Posted in Uncategorized

Good-Bye for Now.

I’m as open and honest about my failures in writing as I am with my ambitions and goals. I make no secret of the impact I want to make, of what I want to sell, how far I’d like to go. When someone is talking to me about their future, I always, without fail, tell them they can do it. They say they want to become the next world chess champion? I’ll pick up a pawn and help you practice. Win an Olympic gold medal? Bitch I’ll eat my snacks at the side of the track while you run, shouting “you got this!” until I’m blue in the face and spill my Cheetos. I like when the people around me succeed. Why? Because I can’t imagine a worse fate than dying in a job you hate.

I’m pragmatic. I don’t ever just say “yeah, you’ll do it.” I try and help. Or encourage. Or, if they ask, help them plan. It might only be in passing, a night out and you tell me “I want to have a picture hanging in the Louvre.” I’ll ask you what you’re painting right now and then tell you that I don’t believe in limits, I believe in other people’s failure and they’re bitterness, something they pass off as limits.

Why am I writing this? Because I’ve not been able to write anything substantial since I finished my third novel, The Goose Mistress and today, finally, I’ve figured out why. It was as I was on the phone to my Gran, where a lot of my good ideas come from, that I thought to myself why can’t I write. I said to her, “maybe I only had one good book in me and that’s it written.” But I knew that wasn’t true. Isn’t true. I was making excuses. The real reason I can’t write is because of you bitches. Well, that’s not entirely correct. Not because of you, but because of how I let you make me feel, how I invite you in to the creative space in my head when you don’t deserve to be there.

I’m about to finish my Masters. I’ve spent a year writing to prove something. To prove that I’m good. To prove that I’m better than Kirsty, or Matt, or Sarah. I’ve been writing to get good grades. Writing to get a book deal. Writing to prove Stephen’s “oh that will never happen” smile clear off his face. Writing to prove my old boss wrong when he said I’d “only make a living from it.” I’ve been writing to make myself better than everyone else. To no longer walk the same streets as you all. I’ve been writing to get an agent, to entice them to me. I’ve written to attend pitching events where bratty bitches look me up and down and say “no, this isn’t for me,” without so much as a “why did you write it this way?” I’m writing for all the wrong reasons. I’m writing to prove something to you.

When you don’t matter at all.

There’s a lot of support out there. Friends and colleagues have been my biggest fans, sharing my work and telling me “you can do it!” when I make stupid, probably self-doubting jokes about private jets and famous parties. I don’t even want any of that. I don’t want to be someone that can’t walk along a beach in peace, that can’t go into Greggs without being judged for buying a pizza slice and a chicken bake and a pack of yum yums. The only reason I thought I wanted that was to prove to those who had sneered, who had disbelieved, that they were wrong. I was right. But I’m not right. Because I’m not writing now. And that’s because I can’t write for anyone else. I have to write for me, for my characters and for the fun of just writing.

So, as of this second, there is no time limit on when I want to have a book deal by. I’m twenty-five, and, thankfully, authors are not ridiculed for getting older like in some jobs. I have no plans to take over the world any longer. I will write. I will write well. I will write creatively and strongly and with passion. This is the type of writing that sells well anyway, so why am I worried?

God spoke to me one June day as I walked home from a job I hated, a course I didn’t feel good enough to do. He told me, silently, but unmistakably, that writing was my path. He promised nothing. I should expect nothing. Nothing but being one of the few people in the world that knows, heart and soul, who they are supposed to be.

I wish you well my Olympic medal winning, chess-champion-to-be bitches, know that I’m rooting for you and will clap like a monkey with a set of tambourines when you make it; but for now it’s good-bye, I have many, many books to write.

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Posted in Flash Fiction, Real Life, Uncategorized

Overthere Orchard

The light was dim, the sun far away from its summer vigour as the birth of February brought new glistens of ice to the leafless branches. She sat beneath a canopy made of cracked plastic, her hair a mop of wet and dirty, her skin prickling blue under the cruel touch of the winter wind. But she was happy. Her smile proved that above all else. Above the cold, above the dark, she was happy – and the world envied her for it.

