Monday 31 December 2018

The Last Visit

by Alyson Faye

elderflower cordial 

Memories wrapped around Lucia, like the variegated ivy embracing the open jaws of the garden house gates. A flurry of images – her three daughters racing each other, shrieking as they streaked across the close trimmed lawns, splashing in the fountains, licking diamond droplets from their lips. Parties with parasols; funerals with pallbearers. 

Lucia stomped in her wellington boots across the sodden grass, whilst broken masonry tried to trip her and the quiet of the place owned her soul.

“It was terrible what happened,’ she muttered lost in the past. “He shouldn’t have come back. I told him not to. He never listened.”

She shivered in the damp shade of the glasshouse, not seeing the jagged jigsaws of glass, instead remembering Oliver’s forearms; the golden hairs, his wiry strength. His touch. The smell of the oranges he peeled for her on their shared flesh. That summer tasted so sweet; unlike any she’d known since. 

“He’s a gardener! A workman! How could you, Lucia?” Her mother’s tearful shock. Her father’s more pragmatic fury. Her sister’s silent snubs. Her brother’s fists at night, under cover of darkness, took their vengeance. Oliver was nothing but a memory. A silent wound in the family’s womb. Her own rebellious fury, being tethered then smothered. 

Lucia stepped over a fallen metal bar, heard glass crunching under her feet. She extracted a Mag-lite from her Birkin bag. Its powerful beam illuminated the graffiti emblazoned on the walls - not all of it the work of invading vandals. Huge figures, drawn in faded chalks loomed, peopling the corridors once more. 

Lucia clicked her tongue, irritated at her own failing memory. “How much farther is it? I’ve forgotten.”

Voices murmuring behind her, at the entrance. “Mother, where are you?” Anxiety, tinged with exasperation shading her youngest’s voice. A common tone these days.

The silhouettes of two entwined figures outlined in white chalk appeared in the torch’s beam. Faded greenery sprouted from their heads, pastel flowers emerged from the man’s fingers. The woman wore a crown of hawthorn. She remembered how Oliver had bent it to his will. Swallows swooped around them and a sun, as big as a sovereign, shone. It was the pictorial record of a memory of a perfect summer’s day- long gone, but not forgotten, by Lucia. The survivor.

“Goodbye my love,” Lucia traced the man’s figure. Kissed her chalky fingers.

Turning, she glimpsed her youngest daughter approaching, in her impractical navy signature suit, tottering in heels. Lucia smiled at the sight. “Ma, what on earth are you doing skulking in here? Daddy’s waiting by the car with the estate agent. The contract’s ready to sign at the office. You knew that. So why did you go running off? You’ve kept us all waiting. You know Daddy’s hates being kept waiting.”

Lucia allowed her daughter’s tutting to chivvy her into the present. Her own hands, chalk-stained, dangled at her sides, smearing her clothes.

Sunday 30 December 2018


by Gill James

strong black coffee

You see, it's all very well isn't it, if you know who they are?  When there's every chance that they've done the same thing to dozens, hundreds, thousands of others and that if you speak up those others will find the courage and join you? It's different, isn't it, when all you know of them is that they're capable of sustaining an erection? You can't say, can you, that it was that man with a beard who drew those fantastic pictures? It wasn't the one who made kids' dreams come true. Nor was it that famous film producer.
The ones I'm talking about are anonymous blanks.
It was attempted rape. Even if it was Freshers' week and he was drunk. He was wearing nothing but a white coat. I assumed he was a medical student. Over the years I've wondered if he felt he had to behave that way because he was such a small man with such thin arms and such delicate fingers. Maybe he was so drunk that he has no recollection of it now. Perhaps he is now a grandfather and would be mortified if he knew. But if he was that drunk, how come his penis was throbbing and erect? And he'd had the sense to put on a condom?
It wasn't all that late - maybe about eleven and I'd just got back to my room in Randy Ranmoor. (So-called because it was a mixed hall of residence. The first in the country, I believe.) As I unlocked my door he came from nowhere. He charged into my room, pulling me behind him. He was still holding me as he flung himself on to the bed. I was grateful for the condom but I didn't want to lose my virginity that way even so. I fought him. It wasn't easy despite his size or drunkenness. Then as suddenly as he arrived, he upped and left.
I took a deep breath. It was nothing, really, was it? I never told anybody about it until a few months ago. Forty-eight years on I can still remember his face clearly. Should I even now write and tell them? Could I still identify him now?  

Then there were the hands at the football match. There was always a crush on the way out. There was something crushing my groin too and then fingers inside my knickers. I tied to pull them away. The harder I pulled, though, the harder he dug in. It hurt for days afterwards. Andy, Benny, Mel and Jaimo were in front so it definitely wasn't one of them. Sheila was at my side but I couldn't tell her. We were here mainly to impress the lads. What would they do if I called for help? I didn't want to look useless.
Then we were out of the gate and the pressure dissolved. I turned. There was no one behind me.
It was best to carry on as normal. The long walk home. Bragging about the results to my parents who already knew them, in fact, because the walk home was very long. Talking football to my dad.    
I never went to the football match again, though.

