Monday 24 December 2012

A Christmas Revelation

A Christmas Revelation
Sarah Barry
Egg Flip and Mince Pies

The light from the big house glowed yellow in the distance. Every year since I could remember I had wondered what it would feel like to spend Christmas up there, the allure of such a different life feeding my childhood imagination. As children we had always marvelled at the swathes of decorations adorning the gates and grand entrance to Marley Hall, and wondered how many glowing lights filled the house with splendour. In contrast our worn cottage on the edge of the rambling estate was warm, sparse in furniture, yet crammed with life. I had revelled in the security of sixteen Christmases here, but this might be my last. I fondly remembered our enthusiasm as we transformed our gamekeeper’s cottage with the holly and ivy we gathered noisily every Christmas Eve morning. The painful pricks from the holly leaves forgotten when our proud faces surveyed our creativity. Occasionally we were lucky enough to have some red ribbon to really embellish our home.
Secretly I had always wished I could spend Christmas Day up in the spacious warmth of the house, running through hallways dressed in the heaviest velvet leaving a wake of presents to mark my adventure. I had dreamt of cream kid boots and matching gloves smoothed over my rough skin and a never ending supply of candy. My innocence persuaded me that contentment came from indulgent parents and a plethora of servants answering my imaginary whims.
Now I realised every Christmas Day had been joyous here with my mam and my dad and my three brothers and four sisters. Of course there had been fights and frantic orders as the time of dinner approached. I marvelled now at the feast my mam always prepared for us in the cramped kitchen with a baby at her feet. She never failed and the fullest feeling that my belly had all year reassured me Christmas was happily here again; my precious gift a new ribbon for my hair or maybe a pretty dress if it had been a good year. In the midst of today’s celebration I realised our gleeful delight came from each other. My dreams of being allowed to skip freely alone through echoing rooms and vast hallways would have brought me a minute’s pleasure. This smoky stone room encases my happiest memories.

The New Year will beckon me to my adult life. I am leaving for service on the 1st January, 1931. My new home will be a big house thirty miles from here. I do not know when I will next cram around our proudly scrubbed table and laugh and cry and wish my family Merry Christmas. “Josie get over here and get those spuds off the range.” The command fractures my daydream and I jump up to do my bit. I know this Christmas will be my happiest ever, as I appreciate what I truly have, the love and kindness of all around me.

Sarah Barry lives in Co. Kildare, Ireland where she recently completed a creative writing course with the inspirational author Niamh Boyce. Sarah has been focussing on writing Flash Fiction and Short Stories, as rapid bursts of writing have to fit around caring for her four children. Sarah’s first published work was a flash fiction included in the anthology Once Upon A Time: A Collection of Unexpected Fairytales (ed. SJI Holliday and Anna Meade) and another flash fiction was included in the “Flash Flood” that cascaded throughout the 12th October, 2012. Sarah’s blog can be found at or follow her on twitter @saraheebarry

Sunday 23 December 2012

The Lady in the Sack

The Lady in the Sack
Roger Noons
A large glass of Mulled Wine

‘You what?’

    ‘I’ve said you’ll be Father Christmas for the Toddlers Group Christmas Party.’

    ‘Oh Brenda!’

    ‘Well you said you had the week off, and the weather probably won’t be good enough to play golf.’

    ‘I’ll be hopeless, I don’t know any of them and I don’t know the names of the current toys they’ll be asking for …’

    ‘One or two of the mums are quite attractive.’

    ‘Why can’t one of the dads do it, and what happened to the chap who did it last year?’

    ‘The police advised against having him, he’s been caught in the public lavatories …’

    ‘It’ll cost you.’

    ‘How much?’ she smirked, unbuttoning her blouse.


‘So what have you got for me Father Christmas?’ Brenda’s partner Sally teased, as she walked into the staff room. Tony had just tugged the red trousers up over his Y fronts. ‘Gosh, they’re a snug fit,’ she added.

    ‘I only hope I’ll be able to sit down.’

    ‘You’ll be fine,’ she said, as she held the tunic so that he could insert his arms. ‘As each child comes up, we’ll get Mum, or Dad, to stand beside you. If necessary they can prompt, and in an emergency whisk the child away.’

    ‘How many are there?’

    ‘About twenty, so I reckon an hour will probably do it.’

    She fastened the buttons and pulled the hood over his head. He turned to look to his side, but the hood was so large that it did not move. He mumbled something.


    ‘I said it’s dark in here.’

    Sally laughed. ‘Just look ahead.’


  ‘Look who’s here, children,’ Brenda called out, as the door opened, ‘It’s Father Christmas.’

    There were shouts of joy, cheers and clapping, and one person whistled. The sounds all came from the adults; the children merely stared, two small girls turned away; buried their faces in their mother’s skirts.

