Monday 31 January 2022

A Bit of Botany


By Clive Gresswell

a frothy, milky coffee


Boris the belligerent botanist furrowed his brow as he twiddled with a messy strand of his overgrown blond hair. He was focusing on the Date plants in his greenhouse. Normally he had them eating out of the palm of his hands, he thought, but things were looking perilously close to a rum-do he mused. He smirked at that play of words crossing his mind as it had been a series of rum-dos, as in the sense of boozy parties, which had led to this impasse he faced at work. Actually, he was glad to be left alone with his plants. At least he could talk openly and honestly to them. He smirked again and reached over gently to take a cutting from one of the more generous of the plants. Boris the belligerent was always pleased to be enjoying his gardening and it took his mind off having to deal with those bar stewards from the press. A little while ago he could do no wrong but now…now just like the dirty dogs they were they had started to bite the hand that fed them. Anyone would think he hadn’t done a sterling job both politically and otherwise in dealing with the Pandemic.

Boris’ wife, Barbara, hated the way he locked himself away in the greenhouse talking to his plants for hours on end. She was sure it wasn’t good for him and he spent more time talking to those wretched plants than he did talking to her. He even had names for each of them, often derived from Latin, as if they were his children or something. Whatever this strange little life was it wasn’t what Barbara had envisaged when she and Boris tied the knot.

There was an urgent knock at the door which pulled her out of her reverie. It was Colin Chancellor from next-door who wanted a word with Boris.

“Well, if you can tear him away from his plants, you’re a better man than I,” Barbara joked with Colin. She liked him and figured if he could pull him away from the plants that would be a fine thing.

Colin stood in the greenhouse his arms folded and eyed Boris up and down. Colin wore a frown and was holding a fistful of letters in his left hand.

“Listen Boris, I don’t need to tell you what these are do I?” he started.

As he hesitated Boris stared intently at him. He took a cutting and reached out to his neighbour.

“This should give you what you want,” he said a sense of pride still in his voice.

“It’s the Date when I plan to resign.”

About the author 

Clive enjoys writing metafictions and absurdist stories. He lives in Luton, UK, and is also a well-published poet. His latest poetry books are with erbacce-press. He has an MA and a BA in Creative Writing

Sunday 30 January 2022

Private Funeral



by Hai-Mo Hu

sake in a worn mug or black coffee with a sour taste


Indigo, azure, and aegean blues fused on the horizon and tinted some hearts along the way. The smell of seaweed washed ashore and rust wrecked tourists' fantasies. Waves were singing their night lullaby outside of the motel room window. On the wooden table, a leaf-shaped bracelet with bloodstains peeked at the two people sitting across the room.

The phone rang. “You have ninety minutes,” said the front desk.

The woman was pale. “We’re not a couple, Frank. Why are we here?”

“Where else can we go for some quiet moments?” Frank said.

“Home,” the woman said.

“She just died, Sandy! We can’t just go home like nothing happened,” Frank said.

Silence fell upon them.

The bed marked its existence as a solid rock that made squeaky sounds. Some loud noises coming from the next room told Sandy this. The noises gave her burning red cheeks and stiff shoulders, and for a second the leaf-shaped bracelet slipped her mind. What was worse than the noise was a scent wafting out from the vent. It smelled like burnt plastic roses.

“God damn it,” Frank said, searching through the buttons to find the one that would turn off the smell.

“It was an accident and she attacked Mrs. Wang first,” Sandy said.

“Listen to yourself. Are you even her friend? Think about the things Mrs. Wang had done to her,” Frank said.

Sandy walked over to the bracelet. She had never seen this weaved, leaf-shaped bracelet on her friend’s wrist. She saw it for the very first time when Frank removed it from their friend while in the ambulance.

The front desk called in again. “You have fifty minutes left.”

Sandy started to cry. Tears slid down her cheeks like two water snakes.

The bright green bracelet was stained with blood.

Frank picked up the bracelet. “Let’s give her a funeral of our own. That’s why we’re here.”

