They stood beneath an ancient oak tree in a little park. Known as Lovers’ Tree, it was the one thing in their average town that could be called a landmark, aside from the huge fiberglass waffle sticking out from the roof of Carol’s Waffle Palace.
When she was little, a birthday tea preceded the unveiling, but ever since her early teenage years it has been a fine dinner with a single glass of rare vintage wine from a crystal goblet. At the end of the meal her father blindfolds her with her linen napkin and leads her to her new domain. He opens the door, takes her in his arms, kisses her on the lips and whispers “Together. Forever.” Then he uncovers her pale blue eyes and gently wipes away the tears of wonder and delight with which she greets each new creation in her honour.
How is it twenty years since… all that? Twenty years since we buried you. Twenty years since I’d seen him, or even heard of him. Not that he doesn’t cross my mind often; he’s always hanging out there in the back of it somewhere.
Cat, I says – I use Cat these days instead of Kitty. Sorry.
He doesn’t recognise me, of course, with my blonde bob. Never grew it long again. And he’s gone from wavy blond to wispy bald. Some nice sense of karma in there, I thinks. Looks like he’s put on all the weight I lost. Jeans too small. Flab kamikazeing over the edges. He’s all blotchy round the nose and cheeks. Piggy little holes for eyes. Blue. Never forget those eyes.
That was the very first rule of the harvestmen. You could not just take. That was stealing. That was theft. There had to be payment first. Not cold coin, a cheap and worthless currency, but older treasures from when the world was still blood-smattered from its birth. Fear. Grief. Anger. The only things worth keeping.
Vita is caught up unexpectedly by EM Forster, who encompasses Vita and her attention halfway through a sentence. And then she is laughing, charming, taking the floor, immediately the highlight of the evening, her being, in short, (what Virginia had never been) a real woman. Virginia is left to push her wine glass half an inch further away, leaving a half-moon of condensation on the table, a puddle reflecting the fluttering caprices of the fire’s waxes and wanes.
I’ve screwed up before. God knows I haven’t been a saint, done things I ain’t proud of, said things to my poor wife that I shouldn’t have, but this… this will ruin me.
An hour after my mother’s funeral, I stepped into her bedroom and found a message on her answering machine. The message was from my mother’s psychic, a woman who spoke with a fake Cajun accent and who referred to herself in the third person as Madame Clara.
Mama is a tornado, a storm. She strolls into the house, heels pounding into the wood floors, singing Bon Jovi and swinging her purse. She cries to you, using your chest as a pillow, her tears raindrops watering you – but you do not bloom, you drown. She smells like she did when she would return from the doctor’s office, rubbing alcohol and sweat.
The darkening started small, like turning down the brightness on your phone screen a notch. Nate thought he was imagining it.
You would like to die today, if convenient. You check your diary and note that it isn’t because you agreed, what feels like years ago, to a Saturday evening Hinge date and it would be unforgivably rude to stand him up on account of killing yourself.
ed’s the color of my imagination. Red must’ve been the cottage and red the candy store to which—in the hour between beer and supper, or sun and none—they took me.
Phillip had suggested that, seeing as Guy was struggling to see the wood from the trees – so to cliché – perhaps he needed someone who wasn’t so used to what he had lying about the apartment and would thus be able to swiftly identify those things that would stand out most to any visitor who thought perhaps they knew Guy and would be disturbed by the evidence that they didn’t.
Rose knows that even the happiest golden leaves grow weary when they catch the first gust of winter’s harsh might. Rose knows that if the sun ever decides to go away for good she’ll try to make it promise to come back. Rose knows that if she had her life together, her adopted boy Frankie would still talk to her.
I know now why the idea of you always seemed like an afterthought written on the back of holy paper, scrunched, thrown into a mist and never retrieved. But maybe there is a version of you somewhere that was retrieved, maybe, below a rusting copper roof, the past and the future uncoil at your feet.