   ‘Ho, ho, ho,’ Tony chortled, as Sally led him to the makeshift sleigh and sat him down. He put his sack on the floor to his right and surveyed the semi circle of children and adults before and around him.

    Sally clapped her hands. ‘Right, who’s going to be first to come and say hello to Father Christmas?’ 


 ‘And what’s your name?’

    Mumble, mumble.

    ‘That’s a pretty name.’

    ‘How old are you?’

    Mumble, mumble.

    ‘Goodness me!’

    ‘Have you written me a letter?’

    Mumble, mumble.

    ‘No, but Mummy has.’

    ‘And what would you like me to bring you?’


    ‘Well I don’t know if I’ll manage all that, but I’ll do my best.’

    It all went well. After each mini conversation, Tony would reach down into his sack and gather a gift, wrapped in shiny paper covered with reindeer and robins, and hand it to the child as it left his knee.

    After the sixth child’s mother translated, and explained what a Martian Blaster was, Tony reached down and instead of touching the familiar square shape, found he was caressing a shapely ankle and calf. As he lifted the child from his knee, he turned his head and whispered, ‘You’re standing in the sack.’

    Twice more it happened, so when next he delved, Tony ran his fingertips, up and down the back of the leg, as far as the knee, before he liberated the gift. That will have done it, he thought to himself, but when he again reached into the sack, the leg was still present. He whispered again, and this time slowly stroked the nylon-covered limb; raised his fingers until he felt the top of the stocking and the suspender holding it in place.

    During each of the remaining visitations, Father Christmas ignored the build up, and his fingertips went directly to the naked thigh, which he stroked, as he questioned the child sat upon his knee.

    As he completed the session, the final child having left a moist patch on his left thigh, he gathered up the sack and stood.

    ‘Father Christmas is leaving now children,’ Sally called out. ‘What do we say?’

    ‘Thank you Father Christmas and give our love to Rudolph,’ the chorus rang out.

    Sally led him back to the staff room, where he explained about the woman who stood in the sack, and the steps he had taken to indicate that she should move. Brenda came in to help him change, and between the laughter, was acquainted with his experience.

    ‘All the children and their mums have stayed behind for refreshments, so no doubt you’ll be able to identify the culprit,’ Sally told him.

    ‘All I know is she was wearing a skirt, and stockings rather than tights.’

    ‘Without X-ray eyes, we’re not going to identify her, and we can hardly go round and ask,’ Brenda said.

    ‘Don’t worry,’ added Sally, ‘We’ll introduce you to all the mums, and no doubt when you look into the eyes of the lady in the sack, she’s sure to blush.’


Tony spent half an hour chatting to the ladies; he ignored the two fathers, and when he and Brenda went home at five thirty, he was none the wiser. As he drove into their road, Brenda told him.

    ‘Just think of it as your good deed for the day. That may be the most excitement that lady will get this Christmas.’

Having spent the best part of thirty-five years writing reports on such subjects as ‘Provision of Caravan Sites for Travellers’ and ’Aspects of Pest Control in the Urban Environment’, Roger Noons began even more creative writing in 2006, when he completed a screenplay for a friend who is an amateur film maker. After the film was made, he wrote further scripts and having become addicted, began to pen short stories and poems. He occasionally produces memoirs and other nonfiction. He has begun to perform his poems, and has just published ’An A to Z by RLN’, an anthology of 26 short stories. He intends by the end of the year to have followed that up with a novella.
He is a member of two Writers Groups and tries his hardest to write something every day. As well as CafeLit, he has had credits in West Midlands newspapers, The Daily Telegraph, Paragraph Planet, Raw Edge and a number of Anthologies.

Friday 21 December 2012


Roger Noons
A pint of mild

Godfrey was the grave digger for St. Luke’s. He was a big man; well that’s how he seemed to us children in 1957. Our gang, Carol, Alan, his younger brother Eric, Raymond and I, spent many a happy hour sitting on the wall, or one of the head-stoned sepulchres, listening to his stories.

    No matter what the weather, Godfrey would be wearing old, brown, corduroy trousers, tucked into his Wellington boots, the top two inches of which would be turned over, the inside stamped with ‘Size 11’. Above the waist, it was always a check shirt, the top three buttons of which would be undone, even if there was a thick layer of snow covering the ground. His sartorial appearance would be completed with a sleeveless pullover, usually grey, and at his throat, a knotted kerchief.

    Of course, he didn’t spend all his time digging graves. When there was no interment due, he would occupy the daylight hours tidying the paths and trimming back the trees and bushes, of which there were plenty dotted around the one and a half acre site. My mother told me that Godfrey was paid a guinea to dig a grave, and he was expected to put a shilling of that on the collection plate on a Sunday evening. Godfrey, and his sister Alice, with whom he resided, never missed a service, morning or evening.

    ‘I have to keep in with my potential customers,’ he would explain to the occupants of the bar in the Chainmakers Arms, on a Friday night. He was not a great drinker, but he enjoyed playing dominoes, and the landlord took a dim view of anyone who sat all evening with one half pint.

