Monday, 17 June 2019

Write-In 2019: 'But We Still Have Seasons' by Marissa Hoffmann

All the seasons remain but there’s no yesterday, or the day before and maybe no tomorrow. We share today. That’s what we have. When I wake, Mum isn’t in her bed again but droplets down the stairs and across the hallway make her easy to find. The backdoor is open and the cat is minding her. Mum is bent at the hip weeding in her nightdress and wellies. Marigolds, violets, begonias—all from seed—all in neat rows—the way Dad kept it. The wind has stolen the neatness from the plaits in her hair but at least she’s dry now. In late Autumn, the alliums will glisten with frost and again she’ll ask when Dad’s coming back, and like we’ve always done, we’ll plant the spring bulbs, snowdrops, daffodils, tulips. All the seasons remain but there’s no yesterday, or the day before and maybe no tomorrow.


www.marissahoffmann.com

Write-In 2019: 'Somethings Are Better When They're Dreams' by Alison Powell

If I had time I’d write this story I heard from a friend, about this woman who married a man she met on a plane. Sat next to him reading the same magazine – even on the same page - picture of the Taj Mahal. 

“I’ve always wanted to go,” says the man and the woman says it’s a sign. Within weeks they got married. 

I’d tell you all the stuff about how that was bonkers and hasty, but there’s no time for that. Fill in the gaps if you will. Dress. Cake. Dancing.

Skip a few months and they’re landing in Delhi.

Noisy. Sweaty. Anyone would be crabby. They both are. They’re so hot their fingers swell up. They work their wedding rings off with soap. She puts them in her purse for safekeeping.

Usual tour of Delhi – Red Fort, Humayun’s tomb, Jama Masjid. Then to Agra early for the sunrise tour, planning to get there before the hoards. 

The hoards have the same idea. 

The couple start arguing. I mean, who wouldn’t? This was their dream afterall. 

Mostly they bicker about beggars. 

He says, “Just give them some coins.” 

She says, “It doesn’t help.”

But the beggars keep asking and he keeps tutting, so in the end she gives a few coins away, and then a few more, until she isn’t paying attention, just dipping her hand and giving out coins and wishing they’d leave her alone.

Cut to the plane home. He’s trying to make peace. Says they should get married again. Presses the buzzer for the steward to be witness. She puts her hand in the purse for the rings. Of course, they’ve gone. She feels sick – realises she’s given them away.

Says it’s a sign.

If only I had time.

Write-In 2019: 'Nineteenth Floor' by Grace Palmer

If it came to court, he’d say he’d thought about the fire angle, the safety features, how he’d researched how they’d escape. This tower block had three lifts. The girls were safe with him and he could run fast, even with three in tow because he jogged everywhere with one in the buggy, one riding behind and baby strapped to his chest.

At court he’d dress in a suit, would not expose his wife. He’d focus on the girls. That’s all.

His roll-up was burning low. After his PhD finished, he’d aim for Cambridge. Out the window the seagulls swooped. They loved the thermals. If that wasn’t play he didn’t know what was. Behind him the charity shop toys littered the carpet. A complete bargain. He was lucky; his girls, this view.

Write-In 2019: 'Thurso' by Sarah Mosedale


She wasn’t born there. No, she was an incomer, arriving at eighteen months, oldest child of parents moved to the far north for a better job than he could ever have imagined. A million quid to think up research projects in a nuclear reactor? For a working class bloke from Blackpool with a third class degree who’d really rather be playing jazz? A reactor prudently situated in a sparsely populated area, not that the locals considered this prudent, well they wouldn’t, would they. It might be fewer lives at risk but it was their lives. Anyway it never blew up though there was some unpleasant business involving the casual disposal of radioactive waste. None of which was his fault.

For her there was a lot about living there that was good. It was normal to roam free aged five, shouting back to your mum that you’d be home for tea. The sea was freezing so even after fifteen years you didn’t need double figures to count how often you’d been in. But there’s nothing to beat sitting staring out across the Pentland Firth as a teenager. Angst - don’t tell me, or any other Thurso kiddie, about angst.

Kiddie, that just means person. Like wifie means woman, there’s no diminutive, or any relationship to a mannie, implied. You meet some fucking tough wifies in Thurso. It’s the gale force winds that does it. If you can stand on your own two feet in Thurso you can stand on your own two feet anywhere. You meet some totally crushed wifies in Thurso too. I suppose you do anywhere really.

She left of course. She was desperate to get out by the time she was eighteen; she was lucky to have an escape route. She was an incomer.

Write-In 2019: 'Jesus said that he would explain everything.' by Al Moore

JESUS SAID THAT HE WOULD explain everything. I haven't got long, I said, but go ahead. I couldn't help myself  interrupting him before he could finish the story he was telling me. You are eager, he said. I said, You are breaking up — can you repeat that? Quickly I dropped more coins into the receiving slot. Is it true, I asked. Everything is true, said he. You must believe. I'll come and meet you, I said, I've got to see you to believe. He said that he was at IKEA and that he had bought a new seat to sit at the right hand side of his father. I'm good with making that stuff, I said, I'll stop by. In the background I could hear the beep—beep—beep of checkout. A pinched woman's voice said, Holy Jesus, is it really you? It is surely, I heard Jesus say. I am sorry I just never thought that I'd ever see you here; in fact I didn't even believe in you until now, I could hear the woman say. Let's do a selfie, she asked. Sure, he said, just the one. That'll be, she said, no go on, take it, we'll say nothing. Jesus, I said, my coins are running out, are you there, Jesus, I'll meet you at Subway — my shout — I'm in the mood for a foot long. The operator said I had ten seconds left. I wondered what chair he was after. Keep your receipt safe, I shouted. The line had already expired. I thought about him all of that morning. I was sure that I'd recognise him. I just had to meet him. I'd bring wine and cheese and grapes. I'd watch him make wine. I'd watch him thumb the curls of his beard. I'd ask him to pray for me. I'd ask him to rob a bank with me. I'd spend it quickly. Then I'd go home with him. I wrote a list of things.

Jesus said that he would explain everything.

Write-In 2019: 'Hope' by Vicky Newham


She crouches against the cold wall. Motionless. Strains her ears. Listens. Scans the calm hush of the roof terrace. Is it safe now? Has the man gone?

Overhead, the night-time gods spill black and grey, like cavernous yawns. Pain sears through her knees, the flimsy cloth of her trousers no match for stones.

She straightens up. Grabs the parapet. Swings leaden legs over and rests her butt. Sits.

Careful.

Easy to slip.

She inhales the vista's sweetness; the refuge that night provides.

All around, the quiet horizon screams with light. It's not the whispers of those who sleep that she hears; not the manic inertia of the shift-workers and insomniacs. It's the pained tapping of the homeless who prowl the city at night, as she does. Their punctured souls drip like leaky buckets on knowing pavements.

Yes.

She could let herself slip. End the agony of a life diminished.

And yet. Hope scratches again, louder now. Somewhere in this vast city, kindness will smile on her again. Kindness will restore the life which misfortune greedily stole.



Write-In 2019: 'Stanley’s Fish Bar' by Tina Edwards

If he had not bought a bag of chips from Stanley’s Fish Bar, things would have turned out very differently that evening. But he was hungry and they did the best triple fried chips this side of Brighton. To be fair, it was his choice to walk across the promenade and onto the beach to find a spot under the pier to eat them. He could have easily sat on a nice dry bench with a sea view. Then he wouldn’t have found him. Dead, bloated and tangled in what looked like a pink seaweed tutu.

If he asked her one more time to dress up in the ridiculous poncey outfit he’d bought her, from god knows where, she swore she would kill him. All those stupid bows and beads flouncing about, she was a jeans and jumper girl through and through. Always had been. Anyway, it was totally inappropriate for a beach barbecue but… as usual she ended up wearing it just to keep the peace.

The blow to his head had come out of no where. One minute he was drinking from a bottle of beer, the next he was falling onto wet sand. When he came to it was almost dark and even without any light, he knew he was wearing a dress. With each wave that washed over him he felt it billowing around him, and even though his head hurt real bad, the floaty feeling was rather nice. Then he remembered someone once told him the last sense to go before dying was your hearing. They must have got it wrong. All he could smell was Stanley’s fish & chips.

