’t cramming two twenty-eight gram bags in each cheek, perhaps they could be forgiven. And all the while you’re blaming the carrot that had been left on the chopping board since yesterday. The carrot that made you do it, the carrot that’s making you think, ‘What happened? Where did I go wrong?’
Things were going so well when you first got up and began focusing on the day ahead. But the thought soon leaves you because there’s still a half eaten terrine of pate to get through to help you forget. You suddenly remember an actor once saying that the best way to avoid over-eating is to watch yourself doing it in the nude. Well more fool him. Clothes only restrict your ever expanding stomach.
And eating standing up doesn’t count apparently. So you try your best to rise from the counter, but your stomach’s so full, you’re doubled over and your size ten figure now resembles one of those pregnant models on the cover of a magazine.
Then things get really sordid.
Stuff you’ve dropped on the kitchen lino during the savage attack on a packet of frozen pastry suddenly looks very appetising. And isn’t that a strip of charred potato hanging off the edge of the chiller compartment? Without thinking, you hoist yourself up to it and catch sight of yourself on the steel flap, but as you snatch the potato with your teeth, the only thing that manages to pass between your lips is a painful groan.
What could be jam, jelly or juice is dripping off your chin. Your hair is littered with cake, bread and other suspicious looking crumbs and there are strands of chive poking out from in between every second tooth. You can’t swear on it, but something that looks like marmite is smeared across your face. You should feel terribly guilty, but instead the only thing you’re wondering is whether or not eating frozen chips could kill you.
And all because of a carrot.
Supplies are getting thin so you fall back onto your arse and survey what’s left of the weekly shop. You stare blankly at one egg, some left over ‘dip’, and a piece of broccoli cowering in the corner of the salad tray. It’s amazing how quickly your imagination can outstrip anything Jamie Oliver could cook up.
As you struggle to your feet, your stomach suddenly feels a lot better after the little sit down, and you eye up a bag of flour and bottle of olive oil on the side as if you were a sex maniac.
You spy a raisin on the floor and your mouth drools. You must keep going. If you stop now, you’ll realise that you’re still wearing your dressing-gown and haven’t even made it to mid-day. But you know that tomorrow will be different. You know that tomorrow you’ll be good. So you turn the frying pan on again, reach for the broccoli and give yourself a pat on the back for looking to the future.
Yaja Kindermann is from Herefordshire.
Wednesday, September 24
by Nick Allen
Elizabeth draws a card, looks concerned.
“How old is your daughter?”
“Seven,” says the young woman.
“Listen, you must be sure she can swim before her ninth birthday. Do you understand?”
The young woman pushes £30 into Elizabeth’s hand, rushing to leave.
Elizabeth smiles. That line always works.
Nick Allen is a mental health nurse living and working in Manchester. He is a member of a local creative writing group and also participates in an online writers group.
Monday, September 22
by Oonah V Joslin
‘and then the clock struck midnight and the pumpkin coach became just a pumpkin and the mice, just mice and all her lovely clothes turned to rags as she fled the castle,’
‘except for one glass slipper…’ intoned Peggy sleepily.
‘I’ll read you the rest tomorrow night. Now be a good girl and go to sleep.’
Peggy turned over and imagined midnight magic.
At New Year when she was eight, her mother put her to bed a bit later than usual but staying up so late had made her cross and she argued to stay up later still – ‘til midnight. Her mother said it was only one day to the next so why bother? She might not stay up herself. Midnight would come and go. One minute to…the hour…one minute past, same difference. There was no magic in it. And she ushered her up stairs.
Peggy longed to stay awake until midnight and she tried. She tried. To see that single moment when darkness must surely be darker still, and ghosts could come out of hiding. But she was always so sleepy and watching the clock, now she could tell the time, only soothed her with its tick-tock lullaby and her eyes would shut of their own accord and that magical moment would be lost.
On her tenth birthday, Peggy forced herself to sit awake on her bed. She watched the clock for a few minutes to midnight. Then she slipped out into the summer garden wearing only her nightgown and slippers to see what kind of creature midnight was; and whether things would change.