    Raymond’s dad told us that Godfrey was the most skilled digger of graves in the area, and several times in the past he had been offered an increase in pay to tempt him to another church, but for whatever reason, he remained where he was.

    The members of our gang each had a favourite grave, Carol’s had a trio of white angels, and Eric’s had an aeroplane carved on the headstone, as the last person to have been interred therein had been a pilot, during the war. Mine was a prominent vault just inside the entrance furthest from the church. It had a holly tree alongside, which until twentieth of December each year, used to be laden with shiny red berries. I cannot remember the name of the family who owned the tomb, but it had a large black headstone with several names engraved thereon in gold, as well as a blue brick wall surrounding its raised base which was covered with black chippings.

    One year, two weeks prior to Christmas day, I went alone to the churchyard, just as it was getting dark. Whilst I had been at school, there had been heavy rain which had passed over, but as the temperature was unseasonably high, there were patches of mist around.

    I had taken my penknife and cut only three or four sprigs of holly, when the mist thickened and in no time I could not see the entrance through which I had passed. I knew the area like the back of my hand so was unconcerned and continued my cutting until having snapped off one thick branch, I heard a sound.

    I was standing on the wall in order to reach the branches and looked around, but there was no sign of anyone. I knew cats often visited, but if it was one of them, it would be more afraid of me than I of it. I snipped off a further twig and heard a high pitched ‘ouch’. Again I cast my eyes around, but saw nothing. After two more cuts there were shouts of apparent anguish, and as I knew that trees were silent, I concluded that someone was having a joke at my expense.

    ‘Alright,’ I called out, ‘which one of you is it?’ I was certain it was one of the gang, who, probably having had the same idea as me, had arrived a little later, and determined to have a joke and frighten me.

    No-one materialized so I continued with my task. As soon as I touched the tree however, I heard more sounds.

    ‘Oh no, please, not any more, leave me alone.’

    I was getting fed up and jumped down from the vault.

    ‘Right,’ I shouted into the now more like fog, ‘I’m going to find you and stick this holly up you bum.’

    I moved around the graves, along the paths and although I covered an area of many square yards, I disturbed nothing and found no-one. I took a deep breath and stared back towards the tree but it had disappeared. The fog became thicker, so I made my way home.

    I was embarrassed by the meagre bunch of holly which I offered to my mother on my return.

    ‘Don’t worry Rob, I’m pleased you’re back; it’s a real pea souper out there.’


The day after we broke up for Christmas, a cold and frosty morning, the gang, minus Alan who’s mother would not let him come as he had a cold, met up as usual by the main gate to the church yard.

    ‘What are we going to do then?’ asked Carol.

    ‘We could go carol singing,’ Raymond volunteered.

    ‘Not at ten o’clock in the morning you twerp,’ she replied.

    Eric said, ‘Godfrey’s working down the bottom, a rush job apparently; old Mrs Tonks. They don’t want to spoil their Christmas, so they thought they’d get her buried right away.’

    ‘He won’t want us disturbing him if he’s busy,’ I chipped in.

    ‘He will if he’s well on, he’ll be in need of a break.’ Carol concluded, so we made our way to where we expected him to be.


The excavation turned out to be close to my favourite spot, and as we neared, I stopped. The holly tree had not a single berry left on its branches. I was astounded, just a few days before it had been laden. I stared, my mouth wide open, the branches were untouched, but the berries, all gone.

   ‘How do you lot, come to lend a hand?’ Godfrey greeted us. He was obviously ready for a breather, resting on his large spade which any one of us could hardly lift.

    ‘W-what’s happened t-to the b-berries?’ I stammered.

    ‘Ah,’ he said, sitting on a box which he used to store anything interesting or valuable, which appeared on his shovel while he was digging. ‘Let me tell you about the holly.’

    We gathered around him.

    ‘The holly tree is very old and from biblical times, it was well known and respected. The prickly leaves relate to the crown of thorns which was set upon Christ’s head when he was crucified, and the red berries represent the droplets of his blood. But you see the holly was known to have had special powers well before that time, and people used to cut off branches and take them into their homes, to protect them from malevolent faeries, or as we know them today, witches.’

    ‘There’s no such thing as witches,’ Carol chipped in. ‘They’re made up by grown-ups to frighten children, like talk of the bogey man.’

    ‘I wouldn’t be too sure about that young lady.’

    ‘Well I’ve never seen one.’

    ‘Just because you haven’t seen one doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Anyway, I reckon that tree has been stripped of its berries by a coven of witches. You see, the branches have to be covered in berries in order to obstruct those unpleasant faeries and keep them from our houses.’

    ‘I reckon he’s right,’ Raymond added. ‘The night before last, while we were all asleep, my mother’s favourite vase was knocked over and broken. It had stood on the sideboard for years. I bet a witch had got in; we don’t have any holly in the house.’

