Friday 31 August 2018

My Name

By Roger Noons 


Still Water

‘Olivia Smith … Olivia Smith … OLIVIA SMITH.’

My name, they’re calling my name. How do they know my name? Why are they calling my name? I will not go, I will not answer.

It is not my name. My nisi has been made absolute. It is not my name; I am Olivia James, that is my name.


Thursday 30 August 2018

Oh Lazarus

By Rachael Peralez

 a cool beer

I had exactly four Pall Malls left when Leroy asked to bum one. I told him that I had them timed perfectly so I could smoke one every two hours while we hooked animal carcasses on the side of the road in service to the great state of Mississippi. Didn’t he love Mississippi, with its sweetgums and good catfishing?  We had after all, broken her laws with our insatiable appetite for amphetamines and marijuana and crack cocaine.  Big black Leroy told me to shut my stupid mouth and give him a goddamned cigarette. Stop talking for once in my life.  I obliged both requests. Leroy had a pretty short temper and possessed all the strength of a very pissed-off Philistine. At least the Old Testament Philistines.  I figured having my face intact was worth one cigarette and my very temporary silence.  When I handed him the cigarette he tapped it against his palm and wrinkled his nose.
“You say you used to be a preacher, huh?”
“Yeeeah but I can’t save you, Leroy,” I told him as I jabbed my sticker into a dead raccoon.
It’s ring tail flapped as I lifted it up like a puppet and bobbed it in front of Leroy singing Jesus Loves Me This I know For the Bible Tells Me So. I pranced around until a warden came over and told Leroy to stop provoking Reverend Balls Deep. This time it was Leroy who obliged because my temper wasn’t all that placid either, and sometimes I’d go into some holy rages.  One such rage landed me here.  Picking up carcasses and eating overcooked, canned spinach in a prison chow hall. At least they let me out to walk along the highway and see the red tails and look at everyone’s trash.
I wrote some of my best sermons after I had pumped a little cold into my veins. Sometimes, I would strut up to the pulpit feeling like my chest had opened up and the golden light of the most holy lamb had filled it to bursting with his word. My flock would walk up to me to shake my wet hand and look at me the way a cow looks at a new gate after those most inspired sermons. I just hugged necks, and gripped hands, and tell them I’d pray for them. Then I would get into my Volvo and follow one of the members to his little home and eat chicken salad with pools of opaque liquid shimmering on top, while some dog stared at us through the screen door. I would make a few jokes, say a few prayers. By the end of lunch usually I was coming down. I kept seeing that big buffalo-headed deceiver in the every corner. Just flashes of his grin. My gums itched. I was a Baptist minister so I couldn’t ask for a beer to soften my heartbeat. I always thought of that joke about how you keep a Baptist from drinking all your beer on a fishing trip is to invite another Baptist along, when all I wanted was a Benzo and cold Coors.
When my giggling got too nervous and the conversation turned to the devil I knew it was time to haul ass out of there. I ran over everything in my path on the way home. Squirrels never thought I was serious and just dillied in the road chasing each other in these tight little circles until I heard at least one of them thump around in my undercarriage. I liked it. I liked it because I knew I could come back later under the pretense of being that soft-hearted preacher who picked up dead animals and buried them. I had a secret though. I just loved their pearly bones. I could make them live better, purer, clean as wool that’s been washed by the blood. I would take them home and clean them, stripping away their skin and flesh and set their carcasses out in a neat row on my back porch for the maggots to clean and the sun to bleach.
I had a Great Dane skeleton too. I kept the smallest tail vertebrae on a chain around my neck. Such a beautiful animal. Tall and lean, it would gallop across my yard, glossy muscles bunching and sliding across those heavy bones. The dog belonged to my neighbor, Jacob, who asked me if I had seen Moses when he didn’t come home for his dog bed and kibble.
“Nooo. Not today,” I said. “Where you think he ran off to?”
Jacob leaned against the horsewire fence and stared at the woods across the road.
“No telling.”
I had to bury Moses. Let the beetles do the work, otherwise I’d have flies coming from the ends of the earth. I was pretty used to the smell by that time, but that’s a damn big dog to just leave rotting on your back porch. When the meat had finally been eaten, I set the bones in cold water and scrubbed them with a toothbrush. I was putting things in their right place. In their purest, pearl-white form. God himself never had a prettier collection of souls.
I guess I been partaking a little heavily the Sunday the sheriff came and hauled me off the jail. I had stayed up for three nights plunging the same needle into the veins on the tops of my feet over and over and trimming passages out of Isaiah with a pair of nail scissors. I was alone. There was always speculation as to why I was alone. Especially from the Methodists. The truth is I guess I never had but one sexual thought in my entire life, and that was when Lazarus rose from the grave in the bible. I had a picture bible growing up that my daddy had gotten me from some salesman with crooked fencepost teeth at the Zondervan’s book store. I guess I was about six. He kept hitching at his crotch and saying how rich the drawings were. So Daddy got it for me and explained about how I couldn’t draw in the pages on the ride home because it was still the bible and did I understand?  But I wasn’t really listening because I had found my love. Lazarus. Oh Lazarus. He was holding Jesus’ hand and the gauzy wrapping hung off his handsome face. Martha and Mary were gripping Jesus’ robes and weeping, and I was so happy that I started flipping around the pages so Daddy wouldn’t know that I loved a dead man.
I took that bible back to my room and looked at Lazarus again under the dusty antique lamp I begged my momma to get me at a flea market. He had tears streaming down his face into his dark beard. Jesus looked so pleased. I got my first erection.