Sandy knelt by the tub. Filling it up with water took time so the spider-web-cracks and tawny stains were no longer easy to ignore. She sprayed some of her liquid hand moisturizer into the air to overpower the cigarette smoke sneaking in from the drain. The hand moisturizer was an herbal flavor. Sandy liked the floral variety, but the herbal one was the only fragrance her friend could bear whenever she shopped for Sandy’s gifts. You self-centered, crazy bitch. I miss you. The warm steam gently dried her tears.

“We’re going to burn your bracelet to ashes, okay? As a symbol, you know, ‘cause we don’t have your bones. I know you’ll like the idea of a private funeral, just the three of us,” Frank said. He found a lighter from the drawer that smelled moldy. There was a lady in a bikini on the lighter. If you were here, you would call this female objectification. Frank smiled and watched the tiny flame devour the leaf-shaped bracelet.

The phone in the room rang. “Your time is up. Are you going to add one more hour?” asked the front desk.

“No, thank you. We’re leaving,” said Frank.

The ashes sank to the bottom of the tub. The water was tinted grey and it was just like the ocean. Seaside was the favorite place for Frank and Sandy’s old friend.

About the author

Hai-Mo Hu is currently a creative writing student and loves stories with a sense of sadness, beauty, and reality. In terms of reality, Hai-Mo Hu not only writes about what she has experienced or observed, but she also writes about what if this real experience were in a different direction. 

 Hai-Mo Hu’s website:

Saturday 29 January 2022

Myrna Blue


by Mark Lucius

coffee, strong and black



The phone snapped like wire. He ignored it. So it snarled like a panther, but he lay still. Finally, before it could cut like a knife, he poked a hand through the darkness to the mobile on his nightstand. More noising. He realized the sound came from the landline they paid for but never used. He rolled over, opened the drawer, and withdrew the dusty phone.    


‘Ray? Ray!’

She sounded far away, a voice fighting through a million hazy miles.


‘Always nice to hear from you, Ray. I just called to wish you a Happy Birthday…’

She had remembered?

‘…and tell you that night in Barstow – it meant a lot to me.’

For a moment he forgot he’d never been to Barstow and even as he recalled it pressed the receiver tighter to his ear. 

‘Myrna, where are you now?’

‘On the moon,’ she breathed, ‘the side you never see.’

It felt like she’d entered the bedroom. He heard the clink of cocktail glasses and the clack of pool balls. People laughed and laughed. The scent of a cigarette, an unfamiliar brand, filled his nostrils.   

‘I’m a singer now,’ she purred. ‘Just a traveling singer entertaining the cosmic troops. I’m up next. Wait, I’ll be back.’ 

He heard a high quavering voice through the din. When the piano player vamped, Ray considered how he’d gotten here. He recalled the time he had written a formal note to a Mr. Charles Greenman. Ray informed Mr. Greenman he would be calling on him to ask for the hand of his daughter. That night, Ray awoke in a sweat. He realized this meant Alice Greenman, who he did not want to marry. He hoped Mr. Greenman had another daughter, one he didn’t know about and could learn to like. He decided to write Mr. Greenman a second note to tell him of the mistake. But Mr. Greenman beat him to the punch. Ray’s phone rang at 6 a.m. sharp.

‘I’m sorry, Ray, but you can’t marry my daughter.’

‘Why not? Which one?’

‘I’ve only got the one, Ray. Alice is engaged.’



Ray felt like crying. There was a long silence. Mr. Greenman had been brusque but now seemed to soften. ‘Ray,’ asked Mr. Greenman, ‘what about Myrna?’

‘She’s in jail,’ Ray whispered.

‘Well, get her out,’ Mr. Greenman ordered. 

Ray waited an eternity at the precinct house. He whiled away the time trying to figure how often he could afford to bail out Myrna. Maybe he could bail her out forever.

But now Myrna was back on the line, her murmurs reeling him in. ‘There are…billions of stars up here. Why doncha come up for a while? It’s such a nice moon.’ 

Doubtless he’d have considered the request, but Myrna’s voice came alive and turned urgent. 

