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.

'Three Idioms Buy a Lawnmower- But at What Cost?' by J P 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 Dragons 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 bright wires, and ticked.

'The Rollercoaster' by Amy Wilson

“I’m not sure,” she said. “It looks like a big drop.”

“I’ve heard it’s fun.”

She squinted. “Do you think it goes upside down?”

He followed her gaze. “Might do.”

The couple behind her in line coughed and she waved them past.

“Is it ok if I stay here a while longer? I’m still not sure if I want to ride.”

“Take your time.”

Ahead, people cheered and whooped as the ride began. She watched them until they vanished behind the curve.

“Do you think it’s silly?”

“To be afraid? Of course not. Most people are afraid, if they’re being honest.”

She bit her lip. “Everyone seems so excited about it. I wish I had someone to ride with.”

She looked so hopeful that he felt his heart stir for her, but he shook his head nevertheless. “I can’t. It’s against the rules.”

She nodded, looked out west to where the sun was dipping into a perpetual sunset. “Have you been here long?”


“Have I been here long?”

“Longer than some,” he admitted.

She took a deep breath. “I think I’m ready.”

He smiled and held out his hand. She placed a small, silver token in his palm, and he let her through the turnstile. 

She settled herself in the carriage, pulled the safety bar down over her lap and raised her hand to him in a small, uncertain wave.

As the ride jolted into life, he kept his eyes on her face and ignored the small, stylised logo on the carriage, the one that read ‘Styx’.

'To John, Wherever He May Rest' by Federica Silvi

The Keats Hill Community Library 

Senior Citizens' Creative Memoir Worksho

Week 3 assignment: Pick a place you go to reflect. Where is it? What memories come back to you? 


Name: Anita McRae 

Title: “On the bench at the North-East corner of my neighbourhood park” 


To John, who once a week looked over this park through the windows at the Viscount and Carriage, nursing a pint while his family believed him to be at Sunday mass. 

To John, who swore to Anita that there was no one else he'd rather walk through the green with, but always, to the day of his death, continued to wear the cologne Dora Laforge used to love. 

To John, who enjoyed his strolls more than anything, aside perhaps from watching football. Lifelong Reds supporter, and sole responsible for his daughters learning curse words before the age of six. 

To John, who some days would spend more time on this bench than his own sofa because, as he used to say, at least the rubbish pickers didn’t nag him for smoking his cigarettes. 

To John, who sat here every morning, because he had long lost the energy to run, but his dog still had plenty. Imperfect husband, loving father. No matter what, very much loved.

'No Cross Words' by Amy Wilson

“I think the rain might stop soon,” I say.

“Mmm,” you say, noncommittal.

“I might go out. When it stops, I mean. For a walk.”

“Good idea,” you say, without looking up.

“Do you want to come?”

“No, that’s alright. You go ahead.”

I hesitate. “Are you sure you’ll be …”

Safe, I want to say. Alright. Still alive when I get back.

But I don’t say any of these things and you just sit and look at me. No anger on your face, no recrimination, just a kind of mild curiosity as if you really don’t know what’s worrying me.

I cross the floor and put my hand on your shoulder. I just want to feel you there, reassuringly warm and solid under my palm.

You reach up and squeeze my hand.

You don’t look at me as you return to your crossword.

'Angelique Devises a Cunning Plan to Deal with Andy's Snoring' by Michelle Dickins

When he’s in full flight she walks into the night. 

'Music is a Snapshot' by Amy Wilson

At age six I’m obsessed with a cassette tape of songs from a children’s club tiger. They’re supposed to teach us to be environmentally responsible, but for my sister and me it’s more about the memories of our first real holiday.

At age 10, pre-teen, it’s all about boy bands. I mime to re-imagined pop classics and cry when mum won’t let me go to concerts with my friends.

At sixteen, I deny ever liking those bands. It’s all about heavy metal and I learn to navigate the mosh pit as I learn to navigate my impending adulthood.

'We See What We Want to See' by Marie Little

The solution was staring at me over my cornflakes: Face of Jesus Found in Sock! To be honest, I should have cancelled the newspaper subscription, but you know how it goes. I’d already saved money by cancelling Prime, Netflix, vitamins from vegetables, that sort of thing. I studied the breakfast table: cornflakes, jam, toast crusts, a banana. It was the sort of banana that could work – just brown enough to be edible. There was, with the right degree of squint, a sort of cartoony Mother Teresa, but that wasn’t going to cut it.  I examined the contents of the fridge: old gherkins, Jenn’s spare cheese, a ring of Cumberland sausages and an onion. I laid them out on the table. The sausages were featureless. They looked delicious, but they were a no-go. I peered at the gherkins through the jar – they were so alien already as to render them pointless. The whole idea was to make a fortune from a story about the everyday-turned-incredible. Like Jesus. In the sock. I looked at the cheese. Cheddar – a bit crusty but nicely boring, and with potential. I left it on the bench to check out later and went to work. Six hours later and I realised that the sun was not my friend here. The cheese had wept and melted like a queasy dream sequence, so I binned it and knew I had to start again. There was only one catch: the onion was as plain and featureless as my magnolia kitchen wall. I reached on tiptoes to the back of the cupboard for my flambé torch and got to work. That evening I wrote the letter. To Whom it may concern, I am excited to share with you, my discovery of The Amazing Onion.

'The Day Lord Gordo Caught a Bird and Slaughtered It' by Finnian Burnett

First date ruined by eviscerated remains of Gordo’s first kill. 

'The Trainyard' by Amy Wilson

Amelia still isn’t sure what it was she saw that day exactly but she knows she can’t tell anyone about it. She should never have been down at the trainyard in the first place, and if her father found out he would tan her hide. 

He’s always preaching about the dangers; the risk of getting hit by a moving train, or the risks of getting kidnapped by a vagrant (as if people were lining up to kidnap twelve-year-olds in broad daylight).

