Wednesday 31 July 2019

The Bookmark

by Mike Lee

cool beer

Thomas stared at the laptop screen as the news appeared on his Facebook page that Maurice had passed away. He let the news sink in, and became unresponsive, though not from surprise. Thomas knew Maurice was fading and was not expected to make it through the weekend. He scrolled the comments of mourning, and attendant accolades on the page, until he clicked away, and shut down. After closing his MacBook, he rose to go into the kitchen and make a fresh pot of coffee. After pouring a cup, he sat on the couch and contemplated his past with Maurice.

Thomas remembered when they worked together at the café, the one a block from Union Square that had closed nearly a decade ago. Shortly after he moved to the city Thomas got the job as a waiter.

Thomas arrived in Brooklyn with resumes and a charcoal gray suit purchased at Goodwill, with an obsessive-compulsive girlfriend and what turned out to be a delusional belief of a career in editorial during an economic recession.

Maurice trained him as a waiter. He was in a similar situation; he came to the city to be an actor. He was inspired to go into theater by his mother, who worked the stage when she was young, mostly dinner theater in the west in the late 1950s and early 60s. Maurice had laminated a newspaper clipping of her last theater notice, which he used it as a bookmark to honor her and inspire his own endeavors in the field. Thomas watched him stare occasionally at the bookmark; pulling it from whatever book he was reading. Thomas assumed this was a ritual—a good luck talisman.

The play reviewed was a production of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and the visiting professional actor was Keenan Wynn. When he was a child, Maurice told Thomas that he used to spend the evening watching television with his mother. One night, during an episode of The Odd Couple, his mother gasped, pointing at the screen.

“There he is!” She shouted. “I worked with him before you were born!” 

Spotting Keenan Wynn was a personal connection to the entertainment industry, to dramatic theater, in the years before her son’s existence, a life raising him while working as a medical assistant and transcriptionist, the latter position she held until she had a stroke.

While cleaning up the house after his mother died, Maurice found her theater notice performing Ibsen with Keenan Wynn in the Catholic Bible she kept on her nightstand. The following year, Maurice moved to New York to pursue his dreams of acting.
He sometimes wondered if they had dated. Mom did date a lot, supposedly, before she met his father several years later, in Las Vegas. The father wasn’t Keenan Wynn. Maurice didn’t know much about him other than he was an asshole and a criminal, and his father only saw him once when Maurice was a baby.

He held him briefly before handing him back to Mom and left shortly thereafter. His mother told him that she put Maurice in his crib, gathered all the photographs of his father and burned them with the fall leaves in the backyard of the house they shared with Maurice’s grandparents. 

Maurice resembled his mother, so other than a vague description that he had sandy hair; he knew nothing of his father’s appearance. Maurice did admit he shared his rage, but his dreams of fame coincided with Mom’s. Therefore, he was an actor.

These stories he told Thomas after the lunch rush, while sitting in a booth, both counting up their checks before clocking out and leaving the restaurant.

Like his mother, Maurice did a little dinner theater, performing in productions in Westchester County and Long Island, returning to work at the restaurant after the season ended.

*  *  *

Thomas got a full-time editorial job and quit the restaurant. Several months later he broke up with his girlfriend and found a sublet in the Lower East Side. Maurice helped Thomas move. It was a hot June afternoon, hauling boxes of books and record albums up the flight of stairs to a shotgun apartment in an old tenement building on Ludlow Street. Thomas paid him a hundred for his help, which helped cover some debts Maurice had. He seemed to owe someone something. Usually it was not a lot, but enough of a burden for him to notice by how desperate Maurice overworked when carrying the boxes up the marble stairs into his new apartment, and the gratitude he showed when Thomas handed him the cash.

In September of that year, Maurice stopped by the apartment and absent-mindedly left the book he had been reading behind. Thomas meant to return it, but Maurice missed the get-together, and at the following meet, Thomas forgot to bring the book. Later, Maurice was offered another part in a community production of a Tom Stoppard play in Poughkeepsie, and for reasons unknown did not return to New York. He drifted off without leaving a forwarding address. It wasn’t until months afterward that Thomas found out from a mutual friend that he called from a hospital in Cleveland. This was the last he heard about him for years.

In the meantime, life moved on for both, a Palo dug between them, uncrossed. Thomas found another girlfriend. Got married and had a child. Moved up the employment ladder, eventually became a senior editor at a men’s magazine. He continued to write, publishing a few short stories and for two years had an agent and a novel making the rounds of publishers. There was promise to be had, though opportunities turned out to be badly aimed arrows.

Eventually the couple divorced. Thomas moved to Brooklyn, with weekend visits, support payments by check on the fifteenth. Kid grew up, went to college. The ex-wife moved to California. They no longer spoke; there was no longer anything to talk about.
When he and Maurice reconnected online, Thomas offered to mail it to him. Maurice politely responded no. Life had changed, he said, but Maurice noted the thoughtfulness in Thomas holding on to it. Later, Maurice revealed the extent of his illness, wishing Thomas well.

Thomas went to the bookshelf and retrieved the bookmark, placed in a trade paperback of Hermann Hesse’s Beneath the Wheel. This wasn’t the book Maurice had brought with him, and Thomas no longer remembered what it was. 

Thomas stared at the notice he held, contemplating how significant this old theater notice was for Maurice, and earlier for his mother. For Thomas, the bookmark was a reminder of why he came to New York, where his own aspirations were eventually sidetracked. Despite some occasional successes, they were not the ones he initially wanted. He dwelt on the notion of a mother and son eventually crushed by the demands of the life they were handed by fate and decision to have him instead of the one they wanted.