‘Ray, come. Please! They’re plotting to assassinate…’ 

There was a sound like someone hitting a duck over the head with a carpet beater in a phone booth. His phone went ‘bzzzzzzzz…’ 


A voice like a gong interrupted. ‘Sir, this is a company proud to serve you. The woman to whom you’ve been speaking has been—how did we say it in your youth?—temporarily disconnected. The call will be billed to you in a way you won’t recognize. We wish you a very happy birthday.’

Ray had been sitting on the bed, but now he got up. He felt old as Buddha. He padded around awhile, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. Finally, quickly, he put on his hat and coat and gun. 

He bent over his sleeping wife. She responded to his whispers and caresses. ‘Hey, I’ve got to go to the moon for a while,’ he said. ‘I’ll try to get back for breakfast.’

With sleep in her eyes, and a thin smile on her face, she stared at him for a long second.

‘Has Myrna been killed again?’ she asked.

About the author

Mark Lucius writes stories, songs and speeches in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He has been published in Best American Sports Writing, Cowboy Jamboree, Fewer Than 500, Flipsides: A Wising Up Anthology, Great River Review, Vital Speeches of the Day and elsewhere. 


Friday 28 January 2022


 by Gill James


 The vet scratched his head and frowned. "There's definitely no chip."

"Aren't most dogs chipped these days?" said Phil.

"Yes. It's the law. It's a real puzzle. He's not that old so he ought to have been."

"How old do you think he is?" I asked.

"Three years tops, I would say." He ruffled the dog's head. "He's in a good condition. He's been well looked after. Owners who care this much for their pets generally get them chipped and registered. He's not a pedigree, though. The breeders usually get it done as a matter of course."

"What do you think he's made up of then?" I asked.

The vet nodded. "Straight mix of Labrador and German Shepherd, I'd say."

That made sense. He was the colour of a golden Labrador but had those deep eyes that make German Shepherds look so sad all of the time. And yes, he was more or less the shape of a German Shepherd.

He'd literally knocked at the door just over an hour before. I'd gone to answer it and there he was, sitting on our door mat, politely wagging his tail.

"Hello," I'd said. "What do you want?"

He must have understood "Do come in." He barged straight past me and into the lounge where he'd immediately curled up on the hearthrug and fallen asleep.

We've never been dog owners - we're cat people really. But we did realise that the best course of action was to take him to a local vet and see if he had a chip that would help us locate the owner.

It had been quite a job to get him into the car. He hadn't wanted to move from the fire and he'd snarled a bit. But he'd walked into the vet's happily enough. He had a collar, but of course we had no lead. We'd improvised with a bit of string.

"So what should we do now?" I asked the vet.

"Well, you could take him straight to the shelter. Or you could keep him at home and let the police know, maybe put an ad in a local shop if his owner doesn't turn up quickly. We'll put a notice up here as well." He patted the dog again. "I don't think you'll be missing for long, will you, old chap?"

The dog licked him.

The vet looked up at us. "The shelter is open 24/7 but Pet World shuts in thirty minutes. If you decide to keep him, even if it's only for a few hours or a day or so, you'll need a few supplies." He nodded towards the string. "Including a decent lead."


"Do you know where this Pet World is?" asked Phil as we drove out of the vet's car park.

I did. So, it was a given then. We were hanging on to him. We'd talked for a long time about getting a dog. We'd always talked ourselves out of  it: we'd have to walk it three times a  day, what about vets' bills, wouldn't going on holiday be awkward, it wasn't fair on the animal if we were both out at work. I couldn't believe Phil had capitulated so quickly.


"I think we should call him Perkins," said Phil when I got back to the car from my trip around Pet World. "He looks just like him, don't you think?"

He did? I wasn't so sure. Alf Perkins was Phil's former boss. He'd retired six months ago. He was a quiet and gentle soul. Was this dog going to be quiet and gentle? 

"There's a boy, Perkins," said Phil.

Perkins barked softly.

So Perkins it was to be. I shrugged and started loading the shopping into the car.

"What's all this then?" Phil's eyebrows were raised.

"Lead. Food bowl. Water bowl. Doggy treats. Dog food, dried and tinned. Doggy duvet. Basket. Toys. Chews. Poo bags."



That first night Perkins slept on the landing outside our room. We tried to make him comfortable in the kitchen with his bed but he himself started to drag it up the stairs.