    Godfrey beamed at each of us in turn, but resisted the impulse to add ‘I told you so.’

    ‘Anyway, I must get on,’ he said, and after spitting on each of his palms, he picked up his shovel.

    As we moved away, my eyes were glued to the tree and I remembered the sounds that I had heard a few evenings previously. It must have been witches, I reasoned, that had driven me away so they could take the berries, although I did not tell any of the others about the incident.


My family and I enjoyed a jolly Christmas. With my share of the carol singing money, I bought holly and mistletoe from the market, as well as some talcum powder for my mother and a new penknife for my dad. The holiday passed quickly and we suffered no ill will, in fact concentrating on the Meccano set which I found in my pillow case on Christmas morning, I forgot all about Godfrey’s malevolent faeries.

Having spent the best part of thirty-five years writing reports on such subjects as ‘Provision of Caravan Sites for Travellers’ and ’Aspects of Pest Control in the Urban Environment’, Roger Noons began even more creative writing in 2006, when he completed a screenplay for a friend who is an amateur film maker. After the film was made, he wrote further scripts and having become addicted, began to pen short stories and poems. He occasionally produces memoirs and other non fiction. He has begun to perform his poems, and has just published ’An A to Z by RLN’, an anthology of 26 short stories. He intends by the end of the year to have followed that up with a novella.
He is a member of two Writers Groups and tries his hardest to write something every day. As well as CafeLit, he has had credits in West Midlands newspapers, The Daily Telegraph, Paragraph Planet, Raw Edge and a number of Anthologies.

Thursday 20 December 2012

The Jazz Tramp

The Jazz Tramp

Daniel Lamb


The Jazz Tramp toots on his trumpet, high atop Juniper Hill.

      His hunched figure a silhouette against the backdrop of the moon’s pale face. Wisps of fog tip their hat to him and curl away.

      Every three Fridays, he plays.

      His gnarled hands tighten around the glinting brass, he rocks on his heels, and serenity drifts down to the village below. Each note fades on the breeze with a new one following in its wake like waves licking the shore.

      The Jazz Tramp no longer sees the fog, nor the sprinkling of starlight in the velvet canvas of night above him. He no longer feels the frosty air nip his skin. The Jazz Tramp is entranced, lost in the world he has created, even as he continues to create it. He is but a conduit. A wandering soul, he lets his soul wander to find the only place he has ever known as home. He is the music.

      The moon begins to sink, but The Jazz Tramp toots on his trumpet high atop Juniper Hill.



Daniel Lamb has always wanted to be a writer. Actually, there was a brief period of time in his youth when he wanted to be an actor, and an even briefer period of time when he had aspirations of rock superstardom. In a way, he considers writing to be a form of acting anyway and has thus decided that he is killing two birds with one stone. As for dreams of rock superstardom, these were sadly quashed when he realised that when he picks up a guitar he is killing two birds with his complete lack of musical talent and subsequent noise pollution.

Daniel is currently studying English and Creative Writing at Salford University and enjoys writing everything from short stories to screenplays, all the while working on the elusive Novel. This is his first piece of flash fiction.

Wednesday 19 December 2012


Olivia Smith
Whiskey sour

Sitting in silence, I watch as the wax rises up and engulfs the flame. ‘Bloody candles.’  I go to take another uncomfortable sip of my drink but quickly realise my pint glass is empty. I fail to remember how many drinks I've had, I also fail to care. Carmen has yet to take a bite of her meal, simply pushing the food about on the plate, the mackerel fillet now stone cold. I ordered her usual glass of prosecco; it rests on the table untouched.  Peering around at the other couples, I find myself desperate to see at least one other person in as much hell as me. Some couples are laughing merrily, rejoicing in each other’s company, others are simply gazing into each other’s eyes, appreciating the romantic ambience of the restaurant. Carmen and I are staring at an unlit candle in near silence. It had been Carmen’s idea to come here, I’d agreed in the vain hope that it might help fix things between us. But it was just a meal, not a miracle.
Raising my hand, I click twice. This yields no response.   
‘Tony,’ Carmen pipes up, ‘you’re being rude.’ A piercing whistle escapes my lips, shocking the waiter and momentarily disrupting the loving couples, causing a forgotten smile to creep across my lips. The waiter shuffles over, a tall man with a ridiculous moustache.   
‘Can I get you anything else this evening sir?’                    
 ‘I’ll have another Stella.’ My eyes wander over to meet Carmen’s disapproving gaze. ‘What? I'm drinking for two now.’
Neither Carmen nor the waiter laugh, I've pushed it too far. ‘Sorry,’ I mumble. An exaggerated yawn comes from Carmen.
‘Can we please just go? I'm feeling tired,’ already throwing her napkin onto the table. I shrug my shoulders.                                                     
‘Yeah, I guess so.’
 A different waiter comes over with the bill. I open up my wallet and place a £50 note down before retiring to the men’s room. I know Carmen will add to the tip, her way of saying sorry for my behaviour. Sorry being a word heard all too often as of late.