Write-In 2019: 'Catharsis' by Ahaa Jan

I expected there would be, but there is no deliverance watching my school collapse into clouds of dust, each an unresolved memory. I imagine swinging the wrecking claw but it’s too late; I’m still that child.

At the school gates, now the site entrance, a thirty tonne tipper grunts under its full load, impatient to exit. I get the nod and trample the grit of tyre tracks that vanish in arcs onto the road.

I let a funeral cortege pass. In the polished black I see him again; Dad, the lollipop man; hair as white as my hard hat; his lip stiffer as the mocking children cross. Seems I’m starting where he left off but I don’t measure up.

I step in front of a double decker because its driver will understand. I raise my ‘STOP’ sign on its pole and put the queue of irate commuters from my mind knowing another labourer delays the opposing traffic behind me.

Stillness.

Then a pneumatic hiss in stereo. Doors clatter open. Someone jumps off the bus. Shrieks as a cyclist avoids him. He strides toward me; the revving engine. His malice minds my sign, the high visibility jacket, the family resemblance but sees my father.

“Want to hear a joke?” he shouts, reprising our pasts.

I squeeze the pole like I squeezed my Mum's hand.

“You!” he roars, crossing me, laughing, staring at the past when I see the unavoidable present in his eyes. He sees me, I’m sure because he never sees the tipper coming.

I am stunned. What’s this I’m feeling?

Write-In 2019: 'Seeing the light' by Summer Phillips

“What’s so special? Didn’t you see the pamphlet?”

She stood at the crossroads listening to the audible gasps.

“It’s so…so…blue,” said a lady in a maroon poncho, two but one away from her.

“Come on, it’s changed now,” I said, giving a nudge that, wasn’t quite, but awfully close to, a shove, to the bodies infront of me. It was nearly 8.46am and if I didn’t get across this road soon I’d be late for work, as I had been since they installed the new lights a week last Tuesday and my boss wouldn’t let me have a morning coffee before the daily 3 hour spreadsheet me to death meeting.

“Come on!” I’m getting more impatient.

“I’ll go in a minute,” says a man infront to the left. “I just want to see the blue one more time. It’s so compelling. I’m so happy we are all on foot now.” He looks at me directly which is disconcerting to say the least. People haven’t looked at each other for years. “Aren’t you glad we no longer have cars. Look at all we’d miss.”

“Like these traffic lights?” I ask.

“Yes,” he laughed and snorted at the same time which was utterly disgusting.

Welcome to my overpopulated city. Where people walk everywhere, in droves, and we are too many to sustain. Maybe the blue traffic lights are doing what they tell us they are doing, Green for go, Amber for wait, Red for stop and the new Blue, to go back. Or maybe, just maybe, they are there to make us gaze up in wonder and be so enchanted we begin to talk to one another again. I mean, what kind of messed up idea would that be?



Write-In 2019: 'Admiralty' by Annie Bien

The photographer: Today one after another they bring baby’s breath, chrysanthemums, carnations, and daisies. Stacks of bouquets pile one on top of the other for the one who fell from the scaffolding. Yeah, I watched him waving the banner against extradition, I watched him fall but I turned away for the landing. I’m not a sensationalist photographer. It looked like he lost his balance, that he couldn’t stop falling. He looked totally unprepared, taken by surprise.

The policeman: I was doing my job. The guy jumped from the scaffolding. No personal comment. The official statement is suicide. You could lose your balance and not mean to die. I don’t speculate.

The woman: It looks far. You’re asking me if I saw it happen? Did I have to see someone fall from a building to gasp? Was it worse to just hear them land? Is it worse to know it’s your friend? He had soft hands.

Write-In 2019: 'Happy Family' by Sue Massey

Gabi, don’t follow the example of mummy dearest and be late for school! Your packed lunch is half-made in the fridge. You’ll have to finish it for yourself. I’m late for work! Sorry darling. Love you.x

Esther – couldn’t find an ironed shirt so had to wear a crumpled one. Thanks a lot. Love you. Ben.x

B. Stop being so needy. Iron your own fucking shirt. Love you. E.x

Mummy. You are an utter loser. How could you not put the cheese inside the bread? Love you lots – all the same. G.x

Hey Dad! When you get home tonight can we play football on the park? Hopefully it won’t be dark? PS Gabs – did you tell Millie I fancy her? Rich.

Rickie. Millie does not fancy you. Get over yourself. Love you. G.x 

Stop calling me Rickie. Rich.

Ben, darling (eugh!). If you’re home before me, please chop some onions, celery, carrots, garlic. I’ll bring the minced beef in with me, and a bottle of red. Spag Bol for dinner – if we’re lucky? E.x

Mummy dearest – I’ve already booked dad to play football – so Gabs will have to prep the veg. Dad – you can thank me later for getting you out of that one. Rich.

Rickie. I am not prepping the veg. Over to you mate – you lazy batard. But I still love you! G.x

Esther. Doubt I’ll be home before you (especially as I’ve been commissioned to prepare the veg). Ha! Ha! Sorry Rich – footie another night? Ben.

Ok guys. Shall we meet up in the pub and go for an Indian? Dad’s paying. Love you all. E. xxxx

Write-In 2019: 'Banky’s Dismaland' by Grace Palmer

The painted ponies rode up and down, flashing red, gold and green. Wendy held on to the tin mane, the sunset flaring over the wet sand while the cracked music jangled. She didn’t want to see the mechanism, the poles beneath her steed or the butcher’s ponyburger.

The taxi driver said. ‘This place isn’t what you think. The murder rate is the highest in the South West.’ His pine scented tree made her sick.

‘It’s the hostels, you see, they put all the druggies here, ship ‘em in and our police force – Ha – can’t cope.’

She didn’t tip.

'The Darkness Between Us' by Marie Day

We came to the house in a mist of unease.  Lawn statues loomed from the grey shroud, begged our retreat.

The house gifted solitude for your prose. 

For me, it was never silent amongst Memory's echo.  Footsteps never disturbed your art the way they scurried through my dreams. 

The years grew empty rooms between us.

Voices beckoned at every corner.  Whispered about the darkness.  Their hands held mine through winter.

And as time bled colour from my soul, I became them.  My empty stare etched in blurred reflections, a part of the forever in this house.


@mariedaywriting

Write-In 2019: 'Working at the Bank' by Sarah Mosedale

Come out of the right exit at Bank early Friday mornings back in 1978 and there she is. Not always the same exit. So you can’t plan to avoid her. The bosses used to send someone round to check up on her and sometimes that person got irritated trekking round all those exits looking for her. But she is soon appreciated for the rare pearl she is, someone who is actually giving the job her all. No need for checking up. It’s a lot cheaper to just give her the Employee of the Week bullshit from time to time, it seems to be all she needs, if she even needs that. Inconceivable that she doesn’t need anything. She’s either very stupid or some kind of nutcase. Anyway it’s exactly the sort of stupidity or nuttiness they need so it seems everyone’s happy.

She’s got a broad grin and a momentary flash of full, friendly, eye contact for everyone, you’ve taken the paper she’s holding out to you before you know it. It feels rude to do anything else. And the paper’s OK, it’s just some kind of entertainment guide, there’s no scam involved, it’s harmless and there are litter bins everywhere that you can dump it in anyway.

You might think someone handing out free newspapers in the cold London dawn would make you feel guilty as you hurry past in your suit to your important finance job. But there’s no way you can feel guilty about her. This is her real gift, the sharpest tool in her kit. She’s enjoying herself and you can see it. If you only knew it she feels sorry for you, chained to your hamster wheel, running your rat race. She’s stoned, immaculate. But you’d never imagine that.

Write-In 2019: 'Last lines' by Virginia Moffatt

“So there you have it, openings from, ‘a truth universally acknowledged’ to ‘it was the best of times, the worst of times’ and the many that have followed, play a vital part in enticing the reader into the story, capturing our imaginations, drawing us in. Next week we’ll look at the impact of last lines, equally important narratively, as they close the circle begun all those pages ago, starting with...starting with...well, I think I’ll just leave it hanging, give you a reason to show up.” The minute he completed his sentence, the lines of Gatsby came back to him, the ‘boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly in the past’, that always reminded him of his father’s descent into dementia. Fiona always frowned when he mentioned the ‘D’ word, saying he was far too young for that, and just because his father had it, didn’t mean he would succumb too.It hadn’t stopped him making an appointment and now he was going to find out the results, he had a horrible feeling she was wrong.