He placed the bookmark down beside the computer at his desk and went back to work writing another story. He paused to glance at the bookmark: I think Cheyenne, Wyoming. Ibsen, A Doll’s House, starring Keenan Wynn. The reviewer noted Catherine Lyvere’s role as Nora. At that, Thomas returned to work.

Tuesday 30 July 2019

Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot.

by Tina Burton 

hot chocolate

It started in the jacuzzi.

After a nice long swim in the hotel pool, while my husband stayed at the bar with a drink, I got out and sat in the jacuzzi with the bubbles on full blast. After about five minutes, a man and his wife joined me. His wife and I chatted amiably – as people staying in the same hotel often do – and I noticed the man giving me the occasional furtive appreciative glances, which made me glad I’d worn my new sexy costume.
After chatting some more, I wished them a good stay, got out, had a quick shower and went into the sauna. I was the only one in there, so I relaxed with my eyes closed, enjoying the heat.
Then the door opened.

‘Mind if I join you?’

I opened my eyes. ‘No, come on in,’ I said with a smile.

We sat side by side, then I felt a gentle stroke on my thigh and a whisper in my ear.

 ‘Have you ever had sex in a sauna?’

I shook my head, my breath coming out in gasps as the stroking fingers explored further. Gentle, teasing kisses trailed across my lips and down my throat. Then my costume straps were slipped down over my shoulders and the kisses became more urgent as they sought out my breasts. Fingers delved inside my costume, making me moan with pleasure. We were frantic as we gave in to the sheer lust that overtook us. The combination of heat – not just from the sauna – and that exciting, scary feeling that we could be caught at any moment, made it one of the best sex sessions I’ve ever had.

Once it was over, we parted with the agreement that neither of us would ever mention it.

When my husband and I went down to dinner that evening, I nodded politely to the couple in acknowledgement, and the woman and I shared a secret smile. I had to turn away as the memory of her soft lips exploring my body sent a ripple of pleasure through me.

About the author

Tina K Burton writes novels, short stories, articles, flash fiction, and the occasional haiku.

Her first two novels were signed with a publisher, but once her contracts ended, she decided to go it alone.

Her first novel Chapters of Life, her second book The Love Shack, her anthology of short stories Eclectic Dreams, and her latest novel Hello from Another Time are all available on Amazon in kindle format and paperback.

She's got stories in several anthologies, she's sold dozens of articles and short stories to women's magazines, and she's also produced a collection of true greyhound rehoming stories, with the proceeds going to greyhound charities.

She is currently working on a sequel to Hello from Another Time.


Monday 29 July 2019


by Allison Symes

cranberry juice

I’m not going to the bloody doctors.  I couldn’t tell you how often Sarah goes on about it.  When will she take the hint?  I do know my own mind.  I swear she thinks I’m going loopy.  She says not but why else would she want me to go to the doctors when there’s nothing wrong with me?

It’s perfectly normal for older people to forget things sometimes.  Hell, she’s done so herself.  She forgot my birthday last week.  I was really hurt by that.  I was bloody annoyed when she told me my birthday is next month.  I should know my own birthday.

Oh my cup of tea has gone cold.  Did I forget to drink it?  Did I forget to put the kettle on at all and just poured cold water into my mug?  I did do that last Wednesday but I’d had a stressful time of it arguing with Sarah again and well that kind of thing is bound to make you forget odd things, isn’t it?  I didn’t tell Sarah I did this.  She’d have seen it as proof I do need to go and see Dr. Page.

Sarah keeps telling me I shouldn’t be afraid to go to the doctors.  Dr. Page is sympathetic, is bound to have treated patients with memory loss before and there is more awareness now of “mind” issues.  Sarah says this covers everything from depression to dementia.  Sarah is right on all of this but how it applies to me I couldn’t tell you.  I am perfectly healthy.  Sarah says I’m in denial.  There is something wrong when your own daughter tries to tell you what to do.

And I’m simply not having that.  Sarah ought to be pleased.  If ever there was proof I do know my own mind, this is it, surely.

I should know this place.  I was born near here.  The old oaks are still there.  The character bungalows and detached houses are still there.  I don’t recognise any of the people walking along the street.  I used to know everyone here.  I would always stop and chat.  It brightened up my days especially when I was at home alone with a small child. 

I look again.  Nothing is coming to mind.  I tell myself to relax.  Sarah says I have been through a lot.  She’s my daughter.  That’s what she tells me.  She says my name is Mary Davies. I can’t remember right now. I know she’s important somehow. But my mind works like that these days.  One moment I have perfect recall, yet in another moment there is nothing there.  It is infuriating.  But I’ll go to the park, then to the coffee shop and maybe things will start coming back to me.  I need to calm down if I’m to have any hope of remembering anything. And I want to remember as much as I can.  I just know it’s important I try and I thought coming here might help.

I smile as I get to the park gates and look across at the lake that lies in the middle of the grounds.  It is always beautiful here.  I like the autumn best when the golden leaves flutter down on top of the water and the sunlight catches them.  My mind may be playing tricks on me but I’ve always had an appreciation of nature and I don’t think that will ever leave me.  At least I hope it doesn’t.  Sarah says the loss of memory might be temporary.  It doesn’t have to be dementia.  I think she’s trying to cheer herself up.  You don’t like to think of someone close to you coming down with that, do you?  She’s hoping I’ve got some sort of water infection.  That can have funny effects on people apparently.  Maybe she’s right. I hope she is.  I do know infections can be treated.