A man in a torn suit crossed the orchard as quietly as he could. She hadn’t seen him yet. Her eyes fixed on the Eastern gate which bled a dirt road all the way to the motorway. He’d come by bicycle, though he wasn’t a strong rider. Blood clotted on his hairy knee from where the tarmac had ripped his trousers and his skin in equal measure. He had blue eyes, as she did, though his hair was black and hers was brown, both of them were softer around the edges than they had been in their youth.

He crept like an alley cat, his body still strong and obedient. The bench she sat on was stone and immovable. He stopped, just a few inches behind her, and sniffed the air that emanated from her.

“You smell just as you always did,” he said. She jumped, her heart shaking at the fright but the recognition of his voice came so quickly after that she calmed at once.

“You scared me,” she smiled, standing now, her arms frozen by her side.

“I meant to,” his face lit up in a half smile that made her tummy rumble with fireworks. “But I was going to roar, but that smell…I just couldn’t think of anything else.”

“You’re all hurt,” she said, her hand outstretched but not daring to touch him.

“And you’re wet. What a pair we make.”

“You didn’t drive?”

“I thought I’d cycle, safer, you know?”

“But…” she grinned, tears pricking her eyes. She knew how he hated to cycle. “I missed you.”

“And I missed you, too,” he said as he hopped over the stone bench and took her, gently, in his arms. She shuddered at his warmth. It felt contagious. “You’re so, so cold. How can you be so cold?”

“It doesn’t matter,” she shrugged beneath the weight of his arms, against the hammering of his heart. “Have you heard from Saffron?”

“Saffie? No. Not in a long, long while. Sorry,” he mumbled into her broken hair.

“It’s not your fault,” she said, hating herself for letting her disappointment spoil the few precious moments she had with him. “I…” she paused. “I’m drinking again.”

His breath hitched in his throat, but his arms never loosened around her. She would have wept with the agony if he’d let her go, thrown her away from him like a hot stone pulled from the fire.

“I know,” he said back.

“The smell?” she asked.

He nodded, saying nothing, hating himself for letting that be the aroma he most closely associated with her. Stale cigarettes and cheap wine.

“You should have left me a long time ago,” she said.

“And gone where? Done what? I left only because…I couldn’t have left sooner. Not one second sooner,” he said while his hand played with the gold wedding band on his finger.

“Is she good to you?” she asked.

“Very. Oh, Patricia, she’s so very, very good to me. Kind. Supportive.”

The word sober hung between them both but neither had the desire to utter it.

“I can smell her on you. See her on you too. The way you stand, and talk. You’re more hers than mine now, I reckon.”

“Never. Not now, not ever. It’s always been us. You and me, Pat, you and me and Saffie. There could never be anyone else.”

“You’re married to her, her husband. That makes it you and her.”

“Don’t. Please. Don’t do this. Let’s just enjoy the sunset? Please, Pat. Please?”

 

Posted in Poem, Uncategorized

Writer’s Block – A Poem

He sat by the keyboard and eyed the knife,

And wondered to himself,

“Is this worth my life?”

But he raised the blade anyway,

And with despair he cried,

“Why did you desert me? Why oh why?”

And as the steel dug deep,

The blood began to pour,

And he knew, in his heart,

In his soul,

That he couldn’t do it anymore.

As the keys turned red,

And his sight grey hazy,

He wondered to himself,

“Am I really this crazy?”

His head fell to one side,

And his mind turned to mud,

Viscous, dripping, gloopy and thick,

Just as inspiration struck,

And he said to himself,

“What a kick in the dick.”

Posted in Poem, Uncategorized

Bury Me in the Garden

Bury me in the garden,

So that I can be with the living,

The beautiful things that grow.

Leave no mark upon the grass,

No cross should be raised,

Nor a plaque with my name,

Just bury me beneath the bulbs,

And above the songs of worms,

And let the world be as it should be,

Above my grave.

Bury me in the garden,

The space is yours to choose,

For I’ll spread out amongst the soil,

Like a flare burning bright in the cosmos.

The soil is my sky,

Each pebble and stone a sun

Or planet waiting for me to visit.

And I will, one day, one night,

As I slip away beneath a dirty heaven,

Find a place.

Bury me in the garden,

And I will become a tree,

Though perhaps not one that you will believe can,

Grow to become a beacon of leaf and bark,

Where fairies come to dance.

My roots will fall forever,

Cementing me as one/some,

And I will live above and below,

Singing and blooming,

In my garden grave.

