Or what if your mother asks you for the hundredth time if you’ve looked into any new jobs related to your bachelor’s degree in philosophy? Do you tell her, No, Mother, I haven’t. I’m going to suck the teat of the government checks until the money runs dry and Avery eats her own tongue to survive? No.
Helen thought it was strange, but pre-emptive purchases couldn’t be right one hundred percent of the time. Though, they were right most of the time, which made it seem like they could predict the future, but they couldn’t. For one thing, she wasn’t at all certain how Amazon had known that she and Pete had lost the corkscrew they’d already had, but it was more likely that that wasn’t what had happened at all – most likely, they’d bought that one from Amazon and statistically they were right around the point that most people either lost or broke theirs. Maybe it was even designed to break after about two years.
The sight of her – there, then – was so extraordinary that he stumbled slightly, snagging the current of people moving along the pavement. That’s what made her glance over, recognising him immediately. He considered just hurrying on, pretending he hadn’t noticed her, but she was already waving, beckoning him to join her, so he had no choice.
mountain has an escarpment running round it at a tilt so it looks like a jawline and, on the summit, an indentation looks like puckered lips. The mountain is an upturned face kissing the empty sky. Without announcement, Hamad veers off the highway. This is how we come to all our stops: as if it’s an emergency. I turn to Hamad.
Jack’s home since finishing his master’s was a two-bedroom apartment in a red brick building with quiet tenants. For one week last August he’d enjoyed waking up early, listening to NPR while he ate breakfast, and walking the two miles to Trinity; a zigzag of streets led him by well-tended homes and houses turned into offices and salons. His route was thick with trees and their blessed shade. Then his sixteen-year-old niece, Leigh-Anne, moved in.
In the summer my friends and I would bike along the canal path, industrial architecture of red brick reflecting on the water’s surface, all the way to the House of the Beatnik.
It was a decrepit old place, with rotting wood and missing tiles; something out of a Stephen King novel. But to us it was one big toy. We’d throw stones through its windows, listening for breakages inside. We’d knock on the door and scream when it swung open at our touch. We risked rusty nails and tetanus by hanging from the protruding planks in the porch roof. And yes, despite our parents’ warnings to avoid him, we wouldn’t run when the beatnik came out to speak with us.
Here was the wolf stalking a young girl as she skipped with a basket in hand along a lonely trail. Here was the wolf bursting through a cabin door to devour an old woman cowering in her bed. Here was the wolf attacking a huntsman, eviscerating a lamb, tricking seven little goats into coming outside their house. In another series of drawings, an elderly sorceress, with the wave of her magic wand, transformed a handsome prince into a slavering wolf. The librarian had read them a story like this once, and he used a low, raspy voice when it came time for the wolf to speak. They remembered how the librarian’s breath was warm against their soft skin and smelled like cherry medicine.
Suddenly, we had arrived at the stage of the night where the sexual tension had lost what little subtlety it had to begin with. We leave at twenty to one. The minute we’re outside, he pulls me into him and growls, “I’ve wanted to do this for ages.” He holds the back of my neck. The kissing is the good kind. After trying and failing to get me to listen to records and drink tea at his apartment, I kiss him goodbye. He pays for my taxi.
Suddenly, your bike is heading toward the rice field. The tour guide led you down cracked, narrow path between a duck pond and a rice terrace. You’re flying over your handlebars. You land face first in the mud. The rest of the group panics, but you stand and bend over in laughter. Your guide pulls you out of the field and hands you tissues. You think it’s all very funny, until you see your crash has killed two field mice. The guide yells to the men working in the fields and assures you that the mice’s death won’t be in vain. You think about what that actually means.
A childish excitement, which had been brewing since the podcast began, stirred by thoughts of unprecedented social media exposure and a revitalised public image, swirled deep inside Frank’s belly, and he tried his best to stifle any visible appearance of its existence. But god, it was hard not to smile. So much had depended on this interview going well.
My life seemed fairly settled at that point, and, as I was well into my thirties, I felt that I had to have a family. I thus started dating Cristina, a secretary who worked for our company. She was timid and soft-spoken. Her green eyes were vastly uncomprehending. Her fake blond hair made her indistinct and obscured all that might have had been special about her face. Yet, she had a nice figure. Her breasts were large and inviting, and she had marvelous, long legs.
The bushy eyebrows flexed and the great toucan-like nose, having been tickled by a wandering moustache hair, wrinkled as Gherardo looked around the town square as the prospering sun slowly peeled back the early morning’s inactivity. The townspeople emerged from their shaded domains and into its ceaseless glare as they went about their daily routines. He peered through the golden rays of sunlight that had crept around the sides of the crumbling buildings and blessed the cobblestones with its amber gaze.