The car journey is spent in silence; I've gotten used to this now. Carmen puts the radio on but I instantly turn it off. As I sit next to her in the passenger seat, I let my eyes close and wish for my brain to take me somewhere else. The car swerves slightly, waking me up. I probably shouldn't have let Carmen drive, not in her condition. Shuffling about in my seat, I struggle to retrieve the packet of cigarettes wedged in my back pocket. After a great deal of effort, I manage to grasp them and press down on my lighter. No flame emerges. I try again. I get just enough fire to light the cigarette. I take a heavy drag.   
‘Could you please put that out?’
Another heavy drag, the smoke filling up my lungs. Carmen winds down her window in an effort to expel the cloud of smoke that is engulfing the two of us. The thicker the fumes grow, the less Carmen can see. ‘Look, I don’t care what those things are doing to your body but there’s more than one person in this car, in case you’ve forgotten.’
I throw the cigarette out of the window and stare right at her. ‘Happy now?’
The key rattles about in the lock as I open the front door. I trip over the cardboard IKEA box that has been casually left on the ground. I had told Carmen to keep the boxes for when we return everything. I found her throwing away the receipts last night.  I remember our trip to the shop to buy all the furniture, it was only a few months back but it feels like a lifetime ago now. She’d been so happy, spending more money than we’d budgeted for, saying it deserved only the best. I’d tried to give it my best. I honestly had.           
‘What’s wrong?’ Carmen asks.
I've been staring at the box for some time now.
‘Nothing... it’s nothing.’
She gives me a suspicious look.
            ‘If you’re not too hung-over tomorrow, you might want to think about putting some of that stuff together. We don’t have much time you know.’
Dismantled flat pack furniture lay on the floor, the bars of the crib resembling that of a cell.         
‘Yeah, yeah. You’re right,’ I reply.
Carmen sits down on the settee, my duvet next to her. She looks so small and timid, like a lost child. I couldn't help but feel guilty.
‘I'm sorry.’ Carmen turns to look at me.
‘About tonight? Well so you should be.’ I shake my head.
‘No, not about tonight.’
We make love. I perform as though it’s my sexual début; clumsy and unsure whilst Carmen just lies there in silence – a far cry from our previous nights of passion. We are playing our parts, going out for meals, having sex, occasionally saying we love one another. To an outside observer they would never know. They would never know that seeing her like this kills me inside. I stand up naked and make my way to the door.                                                                                                                                                            
‘Good night,’ she calls after me.
The only response I can bear to give is the sound of heavy footsteps as I make my way down the stairs. 
      The house is silent, Carmen must still be asleep. I can still love her when she’s asleep. With her eyes closed, it’s like the past has never happened and the future is no concern of ours. With her eyes closed, we can be happy again. When she’s awake, I can’t understand her. The doctor had warned me about this, they said it was not just her body that was going through this ordeal but her mind too. It’s strange; there is almost an ugly beauty in the reality she has fashioned for herself. Giving herself creative license to repaint life, creating splendour where there should be pain. The only problem being that I'm still stuck in this life, I still have to cope with this reality. Cradling the memory of what once was but will now never be.
          Banging noises sound from upstairs; she must be awake. I make my way into the kitchen to make us breakfast. Carmen’s phone is resting on the kitchen counter; I stare at it intently before picking it up. I don’t know what I hope to achieve by looking at it, maybe a better insight into what’s going on in her head. I could check who she’s been calling, what she’s been saying; my thumbs rest delicately on the keys.
‘Morning.’ Carmen enters the room. I throw the phone back down, praying she hasn't noticed.
‘Morning,’ I beam back, my enthusiastic tone making her suspicious.    
‘What’s wrong?’
 I want to reply ‘everything’. ‘Nothing,’ I say, placing a bowl in front of her as she takes a seat at the table. She looks so small. My mouth feels dry as I go to speak. ‘You know, I was thinking why don’t we go on a trip?’
Carmen stares at the cereal in front of her. ‘I guess I have got quite a bit of time off work. I’d suggest visiting the family but I imagine they’ll all be wanting to come here soon enough,’ Carmen replies, cupping her belly.
My pained expression cannot be hidden.
‘I was thinking a bit further than that, like Spain or Italy or something. Let’s just get away, just get away from everything.’
Carmen stares at me. ‘Tony, why are you saying this?’ Her eyes glaze over. ‘You know I can’t fly. Not now. Not with everything.’