What was he thinking? That man on the bus. I hadn't even reached puberty, let alone gone through it.
The only empty seat was next to him. I took it. Why wouldn't I?
He just annoyed me at first. He seemed to be taking up more than his fair share of the seat. His thigh rubbed up against mine. Then his hand was on my thigh. I jumped. He squeezed. Then he pulled me towards him. "Look," he whispered. He nodded towards his lap.
I'd never seen a penis like that. Fat and erect and oozing slightly. He was breathing heavily.My cheeks began to burn. 
I did know a little about penises. I'd established very early on that Edward next door used to wee-wee through a little pipe that came out of his trousers. Very convenient. It wasn't fair that girls couldn't do the same. It was always such a rigmarole when you were taken short as you were out and about.
Back then, though, I knew nothing about sex, erections and ejaculation. Was there something wrong with this man?   
I know that this was wrong and that I was too ashamed to tell anyone. Somehow I had made that man behave that way.
A woman got off at the next bus stop.
I moved seats.

There were also the German piss artists. I'd see one practically every day on my walk from the tram to the house where I had a room in Degerloch, Stuttgart. Some guy urinating with no discretion whatsoever. As if he needed to show the world how great his penis was.

The first time I answered the phone after we moved to Holland I explained in broken Dutch that I hadn't mastered the language yet and could the caller speak very slowly.  "Oh, you're English," he said.  "I've got my thing out and I'd like you to talk me to come." I put the phone down and then picked it up to check whether he'd gone. He was still there. "Almost there. Say something dirty."

All brushed aside as unimportant. Life would go on. Life was good. These were just anomalies. Except: why do I remember all of these incidents so clearly? If only these men were famous I could pin them down.   

About the author

Gill James is published by, amongst others, Tabby Cat Press, The Red Telephone, Butterfly, The Professional and Higher Partnership and Continuum. She is a Lecturer in Creative Writing at Salford University.
She has an MA in Writing for Children and PhD in Creative and Critical Writing  

Saturday 29 December 2018

Fleeing Nazi Germany

Inspired by: ‘My mother’s childhood stories.’

Michal Reibenbach

camomile tea 

The older I become the more my mind wonders back to my childhood. I turn the pages back to when I was a young and insecure child. We lived in Leipzig in Germany. My father was a businessman, a furrier. We were quite wealthy and even had a chauffeur. My mother was a spoilt lady of leisure; she spent her days doing beautiful embroidery and playing the piano. I remember that I loved to watch her as she sat dressed in one of her beautiful green or red velvet dresses and played classical music.

To me as a child, the first sign of the segregation on Jews came about when I wasn’t allowed into public parks, and not allowed to sit on public benches. Later I also noticed that there were all sorts of other restrictions: Jews weren’t allowed to go to cinemas, theaters, restaurants (except for Jewish restaurants) and the sign ‘Jews unwelcome’ was hung up in certain areas and businesses. Also, we had frightening, threatening telephone calls in the night. My older sister and I attended a Jewish school, during the breaks, we had to keep absolutely silent because ‘Jews make such a lot of noise’.
A girlfriend of mine knew someone who owned an allotment, which was a piece of land on which to grow vegetables and fruit.  Even though it was forbidden for Jews to go onto allotments, this person kindly gave us permission to play in it. One day after we had been playing in the allotment my friend and I trotted off to a sweet shop to buy some sweets. I bought a bag of Jelly Babies. As we were stepping out of the shop I was accosted by a strange, rough looking little girl who said to me, “I saw you playing in that allotment and I know you’re Jewish. If you don’t give me your bag of sweets I’ll snitch on you to my Nazi father. I’ll tell him that I saw you playing there, and he’ll come to kill your parents!”

I was only seven years old and I felt absolutely terrified. I quickly shoved my bag of sweets into her hands, and I ran off home as fast as my legs would carry me. Upon arriving home I didn’t have the courage to tell my mother what had happened, I did, however, confide in my older sister. She was a mere thirteen years old herself and also at a loss as to what we should do? For ages, I lived in dread lest the Nazi’s come to arrest my parents because of me. These restrictions on our lives caused me to live in fear. Sometimes I’d wake up in the middle of the night in a panic and I’d cry.

By the year 1938, my father decided that it was high time that we leave Germany. In order to do so, we had to pretend that we are going on holiday to Switzerland since that is the only way that we can leave the country. One day my mother, sister and I packed only a few suitcases so that we wouldn’t look suspicious, and leaving all our worldly goods behind departed for Switzerland. It must have been very hard for my mother. For the time being, only the three of us set off, my father remained behind since he wanted to persuade his three brothers to leave Germany with us. We boarded a train to Switzerland and while we were traveling through Germany our mother forbade us to speak German and she was very tense the whole time, afraid less we would be arrested and sent back. When we crossed the Swiss border she was greatly relieved and could relax at long last. Finally, we arrived at our destination and were greeted by a small town, Ascona which was in the Italian part of Switzerland, on the shore of Lake Maggiore, and surrounded by gorgeous stunning views. There my mother registered us into a dingy hotel which rented out studio apartments. Our apartment consisted of one room in which the three of us slept, our beds cramped up together. 