Her father never warned her about this though. How could he have?

Amelia was looking at her favourite old train carriage, the badly rusted one with all the graffiti. She was looking so hard in fact that she almost didn’t notice the figure behind her, until she heard a wheezing, grunting sound. She spun, excuses for her presence flying from her mind, and then realised it wasn’t a yard worker, a cop or – worse – her father. It was a man, stooped and shuffling awkwardly towards her, his torn jeans, rippling in the cold wind.

“Are you alright?” she asked.

He opened his mouth and made that strange sound again and this time, there was something else too, the smell of something spoiled and rotting. It hit Amelia so hard it made her nose sting and her eyes water.

She took a step back. The figure carried on moving, neither faster nor slower than before, and now she could see the pallor of his skin, the way it seemed to hang loosely from his bones as if it didn’t belong there anymore. Worse still, she could see how the man couldn’t quite close his mouth over rows and rows of pointed teeth.

Amelia can’t remember running home. She can’t talk about it. She thinks he’ll come back if she does.

'Etchings' by Natalya Edwards

I slam the door behind me, immediately pressing myself against the cool tile on the adjoining wall. I fumble with the lock. Then I let my body surrender itself to the floor.

There’s shrieks and screams from downstairs. They probably know I’m in here. When you can’t find someone where have they disappeared to? The bathroom, always.

My palms are pressed flat against the floor. I’m trying to alleviate the sweat but I think my hands are warming the tile faster than the tile is cooling me.

My heart is sputtering. I try to focus on my breathing — slow and full breaths. 

Grounding yourself. That’s meant to help. There’s a grimy shower cubicle in the corner, littered with empty shower gel bottles. I suddenly notice how the floor is covered in empty loo rolls and hardened ends of loo paper. There’s even a piece sticking to my calf. I remove it and throw it into the corner, it travels pathetically across the room.

I wish to be in my bed, at safety, where there isn’t a mutated scent combination of urine and vomit. I press my head against the door, there’s something black a centimetre from my eyeball. Abruptly, I pull away so my eyes can focus.

The entire door is scrawled in blank ink. Initials with hearts. Names and dates. Swear words. Someone’s even etched in the number to a suicide prevention helpline. Another has replied “thank you.”

I wash my hands. There is no soap, or towel. As I turn to leave, I spot a ballpoint pen a few inches from the toilet seat. I etch in my initials and the date.

It feels better now. The door and all its etchings has made me realise I’m not the only one that finds solace in a bathroom. 

'Tin' by Sheila Scott

Her gran told her paper was the traditional first anniversary gift. She got up early that morning and locked herself in the bathroom with a ten metre roll of gift wrap and selotape. Having stripped naked, she wound the gift wrap around her body folding and taping to the curves of her flesh. Unwrapping his present had been her gift to them both.

Today marked a decade together, sharing lives, children, and her best friend. She scraped the beans into the bin and smacked the emptied can onto the wedding china set before him on the table.

‘Happy anniversary arsehole.’

'Eventually, an Apple' by Marie Little

Throughout the year Jed diligently filled the compost bin, insisted his family did the same. Every teabag, banana peel and leftover was fed to the tall green tub. Gradually worms and time made rich black food for the new Ballerina apple tree Jed planned to buy when he landed the promotion. At work he did all he could to impress; fulfilled every promise, ticked every box, worked overtime without complaint. At home, he planned and prepared, created the perfect space in his matchbox of a garden. He shrugged off his wife's worries about space, turned himself deaf to her fears that the promotion was never coming. In April Jed was called into the boss's office. She looked at him down her sharp nose, said "I'm sorry" and handed him a small apple tree in a pot labelled 'Ballerina'. A parting gift which stung so bittersweet he could barely look at it at first. Jed's wife was kind and let him tend to the tree like a child. They held a small ceremony to bed it in. Jed recited a poem he had written, the mood somewhere between Christening and funeral. He watered its base and shed a tear. Through the first summer Jed pinched off the shoots by hand, afraid to damage the tree with secateurs. On one dark Autumn night, he even slept beside the Ballerina, telling it things he couldn't tell his wife. By the second summer the little tree began to fruit. Jed spent his days watching, measuring, feeding and watering, until one day he called his wife out into the garden. "It's time" he said and trembled as he plucked a rosy apple from the tree. Jed turned the fruit around in his palm and realised that it had, in fact, grown completely pear-shaped.

'Golden Threads' by Amy Wilson

This is why I love coming to restaurants by myself; nothing else gives me such a great opportunity for people watching. Take the couple at the table next to me, now. They’ve clearly been together for a while, and they’re past that ‘gazing lovingly into one another’s eyes’ stage of the relationship, but I can see that the first blooms of their infatuation have deepened into something stronger. The strong, golden thread stretching between them tells me everything I need to know. 

They have other threads of course, everybody does, and if I wanted to I could pick anybody in here, take any thread and follow it back to someone in their lives; a mother, a brother, even someone less significant like an old schoolfriend. 

The stronger and brighter the thread, the more significant the relationship. And the couple in front of me shine so brightly that it comes as no surprise to me when he draws the small, velvet box from inside his jacket pocket.

I turn away, smiling, and find someone else to watch.

'Rip Tide' by G K Wood

Salt left its tang on her lips and the sea roared while the wind gusted, whisking sand at her legs, her face, keen stings from wet grains scouring naked. This way she would be lacerated. She wished she'd worn trousers and not a pair of shorts and sandals; she wished she'd seen the squall coming and hadn't ignored the signs. The sudden shifts from gentle blue to howling demon, the vicious rip tides. Such treachery sickened her.

Rain beat at the silly plastic rain bonnet she'd found rammed into the pocket of her jacket, along with dog poop bags and assorted pieces of old string, wood, shells and pebbles. One of them caught her eye. Smooth and black, the rain made its surface glitter with hidden lights. They shone like tiny stars in a miniature galaxy.