Sarah will pick me up later on.  We’ve got to see the doctor.  I can’t remember why.  But Sarah says it’s important.  And I’ll go to keep her happy.  She is nice to me.  I like that.  David wasn’t nice.  It’s funny I can remember that only too well.

I walk towards the lake.  A middle aged brunette comes towards me.  She looks concerned.
‘Are you all right, Mum?’

‘Yes, dear.  Nice day isn’t it?’  At least she’s friendly. A bit too friendly if you ask me.  I don’t know why she’s calling me Mum.  That’s Sarah’s privilege.  And the new people next door give me funny looks.  Sarah says they’re not new people.  They’ve lived there for 20 years.  I don’t remember seeing them before.

‘It’s just that you’re still wearing your nightie.  You’ve never gone out in your nightie before.’

I look down at what I’m wearing.  The lady’s right.  I’m still in my pink nightdress.  Why did I do that?  Sarah will be cross when she finds out.  And how does this lady know I’ve not done this before?  Who does she think she is?  A clairvoyant?

I look back at the lady.  I don’t know what to do now.  Given her expression I don’t think she does either.  If anything I think she looks sad.  Don’t know why.  She hasn’t come out in her nightie for some bizarre reason.

I keep feeling as if something is missing, as if someone has taken something from me. Perhaps this lady can help me find it.  I smile vaguely.  I don’t know what else to do.

‘Would you like to come with me?’

I give the lady a look.  ‘No.  I don’t go off with strangers.  I’ll wait for my husband.  He’ll sort things out.’

‘Mum, you don’t have a husband any more.  Dad walked out on us when I was little.  He found a younger model.  Couldn’t face you, he said or so you told me.’

I stare at the lady.  She is a clairvoyant.  I don’t know this woman yet everything she says is true.  She must be a mind reader.

‘Is there someone else I could call for you?’

That’s better.  The lady is being more respectful now.  Sarah told me once that carers of dementia patients often “play along” with whatever it is their charges come out with to help keep them calm.  Why am I thinking that now?  Where did that thought come from?  Is this lady doing this to me?  How dare she!

‘Sarah.  My daughter.’ I give the lady a look.  ‘I can’t remember what her number is.’  And I can’t.  I never did have much of a head for numbers.

‘Do you remember where she lives?’

‘I think it’s Eastleigh.  I know I can’t walk there.  Sarah says I’m not supposed to go off with strangers anyway.’

The lady smiles.  ‘That’s because I’m sensible, Mum.  I am Sarah.’

I look at her.  ‘You’re not.  I know my own daughter.  You could call her so she comes out and takes me home.’

I sit down on the bench just inside the park gates.  Maybe if I just sit and think for a while, Sarah’s number will come back to me so the lady can call her for me.  Sometimes my mind co-operates.  I just need to give it time.  And I suppose that’s fair enough.  I’m no spring chicken now.  Everything ages and tires and slows down.

The lady sits besides me.  ‘I see you’ve got your handbag.  Would you have your daughter’s number in there?’

I clutch my bag to me.  Sarah did warn me about people wanting to make off with my bag.  It’s such a shame as this lady looks nice.  I suppose the best con artists do.

‘You’re not taking my bag,’ I say but the lady looks sad.

‘I don’t want your bag, love.  Why don’t you look inside and see if you can find an address book or something?’

I nod.  That does sound like a good idea.  Why didn’t I think of that?  My common sense seems to be disappearing, something else which seems to be slipping away from me.  It feels sometimes as if there’s something inside my brain taking everything away.  Sarah says the doctor can help.  I can only hope she’s right.  But I’ve got to find Sarah.  She’s lost.  I’ve got to find her.

I rummage in my bag.  I hear whispering and look up sharply.  There’s a young man standing in front of the lady.  Must be about 19, reminds me of Sarah’s son.   I guess that would make him my grandson.  Why didn’t I remember that?

‘Gran’s having a bad day, Mum,’ the young man says but he stops on seeing me look at him.

‘I’m fine, thank you, young man.  Stop talking about me as if I’m not here.’

The lady looks at my bag.  ‘Did you find an address book, Mum?’  She turns to the young man.

‘Eddie, I need to “go along” with this and see if I can calm Mum down so she looks up our number.  I will then “dial” it, walk off a short distance and then come back to pick Gran up and take her home.  She doesn’t know who I am right now.  I don’t think she knows who you are either.’

I glare at the lady.  I don’t know why she seems to think I’ve suddenly gone deaf.  I know who my daughter and grandson are.  Course I do. 

I shake my head and hand my bag over to the lady.  I’m feeling tired suddenly.  Why is everything suddenly too much?  I want to give up.  What has been stolen from me can stay stolen.  It is too much trouble to fight to get it back.  I’ll tell Sarah so and have done.  This lady looks like Sarah.  I’ll tell her.  It’ll have to do.

The nice young man helped escort me home when Sarah turned up.  She’d just been around the corner on another bench it appears.  Silly girl.  Fancy doing that.  And she worries about me.

I’m going to the doctors with Sarah on Monday. 

I never go out anywhere in my nightie.  It lacks dignity.  I can’t have this happen again.
And maybe I’ll still be proved right.  Stress can make you forget things.  The doctor can treat me for stress.

Sarah hasn’t argued.  That makes a nice change.  I guess she’s just glad I’ve agreed to go.

Sarah went home an hour ago.  She was kind. 

I’ve just stopped crying.  I started after she left.  I still have some pride even if my mind is playing tricks on me. I look at my reflection.  I don’t look good and I feel worse.