I had that brightness in me that Sunday morning. I was nearly weeping from the fullness of The Word when I saw Carol Jennings and Laura Miller in the back pew tittering and flipping through a magazine. They were the dark spot in the corner. I rubbed the smooth rabbit skull I kept in my pocket and cleared my throat into the mic. They went on snatching the pages back and forth and sighing wetly. The congregation was dead silent. Electricity ticked behind my eyes and threaded through my brain. I tore my sermon in half and pushed my shoulder into the pulpit stand until it collapsed, and the sanctuary filled with the howl of feedback. I yanked at my tie and strode down the aisle toward them. Harlots harlots harlots harlots harlots. When I finally got to the back pew I snatched the magazine away from Carol’s trembling hands.
“This is a house of worship. This is a house of God.
She was crying, and I had my thumb pressed against the hard little knot on her throat and kept pressing when I felt strong deacon hands pulling me away. They pushed their weight into me until I felt the rough carpet against my face. My rabbit skull splintered in my pocket and I was sure that it was actually my spine cracking.
Well, the sheriff came and found three eightballs in my car. They also searched my house and found my collections, and three more grams of crystal, a little less than an eighth of dope and twenty-five  Benzos. So I went to trial, and then I went to jail because as much as I taught them about forgiveness, no one wanted to post my bond. I guess I did try and strangle a thirteen-year old-girl.
They finally started loading us into the van after we had dumped our bags in the flatbed behind the sheriff’s truck. The warden chained Big Leroy to me and ducked our heads before we hopped into the vans like shackled circus elephants. On the ride back, I leaned over to Leroy and whispered to the side of his head that I took something from the road. Leroy told me to shut up, that I was going to get everyone on lockdown.  I shook my pants leg, and vile odor puffed into the air around us.
“Oh Jesus, Leroy. Leroy’s cutting them over here. I call this cruel and unusual punishment. Jesus Lord. I’ve got to say a prayer for you son. You got a demon in your asshole.”
The van burst into raucous laughter, and Angel kicked the seat behind us. Chains rattled and the warden hollered at us to settle down. I reached into the cuff of my pants leg and resituated the dead ground rattler I had found all flattened under an empty Dr Thunder box.  I could feel some kind of sticky ooze matting my leg hair together. Another one for my collection. Another one to show my love real sacrifice. Real pretty. Real nice.
It happened like this on the first day I came to the pen.  The day I first saw my love.  After they brought me into the general population from the holding cell, they shoved some clean sheets at me and prodded me towards my cell. I had been clean for a few weeks, and everything seemed muddy. I had my bible, and I was ready to pay my penance with some Ahab, who had killed a kid when he blew up his meth lab just to make a little biker blue.  My mind slogged as I ticked through verses and parables. The florescent lights hummed above me, and I looked down at the V of the flip flops cutting between my socked toes.
When I finally reached my cell and walked inside, he was not King Ahab who sat there but my beloved Lazarus. He was thin and had the same sharpness about his dark features as my wild-eyed children’s bible version. But he was so. So alive. Too much guts and moving bits and wet-mouthed speech.  I came in and began making my bunk. I learned his named was Graham and he was excited to have a preacher here with him. Maybe I could help him learn to be better. Because he had accidentally killed his girlfriend’s boy child? girl child?  when he was high on junk, and left the gas on, and then left to get some more more more. He started crying then and lifted his hair away from his face to show me where his girlfriend had come home and tried to tear out his eye when she found her dead baby and him asleep in the front yard. I put my hand on top of his head and called him my son like some pedo priest. He was disgustingly warm.
I read to him every night from the bible because he said he never was real smart with books or church.  Sometimes Herman from across the way would scream in his sleep and wake up everyone on the block. If you listened hard enough you could hear Angel whisper to him in Spanish until the night went silent again. Graham would ask me if there was such a thing as haints, and I would tell him that the bible tells us we go right to Him or to that lake of fire.
“Aren’t such things as haints. Go back to sleep, son.”
I concocted my plan to make Graham mine one morning when I got up before him to arrange my little collection of polished bones under the edge of my blanket. Graham never called me Reverend Balls Deep like everyone else despite my collection and the need to belt Give Me Oil in My Lamp Keep it Burning Burning Burning in the communal showers.
  He was sleeping so soundly that his chest barely rose, and his hand curled next to his nose. I watched him until he began to writhe under his blankets and wondered how hard it would be to give someone a lobotomy. Too hard. Pillow to the face? Graham was too young, too full of come. Too risky. I ruminated for weeks. All the while Graham kept talking, and moving, and leaking fluids like the rest of humanity. It finally came to me when we were out picking up dead animals, and Leroy hollered like a lost calf, and dashed to the warden screaming snake.
“It’s a goddamned snake.” 
The warden laughed at him and told him to get back to work, snake was probably scareder of his hollering and stomping than he was of it. It came to me then. I would poison Graham, just enough to make him cool and still.  I could have really used some tweak. 
Now I had my snake and just had to get it past the guards. I pinched the head off the rest of the body and let the length of the snake slap the floor. I tensed and looked around. Leroy stared out of the window and ignored me yanking his hands as I shifted around. I clutched the head in my hands and figured it would be easiest to just hold it in my fist. The guards rarely paid Reverend Balls Deep any mind. I was crazy but harmless. I got the snake head in without any trouble. I usually held the animals I wanted in my mouth until I got to my cell where I retched them into my hand and admired them.  I figured a snake head might be a little too risky. The guards didn’t even look as they were unlocking my cuffs. It was a little too easy. 
When I got to my cell, Graham was sitting on his bunk with the porno mag he traded a guard a horse contact for. I was so excited I just stood on foot rolling the snake head around between my fingers until he looked up from the sweat moistened Hustler.
“Heey, Graham.” I grinned and made all my nice teeth show.
“Hey, Reverend.” He looked back at the pages of the mounds of fecund flesh flopping all over one another in a slick pile.  I crawled in my bunk and hid the head under my pillow until night came.