The doctor was young, brisk, and kind, but honest enough not to spare his feelings – rapid onset dementia, progressing fast.The symptoms were manageable now, but best get his house in order while he could.

Fiona was predictably stoic as the disease took hold quickly. After all, she loved him, she had no choice. It was hard though, watching his behaviour change. Harder still to see him lose words. The great lecturer and intellectual, speechless.

But partial memories were worse...

...Boats against the current...

...Borne back ceaselessly...

...In the..

...Past




Write-In 2019: 'Call me, Mum x' by Julie FitzGerald


I watch his WhatsApp. Last seen yesterday at 06:20; no answer, calls unreturned, no text reply. Eighteen hours, a son in incognito mode: AWOL, taken, gone. No. His phone is lost, yes, that's it; the screen smashed from a bar drop, seeped in pear cider that faults his index print. The Touch ID says Try Again. Try Again. The finger pad is wet and cold, its onyx eye fixed and dilated, unblinking at the moonless sky. On the embankment, left on a bench carved In Loving Memory above the fist-crushed empties and flattened roaches. At a girl's with no iPhone charger; she's got a Samsung you see. Please God. He has no Facebook status, all social mediums remain unupdated. No vital signs, no online, typing... Sound on, volume set to max, my palm-encased phone is warm under the pillow. I check, I wait, heart in mouth. I watch his WhatsApp.

Write-In 2019: 'A Mirror of her Psyche' by Mileva Anastasiadou

Each time she woke up, she felt nostalgic for the house of her dreams. That house was never a conscious choice. It seemed though, as if it had been there expecting her. Whenever in doubt or in discomfort, she remembered the forgotten rooms. From time to time, she even discovered new rooms, although after waking up, she usually realized that she had been there before, that they were part of the forgotten kingdom.

Once she permanently moved in, she spent most of her time in the basement. She felt like experiencing childhood again. Every once in a while, she went up to the ground floor and sat on the porch for some fresh air. The attic caught her eye every now and then, but it took some time before she decided to visit.

It proved a difficult task, though. Either the stairs were too steep, or the barriers were insuperable. There stood a guard who did not let her go upstairs. The guard was never talkative and didn’t even notice her attempts to seduce him.

She became frustrated little by little, as all her efforts proved fruitless; her beautiful dresses, her sophisticated makeup, her pretentious walk, did not work. She even used tears, a weapon she knew her husband in real life could never resist, yet the guard stood upright, seemingly impervious to the show she had carefully prepared.



Many attempts later, the stairs did not seem that steep any more and the obstacles vanished.

Opening the door of the attic, she found herself in her old house, the one she shared with her husband for many years.

I’m back, she thought in excitement, feeling for the first time in years, that this house might fit her as well, and that reality did not seem so unbearable any more.



Write-In 2019: 'Ice' by Stella Turner

Frost hanging off long eye lashes. Scarf wrapped around frozen ears dulling the sound of the whipping wind, nose running, rivulets washing over her cheeks leaving white marks, brain going into meltdown. The little jacket pulled tightly around thin bones. Feet burning inside torn flimsy shoes: painful chilblains starting to form. Too cold to look left or right, just keep going straight. Watching her walk, the swing of her narrow hips, heart beating he licked his lips tasting salt, she saw no-one, didn’t feel his touch on her shoulder or the grip on her neck promising eternal life. Frost hanging off long eye lashes.

Write-In 2019: 'Jack, Jill, a Hill' by Sarah Mosedale


Jack came back, bad lad.
I’m mad, me.
I baked lamb, cake; he fed, had mead.
I led him hill high.
He fell. Dead.
I blame him.
I’m calm, me.

Write-In 2019: 'I remember you' by Lia James

I remember you.

I used to remember you in vivid color. Bright, tangible, living clips of memory. Your embrace. Your laugh. Your love.

But memory fades.

I remember you now in one monochrome moment. Sat together reading in the library. The curl of your hair. Your smile. Still, your love.

Write-In 2019: 'Maiden’s Blush' by Jennifer Cousins

She loved visiting stately homes.

The Duke from his high window
Noticed her in the rose-garden.
She was stooping to the delicate pink blooms, inhaling the fragrance,
Eyes closed, smiling.

He went down into the gardens, incognito,
and picked the pinkest rose: ‘Maiden’s Blush’.
“Excuse me!” she cried, “You shouldn’t pick the flowers. It’s not allowed!”

Now it was he who smiled.
“But I am the Duke” he said.
She blushed.
He bowed and gave her the rose. 

Write-In 2019: 'Mum's Heritage' by Sue James

Mum had all the ancestry charts laid out across the dining table again.

'Did you know that my mother's side goes right back to Ireland?' she asked me when I called in.

'Nope', I told her.

'Well it's true, my family probably go right back to the potato famine on my mother's side'.

The week before she had told me that my father's great aunt had poisoned three husbands with arsenic. Nice. She'd been obsessed with this for months, digging up her 'heritage' as she calls it, finding out all about her roots. The trouble with Mum is that she is far more interested in what went on in the past than in what is going on in the present. She didn't listen to a word I said, sitting there all day long with a cup of black coffee at her elbow. She thinks I'm stupid and didn't know about the bottle of whiskey she poured into the coffee. At night she skipped the pretence, drinking the whiskey neat from the one remaining cut glass tumbler. I can't tell you when I last saw my mother eat food.

She draws charts and maps and plans and she can tell you who is related to who from way back when. She even tried to explain it all to the Bailiff while he wrestled the table from underneath her. I kept on trying to tell her but she refused to listen to me. Now she has all her maps and drawings covered in plastic. She lives out there in the shelter of the tower block rubbish chute. She doesn't seem to mind. She has her heritage to keep her company.

Write-In 2019: 'Fashionista' By Karen Walker


There was a fashionista who lived among shoes. 
She bought so many heels, then credit cards came due.
She'd gladly chew fine leather if she couldn't afford bread
just to have sandals, flats, and booties in black and in red.

Write-In 2019: 'Things Might Be Different' by Michelle Christophorou

As with every morning lately, John wakes up crying. He can’t say why. Helen slumbers beside him, soft and flannelly with middle-age (long gone the days she slept naked); his job rumbles on, weekdays nine to six (he opts for ‘middle management’ on forms); Lucy will wag her tail feebly, fix him with shining eyes as kibble dings and echoes into bowl.

Maybe it’s time for a change. Tonight - Thursday – it’s fish and chips. Instead, he’ll bring home Asian. Nothing too spicy for Helen. Chicken teriyaki. Chilli beef for him.

Dining table eschewed (medium oak), they balance plates on laps, swap Killing Eve for Line of Duty. At 10.30, instead of turning in, he opens the single malt Dad bought them, unfogs a brace of tumblers (wedding Royal Doulton), measures out two fingers. Who knows? Things might be different.

As with every morning lately, John wakes up crying.

Write-in 2019: 'From: Report on habits...' by Judy Tweddle

From: REPORT ON HABITS OF DRUGSMUGGLING PRISONERS AND HOW THEY  KEPT SANE 

Mehitabel sat crosslegged in her cavelike cell made glorious by her knitting, and worked on the translation from the Chinese of the confessions of her keeper.  This smuggled document was what kept her soul from spinning into despair after she ran out of wool.  And what gave her the idea of spinning her own hair and that of her fellow prisoners.

Write-In 2019: 'And She Was Lifted Up' by Cath Barton

She was clearly unwell. All the colour drained from her face. Her eyes sunken. I would have gone to help her, I always try to be a responsible citizen, but she was quickly surrounded by people, lifting her up and carrying her. Probably there was an ambulance coming; I could hear something, though I couldn’t tell what direction it was coming from. Fingers crossed it worked out for her, poor old dear.