He wasn’t sure if the damage to his body would remain with him for the rest of his life, but he knew, unequivocally, that the hospital bill would.
The sound I am thinking of describes me, exactly, the sound is exactly how I am, now. It’s the hum of a jack when it’s half-way into the aux but not quite. Not quite the grunge-growl of feedback, but it sits between the pops and crackles. Rice Krispie music. It’s not the death spiral of Stereophonics out of a neighbour’s window either, but it has aspects of that melancholy. It contains within it the last note of the fire alarms we had in primary school, the note which fades slow into deflated-expectations. But above all it’s joyful. I could dance forever to this sound.
I tell them about Shackleton and the struggle on the ice, how they rowed eight hundred miles to Elephant Island and endured their way home to face the horrors of a war. The children are quietly spellbound by the story of brave explorers risking their lives in a frozen world. Any young lives I can save from what’s coming – to give them the spark I never had, that was crushed out of me on that floor, to save even one life – will make my seventy years worthwhile.
How many times had they been here? Every third Saturday of the month since the beginning of time. It used to be called the Golden Dragon, now it’s the Happy Buddha. It’ll be something else next year. It’s the only thing that changes. Family Night, he calls it.
The bar, Hops with the White Rabbit, was also not within his purview. It was located on the outskirts of Honolulu’s Chinatown, in what Daniel could only describe as an industrial park. The façade was spray-painted brick, while the inside was dimly lit and covered in tawdry tapestries. It smelled of incense and cigarettes despite the city’s smoking ban, but the owners brewed their own beer and kombucha, so it had that going for it.
I’m smoking again. If there’s a silver lining to all this, it’s the sweet burn of tobacco in my lungs after eleven years of abstinence. I wonder what my accusers would say if they found out I’m not so much a sadist as my wife is a masochist. Nora has always been wild. I was afraid I’d lose her if she didn’t get what she needed. And you know what, I started liking it.
Its seven pairs of legs scuttle soundlessly across the tiled floor, moving in a purposeful line before pausing in front of her foot, antennae caressing the air. With a sniff of irritation, Heather plucks a tissue from her pocket and reaches down to clasp the woodlouse, the segments of its hard body putting up slight resistance.
Bar the regulars, I don’t remember many of the customers I served in The Horse & Hound.
El Matador, shadowy stairs up to a darkened room crowded with oases of rosy lamplight. Wine red walls, posters of matadors in tight scarlet trousers and black ballet pumps flourished blood-red capes to taunt monstrous black bulls. Waiters glided between tables, whilst the crockery clinked and private conversations syncopated with a lazy trickle of jazz.
Stephanie and Trinity sat alongside one another but rarely spoke. Since their shift now lasted fifty weeks out of every year, they no longer made the effort to socialise outside of work. They led insular, bone-wearying lives and although this suited Trinity – she was never quite able to recall accurately how she’d even come to be a check-in girl – her colleague Stephanie wanted so much more from life than to process people for Go Missing Airlines.
The heavy door closed with a thud. This was his moment. He moved across the fence to a spot hidden by their shed, and a tree behind would block him from being spotted by park witnesses. After a swift glance, he climbed the fence beneath the pointed roof and dropped into a crevice. He moved out sideways, crept within the flapping washing, and entered through the open back door.
10.36pm. They’re not just late now; they’re Amy Winehouse late. The blips and wub-wubs of the Never Gonna Give You Up cover version are barely audible over the audience’s detached impatience and theatrical sighs. The song’s ironic. I think. I hope. The crowd, however, are being more vocal at this one moment than during the entirety of the support slots. I guess clapping is out again this season.
He was the only child; they always listened and made sure he got everything he wanted. Sometimes life was too comfortable for his own liking, but it was a privilege and he enjoyed it. They sat in the parlour and listened to all his fears and dreams, before they burst into laughter. It was something they had never done before.
Mr K. was unhappy. He felt entirely alone. Mrs B., sitting just a few meters away, typing at her desk was no comfort. And since sitting down, a dread feeling had come over him; he felt his life would soon be ending.
He wants to be the beating blood beneath her skin, he thinks, as he drops his new gym bag next to her canvas backpack. The skin of our lips is a hundred times more sensitive than our fingertips; he wonders if she knows this. She must be knowledgeable since she’s always reading. White veins have developed on the buckled corners of her War and Peace, which, he sees, is sitting ready by her neat white trainers.