That night I made Graham my Lazarus. I sat cross-legged in the bunk above him and counted his breaths. I was at 18,127 when I decided that number seemed holy enough and slid down beside him clutching the snake head by its jaws. His tender, little wrist lay there full of lacy veins carrying blood back to his steady heart. I traced his forehead and felt the warm pulse of blood in my loins.  I pried the snake’s jaws open and tapped his wrist with such care. Graham’s eyes fluttered under his lids. I couldn’t move. He breathed sulfurous sweet on my face and I did it. I plunged the fang into his wrist and pressed the head as hard as I could. Graham came to swinging and caught my front teeth. He flung blood from his knuckles and jumped clean out of bed.
 “Son son son you were having a nightmare,” I pleaded.
The snake head had bounced away into a dark corner somewhere.  Graham caught his breath and looked at his wrist.
“Godalmighty it hurts.”
I sat down on the floor. “Well yeah. You whacked my teeth pretty good.”
“I feel kind of sick preacher.”
I got him back to his bunk and bandaged his wrist with some scotch tape and toilet paper. I waited until his breathing became uneven and he began moaning a girl’s name over and over again. I hopped off my bunk and slid in bed beside him. He was sweating and begging was it Amanda? Or Jennifer?  for a cool drink of water. I petted him and told him he was going to be just fine.  Soon he was going to walk from that old grave because he was a friend of Jesus.  Just a little glass, Lord. That’s all I need.
“I want to go home, preacher.”
“You’re on your way, son. I’m right here with you.” I held his hand, and pulled the white sheets over him, and tucked them around him. His dark eyes flicked around the room. They were wild and confused. He grabbed at my uniform and pressed his face against my chest.  My Lazarus draped in white.  In his most perfect form. 