Oh the doctor was also nice.  Said dementia couldn’t be confirmed at this stage.  Also said it couldn’t be ruled out.  I’ve got to have further tests.  My life as I’ve known it has gone.  Sarah did try to tell me gently it had already gone.  That I’ve got to face the future.

Yes, a future with no bloody memory.

The one thing I do know is I’m not going out in my nightie again.  I still can’t believe I did that. I still can’t believe why I failed to recognise my daughter and grandson.  Why did I think David would come back for me?   He was never reliable, even early on in our marriage. 

I suppose if I can’t have my old life back, I could have a new one.  What can I do to make it a life I want?  If dementia is there, it will get me in the end.  It gets anyone with it.  But I could fight it.  If I’m going to lose, I’ll put that defeat off as long as possible.  If I can win anything, I might keep some of my memories.  Some is better than nothing. 

Sarah says we can link up with the dementia people for more support.  It’s a good idea.  I’ll need help. If I can’t have the life I planned - more travel and to spend more time with Sarah and Eddie - I will have what I can get. 

And dementia, if I’ve got it, can damn well wait before it destroys me.  I will not go down without a bloody good fight. 

I did tell Sarah that.  She said she was proud of me. 

It was the only thing to make me smile today.  Perhaps something better will make me smile tomorrow.

About the author

Allison Symes is published by Chapeltown Books, Cafelit, and Bridge House Publishing, amongst others.  She is a member of the Society of Authors and Association of Christian Writers.  A round-up of what she writes where is at and she blogs for Chandler’s Ford Today -

Sunday 28 July 2019

Don’t Forget The Freddos Dad

by Tim Strugnell


Parking the car close to the store saves time
In a hurry tonight for those things I forgot on her Christmas list 
What’s this no A? A change of name?
Welcome to Sinsbury’s 
Ah broken light! No time to replace it I suppose 
Automatic doors, they’re new, not seen them before                                           
That’s progress for you
Don’t forget the Freddos dad

A big trolley with a squeaky wheel the last one left
The store full of men with looks of panic on their faces
Down the fruit and veg aisles first
Amazing combinations of vibrant colours                        
Oranges, lemons, strawberries, pomelos, persimmons                         
What? That needs googling 
Thought that was a building firm with an overpaid chief executive 
Strange shapes, butternut squash                                              
Romanesco broccoli
Stalks of Brussel Sprouts! Why Brussels? 
Originally grown in Belgium in the 13th century.
Always reminds me of the joke. 
What’s the difference between a sprout and a bogey?
I’ve never seen a child eat a sprout!
Don’t forget the Freddos dad

Nuts, nuts? More kinds than you can imagine.
An anaphylactic shock waiting to happen 
Marmalade’s next oh no, more decisions,
Smooth, thin cut, medium cut, thick cut, coarse cut, I wish I was half cut,
Don’t forget the Freddos dad 

Bakery department, wonderfully tempting smells 
Freshly baked bread, shapes, sizes, colours  
Tiger bread or giraffe bread?
Cakes, simple, ornate, stunning 
Millionaires shortbread, how much?
Cake decorations, sparkly, glittery
Multiple ingredients, choices to be made
Organic, white, whole grain,
Self-raising, perfect for the morning 
Spelt f-l-o-u-r not f-l-o-w-e-r
Don’t forget the Freddos dad  

Flowers for every occasion 
Births, marriages ,deaths, festive greetings 
Saying sorry, I love you, I miss you, I want you, come back!
Plants for a longer lasting effect? Impact?
Always the poinsettia (also known as Christmas Star)  a commercially important plant species of the diverse spurge family. The species is indigenous to Mexico so they say, plenty over here though!
Cards for everyone, funny, serious, sad, (dis)tasteful
Magazines, for the woman who has everything                                           
For the child who wants to be a princess 
The superhero 
Dad mags, golf, football, music 
The festive Radio Times, full of repeats
Full of repeats!
Don’t forget the Freddos dad           

Shampoos, lids off, tempting odours 
What to choose?
  • For Dandruff: Tea tree, Lavender
  • For Hair Growth: Peppermint, Cedarwood
  • For Odor Removal: Rose Otto, Lemongrass 
  • For Oil Control: Peppermint, Cypress,
  • For Dry Hair: Cedarwood, Ylang ylang
  • For Scalp Acne: Tea tree, Lavender,
  • For Reducing Hair Fall: Rosemary, Frankincense
  • To Kill Lice: Tea tree, Citriodora,
No jojoba?
Too much choice! What about Simple?
Don’t forget the Freddos dad 

Shower gels oh no!! 
See shampoos above
Stick to the essentials range
The pharmacy
Headache tablets required, only 15 types to choose from
Move on quickly to the alcohol 
Go Sober For October no longer a problem 
Just ginger beer and soda water then
Now fill the trolley with Prosecco, real ale and a good rum
Bottled water, why?
Nothing wrong with tap and no plastic waste
Don’t forget the Freddos dad 

Venture now into the arctic aisles
More bracing than parts of the Arctic Circle
5.4C (41.7F) in the meat aisle of Sinsbury’s (Daily Mail)
The coldest of all supermarkets
No meat today, unappetising lumps of cold flesh
That’s just the Sinsbury shelf stackers
Turkey? They can stuff that this year, we’ll just have chicken breasts.
Dairy or non dairy counter
Milk, milk?
Cow, goat, pasteurised, organic, long life, almond, coconut, cashew, rice, oat, hemp, flax
Don’t forget the Freddos dad 

"Good evening, this is a customer information announcement. The time is 9:45 and the store will be closing in 15 minutes. Will all remaining customers please make their way to the checkout to finalise their purchases? Thank you, and thank you for shopping at Sinsbury’s and a happy Christmas to you all”
Don’t forget the Freddos dad 