Soldier’s Buttons, Robin noted the spiky blooms of cornflower-blue underfoot as he trod his familiar, solitary track out of Newlyn harbour. The cliffside above Mousehole, the next village along, was raucous with heather, sweet-scented bells ringing silent and glowing in the early-evening sun, a sun that showcases a unique shine in this small corner of Cornwall. The surrounding sky was burnt orange, a stain that would soon blossom into lilac. Blue skies were rare in this part of the world and time of the day, signalling when they did appear a good day ending.
At quarter past three one April afternoon, Lucy Mackenzie had picked up her six-year-old daughter from school, and the mother’s body had been pulled out of the river at seven thirty by a jogger. The daughter had never been found, despite the dredging of the canal and the most expensive missing person investigation that Catharine had ever instigated. The last sighting of her had been by her teacher when the child had been picked up from school. The police investigation had circled for eighteen months, unable to reconstruct a mere four hours.
A devotee of Red Dead Redemption since way back, Tony was familiar with jackalopes. He’d never seen one though. He’d never even been sure if they were real or not – he’d never paid much attention to science, or anything really, in school – until that day on the loading dock. But when he tried to tell his buddies at the bar after work about it, they all laughed at him.
George doesn’t want to be here, you can see it in his expression: eyes darting nervously from side to side, perspiration shining his top lip and brow, an uneasy smile offered through closed lips. You can sense it in the way he stands: sagging shoulders anticipating defeat, clenched fists buried deep in trouser pockets. It is clear from only the briefest of glances that George feels out of place, out of his comfort zone. A zone that was far from the spectrum of spaciousness to begin with.
Gerald didn’t like working at home. He found it hard to concentrate. He’d much rather be in the office. It was the whole routine he liked. It gave him a focus. He was someone. He was Gerald R. Scott, Actuary for the Ask Us Insurance Company. At home he was just Gerald or Gerry.
Sometimes she would make up stories if the conversation turned to first kisses. Her first kiss was when she was thirteen at a summer camp, Or fourteen with her friend’s brother. Often she would steal a story from others if the groups didn’t intersect. Her problem was keeping her stories straight.
Tommy lay draped over his mother’s protruding belly, her short fingernails massaging his scalp. The smell of salmon slowly saturated the air in the living room, wafting under the crack below the kitchen pocket door. They never used to close the door, but for weeks now any whiff of food sent his mother running for the bathroom.
At least it wasn’t word-for-word long time no see. His eyes focus on my face. If he wasn’t already too drunk, he’d be analysing how each line of my face has changed, but he is already too drunk, so he’s simply trying his best to look like he’s analysing something, when in fact he can probably see two of me.
Yes, he’s funny, and I can be funny when I want to be, but he’s the butt of the joke. He’s a complete and utter clown. Hannah’s not going to want to be with a clown, is she? She’s going to want to be with someone tough. I’m tough. At least, I can be – I’ve had four teeth out, and I didn’t even make a fuss. I’ve got them in a small red box in my bedroom.
Hannah feels my presence. She sits straight up in bed, alert, and she looks directly at me. I wonder if she has an image of me, of the real Miranda. I wish I could communicate with her. As she calms I stay and watch over her, as if I’m a carer tending to someone who is sick. She relaxes in bed. This is timeless for me.
Macavity, she thought, like the cat. As a birthday present, she’d splurged on a Versace bathrobe for him, with a design of a leaping tiger. Or rather, her allowance had, though to keep within budget she’d gone without a lovely little number that she was almost sure she could carry off. It hung in his wardrobe, worn only on the day she gave it to him. And he’d been such an elegant dresser.
Right now, before he opens his stupid mouth any wider, I’m feeling just fine. But I already know that’s all about to change. Any second now he’s gonna spill it. Can’t help himself. He’ll hand his burden off to me like a baton and it’ll be my leg to run in the anxiety relay. Well, I don’t want that baton!
The charged stillness of the house enveloped you even as you stepped into the open wooden porch. Piles of rotting leaves disguised the intricate floor tiling, and there was a shudder as the front door swung open to reveal evidence of activity abruptly abandoned.
My final memory of Let It Come Down is the four lads running onto the football field at St James’ Park in replica home jerseys, like over-excited magpies, to a bemused silence and then, when the backing-track finally kicked-in, incessant booing from every corner of the stadium, as the boys tried gamely to get their song and dance routine going.
Michael was dozing on a bench. He opened his eyes and looked up. “A week last Tuesday.” He turned away from Ian, who was standing with one foot perched on a spade. He gazed out at his own garden. The seed pods hanging from the laburnum tree swayed in the wind. He was sorry that he had missed the yellow flowers this year. They were out so briefly, and he had been too ill.
If I had to describe that time as a single image, I would tell it like this: the sun trapped in long golden hair, and us, the girls, submitting ourselves to it completely. Here’s the photo: school uniforms, standing with our arms around each other, me as the tallest in the middle, and a pair of girls each side of me. The parched grass beneath our feet. Our frozen laughs, a joke made perpetually funny.
I started working in the shop a good 10 years ago. I’m not entirely sure why. It just seemed to happen one day. One week I was a taxi driver, and the next I just appeared behind the till at King Kebabs 2. Weird name, isn’t it? King Kebabs 2. I’ve never understood it. Was there a King Kebabs 1 somewhere? Was this shop some sort of fast food sequel? Who knows?
It’s now almost twenty years since those headlines, following Charles Davidson’s strange disappearance in 1965. As someone who knew him well, it was to my door that the media initially came. At the time, I told them nothing, but as I now start to feel my years, I realise I ought to set down these biographical observations.
Randolph Minster woke up squint on Monday morning. Although his bed was straight on all three plains, and although he was relaxed and sunk flat when he awoke, it seemed his body was bent to the right and determined to stay that way. When Randolph stood at the toilet to void yesterday’s liquids, he stood askew. When he padded around his little kitchen making boiled eggs – five minutes for large soft boiled, toast notch three on the dial – he was undeniably squint, as if gravity’s pull had moved a little, but always to his right.
People faint now and then. Eva envies their respite – she’s been awake for nearly 26 hours, and Matt too. The night before, they stopped at a small lake surrounded by poorly assembled tents. The moonlit water shone like heaven. Yesterday’s driver had warned against bathing. Matt obeyed, Eva tried to, but others were scrambling in, cooling off.
All high schools are pathetic, as are all high school students, high school existences, high school achievements. That your team beat anyone else’s, ever, you should forget two days after graduation. We’ve fabricated childhood – damn you, Locke, damn you, Rousseau – then built traps to keep young people in it – that comfortable space of “for your age” and “improving” and “participation.”
When Subha began working for us, I was twelve, and she said she was seventeen. It seemed a big age difference at the time, despite the fact that I was already taller than she was, and broader too. She was the latest in a long line of full-time housemaids that my mum had employed and subsequently fired for various reasons: stealing my old stuffed animals, taking extended holidays to their hometowns, and the most recent, moonlighting as a sex worker.
As any sensible person would be, Cylia was wary of long-distance relationships. Given the lack of options in her own vicinity however, she was inclined to look further afield, succumbing to the smorgasbord of electronic dating sites. Eventually, her search reached such sequestered spaces, the depths of some of the most seldom used applications, yet she had little to show for it except for some faded sparks, clumsy comments and innumerable unopened messages, each with a hint of potential, though probably promising disappointment.
My German Grandmother Was Totally a Bitch, and Also So Much Cooler than Yours by Shannon Frost Greenstein
Certain things are absolute, compulsory. There are universal experiences of a German grandchildhood that link so many of us in a complicated daisy chain across space and time: holiday cookies. Hiding an ornament shaped like a pickle on the Christmas tree. Church, specifically Lutheran church. Being early. Raggedy Ann dolls and Hummel figurines and Black Russians and, at the foundation of it all, resilience. Grit.
Sammy pronounces it more like “kit-hen” when he points to the upper right-hand part of the diagram. It’s a common problem for a lot of Somalians, that harsher “-ch” that doesn’t exist in all languages. We’ve done a sheet like this with cutesy drawings of architecturally unsound houses every week for the past month that I’ve been coming to the refugee centre. This week there are five rooms: a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, an empty living room, and a hallway.
Outside, heavy, wet snow falls on this serene little city and clings to trees, hedges, power lines and parked cars. Inside the classroom, Mr Khatri disrupts the idyll by dimming the lights and introducing a Holocaust film to his twelfth grade, world history students. For the next forty-five minutes, Tanner and the others are deluged with eviscerating images.
She could only watch him, silently noting that she should be doing something to help him, ease his suffering somehow, but she couldn’t. All she could do was feel shades of some sort of compression. Time passed. All those moments and days and everything in between seemed to just press together, bound with dreamless sleep.
Karen was a brilliant woman, effervescent with ambition and energy. She could see through all fakery and pretention and she could prize from you your deepest thoughts just by opening her eyes and giving you a quizzical look. I became her lover, because I wanted to, oh how I wanted to, but also because it was impossible to deny her. It was as if there was some kind of destiny that drew me towards her.
When Clive saw Erica standing at the bar, he was uncertain whether to approach her. He watched as she ordered a large glass of white wine – pinot grigio? Sauvignon blanc? – and deftly wove a path through the knots of early evening drinkers, to a solitary table in a quiet corner of the room. She hooked her handbag over the back of the chair and started to read the newspaper that had been tucked under her left arm.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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