I beg you to bury me in the garden,

So that I am never too far away,

Where I can watch my world once again,

Learn to sing and dance and play,

And maybe even forgive me for

It was I who volunteered to leave.

I’ll rest my heart in the garden,

Retrain my brain with the blooms,

And know my soul is only a short walk away,

Waiting to see you soon.

 

Posted in Real Life

My Note to You

I wish you’d left me a note.

I don’t blame you for going, for leaving me. If you can read this, wherever you are, please know this most of all: I don’t blame you.

How could I, right? You were always my best friend, the guy I could go for a midnight McDonalds with; the guy that was always up for going to the cinema, for doing anything that made us both feel alive. Do you remember that night, say maybe eight years ago, when we ordered Chinese from the Garden Palace or whatever it was called? The power went out right after we phoned it in. We sat in the dark, a single candle between us, and talked and talked until the sun came up. It was only when the power flicked back on, the fridge began to whir again, that we realized the Chinese hadn’t arrived. You phoned them the next day and complained and they said – you’ve got to remember this? – that the food did arrive, but because there was no electricity, the buzzer downstairs didn’t work and the delivery guy was too scared to attempt to clamber up the stairs. You remember?

Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. Either’s okay.

I can’t stand to think of you somewhere cold. Isn’t that weird? You’re dead but that’s what keeps me awake at night. I’d hate for you to be cold and alone wherever you are. It makes my stomach hurt. I took a few weeks off work, y’know, for the pain. Every time I try and sleep I see you in a stone room, lost somewhere, and you’re so cold. So, so cold. I sleep with the window open, no blanket over my body. I know it won’t bring you back, but if you’re cold then I will be too. You jump, I jump, right?

I don’t think you’re selfish. A lot of people do. Forgive them, yeah? They didn’t know you like I did. They won’t ever know you like I did. They tell me not to let it get to me. That you couldn’t have really been my friend because what friend would do something like that? What friend would cause the people that love them so much such pain?

A sad one.

A friend that spent too long – far, far, far too long – just trying to be okay. Just trying to be normal. You fought. I know you did. I saw it, day in, day out. You fought with every single piece of who you are. You pushed back against the feelings, the sadness and bitterness, I saw you do it. You just had nothing left.

You know that episode of Buffy where she’s injured and Willow gives her some of her strength to heal herself? That’s what I wish I could have done for you. Even if it only lasted an hour, a minute, I’d have given you every ounce of strength I had so that you could have felt happy for those precious few seconds. But I couldn’t, I can’t now, I let you down and I’m sorry for that. You’ve got to believe how sorry I am that you’re not here anymore.

I just wish…

I wish you’d left me a note.

Something I could hold in my hands when I miss you most. Something that looks like you, your handwriting, your words. A piece of you in my hands. Even a shopping list would do. Because I never need you to tell me how much you love me, nor how sorry you are. You have nothing to be sorry for. You tried. You didn’t fail. You tried.

It was me that failed you.

I’m sorry.

 

Your friend,

Forever and always.

Posted in Historical Fiction

Harry’s London

I’ve been reading Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall as a variance on my usually strict Philippa Gregory only historical fiction diet. Mantel writes in a way that isn’t as easy on the eyes, that demands a lot more attention. It works – mostly. Though I’ll admit, I still prefer the easy elegance of Gregory’s work, I have tried to imbue a little of each writer in this short piece. All the while trying to indulge my own style. The only thing I’ll say is that I regret there isn’t more dialogue (my favourite thing to write) in this extract. And, perhaps there needs to be more of a punch at the end as I’d like to read this out as part of my LiveWire event at Dundee Uni’s Postgraduate Conference. 

 

The hand was heavy. He’d learned about bears in St Petersburg. Although they had bears in England and the Low Countries and Spain and Italy; it was in Russia that he learned the true meaning of what a bear could be. The power. The aggression. The lethality. The hand that came down heavy across his cheek is how he imagined the swipe of a bear’s paw to feel.

“Never again,” the words were stolen and twisted – muted – in the din of the tavern. A glass fell as John took his father’s slap across his cheek. It shattered on the cold, stone floor and John heard it as his own bones breaking. A lady fell from her stool, it was only ten in the evening but she’d been drinking since the ten twelve hours before and had surprised herself for having not fallen sooner. A great whale of a man laughed as he sucked at the marrow within the large slab of bone he’d been suckling for well over an hour. The jeer of derision as the lady’s skirts fell over her shoulders sapped away at the potency of his father’s words. “Understand, boy?”

“Yes,” John said to the floor, a trickle of ale coiling like piss around his shoes. He didn’t want his father to see him cry.

“Send him back out, Matthew,” his mother, Dorothea, said coolly from her place by the window. An old man and his daughter had been saying goodbye at the table John’s parents now sat at. The tears in the old man’s eyes promised her as a bride, only a few days before she was due to be wed. John had watched as he’d stroked his daughter’s fingers and promised her that if her new groom ever caused her any distress, he’d be on the first wagon to Norfolk, ready to sort the brute out. His mother had noted the scene a good few minutes before he had, and no doubt she’d calculated an awful lot more than he had too. But with icy proficiency and a sly look at the innkeeper, she’d evicted the father and daughter from their farewell nook and sent them out onto the cold, London streets.

“To where? Master Tavendish knows his face now, where else is there to send him?”

John’s mother regarded her husband with a look of bland indifference. John didn’t know how they did it – he dreamed of witchcraft and Satan’ry, but never gave grace to a waking thought about such things – how they spoke without moving their lips. An age passed. Then two. And a third. Just enough time for the woman to pull her skirts back down around her waist and slap a man who’d reached too high up her thigh and refused to pay her back with a drink.

Matthew sighed.

For all his hatred, his anger, ambition, spite and numbness, he loved the boy as only a man can his only son. He knew his wife did too, although she could be so callous and wretched that it drew him up short and chipped away at the solid stone nugget in his heart that was his unconditional love for her. He snatched at the pint before him, glugged what he could before ordering another with a wave of his hand. Dorothea sipped at weak wine, her eyes watching her husband as he battled with himself. She knew her forces within him would win, would conquer, but still, she found it fun to watch.

“Get a barge, boy,” he said after draining most of his fresh pint. “Find Oldman if he’s by the fish yard, if not, pick a man with an empty boat and a hole in his shirt – they’re in no position to barter.”

“A barge?” John said, lifting his head from the patterns he’d watched swirl in the ale at his foot.

“Aye, a barge. Take it to…” the word caught in his throat. “Hampton.”

John wasn’t sure, though if he’d listened to the instinct in his gut he surely would have been, but the people around him grew quieter, their ears straining to hear why a merchant’s boy would have any call for going to King Harry’s palace.

“Hampton, father?” John tried to gulp, but his mouth was too dry.

“You heard,” his mother whispered.

“Aye, Hampton. There’s a man there. He’ll find you. Get to the stables, or the kitchens, find yourself a place and he’ll find you.”

“A place? Father, I can’t. Not there. Not with Queen-“

Again, the hand was the swipe of a bear. Blood burst free of his nose this time, splattering in the ale and making it a dark red. Every eye found another place to look. John steadied himself. Letting his blood drip. Drip. Drip. He caught his breath on the third try. Greedily, desperately – he took it in.

“There’s no Queen until he says so. Talk like that and you’ll find yourself quickly on the chopping block. You say nothing about Queen this or Sister that, understand? Just find a place and he’ll find you.”

John wanted to ask who. The question was hot and uncomfortable in his chest. It rattled at his ribs and made his mind swim with fear. But he knew better. So he took the shiny coin his father held out in his palm and spun on his heels. He didn’t know whether or not to say goodbye – so he didn’t.

Posted in Flash Fiction, Real Life, Uncategorized

Her Aria

The newspaper sat uselessly in his hands. The paper rustled as the mid-morning breeze bustled in through the open kitchen window, gracing the table he sat at – his home-cooked breakfast all but untouched – for just a moment. His eyes were thick with tears. His lips trembled and he coughed once, twice, three times. The tickle remained. His dressing gown was matted with raw egg, patches of congealed yellow looking like snot or worse. His glasses slid down his nose, the tears now leaking freely from his eyes, but he didn’t move to catch them.

Music played from outside. Whether outside his house or just outside his kitchen, he didn’t know. His ears had begun to ring. The music was a low, sleepy aria that hummed with the force of a bagpipes low drone – though far sweeter to the ear. It sounded like an angel’s song, her last call into the mortal world before she vanished forever. He thought of Moira, his wife, and how she’d adore the music. She never played it in the house, not anymore. She had grown protective over her precious arias.

He tapped the back of his neck, the muscles there tightening and squeezing on his throat. It ached unnaturally, like a spectre of long gone guilt was there in the bright yellow kitchen with him, choking him from behind. He coughed again, once, twice, three times. He smiled on the last cough, bringing his hands to the rough patch of beard he’d managed to grow along the flabby gizzard of his neck. As if a ghost would stand next to the bananas in the middle of the day. But still the feeling in his neck grew tighter, more constricted. The newspaper fell from his hands, the wind scattering the pages free of the checkered table cloth his wife had hand sown two summers before. A section stuck to the table, mired in a trench of egg and tomato sauce.

His lips were dry. When he flicked his tongue free of his mouth he winced, it was just as dry, just as horribly, horribly dehydrated as his lips. The feel of dry flesh on dry flesh sent spasms of pain down the length of his neck. He reached for the mug of coffee on the table and glugged a luke-warm mouthful. His lips stayed moist for a second, his tongue even less. He moved his mouth, trying to call out, but his words deserted him, betrayed him, and left him silent in the kitchen haunted by the aria from outside.

Panic became a strange bedfellow then. He’d never in his life met the ghoul that inhabited his body now. His breaths were short. His heart thump, thump, thumped like a hare caught in a hunter’s trap against his chest. He heard the feeling laugh in his ear, just a soft moan by his left lobe and he knew in that second – that clarifying second – that Karma in all its Hindu glory was real. He felt the weight of an overweight man on his front, the pressure in his neck the kerb of a dimly lit street. He struggled with his belt buckle, his entire body feeling too full, too full, too full. And then, like the Angel singing the aria, she walked into the kitchen.

“Moira,” he gasped, his hands so slick with sweat that they slipped from the table and threw him to the floor. But it didn’t sound like her name. It was the final moans of a dying animal, the vowels the same but the consonants were cut up and drawn out, their blood and entrails staining the kitchen floor. She didn’t stop. She walked to the window and shut it tight against the wind. He tried to say her name again, like it was all a dream and he just needed her to hear him. He tried to say her name again but the pressure in his neck grew so tight that he heard the faintest, softest click in his neck and his lips froze, mid-part, in a horrid ‘o’.

Moira picked up the newspaper and sat by the kitchen table she’d loving decorated. The aria grew in tempo, in emotion, in volume, filling the house again with its haunting melody.

No longer scared sing.

Posted in Horror, Real Life

Selfie

There’s a man who takes pictures of me.

I’m assuming he’s a man, I don’t really know – I haven’t ever seen him. But it sounds like a thing a man would do, right? He left the first picture he took of me – or the first he wanted to share with me anyway – in my locker at work. It was just slipped in the side; you know that part of the door that doesn’t quite touch the frame? I thought it was a joke. I laughed. I looked good. And then another one came. And another. It was weird. I was always smiling. Every photo, I was smiling.

Until the one he posted through my front door.

In that one, I was crying.

It was my mother’s wake. She died of ovarian cancer. Short, definitely not sweet, but we had time to say goodbye and she was in no pain. She’d seen the signs but hadn’t went to the doctor. What you going to do? It was hard, sure, but I got to say goodbye and how many people get to do that? I was standing hearing condolences from my Psychology lecturer when a bright pink envelope caught my eye. I excused myself and went to it.

There was no stamp on the front. No address. Just my name in thick, bold capitals.

“Oh hey, I found that on your welcome matt when I was letting in the neighbours. Hope you don’t mind,” my best friend said before dashing off to shout at someone for not using a coaster on some cheap wood coffee table my mum had bought from IKEA thirty years ago.

I opened the back of the envelope, careful not to rip what was inside. I’d spent all day seeing nothing but black dresses, white shirts and somber faces – the pink caught my eye like the red balloon in Schindler’s List. Was there a balloon in that film? Seems a weird thing to have in a concentration camp but, hey, Nazis, right?

I knew what was inside before I saw it. As soon as the envelope was open I knew that this wasn’t a bereavement card. I slid the photo free and looked at it. It was me. Crying. My head pressed against my car window. But that didn’t make any sense. I’d only cried once in the past few months and that was when…

And then it clicked.

I brushed it off. What else was I supposed to do? My mother had just died. No brothers. No sisters. A dad – if you wanted to call him that, which I did not – somewhere down south. I couldn’t deal with this. Not then, not ever. So I ignored it. And the guy stopped. Gave me a break from his creepiness. He may have went to Bali for the summer, who knows? Not me. All I know is that they came through my front door now – not posted into my locker.

I know people say they’re scared to look through their mail, but I think most people are anaesthetized to it now. Bills, sure. Credit card statements, heck yeah brother. Some people even get nice things in the mail that make them laugh because of how nervous they were. Like big fat tax rebates from HMRC. I woke up for eighteen mornings in a row – I thought I was pregnant, so I counted, because that was all I needed: a dead mother, a creepy stalker and a baby out of wed lock – not quite sure why I felt so ill. And then there it was. A pink envelope lying on my welcome matt. This time I was buying bananas.

I’ve never seen my face look so stern. So angry. My lips are pouted into a petulant rose on my face and the strip lighting above does nothing but wonders for the deep black shadows under my eyes. I’m so angry at that goddamned banana that I laugh as I clutch the photo. It’s only when the hysteria begins to dampen that the chill runs up my spine and I twist the key in the lock.

I hadn’t locked the door last night.

“Welcome to Police Scotland, how can I help you this morning?”

“Hi, someone keeps taking pictures of me.”

“Oh are you famous?” the woman asked, laughing. “Or is it one of these new internet challenges?”

“No, it’s, I dunno. Someone keeps taking pictures of me and posting them through my letter box.”

“Are these photos accompanied by any threatening messages?” the woman asks, taking me more seriously now. Like she can hear the fear in my voice.

“No, they’re just, um, on their own. Oh, apart from the pink envelopes.”

“Pink envelopes?”

“Yeah, he sends them in pink envelopes.”

“He? Do you know who this person is?” the woman says, happy now. Like Miss Marple had sussed the case. “Is it an old boyfriend?”
“I’m a lesbian,” I said. I’m not. And I shouldn’t pretend. It’s not right. But she sounds so patronizing that I want to throw her off.

“Well I’m sorry, miss,” she hisses the last word. “But until a crime has been committed, there’s nothing we can do.”

“Oh. OK. Er, bye then.”

And I hung up.

It was two days later when I threw up in the kitchen sink. Another pink envelope was on my matt and I shook a little as I picked this one up. Call it woman’s intuition, call it psychic ability, call me Mystic Fucking Meg, but I knew this one was different. I slid open the envelope and pulled out a picture of myself the night before, pulling out the big black bins for collection this morning. The bin men were outside now. A big burly man with a piss poor moustache smattered with grey was singing as he slammed his meaty paw down on the button that pulled the bins from the street and emptied them into the churning guts of the bin lorry. He turned and saw me at my kitchen window. He smiled and waved as if I was just a woman pulling a sickie from work, coming through for a second bowl of cornflakes while Homes Under the Hammer did that boring auction segment.

The photo was in my right hand. I turned the tap on with my left to wash away the chunks from last night’s pizza. I was wearing my Mr Men pyjamas and talking on the phone. I could see the light from my mobile – that blueish light from the screen – illuminating the right side of my face. My stomach convulsed again. It was like, you know when you almost step out in front of a car, but something stops you from stepping off the kerb and the car whizzes past, horn blaring if they’re a dick head, and your heart swells in gratitude? You’re so grateful that you weren’t such a nincompoop that you stepped out in front of a car, but it’s more than that. You’re so grateful because you know fine well that a hundred people a day – all smarter and less nincompoopy than you – do step out in front of that car and they do die. But you, well your heart swells because the universe protected you. Your heart swells because you realise how lucky you were. Then you feel sick. You feel sick because you realise just how close to danger you were in that split second. That’s how I felt looking at this photo. Sick at how close to danger I was.

My face is lit up by my mobile phone screen. I’m wearing my Mr Men pyjamas and I know that it was Rachel I was talking to and not Stephanie – though I switched between both all night – because the picture shows it clearly. Rachel and I standing in front of a big elephant at the zoo. The camera was that close to me when it took the picture that I can read the digits of her phone number on my screen. And then I see it. The little lump of wall that we never tore up when we replaced it with hedge because I said Miss Maisie – my imaginary pet mouse – lived there. We couldn’t tear it up. Where would she live? And so my mum had left it for Miss Maisie and, unless she had taken up a recent interest in photography – and the Ghost school of learning how to touch things despite being incorporeal – someone had been hiding behind that lump of wall and taken a picture of me.

