Monday, 28 June 2021

'What Did Your Lawn Dragon Cost?' by JP Relph


The line of eager grassmen stretched down Poplar, passing the bakers doing unprecedented trade in bacon butties and ending with forlorn, cardiganed men outside the bookies. Three friends had arrived at 5am, armed with flasks and foldaway stools, heading the queue. Ted was shuffling with anticipation, Roger and Clarence already inside making their pivotal purchases. 

The Lawn Dragon. A limited-edition upgrade to the revered Lawn Lizard; a few barely noticeable bells and whistles made it a wholly unnecessary purchase, but the grassmen didn’t care. It was candy-apple red with flame decals and a price-tag that was alluringly extreme. Lending an exclusivity to the glossy mower, that only the most resolute and committed grassmen could acquire.

Ted glared at his watch: a perfect cutting morning was vanishing. Still, a morning more rewarding for him than for the tardy buggers outside BazzaBets. Suddenly, from the depths of Neville’s, Clarence’s powerful voice regaled the irascible queuers with a haunting version of Green Green Grass of Home. Beneath the verdant melody, Ted thought he heard a bandsaw churring. He sipped flask-stewed tea. 

Ten minutes later, Roger and Clarence finally emerged; their Lawn Dragon’s being packed for delivery. Roger was smiling weakly; his face like cottage cheese. Ted told a beaming Clarence he’d played a belter with the song, what a way to get the mower. They winced at Roger, slumped in a wheelchair; his right trouser leg and left jumper arm pinned up, floppy. A hefty cost, but grassmen would speak of his sacrifice for many seasons to come.

Someone shouted “NEXT!” from inside Neville’s. Ted grinned, so close to his own Lawn Dragon, and the envy of the grassmen at the line’s end. In his scuffed Waitrose bag-for-life, the bomb trailed wires, and ticked.

'Living Room' by Marie Little

They keep telling me that the old lady died. 

It happened in our new living room.

The electric bar fire met with the sofa as she slept.

It's a sad story, but an important one - my children's ears prick up each time. 

The doorhandles are all brand new because they bubbled, held on to the smell. 

But I do not need to hear about the past. 

The living room is full of our boxes, a small bike, the box marked 'KETTLE AND TEABAGS!' - somewhere. 

The children buzz about upstairs, excited by newfound cupboards, nails left in walls, the view from the bathroom. 

Neighbours queue up more stories outside, with homemade cakes. 

I begin to unpack.

'Golden' by Kate Simblet

She watches by streetlight. Listens. The wind snarls down the back alley.  She knows the teenage burglars are out there, prising back-gates with practiced fingers but stops herself yelling - out into the blackness,

‘There’s nothing left to nick - I’ll tell yer Mam about you!’

Glass, broken-heart jagged, crowns the walls of her redbrick yard, keeping out the alley. Winter moved into her heart last year. She fears it will never leave.

Later this year on an open-windowed summer’s day, the stench of dog shit and rubbish will mingle with Lynx on the T shirt she finds amongst old love letters in the dusty underbed. She will discover he did not take everything.

That same day she will be startled by the pounding on her door - loud as the drums from the metal music that used to blare through that house, making her ears bleed, making her scream for it to stop. She will open that door, forgetting first to look through the spy hole.

Today, she’s still looking out when the pigeons arrive. The beating wings a short, sharp flutter of applause. They come every day for the man who shuffles past the dustbins and back-gates. As he scatters the grain - tosses it high into the pale sunlight, she sees how it glitters. It makes her think of gold.

'Future Passed' by Amy Wilson

Everyone knows the place.

It was the inspiration for the opening scenes of ‘Blade Runner’, with its sleek futuristic pipework and its flames that shoot into the sky whenever it the chemical plant needs to burn off excess gasses.

It was the inspiration for generations of workers around here too; men who thought that they would follow their fathers into jobs, fathers who thought their sons would be secure.

The truth is that the place has been dying for years, but none of us want to admit it. The latest bailout has failed, and our skyline is about to change forever.

The old chemical works. A symbol of both the future and the past, but soon to be erased from our present.

'Seven Hours' by B F Jones

[CW- birth, child loss]

“It’s happening” she remembers saying in the blur of too long ago. 

How long? Long. Seven hours. 

Seven hours since she got escorted into that pale purple room, a single bed soon to be covered in her blood next to a plastic bassinet. 

And it happened, and it (she) was there and then it (she) wasn’t, spat out and immediately swallowed back into a void. 

Excruciating pain, blood, the tearing of flesh. 

And noises coming from her mouth. Swears. 

One last push, almost there. 


Easy now, someone had said. No need to curse that much. 

Cool hands on her lower back. 


Breathe breathe breathe breathe 

Something popping, a trickle down her leg. She expected a dramatic gush like in the movies. 

Momentary distraction from the pain. 

They’re 5 minutes now let’s go.

You need to eat something. 

No I don’t want anything. 

You haven’t eaten since yesterday. 


Back hurting. 

Gulliver stepping on her spine. 

Abdomen tightening. 

So tight. 

Rub my back. Press hard, lower.

Wait until they’re 5 minutes apart.

Wait until they’re 5 minutes apart. 

Wait until they’re 5 minutes apart. 

It wasn’t time.

You’re too early you have to go back home .

It’s time. 

It’s finally time. 

How are you feeling? 


Remote control flies across the room and crashes against the wall. 

It’s been hours. 

Pain pain pain but nothing’s happening. 

Back hurting. 

Abdomen hurting. 

The baby has the hiccups. 

I think it might be today. 

I have twinges. 

Yes I think I'll be bringing a baby home today. 

'Kiss, Kiss' by Michael Todd Cohen

He kissed me once. Took me by surprise after years of staring. Slicked his tenuous tongue against me — searched the surface of me for something to hook onto — but found nothing, slipped off, paused, then rushed again. He gazed: green-eyed and wild, then sighed. It’ll be better tomorrow, he said. Furrowed brow. The for-real time, he said. Then, he tore a piece of toilet tissue from its roll and wiped me clean, to which I gave an unexpected shriek.

'Last Words' By Emma Louise Gill

Front Cover

“Warning: This Card May Contain Peanuts.”


Picture of a cheeky monkey. Crumbs.

“You’re Younger Than You’ll Ever Be Again. Make The Most Of It. Like This Monkey.

Congrats on another year, mate, or whatever. Who gives a crap really? 

See ya at Cole’s tomorrow. Two for one drinks! B.”


“Return To Sender.”

A wet stain. 

'In Your Dreams' by Valerie Griffin

Nigel spiralled out of control through the vortex, eyes forced shut, ears aerodynamically flat, his fur straining at its roots. Just when he thought he wouldn’t make it he bounced off something soft, somersaulted and hit something hard. He opened one eye, then the other one as his fur reasserted itself.

‘Welcome to your ninth life,’ said the voice.

His ears pricked and twirled like antennae. Getting to his feet he headed towards a bathroom with steps that wouldn’t rustle tissue paper. It was the only room that didn’t have telepathic disturbance. He jumped into the empty bath and crouched down in an imitation of his sphinx cousins, and listened…and felt. The voice was definitely a feeling. Hooding his eyes to slits he tuned in to the vibrations gently reverberating off the sides of the bath.

‘Why are you wasting your time following me?’ he said.

‘We have unfinished business,’ said the feeling.

‘I won, you lost’.

‘You cheated. Like your father before you and his father before him.’

‘No. You were outwitted, outpaced. If you’d spent more time…’

‘Don’t patronise me. You stole the formula for the perpetually-filling food bowl.’

‘The bowl was just an ordinary one, there is no formula.’ Nigel pierced the feeling with a stare. ‘Your mother roamed outside the perimeters, the pure gene line was broken, the vibration diluted.’

‘Ah…but I have learnt many skills over the centuries,’ countered the feeling. ‘I will always come for you. Wherever you go, whatever you do, I will track you down.’

‘Oh purr-lease, stop being so melodramatic. You honestly think you can outwit me?’

Nigel stretched and sniffed the air…it smelt like the perpetually-filling bowl had just been refilled.

'Est. 1990: Little Faith' by Michael Hammerle

Our family talked so little about faith I thought my Pop's necklace was Eisenhower on a dime, not John Paul II. I learned what the Pope is about the same time I learned who Roosevelt was, circa 1999. Two years more and I'd learn about the World Trade Center and schools briefly brought back circle time. 

'Forbidden Fruit' by Amy Wilson

It seemed so romantic in the moment, stealing a kiss in the orchard. I didn’t stop to think how it would affect her, whether it would affect her. I suspect that I assumed she would never find out. So, when I looked up from his face to find her watching us, I did what anyone would do, I sprang away from him and tried to explain. Tried to lie.

“It’s not -” I began.

I didn’t get any further. She turned on her heel and walked away. Her dignity intact, mine in tatters on the ground among the fallen apples.

She forgave him in the end. Moved away when he did, followed him to university out of town. But she never spoke to me again.

I still wonder who I would have been if I hadn’t lost her.