Wednesday 30 March 2011



Shan Ellis

Skinny moccachino

A year ago she had walked these old cobbled stoned without a problem and in through the old oak door without a second thought. But that was a year ago, and time had ticked away so slowly, taking away so much.

Holding the withered daffodils tightly she concentrated on a piece of moss that had started to grow in-between the cobbles, its luscious vibrant green out of place between the drab grey of well trodden stones.

How many people had passed before?

How many feet had fallen into the grooves of the flat stones?

Most importantly how many people had stood at this old oaken door, having had their life and soul stripped from them unjustly, shaking their belief system to the core?

With that, she sighed heavily and decided she had no peace with God, and promptly left.

Shan Ellis is a freelance writer from the foothills of Snowdonia, currently studying for a BA in creative writing and literature with the Open University. A published novellist and poet, you can find more of her work at

Tuesday 29 March 2011

You Used to Buy Me Wine

You Used to Buy me Wine
By Patsy Collins

Mineral water with a twist of lemon.

You used to buy me wine.
You smiled and asked what I'd like. All I wanted was you, but I
accepted the drink.
In winter it was rich and red, mulled with sweet spices. Warm and
promising as a lingering kiss.
During spring we braved the cool air for that first taste of sun and
of love. Crisp rosé, pink as a valentine's card.
In summer the wine was white and chilled. Poured into cocktails,
topped with fruit and ice. As light as our mood.
Autumn was full-bodied and generous. Claret and burgundy, reflected
in the fallen leaves we walked through as we made plans.
But you're gone now. The wine has drained from my life, the dregs
bitter and dark.
I drink spirits, but they don't help me forget the pain or recall
happy memories.
I drink beer, but do not feel the sun's warmth or winter's chill.
I drink cider, but don't taste the fruit or promise of the future.
The drink doesn't help, but I beg and steal for the money to buy more.
You used to buy me wine.

Drink choice - nothing stronger than mineral water with a twist of citrus.

Monday 28 March 2011


By Charlotte Dicey

Instant tea

He wasn’t going to have them, not the nice teaspoons with the shiny handles; she’d hide them under the dessert spoons where he wouldn’t find them. He’d only use them for stirring his tea. Two seconds, and they’d need washing again. No, she’d save them for those little luxuries she allowed herself: the creamy profiteroles and the individual strawberry trifles. It was a pity she couldn’t eat the raspberry ones, but the pips got under her plate until she had no choice but to take it out.

He could use the old spoons for his tea. They stained easily, and were no use for things like the low-fat yoghurts his doctor had suggested. She grimaced: tea, that was another thing. It was a relatively recent development; well, when they were first married, they’d used proper tea, so it hadn’t been a problem. Now, it came in little perforated bags which changed shape according to the whims of some overpaid graduate still wet behind the ears. Personally, she’d never found that tea from pyramid bags tasted any better than tea from square or round ones. Anyway, the shape was irrelevant; it was what he did with the tea-bags once he’d removed them from his mug. Sensible people would have put them in the bin, but that obviously involved too much effort. No, he left them on the little round plate marked ‘spoons’. At first she’d made allowances, but, even when she left empty peach tins nearby, it made no difference; he continued to leave them on the spoon rest. She knew it was deliberate; no one could be that stupid. She liked the little dish. It was from Marks and Spencer’s Harvest range, and had been bought fifteen years earlier. She’d had plans to replace all her old tea set, but then they’d discontinued the line, so she’d had to make do with the odd cup and saucer she’d managed to pick up.

Today, as usual, the little plate was piled high with tea-bags and yoghurt lids; there was no room for the spoons for which it was intended. They lay in twos and threes on the work surface.

Well, she wasn’t washing them up. If he couldn’t put them where they were supposed to go, she certainly wasn’t going to; they could stay where they were.

Her eyes gleaming with determination, she tipped the water out of the bowl, then took off her bright yellow gloves.

All done!

The End

Wednesday 23 March 2011


Rose Kelland

Double thick ice-cream chocolate milkshake with mini-marshmallows and sprinkles

With their children now all independent and away from home, Ruth and Don were relocating to their ideal cottage in a very pretty village on the east coast. The movers had done their bit and had left the couple to start a new chapter in their lives. After a good night’s sleep and waking up to the birds chattering, breathing in good, country fresh air (with a slight hint of cow manure!), and a celebratory breakfast of crispy bacon, eggs, beans, toast and freshly ground coffee, the week’s work began.

Having unpacked the necessary items to comfortably enjoy their new home, they decided that day three would be a ‘rest day,’ no unpacking of boxes or re-arranging of furniture, just a simple ‘enjoy-the-atmosphere’ day!

Ruth baked some muffins for her neighbour. She did wonder what the ‘accepted’ protocol was; should she be taking bakes to the neighbour and introducing herself? Or should the neighbour be bringing bakes to her door and saying welcome to the neighbourhood? Since this was day three, Ruth was determined to at least do her part, and with the perfectly risen bran muffins arranged on a small tray, she cautiously knocked on the neighbour’s red door.

“Sorry, we’re not interested…” was the first response almost before the door opened, but Clare’s voice trailed away as she realised this wasn’t a salesperson on her doorstep.

“I’m so sorry!” she said, sounding genuinely apologetic. “You’ve moved in next door haven’t you? Come in!”

