Friday 31 January 2020

Blue Check Seeds

by  Cindy Long  

tomato juice

A wedding in Versailles.
                No, not the legendary French palace, but a quaint 1920s Methodist church refashioned into an event venue in Versailles, Kentucky. Despite the lopsided comparison, it was lovelier than she had imagined, improving the ill-humor she’d carried with her since making the decision to attend at all.
                She was in her element as she posed for a selfie at the entry to the flower-festooned former church. Head up, eyes wide and bright. Yes. The picture was as she hoped, the caption carefully crafted in a way that would, in retrospect, underscore her calm bravery this day. Post.
                She climbed the steps and crossed the double-doored entry into the crowded vestibule. She stood looking at her phone, pleased to see the likes and comments on her just-added Instagram post rolling in.
                These were the moments she lived for. She couldn’t remember a time she wasn’t consumed with the desire to be a social media influencer; a time when she had not focused all of her energy on setting trends and ensuring that her life was staged to perfection. This attention to detail charmed her followers, and earned her new ones.
              The carefully curated boyfriends, for example, were invariably a perfect complement to her brand. They were accessories; smooth-skinned, tanned and adventurous men who loved her online presence as much as she did. And why not? Association with her only improved their own media luster – a glow that lingered even after the relationships ended.
              But to her frustration, the dream of online prominence had proved to be an elusive one. Despite her careful orchestrations, the fame she longed for remained just out of reach. And her friends’ milestones, like this wedding, were only painful reminders of that.
                Today, however, she was laying the groundwork for a guaranteed launch into the blue-check stratosphere – her brand anthem event!
                She was still deep in thought and focused on her phone when an unsightly pair of worn Sketchers came to a stop on the floor in front of her, as if waiting for her to move aside. She avoided looking up, or moving, but the disagreeable shoes didn’t budge. Move on, shoes. Move on.
                Composing her face into her best dismissive expression, she raised her eyes to a man (woman?) every bit as distasteful to look at as its footwear. Long, grey-streaked hair surrounding a genderless face with, she grudgingly admitted, surprisingly lovely eyes. This sweet-eyed gnome was holding a scruffy, presumably handmade, leather pouch.
                “Hey,” she said, keeping it cool and curt.
                “Hey,” the hippy replied. “I’m not sure where to put this,” holding up the pouch. “It’s a wedding present.”
                Good heavens! A drawstring pouch and a hippy? Were hippies even still a thing?
                “I don’t know,” she replied. “I’m guessing there’s a gift table somewhere.”
                She glanced left and right, feigning some effort to locate the elusive table. The vestibule was packed with guests waiting for the ceremony to begin. Why had this maybe-hippy chosen to accost her, during the courageous countdown to implementing her most amazing online content ever?
                “I’m not sure a gift table is the best place for this,” followed by a smile of Forrest Gump-like innocence.
                 “What is it?” She could have bitten her tongue off.
                “I grow heirloom tomatoes, and my gift to the young couple is a collection of seeds harvested from my plants. I’m afraid if I just leave them they won’t understand. I should have included a note.”
                Can’t this creature just move on and share its weird pouch-thingy and tacky shoes with someone else? Didn’t she have a million details to think through?
                “I’m here alone,” the seed-gifter offered.
                She didn’t respond to that, but while pretending to check her phone again she tipped it up a bit and surreptitiously took a photo. If this was a stalker situation there at least would be photo evidence. And then she noticed the smell. What was it? A musty, faintly citrusy aroma that was so unusual she wondered if infringement had its own scent.
                “Are we done here?” she snapped.
                But the creature stood its ground. It. Was. Infuriating.
                Just then, a wave of guests moved through the entry, including a few women she knew from college. Hugs and cheek-touches were exchanged, though she was careful not to smudge her make-up. Selfies were taken in which she offered her best naturally casual look, at an angle she had learned accentuated her best assets. She checked their phones to approve the photos before the group moved on to the bar at the end of the hall. She turned and found that, despite the commotion created by the entry of her friends, her boorish companion continued to stare. She snapped.
                “What are you looking at?” she raged too loudly. “Why are you here?  Why do you smell like my grandma and weed? I don’t care what you do with your seeds. The bride and groom are just phonies anyway, with their posturing and their wedding followers. I’ll show you, and them, and everyone.”
                People in the vestibule were stunned to silence at this unforeseen and churlish outburst, their shocked stares making her feel seen in an unnatural way.
                “Are you alright?” her long-haired pest asked.
               Screw it. Her Insta-perfect moment would blow this wedding into the weeds! The losers watching her now would boast later about being in her periphery on this historic day, and her followers would lose their collective minds.
                 The blue check she would never see gave her a shiver.
                  She turned her back on the crowd, including her sneakered nemesis, and walked out of the hall and into the summer sunshine with all the dignity she could muster.
                After she was gone, her unwitting tormentor picked up the folded paper that had fallen out of her purse as she exited. On it read:

Final caption draft – To my beloved followers, I sacrifice myself as the ultimate gift to you. “when I become death. Death is the seed from which I grow.” William Burroughs

Around 2 a.m., she woke in her car parked at a pull-off overlooking the Kentucky River. It felt as if the previous day had played out in a boozy fog, though she had been completely sober. After leaving the wedding, she surprised herself by going completely off-script, posting the picture of her pesky wedding devotee with the caption, “One never knows where seeds of positivity will find a foothold.” Then she just drove until exhaustion brought her to this lonely spot.
                  She found her phone in the dark car, and opened it to a notification tsunami! Her last post had gone viral while she slept, seemingly because a popular follower had commented, “So pure!” prompting a torrent of shares and comments. With lightening-speed it was picked up by news and entertainment outlets including BuzzFeed and TMZ, and ultimately a share on Twitter by Lin-Manuel Miranda put it on the timeline of everyone in the world who mattered. She rubbed her thumb lovingly over the screen where the newly added blue check had settled so comfortably beside her name.

Thursday 30 January 2020

I'm Bored

by Allison Symes

Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate

‘It’s up to you, I really don’t mind,’ Joe said, swinging his legs idly against the brick wall.

‘Grrr… all I asked was what would you like to do today, as a considerate friend does and as I ask every bloody day, and you still come up with that rot. Are you incapable of giving me a straight answer? I get so bored trying to come up with different things for us at least to try. It is boring sitting on this wall all the time.’

‘Then stop asking me such a stupid question then,’ and with that Joe pushed Humpty Dumpty off the wall.

The mess on the pavement was impressive. Humpty had been a huge egg.

‘Not going to be bored any more, are you, Hump?’

About the author 

Allison Symes, who adores reading and writing tales with a twist, is published by Chapeltown Books, Cafelit, and Bridge House Publishing.  She is a member of the Society of Authors and Association of Christian Writers.  Her website, including her blog round-up spot, can be found at https:\\ and she blogs for Chandler’s Ford Today -

Wednesday 29 January 2020

A Bolt from the Blue

                                                    by Mark Winson

a cup of unstirred tea that only presents the sugar to the tongue with the last mouthful


It was a strange day. There was a grating silence hanging in the air. There were few birds singing, few conversations of passers-by that I could gate crash and less than the usual stampede of traffic rumbling down the high street. Most notable was the stillness that settled over the school playground, a clamour I ordinarily enjoyed, the chatter and giggling of children are to me, so representative of the continuation of life. The sunshine, the glorious sunshine that had dominated so much of that summer, was also absent, as if God had flicked a simple switch. My face felt abandoned, condemned to defending itself from the sharp wind that brought about the change in the weather. Perhaps there had been something more, on that noteworthy day, that I should have been aware of.

Needs must, however. I had drained the house of milk, blitzed out the bread bin and was suffering an oral with-drawl after eating too many dry crackers. Dry, I say dry, but they had turned, were slightly damp, so I had to venture out. It would at least break the silence, not that my silence inconvenienced anyone, living alone on my meagre income was hardly going to open sunflowers. I had learned to cope however, made mistakes along the way, as we all do, but there was a subtle difference between wanting to and having to. The doctor had told me that!
So, I donned my overcoat. I feel the cold much more these days and wear it more than often. I’ve taken to sitting in it, to listen to “The Archers”, rather than putting the heating on. Then, I took up my not so macho shopping bag, which was the wife’s, bless her, and fully equipped I left. I tried to walk with a defiant step, something I’d learned that relieved my trepidation and hesitation. Shoppers with swinging bags and drag along children are normally the only waves that fail to part in front of me, but I was far more confused when there were none. An ever-doubting mind you see, a propensity for reflecting on the downside of my existence, and a tendency to ask myself taxing questions all the time. I did on that day. Was it that people were avoiding me? Maybe the case had I not washed for a week, but I’m always fastidious with my personal hygiene and always indulge in a drift of aftershave.

I did well to dodge the abrupt parking bollards and spewing litter bins, which were more than testing, but getting across the road was like negotiating my life away. Screaming cars, articulated lorries, silent but deadly push bikes are bad enough, but I also had to contend with the state of the road surface. What do they do all day long, in those bleeding council offices? Most likely they are engrossed in that Facebook thing, playing games and talking to fellow anoraks. They even twitter, according to my nephew, as if they’re all birding freaks or something. I ride over the ruts in smooth roads when out of town, but I’m at far more risk of falling down those cut into an urban street. It’s then I wobble like jelly, scrabbling to right myself just in time to avoid yet another skidding car with all the tread of a fried egg in a well-greased pan.