No need to panic buy 
Multi coloured bags of potatoes fried in various ways
Hand cooked? How does that work? Must take ages.
Maybe forget Christmas lunch, start with prawn cocktail crisps for the starter, roast chicken, brussel sprout, smokey bacon, cheese and onion, plain and vegetable crisps, sorted, no cooking required!
Tea, hundreds to choose from
Organic decaf a safe bet
Fish, line caught salmon
What sort of line might that be?
Oops nearly forgot the mince pies, such a choice, 
Deep filled, all butter, iced, gluten free, cranberry and white chocolate, ecclefechan, what the heck are they?
And now the brandy butter
Don’t forget the Freddos dad 

At last to the till
Dig out the recycled Waitrose bags
A better class of non-recyclable plastic 
Rapid packing trying to beat the checkout assistant 
“Have you got a Nectar card sir?”
The points are handy, I bought my last lawn mower with those at Argos 
“Thank you sir, happy Christmas, see you later.”
Why do they say that?
Job adverts on the way out
Stock replenisher, checkout operator, same job new title, progress?

The security guard,”Goodnight sir, happy Christmas, see you later.”
Why? Is he coming home?
Taking his job too seriously 
Back to the car
Five bags of shopping 
It’s now dark                                                                       
Just the petrol station, the smell of diesel
Fill the car
Into the shop, a hot chocolate and a packet of gum
Pay the bill
“Thank you sir, happy Christmas, see you later.”
Not again, why?
A Sinsbury’s party at home maybe?

Back home, a successful mission accomplished.......................

Damn I’ve forgotten the bloody Freddos!!!


Saturday 27 July 2019

Too Many Masks

by Jim Bates

hot black coffee

Bam! Bam!! Bam!!! "Open up, it's the police."
            Oh, shit, thought, Bryan, what have I done now? He got out of bed, stumbled over a shoe and fell to the floor. Damn. He got up cursing his fall and, while he was at it, his hangover. "I'm on my way. Hold on."
            "Hurry  up," came the voice outside his apartment. Impatient was putting it mildly. The guy sounded mad and pissed off. "We need to talk. Now."
            As Bryan crossed the living room he tried to piece together last night. It only was coming back in fragments. Oh, yeah, the Halloween party. The last party in a long line of parties he'd attended wearing a mask.
            Wearing masks. Once he'd gotten in the habit of doing it, it really wasn't really all that weird, wearing, say, a Tricky Dick Nixon mask to a party. His friends even thought it was pretty cool, saying, "Man, you are some strange dude, you and your masks. The next party is in two weeks. Will you be there?"
            The crowd he hung out with liked weirdness so he was happy to oblige. "Absolutely," he told them. "No problem." It was nice to be well thought of. Besides, it was a perfect opportunity to hide. Put on a mask and be someone different. What was not to like?
            For one whole year he'd done that, worn masks to parties, and by now had accumulated quite a drawer full of them: a ghoul, Yoda, Frankenstein, Elvis, a unicorn, Tricky Dick Nixon, even a parrot. It had been fun hiding behind whatever mask he'd chosen to wear, acting out and being crazy. But it all had came to a head last night.
            He'd gone to a friend's Halloween party wearing a mummy mask he'd bought a local novelty store and wrapped in strips of a sheet, which he thought had added a nice touch. Once at the party everyone thought he looked great. Even that lady he'd met, Batgirl. Then they'd started drinking, the two of them, and partying hard. Then this, the aftermath. He couldn't even remember how he'd gotten home, or, for that matter, where his strips of sheet had ended up.
            If it had been a nightmare or even a bad dream, that would have been one thing, but it wasn't, it was real, and that made it even worse. He'd awoken in the early dawn, dragged himself from bed and made his way shaking to the bathroom where he'd fallen to his knees and thrown up into the toilet, flushed it and threw up again. Nice way to start the day, he'd thought grimly. What a credit to the human race you are.
            Then he'd made his way to the sink where he splashed water on his face. His mouth felt drier than the desert, his swollen tongue stuck to its roof. He took a gulp of water, swirling it around but it barely helped. He swallowed and fought back a dry heave. Then he dared himself to look at the mirror, horrified at what he saw - puffed up face, dark bags under bloodshot eyes, hair a mess. Himself a mess. One more night of drinking. One more day looming ahead hung-over and wasted. He couldn't go on like this. He had to clean up his act. He had to quit pretending and hiding behind a mask and face himself for what he really was - a poor excuse for a human being.
            More pounding brought him back to reality. Bam! Bam!! Bam!! What was this all about?
            He finally got to the door and opened it, hanging on the frame for balance. "What's up?"
            A large policeman with a handlebar moustache stood in the door way, frowning, "We understand you were with a girl last night. We need to talk. She's missing."
            Holy shit. He stepped back. "Sure," he said, voice shaking. "Come on in."
            The cop was just stepping inside when he received a phone call. He listened for a moment, then said, "Okay. I'm on my way." He turned to Bryan and said, "We don't need you. She's been found. She was at a girlfriend's."
            He looked hard at Bryan, then took a quick look at his apartment: dirty clothes on the floor, crusted dishes scattered everywhere, a faint aroma of vomit in the air. He shook his head sadly and said, "A word of advice? You better clean up your act, buddy."
             Bryan closed the door and looked back into his disaster of an apartment. The one bright spot was the framed picture of his parents he kept on his desk. It had been taken at his twenty first birthday almost two years ago, just before they'd been killed by a drunk driver on a busy stretch of highway on a local interstate. He owed them better than this.
            He noticed his mummy mask on the floor and picked it up. Then he went to his desk  took a pair of scissors from the drawer and methodically cut the mask to shreds. It felt good to destroy it. He had to get his act together and this was the only way he could think of to begin. A plan developed. He reached in the drawer for another mask and started cutting. He'd destroy them all. Then he'd figure out a way to live without them. Hopefully his friends would understand, but if they didn't, too bad. This was something he had to do. It wasn't much but it was a beginning. He felt better already.