"We shouldn't let him sleep in our room," I said.

Phil had shrugged. "I think they usually make up their own minds about that."

In fact, though, he didn't want to sleep in our room. He stayed just beyond the door. Once we'd made his bed up there he settled down nicely.

Friends who have dogs have reported that they often whine a lot the first night. Not so Perkins. Well he wasn't a puppy. But he might have been missing his owner. He wasn't any trouble at all. He woke up at the same time as us the next morning.

"Do you want your breakfast?" I heard Phil say on his way back from the bathroom. 

Perkins answered with a soft bark.

He had his breakfast and then we let him out in the back garden while we had ours. He had a good sniff around, cocked his leg up at a few of the bushes, then came back in and had a drink of water.

"I suppose we'd better take you for a walk," Phil said to him after we'd washed up. 

Perkins looked at his lead that was now hanging off a hook on the kitchen door.


He walked beautifully.

"The vet was right," said Phil. "This dog has been well brought up."

We'd taken a ball with us. I was nervous about letting him off his lead. "Suppose he runs off and doesn't come back?" I said.

Phil shrugged. "Then probably somebody else would have to look after him. Or he might find his way back to his owner. That would be a good thing, right?"

I nodded. But it was clear that we were both getting attached to Perkins and he hadn't even been with us a whole day yet. 

He didn't run off and he enjoyed chasing the ball.

Over the next few days we jumped every time the phone rang. But the calls were never anything to do with Perkins.

Perkins was ours for the time being.  


We established a routine. We were both able to work flexitime and could often work from home. So, with some careful planning, we were able to arrange that there was always someone around to take Perkins for a reasonable walk after breakfast and again at lunch time. Most evenings we'd take him for a longer walk, the two of us together.

So, two of our earlier arguments didn't hold water. We actually enjoyed the exercise Perkins was giving us. And there was no problem about us being out at work. There was always one of us, or sometimes both of us, in the house with him.

As for vets' bills - there were none. Perkins seemed to be super fit.

Weekends were different from what they'd ever been before. They were all centred on finding somewhere we could take Perkins and let him off the lead. And where there was a dog-friendly pub we could visit afterwards. We got even fitter. The fresh air and the exercise were wonderful. We found out a lot about the area we lived in that we'd not known before. And we made a lot of new friends who were dog owners.

Perkins had been with us three months when we decided to go on holiday. We found a lovely cottage that allowed dogs. There were more wonderful walks. And cosy evenings curled up with a good book, a nice bottle of wine and a tired dog.

We began to think of ourselves as dog owners.        


"So, his owners never came forward then?" It was the same vet we'd seen when Perkins had first turned up six months before. 

It looked as if he was our dog now. So we'd decided to get him chipped. The weeks had flown by. We'd seen them turn into months and now here we were.

"There's a good boy." The vet patted Perkins.

The dog had hardly flinched as the vet had inserted the tag.

"How's he doing?" asked Phil.

"He really is a fine specimen. You've done well with him."

"He was pretty fit when we first brought him here, wasn't he?" I asked.

"Yes, he'd definitely been well cared for."

Which was a bit of a puzzle and perhaps a warning.


It was the same when we took him to dog training.

"Beautiful dog," said the woman who ran it. "And so well-behaved that I don't think we can do much for him. Aren't you a darling?" She ruffled Perkins' head. "Though it's a pleasure to have him here and your good selves, of course. I hope you'll carry on coming but I had to say something. I didn't want you to feel that you were wasting your money."

Well, we did carry on, because Perkins enjoyed it too. We made some more new friends and we were so very proud of him.


Our neighbours' daughter befriended him too. Or maybe he befriended her. Jenny was a lonely child. A severe disability kept her mainly housebound and she had little contact with other children. She called occasionally and asked if she could play with Perkins. He was so gentle with her. She would sit on the rug and talk to him or very occasionally she would throw a ball for him in the back garden. He was a real gentleman. He somehow knew he shouldn't be too boisterous.


He was here to stay, or so it seemed. But we were wrong.          


I'd woken early that day because Perkins was downstairs and was scratching at the back door. I guessed he had an upset tummy. I hoped he wasn't really ill. We'd been very lucky with him up to this point.