And I’d walked right past him.

I couldn’t sleep for three days. Or nights. Just sun up, sun down. Not leaving the house, not eating, barely breathing (inoutinoutinoutinoutinout) and staring at the photo of myself on the phone. The man barely a few yards away. I checked the doors were locked constantly.

“You need to sleep,” Rachel said as if I were overreacting. “It will be some idiot playing a joke. Remember next door kept putting glue in my locks? If it was more serious, the police would have been involved, right? I hear you nodding. Mhmm. You need to sleep. How about you go to sleep and we will go CCTV shopping tomorrow? Didn’t Dr Ryzin give you some sleeping tablets after your mum died? Take some. You’re exhausted. And stressed. Take the pills, go to sleep and I’ll be over tomorrow.”
“You’re sure you can’t come now?” I say as I check the door is locked for the eighty fifth time this phone call.

“I would if I could. Tomorrow. Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

And then I’m alone.

The pills are in a neat little tray, weirdly spread out in a jagged diagonal line. Maybe the factory worker responsible got bored. Maybe the person they employed to decide how the pills should sit in their packaging was in a wacky mood. Regardless. I pop one from the silver foil and reach for the glass of water I brought from downstairs. Then I think better of it and pop another. I swirl them off my tongue with a big gulp of cool water and swallow them both down. I’m asleep before I even remember crawling into bed.

I wake up to the sound of buzzing. In my dreamy state I think it’s a bee and try and jolt myself awake. I hate bees. Honey or no, I hate them. The bee gets louder and louder, or bigger and bigger until I realise that I’m just growing more and more coherent. My head is swampy. My tongue thick and heavy in my mouth. I feel like I’m recovering from the worst hangover and the best nap at the same time. Dr Ryzin packs a punch. And hey, since I’m probably fired for not going to work anyway, I might even get a good price for them down at the corner shop. That’s where drug dealers sell there stuff, ri…

There’s a pink envelope on my bed sheets.

Prettily, like a blond little girl with high pig tails and a lollipop in her mouth, its sits there. Sweetly, almost. Unassuming. I rub my eyes and hope I’m dreaming but it’s still there. Maybe a little close in fact. As if it slithered forward when I wasn’t looking. The little girl edging forward. But she’s no little girl. I know she’s not. She’s a demon. A demon with a big fucking knife and a poor attitude to match.

“How did you get there?” I ask it like I’m Mary Fucking Poppins and it’s going to answer me. It would sing, no doubt. Sing a song of a wizarding school, a lotto win or a letter from my dead mother telling me she loves me still. If it wasn’t for the pink colour, I might have even been able to convince myself of that for long enough to reach over and grab my now silent phone. But the pink was a taunt. A firm, bullying taunt that I just couldn’t resist.

I opened the envelope and ignored the instinct in my gut that was tearing its hair out screaming, “you stupid white girl, get out of the fucking house.”

I pulled the photo free and turned it over in my hand.

It was a picture of me. Not smiling. Not angry. Not crying. But sleeping. It was a picture of me sleeping and a giant grin spread out gloriously right beside my face.

Posted in Poem, Uncategorized

I’ll Never Hold Him

His hands are points of certainty

The only things I know,

a salve against the burns

that keep me tied.

He smiles

Green teeth, yellow or white,

His breath is the only outside,

The only breeze from beyond

Sometimes,

Only sometimes,

I pretend I’m by a pond.

He’s sitting on a blanket,

bread between his knees,

his fingers tickle mine

but even here,

by this pond,

on this blanket,

with this bread,

I don’t want him,

too.

His voice promises me,

one day he’ll let me go,

only if I’m a good girl,

a girl who is enjoying herself,

Smile,

Laugh,

tell him I want more.

He draws me pictures with his

cigarette light.

A dog, a rabbit, a knife.

He draws them for me,

while I’m on the floor,

listening to my bones bleed.

I remember my learnings,

and give a little laugh,

even though it makes me

cry, and wish that I was

flying through velvet,

diving through

chocolate.

He tells the baby to stop

crying, it’s stopping him from sleeping

I thrash against the ropes

that cut and burn some more,

but I can’t walk,

my legs tingle and slide,

they’re wet,

there’s no strength left,

it’s too soon and the dark is laughing,

Laughing at my empty belly.

Laughing while it’s crying.

Laughing,

laughing,

right back at the black

‘cos it still thinks I have that piece

all humans have

that gives a flying monkey fuck

about getting laughed at

by the

black.

There’s a crunching noise I’ve never heard before.

It steals away the laughter and the crying,

both,

and in the silence, the noise is terrifying,

the silence has no puppy whoofs,

or thud,

thud,

thud of first steps.

No nothing or anything,

a little it with no life now.

And a twig snaps somewhere inside

that when I was taken from my own mummy’s side,

From beneath her velvet scarf, in an aisle of bread

As she saw the chocolate that slipped my grip

Did she hear the noise I do now?

Has she heard it since?

His teeth are by my face again

his hands are wet, sticky,

dripping.

The only things that are certain.

Posted in Flash Fiction, General Fiction, Uncategorized

The Hope of Strawberries

It wasn’t that it was sunset – though the golden hues that decorated the plain horizon reminded her of the quiet changing of autumn leaves – as it was the end of her day. She sat with her knees bundled beneath folds of blankets. Fresh strawberries sat on a porcelain plate on the boundary between night and day, a line that was slowly creeping forward like the advancing lines of a contemptuous foe. She’d brought the plate from home. It wasn’t particularly special, though, it had to be said, she didn’t give any credence to the taste of strawberries either. But each of them, the plate and the strawberries, felt necessary somehow. Like she had no choice. She had to bring them with her. Here. To the very limit of her own territory.

An owl watched her curiously. He had been eyeing up a harvest mouse a moment or so ago but the little thing had scurried away at the sound of his wings flapping. Now, hungry and irritated, the owl watched the woman watch the world and wondered what the human word was for Oostaphan.

She wrapped a third blanket around her shoulders and buried her nose in its smell. Laundry detergent, cigarette smoke and something else all mixed together into a lacy concoction that made her head swim. She felt that now was an appropriate time to cry. She didn’t. But she felt like, had she wanted to, now would be an excellent time to let go of a few tears – if only to stop the aching behind her nose. But no, she wouldn’t cry. She couldn’t. So, she plucked a strawberry from the little plate and bit into it instead. Stray juice ran down her lips and galloped for her chin. Wild and free the juice ran hard and fast, knowing that if it could just reach horizon it could be free. But the woman’s hand was too quick. With a gentle whoosh stirring the growing night air, she smoothed the juice from her face and threw the strawberry head down onto the grass.

The harvest mouse listened to its heart thrum in its ears, a furious angel song that whispered blessings and reprimands in equal measure. He knew he shouldn’t have strewn so far from the bracken. He’d known it. Every fibre of his being had begged the very sinew of his ligaments to stay hidden beneath the thorns. But that smell. Oh! That delicious smell! The harvest mouse was many things: a loyal borrower of straw, a heavy user of the snaking river, a viciously funny addition to any gathering of mice, and a gregarious singer in the correct company, but strong-willed against aromas as potently delicious as this one? No siree bob. He was not that. And still, even now, as the acid in his muscles was only beginning to slacken its grip, his nose was twitching, debating whether or not to make another dash for it.

She reached for the green stained bottle and relished the cool smooth curves of its body. The label was rough where the glass was smooth but she forgave it all the same. For, was she not right that it would taste as fabulous, regardless of label or glass or…fuck. Fuck, she swore beneath her bald dome, which pooled the moonlight in an untouchable pond of lunar white. Fuck, she clucked her tongue, stinging one of the sores in her gums. “Fuck,” she whispered white wisps of breath that drifted high above the advancing lines beneath. She’d forgotten to bring a glass.

The owl left its branch like a bolt of snowy lightening as it spied the pink feet of the hungry harvest mouse. The woman jumped, little white pills falling from her hand like hailstones, as the dying caw of the mouse zipped through the air – gunshot! – before returning it to silence. She didn’t understand the word, but the owl did. Curious, it thought to itself, that a harvest mouse would care so deeply as to lose its life in the hope of a strawberry.