About the author 

Jim lives in a small town twenty miles west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His stories have appeared in CafeLit, The Writers' Cafe Magazine, A Million Ways, Cabinet of Heed, Paragraph Planet, Mused - The BellaOnline Literary Review, Nailpolish Stories, Ariel Chart and Potato Soup Journal. You can also check out his blog to see more:

Friday 26 July 2019

Living Our Lives

by Dawn DeBraal

orange juice

 Gertie rolled her eyes. She couldn’t believe Drake walked out on Olivia again. She was angry. Why couldn’t the two of them ever get together? She was sick to death of it. She had a good mind to write to the producer of Living Our Lives, a daytime soap opera. She had her pencil in hand as the credits at the end of the show started rolling. She jotted down Seth Andrews on paper. She was going to give him a piece of her mind.  How, long did Mr. Andrews feel the followers of Living Our Lives, would put up with this nonsense?  They did this every month. Olivia would get into a car accident Drake would rescue her taking her to the hospital. He would be at her side the whole time she was relearning to walk, and just when they could finally be together, Drake leaves for some noble cause leaving Olivia in the lurch, again. Gertie was fuming, she pulled out the spiral bound notebook and started to write.
Dear Mr. Andrews,
I have been a fan of Living Our Lives since the beginning, and I am sick to death of the Oliva and Drake merry go round you’ve put us on. Just how long do you think we are going to stand by waiting for the two of them to get together? I am finished waiting as of today. You will not toy with me any further. I hope all the other fans tell you the same.
Gertrude C. Clemens
            When Hank Clemons came home, he asked Gertrude why there was a letter taped to the front door? She told him she was sending the letter to the producer of a show Living Our Lives. She was sick of them messing with the plot. Everyone knew Olivia and Drake were meant to be together, except the person who produced the show. She was done with it.
Hank looked at his wife incredulously. Was she serious? They couldn’t go anywhere between one and two p.m. Monday through Friday because Gertrude had to watch Living Our Lives. Hank knew his wife had to be extremely angry to abandon her show. It was an addiction.   
Hank decided to test his wife the next day. He asked Gertrude out to lunch at twelve-thirty. Gertrude immediately started to refuse to go, when she realized she had given up Living Our Lives.  This might be a good distraction for the first day, a luncheon date with her husband. Gertrude agreed to go. Hank was impressed with her resolve. They went to Loretta’s Diner. Walking in they sat down at a corner table when the theme song of Living Our Lives came on the television in the other corner. Gertrude hid her eyes.
“Hank!” Gertrude hissed.
“Yes?” he responded.
“We have to go!” she gathered her purse and stood up.
“Why?” he asked confused.
“They are watching the show. I can’t bring myself to not watch it!” Hank looked up. Everyone in the diner turned facing the television with their eyes glued to Living Our Lives. Would Olivia and Drake finally get together?  
Hank followed his wife out of the diner before anyone waited on them. He drove to the nearest fast-food place ordering their food through a speaker shaped like a dorky-faced boy.  Setting up a picnic lunch at the nearest park, Hank laughed when Gertrude talked about the desire to watch that stupid soap opera today after her resolve to ditch it. Sitting under the shade trees talking and eating lunch with her husband was a much more than watching Olivia cry over Drake another day. Gertrude had made it through her first day of withdrawal from the Living our Lives show. She would have to make that choice every weekday for the rest of her life to break her addiction. 

Thursday 25 July 2019


by Paula R C Readman

Endeavour gin, made in Whitby, North Yorkshire

From the dawn of conception, I’ve always been there. I’m in your blood, in your mouth and even your hair. There’s no escaping from what I know.

Good or bad, I’m the key that unlocks your hidden past. How sweet.  Everyone wants to know where they came from. Slave or Slave master, I don’t really care. I’ll lay your crimes bare.

I’ll bring families together, or tear them apart. It has taken humanity thousands of years to unpick my secret code. Between God and the Devil, only I know everything about you. You see, I’m your genetic coding, your DNA.

Wednesday 24 July 2019


by Anne-Marie Swift

an espresso martini

“I used to know her,” I tell the girl I’m with, though it’s not strictly true. Turns out I didn’t know her at all. Her, or her friends, that big, bold group of men, mostly gay, all loud and comfortable and confident. 

It’s five years, maybe more, since it all broke up and now there she is, sipping an expresso martini in the bar I always go to. 

“Go and talk to her”, says Charlotte. And so I do. It’s surprisingly easy. She sips her drink – she didn’t use to drink at all – and I ask about her friends. She talks to me as if we’ve never been apart. 

"Alex and Vesey, it was a mess. Remember the Bonfire Night part? I think that evening was the beginning of the end. When someone puts themselves deliberately right in the way of the fireworks like that, they're either unhappy with their relationship or unhappy with life."
She pauses. 

"Aren't they?"

Silence. She's waiting for an answer from me. This was always her trick. Throw the unanswerable question at you. I can't believe she's referring to that night as if it was just a part of the flow, just another evening. 