We had been waiting to see her all week. Camped out to get a ringside seat. So many had been healed; we were determined to get to touch her robe. She looked unreal, but then what do you expect of a living saint? Certainly not someone rosy-cheeked and jolly. We stretched out our hands and for a miraculous moment she looked our way. She looked into my soul and I would have been happy to die then and there, my life complete. I looked up, watching her ascension and in that moment the rays of the sun shone down on her through the clouds. We crossed ourselves then, in gratitude.

Every year the circus comes to town with some new attraction. I’m not sure what this one was called – I missed the publicity. Some kind of levitation act, as far as I could see over the heads of all the people who’d pushed themselves to the front. Always happens, selfish individuals. What about the children who wanted to see? No chance. They were crying, the kiddies behind me. They’d been promised a treat, so their parents had to haul them off and buy them candyfloss. Couldn’t see a lot myself. Trickery anyway, that’s what it is. Not worth the money if you ask me.


Write-In 2019: 'Evening in the theatre' by Vijayalakshmi Sridhar

We made it to the movie, along with Simran fifteen minutes late- his planning. Sim took a seat at the far end leaving us alone in the nearly-empty theatre. He put his swollen left leg up on the chair opposite to him so that the blood circulation was not blocked. I told myself to look beyond this new illness for hope and happiness. I didn’t want to bicker. We sat closer. Intermission time and he was ready to go out. No cool drinks; no sugary stuff; you need to get your weight under control for this clot to heal and for you to stay healthy, I said softly without upsetting him. He limped out and Sim came to sit by me. Ten minutes later he hadn’t come back. I urged her to look out. Keep an eye on what he buys, I told her. Few seconds later father and daughter were back. You sent her to spy on me? He fumed. No, I denied flatly. I didn’t tell him Ma, Sim volunteered foolishly and shrank back when I gave her a piercing look. I cursed myself for the worrywart I was and kept quiet. He went back. Sim shifted to the front row. Could he be in some emergency? Did the clot move up and choke his lung? Was he lying unconscious outside, with strangers hovering around him? Shouldn’t we have come at all? The Dolby stereo drumbeat couldn’t match my heart beat. I called Sim but she wasn’t turning back. So this was how his life was going to end- my heart sank. Restless and pinned to the seat I kept looking at the entrance. Twenty frantic minutes later, he walked in and settled into the cushion chair, his leg promptly up. I heaved a sigh of relief.     

Write-In 2019: 'A game of...' by Summer Phillips

The mouse didn’t think that the cat would chase it down the hall.

The hall didn’t think that the cat would hide in the cupboard.

The mouse didn’t think that the cat was hiding, cupboard stealthy.

The cupboard didn’t really wish to be involved at all.

A cupboard which ignored all the cat mouse business.

The cat got cramp waiting for the mouse.

The mouse which backtracked, after its cheese.

The cat pounced, the mouse ran!

The cat trod on cheddar.

Not my cheese, please!

The cat squealed.

For, snap.

Mousetrap.

Write-In 2019: 'Half a Tank' by Sarah Mosedale


Are we nearly there?

That little voice floating up behind her. A balloon whose trailing string, razor-edged with optimism, slashes her heart, clots the breath in her lungs, rips her guts. Gripping the wheel, half blind with snot and blood, she struggles for silence. Prays the child will give up, will sleep. Her reason for living, her likely death sentence too, one warm sweet bundle, buttoned up and belted in.

Nearly where? There is no there. She’d left the death house because in the end there was no choice. She was driving because she’d managed to snatch the keys and the car was faster than walking. It is warm and dry too; outside the rain drums with cruel enthusiasm. Half a tank of petrol is all that stands between them and him. Can it possibly be enough? Can she hold that tiny terrifying balloon?

Are we nearly there?

Write-In 2019: 'Serving the city.' by Grace Palmer

When Piotr checked the cameras that morning the traffic pathways were jammed, the bunched cars blocked and choking the city. He changed the traffic light phasing with a simple press, felt the thrill. Chaos could be restored.

His actions affected millions, his secret service to the motorist. His logic, his planning and his decisions kept the cars moving so that the roads, like rivers flowed. In the afternoon he finished his CV for the Highways Engineer role. Misty eyed with a mug of tea and an apple he finished his covering letter. Promotion: compulsory purchase, bringing in the diggers,  autocad designs to free up capacity, designing the systems to help asthmatics, the yellow hard hat for the photos.

Write-In 2019: 'Retirement Community' by Virginia Moffatt

‘Greg and Nancy Poliakoff?’

‘That’s us,’

‘Angela Merriweather. Welcome to Greenfield Retirement Community.’

 ‘Tea?’

‘Please.’

‘Reduced caffeine, better for the circulatory system. And no coffee of course.’

‘Of course.’

‘We’ve never had a problem here. We’re very strict about that sort of thing. But, well you do hear the most terrible stories. Only last month, thirty people died due to uncomposted coffee grounds at Hazelgrove.’

Nancy shakes her head in horror. Greg looks at her appreciatively. Her yellow petals may be browning with age, her seed cases less full, but her kindness and empathy shine through. She is still beautiful to him, after all these years.

The tea arrives as Angela takes them through the different packages on offer. Option 1, for the fully mobile. 2 bedroom bungalows, with private garden for any tenants wishing to draw directly water from the soil. Perfect for semi-retireds like Greg and Nancy. There is easy access to the outside world, but thick walls to keep them safe. ‘There’s so much street violence these days you can’t be too careful,’ says Angela, Greg nods.

Then there’s option 2, the in-between phase. Glass conservatories, with room to lounge in but also soil trenches to plant your feet, a preparation for option 3. Nobody says it, but option 3 is end game. One last year,  rooted in the soil, subject to wind, rain and sun. One last, glorious year when they’ll grow as tall as tall can be, and send their seeds scattering in the wind, before...Well. Angela doesn’t need to say anymore, they all know what she means.

‘Lovely don’t you think?’ says Greg as they head out towards the car.

‘Let’s do it,’ she smiles as she climbs in the car.

They put the deposit down first thing in the morning.

---

Twitter: VirginiaMoffatt@aroomofmyown1
Facebook: Virginia Moffatt and Echo Hall



Sunday, 16 June 2019

Write-In 2019: 'I Know' by Vivian Paide

I know she’s cheating on me. Every night she’s late coming home from work. Comes in with this satisfied smirk on her face, like she’s pulled one over on me. Talks about her boss like he can walk on water. I took the day off tomorrow so I can follow her. When I find them together, boy, will they be sorry. Nobody makes a fool out of Guy.

I know Guy’s going to be so surprised when he opens his birthday gift and sees that leather jacket. He’s been going on about it for months, but we just couldn’t afford it. I’m so glad I talked to my boss about wanting to make Guy’s thirtieth special. Looking after his little girl for an hour till her mum comes to pick her up is easy money. Tomorrow, I’ll have enough for the jacket. I wonder if he suspects, though. He’s been acting kind of strange lately.

I know I’ve done something really bad, I just don’t know what it is. Dad acts so mad all the time, and Mom doesn’t come home in time to play with me before dinner any more. I guess she just doesn’t want to be around me. Maybe they found out that I copied Jimmy’s answers on the math test. I heard Dad say something about cheating the other day.

Write-in 2019: 'The Brick Chimney' by Annette Edwards-Hill

At 8am it’s already 25 degrees and Jean and Cara’s mother insists they stay inside. They want to play underneath the old chimney and sulk for most the morning. Jean sits at the kitchen table drawing while Cara rolls marbles on the floor. There is a low humming noise, that gets closer and closer. The house rolls, then shakes. Jean is thrown from her chair. Jars of jam fall from the shelves and smash on the floor. They run through sugar, water, fruit and broken china, then out the back door to watch the chimney crash to the ground.

Eric shelters in a thin streak of shade under a tree and he’s still hot. An ant runs over his toe. The playground seems to be moving towards him in waves. He can’t stay on his feet, he crouches and watches concrete rip itself open. When the shaking stops he runs and doesn’t stop until he’s two blocks from home. The road is a gaping chasm. He takes off his shoes and walks through a dried-up dribble of creek. His house is standing but the horizon has changed.  The chimney is gone.

Ethel runs out of the factory as it shakes.  Her needle still in her hand. Outside she pauses, she’d usually turn right, but she goes left. It takes three hours to walk home. She is lost in the new dusty landscape.  Later the neighbour tells her nine girls had turned right and were crushed by masonry.  Ethel sits on the long-drop her father has built in a tent next to the fallen chimney. Already the stink of shit is stomach-turning. The tent shakes. Another aftershock. There is more shaking.  Ethel screams, pulling at her pants. She hears Eric laugh as he runs back into the house.

Write-In 2019: 'The Carousel' by K.R. Garcia

Wind brushes past my ear and ruffles my hair. It’s a cold and gentle embrace that my heart can only welcome with feeble jitters.

The floor beneath me is raised up on zigzagged planks of wood, its pink paint wearing off. I remember when the paint was fresh—when I tripped and fell at its base and broke my tooth. The scratch in the paint hasn’t been covered up, but it’s harder to find. Now, where I used to wear little green shoes, their well-loved white ribbons tied into neat bows, are sandals, worn whitish-brown, hugging much larger feet. They’re too small, but I can’t bear to admit it.

They say you grow out of things, but I keep trying to fit.

My imagination has always been more vivid than reality. That’s why the dusty toys on my dresser bring tears to my eyes. Why this carousel was put out of commission years ago but I can still hear the song it played. I close my eyes and hum the tinny melody, rocking my head from left to right.

Time has been kind to the carousel horse I sit on. His cobalt and lace coat is vibrant in the flickering light. The glint in his eyes is so stubborn, he must think he could run a thousand miles. He doesn’t know how fragile he is. How fragile everything is.

Sometimes, when I’m sad, I go to the carousel. Like when they ripped the white ribbon off one of my little green shoes. Like when I learned we were moving houses. Like now.

Today, they told me. They told me my stories aren't real. That it's time to grow up, to find a place in the real world.

But if I forget my childhood, I'll forget myself.

Write-In 2019: 'Together alone' by Joyce Bingham

Together alone.

In the beginning it all seemed so clear. Meeting together, unexpected and instant. Your thoughts and my thoughts seamlessly intertwined. Our loving and life merging as one. Shared pleasures unbounded. Our holidays were a joy, we were a unit, a team. Children arrived then so soon the fledglings took flight, we were together alone. Wandering aimlessly through our lives, what was our reason to be. Different experiences and feelings, our thoughts grew apart. Our love, our life, no longer seemed joined. We meet as individuals to eat at the table. Our own separate ways of loving and living. An unravelling to divide us up to single minds. Ours became yours or mine. Betrayal and lies, accusations and guilt. My despair, your anger split us apart. Understanding each other has become too much for us to bear. In the beginning it all seemed so clear.

Write-In 2019: 'Father's Day' by Geraldine McCarthy


Buy your Father’s Day present here. Let him know you love him.’ Maggie switches off the telly. If she hears one more ad, she’ll explode. Nothing but a money-making racket. It’s been five years since her Dad sent a postcard from Kenya, letting her know he’d remarried. He was good at starting over alright. Maggie wondered if wife number three knew what she was letting herself in for. At least Ken was nothing like her Dad. Ken was a solid man. Dependable. Always had her back. And now that they had Rose, their world was complete. Their precious little flower.
*
Poll: how will you mark Father’s Day?’ Ken winces as he scrolls through his Facebook feed. His Dad passed four months ago. It was unexpected, a fatal heart attack. No time to say goodbye. His therapist says it will take a while to process. Today he feels the numbness wearing off. A tightness in his chest takes hold, squeezing him from the inside out. Some say grief manifests as physical pain. Or is his heart giving up- maybe it runs in the family? The walls are closing in on him. He tiptoes to the bedroom to pack a bag.
*
Happie Fathers Day Dada.’ Rose puts down the crayon and admires the picture she’s drawn – her and Dada and Mama in the garden under the apple tree. Rose hears Mama crying in the kitchen and goes outside to find Dada. His car is missing. Is he gone to play golf? Rose wanders back indoors. Her Mama is reading a note and her shoulders are shaking. “Come here, pet. Dada has gone on a little holiday. A Father’s Day treat.” Rose frowns. “But why didn’t he bring us?” Mama gulps. “He’ll be back soon, pet. He’ll be back very soon.”



Write-In 2019: Money Matters by Paul Purnell

“Where’s your purse?”  Jack poked me and gave me that hard stare.  “What you got left?”

“Tuppence.”

“Give us it!”

“It’s for a bulls eye.” I said

“If you don’t hand it over I’ll thump you.”

I got a black eye and a bulls eye.

Write-In 2019: 'Dear Harold' by Amy Barnes



Dear Harold,
I am leaving you.
It is finally time for me to move on.
Susan is going to help me find an apartment. Maybe near the ocean. I always wanted to live by the ocean.
Love, Carol

Carol wrote the words with the only pen left in the junk drawer. Red ink on plain white copy paper. She looked at the words and crumpled the paper. The words felt too harsh to end an almost fifty-year marriage.

“What words should I use?”

She asked the almost-empty room. The entire house was empty for the first time since he carried her over the threshold. Only a few wire hangers remained in the hall closet. She looked down at her black dress and wished she had left an iron at the house. The linen skirt was already wrinkling.

She began again in cursive red.

Dear Harold,

I am leaving you. You really shouldn’t be surprised. It’s been a long time coming.

She giggled a minute before continuing.

I bought a new black dress and am wearing my hair down like you like. I feel pretty. For the first time in a long time.

I hope you will miss me.

She hesitated before closing out the letter. They had never really exchanged sentimental letters even when he was away at war. She already missed him.

Love,
Carol

Somehow, the second attempt seemed less harsh. More worthy of fifty years.

Susan honked her horn out in front of the split-level ranch. Carol folded the letter and put in on the mantel. She turned in her new black sensible heels and walked out the front door for the last time.

She knew it was time to go. Harold’s funeral started at 2:00.


Write-In 2019: 'Roman Holiday' by Judy Tweddle

At 7a.m.  Alicia sets up breakfast.  It’s cool on the Aventine Hill: the garden is shady.  It will be fun to get show new daughter-in-law around Rome. At 8 a.m.  she puts the rolls back in their bag. At 9 o’clock she brings in the butter and milk. She frowns and switches on her Italian lesson;  lies back on the elegant sofa, with her earplugs in.    At 9.30 she clicks off her lesson, cross.  She sets up breakfast noisily inside.  Already it’s too hot to sit outside, and the day is passing. Michael never used to sleep this long.  Jane must be lazy.  A bad influence. 

At 8 am.  Michael leaves Jane asleep and tiptoes into the sitting room.  His mother is not there.   She must still be asleep.  He goes back to bed beside his wife, and reads till he falls asleep.  At 9.05 he goes into the sitting room.  His mother is lying on the sofa with her eyes closed.  He goes back to his room and reads another chapter of his book.  It has been a long term.  He looks at his newly pregnant wife with gentle eyes. She is sleeping for two, and it was a long flight.  His mother is still dozing. 

At 8 a.m.  Jane dreams of butterflies and giant peaches.  At 9 a.m.  she is too deeply asleep to dream.  At 10 am she stirs, holds her tummy, and smiles, remembering where she is.  She smiles and slips on the silk dressing gown left out for her.  The tiles are cool to her feet.  Michael emerges, showered and they go through. ‘What time do you think this is to get up.  Half the day has gone.’  Jane and Michael stare at the new mother-in-law, in shock. 

Write-In 2019: 'The Keepers' by Maxine Davies

They never stay for long. There’s just me and wor Tessa now. Yi can see ‘em from the top of wa lighthoose, pickin’ tha way through the narrow streets and tip-toeing around corners, hands held oot like the world’s made of sharp edges. I see a bairn hoy ‘imself over the waal, tiny thing, land with a dull thud. Me heart’s doing somersaults inside me chest. A scramble through the hatch, reet fast.

Tessa, a says. Another one.

She breathes, in and oot, in and oot. Pops the ribbon bookmark carefully between the seam of the pages. They never stay for long.

Write-In 2019: 'Castling' by Kyriakos Chalkopoulos

If I am to keep up, mistakes known to lead to serious problems should be avoided. Last night I missed an appointment with an influential businessman who may well have agreed to sign a contract there and then – while now he seems unwilling to even return my calls. We were to meet at ten thirty, and I had already left my apartment one hour before that – yet I never made it past the gate of my building. I do recall how I stayed next to the wall until it was a quarter to ten, way too late for me to make it even if I was already running to the bus station, and consequently returned to my house, sighing while reflecting on what went wrong.