I walked past the arcade, listening to the pinging pinball machines and jingling of coins falling over the waterfalls, past the last remaining record shop, one that persists in playing music that you’re supposed to listen to in your garage! I stopped just outside Mothercare, somewhere I think all babies dislike judging by the bawling coming from inside and turned to stand at the curbs edge. Hesitating, assessing the odds in crossing the street, I suddenly felt a splash from God’s watering can. I cursed him under my breath. I have my doubts about religion and would like to know just how God can be held so reverently, what with all the bad in the world. There was twice the urgency if I wanted to stay dry. So, prompted by my chiding mind if nothing else, I quickly stepped out into the oceanic expanse of tarmac, leaving behind the security of its coastline, with no more focus than getting across the channel.

It was then that it happened. I’d been so preoccupied; I’d paid little heed to the rumbling overhead and failed to realise or recognise what was coming. I always listen to the news of a morning but have an unerring habit to switch the radio off before the weather report.
 You don’t hear lightening, you have little warning that it’s coming, only a heavenly notification that it’s been and gone as the furniture overhead is dragged across the sky. Then wallop! This bolt from what must have been a power-station in the clouds hit me, pummelling me into what became scorched tarmac! It rifled up through my body, from the ground beneath my feet until the hair on the back of my neck stood like that of a cat’s angry back. I felt myself go rigid, statuesque and hard; any chill of the day being blown away in a millisecond. There was a distinct smell of dry burning and a crackling closing over the vacuum left in the air as all the oxygen was consumed. Probably being the only reason why I hadn’t burst into flames. I could feel the blood in my veins beginning to boil, taste a hit of what seemed to be barbecue sauce, infused into my tongue. I yelled, believe me you would! I don’t think I swore, least not as this generation seem to, but something leapt from my screaming mouth all the same. Then all was dark, all was silent.

I don’t remember much more at that point, I had no inkling of how long I been away with the fairies, it was just, well, black. They say your life is supposed to flash before your eyes, not that it did in my case, but neither did it occur to me that I’d been deprived of a promised liaison with St Peter, and had never stood before the gold wrought iron of heaven’s gates. I could have lost days, I could have lost weeks, things might well have accelerated to the point of me missing several episodes of the “Archers”.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I opened my eyes. The shock was more than palpable, as stood in front of me was Jesus Christ, nestling on a fluffy white cloud formation, in a long blue robe that rolled comfortably over his relaxed arms, folded to allow his hands to come together in prayer. A legion of angels had glided over him, with the faces of innocent babies and the wings of mighty eagles outstretched illustriously. Dainty birds with gloriously coloured coats, either heaven bound or in ghostly flight, swooped and played across the orange of the sky as they were welcomed by him. His smile was gentle, a forgiving smile to those that needed forgiving, and that could well have included me.    
The vista in front of me was inspiring, inspiriting and yet in its own way, reassuring. It certainly wasn’t what I expected, believe you me. At first, I was shocked, so shocked in witnessing what I was seeing that I felt sure it had to be a miracle. Had God put aside my perfidiousness, my dishonesty, that time I pinched a new band saw from work, that time I jabbed Richard Smith in the eye, I could go on. If asked I would never have admitted that I was unworthy, but then he is supposed to forgive you, isn’t he?
“I don’t believe it,” I said, “after all these years, after all this time,” I said. “I’m so sorry!” Frankly, it was surprising that this last-ditch confession was accepted and that the trapdoor to oblivion remained shut.
I was just about to kneel in front of Jesus and ask him for further directions, when suddenly, a panicked voice broke the serenity of the moment.
“He’s awake Vicar! He’s alive Vicar! but I think he thinks he’s dead, that he’s gone to heaven, he’s in a daze. You have to do something!” I could hear this lady’s stampeding voice rattling round my head as I felt my stupor lighten and my feet finally touch down again. She sounded in some respects like the wife, always having her say, forcing her opinion, bless her, and then handing responsibility over to someone else. We survived as long as we did because I had the foresight to listen and then disregard much of what she said. 
“Oh my, oh my Lord, how did he survive a strike like that? Just look at the state of him!” said a man more from somewhere behind my head, whose hands were holding it steady. “It knocked the power out to the church and half of the town’s shops!” I was lying on my back you see, but then I’d hardly be standing upright if what he was saying was true. In actual fact, I was lying exactly where a compassionate band of church goers had laid me, after rescuing my burnt corpse from the middle of the charred road. How lucky that they were meeting on such a day, how lucky was I? They stood hopeful, crossing themselves over and over repeatedly, beseeching God not to take me before time, until eventually, thankfully, I opened my eyes and managed to focus. I felt at first, as if I was in a hospital bed, with seven shades of junior Doctors angling over me, putting forward observations and coming to a bizarre diagnosis.   
“We should never have brought him into the church, never have put him just here!” the Vicar said, chastising himself and looking up at the beautifully painted church ceiling. “He thinks he’s looking into heaven, thinks he’s meeting Jesus, you’re right, he thinks he must have passed away!” I don’t know whether it was the shock of the ceiling that I was looking at, or the crucifix hanging from the vicar’s neck!