Ruth’s butterflies settled and she followed her neighbour into the house. Clare prattled on about how happy they were in the village, how long they’d been there, what her husband did, where the good places were for shopping, and the ‘better’ hairdressers. They shared a pot of tea and had eaten a couple of muffins each before a bouncy young boy rushed into the kitchen, telling his mum about his school day before he’d even seen her sitting at the table with a stranger.

“Oh! Hello.”

“This is Paul, my son,” said Clare proudly.

“Hi Paul, I’m Ruth. You’d better have one of these muffins before your mum & I finish them!”

Paul quickly accepted, split one open and spread a good layer of butter and then a dollop of honey on top.

“Did I hear you say you enjoyed the science class, Paul?” Ruth asked.

“Yes, it was fun! We almost blew up the lab, but Mr Stane said that that was supposed to happen!”

“What? Blow up the lab?” Clare was making another pot of tea and was obviously quite used to Paul’s energetic and enthusiastic reports.

“Well, no, not quite! But now we’ve got homework on the table of elements and I really can’t get them right. The letters have no connection with the metals! How do they get Ag to be Silver?”

“There’s some things you just have to remember as they are.” A typical mother’s response!

“I was never good at science at school,” added Ruth. “I think I learnt more from my own children during their homework time than I did at school. Those abbreviations were one of the things we learnt together, but we made it a fun thing.”

“You made science fun?!” Paul sounded sceptical, but Ruth took it as an invitation.

“You want to know a fun way of remembering those names?”


“OK. Well take Silver to start with. If you had a choice of having Silver or Gold, which would you go for?”

“Gold, definitely.” Paul was listening with big eyes waiting for the easy, fun button to learning.

“So, imagine you’re out with a friend panning for Gold and Silver. Suddenly you found something. ‘Hey You!’ you shout to your friend, ‘I’ve found Gold.’”

“Hey, that’s clever!” Paul had recognised the symbol for Gold so Ruth continued.

“Your friend finds some Silver, what does he say?” Ruth gently goaded Paul until the proverbial light bulb shone in his eyes!

“Hey G, I got Silver!” He seemed to know the Ag and Au symbols, it was just working out a method of remembering which belonged to which metal.

“How about: ‘Aah, gee, I only found Silver!’” suggested Ruth, putting on the dejected voice to emphasise the difference.

“That’s really clever.” Clare beamed with pride at her son.

“Yeah! That’s really cool! Do you know any others?” Paul was on to his second muffin, but no butter or honey this time, just a big bite.

“Let’s see, what have you got there?”

“Mercury.” Paul had unpacked his bag on to the kitchen table and found the paper with the symbols he needed to know.

“So where do you find mercury?”

“I dunno!”

“Do you have a thermometer?” This question was directed at Clare as much as Paul. Ruth was very aware that Clare might think she was taking over her job as mother and homework-helper to Paul. And having been in this home for just over an hour, she didn’t want to cause bad neighbourly vibes. Ruth had nothing to fear, she was already practically a member of the family! Clare rummaged in the bottom drawer and fished out the old, dusty thermometer.

“The mercury in this thermometer rises as the temperature rises. The mercury goes higher.” Ruth emphasised the words to try and hint at the answer Paul was looking for.

“Higher ….. Go?” asked Paul as he looked up the symbol in his book.

“Hg. How are you going to remember that easily?” said Ruth, still spurring him on to find his own method of remembering.

Clare offered another cup of tea, but it was time Ruth left them, so she thanked Clare for the warm welcome, and started making her way to the door.

“Ruth?” Paul’s voice was hesitant but in the short time they’d spent in that kitchen, a trusting friendship had begun.

“Could I come across to your house if I’m stuck with homework some time?”

Ruth smiled, but quickly looked questioningly at Clare; she wanted to be very sure that she wasn’t stepping on any toes or causing any tension in this family home.

“I certainly wouldn’t mind Paul coming to you, Ruth. I just don’t have the creative mind you obviously have, and it’s been fascinating just listening to you. I might come for some lessons myself!”

Clare’s words were honestly spoken with eyes sparkling and a broad smile lighting up her face. Ruth knew that she’d done the right thing approaching her neighbour – with muffins!

Paul did pop around and they worked together through science, maths, history and cultures. One cold November afternoon, Paul trudged up Ruth’s path and she opened the door to a very downhearted young man. While drinking hot chocolate and chomping the latest batch of twirly-whirly custard biscuits, Paul told her of a big assignment which had to be ready in two weeks.

He had to present something unique to his history class, showing that he understood the story around a particular event they had studied over the last term. The teacher had suggested writing a poem or story, or presenting a book with pictures – all of which involved a lot of writing, something Paul did not enjoy. Ruth tried to cheer him up with quips, but he remained negative and unable to think of any ideas.

“What do you enjoy the most, Paul?” she asked, trying to get him to move away from the pit he’d dragged himself into.

“Football.” It was an expected answer, so Ruth probed more.

“What else? What do you do in your spare time, when not playing football?”

“Music? Movies?” It was more of a question than an answer.

“What’s the topic of the assignment?” Ruth was wondering how to fit an historical event into a unique presentation involving football, music and movies, and how to get Paul to think of it himself!

“We picked out of a hat. I got Thomas Becket.”

“Wow! That’s going back a bit!” Ruth had very little knowledge of the story of Thomas Becket except that he had something to do with the church and the King of England a long, long time ago. But her creative mind soon found the plot.