 I can feel cereal getting lodged to the side of my throat as I painfully swallow.
‘Yeah, you’re right. I don’t know what I was thinking.’
But that’s not true I know exactly what I was thinking.
If we could just get away maybe things would be different. We wouldn't have to think about what had happened, we could start to move on. ‘Anyway, hurry up with that.’ I nod towards the breakfast on the table in front of her, the spoon still clean. ‘We’ve got this doctor’s appointment in an hour.’
‘I know, I know,’ she says, rubbing her belly and smiling.
‘It’s important,’ I bluntly respond.
 Strolling along the street we walk hand in hand, our marital disguise. I sometimes wonder what people think when they see us together. If they’re momentarily tricked into thinking we are a loving couple, that we’re living the dream, that we aren't hiding something.            
‘Carmen! Tony!’ my train of thought is interrupted. I turn round to see Melanie, dressed head- to- toe in a matching baby pink ‘Juicy Couture’ tracksuit, despite the fact she’s never done a moment’s exercise in her life.             
‘Oh my God, Melanie!’ A fake smile plastered across Carmen’s face. ‘It’s so good to see you.’ It’s really not. Melanie was one of those awful women who calls herself a housewife despite the fact she has three maids and no children. Melanie’s brown, leathery arms cradle my neck as she brings me in for a hug.                                        
‘Hi Melanie,’ this is all I can muster. We used to live next to her and her husband but it wasn't long before she traded him in for a richer model.                                                                                                     
‘Gosh, I can’t even remember the last time I saw you guys, it’s been forever.’ Her fake enthusiasm is repulsive.                                                                                                                                                                           
‘Well you know, obviously we've had a lot of stuff going on,’ says Carmen.
             I see Melanie’s expression change instantly.     
     'Oh my God. I'm so sorry, I’d completely forgotten,’ her eyes momentarily flicker to my wife’s stomach. ‘How are you doing sweetie?’
Melanie’s concern is about as real as the gleaming veneers that keep threatening to blind me.                                                                                                                              
‘Fine,’ I suddenly interject, ‘we’re doing just fine thank you.’ I see Melanie’s brain trying to process this, calculating the best way to pretend she’s a caring human being when in reality she’s just trying to extract as much gossip from us as possible for her next cocktail party. Caviar served with a helping of my marital crises.                                                                                                                                                  
‘Yeah, yeah, well that’s good to know. I mean, obviously I've heard things but it’s great to hear that you two are pulling through.’
This is excruciating. I look at my watch, despite the fact the hands haven’t moved in years, hoping she’ll pick up on this social cue. She doesn’t. Carmen takes hold of my hand, maybe to stop my unnecessary clock watching or perhaps to show just how unified we are.
 Or at least pretend to be.                                             
              ‘We’re doing great, just can’t wait finally to get to see our little bundle of joy.’ Despite the sheer amount of Botox that has been injected into Melanie’s head, I can still make out the puzzled expression that her face. Her eyes move over to me.                                                     
‘Your bundle of joy?’
I feel nauseous. I want her to shut up.                                                                          
‘Yes, Melanie, mine and Carmen’s bundle of joy.’ The lie burns my tongue and I can feel my wedding ring digging in as Carmen grips my hand even tighter. Melanie looks flustered, unaccustomed to not knowing what to say.                                                                                                                                              
‘Ah, yes, well. It’s just I thought that... you know, never mind, people are always getting their facts wrong, or I'm probably thinking of someone else, yes I’m sure that’s it. Any way sweetheart, it was lovely to see you both but I’m meeting Darrel for sushi so I must dash. Tah,tah.’ And with that she’d spun round in the opposite direction, leaving only the overwhelming scent of expensive perfume that had been a bit too liberally applied.                                                                                                                   
‘Let’s go home,’ I mumble to Carmen who seems oblivious to what has just occurred.                      
‘But what about the doctor’s appointment? You said yourself that it was important we go.’   
‘Another time. We’ll go another time.’