We believed ourselves the monsters of North Dallas, curly-headed and leaning on trees. We painted our faces green and black, and we wore second-hand fatigues from thrift stores and family attics. We buttoned up and were war-ready, swaggering with ammo and plastic rifles tipped with orange. Airsoft gave us the thrill of war without the warring. We talked like we killed, and we found ways to best each other. In the forest with our guns, our mothers didn’t exist.
Your dad tied you behind his pickup with the strong quality rope we used to tie up the horses. He dragged you the length of the driveway and everyone knew.
You are Dolly and Mousey, and Bunny, and others. With each new pet name that he gave you, you used to imagine yourself experiencing a quick metamorphosis into that animal or object.
A starfish. That’s the lobster out the window. I clean the surface. Smoothing the card out so I can see it properly. I worry that I’ll miss something one day and throw a winning card out. The thought makes my belly ache.
Once his acne cleared and the hormones settled, like a glass snow globe – fragile, still there, but took a good shake to rise them – I watched him fall headfirst into love affairs, rife with pain. My fingers twitched, desperate to hold him back: make him think, make him see, make him more like me. I watched him tackle with two legs out front, drive without indicating, and drink until he was rendered a clown.
By then she’d started to scroll and tap her phone. What are you doing now, I asked her? Just checking Google reviews for what’s good here. I must have gaped. She looked up. Did you get the oil? I told her they didn’t have it. She went back to tapping the phone screen furiously.
The bathrobe? I found it in the flea markets down on Gagarin street. It was just hanging there, among a bunch of old peasant clothes. Yes, I know it’s ugly. Orange squares and blue stripes. But it’s still got its silk ribbon, look!
A kitchen where nothing has ever been thrown away, two mouths with tongues grown old before they even got to know each other, a sip of coffee, some rusks dipped in milk, bronze peacocks, a TV ad selling creams made from snails and the heavy smell of mothballs. And amongst all of this a tray with semolina cake, nine candles stuck in the top and a parcel on the table.
There’s a child downstairs that I’m ignoring. I have business to attend to right here. She’s great, the child. It’s not that I don’t like her, a whirlwind of incomprehension, but she is young. A sapling. Sapping. At the stage in her life where autonomy is not on her radar.
Tonight, I’m at the Bradford Hotel. It’s your typical seaside establishment, full of newlyweds, elderly widows. You know the type. The hotel has seen better days – purple carpet threadbare in places, gold paint rubbing off the stair rails showing dirty white underneath.
Hidden behind a row of seemingly unrelated hardcovers, a secret compartment of sorts. A secret place where his most precious tome could rest, unnoticed. Reverently, he withdrew it, drawing it close to him as I tried to inconspicuously take it in. Despite the worship he clearly held, someone had not been particularly kind to the book, a dozen dog-eared corners bulged the worn edges of the pages and made the cover warp unevenly.
…the director turns up for work. First thing he sees, right there on the pavement in front of him: a discarded cigarette stub, life in it yet.
Freddie Fredrickson owns Car Cars Cars. His voice makes fingernails on a chalkboard sound like a Brahms lullaby. He used to do his own ads for awhile but finally accepted that his screech was a turn-off and hired me to dub him. The Cars Cars Cars gig has become my bread and butter.
One of my neighbours informed me she had had a dream about the aliens, but she termed it a prophecy. She held up her hands to the sky and asked them to transport her. “In the prophecy, they gave me the power to fly,” she said, smiling at me, revealing yellow and cracked teeth. She was wearing a white nightgown and it fluttered in the breeze, like a flag of surrender.
Five, four, three, two, one, and a roar of guttural cheers and whoops and howls as the sky pulses and we glimpse our saviours again, our bug-eyed angels, in their ship which holds our planet. A copper skin of lines and lights that is, for that moment, a shell before it fades, becomes transparent, becomes the night sky again.
Maxim rides the S9 commuter train without a ticket – Schwarz, it’s called in Switzerland – and he rides first class. Quieter. Fewer worries about dogs. Or some jöööö-shrieking kid chasing after him.