As they searched the internet sites for information on ‘Thomas-the-Bucket’ as they nicknamed him, Paul got more excited and animated. As a one-man-show he would act out the story as the narrator, putting in some comedy bits, which would not only bring interest and fun to the presentation, but would also help him remember the names.

‘Thomas-the-Bucket’ of Canterbury became the hero of his drama. King Henry Too – King Henry II – was first the great friend, and then the unintended enemy. The reason for the conflict was condensed into a memorable piece of ‘soap-opera’, and the assassins were called in with trumpets blaring!

One of Ruth’s suggestions to help Paul remember a list of names, was to associate their names with something else, so Hugh de Moreville, Reginald Fitzurse, Richard le Breton and William de Tracy, the assassin knights, became ‘Hugh–who-wanted-More-Ville’, ‘Reginald-Fetch-The-Nurse’, ‘Richard-The-Briton’ and ‘William-Dick-Tracy’. Edward Grim, the eye-witness who recorded the story in the original Latin, needed no change in his name as he witnessed Thomas-The-Bucket unceremoniously having his brains squashed out of his head!

It turned out that Paul was quite an actor. The presentation to the class went off brilliantly.

“Ruth! Ruth!” He came rushing up the path, knocking on the door and trying the handle – he couldn’t wait to tell her his news.

“I’ve been asked to do Thomas-The-Bucket at the prize giving evening next week!” The words spilled through the house as he made his way to the homely kitchen table. Clare was not far behind and eventually the whole story came out with three excitable people jumping up and down, smiling, hugging and generally feeling really good about themselves. But Paul wanted to add something to the drama. He wanted to look the part. So it was decided that he would be dressed as a court jester narrating the horrific story. Clare would buy a pair of red tights and a pair of yellow tights and cut the top off one leg of each, and then she rummaged in a trunk in the attic and found a faded red and yellow jesters hat with its bells still on, which had been made for her by a school friend’s Mum, when they did a play in their primary school days. She also offered Mike’s fancy, ruffle shirt, which would reach down to Paul’s knees, but would definitely look the part.

The next few days were frantic, with a running backwards and forwards between houses, until the day of the prize-giving evening. Clare had got permission from the school to invite Ruth and Don as non-parents, and the two families walked nervously down to the school for the 7.30pm start.

There were speeches from the Head, awards for sporting and academic achievements and then the history head introduced Paul’s drama as an example of the material they had covered in history classes. With giggles from his classmates at his luminous attire, Paul proudly stepped into the spotlight with his bright red and yellow tights, the tinkling of the bells on the jester’s hat and the introductory trumpet sounds of Indiana Jones!

The audience sat enraptured by the clear story of Thomas-the-Bucket and King Henry Toooooo – which Paul emphasised to the delight and pantomime spirit of all! The climax was certainly Paul’s favourite piece as he told of how wicked Knight Hugh-Who-Wanted-Moreville leapt suddenly upon Thomas-The-Bucket, cutting off the top of his archbishopric’s crown, and how Reginald-Fetch-The-Nurse delivered another blow to Thomas-The-Bucket’s head.

“It seemed,” said Paul in an obvious aside, “that Reginald-Fetch-The-Nurse, was perhaps not the strongest of the four, or perhaps he was just a little afraid of what a bang on the head might do to Thomas-The-Bucket, as his blow did not cause Thomas-The-Bucket to waiver or sway.”

There were a few giggles, before Paul continued.

“Richard-The-Briton delivered the blow that brought Thomas-The-Bucket to his knees.” At which point Paul dropped dramatically to his red and yellow tighted knees, but with his head held high he continued the story, in a clear sharp voice.

“William-Dick-Tracy delivered the fatal blow.” There were still people laughing uncontrollably over the names, and fathers repeating the name ‘Dick Tracy’ while their bellies wobbled with laughter!

“By his stroke the crown of Thomas-The-Bucket’s head was separated from his head in such way that the blood, white with the brain, and the brain no less red from the blood, dyed the floor of the cathedral.”

Of course at this point, one could see grimaces and pulled faces as the picture of brains and blood was so deliciously gruesomely spat out by young Paul on his knees before the audience, jester’s hat bells ringing with suspense.

“Clerk-The-Gable swished up to the bleeding Bucket and placing his foot firmly on his neck, scattered brains and blood further across the courts and on those courtiers looking on.”

As Paul said these words he lunged forward with outspread hands as if splattering the audience with the gruesome blood and brains. It brought the required reaction as the front rows automatically jumped back in their seats with squeals of horror!

“This Bucket will rise no more!” At these final words Paul fell forward on to the stage in the characteristic chalked out position as in a TV homicide police series. The spotlight went out and the crowd cheered, clapped, stood to their feet, and wolf-whistled as Paul stood, bowed extravagantly jester bells still ringing, smiled and waved. The Head had to step in, raise his hands and request the audience to sit down, but Paul’s performance had most certainly been the highlight of the evening and was recorded in both the school’s annals and the village’s newspaper for future history dramatists.

Fifteen years after the school drama, Clare and Ruth are still neighbours. On a grim November morning they are sitting in Ruth’s warm kitchen with tea and muffins, as Clare shares Paul’s latest email from his new home in South Africa. He’d qualified as a primary school teacher and excelled in bringing lessons to life. With tears of laughter rolling down their cheeks, they read of his Thomas-The-Bucket history lesson to a class of eleven and twelve year old South African children!

What memories they both have! What a friendship this has been.

Rose has been writing short stories and poetry for four years since buying a writing mag for her daughter - who is now studying creative
writing! Her first published articles are to appear in an 'eclectic' writing magazine later this year. Otherwise she just keeps looking at life and expanding what she sees into stories!

Monday 21 March 2011

Ever Decreasing Circles

by Patsy Collins

'Oh I give up!'
'Don't be like that; you said you wanted to talk.'
'Yes, but this conversation is pointless.'
'We're just going round in circles.'
'Really, what makes you say that?'
'We're not getting anywhere are we? Just doing the same things over and over.'
'I wouldn't say that.'
'I would.'
'You're entitled to your opinion.'
'I am?'
'Of course.'
'But you never listen to me.'
'I do, it's you who doesn't talk to me.'
'What's the point?'
'Don't be like that.'
'We just go round in circles and never get anywhere.'
'That's not true!'
'It is, you never really listen; just keep saying the same things.'
'How d'you know that when you'll never talk to me?'
'I'd talk if you'd listen, really listen.'
'I'm listening now.'
'You are?'
'OK then. I'd like to stop cycling round this track and go on a proper ride - to somewhere, not just back to where we started.'
'But we'd have to go home eventually.'
'Of course.'
'So we'd be where we started.'
'Yes, but we'd have been somewhere.'
'We've been somewhere when we go to the track.'
'Oh I give up!'
'Don't be like that.'

Tuesday 15 March 2011


By Bill Haddow Allen
Unsugared cocoa

Her right shoe caressed the calf of her left leg, up and down, snaking and teasing, as if in ritual courtship to the left. The look-at-me shoes were peacock blue leather, gold four inch heels, and gold straps.
There were still a few faint, but persistent, doubts in her mind about the wisdom of her adventure and she almost gave the taxi driver last minute instructions to take her somewhere else.
She was on her way to meet the Kensington crowd. She had made contact with friends of friends via her old hairdresser and discovered that her old social group still met up at least once a month.
When she had bought the shoes there had been no coo-ing chit chat with the assistant, no ‘...what do you think?...’. She had wanted them as soon as she saw them, felt a remembered nausea of desire, of demon lust - a yearning for the time before stretch marks and stitches. She had forgotten how much she had enjoyed what had become a way of life. It had been a long time since she had bought shoes like these. Since before she married.
She had married ‘sensibly’. She had been fond of him. Might love him if he was ever there. They met at breakfast when ever he was at home, or when he rushed in between flights. Sometimes they had conversations at the open door of his study, interrupting him with news of their son’s progress at university, or to read aloud to him holiday postcards from friends.
She had planned what she might do - or, perhaps the idea for her adventure had sneaked into her consciousness piece by piece while pushing peas and carrots down the sink and during her daily routine. Odd, isolated bits of her plan would interrupt her seek and find mode at Waitrose and she would think of her old contacts. Especially Tommy - ‘Talented Tommy’ as he was known, a sparkling party goer - and so much energy, she remembered.
She had put the shoes in her wardrobe, absentmindedly, pretending she hadn’t bought them, but they were there, ready. She was kidding herself. It wouldn’t happen by default, because she had decided.
When not being the dutiful and charming host to his friends and business associates, she continued with her not unpleasant life of hairdressers, frock fittings, expensive shopping, the pleasure of it evaporating because of its very predictability. She wore the shoes occasionally around the house to get used to them, to re-familiarise herself of the art of wearing dangerously high heels.
The taxi dropped her a hundred yards from the venue and she strode, feeling trampy on the precariously tall heels - higher than she remembered - but she soon regained that hip swaying S shape of the dangerous heel wearer. For a moment she felt self conscious - an unfamiliar discomfort, which prompted unsureness, guilt, doubts about visiting the past. Thoughts of Tommy spurred her on.

“Love the shoes,” said Tommy. He had a thing about shoes, and she had a thing about men who had a thing about shoes.
After thirty minutes of lovely to see you darling and potted biographies and graduation photographs the party died. The remembered sizzle had gone. But there was still Tommy.
It used to be dinner - club or casino - and ending up at someone’s house. Lots of laughter and high spirits, black Russian cigarettes and sex in the laundry room or the garden; and with Talented Tommy it had been exhilarating fun.
She had kept fit and was wearing a twenty year old dress that still fitted. They all looked old and talked of nothing but money, wild boar and avocado quiche, organic muffins, kitchen work tops which just had to be of Brazilian slate. And pension funds. It was all so boring. But there was still Tommy.
She had yet another drink. She homed in on a young man who was grazing at the food table who listened open mouthed, unaware that he was being pulled. Before she went too far Tommy took her arm. ‘His mother,’ he said, nodding in the direction of a non stop gob talking loudly about house prices in Wimbledon
Tommy had drunk a little too much and was talking much too loudly, making her feel uncomfortable.
‘...You always were a bit of a tease - a sexy dresser. You know I never believed all that tosh about your job…’
‘Please. Tommy!’
‘Oh, don't mind him...he’s just...just…’
Him was another grazer at the food table, a quiet man who wasn’t contributing anything at all. She had tried a conversation, but so much food went into his mouth he never actually replied. He worked for a glossy magazine, Tommy said, had been captured by tribesmen in Afghanistan. That was his qualification for being at the party. A special guest. Invited and ignored.
Tommy blundered on ‘...I always had an idea of what you were really up to - all those business clients...but, look , that’s okay by me,’ stroking her arm, ‘I never said anything.’ He was magnanimous.
‘Oh! thanks a bunch, Tommy!’
She remembered Tommy as debonair - energetic - well connected - man-about-town. But he had wasted his expensive education - his money - his life. Now he was a silhouette of a Dandy relying on tenuous connections for opportunities, cosy jobs involving nothing more strenuous than having his name on the list of directors.
‘Why don’t you take me home, Tommy?’
‘One for the road?’ he asked, looking at her shoes.
He gave the taxi driver directions.
‘Peckham!? Peckham!? Are things that bad, Tommy?’
‘Just temporary, old girl.’
She negotiated the shabbily carpeted stairs in her gorgeous shoes. Tommy fixed drinks, and she went to the bathroom.
She remembered the excitement of old times, and her power to WOW. She went back to where Tommy was and leaned on the door frame, wearing nothing but lipstick and her fuckme shoes, the straps straining against the unholy restricted flesh.
Tommy was asleep.
Fast asleep and snoring.
She let herself out onto the street, feeling silly, disillusioned, and at two a.m. in Peckham a little bit afraid. A pirate cab prowled near to her. She waved it away, and was thankful when a black cab responded to her frantic waving.
She left the shoes under a lamp post on Peckham High Street and the taxi sped off with her back to Surrey. Her right bare foot caressed the calf of her left leg, up and down, snaking and teasing, as if in ritual courtship.

Bill lives in West London. Has a poem and two stories published. He has an eye for the stories behind the matter of fact things in life.

Friday 11 March 2011

Tying the Knot

by Sarah Evans


Ben’s insides are a triple twisted knot. There’s the two-fold tangle – now familiar – of happiness and the fear it will be lost. The third thread is simply embarrassment. He’s about to make the biggest pillock of himself.

He strikes his glass with the silver spoon. Its sonorous ring pricks the bubble of chatter round the horseshoe table that hugs in their luck. Everyone turns. Exactly as intended. Exactly as he wishes they wouldn’t.

All very informal, they’d insisted. No best man. No maid of honour. No giving away the bride. And no speeches.

He doesn’t know why over the last few days, words have turned up uninvited, the bare struts of a speech attracting embellishments, like a fleece of iron filings to a magnet.

‘You don’t mind do you?’ he had asked last night, when he realised he was serious. ‘Siobhan?’ he prompted her, when there was no response. He loves the softness of her spoken name, so at odds with how hideous it looks written down.

‘No, if it’s what you want,’ she said eventually, her voice low and fluting.

He’s standing. He hopes his hands are doing all the trembling, so his vocal chords will be left free. It’s not as if he isn’t used to this. Addressing Court. Chairing meetings. He gave the proxy father of the bride speech at Pat’s wedding.

He glances round the expectant hush.

Siobhan is staring down at the backs of her hands. The three long bones from wrist to knuckle stand up, like an ivory carving, interlaced with fine blue veins.

Pat sits squarely, forbidding in her big-sister protectiveness, her navy cardigan taking informal a bit too far. His nephews wriggle round her in support.

Kathleen is also darkly dressed. The two sisters-newly-in-law could almost be sisters themselves. Except Kathleen is beaming widely at him. She’s willing him to succeed, as are the glamorous trio of Siobhan’s closest friends.

The various add-on men wear work day suits and good taste ties. They fade, disinterested, into the dimmed lighting.

‘I know I promised no speeches.’ His voice has not yet betrayed him. ‘I lied.’ The joke is weak, the laughter warm.

‘I also know it’s a dreadful cliché to say that today I’m the luckiest man alive.’ He hopes that acknowledging it as a cliché, makes it less of one. He judges the slight pause. ‘Of course in my case, it happens to be true.’ It sounded better playing in his head, but his audience doesn’t care. Those generously inclined to laugh, do so. Pat glowers. Siobhan is still looking down at her hands. The waves of her hair fall forward to caress her face, veiling her expression. His words, however trite, are for her.

‘The last eight months of knowing Siobhan…or to be more accurate the last eight months, one week, three days…’ The canned laughter is right on cue. But this isn’t an affectation. The evening he intended to surprise her with a naively large bunch of roses – blood red for passion – was their three month anniversary. Since then he has notched up each day. ‘…have been the most extraordinary of my life.’ His tone is serious now, the silence is broken by disquieted foot-shufflings. It’s not as if he can ignore it.

‘I don’t want to dwell on the times of distress, which you all know about, have shared in.’ It wasn’t painful, she said afterwards, not at first. He wouldn’t have believed it possible to hurt so much.

‘But it has also been a time of profound happiness.’

Profound isn’t quite the right word, though he failed to find a better one, to describe the seam of conviction, wide and deep. Happiness is even worse, but he doesn’t want to use a muted word, suggesting qualification. He doesn’t, of course, mean the champagne exuberance of their early days. Of his rapturous infatuation – and he knows now that was what it was – with her firework brilliance, which sometimes fizzled without warning to a darkness he had no way to understand.

Siobhan won’t mind all this will she? Her pale linen is embroidered in an intricate network of gold thread, spreading out in ever dividing branches. A sleeveless jacket hangs over wide trousers and billowing white sleeves pinched in at the wrist with delicate cuffs of lace. As she stepped out from the taxi to where he waited before the red-brick office, she’d never looked so beautiful. He’d been touched at her insistence on this one point of convention, that her attire remain a surprise.

‘I know what some of you are thinking.’ Pat, of course, but the others too. ‘That we’re being rash, that we should have waited, taken our time.’ They only invited their guests two weeks ago, giving the impression this was a moment’s impulse. It felt unlucky to count on it.

‘And it would be hard to argue with the rationale of caution. But our decision to marry today was, as perhaps it must be, a decision of the heart.’

Before he’d never seen the point of getting married at all. What difference can it make? The witnessed promises, the signing of a piece of paper. People stay together for love; they part for lack of it. Divorce is expensive. It’s his job to oversee it, to battle over settlements, to profit from it.

‘It’s a decision we took several months ago.’ He’ll leave it to his audience to judge which side it fell, of the fracture between before and after. ‘A decision I’ve always felt to be entirely right.’

He remembers the irony in her tone when he first suggested it. ‘Marry? Why would you marry me?’ He knew by then, it isn’t him she mocks.

‘And I’ve never felt so sure of anything in my life.’ The repetition is for Pat, whose clamped hands have become a sculpture demanding full attention. For years she’s told him to grow up, settle down, get married.

‘But today is not about the past. Today we ask you to join us in celebrating the future.’ It’s this, above all else, he wants to convince them of. His voice prepares to switch from serious to the gauze of wedding day speeches.

‘Today, Siobhan signed a legal document promising she would love me. And – if I’ve understood the small print correctly – sleep with me…’ He pauses for the studio laughter, as he borrows from the dullness of his trade. He’s his own best man, and after all a wedding is an affirmation of the body’s pagan rites. ‘…forever.’ Earlier he’d faltered on till death do us part. Why should a marriage ceremony already foreshadow death? Siobhan’s voice was unflinching.

‘And all I have to do to fulfil my side of the bargain … is the same in return.’ Kathleen is still smiling encouragement as he heads towards his punchline.

‘I can’t imagine anything easier.’

He can’t account for the surge of joy, or something like it, at the hospital. The psychiatrist offered book learned sympathy and advised, ‘She shouldn’t be left alone.’ He expected to yield his silent vigil to the greater claim of family. But it was him she singled out, chose to take her home. Kathleen’s look of hurt was swiftly overtaken by relief.

‘Of course,’ he interrupts the easy laughter. ‘If I understand the legal niceties, the contract won’t take effect, not until it’s ratified…’ He counts to three by the beating of his pulse, ‘…by a somewhat more private declaration of love.’ He wonders how long the evening will go on, before he can be alone with her. A bullet of wanting is lodged permanently within, deeper and more complex than just desire.

‘I’ve checked. No amount of pre-consummation counts.’ This goes down well in the galleries. They all know that she’s shared his bachelor pad for months.

Pat radiates disapproval like a dying sun. But it’s his wedding day, he’s supposed to fancy his wife. Pat thinks she knows him, that sex is all this is about.

‘Why?’ Pat asked him. ‘Why her?’ As if love is arrived at through analysis and careful reasoning.

‘A toast,’ he says, his voice loose and free as he capers towards the end. Siobhan’s seemed so relaxed the last few weeks.

‘To happy endings.’ Impossibly simplistic, but he believes it.

‘To decisions of the heart.’ His own is still tied in knots.

‘To love everlasting.’ He faces his audience, addresses the words to her.

‘And to being very thoroughly married by tomorrow morning.’ The air vibrates with willing laughter.

He sits. Her hand covers his, tickling it with the criss-crossed lace which covers up the scars. He catches the scent of her quiet amusement. Then her fingers squeeze briefly their resolve, before she rises in a graceful arc, one side of her mouth turned down.

‘Well I can’t let Ben have the last word.’ An easy quip. When she’s on a high, she talks too much.

‘I don’t have to tell you about all Ben’s qualities, about how lucky I am. In fact I think most of you recognised it before I did.’ How grateful her glittering circle were for his calm presence; how warmly he was drawn into the problem that is Siobhan.

‘Today you can celebrate that, for once, Siobhan has done the right thing, has managed not to screw things up.’ The tone is almost light and brings forth complicit smiles.

‘And for the same reason, Ben’s family are perhaps not celebrating quite as much.’ It’s there again, the rueful, half down-turned smile.

‘I hope Pat will forgive me if I presume to suggest what she perceives.’ Pat bristles non-forgiveness. Just be happy for me, he tried to plead. Ever since they were left orphaned teenagers, she’s adopted the maternal right of knowing what’s best for him.

‘Which after all is probably not that different from the slightly softer perceptions of my own family and friends.’ Her smile is slow and poised as she looks down at her clasped hands.

She lifts her eyes to fix her gaze. Confronting Pat directly is rarely the best way to persuade her to see reason.

‘That I’ve been a recipient of Ben’s love.’ Her words are clear and practised, as if she’s reciting a line of poetry. ‘I’ve taken his devotion, his care, his comfort.’ Siobhan’s eyes and voice drop. ‘And given very little in return.’

He reaches out to touch her arm, the contours of her name hovering on his lips. She doesn’t have to do this.

After the first impossible days in hospital followed weeks of sleepless nights and twilight days, in which she was his to hold but not to have. Amidst the unmarked midnight time, the open artery honesty, in which she listened as well as talked, he surrendered more of himself than in years of after work happy-hour drinks, law society dinners and city breaks.

She moves, almost imperceptibly stroking away his objection. His hand knocks clumsily against the glass, the wine spills in a spreading stain, the bubbles draining away into the starched white.

‘I’m not going to defend myself.’ She recovers her strength. ‘To explain or justify. I want only to return – as Ben has done – to the promises we made today.’ The waitress hovers in the shadows, waiting to judge the moment to provide coffee.

‘Today, I promised to love Ben. For ever and ever.’ His insides squeeze tight; there isn’t room to breathe. ‘I gave that promise with the same seriousness and conviction,’ her tone gives meaning to the words, ‘that I know he gave his in return.’ She stops in meditative reflection. She’s speaking to her audience, but this is for him.

She picks up her glass.

‘Ben has already made a very complete toast. For once I can’t think of anything to add.’ Her voice has returned to levity. He can almost hear the tensed muscles all around, relaxing. ‘So in true wifely fashion, I will simply paraphrase my husband’s words.’ It’s enough to get the gaggle giggling. She knows the rules of speechmaking as well as he. Light. Dark. Light. This is the stuff of wedding day banality, playing on the labels which don’t quite fit, not yet, like the way his fingers are fidgeting with his wedding ring.

She sways backwards slightly on her heels and forward to raise her glass.

‘To love.’ Her voice lilts upwards, like an incantation, or a prayer. Pat is still purse lipped, unwilling to be moved, but she’ll come round eventually.

Siobhan sways lightly back and forth.

‘To happiness.’ Her voice gently mocks the absurdity of this. Kathleen’s mouth is taut with the wanting to believe in it.

‘To wedding nights.’ Only recently has there been the return of desire. It was him who wanted to wait until today, unable to explain why, except that, like all of this, it felt right.

‘To the nights and days, to come.’ She picks up those twisted threads and in a conjuror’s trick they uncoil and fall away.

Bio: Sarah Evans has had dozens of stories published in magazines and competition anthologies, including: the Bridport Prize, Momaya Press, Earlyworks Press, Tonto Press and Writers’ Forum. She lives in Welwyn Garden City with her husband

Tuesday 8 March 2011

Life After Death

By Sarah Mcardle

She didn’t claim insanity, not once. She never appealed on the grounds of mental instability. She’d have had to talk to do so, and she could, but she chose not to.
At first this was a problem. They needed a confession. They needed their words to pierce through her conscience and provoke an action from her heart. This wasn’t possible. Her heart was swamped with the task of keeping her alive.
They didn’t give up. They asked different questions, came at her from different angles. They had seats, yet they always chose to stand, always looking down. They had a clear obsession with eye contact, though their attempts to make it were wasted on her. Her posture suggested that she was being hung by the neck, too lifeless to move. She wasn’t lifeless, not yet.
When she first came to this place, her brain was restless, overly active. She often fought with herself, using her questions as interrogations and using her accusations to punish herself. She didn’t require their services; she could chastise herself quite easily. It didn’t matter to her if she was guilty or not. It was irrelevant by every measure of the word. But she wouldn’t confess. She’d have to speak first, and she could, but she chose not to.
Time passed, as it does, but every day was the same to her. They threatened to send her away, send her away to a place that she would stay for a very long time. They often emphasised that last part. But they didn’t understand that their words were wasted. They may have filled the air between them for a few seconds, but they never reached her ears, they never registered in her brain.
She didn’t refuse her meals, but she didn’t eat them either. They came and forced water down her desiccated throat daily; her body appreciated the gesture, but she showed no physical inclination towards it.
She didn’t carry a lot of weight on her when she arrived here, but now she hardly possessed any at all. Her bones noticeably stuck out where there wasn’t enough flesh to cushion them, and you could see her ribs too clearly without her having to breathe in. Just from looking at her frail physique you could tell that she was ill. They noticed this, but they never fully acted on it until the day that she closed her eyes during one of their interrogations.
They checked for her pulse, but they found nothing. She was whisked away to a place where machines awaited the arrival of her body. Upon her entrance they began to force feed her with the aid of a nasogastric feeding tube. Her situation didn’t change, so they made the decision to cut her open. Her body’s survival instincts had kicked in, resorting to chewing through her muscle fat, to the dismay of her organs which were now rapidly beginning to fail her. A tiny hole in her heart quickly gained their attention. Assuming that this hole was the problem, one of them opted to undertake the task of sewing it up. She died within seconds. There was only one person who could fix the hole in her heart, and she had killed him.

Sarah is presently in her final year
of studying for a BA in English and Creative
Writing at Salford University.
Her area of interest is Short Fiction.

Wednesday 2 March 2011


by Brenda Gunning
Malted hot drink

Her fingers aren’t as flexible as they used to be, the joints a little stiff with rheumatism. Her eyesight has never been too good and she leans forwards now her chin uplifted to read through the bi-focal lenses of her spectacles. The sheet of music propped up on the piano is creased across both sides as well as the corners being curled and folded and the paper yellowing. But though it is difficult to read, it is an easy piece for her and she has played it many times over the years. Her eyes glance over the first line, then she leans back again and closes her eyes.
She was trying to concentrate on what the minister was saying, but it was difficult, difficult for everyone in the congregation, as they all had other things on their minds. Her eyes drifted away from the pulpit and towards the large wooden framed clock on the side wall. 11am. The service had started at 10.45 as usual, one hymn had been sung and one short prayer said. She realised that already she could not remember what the hymn had been even though she had sang heartily and with pleasure as she always did. The hymns were her favourite part of the service. At fourteen it was not always easy to stay focussed on the preacher’s words but many of the Bible readings she knew by heart. She brought her eyes back to his face and her mind back to his voice.
‘The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light and they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.’
   Her eyes were again diverted as Mr Brown, the usher and giver out of hymn books, hurried down the aisle and the rest of the congregation’s eyes turned to follow him. He reached the pulpit as the minister stopped speaking and bent his head sideways slightly to listen to the words that were murmured to him. A small frown could be detected on his face as a piece of paper was pushed into his hands, then his expression changed back to the hint of a reassuring smile as he turned back to the congregation. Her eyes glanced again at the clock on the wall. 11.15.
   ‘I am afraid there is an announcement that I need to make to you "the minister began. ‘The Prime Minister, Mr Chamberlain, has made a statement that I will read now.’
She wondered if she imagined the tremble of his hands as he held the piece of paper and began to read aloud -
‘This morning, the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government the final note stating that unless we heard from them by 11 o' clock, that they were prepared, at once, to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us. I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received and that, consequently, this country is at war with Germany.’
Much later, when she remembered this time, she imagined that there was a hush in the chapel, as was usually the case in films or dramatic scenes in novels. But there wasn’t. A murmur began immediately between people sitting in the same pew, which then spread to those in front and behind, getting louder by the second. She looked around to see people standing up and beginning to move out of their confined spaces. ‘Ladies and gentleman, children, everyone’ The minister’s voice was raised to be heard.
‘Let us say a short prayer together and then we will end this service and make our way home.’ He clasped his hands together in front of him, and with closed eyes bowed his head. The congregation followed suit, some sitting some still standing. ‘We ask God that He will ensure that our actions are true and honourable in these troubled times. May the Lord bless us and keep us and our loved ones safe. Amen’.
The murmuring and shuffling began again, as people starting moving out of the pews again and down the aisles. She felt a sudden feeling of nausea in her stomach as the anticipation of what might happen next washed over her. What would happen next? What should she do now? What happens when your country is at war? Get home, that was what she needed to do. Mumbling ‘excuse me, excuse me’ she pushed past a few people standing around in the aisle and reached the back of the chapel. Then to the door and out into the open air. She ran.
Down the path of the chapel and out onto the street, turning right in the direction of the bridge without thinking of anything except home. Usually she would have got a tram at the corner of Bridge Street, which would take her almost to the bottom of her street, about three miles away. But today she had no thought of trams or buses, and was not even aware, until later that in fact all public transport had stopped, shortly after the announcement from the Prime Minister had been heard on the radio. In the streets other people were hurrying too, some running, some holding children’s hands and almost dragging them along as their small legs struggled to keep to the pace of the adult.
As she reached the bridge crossing over to the north side of the river, a strange sound began, starting low and deep like an orchestra tuning up and becoming louder and higher before sliding down low again to repeat its cycle. She stopped still long enough to see other people also listening tothe noise, and looking up into the sky at the sound of the siren, before hurrying on again. Her mouth was already dry and her throat ached.  A pain was beginning in her left side as she began to run again, almost blindly. The metal spans of the bridge flashed past her as though she were looking out of the window of a moving train at another train travelling fast in the opposite direction.
'Hey, Miss?’, the man’s voice caught her by surprise. She stopped again and looked at him reaching his arm out to her, reading the letters ARP on the band around his sleeve.
‘Come here, quickly, you must get inside the shelter!’  He was tugging at her coat now, trying to get her to the steps that led to the shelter underground.
‘No, No’, she tried to keep her voice calm, ‘I don’t need to. I’m going home – I’m almost there.’ She hoped he believed her; she was almost convinced herself.
‘Well, OK then, if you’re sure it’s not far. But hurry’.
She set off again in spite of the pain, mouthing to herself, ‘almost there, almost there.’ Down past the library, the cinema, the park. Rows of shops went unnoticed as she ran on. ‘Keep going, keep running’ a voice inside her urged her on, ‘Don’t stop, you’re almost home’.
She wouldn’t have stopped if something hadn’t fluttered to the ground in front of her. It settled, then lifted again in the wind and rested again on the pavement. She put out her foot and caught the tip of it beneath her shoe. A double sheet of paper, flicking itself like a trapped butterfly. Bending to pick it up, she turned to see a young woman in the door way of the music shop behind her.
‘Keep it’, the woman shouted to her, ‘That’s the third piece that’s blown away while I’ve been tryingto lock up here’
The woman closed and locked the shop door, and hurried off down the street. She turned back to the paper in her hands – a double sheet of music,
‘Traumerei, (Kinderscenen)  by R.Schumann’, she read. She rolled the sheets carefully like a scroll, and held them loosely in her hands as she continued her running, her breathing a little easier now and a power in her legs that she hadn’t felt before. Her house was in sight now and she could see her father at their gate looking anxiously down the street for her. He began to smile as she turned the corner, and put his arm around her shoulder as she reached him. She was safe, she was home. 
A warm feeling melts through her body again, as it did then. She opens her eyes and leans forward to read the music, in front of her now - ‘Traumerei (Kinderscenen)’ - Dreaming (Scenes from Childhood). She rests her shaky fingers on the piano keys and begins to play.


I have been writing since I was a child and have had articles, short stories and poetry published in a number of magazines, newspapers and online.
My book ‘Crossing Borders’ is a travel/biography and I have the follow up to this, a novel and a poetry anthology in progress.