It rested in her palm, and she remembered that day. Long ago. A hot, lazy, beach day, when her world ran riot and threw buckets of seawater at her and each other. Hyperactive, kids, dogs and husband, all crashing into the sea and back out to eat sandwiches filled with tuna, cucumber, luncheon meat and sand. They'd kicked it all over the towels and into the thermos and beakers, making everything crunchy and bit into fruit smeared by dirty fingers. It hadn't mattered one bit. Bill had dropped it in her hand, wrapped his fingers round hers as she grasped it, still warm.

“A token,” he said, laughing. She'd laughed too.

She stared at it until ghosts raced towards her, their voices a melody she wished she could forget, and she let it fall. The sound of it landing lay hidden in the drumbeat of waves and the slap of the lead on her thigh when she whistled for the dog.

'Beginnings of End' by Rachel Canwell

From dark to light to dark again. The last fall of Earth. A shuffle of leaves.

His footsteps moving away. 

My limbs are frozen, stiff. Angular, at odds with the place in which I lie. A sheltered glade of singular breezes. 

At my head, something stirs the leaves. A animal roaming, rooting, now calling. Too close.

The third sunrise. Imperceptibly the earth around me is shifting, making way for my expanding and newly marbled skin. 

My flesh settles, my scent rises. Mingles with the song of a solitary bird. 

Life has returned to me now. 

Reanimated inside out, with things that twist and writhe. 

When they find me.

If they find me. I wonder what they’ll find.

'One Red Balloon' by Adele Evershed

Gretel arrived home without Hansel; she hadn't been able to save him and that knowledge still tortured. As she reached their neat house, the brightly lit windows blinking in surprise, and then the part of her mind she tried to pay no heed spoke. "You see, they expected you to stay lost. They are not even out looking for you". This made everything easier somehow.

As she opened the door, her stepmother rose from her chair and turned towards her. Her fat cheeks became hideously pale against the black of her dress as she stammered, 'Gretel is that really you? Where have you been all this time? Is Hansel with you?"

Ignoring the questions, Gretel stepped into the room, pulling the red balloon behind her. "What's that? Is that where you ran off? Some tawdry fair? Your father and I were worried sick. I think that's what..." but before she could continue, Gretel ran outside. Her stepmother followed, calling, "Gretel, come back." The woman's steps were slower than Gretel remembered, and when she got closer, Gretel noticed her dark hair was threaded with grey, and there were cracks around her eyes. "How do you still look so like a child?" her stepmother's voice was soft from lack of use, "I don't understand. This must be a dream, yes, just another bad dream."

Gretel smiled and offered the old woman the balloon. "I am so sorry, Gretel, for everything, but we were starving. What else could I do? But losing you chased Wheresmeine into an early grave anyway. I'm so.." but her words were lost as the balloon dragged her up into the moonless sky.

Gretel walked back into the forest, her braids untwisted, her chest swelled, and her pudgy legs lengthened as she approached her gingerbread house.

'Actions Speak Louder Than Words' by Amy Wilson

The meeting has already devolved into an argument by the time I arrive, late as usual. I’m lucky
enough to be able to sneak into the room and slip into an empty seat in the back. I don’t know
what’s going on, but Lucy from HR is whispering furiously at Mark from Accounting. She’s practically sitting on her hands, she’s so angry. Over on the other side of the room one of the managers (the new one, I don’t know his name yet) is riled up enough about something that his voice is almost audible, even from all the way over here.

Just when I’m starting to think that things can’t get any more heated, one of the junior account
execs picks up his copy of the meeting agenda and waves it in the air.

The noise is deafening.

'Bathroom' by Lois Maughan

 Wake up Sweetie” the voice gently urged; the pipes hummed. The girl stirred.

The voice sighed; the pipes grumbled.

“Hey Sweetie, time to get up” the voice coaxed, the pipes rattled, the girl moved and settled.

She had staggered in from the street in the early hours, separated from her friends, a good night gone bad, she desperately needed a pee after the excesses of the evening. Now passed out clutching the toilet, sat in piss and vomit this was not a good place to be, her head still spinning and the noise from the pipes was making the spinning worse.

”HEY!” the voice roared, “THIS is the Plaza public toilets NOT a doss house, time to move on SWEETIE!” The cacophony of sound from the whole of the basement bathroom made the girl stir.

The girl opened her eyes but wished she hadn’t, it felt the like walls were closing in on her. She shakily managed to stand up in the cubicle, it was difficult, the floor was so slippy, she wrinkled her nose in disgust as the smell hit her like a juggernaut making her gag. She closed her eyes just for a moment, she just needed a moment. But in that moment the walls were now touching every part of her, her body being pressed and mauled, she was being squashed, the life was being squeezed out of her, she tried to scream but the pipes were banging and crashing like a child‘s exuberant orchestra, too loud for the girl to be heard, the soapy water silenced and cleansed.

The voice purred with pride ”the Plaza public toilets, now open for business again. The pipes hummed.

'For a second, running through the middle of our neighbourhood' by Katie Kibbler

 I mis-felt where I was, brain split, here and lost.

'Harvest Moon' by Rachel Canwell

Under a harvest moon, with his fingers twined in her hair, he makes promises she wants to hear but are not his to make.

They lie, backs against the church wall, the feet of the villagers dancing beyond them, muffled by the ground. Concealed only by a broken shadow and the drunkenness of others.

They laugh quietly, quickly. They kiss. And as they do her body and her breath diverge. Become suddenly unreal, wholly disconnected. The ground, the sky and stars, rush past and round. Instantly both muted and brilliantly bright.


She feels the boy’s hands on her skin, moving, exploring with a slow but gentle determination. The briefest pause at her breast, then waist. She laughs, lifts her hips. So the boy continues.

And as his fingers fumble with broken buttons, then begin to lift her skirts, she tries to fix a thought. 

Just one.


To peel back the day, to find the girl she was that morning.


As she returns his hungry kisses, his laughter reflected in her eyes, part of her reaches silently for the ordinary, the mundane. To breathe again the sour tang of the dairy, feel the farmyard cobbles under foot. To anchor herself to the girl she was. 

But it seems that girl is gone.


This strange unreal day, cloaked in country magic has chased her far away.


She has never had this before. She won’t mention this in her weekly letter home.

No one dances or brays with laughter in the cottage by the marsh.


No one winks like the boy by the barrel. With his hand in the air and his eyes straight ahead. 

It is the beginning of the drift. Of something coming loose. 

And as they lie with limbs entwined, the farmer sees her. 

'Sea View' by Amy Wilson

It takes him a few minutes to find the right bench, working in the dark with a flashlight. It’s further along the road than he remembered but once he finds it, he turns off the light and lets the darkness and the sound of the waves wash over him. He runs a finger lightly across the inscription. He doesn’t need to see it to know what it says, “In loving memory of Tim Barnes, who loved this view.”

“There’s some irony for you,” he thinks. He really did love this view and now the only way he can experience the place is in darkness. He thinks of his ex-wife, newly wealthy with her half of his life insurance pay-out and newly married to a man who thinks, like the rest of the world, that Tim is dead. He’s sure that the inscription is her idea of a sick joke, cleverly disguised as the love of a grieving widow.

He lets out a long sigh. He’ll have to be gone come first light, but for now Tim is content to sit and listen to the waves crash on the beach. 

'A Lay-person’s Guide to the Spirit World' by Audrey Niven

I woke up once and there was someone at the end of the bed, sitting reading as if they were keeping busy waiting for me.  I didn’t recognise them, but I’ve come to learn they were some relation of my grandmother’s I’d never met before.  That was the first time.  They read to me for a bit, a diary entry from some time in the eighteen-hundreds, but I don’t really remember because I fell asleep again and when I woke up, they were gone. My mother said it was a dream.

The day I got married, I saw someone at the back of the church, just as I came in on my father’s arm.  They had on a long-sleeved dress and were carrying flowers, just like mine.  By the time we reached the altar, I looked back, but they were gone and the minister was waiting. 

See, there’s no need to be afraid of the ghosts.  You just have to let them be.  That’s all they want.  I keep telling people:  I’ve seen them so many times: in the ICU, eating breakfast, a few times sitting on the crash barriers on the motorway as I’ve sped past.  I like to wave. Nobody believes I can see them.  My kids think I’m nuts.  

But we are all passing through, that’s what I know.  I’ll be gone myself soon. And when that day comes, I hope they’ll see that it’s true.  

'Who are you looking at?' by Grace Palmer

The mermaid, merman, merperson, is groomed and gilded, plays on the steel ropes, eyes set to the sea.

They are not waiting to be rescued, nor discovered, and not hungry to entrap. When one weary shopper sits beneath, stroking a phone, the golden one remains impassive, but anoints with a smile.   

But at night she / he / they slip off the climbing frame, flips upside down to explore their fishiness, slaps the pavement, throws chips to the gulls, cradles the drunks and whistles to the crowds who mistake them for sunset and sea-mist.   

'Different Handmaiden Same Tale' by Adele Evershed

Aggie rubbed the small of her back as she unfurled. After all the bending she had done gathering bear garlic for Mam's tea, her back was sgrechian. She loved her time in the ancient forest; dappled shadows and soft breezes didn't take away her worrying, but it did help her breath away from the sad eyes of Da. 

It had been seven long years since Mam was encased, seven long years of poisonous lead diffusing into her blood. At first, Aggie's remedies helped. She read her grandmother's herbarium diary from cover to cover. She found an entry written in beautiful script, "For the relief of the dragging fever brought on by encasing seek out bear garlic, the herb that gives bears back their strength after their long cysgee. You will know it by its tiny white flowers and spicy scent. Bruise the leaves and stew in tea to help purify the blood."

After that, Aggie visited the forest to pick bunches of the smelly herb. At first, Mam said, "Oh Aggie, this is yuch-a-fi. I think this might poison me quicker than the coverings!" Her Mam was right; it was a bitter concoction, but Aggie's face was full of gobaith, so she finished the cup. These days she drinks the brew down with no complaint. 

Aggie knows she will not let The Uried encase her nipples. She keeps a shank in her pocket, vowing to herself to take at least one of the so-called holy men with her when the time comes. 

Recently Aggie and every other Scurrier have felt glimmers of gobaith; no boys have been born for twelve moons, and The Uried are worried. There have been no encasings, and Scurriers are being told to have more babies. So maybe, just maybe, things are changing.

'Prompt' by Laurie Marshall

Prompt: We gather so much information about items (and people) we touch through the tiny sensory nerves in our skin. Write about a character who has no sensory nerves and has to “feel” those items a different way.

'For His Own Good' by Emma Robertson

“The key was there. It was.” 

Beads of sweat prick his brow; hands trembling, he paces.

“This keeps happening.” I’m gentle, soothing. “It’s time to seek help.”

Sobbing, he nods, flopping resignedly into his chair. “You’re right. I’m sorry.”

Smiling, I carefully touch the key in my pocket. “It’s ok.”

'Chains' by Amy Wilson

I’ve exorcised the ghosts of myself from the town. There’s only the house left now and It’s as if the place itself doesn’t want me to leave. Even the grass, long and wild, seems to catch at my ankles, as if it would hold me here if it could. I take one more look and then I kick away the grasping weeds, as I finally break free of the chains of my past.

'Stone' by Shekina Rose

She stirs her coffee in the cold of the early morning. This is her peaceful time, when the rest of the world sleeps. As she stirs, she notices the tips of her fingers feel different. She holds them in front of her face. They are no longer squishy and pink, but tough and grey. 

She spends the day doing what she normally does. She drives her children to school. She works, tapping away on her laptop, so engrossed in deadlines that she doesn’t hear her hard fingers snapping against the keyboard. 

At home, she makes tea, burning her hand in the oven. She goes for a run. She puts her children to bed. As she reads to them, she remembers how the tips of her fingers are not the same anymore. She can’t feel the smooth pages of the book. She slides her fingertip along the paper edge. No blood.

That night, her husband waits for her in bed. He is naked, the duvet is down below his waist. She lies down beside him. He strokes her body. She closes her eyes and lets him trace his fingertips across her skin.

She falls asleep and dreams she is a child, standing in the doorway of her family home. She is calling for her parents, they do not answer. She shouts louder, with a noise starting in her stomach. Small cracks appear in the walls. She should leave, but her feet are stuck. Her legs are heavy. Bricks tumble around her. She is frightened. She keeps calling. No one comes. 

The next morning when her husband awakes, her body is grey. Solid and smooth. Her eyes do not open. There is no saliva around her lips. His wife has turned to stone. It was always going to happen.

'Home Truths' by Kate Simblet

My sister said you were an acrobat before I was born – somersaulted off the sofa, drank gin in a hot bath.

There were knitting needles and no wool. You were the only jumper.

Now I’m a parent older than you then, I can only imagine how it was, to stare down that double-barrelled shotgun, feel the kicking.

Wriggling reminders. Extra mouths and no money. 


A tiny gravestone bears my twin’s name. 

Is that why you called me Precious?

We’ve kept history swallowed. Are you scared truths will find wings in your raggedy breaths?  

You say you’ll burn down this old folks’ home rather than keep on living, like this.

I, for one, believe you.

'Prompt' by Maggie Seren

The Religious Experience: Write a flash in which someone has had/thinks they have had some kind of religious experience.

'Kitchen table blues' by Joyce Bingham

Ben sighed. It was hard to keep his homework on track. He looked at Dad and his sister crowded next to him. Piles of books balanced on the toaster and hob. A tangle of cables like liquorice laces threaded with post-it-notes and pens.

Dad grunted as the car repair estimate hit his email. ‘It’s going to cost us a seatbelt and a tyre,’ he said, ‘I’ll look for another garage.’ He started tapping on his laptop, whistling through his teeth.

Checking his notes, Ben’s words and diagrams swam and scrawled over the pages. Reverse transcription. Polymerase chain reaction. It was like a spell, an incantation to take this virus away. How many times would he need to repeat them to have effect?

‘Not enough signal,’ said Janie, closing her laptop. Tutting she picked up her book. Ben smiled, at last some peace. Janie’s bookmark, a flimsy receipt, had been subsumed by her book. A frantic fluttering of pages to establish her place made her grunt like Dad. Tapping her front teeth with her pencil she underlined text and muttered the words.

Mum arrived home. ‘Shift up you lot, I’ve got a zoom meeting in 10 minutes.’

Ben spread his fingers on the smooth comforting wood of the table. Count to ten. 

'Legerdemain - V 2' by Ataur Bacchus

“My mitts is frore”, the toddler said, as her father lifted her on board.

After a leisurely, reasonable feed, she had chosen from the centre piece on the saloon table, awara, the oldest and oddest thing in the Garden of Eden. We suggested that the best option for the night was to set the child on blankets in the fore-cuddy, where we forward-five were laid-on guardians. We winced and shivered at the crunch of infant adze pitted against the almost impervious awara flesh.

We did not have to wake her up as we approached the dock on the mainland.

“Aunt Phyllis, Aunt Phyllis”, she shouted at the mist-shrouded spectres.  One spectre waved back.

“Aunt Phyllis, is that an ice-cream truck?” Her teeth were yellow from snagged awara fibres.

And Number Five among us, Old Peter, lay preacher, and weekend helper at the funeral parlour, when he wasn’t too hung over, stepped from behind his winch.

“Little lamb, who made thee? Does any know who made thee?”

'A Mother's Love' by Audrey Niven

‘It’s me, he says.  ‘Alistair.’  He puts a box of Dairy Milk on her lap and takes off his coat.  Her hand grips the box but she looks away from him.  He notices how grey her hair is, how her cardigan is slipping from her shoulder.  He pulls it up and straightens it.  Rests his hand on her arm.  She tuts. 

He knows she knows him.  He makes tea and serves it to her in the good china from the top shelf.  She can’t reach that high now he’s taken away the stepladder, ‘for safety’.  He gives her a slice of cake, shop-bought.  She eats it daintily enough, all the same.  They watch the television, neither of them commenting on the story or the weather.  His father watches them both from his frame on the bureau, still as good looking as he was the day he left.  It wasn’t Alistair’s fault, but still, she never forgave him. 

‘I’ll maybe bring the girls next time,’ he says, standing in the doorway dutifully drying the dishes at the end of the afternoon.  His mother is unwrapping the cellophane from her chocolates, too busy to reply.  He puts the cups away and looks around for other jobs to do.  The place is neat as a new pin.  ‘Sally sends her best.’  His mother looks at him then, and nods.  He pulls on his coat and checks his pockets, producing his car keys like a magician. 

‘Right then, that’s me away,’ he says.  Another film is starting on the telly. 

‘Cheerio, son,’ his mother says, her eyes fixed on the screen. ‘It was nice to chat.’ She doesn’t know what else to say.  As the door closes behind him, she swallows her anger down with a caramel cream. 

'The Thames will carry her sons forever' by Maria Thomas

It’s not really a bench, more a polished hunk of tree-trunk. A section planed smooth to accommodate weary haunches, a poignant inscription carved in caps: 



I think of the heart trees of Westeros and it strikes me that this piece of oak carries a trio of hearts, a sextet of hearts, an infinity of hearts. Who knows how many lives these boys touched: Bruno, Conrad, Max.

I imagine their ashes, their atoms, scattering into the water, merging into a whole and travelling with the currents to the ocean. Evaporating under the swollen sun to form ominous pewter bulkheads, blown westwards to Cotswold elevations before joining Father Thames once more. Carried in his currents cyclically, forever.

'Three Miles to Freedom' by Finnian Burnett

Harry strode from the trailer. Maria’s voice followed, fading as he got further into the desert. 

And stay out… Swear to God… El papel higiénico

He chuckled. He’d left the toilet paper roll empty once in their twelve-year marriage and she’d scolded him so loudly, he’d never done it again. Fitting words for the end of their relationship. The midday sun beat on his face. Hacia calor. He should have brought water.

The nearest neighbour squatted in an RV three miles down the road. He could make it by 2:00. He’d call a cab, take it to the bus station, start over. 

Sweat broke out on his neck and dripped into his collar. He had 168 dollars from a job he’d done for Maria’s dad last week. Maria’s dad, Maria’s truck, Maria’s life.

If he made it to the broken RV, he’d be a new man. 

With no money, no prospects. Maria wasn’t awful. He tried to conjure her face, a smiling version before the scowl of disappointment settled into permanent residence. 

He remembered their wedding and their apartment in the city. They’d come to the desert for freedom and got trapped. 

He had to be halfway to the neighbours. His skin felt sticky and flushed, but he was nowhere near heatstroke. He could make it. 

Then what? He turned around, peering back down the road toward his home. A shiny spot appeared in the distance. Harry squinted at it for several seconds. A vehicle. Maria, coming to take him home? ¿Qué chingados? He could dive into the brush at the side of the road, wait for her to pass. But then what? The long trek to the neighbour, the scramble to rebuild. He stared down the road toward freedom, then spun around to face the rest of his life. 

'Two prompts' by Emma Gill


Write a story about an event where reading forwards is in the perspective of one character, and reading the sentences/paragraphs backwards is in the perspective of another character.

Bonus challenge: make the characters opposite, e.g. someone being chased and the person chasing them.


Write a story that uses time in an unusual fashion, e.g. works backwards, skips around, accelerates/decelerates.

Bonus challenge: map your word count to measurements of time, e.g. 60 words, or 12 paragraphs, or 24 words on 7 lines.

'A message from the other side' by Amy Wilson

“Happy Birthday, darling.” My mother’s voice makes me jump.

“Mum! How long have you been standing there?”

When I look closely, I realise that she’s not so much standing as she is hovering, her feet vanishing into the coffee table. I make a move to clear it out of her way before I catch sight of the small frown on her face and remember just in time how much she hates people to ‘make a fuss’ over her spectral form. Instead, I plop myself down on the sofa and gesture for her to join me. 

She smiles as she arranges herself, hovering just above the cushions, close enough that she looks like she’s really sitting. It took her almost a year to master the trick and she loves to show it off whenever she can.

“Your grandma sends her love,” she says, tucking her legs underneath her to complete the trick. “She wanted to come, but you know how she is about travel.”

I nod. Grandma Iris had never even liked taking the number 4 bus, let alone making the journey from the astral plane.

“Was the traffic bad?” I ask and my mother wrinkles her nose.

“Oh no worse than usual, I suppose. Although I swear the queues get worse every year.” She reached out and lays her hand across mine. I can’t feel it, but I appreciate the gesture. “Although it was worth it to see you on your special day,” she says, smiling.

'Polly Pocket Takes a Holiday to Galveston' by Laurie Marshall

She has an entire shoebox full of clothes, and over a dozen pair of tiny shoes, but Polly was still not sure what to pack. Ever since she learned of the trip to the beach she’d been fretting. One might think being small enough to fit in a 6-year old’s palm was a good thing. Surely choices were simple. But Polly was rarely at ease. Small things are easy to lose.

Being tiny did mean that Polly enjoyed many adventures. She’d seen wondrous sights from her perch on the dashboard of the minivan. She’d peeked out of pockets at the stars overhead and marveled over valleys of painted rock. But she longed to be more than an observer. She wanted to be a doer.

The beach was hot. Not surprising, of course, but concerning to a tiny Polly made of plastic. She was relieved somewhat that they stayed near the waterline. She wondered if the creatures beyond the frothy waves were as large as the fish in the bowl at home where she once dove for treasure. She dreamed sometimes of being a tiny mermaid with pearly scales that matched her favorite pink shoes.

There was no time for fear when the tide slipped under Polly that day. One second, she was enjoying the breeze, and the next she was floating on sucking salt water, pulled into the foam. Grasping hands splashed and dug at the sand, and shrieks of dismay were muffled by the surf. Polly was on her way to a new adventure where the size of her feet and the breadth of her wardrobe no longer mattered. Perhaps one day she would reach the island of plastic in the middle of the Pacific Ocean – she’d always wanted to go there.

'Lather, Rinse, Repeat' by Debbie Daniel


Gloria sees Dustin playing guitar in the elegant dark hotel bar. She watches his fingers forming those sexy chords. She hears him singing, sees his lips kissing the microphone. Gloria decides he’s the one. 

She buys him a drink.

Now she can’t get enough of Dustin. The melt of his voice. The pad of his finger sliding down the side of her neck. HIs lips finding the tender inside of her elbows. When he touches her, she can’t catch her breath. 

She fears that Dustin will cause her heart to stop beating. She fears that he won’t.


Dustin moves in. He helps with the laundry, the dishes. He mows the grass. He always brings home his tip jar. Folded fives. Wadded up ones. Sometimes a ten or a twenty. Along with his regular gig, he books extra nights. He pays half of everything. Dustin laughs with Gloria’s mother on the phone. He says maybe they should adopt a dog.

Gloria buys skinny jeans for Dustin. She likes the way his bum looks in them, she says. She likes to blindfold him. She likes to role play that she’s a stripper or a pizza delivery girl or, her favorite, a sultry chanteuse. Gloria likes to sing into Dustin’s microphone. 

She loves following him into the shower, lathering him, rubbing her hands over his body. Especially, his fingers.

Dustin constantly reminds her to be careful. Reminds her that his fingers are his career.


Gloria turns down Dustin’s proposal, He moves out. Her mother tells her she’s made another big mistake. Her mother says that she needs to settle down with a nice man and learn to be happy. 

Gloria needs a weekend getaway. She splurges. Expensive resort. Swanky bars. Spa. Infinity pool. That’s where she spots Domino.

'Visible Kaleidoscopes' by Sarah Oakes

Ever since I was little, I have seen kaleidoscopes. They would cloud my vision, when I closed my eyes, a sea of shapes that twisted and turned like a maze. They would dazzle me with their vivid vibrancy, intricate patterns painted in every shade of colour. And no one was ever the same, a myriad mystical dance of circles and squares against canvases of blue, red, green, orange, purple. But when I opened my eyes, they would vanish, like ghosts.

They followed me, through adolescence. Everyone said they weren’t real. No one else could see them. They would laugh, say it was just my imagination. But I know what I saw.

I still see those patterns. And not just at night anymore. It’s all the time. Each day, I gaze through a sea of shifting spots that glimmer like jewels. And I see the flashes, small semicircle slices of light that appear and disappear, swimming across my sight like fish. With no warning, the flashes will flood my vision, before disappearing into the mist as if they were never there. They’ve got worse this year, growing brighter, growing more intense. The other night they flocked like a swarm, green circles dancing on a canvas of aquamarine. But I don’t mind the kaleidoscopes. They’ve been there for as long as I can remember. 

I know it sounds absurd. But I know they’re real. Others like me say they saw them, as children, before any diagnosis. They were a sign I couldn’t read. A warning, of what was to come. And one day, these kaleidoscopes will vanish too. The black hole that bides its time at the back of my eye will consume them, leaving only darkness and shadows behind. And I will dream, of those kind kaleidoscopes.

'I've Been Coming and Going for Years' by Julia Smith

My son has a small dent in his eyebrow where he cracked his head open when he was eight, playing football in a market square while I finished supper and two three four glasses of wine with friends. A stranger carried him to me dripping blood on my white flimsy dress. Someone drove us to hospital where he got six stitches and I fell asleep on a chair in emergency. I have never loved him as much as when at three in the morning they let us go and he kissed me and asked me if I was tired.

'Frecciarossa' by Nora Nadjarian

The brightness of the orange of Aperol Spritz (difficult to describe) spilled all over the train ticket (you remember the exact moment, the exact table, the exact smile), the ticket all soggy and you trying to explain to the ticket inspector that accidents happen (the exact look on his face) and how, sadly, the journey ended (don’t they all?) and, by the way, what was the point of letting it dry and using it as a bookmark for “Pinocchio” which you read, for the first time, in Italian, on that 16:40 Frecciarossa from Udine to Brescia, and how a Season’s Greetings card falling out of a magazine and the word pumpkin written by your three-year-old filling up an entire A4 sized sheet of copy paper have no place in this story (story, really?), whereas How to Make Paper Butterflies does, really does.

'Restrain Yourself, Kitten' by Emma Louise Gill

The red eye whisks across the floor, over the couch, up the wall. I’m watching, but won’t let on. A hunter must be stealthy.

Dart. Dash. Dance. The red eye teases me.

I am patience itself.


My muscles tense, my tail twitches—once only—but the youngling pounces. The red eye escapes her grasp; she follows, it flies. Tiny ball of fur and energy. Too eager. Impatient cub. The red eye runs. I wait.




The youngling founders.

My claws open, their sharpness fed. The red eye is destroyed. Victory.

Watch this hunter and learn.

'A Caution to Those Wanting to Advance Beyond Their Status' by August van Stralen

 Each step closer is one step further from your truth.

'The Stubborn Yet Simple Secret to Fifty-Two Years of Marriage' by Katie Isham

 Neither of us could ever back out of a dare. 

'Twin Lives' by Rachel Canwell

Two incubators, two stuttering fluttering hearts, held in fragile days. 

Sleepless nights in tandem, tiredness almost impossible to know. 

Two pairs of shoes, four stumbling steps. Measured in chalk against the door. 

First days at school, together. First friends, sometimes apart. 

One football, two different shirts. Rivalry that grows, retreats and moves in fits and starts. 

Every year two cakes, candles flickering on mirror images. 

One day, two kisses at the door. One call, one goodbye. Half life goes forth. 

'Remember, Remember the Fifth of November' by Maggie Seren

The sulfurous smell of fireworks always takes me back. Ruby in the bedroom next door, Marc Bolan on the stereo, me writhing on the bathroom floor, my stifled screams drowned out by the whooshing and whizzing of the rockets, my moans blending in with the oohs and aahs of the crowd in the park opposite.

Now, fifty years on, I stare at the text from my great-niece.

Didn’t you and gran grow up in this street? 

I click the link, read the headline:


Fireworks foundling, Guy Church, launches appeal for birth mother to come forward.

'The Letter' by Amy Wilson

 Working quickly, she signed her name, praying that this time it would take. She made it almost to the last letter before her hand started shaking. She tried to drop the pen, but it was too late, the ink had already begun to flow backwards, up into the nib and then down into the pen’s cartridge.

He’d told her she wouldn’t be able to end things, and no matter how hard she tried, it seemed that he had been right.

'Some Days You Need a Helping Hand.' by Michelle Dickins

You want this, yes…no…yes? 

Keep this internal dialogue going back and forth. 

It’s not procrastination if you keep the idea alive.

Open the door. Sunshine hits your toes and marks the precipice. 