On our canal, in the absence of trade and the din of tourists, we’re left to listen to the slap of waves, the clicks of loose rooftiles, and for the stealth of a silent predator. Beyond the city, there’s only water and the horizon, no sailboats, fishing boats, powerboats, or cruise ships. No vapour trails scratch the glassy-blue sky. Hungry gulls and pigeons cry for cold crusts, cones and crisps. Night folds on us like a wartime blackout curtain.
She cradles her belly in front of department store mirrors, smooths her fingers over the soft cotton of her oversized blouse. Whispers, hello in there. A passing shopper smiles and their faces break open in wide smiles back. It’s our first. We never thought it would happen for us.
Contemptuous looked over the top of Cerebral’s head at the entirely empty room. “If you can call it interesting.” He looked down. His steel-grey hair was parted and waved in precisely the way it might be if he didn’t want people to think he was vain. But didn’t mind if they said so, anyway.
“It’s not like that,” Graham told his wife. Standing in the bedroom doorway, he watched her shoulders shudder along with her ragged sobs. Finally, she raised her face from her hands, grabbed the phone and flung it at him. It bounced off the doorframe and thudded to the carpet.
II switch from leisure to education mode with my eye movement detection glasses, wondering what today’s topic might be. I still need thirty credits to finish the semester so I hope it’s interesting.
It was monsoon in Mumbai. I looked out the bus window and saw water hung like a sheet between the sky and the ground, too dense to discern its falling. I had a six-week internship with the design school at the Indian Institute of Technology, and it was my first day. Outside campus was Mumbai’s chaos—cars raring to go, trucks honking for dear life, vendors singing their commercial chants, and more ant-like human bodies milling about than the intersection could handle.
To Arthur’s eyes, speckled with dim cataracts, and to his mind that was slowly untethering itself from solid ground, the green tour boat drawing alongside the little wooden quay floated like an exotic dragonfly he’d once watched hovering and dipping amongst banana trees in Burma. As the boat drew closer, it disrobed from its hazy disguise and presented itself whole and ordinary, inviting in the way that only real things can be.
Dom entered the shabby bus station and walked past a shabby pigeon, which said ‘Alright, mate?’
Before getting underway with this little letter, we must ask you a rather pressing question. You see, it seems simply vital that we understand how to properly address you. “Dear Kate” – it just sounds ever so churlish to write to a lady as dignified as yourself and to commence in such a common manner. “Kate” does have something of a plebeian ring to it, wouldn’t you agree? Certainly, it doesn’t seem fit for a Duchess
Though female, I never knew how to keep my peace. And I knew feminine docility wouldn’t help me make my way – especially after my father died, and his will became known.
A name like Juliet was a burden, especially when your father had wasted the last of the family fortune on drink and your mother had pretended to endure migraines for two decades. My assets were: an expensive education, one fine gown not yet pawned, and a reasonably pleasing person.
My name was Jill, once upon a time, but I altered it after my brother’s infamous tangle. He told a slanted tale to disguise the fact that he was nothing but a common thief – and a murderer to boot.
“Not haunted. Alive. I read about it, once. This professor said that these moors change – the topsoil, the heather, the scrub – it constantly renews itself in a never-ending cycle. Reason why they never found that poor boy, and probably never will. These moors are shifting, changing. The very landscape is just as alive as you and me.”
The man with the long black umbrella which was shut and dry because it hadn’t rained all day, he might’ve been thinking about stabbing the pigeon with the silver pointed end. I know you shouldn’t make assumptions, but the guy looked pretty intense, and you can’t help but imagine lugging an umbrella around on a sunny day would leave you pretty angry.
I can’t deny I got a bit of a shock when I first saw her lying there. Right next to the bins. The rep had been wrapped loosely in an old tarpaulin, but somehow it had fallen open. I pulled the tarp aside a little more and saw that she had one leg bent underneath her body, eyes closed, her uniform intact but smudged with dirt.
When I see you now, it’s tiny glimpses. You’re at the office, where I’m supposed to be working, but instead am mostly twitching my eyes about the room, trying to catch you. You follow me on the bus, where I can almost see your reflection in the misty windows.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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