I haven’t forgotten that Bonfire Night. It was me that wanted a fireworks party. I wanted the show if it, now that we had this fantastic house. I wanted the neighbours to look out over our big garden and see fireworks going off and dozens of fashionable people drinking champagne and having a fantastic time.

I needed her to make it happen, though. I didn't have enough friends. I had the money, I bought some great fireworks. I needed her to make the fireworks speak. 

She carries on talking to me about that evening. She thinks she's reminding me of what happened, what was going on that evening but it’s all new. I didn't see anything except her, and as it turns out I wasn't even seeing her clearly.

"You noticed, didn't you, Mark, after all his suicide attempts, right at the other end of the garden safely away from the fireworks? He told me that night, told me about his suicide attempts and how ashamed he was when he failed. He'd taken all this booze and pills and then he woke up and realised it hadn't worked - that's what he said, he said it hadn't worked. So he rang the ambulance service, and when he got through to them, he told them what he'd done and he was so embarrassed that he'd done this thing, and they had to come out to him, and there were people dying of real illnesses, and so he said "Don't put the sirens on or anything, I don't want anyone to stop their cars for me".

She laughs, and takes a hard drag at her cigarette. “I think he wants to live." she adds.

"So everyone's still alive then?" I say.

"Oh, yeah" she says, witheringly "They're still alive".  As if alive was not really much of an achievement.

We are quiet for a moment and I think of going back to my table. 

It was her best do ever. This group of people that would have travelled to any party she gave, her posse, they were all there.

I think back to her friend Mark. I see his cat-shaped face, pointy front teeth discoloured from smoke. I see him running his hand over his baldy head with sensual pleasure, drawing attention to the masses of holes in his pierced ears and the one single long long black painted fingernail on his little finger. 

And then he sees me looking, knows how gauche I am, how uncool, how Stella is the only cool thing about me and he says "So, Harry, wanna shag?" and they all fall around laughing. I was lost with those people, their smart humour, their way of laughing with you but also, just a little bit, at you. 

I think back to Alex and Vesey. They were the long-stay relationship of that flighty, movable, troubled group. They'd been together for ten years and their relationship was a source of wonder, amazement, and constant gossip for the rest of the group. They were an extrovert open couple, having people over to dinner six nights out of seven, their phone ringing constantly, and talking talking talking. It seemed to me that there was nothing they didn't talk about, and nobody they didn't talk to. Even I knew what went on in their bedroom. I wondered just how much Stella told them about what went on in the bedroom she shared with me.

Alex and Vesey arrived late, which was usual and separate which was not so usual. Vesey came first, with a couple of young gay guys nobody recognised, and pissed, well-pissed, that kind of risky-drunk when you know that anything could happen. It could be brilliant or awful. Vesey and his new, drunk friends were like fireworks themselves. They could flare up in beauty or take your eye out. 

Alex arrived later, alone. He had walked. He didn't want to go with Vesey, Vesey was too pissed to be seen with, he said.

Alex and Vesey met in the kitchen, our beautiful blaring white kitchen now full of people I barely knew, all making the house look untidy and yet more beautiful. There was Vesey, short dark hair, pale skin, those Celtic blue eyes slightly bulging with excitement, drink, defiance. Denim jacket, tight shirt, expensive jeans. 

There was Alex, face to face with him, eye to eye, nose to nose. Alex also with short cropped hair, ginger-blonde, light blue eyes against Vesey’s dark blue, they glared at each other. The whiteness of the kitchen glared back. 

"I'm going home" Alex said clear and sober to Vesey “if you have another drink".
There were just enough people around to make it humiliating for Alex when Vesey slowly, deliberately, poured a pretty long, pretty strong drink into his glass. His eyes were hard. One or two laughed when Vesey said “Shame you won't be around for the fireworks."

Later, Alex has gone, the new drunk friends are leaving and Vesey's too pissed to be funny. He's scary instead, stumbling down the steps to the garden, the beautiful landscaped garden, crushing the expensively planted future flower beds, swearing at the firework display. 

"We've had Prozac" he shouts, across the London gardens "and that was no fucking good either". Was anyone watching? 

He was wrong though. The fireworks were good. I’d spent a fortune on them, and I did stuff I don't usually do. I read the backs of all the packets. I shut the door to one of the many, many rooms in our fantastic house and I read all the packets and I really tried to visualize how each firework would look in the night sky above our beautiful garden, and I choreographed them. I actually fucking choreographed them.

I did it for Stella, of course. She loved fireworks.