It was then that I felt my mouth crack with an allowance for a broadening smile, or more likely a look of wonderment that had spread across my face, those looking down at me exhibiting much the same reaction. I was alive, I was more than alive, I was, well, repaired. I was no longer looking at Jesus and his cloud hopping minions, I’d focused on the vicar.
“No, you don’t understand,” I said. He wasn’t listening of course, not many people do when looking at someone of my age, they think that just because my bodies failing, my mind is too. His intentions were commendable all the same, Godly, saintly or whatever a man of the cloth strives to be.
“Lie still my son,” he said, “you’ve had a great shock!” Well, state the bleeding obvious he did, which didn’t help. “The ambulance is on its way, don’t worry!” I looked directly into his eyes, the miraculous fresco above me didn’t matter anymore. I took hold of his arm, quickly, before he began preparing himself to give me the last rights.
“A shock it is Vicar,” I said, “but not the shock you thought I’d had. You see, before I tried to cross the road and before I felt the heat burning up through my body… truth is…” I remember rubbing my eyes with the back of my hands at this point, as tears began to spill into tributaries running over my cheekbones. I smiled again, ready to make my announcement to the whole world and in the sight of God. “Truth is… I was totally blind!”

About the author 

Frankly I don’t know how I came around to writing books. My teachers at school all said I could do better, although to be fair my English Teacher Mrs Bullock extracted every last drop of mental substance from me, and fired up what has turned out to be a creative bent. Or is it that I’m just a daydreamer? Only in 2016 did I finally, after much persuasion from family and friends, take up writing more seriously and publish my first book. Since then, my style and genre evolved, until comfortably, I can now describe it as quirky fiction.  My website:

Tuesday 28 January 2020

Snakes and Ladders

Michal Reiben


I’ve been picking oranges in the orchard since five o’clock this morning. Now I’m on my break with the other workers lying on the grass, drinking tepid water taken from the irrigation system out of a paper cup which someone had the foresight to bring along and which is being passed around. The slightly warm water tastes disgusting and so I try to imagine to myself that it’s cola.

“A snake,” someone shrieks. I look around in alarm and see a large black snake slithering through the grass, its scales shining in the blazing hot sun. We scatter, I run towards a ladder leaning up against one of the orange trees and climb up it….

“Wake up sleepy head. It’s your turn to throw the dice.”

I wake up with a start, flutter my eyes open, for a moment I stare at my brother who is sitting across the table from me and calling me ‘sleepy head’ and register where I am. Then I look down at the table before me and see the game of ‘Snakes and Ladders’ spread out on it,  to one side stands a bottle of Coca-Cola and a paper cup.

Monday 27 January 2020

Best Mended

by Mary Daurio


My friends went to sports, while I stayed on the street, dreaming their parents would say, “Come

with us, Ben.”  Wouldn’t happen— they never even knew my name. 

Robbery landed me in trouble, my handle in the news. Everybody knew my name then.

Dad looked out the end of a bottle, so Charlie, my caseworker, helped me mend my ways and go

to school, he cared. I got a trade.

Charlie and I take my boy and the boy-next-door, little Ronnie, who’s a lot like I was, to football.

 Each child of the universe—best mended soon.     

Sunday 26 January 2020

Questions and Answers – the voices in our heads!

by David Gower

Builder’s Tea, three sugar please!

What are the dynamics of an interview for a job?
What might the inner voices say in the minds of the candidate and the panel?

Male Interviewer; ‘Can you tell us why you feel suited to this post?’

Candidate; ‘I feel it offers a challenge to me at this point in my career.’

Voice in Candidate’s head ‘I hate where I work now.’

Male Interviewer; ‘We are looking for a good team player. Would you describe yourself as a team person?’

Candidate; ‘I have always been a team player. Getting the job done is more important than the individual don’t you think?’

Voice in Candidate’s head ‘I hate everyone else in my existing team. They are slackers. Having to agree with them to get things done is really annoying, especially when I know my way is the right way.’