I distinctly remember that prior to leaving the apartment I went to the kitchen and opened the top drawer to observe the white pawns placed there on a striped napkin. It seemed to me that their position was conforming to the known rule, but it didn’t take me very long to understand my error when I returned, following my failure to leave the building.

It is a simple enough mistake to make… Castling always happens if the three pawns aren’t positioned exactly as they should. Of course I was being ambitious, and in an attempt to negate a lesser obstacle happened to resurrect a major one from the past. Besides, it didn’t matter if that other obstacle would have been dealt with, given that one only materializes when I am inside the bus, while this time I never made it to the street…

Castling must always be prevented. Due to hastiness I allowed once more a full wall to form around the building, and it does seem my prospective client walled up as well...

https://www.patreon.com/Kyriakos

Write-In 2019: 'The facility' by Grace Palmer

They waited until after dark to remove the body from the secret enclosure. The visitors had gone home, fractious, jolly, exhausted after a day’s staring.

Five of them lifted the old girl onto the truck. Her head lolled and her Keeper wept. She’d be dissected. The lion.

Write-In 2019: 'Family Business' by Sarah Mosedale


  • Hello
  • Who?
  • David Jones?
  • Incredible! David, how are you? It’s been decades.
  • I don’t understand.
  • Your mother’s what?
  • I don’t want to be rude, David, and of course I’m sorry for your loss but I don’t really understand why you are calling...
  • Excuse me?
  • My father was what?
  • That’s ridiculous, David. And offensive. You obviously never met my father.
  • No, that’s quite enough. May God forgive you and may I suggest you seek psychiatric help. Goodbye.

-------------------------------
  • Helen, I’ve just had the craziest call. From David Jones of all people. Do you remember him? From primary school.
  • You don’t sound very surprised.
  • What?
  • Am I the last person on earth to know this?
  • Why didn’t anyone tell me?
  • What do you mean it’s what dad wanted?
  • Dad said what?
  • Mum knew!!!
  • Helen, you are tearing my family apart right in front of my eyes…
  • Yes of course I know it’s your family too, don’t be absurd. Maybe there’s something else you’d like to tell me about your family at this point?
  • Are you sure now? Just one fornicating father, is that it? You sure that’s enough good news for me for one day?
  • Don’t you dare lecture me about loving the sinner. You lying hypocrite. You can’t cast those words aside and pick them up again to throw them back in my face. You have no right to those words, not until you accept our Lord as your saviour. Goodbye Helen.

------------------------------

  • Hi sis, she knows...
  • As you’d expect...
  • Angry now but hurting underneath
  • Yeah, we probably did the best we could but maybe we should have pushed mum and dad more
  • Yeah, they were kids really, here we are mopping up again
  • Great, if you can call round today, let me know how it goes
  • Love you too, bye now.



Write-In 2019: 'Birthday' by Summer Phillips.


Jack baked.
Maggie fell, face caked.
A jammie gem,” he giggled.
Maggie, glacé ice cheeked.
Life jaded,
a facade.
Each high he deemed ace,
like Maggie cake face.
Image held.



Write-In 2019: 'The Fate of an Ant' by John Wheway

Not easy for an ant to cross sawdust. Would it feel like when he clambered over boulders and rock to get to Adriana on the beach?  Or like some un-named mother on tv news, at risk of treading on a landmine, picking her way over girders, chunks of wall, smashed pavements, to rescue her child from a pulverised house? He’d been afraid Adriana would recognise him, not as her broad-shouldered hero, but a bookish youth, about to crash into the gap between two identities.

As a boy, playing alone, he’d kicked down ant’s nests, dropped lighted newspaper onto the fleeing insects, stamped on the one that might have got away.

Today’s ant, instead of skirting the shavings on the shed floor, went head first into trouble, antennae flailing, floundering for toeholds on its ramshackle progress to nowhere.

If he carried on whittling, more shavings would rain round the ant like bombs. Adriana, Libbie, Kath, Annie, Wendy – each time he’d recovered his life, another female would upon his world.  Devastated – though in the midst of life, distracted by hope, he’d have called that an exaggeration.

Love attained, enjoyed, neglected, betrayed, destroyed. In an elegant simulation, the ant was showing life’s absurdity.

Except here he was, still, accompanied by the shed door’s friendly creak, the sunlit curtain’s fluttering. He whittled, unconcerned about the result. He had his folding table, kettle, camping stove, a mug for tea. He had the power to drip boiling water on the ant, grind out its life under his boot. Would it be kind, or cruel, to put it out of its misery?

Instead, he tore off a corner of newspaper, scooped the ant up, whisked it outside, watched it scurry over a pebble and disappear into the grass.

Write-In 2019: 'Taking the Mickey' by Amanda Jones

A shout from my mother. “Mouse. Quick. Mouse.” “Yes, coming”. Where was Linus when you needed him? Blasted cat.

In her room, I realised there was a new development in the mouse scenario. The creature had clearly dined well. It was wedged fast in the hole. Front quarters invisible. Hind legs scrabbling. 

The snap of the cat-flap heralded Linus. He swaggered in. The mouse sensed danger. A small pile of droppings appeared and it plunged forward into the skirting board.

“Honestly, Linus” I said. “Honestly? Honestly what? ” He’s always peevish when he’s tired, now he was slurring after a night on the tiles. “May I have some breakfast please” he said with studied politeness. Then he sat bolt upright , stuck a leg in the air and did cat-cleaning things. I shuffled off to the kitchen. “Coffee mum?” “What time is it?” “Five.” “No thanks. But please get that ridiculous cat out of here.“ “Going” snapped Linus. She and Linus don’t speak. She pretends she can’t hear him. “Are you going to clear up this mouse manure?”. “Yes, in a minute”. Linus cackled. We both pretended not to hear him”.

There was silence. Linus can’t groom and speak. We both know this. It’s a recipe for fur-balls. I made coffee and toast, grabbed a sachet “Cod ok?” He had finished grooming. “No. Tuna. And some of my special milk please”.

So here we are. I sit at the table. He sits on the floor. That rule does survive. “It’s all take, take, take with you” I say. “Of course. I’m a cat. It’s what we do”. He wanders over to his basket. Turns round three times. Curls up. He’s asleep before I close the front door.

Write-In 2019: 'Emailing Shakespeare for answers' by Alison Powell




Hi Mr Shakespeare,
Does Macbeth have PTSD? Or is he just evil? I need to know for my essay (due on Tuesday).
Thanx,
Jayden


Dear Jayden,
I’m guessing you want the bard. I don’t know what they’re teaching you in school these days, but you’re 400 years too late.

I don’t think he would have used email anyway. He’s always seemed like a man who would respect his quill and ink.

But, if it’s of any interest, I think Macbeth was set up by the witches. His downfall was the result of his attempts do battle with fate. There’s not a person on this earth who’s strong enough for that.

Best wishes,
Bill


Hi Mr Shakespeare,
I’ve been thinking - what is Lady Macbeth’s real name? Is it a bit like Curley’s wife in Of Mice and Men where she hasn’t got a name because women weren’t seen like proper members of society? Cos she seems a bit tougher than that, so I was thinking she could be called Beyonc√© or Taylor, or something.

Also, do all women in books die? It don’t seem right. There should be a book where a woman is the ruler of everything and lives forever. Can you write one like that?
Thanx,
Jayden


Dear Jayden,
Everyone dies in the end. Men. Women. Authors.
You and me.

Sorry.

Bill


Hi Mr Shakespeare,
When I leave school, I’m going to be an astronaut. What’s the point of reading plays if that’s what I’m going to do? How will poetry help me when I’m on the moon?
Thanx,
Jayden


Dear Jayden,
It’s a beautiful thing, the moon.

Did you know that it reflects the light of the earth? The ashen light. We see the same light twice. Is that not a thing worth pondering?

Best wishes,
Bill







Write-in 2019: 'Incy Wincy Spider' by Sue Massey

Incy Wincy was famished.  She had woven a most intriciate, delicate gossamer web.  It hung between two spikey cacti in a corner of the ramshackle lean-to.  Incy Wincy waited patiently for any unsuspecting insect to become entrapped on the sticky strands of her fly catcher.  Lucy noticed Incy Wincy dangling and darting about.  The way she weaved her web was captivating. Lucy didn’t care about the thick cobwebs full of the skeletons of dead flies draped in every corner of the lean-to.

 Lucy pottered in the lean-to, tending her plants.  When she misted her magnificent cacti, water droplets landed on Incy Wincy’s web.  Incy Wincy was out in a flash, thinking a winged creature had landed for lunch.  This amused Lucy.  She teased the spider.  It was a friendly game.

A bumble bee, wearing a yellow and black striped woolly jumper coated in yellow powder, buzzed into the lean-to.  Disorientated, it flew straight into Incy Wincy’s web.  Incy Wincy darted out for the kill.  The bumble bee struggled frantically.  It was too strong to stay captured and deftly extricated itself from the sticky web, and buzzed out back into the garden.

Incy Wincy was famished.

Lucy pricked out seedlings.  She stood back to admire her military rows of wallflowers.  She would plant them out in the garden in autumn. Hard to believe they would become glorious perfumed beauties next spring.

Lucy left the lean-to and went to make a cup of tea.

Incy Wincy hung around, watching and waiting.

A house fly zoomed into the lean-to, landed smack bang in the middle of the web.  Incy Wincy was having this one for supper.  She attacked the fly, rolled into a parcel of fine web and retreated, leaving it to die.

Incy Wincy’s hunger would soon be sated. 

Write-In 2019: 'Brief encounter' by Cath Barton

There are two boys on the station platform, whispering and giggling. They’re making me nervous. I turn away.

It’s weird there’s no-one else here, with a train due in five minutes. It’s weird how the light is fading so fast, when it’s midday. In my anxiety about this visit have I missed the news about an eclipse?

 There’s an announcement shouted over the tannoy in a language I don’t understand. Tickets! Tickets! Those words I know. I pull my ticket from my pocket. But it’s old, it’s been validated already, stamped several times.

I run towards the ticket office. I have to get a replacement. I look round for the boys. They’re there, in the shadows. One of them is lifting his arm. There’s a flash and a bang and he’s thrusting something at me.

‘Ulaznica!’ he says.

It’s a new ticket, or rather a photograph of the old one.

He holds out his hand, rubbing his thumb and index finger together.

‘Novac, novac.’ His face is close to mine. I know what he wants.

A train is coming, but its not slowing down. It’s obvious what I have to do. I’m surprised how easy it is, in the darkness.

Write-In 2019: 'Not very subtle' by Judy Tweddle

fillet steak
mushrooms
onions
garlic
check black pepper
oven chips?
salad things
that nice red – Sainsbury’s – 2 bottles
brandy?
washing up liquid
icecream
deodorant
brandy
shower gel
catfood
condoms

Write-In 2019: 'Dig, He Begged' by Maxine Davies

Bake cake. Make jam. Be fickle. A gilded cage. He gambled. Bad game. Metallic blade. Ice limb, acid milk. “Lie,” he begged. “Hide,” he begged. I became like magic.

Write-In 2019: 'Four o'clock Session' by Grace Palmer

‘Hello.’

There was no response, as usual. I liked to nod at him hoping that one day he might chat or raise a wispy hand in salute, and look at me rather than through me. He appeared at around four o’clock each day as I was pushing the grandkids back home for tea and toast after nursery.

As bold as brass he leant behind the sandstone wall. The path was stubborn by the churchyard – old cobbles and soft grass and the Maclaren Buggy’s tiny wheels had a habit of bogging. You had to shove when they stuck, so maybe the noise attracted him. He had a top hat and a neckerchief, or it could have been a scarf; the smudging made it hard to tell. He oozed melancholy but as we got used to each other I thought I detected a longing in his gaze.

I often looked behind me to see what entranced him. Sid’s neat bamboo canes wigwammed with runner beans in the allotment so maybe he remembered hunger or had been a gardener.

‘Hello,’

‘Top of the morning to you.’

‘You’re a long way from home. Ireland, I mean.’

There was a hiss and his words formed a little speech cloud above the wall, as if drawn in copper plate, by a Victorian scribe. Speaking probably took up more energy than speechbubbling, for a gentleman like him

It took me a while but being a dab hand at sudoku I managed to unscramble his meaning.

‘Will you help me find the key, now?’

I parked the buggy and obediently clambered into Sid’s allotment. A silver CD dangled from pea-sticks. The word ‘No,’ rang inside my brain. A pitted key lay on the ground. I picked it up and turned. My friend flared into colour then evaporated. 

Write-In 2019: 'Cake' by Maia Cornish

Ma fed me ham. I fell ill. 

Dad made me cake. I beamed. 

Ma fed me beef. I died. 

Ma blamed Dad. 

I came back. 

Ma made me cake.

Write-In 2019: 'Brunch' by Voima Oy

Outside, looking in, I see them. Friends from work I used to know. That was another life ago.

They're sitting together, brunch on Sunday. Not a care in the world. But I can see the anxiety in the corners of their eyes. They're talking about vacations and getting away—New Mexico, the Cascades, Kyoto. They complain how much their knees hurt, how they almost lost their luggage on the plane.

I remember this place, clean and uncluttered, carefully chosen vintage chairs. I sometimes think I could get a job here, why not. It would be a simple life, taking orders, cleaning tables. I could get a little place nearby, open the windows,  aromas of Greek cooking down the street in the evening.

But then I remember, my reflection in the glass. That was another life. Before the plague. This is what I look like now. I don't do brunch anymore.

Write-In 2019: 'The Show Home' by Sue James

We've saved every last penny for the last five years. We haven't been out socially. We've not bought anything new. Our shoes are embarrassing. We've had no holidays, scrimped on Christmas, birthdays … When they started building there we knew that was exactly where we wanted to live but they were too expensive and our dream was shattered, right up until they reduced the cost of the very last house - the Show Home. We drew out every last penny from the bank and it's ours. We move in tomorrow. We're so excited.

I sold the Show Home today and got my final commission. I should be buzzing, I go to Ibiza in the morning and start a new site when we get back, but I feel so guilty. A lovely sweet young couple bought the house, and that Show Home never felt right. I hated that place at night. It had a sickly smell, and the noises were … well it was as if there was a family already living there but I just couldn't see them, aside from the occasional fleeting shadow out of the corner of my eye. If it hadn't been that they were so keen …

I saw a Sold sign on the Show Home today. I wouldn't live there. Me and Matty wired that place, Matty's been off sick since. He still swears he saw people walking in and out of those walls. He says he heard a baby crying. I didn't tell him I saw shadows, but the smell? And then that day we got there and all the lights were on throughout the place? Thing was there wasn't a single fuse had been put in yet. Matty refused to go in. I hope whoever's bought it are strong people.

Write-In 2019: 'To Whom It May Concern' by Sarah Mosedale


To Whom It May Concern
Receipt in Full and Final Acknowledgment of a Series of Serendipitous Circumstances

  • The cancellation of the 18.02 to Dalkeith, obliging me to catch a later train
  • The presence, on that train, of a man with a monkey, a sight never before witnessed, a sight which was to have life changing consequences
  • The determination of said man to extract payment from his fellow passengers by means of causing them to have their photographs taken with said monkey
  • My lifelong aversion to the smaller apes, particularly when costumed in knitted yellow trousers, an aversion dating from an unfortunate incident during a visit to Edinburgh Zoo as a child
  • The presence of an exceptionally attractive young gentleman and a fire extinguisher
  • The existence of a buffet car, by no means an everyday occurrence, which caused me to first encounter man and monkey on my return, they having gained ingress to my carriage in the meanwhile
  • The not inconsiderable alarm this encounter occasioned, causing me to gasp and lose control of the tray I was carrying
  • The absurd over-reaction of a nearby lady who took exception to the minor inconvenience of a little hot tea arriving in her vicinity at speed
  • The bumbling attentions of an elderly gent the said lady then received, to provide which necessitated him laying aside his pipe, which he did carelessly
  • The conflagration which ensued after the pipe became intimate with a newspaper
  • The swift and athletic response of the aforementioned young gentleman, wielding the fire extinguisher with aplomb
  • The speedy exit of man and monkey
  • The amusement this sequence of events generated in both myself and the young gentleman which, not shared by all present, precipitated our retiring to the buffet car, there to explore further our mutual interests.