The sunny, golden weather enticed us to explore the surrounding areas. Much to my delight, I remember seeing grapes growing in vineyards for the first time in my life. Quite soon my mother was able to register my sister and me into a German-speaking school which unlike the school I’d attended in Germany I quite enjoyed. After school, she would collect us and take us to the village square. There we’d sit at a café where there was always a German daily newspaper which customers could read for free. We girls would drink lemon juice while our mother drank coffee and read the newspaper. It was the only way in which she could learn what was going on in Germany. Our lives felt suspended and the days past by slowly. We waited for three months for our father to join us. During that anxious period, it was distressing to see my mother constantly weeping. Over time her continual crying caused abscesses to developed on the rims of her eyes. She was petrified lest her husband for some reason wouldn’t be able to join us and we would become destitute. 

Close to Ascona was a tall hill (350 meters high) by the name of Monte Verita or in translation ‘The Mountain of Truth’. It was a place where a number of intellectuals and Jewish writers lived. On the weekends, my sister and I would climb up the trail of the high hill. On either side of the trail, chestnut trees grew, the sunlight which filtered down upon us through the tree’s branches and leaves and the fragrance of the woodland around us was magical to us little girls and for a while, we’d completely forget that we were fugitives with an uncertain future. We’d gathered arms full of chestnut and take them back to the apartment with us. One day while climbing the mountain we discovered a tiny village nestling on the side of the mountain.

Three months later and as always during every afternoon, we were sitting in the café. The bright blue sky above had only a sprinkle of barely moving clouds. As my mother was searching through the newspaper her worst nightmare, came true when she read that Germany had closed its borders. This, of course, meant that her husband wouldn’t be able to leave. She slammed the newspaper down hard on the table and cried out in anguish, “Oh, no! What am I going to do?” She swiftly took us, girls, back to the hotel and put us straight to bed forgetting to give us our usual evening glass of milk and cheese biscuits. Her mind was in a torment, she didn’t know how she’d manage.? “I complained and said, “Mummy I’m hungry.” 

“Leave me alone,” she answered pitifully. 

In the middle of the night, our telephone extension from the hotel lobby rang. Upon answering it our mother was ecstatic to hear her husband’s voice. After replacing the telephone back into its cradle she turned to us and said, “That was your father. He’s in Zurich and he’ll be coming in the morning.” Then she plonked the whole box of cheese biscuits on my bed and said, “Here eat them all.”   

The next day when our father turned up we came together for a big hug and we all cried in happiness. He explained that he’d taken the last train out of Germany and that for the last three months, he had been doing his best to convince his brothers to leave Germany with him but to no avail. They felt sure that nothing would happen to them, they were veterans of the last war, and in addition, they were married to gentiles. Sadly they would be proven wrong in their assumptions and were eventually exterminated in the concentration camps.

Our father stayed with us for a few days before setting off to England ahead of us in order to organize our visas and also a place for us to live.  He rented a flat in Bayswater because there was a school nearby for German-speaking immigrants. 

We traveled by train to Zurich from where we would fly to England. In Zurich. while waiting for our flight, we stayed in a hotel for a couple of days. As a treat, our mother bought us girls an ice cream special with whipped cream and chocolate syrup. I couldn’t finish mine. When my sister finished her own ice-cream she eagerly also gobbled down mine, after which she was promptly sick. 

A short while after arriving in England one day as we were eating a typical English meal in a restaurant. It consisted of roast beef, roast potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and gravy, (although I wasn’t to keen on the roast beef for I’d never eaten it before). We heard a terrifying broadcast on the BBC. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announced that Britain was at war with Germany. It was 3 September 1939.  Since our father wanted to get us out of the center of London to a safer place,  he rented a small house with a garden in Mill Hill which was a suburb of London. Living in England must have been difficult for my parents, but in Mill Hill I was happy. I was free to go where ever I liked without restriction and I had my family. 

During the Blitz, we built an air-raid shelter at the end of our garden to which we would run every time the sirens went off. In the mornings on my way to school, I’d collect pieces of shrapnel often still warm from the night before. It was a wartime hobby with most of the kids. My father returned to his former trade in London. When he set off for work In the mornings my mother was always anxious less she never sees him again. At daybreak, the sky over London was bright red from all fires the bombings had caused during the night. Because of his age, my father was exempt from the army, however, he volunteered as a Home Guard. The Home Guard ’s main job was to see that all the house’s windows In his street were blackened out and also that everyone went down to the air raid shelter when the sirens screeched. My mother grew vegetables in the garden and kept chickens so that we’d have fresh eggs to eat. She was stoic and never once complained about how our standard of living had changed for the worse. She was still a young woman but her hair had turned completely white from all the stress.

I will forever be grateful to England for she saved our lives when we fled from Nazi Germany.