He hardly looked at me as I let him out of the back door. He bounded into the garden then ran to the back. He then sprinted towards the gate and in seconds he was over it and galloping up the street.

We'd talked about getting a taller gate but had never bothered because Perkins was so well behaved.

"Come back," I shouted. "Where are you going? What's the matter?"

By this time Phil was up and about. We both got dressed quickly and then started looking round the neighbourhood for Perkins. There was no sign of him.

We let the police know. We told all of our dog-owner friends. We put it on all of our social media channels. Our beloved Perkins was gone.

We mourned him, just as if he'd been a family member that had died.

Jenny from next door was inconsolable. She looked so pale and more poorly than ever.

"It's really set her back," said her mother. 

The colour had gone out of our lives as well.   


The days and weeks and even the months started slipping by again. Once more we jumped every time the phone rang. But it was never anybody saying they’d found Perkins. They were just the usual junk calls: had we been involved in an accident recently, did we want to change energy provider, did we know our names were associated with a tax fraud? We wanted to ignore them but we kept on answering just in case.

While we were out and about we kept on looking at dogs. We saw some German Shepherds and some Labradors and even some that were a mixture of both. But they were never the right mixture and of course they were never Perkins.

We thought about getting another dog. We visited some dogs' homes. We looked at ads in reputable dog magazines. We even kept our ears open for news from our dog-owner friends about litters of pups. The old arguments came back: all of that exercise, the possibility of vets' bills and how unfair it was on a dog if were both working. The overriding argument was that there could never be another dog like Perkins.         


Then one day we went to the local farmers' market and while we were looking at some interesting free-range meat we heard a familiar bark. A sloppy big German Shepherd / Labrador cross came bounding up to us.

"Perkins! Come here," a man's voice called.

Seconds later a straight-backed well-built young man, probably in his mid-thirties was clipping a lead on to Perkins' collar.

Perkins continued to make a fuss.

"Who are you?" I hissed. "What are you doing with our dog and how did you know his mane was Perkins?"

The young man frowned and bit his lip. "Let's go and have coffee, shall we?"

We reluctantly agreed.

It was quite a story. Des had been mugged and had been unconscious for several weeks. When he came to he had completely lost his memory. It gradually came back but many things remained hazy. He'd had to go through weeks of rehabilitation as well. Then just a day after they'd released him from hospital, Perkins had turned up on his doorstep. Then a lot more of his memory came back. He had had Perkins for three years before the mugging.  One of Des's mates had a bitch that had pups and Des had been given the pick of the bunch. He'd always been a fabulous dog. Of course, he'd had no idea how come the dog had been so well looked after whilst he'd been in hospital. He'd never had him chipped. He knew nothing about dogs when he'd first got Perkins and then he'd never got round to it.  

"Where did his name come from?" Phil asked. 

"He looked like one of my teachers. Perkins, who taught Latin."

It was all decidedly uncanny.

But we agreed to keep in touch with Des and Perkins. Sometimes we would go for walks with them at weekends. We'd end up having a good meal in a dog-friendly pub. Once or twice when Des had to go away for the weekend we would dog-sit. Perkins was as compliant and friendly as ever, and Jenny next-door was delighted, but it was very clear that Des was his real owner.

Then one day the doorbell rang and there were Des and Perkins. Des was holding a wriggling puppy. "I thought you might like to meet Perkins mark two, son of this old chap. Mum is also a German Shepherd / Labrador cross but she has the shape of a Labrador and the colourings of a German Shepherd. He's yours if you want him."

Perkins barked softly.

Of course we had him. We've called him Perky. He is already chipped and tomorrow we're having the chip registered and letting the vet give him the once over. So far so good. He's not quite as well-behaved as Perkins yet but he will be soon. We're starting dog-training next week. And when he's a bit more settled we'll introduce him to Jenny.       

About the author

Gill James is published by The Red Telephone, Butterfly and Chapeltown.  

She edits CafeLit.

She writes for the online community news magazine: Talking About My Generation

She is a Lecturer in Creative Writing and has an MA in Writing for Children and PhD in Creative and Critical Writing