About the author 

Rachael completed her undergraduate degree at University of Texas and her MFA in creative writing at the University of New Orleans, where she received the award of Best Thesis for a collection of her short stories.  Her work has recently been published in the Crack the Spine, Furtive Dalliance, and Literally Stories literary magazines. 

Wednesday 29 August 2018

One Last Meal

 by Andrew Bramwell

gin and tonic

To say he was nervous would be an understatement. At that moment James felt like a soldier on a landing craft just before the lowering of the ramp and if that sounds a little over the top, well it probably was because that’s what he was like, a bit dramatic, flouncy, full of himself but, actually, underneath if you were being honest terribly insecure. But then wasn’t that a lot of people?
He’d never been to this restaurant before and that made him even more uncomfortable and he had got here early. That was a fault of his and he always ended up having to hang around as if he’d been stood up.
But there you go. He ordered a gin and tonic from the bar and sank into one of the leather armchairs. Trying to look at ease only made him feel uncomfortable and he began to feel quite warm. He knew his face was going red, it always did. He scanned faces as they entered from the car park or tried as well as he might in this ridiculously subdued lighting.
When she walked through the door he didn’t recognise her at first. He hadn’t really thought about what she might look like after all these years, almost forty to be exact and in his mind still visualised the pert eighteen-year-old with the bobbed black hair and tight jeans. As logic should dictate she didn’t look like that. How could she?
It was a wave of disappointment that swept through him, that was the prominent emotion for he had been looking forward to this moment for so long, ever since that first contact through Facebook. A sense of anticipation had been ignited, a long-forgotten thrill, a kind of shiver taking him back all those years.
But it was certainly her. Despite the rather thin grey hair and red flowery dress he recognised her straight away. She had put on weight, but then hadn’t everyone? It was the eyes, the deep, deep eyes in which he had lost himself as a very young man that gave her away. That touch of magic was still there. He could tell, and a kind of tremor shot through his body like a lightning bolt.
Before allowing himself to think he called her name.‘Alison’. It was half shout, half whisper. 
She smiled, and he was suddenly taken back all those years which had passed since then. It was so strange. He had not expected this.
‘James,’ she said in a kind of silky whisper, almost formally. ‘I can hardly believe it is you’.
‘Well it is,’ he said trying to be funny. ’Shall we go to our table? I believe it’s ready.’
She followed and sat opposite and for a few moments there was a sense of mutual awkwardness as if this was their first meeting, which of course it was, in a way.
‘So, how are you?’ he said.
‘I’m OK’ she replied in a way that hinted she probably wasn’t. ‘And I’m ready for a drink. I’m sure you are too’.
‘What will you have?’
‘I’ll have a glass of chardonnay please, a large one’.
‘Another gin and tonic for me. Just a single. I have to watch my waistline’. He already knew he was beginning to sound ridiculous. He already knew it was too late for his waistline too! He scanned the table, appraising the presentation as he was wont, placing his jacket on the back of the chair as he did so.
The arrival of drinks seemed to break the ice and some of the awkwardness disappeared’.
‘We have so much to catch up on,’ he said. ‘Where do we begin?’
‘You first James, after all it was your idea to meet’.
‘Not so fast,’ he paused, swirling the wine around his glass ‘If I recall you were the first to make contact, that I believe gives you the prerogative’. 
She smiled again but at that moment the waiter arrived to take their order. It was quite opportune, and they were both momentarily absorbed in the menu.
‘To begin’ said James with as much authority as he could muster ‘I’ll have the risotto of Brixham crab, chilli and cockle popcorn, which sounds, dare I say exquisite, followed by sirloin steak – medium rare, croquettes, portobello mushrooms, vine tomatoes, au poivre sauce’.
‘I’ll have the same to start please and then the pumpkin and ricotta ravioli’.
‘A good choice’ James said, somewhat condescendingly.
‘You wear glasses now’.
‘Only for reading, my long vision is perfect’. He still had that touch of vanity.
‘I suppose age is catching up with us both’.
James watched the candle flicker in the middle of the table and then looked up.
‘You were saying.’
‘Well if you insist. When I left university I went into teaching, didn’t like it much but persisted. You have to pay the bills after all and in the end, I put up with it. I met someone, got married, got divorced and last year I became seriously ill’.
‘I’m sorry to hear that’.
‘There was a degree of unpleasantness with the treatment and then a period of convalescence. I found myself alone at home with nothing much to do so I started to make contact with old friends. The internet is a marvellous thing isn’t it. I was more curious than anything. There were lots of people who responded who I didn’t actually like’.
‘Still…it does sound fascinating. I wish I’d had the nerve.’
‘Once I started it sort of became addictive. That’s when your name came up, first through the usual social media and then I stumbled across your blog. You have quite a following’.
‘Thank you, it just snowballed. You have no idea how many people out there suffer with allergies’.
Then the first course arrived and there was a natural break in the conversation while James with his usual obsessive intensity analysed and evaluated the subtleties of every flavour.
‘Rather delicious don’t you think?’
‘Very nice’ replied Alison.
She’s not really interested he thought and glimpsed the reflection of multiple candle flames in the windows. The restaurant was located in a conservatory with a large Indian looking ceiling fan whirring away in the ceiling. It was sparsely furnished but very tasteful. 