Male Interviewer; ‘Can you give me an example of your teamwork experience?’

Voice in Interviewer head ‘When will I ever get an honest candidate who does not mouth platitudes?’

Voice in Candidate’s Head. ‘Wait. Look as if you are thinking deeply and calm the panic. When have you ever worked in partnership with anyone willingly?’

Candidate’s reply to Interviewer ‘I am glad you asked me that. There are several examples – perhaps the most recent would be joint working with a multi-national supermarket new to this area? I worked with their marketing team in some depth.’

Voice in Candidate’s head ‘Well done you Bluffer. Vague enough to allow some creative fibbing if they probe and hard to tie down in the time they have available. I quite fancy the other interviewer but must not let her eyes distract me.’

Female Interviewer ‘May I ask you what you think the challenges of our post might be?’

Voice in Candidate’s Head ‘Look at those eyes? You could fall into those pools of loveliness given just a gesture. Try to focus, she asked you a question you idiot!’

Candidate ‘I’m sorry, could you repeat the question. The noises from outside distracted me for a moment?’

Female Interviewer ‘I asked what challenges you thought this post might hold.’

Voice in Candidate’s head ‘Give her an answer that makes sense. Stop having thoughts that upset the nuns.’

Candidate replies ‘Starting a new job always involves a settling in period so I can foresee that making useful links to organisations will be a target to reach quickly.’

Male Interviewer internal voice ‘How many more have we got left to see. I need a cup of tea soon.’

The interview continues in the way that interviews do. A verbal exchange somewhere between a tennis match – each party wanting to score a point – and a drama – how much fiction is acceptable in polite circles? The prize for each side being different.

For the candidate – especially one currently unemployed or unhappy in a job with bills to pay the chance to start elsewhere. To climb ever higher up the greasy pole.

The panel might find someone with skills and experience who will be cheap and keen. Qualities that the panel once had before being caught up in the machinery of the business. 

We leave them to their negotiations and decisions.

Saturday 25 January 2020


by  Yashar Seyedbagheri

honeyed milk

My sister’s 21 years older. She’s 37. Often jokes I’m the milkman’s son.

Nancy calls me Saint Nick, says I’m too giving. Nicknames me dummkopf when I trip.

I love her energy, when she jokes about my clothing or love of Debussy. She’s an Elvis-loving newspaperwoman. 

Yet, the banter lacks that natural rhythm, that give-and-take. We didn’t grow up playing or fighting together. But Nancy says age is arbitrary. 

I wonder if she feels self-consciousness. Especially when she calls me little brother, accentuating the words.

I just banter. Call her sis. Joke that she’s my secret mother.

It’s almost believable.

Friday 24 January 2020


by Louis Tong Hak Tien

sweet wine

This estate in Singapore is fifty years old, it looms in the north-east like the spirit of Malays who first lived here as farmers. In the following decades came the English teachers, who left behind their ghosts, then the voice of the pilots appeared and mysteriously vanished. Some said the pilots’ union has been belligerent, and the pilots have to be taught a lesson. John isn’t old enough to know the truth.
Tugged in a corner of the estate is the patch of open greenery called Neram Park, where women gossip and dogs roam after dinner. Not this evening. A large crowd settled on the lawn with straw mats and picnic baskets, even before sunset. Semi-lit in the evening, the anniversary concert is held. All performers, including John and Mary’s daughter Jo, are residents of the estate. Jo’s singing has caught the attention of Jenny, the lady in church. John’s family has been in the estate ten years, long enough to feel this is home, but not long enough to sense the pathos of the place.  
"S, E, L, E, T, A, R, .... The parks are green and the streets are wide,...” In the middle register, Jo’s voice is liquid like a flute. Then, without straining, the sound becomes pure and sweet, murmurous and cascading.
“There's nowhere else,... nowhere I would call home." The notes rush into the high range of her vocal register, where they hover like angels in the palace of the dominant D chord. Then they resolve to the G major, where the audiences are contented babies sleeping in their bassinets. Jo sings the song once, then leads the audience to sing it twice, slower on the first run. The words tug at the heartstrings.
A lady with a hair like a lion stands in front of John, looking at the stage. When she sways, her hair swings like a pendulum. John steps to the right. She moves right. John side-steps to the left like a crab. She shuffles left too. John is convinced they are dancing the foxtrot.
"How did this girl sing like that?" Someone exclaims.
           "I am so proud of my girl," says Mary.
"So this is how it sounds, more beautiful than how I imagine it," says John, a little out of sorts, spell-bound. Someone in the park takes a step back, and she almost trips over a bag.
"Let us call to the stage Professor Bernard, the composer of this song," the MC says.
A man wearing Bermuda shorts walks up the stage from the side, assisted by a lady, smiling like he has won the Grammy.
"Jo, please come closer here. I am grateful to the Seletar Hill Residence Committee for showcasing my composition, Karen for writing the lyrics to the song, Jenny for playing the piano, and last but not least, Jo for singing it. You are all angels."
After the loud applause, when the Seletar band takes the stage, Jo walks to John and Mary and sits with them.
A lone fluffy dog walks between the parked cars, his tail wagging. He discovers his owner, who is sitting on a little stool, eating a hotdog. At the rear of the audience cheering for the performers are two policemen, their faces illuminated by the ornamental lights hung on the trees.
  Half an hour later.
            "John," Professor Bernard looks up, backstage.
            "Bernard, just come to say thanks."
            "Don't do it again," Bernard says. "I can't imagine why you plan this."
Remember, he is not a willing accomplice. He’d lost the game of cribbage, so he helped you in your scheme. "She's seventeen,” you say, as if that explains everything. "Your daughter was seventeen once."
           "God, don't bring my daughter into this," Bernard says. "Real coward you are. You wrote the Seletar song, so you should have asked Jo to sing it. The lengths you took to cover this up."
           "I am a father trying to do his best," you say.
            "What use is this grand scheme of deception?" Bernard asks. "This game of cloak and dagger includes not speaking to me in public for two months?"
            "Jo is a smart girl," you say. "She will find out otherwise, and then she won't have anything to do with it."
           "Girls. You can't expect them to be close to you if they grow up learning not to bother you," Bernard sighs. "They'll stay away, seeing how busy you are, how passionate you are with your work."
"What do you mean?" You fume. You know exactly what Bernard is saying. You have wondered yourself about the day when you lie stiff and cold in a box and Jo is called to give a eulogy. What would she say? What do you two have in common? You don’t want to be remembered as an ATM. You don’t want to be the designated driver. To approve all the stayovers at her friends, or give consent for a camp.
"Ask yourself. How many weekends have you gone away for conferences?" Bernard took you away from your reverie with this question.
Thanks Mr. Empathy. You couldn't help all that. You cannot change the past. "She is happiest singing," you say. "That much I know." Music, she has such a natural affinity for it, nailing the vocal audition to the School of the Arts. And then all those concerts. Music can be the bridge between the two of you. But she will not touch the song if she knows who wrote it. She will think, how embarrassing, like holding hands with my father while shopping in the mall.
Earlier, when Jo passed the mic back to the MC, she turned and smiled at you. You had wondered then, if she knew.

Thursday 23 January 2020

Death Admin

by Hannah Retallick

charcoal shot

I scatter ashes into the sea that killed him. Give us this day our daily swim and forgive us our mourning. They gather in clothes he hated, remembering a man they barely knew.
I scatter ashes into the blue he loved, acting the part with skyward eyes, but my mind is filled with paperwork, my Michael shrunk to admin.
I scatter ashes from the crumbling cliff, where distant relatives find heaving sobs. I picture their black-coated bodies staggering and falling, splatting on the rocks below. I hate those easy tears, their sudden caring, and how they have time to grieve.

About the author
Hannah Retallick is a twenty-six-year-old from Anglesey, North Wales. She was home educated and then studied with the Open University, graduating with a First-class honours degree, BA in Humanities with Creative Writing and Music, and is studying for an MA in Creative Writing. She is working on her second novel and writes short stories and a blog. She was shortlisted in the Writing Awards at the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival 2019, the Cambridge Short Story Prize, and the Henshaw Short Story Competition June 2019.

Wednesday 22 January 2020

The New Arrival

 by Eamon O'Leary 


Santa is my friend ‘cos he bringed me hundreds of presents. He left Buzz Lightyear and Lego and a book and a train and new pj’s with Spiderman on them in my stocking. And the baby popped out of Mummy’s tummy and he is my new little brother. His name is Archie and he cries a lot. And my grandad makes funny faces and plays wrestling with me and helps me build things with my Lego. My granny takes me to the swings and gives me cuddles and makes nice dinners. Granny is my bestest friend. She makes me pizza with olives on top. I love black olives, but my Daddy doesn’t like olives at all.  Two times my Grandad took me to the pub and gived me a treat and a comic.
My Daddy had to go to work today. He is a policeman and catches baddies. And my grandad and my granny went on the plane today and Mummy took me to Little Rascals to play with my friends and Archie was crying. And Mummy collected me and all the people looked at Archie. Mummy said I could watch a programme when we got home and ‘cos I’m four and a big boy, I can mind the remote. And Mummy turned on the television and Archie started crying and Mummy started crying and she went to the bedroom with Archie. I’m watching Baby Shark and I’m cuddling my favourite teddy. I am sad.

About the author

Eamon O'Lear started writing short stories after retiring. He is published in The Galway Review, Hammond House, Clarendon House, Bandit Fiction, Grindstone Publications and elsewhere. Ambition is to get a collection published before time runs out.


Tuesday 21 January 2020

Size matters

by Wendy Pike

cup of tea & slice of chocolate marble cake

It’s only a number but the ramifications are seismic.  I can scarcely believe it.  I’m not proud of it.  I wish it wasn’t so.  I’m whispering this:  I am a size 14.

How do I know this?  A wardrobe full of size 12 clothes has exploded over every horizontal surface in the bedroom, including  the floor.  For an idea of the mess, imagine the aftermath of the worst possible minor earthquake hitting the ladies department of Primark, Debenhams, M&S, BHS, Monsoon and Next combined.  There’s no hope of any of the treasured garments ever fitting my lumpy, bumpy middle-aged figure, so no point in cramming them back into the wardrobe from whence they came.

Admittedly there a few fashion disasters amongst the debris, labels still intact on the worst offenders.  It seems hindsight is very helpful in deciding which items to take to the charity shop and which ones to attempt to sell on Ebay.  What was I thinking when I bought them?  For the really embarrassing mistakes, a trip to an out of town charity shop, where nobody knows me, is looking likely.

My faithful old jeans, once comfortable and almost fashionable, are now rather too snug a fit around my increasingly rotund derrière to be considered decent.  Despite major disappointment, distress and disbelief, they have to go.  It’s like saying goodbye to friends.  The places we’ve been and the things we’ve done together …..  Fare thee well old chums.

But some things are impossibly difficult to turf out.  Like my purple party dress.  My husband says it fits just fine and he thinks I look great in it.  However, I have lost confidence in it, so it comes out every so often when I’m feeling optimistic yet having a wardrobe crisis about what to wear.  I try it on.  Then it goes straight back in the cupboard in the hope that one day my chest won’t sluttishly spill out so eagerly from the top and I will regain the ability to breathe whilst wearing it.  I still love it to bits and dream of going out in it.  One day.      

So it’s official.  I have gone up a dress size.  How do I come to terms with this momentous news?  Ironically, with a bad habit that pushed me into this mess in the first place, with a mug of tea and a slice of chocolate marble cake.  A necessary evil I feel, whilst I work out a plan of attack.  Something has to give.  We have to sleep in our bedroom tonight.  And what the devil will I wear tomorrow?

Footnote:  It’s amazing how the passage of time changes perspective.  In the decade since writing Size Matters then leaving it to gather dust in my computer archive, the current on-going battle is to remain a size 14.  And my beloved purple party dress has long since taken a final trip with me.  To the charity shop.  

Monday 20 January 2020

A Feeling of Dread

by Ella Etienne-Richards

black coffee

Maybe it was a premonition or just downright woman's intuition but I had a gut feeling that something nasty was about to happen. I've had these feelings before but I just tried to shake it off . I thought maybe if I tried my utmost best to think positively everything would be alright. However deep down, I knew there was nothing I could do to change the hands of fate.

My cousin Ken was getting on my nerves again, I told him to drop dead and leave me alone. He had lived with us since his  Mum went away and he was like a brother.  I could not deal with him this morning, not this morning. I had my own problems to deal with. I loved my cousin but he could be such a pest sometimes, that's why we never got along. I was trying very hard not to lose my temper with him. He was sometimes too mouthy and always got me into trouble with my Dad. I packed my rucksack and stormed out of the house.

As I walked along the corridors towards my class there was a sign on the door.  Mr Johnson is not in today, class cancelled .  "Typical" I thought as I decided to check the office to see if he had left any work.  On second thoughts, I headed straight for the door maybe I will just go home, more time to revise for my Maths test. I bounced down the steps in a good mood, maybe this day would turn out alright after all.

It was a very sunny day, not a spec of cloud in the sky but  still very chilly. I wrapped my scarf tightly around my neck as I stepped into the street. That's when it happened, without warning. I heard a loud bang and turned around quickly.  Someone was lying in the road. There was a screeching of brakes and a black sedan took off at top speed. I dashed across the street and ran towards the body lying on the road.

At first I just stood there, frozen with fear and in utter disbelief. I could not believe my eyes. It was Ken. He lay there motionless and his body looked somewhat distorted. There was a great nasty gash right down the middle of his forehead and  blood was oozing out, like a red chocolate fountain. I turned away and started screaming.  Half blinded by tears I fumbled in my bag for my mobile phone.
I had to call 999;  they would save him. My hands were trembling as I dialed the number. "Please send an ambulance quickly, corner of Shatta Road; there's been an accident."

The woman at the other end was asking me a lot of questions. I tried to control my voice, I could not get the words out. I was hysterical as I threw myself on floor beside Ken. A small crowd had gathered by now and a tall gentleman took the phone from me and said. "Here love let me talk to the emergency people."

An elderly woman was wrapping her jacket around Ken. His face was bloody, beyond recognition, I was in a daze,  by now there seem to be a crowd gathering . I don't know when and where all these people came from.  I was frantic with worry.

"He's going to be alright, please tell me he is going to be alright, I muttered to the woman who was kneeling beside him. I paced up and down with my hands above my head as some people attended to him. "He's going to be alright, he's going to be alright , he has to be, " I cried out aloud.  Some people were trying to calm me down but to no avail.

I didn't want to go too close . I couldn't deal with the reality. What if he were dead. I banished the thought from my head. Cars were tooting drivers were screaming. Some people were shouting . "There's an accident."  There was a terrible traffic jam . It was quite a chaotic scene.  It seemed like the ambulance was taking forever. Even the police had got there before them.

The policemen were clearing people away from the area.  I ran back to Ken's side. "He's my cousin," I said. I tried to explain what had happened but I was incoherent.  After what seemed a very long time an ambulance arrived. They quickly and carefully whisked Ken unto a stretcher and into the ambulance.  On the way to the hospital I held his hands and prayed aloud like someone in a trance. The ambulance crew must have thought I had gone crazy but I didn't really care.  All I wanted was for Ken to be alright. All the prayers I had learnt at Sunday school parrot fashion came flowing back.
As soon as we arrived at the hospital he was spirited away into surgery. I dreaded calling my mother but I had to and right away.  I should have done long before but I wasn't thinking . The emergency people had asked me to call my parents. Mum picked up the phone at the other end and by the sound of my voice she knew something was wrong. I tried explaining to Mum over the phone but all I could manage to say was, "Mum it's Ken. He's in the hospital."

Mum didn't let me finish she said straight away . "Stay put. Dad and I are on our way".

As Mum walked into the hospital I could not contain myself.  I rushed over and held her tight. I could not get the words out. Dad pulled me away and said in gruff frightened voice, "Tell us Allie. What's happened to Ken ?"

"I don't know, I think he got hit by a car" I said.  "He's hurt really bad."  I looked at Mum, her face was red and her lower lip started to quiver slightly. Soon the screams followed, as she collapsed in Dad's arms. I was just glad that Dad was there to take care of her. When Mum came round the nurses propped her up in a chair. It was just too much for her. I think she feared the worse.

"He will be alright Mum."  I said . "The doctors know what they are doing."  I was tryuing to convince myself.

It was over five hours now since Ken had gone into surgery.  Dad kept asking and the nurses were saying . "Don't worry as soon as he is out of surgery the doctors will let you know."  The wait was painful. Dad kept drinking cups after cups of coffee.

Mum was quietly reciting the rosary, I kept hearing her whisper in a distressed voice "Hail Mary Full of Grace....."

It was late afternoon now and almost nightfall when one of the  doctors emerged from the screen doors and slowly but meaningfully walked towards us. I took one look at him and I knew it;  Ken was gone. There was no doubt about it in my mind.  I  walked away quietly. I did not want to hear what he had to say.  As I turned round the corner heading for the exit I could hear my Mother's scream. That confirmed it for me.  It was a scream of a wounded animal.  I just needed some fresh air and time alone.

I felt so guilty for never having really gotten along with him. If only I had tried harder to understand him, maybe we would have had a better relationship. I kept wishing it was a bad dream that I would wake up and get home and Ken would be there. However I knew I would never see Ken again at least not in the flesh.

I remember distinctly the last words I said to Ken "Drop dead and leave me alone" I would never forget these words as long as I live.  Suddenly involuntarily I started sobbing, I crumpled to the floor and wailed in anguish. The feeling of grief  was indescribable.

About the author
Ella lives in London with her husband and two children and a posh cat called MJ.
Ella has worked in education in many different roles and is now working as a tutor. She is passionate about writing and have always written short stories for fun and relaxation but has never been able to devote much time as she would like to writing, because  of work and family constraints.
Last year she started a word press blog and has decided to make more time to writing and follow her dreams. She also joined The ‘Writers Clubhouse’ started by the author Paula Readman on Facebook where she finds encouragement, inspiration and advice to pursue her passion for writing.

She also enjoys cooking, swimming, jogging and spending time with the family.