You’ve crossed the gap before, you can again. 

You take one step backwards before you imagine a hand on your back. The imaginary hand gives you more of a gentle nudge than a push. 

You’ve got this.

You feel some momentum build. You step over the gap. You’re officially outside for the first time in months. 

Well that’s enough for today.

But it’s too late. The imaginary hand has closed the door. You were never going to do this without a helping hand. 

'Morningtide' by Alex Otto

Mama hoarded sunrises. Big ones, little ones, blood-red ones, lumpy cloud ones that hung like our stucco ceiling. She just stuffed them into her purse when she thought no one was looking, but I always saw. She’d look left and right, then jam handfuls of rays deep into her brown leather satchel the same way Grandma used to sneak Sweet ’N’ Low packets from King’s Diner. Once in a while she’d drop a golden stream into my outstretched hands until it dripped like honey between my fingers, and two hours later I’d still be licking its jelly off my thumbnail. On holidays my sister and I would get bubble-gum-pink cotton-candy gleams. We’d take a pinch and blow them into the wind like dandelion fluff, hoping they’d seed and grow sunbeams on our lawn. Sometimes we’d go weeks with just rain and clouds and stormy dawns, but Mama always had enough sunshine tucked away to get us by. We’d sit on the porch swing on the stone patio and we’d stare into the grey abyss until Mama came along with a sly smile and handed each of us a boxed-mac-and-cheese-orange streak — comfort sunrise at its best.

'This place reminds him of the place that once was' by Maria Thomas

The river runs red, crimson, bloody and it takes him right back to that dreadful night when a different river, a wider, angrier river, ran a terrible red; the red of death and persecution and massacre.  The river ran red, and the life he had known ended, as his kin were wiped out, when he escaped into darkness and fled the city of his birth.  A city he had thought gracious and refined and cultured, that mutated into a chimera of violence and horror, pungent with decay and putrefaction. The river ran red.

This  river before him, this vivacious, bubbling, fast-flowing brook, this river runs red, right through to that great, stinking, serpentine, majestic watercourse, Old Father Thames himself.  And it is this river, the Wandle, that provides him with a kind of rebirth, a purging of the violence of his past, and gives him the purity of a future.

Like many Huguenot’s he came to Wandsworth to settle in a land that might allow him to curl his roots into the earth, and soar upwards, outwards, along a family tree-line like the sycamores that sit on the river's sturdy banks.  Here he can find employment as a weaver, making the luxurious felt that the Huguenot’s are famous for, the cloth that makes the mitres of his enemies, the cloth that makes the river run red.

This red that is neither peaceful, nor tolerant, but might allow him to live the rest of his days in peaceful tolerance, amongst his own, traumatised, hopeful countrymen; might allow them to build the bones of a community that supports their ambitions for the sweet bird of peace and the ancestry of the sycamore.

'Fossil' by Adele Evershed

She sits in bed looking at the circle of frosted trees—it would be beautiful in another time. Trunk, branch, twig, she runs through the words—a thesaurus of remembering. She flicks off the blankets and studies her toes; dredges her memory so she can put one foot in front of the other. Foot, heel, ankle, calf, cow, milk, baby. No, not baby. There is no baby. She swaddles herself back beneath the covers. There is no word for a woman who once grew a baby for thirteen weeks, and this seems almost too much to bear. How can anyone move through this world without a label? 

In that other time, she was a lexicographer, studying words she knew what she was; female, daughter, sister, wife, expectant-mother. Now she is made up of what is not there—a negative space.

She curls in on herself, stuffing her hair in her mouth to muffle the sound of her; fracturing, crumbling, collapsing. She will bury herself deeply in the middle of this bed and become a pearl ammonite, rippling around the core of herself and growing shell layers to bind her breaking. Her teeth will become stones, and her hair will become rarer than feathers. Her bones will fall like a pick-up-sticks game, and all her empty space will disappear into the waiting arms of the trees.

Years from now, she imagines the bits of her being dug out of the milky sheets and weighed in hands so they can finally understand the gravity of her shattering. And that you can mourn for someone you never knew. They will hang a shelf with rope and place her there, writing out a label—her world fell through her, and these are the remains, remnants, rest.

'On Behalf of the Faculty and Staff of Entwhistle Primary' By Tarik Bacchus

 Allison’s herpetological passion is laudable. Please confine it to weekends.

'Leaf After Leaf' by Judy Darley


You’re taking your Government-sanctioned daily exercise in the park when you see her. A woman with cropped, white hair strides towards a small leafed lime tree and halts.

Your brain hisses with shuffling unease about the shrunken job market, your precarious health, the worsening climate emergency, the future…

The woman tips back her head and opens wide. Her long, low cry surges from somewhere deep and guttural. Leaves shiver. Squirrels freeze. A knot of sparrows unravels, stitching surprise against clouds.

Her roar wriggles under your skin. Your anxiety quiets in that moment.

You keep your gaze on her as she lowers her chin, relaxes her shoulders and walks away.


You want that scream to make a difference. To spread across the city and beyond until everyone’s at it – walking onto park lawns, choosing a tree and allowing negative emotions to soar out.

You envision mental health helplines reporting dips in suicide attempts; police officers recording an all-time low in violent crime.

You picture doctors prescribing weekly ‘let it out’ sessions.

You smile as you stroll.

Arborists will report that the trees absorbing our shrieks are thriving, you decide, and your pace gains a jaunty bounce.


You emerge from the park onto the dusty roadside that leads home. 

You think of the oak shoot sprouting from an acorn buried by a squirrel. Recently, it put out its first loop-edged leaf. 

Later, when everyone else is asleep and the Milky Way prickles the sky, you kneel in the flowerbed beside the tiny oak. Drawing in a breath of cool, still night air, you lift your face to the stars and open your mouth. You let out every shred of angst until there’s space in your heart for something that feels like hope.