Write-In 2019: 'The Children's Library' by Jennifer Cousins

There’s this hatch, about two foot by two foot, set into the outside of the building, near the door. This is a library. When the library’s closed, if you want to avoid a fine, you post your book through this hatch. It says: ‘Library of Birmingham – Book Return’. I have a strong desire to do this during opening hours just for the hell of it: to take the little man on the other side by surprise. “Hey”, he would say, “That got me on the head – it hurt!” 

The last time I saw a hatch like this, years ago, it was in a convent wall in Florence. It wasn’t for books. It was for babies. Catholic women who had fallen from grace had few other choices: the medieval church could dream up some pretty nasty sanctions. So women would creep out at night with their pathetic wriggling bundle and post it, maybe with an anonymous letter, through the elaborately carved stone hatch.  I presumed there was someone on the other side to catch.

The other night I couldn’t sleep. I roamed the city centre in the small hours, thinking. As I passed near to the library, I saw a woman with a bundle. She looked this way and that, but didn’t see me. She kissed the little bundle then posted it through the hatch. The notice had been changed. It said: “Library of Birmingham – Baby Return”.  I hope there was someone on the other side to catch.

I wondered: maybe this is a place where you can borrow babies too?

Write-In 2019: 'An Unfortunate Oversight' by M. H. Thaung

He says the biscuits are allergen-free.
She says she’s not so sure.
He says he’s upset she doesn’t trust him.
They say at the inquest it’s a pity nobody read the label on the packet.
It says: may contain nuts.
He says he can’t understand why she didn’t.

Write-In 2019: 'Schism' by Mileva Anastasiadou

“I can’t see anything,” you yelled. “Neither can I,” I confessed. I think you realized my terror because you squeezed my hand. I must have left your hand abruptly and turned. In an attempt to gain back composure, I took a deep breath that sounded like a sigh. You held me close and kissed me, without giving me time to react. My contempt for you grew stronger, as your immaturity shone through. I unwillingly let myself enjoy your touch, until the sun shone above our heads. Those sun rays lighting the scene were the last sparks of a love doomed to end soon. Relieved, I held your hand and we moved on.

“I can’t see anything”, I said. “Neither can I,” you told me tenderly to appease my fear, although I was mostly excited, not scared. I squeezed your hand in joy. Your hand was wet and sweaty and I realized that finally the universe conspired to leave us all alone on earth. You let go of my hand and turned my way. Your sigh was soft and tender. I fell all over you, as if a huge invisible magnet pulled me to your side. That was a long and tender kiss, a prologue to a lifetime of togetherness. The fog dissolved in a few minutes, as you took my hand and held it gently into yours under the bright sunlight. We moved on without uttering a word.

Now they can’t see. Now they’re two figures, trapped in a foggy forest, trapped in their thoughts. People have thoughts. They touch, then take their distance and touch again. One wrong step and I’ll bite. My bite is poisonous, yet unintended. For snakes don’t think. Snakes do not write stories inspired by Tool’s songs. Snakes only wish to not be disturbed.

Write-In 2019: 'The last holiday' by Cath Barton

We set off for the place where we’d been happy lots of times, before, but I felt terrible from the first day, a stone dragging in my heart. In the evenings I drank wine to numb me, but next morning, on the long drive, I felt its leaden weight. I found myself crying for no reason, except of course there was a reason, I just couldn’t work it out.

When we reached Provence the sky was luminous and I thought it might work its magic on us again. I cooked the simple food we both loved and we ate on the terrace, overlooking the lavender fields. Anyone seeing us would have thought he was behaving normally, but he was always a good actor. There were times when he had rehearsed his parts with me, on that balcony. We had laughed together then, when there was no-one else in the plot. Now I had an unknown rival stealing all my best lines.

‘You can guess who it is,’ he said, finally cornered.

‘I don’t want to guess,’ I hissed, eyes narrowing. Though by then I knew her name. I wanted him to wriggle. Like a worm. Skewered.

Write-In 2019: 'Nursery School' by Judy Tweddle

Little Jack Horner sat in the corner.  On the naughty chair.  Again.  This time he was to think about what it would feel like to have someone put their finger in YOUR food. 

Write-In 2019: 'Am I ugly or do I look like Daddy’s cheating ex-wife?' by Kate Miller

Ouranos or Father Sky was the son and husband of Gaia, Mother Earth in Ancient Mythology.

Ouranos and Gaia had twelve sons and six daughters. He locked he eldest of these – the giant ‘Cyclops’ and the ‘Hecatoncheires’ away inside the belly of the Earth. They were the ugly ones – the children he despaired. Sometimes I think Daddy doesn’t like me.

‘Why does not daddy have favourites?’

‘... Because you remind him of your fucking mother.’

Write-In 2019: 'Personal services.' by Grace Palmer

‘You’ve only got one Mum.’

I slammed the door in his face, rage powering my footsteps, leaving behind the smell of carrots, ancient wee and talcum powder. Besides it wasn’t quite true, was it? I’d been one of those first babies, born with three parents, genetic material mixed and muddled.

In the park I vaped, watched dogs race up and down the Northern Slopes, their owners flinging balls, time after time. The dogs panted, meaty tongues lolling, their wagging tales all yes yes yes. That look in their eyes; so trusting. So compliant. And then the pat. The stroke.

I ran down to the bakery at the bottom of the park. They’d sold out of bread but they still had an egg custard with a grating of nutmeg. Proper wobbly, with pale pastry. Just how she likes it.

‘You’ve only got one Mum.’

Write-In 2019: 'Blame Game' by Lynda McMahon

I blame him. He lead me. Big, bad, a cad. Fed me fig jam, ham, mead. Bed head jagged. I bled. He came. I fled. Dead mad. Had.

Write-In 2019: 'Lost' by Sue James

When I came home from work the light on my Ansaphone was flashing. I pressed to hear the message while I put the kettle on. Molly's voice stopped me in my tracks. It sounded different though, as if in a wind tunnel. I recognised that sound.

'No?' I pleaded inwardly.

'Mum? Where are you? Mum? I can't find my way back, Mum?'  her voice faded out. The Ansaphone bleeped and the machine intoned that

'There are no more messages' before switching itself off.

This was the first time I had heard Molly's voice in the six years since her disappearance and I had missed her call. I sat and sobbed before calling the Police.  I stayed by that phone and waited for a second call that didn't come, before going through Molly's room and searching for what I feared all along was at the root of why Molly and I were apart. Finally, at midnight, I laid out her Ouija Board and lit two black candles.

'Okay Molly', I whispered, 'if you can't find your way back to me, then I'll come to you'.

Write-In 2019: 'The Visitor' by Sarah Mosedale

‘I confess the purpose of your visit is not immediately clear to me,” said Dr Fowler, closing down the desktop screen, removing a smeared pair of glasses and rubbing the back of her thin, pale hand across red rimmed eyes.

The small woman sitting on the other side of the desk in the consulting room said nothing in reply; it was not her responsibility to set the agenda as the doctor was well aware, her presence was quite sufficient.

The doctor shifted in her seat - as a well informed citizen she had, of course, been expecting this day for a very long time but now it had arrived she found herself awkward, at a loss, curiously unprepared.

What were the correct words for the occasion, the correct demeanour, how was she expected to conduct herself, to behave, how should she move her eyes, her hands, did any of it matter?

The visitor sat quietly, relaxed, well presented, generally unremarkable in appearance, a bit of a mouse one might suppose, though a mouse conspicuously at ease in its surroundings.

The doctor shuffled a few papers, fumbled a drawer open, closed it again, caught sight of the wall clock tick tocking through the day like any ordinary day.

Suddenly the time passing, the lack of speech, felt oppressive; surely something should have been said.

The doctor cleared her throat but it seemed the opportunity had been missed.

She could think of nothing to say, not a single word, nothing at all.

The visitor caught her eye, smiled as if politely and rose.

“After you, Dr Fowler,” she said.

They left the room.

The door closed.