The Read More Project features some of the best prose, poetry, and narrative non-fiction around. We regularly publish work from a variety of writers, with a special focus on new and emerging writers. These works will span genres, styles, forms, voice, and more – we want our corner of the literary world to be as varied, as eye-opening, as challenging as possible.
All Poems and Stories
He sits next to me staring ahead, his eyes shaded by the cap’s peak. He doesn’t hold my hand. I look at him through the rearview mirror and I swallow that image of him. My eyes dilate to take in more until my own reflection is merely a fragment.
Your daughter sits crosslegged on the living room floor with a shoebox resting on her lap. Tiny clusters of mould creep up its sides. You stand there, keys dangling from your fingers, the mud from your shoes seeping into the welcome mat.
I wanted to be a good mother, one that sniffed my baby’s head with deep breaths to inhale the newborn smell. After dutifully reading parenting books and baby naming books, I felt doubly cheated again: still no baby and still no name and no nostrils full of new life scent.
I wrestle a pack of tissues from my bra – the only place to put them, as my funeral garments are short on pockets and my bag is so tiny it barely fits my phone – and pass them to Willow, then Nai. Willow’s been clutching my hand since we left her parents’ house this morning, as though she’s afraid of losing me too.
She had been a student of history, three years his senior. He worked at a tyre factory though he was, in his spare time, an avid reader. They were to elope four years later, in the autumn of 1968, though the exact details of this ceremony remain unknown.
My brother and I liked words, he would always use the ones I didn’t really understand. I made a mental note to find out what rustic meant. Perhaps it was something like ‘rusty’, in which case he was right, it was almost the right colour for rust. In fact, if that’s what the word meant, everything looked pretty rustic at the moment.
I could never tell if it was a robot, or a microphone, or an actual person standing on the other side. I would say her name, and just like that, she would appear.
He could not help but recall his earliest childhood memory, when they had both been no more than 6-years-old and had only just met at primary school. At this time she looked boyish and revelled in this look, proudly displaying her scrawny, ragged ginger hair.
He took everything away when she passed. Shoved into boxes in the garage. There was only one thing left, a painting of a smiling, rosy lady holding a chocolate bar to her lips. Quite hideous, Mariella, he had often said. They could see it from their bed, where they would lie like two curled up watchdogs.
They had expected warm, white sand and high waves. They had seen themselves in the southern heat, in cotton clothes and shaded glass. They were sitting beneath enormous parasols where iced drinks were served at welcome intervals. The surfers were young and skilled.
For all these actions he alone has been given credit, and from the whole gang he alone became an angel, while his friends have been sent to burn in hell’s thieves section.
Most people never literally roll their die. You might knock it off the bar as you reach for your drink too quickly, only just making out the etched number through the suds before both bubbles and die pop and disappear into nothing.
However not every bot is built equal. We have a few that just aren’t up to the high standards of our prize-winning entrants. They might have a few bugs, they might be a bit aesthetically displeasing, or they simply might be a bit dull. This year saw the creation of the least equal bot ever sent to in to our humble tech magazine.
After about an hour, the bus deposits us on the side of a road marked ‘Laoshan’. Green and imposing, the mountain looms ahead of us as we follow signs for the visitor’s centre. Walking up the long, open drive, we’re surprised to see a race set-up, complete with banners, a podium, and a finish line.
“Truthfully,” she said, “I’m not sure where I’ve been. There was a lot of alcohol involved, you see. But I know what I was trying to do. Make up for lost time.”
We took the property out of necessity, and because even though it was a basement suite there were no tenants upstairs, leaving us to the quiet of our own lovemaking or shouting in the mornings. We had even become used to the sound of the mother next door, who screamed at her small children in Mandarin after breakfast as they walked towards the car.
The examiner hasn’t said anything for a long time, not since we first pulled up to the junction. What is her name again? Tade, I think. Perhaps I should say something, just to break the silence.
As soon as the words formed in Arthur’s mind he corrected them. The bench was not his. It belonged to the council or some such faceless body. It was just one of a number of identical wooden benches spaced alongside the path that meandered round the edge of the park.
She turned to me, seemingly apologetic for the disturbance. Mum never liked fighting with him in front of me. For as long as I can remember they kept their conflicts private, sheltered from my prying ears. I remember at my eighth birthday party last year, they left for half an hour and came back more frustrated than before.
Contrary to what you might think, Old Blue was not my dog. Blue was the lawnmower that led to the salvation of my dog, who was also named Blue. Together, these two formed the strongest, inextricably entwined cords of my youth. The one, a black lab puppy; four and a half pounds of love, joy and energy that filled my waking hours and slept by my side.
Yes, he responds. He already knows what type of questions you will ask, he has already answered the same kind of questions many times. The cinema will do just fine, especially if it’s an old movie. A matinee. People will have seen it before, they won’t mind a little light chatter.
“Is she going to get us out of this hole?” Gary asks, though not seriously. If he was asking a serious question he’d stare at his duty manager to press for a serious answer, but instead he continues sorting paperwork.
The truth is that those who made it their business to solve this mystery were wasting their time, for the simple reason that he had not disappeared. There was, of course, a mystery to solve, but it was a different one.
She’s meant to be at the movies tonight with Sal and Nancy and Marigold who she doesn’t like. Marigold’s thick as mud and thinks she looks like Barbara Streisand, but she’s ugly as sin. I’m glad she can’t go. It means he won’t have to put me to bed later on.
Every time I see a snowflake, I think of her. Every time a flower blooms, I think of her. Every time the heat swelters, I think of her. Every time a leaf falls, I think of her.
That morning at the kitchen table Kenneth had formed his hand into a fist and brought it down hard onto the tablecloth with sunflowers on it, which masked a polished pinewood surface. “I don’t want Grape Nuts” he said with absurd emphasis, in a querulous voice that saddened and diminished them both.”
She stood just behind the safety line where the train pulled in, twenty-seven inches from the edge of the platform. Cozy in her white fleece jacket, nuzzled beneath a peach scarf that chased the line of her sculpted jaw, she was oblivious to the noises of the station around her.
Tabitha was different though. She seemed to like me without the assistance of alcohol, which was good because by the time I snuck her in, Dad was onto my antics and had locked up his stash.
I’d already been working at the site six months. The land had previously been used as a dumping ground, but with council permission and money, it was now a new green space with individual plots for members. The first task was to clear the land and prepare the soil. I spent months of Saturdays alongside other volunteers, removing utensils, plastic bags, old clothes and broken bottles from the ground. One day I dug out a telephone. I thought of all the buried conversations and wondered what had become of them.
Sadie and Riz. Riz and Sadie. It seems as if no one thinks of them as two individual people with separate thoughts and ideas anymore, but as one whole entity that lives and breathes in unity. They are an institution, their friends say. A perfect match, their families say. People ask themselves, are Sadie and Riz coming tonight? Or, do Sadie and Riz know about that? What will Riz and Sadie have to say about this?
Our relationship was on the 7th floor of the Hospital. They called us in, a doctor met with us and explained the situation. The relationship had sustained serious trauma and was now in life support. Now we had to choose, he said.
Hold on a minute. Start again. You’re at an art gallery, expecting some sort of critical explanation of a painting from an art student and you get a death threat instead? Maybe I was missing something or maybe I just needed to work harder at being good company. I leant in to inspect the painting more assiduously. Down at the bottom two men, who wouldn’t be warlocks at all as that would be childish, were hidden in the shade, one heaving forward as though fighting a mighty wind.
Desperate to escape poverty and drugs, they saved, borrowed, and stole to pay dangerous men to take them north, to a place where their children could be safe at school and not have to work for bad men with guns who sell drugs. Where they could work long hours for low pay but have something to send back home to their families.
Outside, the sun is glaring. The puzzle of tiny streets with tiny houses leads to the park. She finds her usual spot, a bench hidden behind the shrubberies that adorn the pond, makes herself comfortable, unscrews the bottle and drinks. One large, quick gulp.
Being crucified was nowhere near as painful as Sonny had always suspected it might be. True, whatever drugs his abductor had pumped into his veins were likely dulling the intensity of the experience somewhat, but watching the second stake being driven through his right hand, he felt no more than a peculiar ache as the bones split to make way for the iron.
When I walk through the orchards, I notice which apples seem starved of sunlight. These are the smallest apples, their color a uniform green-yellow, the branches of their tree unable to reach the next one over, leaves lacking in all but chlorophyll. This tree is weak, leaching what little it can when the others need nutrients too. I pull out the Swiss Army knife in my pants back pocket and begin to cut at the trunk, only specks of young bark flaking away from the mass. I cut until the sun leaves no more light for me to distinguish finger from bark – until everything fades to silhouettes and the moon reflects off the blade into my pupil, a piercing glare.
It felt a touch brutal. Like signing my own death warrant. And like they wanted me out. It wasn’t even a friend they were lining up to replace me. Maybe I should leave after all. In my head it was 50:50. In case I left – and just because – I’d been clearing out: old notes and notebooks, clothes, junk. Everything I had was junk.
My flat was small, top floor of a city tenement. What would otherwise be the living room became my studio, lit during the day by the industrial skyline through ill-fitting French windows which opened onto a tiny balcony. I slept in a box room just off the front door, and, when not painting, washing or cooking, spent the rest of my time in a white-walled annexe with only a sofa, laptop and bookcase. Such was my life. All else I’d left behind.
Sat opposite me on the other side of the room is a pale greasy teenager. Dark hair super-slick and sharply styled. He is dressed in a bright white shirt and brilliant blue tie. The trousers he wears have an all too neat crease down the middle. I suspect that this is their maiden voyage or that there is even the possibility that his mother has spent time ironing them to perfection.
Fry on a medium heat for 10 mins or until you start to feel good about yourself. Call mum because this cooking thing is really grown up and you’re proud of yourself. Also call grandparents and watch them struggle with technology.
I don’t think many people remember Lewis. Apart from the two or three people you’re really close to, you don’t remember anyone you went to school with, or even really care. At school, everyone has to play nice because for six hours you’ll probably share a class with them. But when they step into the real world they don’t need to play nice anymore. They don’t return the messages, and soon enough, you are left with a pitiful handful of people whose company you never quite grew out of.
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