From the darkness of the hedge, shiny eyes peered out. Peggy stood very still, arms held close about her shivering body. The eyes darted away followed by a stiff tail. Moments later, something else moved across the stones – a toad, perhaps. What if there was a rat? A sudden breeze ruffled the hedge and made a shushing noise like a giant’s hand sweeping across its leaves. Next door’s cats yowled and scrammed and screeched and made her jump. The sound of grunting over by the flower pots drew her gaze. A hedgehog was snuffling for worms. A caravan of snails climbed up brickwork, leaving a moonlight trail. Stars glinted, clouds scudded and the moon shone blue and wide-eyed. Jupiter sparkled brighter than any other point in the sky. Peggy knew about Jupiter. Teacher said Jupiter had a day that lasted only ten hours so Peggy wondered whether it was midnight there too but she couldn’t figure it out. None of them, the animals, plants, stars, seemed to take much notice of the hour. It might have been just any time.
Perhaps mother was right and midnight’s only midnight only by our clocks, - like the big one on the church steeple. But grown-ups like to measure things and then they pretend the things they measure are real, when it’s the Sun and Moon and animals that are real.
And now today was tomorrow and nothing had really happened at midnight. In fact Peggy just wanted to get back to her warm bed and go to sleep.
“Peggy, get in the house at once, you’ll catch your death! Don’t you know it’s after midnight? What are you doing out there anyway? One of these days, the bogey-man’ll get you!”
Bogey man! Adults could be so… silly.
Oonah V Joslin is a newly established writer living in Northumberland. For more information and links to her work, see www.oonahs.blogspot.com
Saturday, September 20
by Richard Barrett
forewarned, act surprised, bought for that
the card, half an hour ago when heard
a meeting or announcement soon, in all likelihood
applications finally paid off it'd seem, but
keep it to yourself, let him break the news
I'm shocked, I know, never thought he'd get it together
sufficiently to go, congratulations though
of course, have to be pleased for him, sad as well
but, anyway…good afternoon, can I take
your National Insurance number please?
HEO position, Oldham, Middleton area
just informed, couldn't be more shocked
maybe a month, you'll be taking us to the pub?!
oh aye! Look, he's going red! How happy is he?!
understandable – getting out of here! seriously
: well done, yeah – nice one…
…you okay? I think I might cry, I mean
my first boss, never before had a job, knew
nothing about rules of work or the office, he
taught me all that stuff, end of an era,
exactly! I agree! didn't want to say as much
for fear of…appearing sad? yeah, don't be so
soft – we'll all be thinking that
except her, maybe but, who'd want to be her?
about anyone – except herself, need to go home
I'll email you, wondering how to admit
Richard Barrett lives and works in Salford, enjoys the music of The Fall, and yesterday bought a biography of the writer Patrick Hamilton; what he's read of it so far has been 'quite good'.
Wednesday, September 17
by Crispin Best
There are six eggs in the pan. I fill the pan with cold water from the tap until the eggs are covered. I place the pan on the gas.
After two minutes, I remove an egg. This egg is chosen at random. I hold it. If you hold an egg up to the light, you can see the inside. I do not do this. This egg is cold. It is not cooked. I removed the egg too soon. The insides are clear where they should ideally be white. The yolk is feeble. This much I know.
I wait a further minute. I remove a second egg. This egg is also chosen at random. It is also not cooked. The insides are once again clear. The insides seem more viscous this time. I wonder if this is perhaps my imagination. For later reference, I give this egg a viscosity score of 6 out of 10, where I imagine the standard viscosity of an uncooked egg to be 5. I rough out a chart and write this score in a small pad that is sitting on the countertop near the toaster. I use a clicky pen. The pad says ‘recipes’ on the front cover. I ask the pad to forgive me.
I wait a further minute. I remove a third egg. This leaves three eggs in the pan. I am using a teaspoon to retrieve the eggs. Bear this in mind. This egg, which has been chosen at random, is also not cooked. There is some evidence of what-looks-like peripheral coagulation in this egg. All the same, I decide to give this egg the same viscosity score as the previous egg. I don’t deal in half marks. This egg is warm. I have touched the egg. I blow on my fingers to cool them where the egg stung me. With the fingers of my other hand, I click the pen.
I wait a further minute. I remove a fourth egg. It dries quite quickly. This egg is partly cooked and has been chosen at random. There is evidence of a reasonable amount of congealment. The yolk, however, still quivers in a small see-through pool. This is not ideal. Opacity is ideal for eggs. This much I know. The insides of the egg are extremely hot. They drip down the dark pink palm and fingers of my right hand, my egg-crushing hand.
I wait a further minute. I remove the fifth egg. I smile. I am confident. I swaddle the egg in a paper towel. My face is upside-down in the spoon. I lop the slender end of the egg off. This egg is cooked. The yolk is soft and penetrable and lies snug in the white. The egg’s shell is very hot. I am eager. I feel my head nodding on my shoulders. In my haste, I neglect to give this egg a viscosity score. I sprinkle salt on my toast soldiers, which is a secret of mine. I dip the soldiers in the egg. The yolk yields. I eat.
After finishing, I wait a further minute. I remove the sixth egg, which is the final egg. I place the egg on the chopping board. I turn off the gas. I swallow saliva and put my ear close to the hob. There is no sound, which is ideal. I pour the hot water from the pan down the plughole and place the pan in the sink. I examine the final egg. This egg is overcooked. The yolk is churned, its colour unimpressive. I smash the egg three times with a rolling pin. I wash my hands, roll down my shirtsleeves and fix my tie in the mirror. I set off for the big conference. I can do this. I know I can do this.
Crispin Best was born in 1983 and lives next door to the house in London that he grew up in.
Monday, September 15
by Rosie Sandler
The big wheel had been still for about half an hour when the lights went out in all the pods. It had happened again, then: he’d been forgotten. Dermot sat down on the bench in the middle and stared out. The lights of London spread before him like something he ought to care about. Instead, he was fighting a sudden urge to go to the toilet.
Dermot could recite a list of places in which he had been locked at closing time. They included Santa’s grotto in Hull, a train outside Inverness and a department store toilet in Liverpool; at least he’d been able to urinate in that one without worrying. He sighed and looked about him for a suitable receptacle. In the absence of anything better, he took a half-empty water bottle from his bag and aimed into it, splashing his shoes and the bottom of his trouser legs. He screwed the lid back on to the bottle, then wiped his shoes with a tissue, turned up his damp trousers and began to plan the time ahead.
He could easily pass an hour identifying landmarks by their illuminated silhouettes; Canary Wharf, with its flashing beacon, would be a good starting-point. Another hour could be spent finding ways to traverse the pod without touching the floor with his feet. He was emptying his pockets in search of a makeshift dinner, when the capsule lit up and the wheel crept back into motion.
'I’m so sorry about that!’ blustered the attendant when he reached ground level. ‘We’ve never left someone onboard before.’
‘You remembered about me?’
‘Of course. Well – one of my colleagues did.’
Dermot had gone from inconspicuous to memorable in a turn of the wheel. He stumbled home, hoping it would never happen again.
Rosie Sandler's stories have been published in 34th Parallel magazine, The Local Writer 2007 collection, and an anthology of flash fiction called Jealousy (published by slingink.co.uk). She has been shortlisted for competitions in the Essex Chronicle newspaper and Essentials magazine. You can read more of her work here.
Friday, September 12
by Pat Tiger
A’m sitting ‘ere in mi Blackpool deckchair
Flask an’ cream crackers tucked under mi feet.
A quick smoke fer now but maybe later
Some er that candy floss – just fer a treat.
‘Ave fetched mi wireless – can’t miss two thirty
A quid each way on that young day tripper.
If ‘am in wi luck at York then likely
I’ll pay fer a go on yon big dipper.
Seein’ as it’s warm a’ll tek off mi waistcoat
Can’t wait fer look on them young uns faces.
They’ll ‘ave a reyt laugh when a’m parading
Mi’ brand new yellow an’ red striped braces.
Off wi mi cap – now where’s mi clean ‘ankie?
I need it to stop mi getting sun stroke.
‘Ave thought about inventer er tissues
I reckon he must be a reyt daft bloke.
It’s folk such as ‘im that’s angling fer change
Sure as eggs is eggs he’d not be seen dead
Wi’ flimsy Kleenex, knotted in corners
Just try keeping one er them on yer ‘ed!!!
Pat Tiger writes short stories and poetry.
Wednesday, September 10
by Jennifer Walmsley
It knocks, banging away in my mind, the one question that has plagued me since yesterday, 'What if I fail?'
Sunday, September 7
by Leah Armstead
One face among
as a serpentine
a secret face,
as the night is
Lost poems mean
There is just seeing:
If only my gaze
could be met and
my name called out,
and to know that it
mattered, did not
as from a high altitude
leaving no doubts,
no question at all
that it should
or could be
anything other than
what it is.
Leah Armstead lives in Aberystwyth and has had poems published in Ragged Raven, Leaf Books, Recusant, and Pipeworks among others.
Friday, September 5
by Jenn Ashworth
All I know is that when I got to work there was something tapping behind the panel you have to take out if you want to clear a paper-jam, and the woman who answers the phone told me not to touch it. I knew it was the boss because her desk was empty.
I sat at my desk and tried to go on as usual. I make tables. I copy words from one document and retype them into a grid. You’re not allowed to cut and paste, and they can tell if you do it. They’ve rigged up the computers so they make the noise the computer on Family Fortunes makes when the contestants give the wrong answer.
I typed between the lines of the table until lunch. The tapping inside the photocopier grew louder. People ignored it, but they angled their bodies away from it whenever they had to use it.
Towards two, the tapping grew weaker. The last tap, was at 3.08. People are slacking off now. Three of the typists are making a massive rubber band ball. I am thinking about clocking out an hour early, but I’m not sure.
Jenn Ashworth is a compulsive liar and a collector of cacti.
Wednesday, September 3
by Joshua Seigal
Mr Garritty was a teacher of mine, a red-cheeked theologian
and a God-fearing man. He’d engage us in discourse in broad
Scottish brogue and traverse the arguments through
knowledge’s caves, helping us look up to see the sun.
He’d draw snaking diagrams in spiders on the board,
and pick at our bones for answers, one by one. Finding
fallacies like polyps on our nascent tongues he’s steer us back
onto reason’s path. He seemed to have an answer for everything:
He was studying at
on Thomas Aquinas, was familiar with
evolution as well as myth. He would sit
with me after hours in his study, chewing
over the twigs of Descartes and Derrida;
discussing whether or not God exists.
I have since found out that he became a priest.
I want to fire questions like bullets as he kneels in a pew,
to ask, as he crosses his heart with his kindly fingers,
and you believe a virgin gave birth to a child,
and that some beneficent teacher watches over us?
You mean to say that when we die we’re not dirt in the ground,
and that God splayed open the sea to let the mortals pass through?
I’ve since lost faith in reason.
Joshua Seigal studies philosophy at Univeristy College London. He is a featured poet at Poets' Letter Magazine.
Monday, September 1
[Welcome back. We've missed you. Here's something ridiculously British to start off September -Ed.]
by John Richie
Blue's red and Red's true blue. Me I'm White. Reg White, not to be confused with Reg Dwight who changed his name to Elton John and who is a good six inches shorter than I am. Not that that has anything remotely to do with anything, but it makes a good chat up line. Or so I like to delude myself, not that it has ever worked, other than with Gloria from down the chip-shop and by all accounts she's not too choosy. Red supports the Blues, Birmingham City that is, not Chelsea. And of course, Blue supports Red or at least licks his face when he passes out from too much lager, or whatever was on offer. Blue is a Red Setter, Red is a copper-knob from Wallsall, and I'm his mate.
I wouldn't be bothering you with all this but we are enjoying our fifteen minutes of fame. Well actually we are savouring our last thirty seconds, so I had better be quick.
It was last week that we were down the Post Office getting our Giros. Not Blue of course, he gets a pig's ear or some such from the abbatoir. But he comes along for the ride so to speak. Well there we all were, waiting in line, each minding his own business according to his lights. I was trying to see down the cleavage of the woman buying stamps, Red was doing his football pools and Blue was licking his balls.
Next minute, all hell breaks loose. These two lads in anoraks grab the handbag of the woman buying stamps and push her backwards over onto me. I miss a heaven sent opportunity when I grab her round the waist but we both go over anyway. Red reaches out to try and grab me and inadvertently clothes-lines the lad with the hand bag. As he goes down his foot catches Blue in the ribs and throws him right in the path of his mate who is making a run for it down the far side of our queue. He trips over Blue and goes head first into the door frame. That's him out of the picture. The other bloke is just trying to roll away from all the feet that are kicking him when Red drops on him from a great height. He kicked Blue and that is all the incentive Red needs for a quick bit of GBH. Blue, who thinks the whole thing is a game invented for his benefit, barks, growls and grabs bits of anorak which he chews on with enthusiasm. With the help of a couple of Army lads who were just out of training and keen to work off a bit of testosterone we soon had the The Artful Dodger and his mate looking decidedly worse for wear and threatening all and sundry with legal proceedings.
Well of course it was all for show. It turned out the pair of them had only been out of Borstal a week. The Magistrates gave them both six months and me and Red fifty quid each. We got our name in the local paper and Blue got his picture on the front page. The lady with the handbag gave us both a tenner and put Blue's behind the counter at the Butchers. Actually, that's not all she gave us, and I didn't even have to use me chat-up line.
John Richie writes for fun. Which is just as well as nobody will pay him.
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