Not long after we first met, we were sitting in the cosy little house she rented. It was a Saturday evening, it had been shovelling it down with rain all day and now we were lying on the sofa, the telly on, smoking a gentle spliff, as she lay in my arms. Suddenly we heard a succession of loud dull bangs from outside.
I thought it was a car backfiring, and then I thought it was a bomb.
Stella realised though, straight away. She was up and out of that room and running down the road, and I was running along with her, following the plumes of stars in the sky. It wasn't far to one of the greens they have in Cambridge where all the foreign students hang out in summer and people scurry across in winter.
And there were the fireworks. God knows what it was in aid of. The fireworks were pretty good, as far as I could tell at the time. Plenty of big bangs, some moments when the sky seemed to be ready to break. Lots of colours. Lots going on - you'd look over to one side of the sky as something exploded, then glance, for no reason, over to the other side and see some pink trail of stars just quietly making its way across the sky.
She was gripping my arm so tight and I looked around at her. Her face was turned up to the sky. She was absolutely and utterly entranced, as if she was flying across the sky, breaking up into a thousand pieces like one of those fireworks. Tears poured down her face.
I persuaded her to move in with me not long after.
We had a good relationship. Dinners out, dinners in, her meeting my friends - not many of them, it didn't take long. Me gradually learning to establish and respect the complex landscape of her friends and family, their lovers and interrelationships.
Sex. Loads of sex. She was tireless, indefatigable, sometimes almost desperate. But who's complaining? We never stopped having sex, every day, sometimes twice or more. The sex was always there, even right at the end. Even as our relationship was actually falling apart, she could still suddenly wrench my trouser buttons open and make me come in her hand, for no apparent reason.
And always her friends, that terrible bitchy glamorous group of friends. The midnight calls she took on her mobile phone. The long Sunday afternoons when all I heard was her voice saying "No ... but no   he must understand that, surely" and they would talk and talk and talk to her in between, and I didn't know and couldn't imagine what they were saying. She'd come off the phone and be weary and uncommunicative.
It wasn't that I was jealous. I just wanted to protect her from the demands of her friends. They asked too much of her.
Holidays together. I loved the holidays most of all, they were the times when I felt as though I really had her. The friends were far away, work was far away and it was just me and Stella, sunshine, food and sex.
On a Canary Island one New Year's Eve, we sat in an outside cafe on the main town square and whiled away the time till midnight. We had thought that there would be something happening in the town square but it quiet, and we were chilly and a little bored. I thought we could see the new year in back at the hotel, in bed. 
Then, about five minutes before midnight, they started to pour into the square. They came from every direction. All ages, every type of person. People in evening dress, glinting diamonds or something like diamonds, carrying bottles of champagne or fizzy Freixenet. Families with children. Young people in jeans.  They came pouring in, as if they had been held behind barriers somewhere and just now been released into the square.
It was still quiet, joyful but restrained, happy but quiet, when the church bells started to chime and the crowd went wild, counting down together until on the last chime every single one of those bottles of champagne was opened, and everyone in the square grabbed each other and kissed and laughed and shouted and pushed champagne at each other, at us. It was mayhem.
After that, just as the evening seemed so good, after that, the fireworks started over the sea. These fireworks were more than good. They were wild. They were amazing. There were times I thought the sea would explode. I've never seen so much colour, so many stars, such a total total mad riot of it. Stella was laughing and crying all at the same time. There was even the odd tear at the corner of my manly dry and tearless eyes.
When the sky had finally broken into a million pieces and the sea was a shattered mass of blue, when the families had stopped cheering and the kids had been rounded up to their parents, when the last speck of colour had disappeared out of the sky so that only the safe old stars sat up there, then she let me kiss her.
I had so much wanted to kiss her all the time it was happening. And now I was kissing her. A curious kiss, a remote kiss. She was kissing a feeling she had had about the fireworks, not me.
But of course I forgot it and a couple of hours later we were lying in bed and I'd just had my orgasm and we were both laughing.
We went on. We were back in England and we were living together, and I got this great job offer. The money was good and I’d travel away from home. I missed Stella but I wondered if she even noticed I was gone.  Her friends were around more. There were more phone calls in the middle of the night.
One time, we'd had dinner, been to this restaurant I knew she loved, and when we got back into the car, her mobile phone rang. She took the call, of course, and then she said to me “I’ll be a while”.  I thought she meant she’d call them back, but when we got home she took the car keys from me and disappeared into the London night. 
I hated that phone.

It was her new friend. When she had a new friend it was as if she'd met a new lover, she jumped to their every call. So, when Daniel rang and there was something going on, she didn't even stop to explain, she just got into the car and left me there feeling a fool.
I was good at the new job and I worked all the hours and then I got a better job and then I got us this flat, this immense crazy tall, empty white flat. And if you would have seen her face when she first walked into that huge white ballroom of a front room, with the January sun gushing through the windows and running around in pools on the wooden floor, if you would have seen her face, you would have lain down and died for her too.

She'd never had anything like it, had she? What had she ever had in her life?

I had to give her everything I could. We moved into that fantastic flat. We had phones in every room and she had her own line. We were happy. We had great sex, all the time. But when I wasn't at work and when we weren't having sex, I could feel her slipping away.
At first I thought she was having an affair, of course. Original of me. I came home from work at odd times, tried to check up on her, but she never was in the bedroom shagging some guy. She'd be out at work, or if she was in, she'd look up from a book, puzzled, irritated. She'd go out with Alex or Vesey or Oliver someone and I'd quiz her when she got back. Where did she go? How many drinks, joints, whatever had she had? Exactly how many, I needed to know. I needed all the detail to reassure myself that she wasn't cheating on me.

But it didn’t help and anyway she wasn’t sleeping with anyone else. I could feel her going away, but I couldn't pin down what was happening. The sex was still great and she was mostly there when I got in. What do you do?

So we had the bonfire party. I thought it would bring us together. I'd do the fireworks and we'd kind of share her friends and somehow everything would be fine.

I guess I overdid it on the drink. She was right about that night, about everything breaking up, but the only person I saw was her.

I saw her so close and intimate with Mark. I saw her protecting Alex and Vesey. I saw her finally - this is the last thing I remember - standing on the steps down to the garden, Vesey's arms tight around her, like lovers. She was looking up, into his face, not into the sky where my fireworks burnt and hung uselessly.
I screamed. I remember screaming across the garden as the last and biggest of my fireworks threatened to smash every last window of my house and all the houses around, as the sky blazed for one last terrible time, I ran up the steps from the garden, pushing Vesey to one side so I was looking her in the face, eye to eye, face to face, almost lips to lips. I screamed, pathetic, "You don't love me anymore", and she said to me, calm and kind of tired,
"Harry, you don't even know the meaning of the word."