I hear the same beeping from the microwave as I do every night. Replacing what was once the call of Carmen’s loving voice, presenting me with a home cooked meal. Now it’s just indistinguishable brown mush served up in a plastic carton. I sit in front of the TV. Not really watching, just letting the noise of it fill the awkward space that has taken residence between me and Carmen. There are still cards on the mantel piece, a collection of papers covered in crosses or photographs of lilies. I hadn’t wanted to put them up but I somehow felt obligated, as though it would be a waste to just throw things away. We’d received so many when we broke the news to our family and friends; it helped me to see them. Carmen just ignored them, she was good at that.                             
‘Did you make me any food?’ she snapped. It was getting late, her meds tended to start wearing off around this time and she became irritable.                                                                                                      
‘No sorry, I didn’t think you wanted any.’ This happened every night, she’d demand I make her food then she’d just let it go cold, saying it made her feel sick.                                                                       
‘Of course I want food. Why would I not want food? You know Tony you’ve been acting really weird lately.’ I have to bite my tongue. ‘I’ve got to do everything for myself, do the washing, make my own dinner. Is it not enough that I’m carrying your child!?’
A wave of emotion overcame me. ‘You are not carrying my child!’ I throw my plate to the ground and storm out of the room, slamming the door behind me.

I sit in our bedroom on the floor, not really sure what to do next, angry with myself for what I’d said to Carmen, despite its truth. For some reason I decide to open Carmen’s wardrobe. Colourful garments hang gently down. Each item a memory of how life used to be. Dresses from when we used to go dancing, pencil skirts she’d worn to the office, her wedding dress covered in a sheet of plastic to protect it. I wish life too came with a sheet of protective plastic. These clothes now unworn. Carmen says they don’t fit her anymore. On the floor is the shoe box. I know what’s in here but still I can’t help but gaze inside, a sadistic pleasure. I take a peak, then mustering up more courage, take the lid entirely off. A small photograph of our wedding, a necklace of rosary beads, then the sonogram picture. It crushes me to see it. A black and white image of what could have been.
  Tony!’ Panicked cries make their way up the stairs, ‘Tony, the baby’s coming,’ Carmen says, entering the room, her tired eyes looking drawn and her skeletal frame mocking her.

Olivia Smith is an aspiring writer in her final year at Salford University, studying English and creative writing. English has been a passion of hers since a very young age and she aspires to be a published writer one day. 

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Greek Tragedy

Greek Tragedy
Sarah Barry

My eyes smarted as dust kicked up from the worn tyres of the tour bus. The radiant heat joyfully penetrated my pores and made the discomfort of life subside. The dreamy villa stood tall and inviting beckoning me to drag my wheelie bag over the rough surface. More dust clung to my back as I wondered what I had actually packed into the overstretched suitcase. What did I actually need for a week of R and R? Amongst the rest and relaxation I also yearned for the H to happen too – the healing.
I dared to think that we could remember the happiness, how we used to laugh, maybe we could rediscover each other in every way. The security of Lucy and Richard being in the villa next door gave me the courage to think that a break from the banal routine was the solution to the unhappiness marriage had thrust on us during the last few months.
 I plonked myself down heavily on the kitchen chair and marvelled at the scrubbed surfaces and tiny cracks in the tiles on the kitchen floor without so much as a speck of dirt lodged in them. The room felt homey, loved, cared for, treasured, not perfect or pristine but beautiful nonetheless. I fumbled with the slightly twisted key as I persuaded it to let me venture onto the balcony. I was bombarded with a host of welcomes; waves gently caressing the sand I could not see; the unknown, yet strangely reassuring scent of the lovingly grown flowers adorning the balcony; the cool stone soothed the anxiety from my feet whilst my fingers played with the ancient ironwork of the balcony. As I stood there in that moment, hope pushed despair from my mind, and it landed softly below in the shrubbery.      
 This was going to be the perfect week, my heart was set and I wanted to rediscover the part of me that had locked away the laughter and kept my lungs squeezed tight with fear. I would set the laughter free and remember happiness. And it worked. The first night in the taverna the retsina loosened the tension and the melting feta zinged on my tongue. My body started to waken from its numbness and the strange spices stimulated my senses. Conversation came easily to the four of us and my muzzy head confused me into realising that a holiday was all we needed. The crisp but strangely rough white sheets welcomed me to sleep, and the golden alarm clock finally roused me the next day with the help of a rumbling lorry. Lucy’s early morning discovery of the cheesy pastries and strong black coffee in the village bakery cemented the notion that my happiness had bubbled closer to the surface than I dared to believe.
   That was a week ago. Each day had followed the same pattern of idle routine, long breakfasts, a slow walk to the beach, reading, swimming, sleeping, the odd chat and a refreshing Greek salad in the beachside shack that proudly pronounced its taverna status. Early evening saw us meander back to the villa I loved, before changing and strolling along to the friendly greeting of the Greek waiter.
 But the fifth day was different. I suppose I knew it was just a brief reprise from the misery he doused me with. I wandered in still laughing from my banter with Lucy, to find blackness in the kitchen that hadn’t been there a few minutes earlier. I didn’t notice it at first as my eyes adjusted from the brightness outside. Then with the accusations and unreasonable jealousy came the realisation that my life with him could never be any different. Lucy excused herself quickly and disappeared into her safe haven next door.
 And then it really started.
 I could not hear waves or laughter now as the shaft of light tricked my eyes and I found it hard to focus on anything. I finally understood that the screaming and shouting would never stop unless I made it. Inside my head the grating and banging grew stronger as his words expanded the bitterness and hatred. My eyes wandered away from the epicentre of my fear and struggled to concentrate on the roses in the ceramic jug freshly picked from the garden below. My eyes strained to find anything that could help. The aroma of pastries still filled the room, the plates unmoved, coffee still warm waiting to be drunk.  The curtains not drawn yet and now I wondered why as the beauty of the day outside was shielded from me. The lack of light hindered my eyes’ ability to help me. The shouting had subsided, now replaced by the low threatening voice that scared me more. The traffic trundled along outside and I heard the door creak open downstairs. Still I prayed for help. No-one could release me from this fear but me. His jealousy was insane and unfounded, but we were already past reason in this argument. 'No-one will ever want you' his pathetic voice repeated. In that moment I thought the bread knife on the table was my only escape. As I edged unassumingly away from the open window that must have spilled our secrets to the world, I barely heard what he was now screaming at me. It was then I saw the vision silhouetted behind him in the doorway.
      How could so many lives all change in under a minute? He laughed hysterically his power finally cracking his mind, and with it his restraint. He grabbed my neck and started squeezing my frightened breath out of me.
      When I awoke to the rapid babble of Greek all around me, I saw Lucy’s pleading eyes staring down. I could still feel the fingers pressing hard, even though they weren’t there. He was been tended to on the other side of the room blood dripping down into those tiny cracks in the tiles. I wondered who did all the scrubbing. I passed out again, and awoke to safety in a room where I could finally see those unbound waves play on the shoreline. Lucy was sitting staring at the beautiful scene too.
After the interviews with interpreters and consuls, policemen and lawyers, I understood how Lucy had saved me. She had smashed the ceramic jugs of roses down on his head to make him stop. As his fury turned to her, she had grabbed the beautiful blade from the table. His aggressive lunge at her ended only in his own brutal wound, as she held the knife to defend herself and his weight forced the blade to puncture his lung.
  At least the screaming has stopped and the healing has started now. The healing I yearned for will come from time in this beautiful place after all.