Once the first course was finished and cleared away the conversation continued.
‘So now it’s my turn,’ said James in his most seductive voice.
She looked across at him and smiled coyly.
‘Well I left university and I have to say it was one of the happiest days of my life. I’d really had enough by the end. The only problem was I had no idea what I wanted to do. I knew what I didn’t want to do, that is return to the parental home but that was about it. Anyway, I took up the offer to stay with a friend in London and I took a job as a waiter in this rather select restaurant. I mean I took the job to pay the bills, until something else came along. Then, after a while I found I enjoyed the work and the food and the wine, well everything about the whole business. I was hooked. Eventually I scraped together enough finance to buy my own place. A bistro on the Marylebone Road. A good location, always busy lunch times and evenings. Yes, things turned out OK in the end. I found my niche in the world.’
‘So, you never married?’
‘Afraid not. Never seemed to have the time’. James was rescued by the arrival of the main course. He mentally licked his lips and savoured the rising aromas before sliding into his own culinary world. Cooked to perfection, he thought and the mushrooms and the sauce, more than passable. For a moment he forgot about Alison’s presence, he was so engrossed. She must have noticed and perhaps found it, well, a little odd. She was too well mannered to comment and quietly attended to her own meal but with none of James’s fervour.
‘That was delicious…the texture exquisite. I think I could actually pick up essence of the Mediterranean from those vine tomatoes. How was yours?’
‘Good I liked it,’ she said but with no real enthusiasm and if she was being honest she would have admitted that she really was really wasn’t having a good time. The food was fine, better than fine but the evening was dragging, and she began to wonder why she had come, until she remembered.
‘Do you recall our first meeting Alison?’
‘Yes mostly,’ she replied. ‘I’ve been sort of reminiscing over the last few days.’
‘It was a Friday night during one of those very loud, rather unsophisticated discos’. 
‘I was sitting with a group of friends and you came over and started talking to me and complaining about the beer’.
James laughed’ Oh dear, I’m sorry about that. Still it was a long time ago’.
‘We were different people then’.
‘Yes of course we were. One thing led to another and we were together for quite a long time’.
Yes, thought Alison. I remember it well, the music and the movement of bodies gyrating across the room. We talked and as you say one thing led to another and we were soon a recognised couple. We went walking in the lakes and you held my hand. I went to your home and you to mine. I remember that little Italian pizza place and the park and the sweet scent of cinzano and coffee. We were together for a long time and though you could sometimes show off in front of your friends and be inconsiderate I thought you cared. Then just before we left you said we needed to ‘call it a day’ whatever that meant. I was heartbroken. You really messed up my finals and I remember crying for weeks. I couldn’t think straight. I thought I was going mad. Although I know it was stupid and you weren’t worth it…I never got over you. You messed up my whole life.
‘Tell me about your nut allergy.’
‘Well it’s not an attractive tale and how and why it developed is still a mystery to me. But it did. I’m afraid I have it quite badly. The merest particle may cause anaphylaxis shock – difficulty breathing, tightness of throat, cardiac arrest. I always carry my epi-pen in my jacket pocket.’
Alison looked at him deep in thought.‘So, you started this blog and shared information and experiences with others.’
‘Yes, it was a life saver and I’m not averse to admit that I am very proud of my achievement and the fact that I have so many followers. I’m sure it has helped a great many people.’
‘I’m sure it has.’
You are a prancing, dithering blob of arrogance she thought. What on earth did I ever see in you?
‘As you can imagine for someone who lives for food, good food, it is a terrible burden. That’s why I called the bistro ‘Nuts’ as an ironic joke. Of course, there are all sorts of regulations now concerning the use of these products and I am ultra-careful. If I ever accidently consumed a nut it would be very serious, quite possibly fatal’.
‘Oh yes’.
When dessert was delivered to the table James once again succumbed to a state of rapture. Chilled chocolate fondant, cherry puree, pistachio ice cream. He became more voluble and shared his opinions freely. Alison couldn’t tell if he was doing all this for effect or if he was always like this, which might explain why he never married. All in all, she found it slightly pretentious. She knew she was probably being unfair and was tired. That medical treatment had knocked her about.
Then there was a pause in the conversation while James savoured his cappuccino. It was going rather well he thought. Alison may have lost some of her looks, but she still had that presence, that something that had attracted him in the first place. He felt sure she was falling under his spell again and quite liked the sensation. Alas he had to go to the bathroom.
‘Will you excuse me Alison’.
She watched him waddle towards the exit. She thought he might even be humming and it sort of irritated her, though she could not say why. When he was out of sight she rose from her chair and fumbled in his jacket pocket. There it was the epi-pen. Quietly, without fuss she placed it into her handbag. Equally quietly she sprinkled a tiny amount of peanut essence into his coffee.
‘Sorry about that’ when he returned.  ‘The old prostate’.
‘I understand’. 
‘I’m really enjoying this meal.’
‘Good.’ She said. ‘I’m so glad’.

Tuesday 28 August 2018

Spirit Spinner

 by Susan A. Eames

camomile tea

 The first time I saw Jodie she was twirling on John's lawn. Her hair was long. Her feet were bare. Her dress was flimsy. A throwback from the 1960's, she looked like one of those girls dipping and swaying on the grass at Woodstock.

I stood watching her, in a trance. John came up behind me. 
'Don't be fooled, Steve,' he said. 'She's a fruitcake.'
But Jodie beguiled me. 
I moved slowly with her because I sensed she could be easily scared off by the wrong approach. By the end of John's party I had made enough progress to become her fledgling friend. Jodie told me she was an artist and invited me to her cottage.
'I made these.' Jodie showed me dream catchers, delicate and ethereal. 'I adore the idea of capturing dreams. Don't you, Steve?' She gave me a dimpled smile.
I nodded sagely and told her, 'yes.'
'That's my Spirit Spinner.' Jodie pointed to a contraption in the garden. We went outside to examine her spinner: a filigreed wire basket suspended from a tree branch by thin chains. 
'It allows my spirit to dance freely on the astral plane when I sleep,' said Jodie. She lightly touched the basket and it spun softly as if caught on a breeze. 
'Did you make this too, Jodie?'
'No, I bought it from a Wise Woman.'
'I see.' 
I was privately mad with the self-professed 'wise woman' who had fooled her into parting with money. But Jodie was young and sweet and who was I to dispel her beliefs? So I accepted her naivety and said nothing more. 
Despite my physical attraction to her, Jodie and I never became romantically attached. Certainly I was in love with her, but I knew our relationship would change if we shared a bed. Jodie possessed a magic I didn't want to destroy. 
Instead, our friendship strengthened until we were bound to each other by something greater than carnal pleasures.
When Jodie became sick my world splintered. There was nothing I could do except stay with her until the end.
Her Spirit Spinner is in my garden now. I let myself believe that Jodie is out there, dancing freely on the astral plane.

About the author 

Susan A. Eames left England over twenty five years ago to explore the world and dive its oceans. She has had travel articles and short fiction published on three continents. After several fascinating years living in Fiji she has relocated to West Cork in Ireland.

Monday 27 August 2018


by Jenny Palmer

a cup of Assam tea

Terry went fell-running whenever he and Amy rowed. It had been happening rather a lot these days. Running was a good way of working off the surplus energy and it helped him restore his presence of mind.
Recently he’d written an article exposing the evils of social media and how the tech giants had got too powerful and were manipulating people into buying products they didn’t really want or need. He’d gone on to criticise the ethos of sharing as a way of creating a better world.
‘You’re such a pessimist,’ Amy had said. ‘Glass, half empty, that’s you.’
‘Well, I am a journalist,’ he’d said. ‘So, I’m in the business of bad news. And anyway, what happens if social media gets into the wrong hands? Any old despot will be able to control our lives. 1984 here we come.’
Their arguments always ended up the same way.  They both took up extreme positions. These days they found it hard to be in the same room together.
After writing his latest article Terry had been on the receiving end of a load of hate mail. Some Internet trolls had been threatening to do all manner of nasty things to him. He would need to stay out of the house for some time to get the images out of his head. 
His mobile pinged. It was Amy.
‘It’s a miracle,’ she said.  ‘They’ve started getting the boys out.’   
‘Not that again,’ he thought. ‘Clinging on to false hope.’
‘I don’t believe in miracles,’ was the last thing he’d said before he left.
‘Have it your way,’ she’d replied.
‘Don’t you think it is a little bit ridiculous the way everyone is glued to the box watching a rescue attempt on the other side of the world,’ he’d said.  ‘They’re pinning all their hopes on this one event.  Realistically, what difference will it make to their lives?
‘There you go again,’ she’d said. ‘Ever the rationalist. You’re such a killjoy. I suppose you’d rather we all worried about the state of the world 24/7.’
‘Well, I don’t have to remind you that there is a summit meeting taking place soon between two of the world’s superpowers who just happen to own ninety percent of the world’s nuclear weapons. I should have thought that was cause enough for some concern,’ he’d quipped.
‘Trust you to focus on something like that,’ she’d said.
He’d left the house then. There was no use pursuing the conversation any further. They’d only end up rowing all night. This way he’d might be able to salvage something of the evening
Since his article had come out, he’d been on the receiving end of a load of hate mail. Some Internet trolls had been threatening to do all manner of nasty things to him. He hadn’t been able to get the images out of his head. He needed to get out into the open air. He needed to mull things over.
There was one thing about Amy. She always saw the good in everybody. She’d seen the good in him, when his life was at a low ebb. There was a time when he hadn’t been able to make his rent payments and was virtually living out of his car. She’d taken the trouble to get to know him and had encouraged him in his writing. 
‘Write about your situation,’ she’d told him. ‘Write about what it’s like to be one of the working homeless.’
It was Amy who had helped him turn his life around, he knew that. They were living together now, and he had a job with prospects. So how come she had such a low opinion of him suddenly? It was probably his own fault. He shouldn’t have brought his work home. She didn’t want to hear him banging on all day about the problems of the world.  She was starting to see him in a negative light. He was the bringer of bad news, so he was tarnished with the same brush. Somehow or other, he needed to change her perception of him.
He hadn’t told Amy this, but he was just as interested in the rescue attempt as she was. He had been following it on his laptop when he should have been working. He had witnessed that very moment when the divers had first discovered the boys, clinging to the ledge above the rising flood waters. He had shared in their joy, and then their fear of the risks involved in getting them out safely.  He knew it involved the men swimming through mud-filled waters, clambering over slippery rockfaces and squeezing through narrow, jagged crevices, all in the pitch black.  He didn’t want to miss seeing the boys come out. He texted Amy back to say he was on his way home. He would join her in the living room, so they could watch the drama unfold together.
Later that evening they both marvelled as the rescuers brought the first of the boys to the surface.
‘I told you it was a miracle,’ said Amy.
‘Well, I put it down to human agency myself,’ he said. ‘It took courage and human ingenuity, combined with precision planning and teamwork to pull that off.
‘Call it what you like’, she said, ‘but we could do with more of it in the world.’
And on that they were agreed.

 About that author

Since she returned to Lancashire in 2008, Jenny Palmer has self-published ‘Nowhere better than home’ a childhood memoir about growing up in rural Lancashire in the 1950s and 60s, its sequel ‘Pastures New’ about the heady day of the 70s and 80s and a family history called ‘Whipps, Watsons and Bulcocks: a Pendle family history.’  More recently,  in June 2018, her collection of short stories ‘Keepsake and other stories’ was published by Bridge House and is available on Amazon.



Sunday 26 August 2018

The Lost Ring

By Jo Dearden

A bottle of Merlot


The beach was crowded. The sun sparkled on the water as children splashed each other laughing and shouting. A group of teenagers were playing beach volleyball and a couple of families were playing cricket on the wet sand along the shoreline. Occasionally, a stray ball landed where Barbara was sitting on a large picnic rug reading a magazine. Her two children, Tom and Lucy were clambering over the rocks with their crabbing nets.  Their father, Mark was fiddling with the outboard engine of their small dinghy. It was working perfectly and had brought the family to the beach with no difficulty, but Mark always needed something to do, thought Barbara. He didn’t really enjoy sitting on the beach for long.
Barbara looked up from her magazine. She saw her friend Susie walking towards her carrying a straw bag and a blue and white striped beach towel. She and her husband, John were staying in the apartment next to theirs overlooking the estuary.
‘Hi Barbara. My goodness it’s hot,’ she said as she laid out her towel on the sand and plonked herself down.
‘It’s almost too hot. I’m normally sitting here in a couple of sweaters.’
‘Yes, much more like an English summer,’ Susie laughed as she started to smother herself in sun cream. ‘I don’t suppose you ever found your engagement ring.’
‘No, sadly not. I can’t believe it’s four years since it happened. Having to tell Mark’s grandmother was awful. I felt so terrible, as when we got engaged she gave it to Mark to give to me. It had been passed down to her from her mother. Mark was her favourite grandson, perhaps as he was the first.’
‘What was it like?’
‘It was a beautiful emerald surrounded by diamonds. We stupidly didn’t insure it and so had to replace it with this one, Barbara said stretching out her left hand towards Susie. ‘We couldn’t afford to buy another emerald, so I chose an aquamarine instead.’
‘it’s very pretty though,’ Susie said.
‘I’ve had a look every summer when we’ve been back here, but of course it’s hopeless. A needle in a haystack would be easier to find.’
‘I suppose some lucky person might have found it,’ Susie said.
‘It’s possible, but then it would be nice to think that it would get handed in. We told the local police at the time, but they didn’t seem that interested.’
Barbara gazed at the bobbing boats near the shore. She had tried to forget. She remembered packing up all the beach gear after a long day. The children were fractious as they were tired. One had lost a shoe and a bucket of collected shells was tipped over in the melee. It wasn’t until they were chugging back across the estuary that she looked down and realised the ring was no longer on her wedding finger. Mark was so angry. His rage had frightened the children. It made her shudder thinking about it. She had never seen him like that.
It wasn’t entirely her fault. The ring had always been slightly too big for her but when they had taken it to a jeweller to be altered, he had advised that the delicate gold band might not withstand any adjustment as it was over 100 years old. She knew she shouldn’t have worn it all the time. In fact, it was not ideal as an engagement ring. It would have been better if she had kept it to wear for special occasions.
She looked at her left hand. The aquamarine glistened in the sunlight. She actually preferred this ring as she had chosen it. She loved its pale blue translucence. It also fitted her perfectly. Barbara sighed. Mark’s grandmother had died suddenly at the end of last year. She had a fall and then got pneumonia. She had seemed more understanding than Mark, who had never quite forgiven her. At least that was the impression he gave. Thankfully, they hadn’t spoken about it for some time as they always ended up arguing.
Susie got up and walked down the beach towards John who was talking to Mark. Her blonde ponytail swished down her suntanned back as she walked. ‘Don’t mention that we've been talking about the ring,’ Barbara called after her. She didn’t want another argument after the children had gone to bed and they had drunk one too many glasses of wine. Susie always looks so perfect thought Barbara as she watched Mark laughing at something Susie must have said. She couldn’t remember the last time that he had looked at her like that.
Barbara started idly running the sand through her fingers. It felt soft and soothing as she began to form a small pile beside her. Her fingers touched something hard and cold.  It was a stone. Yet, there seemed to be something else underneath. She scrabbled at the sand. Surely, not? It couldn’t possibly be after all this time. Yet, this was roughly where she could have lost the ring all those years ago.  She grabbed a spoon from the picnic basket they had brought with them. She started to scoop the sand. She could barely believe what she was seeing. There was her ring, dirty and tarnished, but unmistakeably hers.
A shadow flitted across her. She looked up, squinting in the sunlight. She thought she could see a faint outline of an elderly lady standing behind Mark. She jumped up and ran down the beach clutching the precious ring. She was out of breath when she reached her husband. She then realised that the old woman was nowhere to be seen.
Later that evening when the children were in bed Barbara handed the ring to Mark. ‘I think you had better keep this now. I’m not sure that I want to have any more to do with it. Perhaps you would like to give it to someone else?’

About the author 

Jo Dearden trained as a journalist with the Oxford Mail and Times.  She did a degree in English Literature with creative writing as a mature student. She co-edited her local village newsletter for about ten years. She also worked for a number of years for the Citizens’ Advice Bureau. She is currently attending a creative writing class, which is stimulating her writing again. Jo lives in Suffolk.