Author Bio
Sarah Barry lives in Co. Kildare, Ireland where she recently completed a creative writing course with the inspirational author Niamh Boyce. Sarah has been focussing on writing Flash Fiction and Short Stories, as rapid bursts of writing have to fit around caring for her four children. Sarah’s first published work was a flash fiction included in the anthology Once Upon A Time: A Collection of Unexpected Fairytales (ed. SJI Holliday and Anna Meade) and another flash fiction was included in the “Flash Flood” that cascaded throughout the 12th October, 2012. Sarah’s blog can be found at or follow her on twitter @saraheebarry

Monday 17 December 2012

A Splash of Summer in the Winter

A Splash of Summer in the Winter
James Foreman
Summer Fruits Cordial

Schools out for summer.
 Could it be a more perfect month for it? As I sit in my office, finishing a piece of work with a five o'clock deadline, I can't help but stop and stare at the myriad of enticing beauty on the other side of the window. There is something special about this month and everything that accompanies it.
        I shift my weight slightly to get a better view of the life and lives passing through the city, blissfully ignorant of the current economic struggle we appear to be in.
A field (I'm not sure of the name) is in full bloom. If I'm being perfectly honest I don't even need to know the name. I can see from here what it represents. Children kick footballs around, shouting and laughing. Birds nest in the trees and sing in harmony as they build their nests. The buzzing of worker bees can be (although not willingly) heard as they fly from flower to flower. The smell of freshly cut grass is even distinguishable amidst the smog infested industrial estate at the opposite end of the field.
        A boy breaks away from the rest, running over to some daisies. Working with incredible speed, he picks himself a little bunch and runs over, grinning from ear to ear, to a group of girls about his age and hands each of them a flower. They all giggle and jump up and hug the lad.
        I can't help but smile.

Author Bio:
James is an English and Creative Writing student with a love for all kinds of literature. He dreams of one day writing something inspirational and educational - so that all who read will understand more about themselves, and more about the people around them.

Wednesday 12 December 2012

A Dish Best Served Cold

Patsy Collins

A Dish Best Served Cold

Bitter black coffee

I remember the first time I met Peter and I wish I'd known then what I know now. It was quite a big deal, us meeting him. Joanna had told us so much about him but this was the first time she'd persuaded him to come and meet 'the parents'. Silly I know, but I'd got myself into a bit of a state about it. It should have been him on approval to see if he was good enough for our darling daughter, but I found myself wanting to make a good impression.
    Perhaps I should have stuck to something simple, but I'd heard so much about his exotic life travelling all over the world that I decided to make paella – a dish I'd never attempted before. I bought the ingredients well in advance and had a practise so hadn't completely taken leave of my sense.Then Joanna called on the morning to say he couldn't make Sunday lunch after all. Some business problem of Peter's. I should have been suspicious then, I suppose. Anyway, he didn't come until Friday and by then the seafood had gone a funny colour and smelled, well I don't choose to remember how it smelled. I made a cottage pie that seemed to go down well.
    Since then, Peter has let down our lovely Joanna, time after time. We learnt why when his wife turned up. That's the wife in Spain, she tracked down his English wife and the French one.
     I wished I'd known that rancid seafood is toxic. I'd have fed him the lot.

A collection of Patsy's short stories is available as a free download here -

Also do check out Patsy’s fab blog: