Before the first pitch of the game, Savannah asks Nathan whether he’s ever been in love. Mouth full, he shakes his head. Savannah delicately bites into her quesadilla, ponders for a few moments, and decides she’d much rather date somebody who’s never been in love than someone who has.
“He wasn’t an ugly duckling at all. He was an ugly swan!”
Nick Lord Lancaster
It’s so quiet,
You could hear a pen drop.
You died and Facetimed me from Hell.
It’s not so bad, you said. Heat is included in the cost of rent.
That’s nice, I said. One less bill to worry about.
Ravioli is the national food, you tell me.
What kind? I ask. I prefer spinach.
Spinach, you smile. You know it’s my favourite.
So you’re okay? I wonder.
The view from my window is the world on fire but my apartment is warm and I can eat pasta all day. The devil loves carbs.
I’m okay, you tell me, and suddenly I remember you’re gone.
The thing I really like about my cardigan
Without a shadow of a doubt
Is you can’t accidentally put it on
Unlike a jumper
The woman sitting opposite me is sobbing and I didn’t even notice for the first half of my journey. Hunched over her phone she’s in a text conversation with someone and, while she waits for a reply, she dabs her nose with damp tissue and absently wipes tears from her cheeks.
The other passengers in the carriage are staring everywhere but at her.
I move forward, gently patting her knee and she looks up at me with dark ringed, bloodshot eyes. I offer an expression that says, ‘I don’t know what the problem is but it’ll be ok.’ She half smiles as I hand over the tissues I’ve managed to pull from the bottom of my bag. She mouths ‘Thank you’, before returning to her phone.
I move forward and rest my hand on her knee but she flinches and shoots me a look that shouts, ‘What the fuck are you doing?’. I snatch my hand back as she looks to the people around us for help but they’re all cocooned in their own private worlds. I smile awkwardly, trying my best not to look like a sex offender and hold out the tissues I’ve retrieve from my bag as a peace offering. She glares at them and leaves my hand hanging in the space between us. The train carriage closes in around me.
For the remainder of the journey she types furiously on her phone. At one point she tilts the back of her phone up towards me to take my picture. I’m fairly sure I’m now the topic of conversation on social media.
I think about tapping her knee to get her attention. I could catch her eye and smile, maybe tell her that it will be ok. I could give her the packet of tissues from the bottom of my bag and ask if there’s anything I can do. I do none of it. Social acceptance forces me to do nothing and, along with everyone else in the train carriage, I hope that she gets off soon because feigning ignorance is harder to maintain on the longer journeys.
It’s all behind me now.
Next time I go to an antique shop I’m
going to try my hardest not to think about
the Gallagher brothers or the colour of your
bra or how many times I’ve tried this before.
Somethings, some thinks are repetitive and
I think that that’s ok like the whurring of an air
conditioning unit, you can’t be
cool without it, so you just have to stop listening to it
eventually. I know that I could just ask
you by text, if I wanted to, and you’d tell
the truth, but where’s the fun in that? Isn’t
love supposed to be an air conditioning unit
it’s huge and an impossible distraction
but somehow, we all see the attraction
Here’s the problem. The witch
needed to recruit accomplices,
silent partners who actively hunted
fresh human children, then
led the unwilling babes into
the corrupted oaks. One lone hag
would not have survived on just charms
or enticing scents wafting
from her gingerbread doorstep.
No, she must have employed double
agents outside her boundary to
spin secret snares and traps
in local parishes, to better catch
those unsuspecting innocents.
The alternative is that parents
walked their children to
the start of the twisted path,
knowing or ignoring the sacrifice,
then turned back, leaving
wide-eyed boys and girls to
the dangerous siren song
of so many interwoven branches.
The serviette says
pleasing things with appealing neatness.
It likes having specks of soup on it.
They are its opinions.
In the Great Hall, they held an exhibition
about the Circle People.
Their name came from the part of a
great wheel, and great disk,
found in the river once known as
They used glass and metal, some
stone. Their words were probably spoken,
rather than written. Little else about
them is known.
Here’s a tiny one for you. It might be worth telling, I can’t tell.
I was wandering to the post office, a package swinging in my hand. A snug, fine, perfect little parcel: wrapped-up neat, stamp set straight, handwritten address just so.
It struck me suddenly: how splendid, how simple and splendid, to walk with something swinging in your hand. A cap, a suitcase, or the patient weight of a book perhaps… maybe some sweets (in one of those small, slightly waxy, brown paper bags). Better yet, another hand: the fingers, the palm, the touch of a friend or lover.
And I thought – and I thought – and I decided, without thinking: this was a moment worth writing about. So here we are.
of the bushes.
How each note,
each struck glass,
is like a toast
to that worn muscle
in your chest.
How they set it off,
to sound out above
of these days.
Under those pressures that we deemed
impossible, we managed to retain both
our heads and backs. That fuzz of doubt
blocked by the disintegration of any
appointments, whose responsibilities
we ensured remained silent.
We then shook off the excess lies
like spilled ash. We resided in those
back streets and bars; the seats just
a little too comfy, the beer just about cold
enough as we allowed the knuckles of our
ideology to eventually heal.
Back outside, drenched in rain we regrouped,
embossed in that grim, damp light; unable
to strike matches or conversations. Again, we
repeated those mantras that seemed by then
to have grown somewhat stale, yet still capable
of retaining an echo.
the soft roll
of a stomach.
Brigitte de Valk
They sat in each day waiting for the news, an ear cocked to the radio, dipping spoons towards the milky upsetting of their cereal bowls.
For the main part, their lives carried on under that mild temperate sky that did its best to convince you it wasn’t there. No news settled in like damp air.
But the bad news, the really bad news which everyone agreed was bad, they would savour. It was on those days that the toast had more crunch, the butter a more viscous appeal. The same toast, the same butter. And just when they were thinking of switching.
There is a bicycle, propped against a post,
halfway along Clermont Road.
Classic features: sprayed green of colour –
military – mud guards warped but still
cutting a half-shimmer on a startling
January day, two hours past dawn.
The seat, you could say old-fashioned,
oversized and cushioned; the handlebars, a
chic cream plastic, once immaculate –
it’s all retro here.
The wheels are caving in,
it’s been here for what seems like years –
since before I arrived South.
A regal-looking bird (stork or crane?)
for a cross bar crest.
But it’s the khaki I like best;
pride to the fenders, the coating
fends off the Brighton winter –
now the bitty-looking bike can
become one with the wooden telegraph pole –
At high-commuter times, briefcased men
and umbrellaed women, bound to and from
pass by and think nothing of it –
The water dazzled him with the whiteness of sky, the hulking black shape of the mangled Buick quivering below his elbows. He shattered the image in his thrashing attempts to scramble out of the ditch, but the mud beneath him was too wet, too yielding.
One final spasm like a netted trout, and he too relented, sinking beneath the water into the murky clouds he had churned up.
Perhaps it was better this way, he thought. Virginia could remarry; young Bill would still have a father to look up to.
Who knew, he might even grow up to be President.
She deceased, her doctor says. He shows me the dictionary he checked the definition in. We’re astonished. We’ve heard of death, obviously. But we’ve heard of unicorns and alien invasions, and know they’re not real. BBC Breaking News says, There’s been a death in the country. It confounds the public. Nobody understands how a person can just stop. Why can’t she stand up? Why can’t she be repaired? How does a photograph of her exist if she doesn’t? We don’t know. I wail, gouge my hair, poke my eyes, but the corpse is motionless, won’t get up, remains dead. I confess regrets to it, but its skin is green and peeling. I tell it things we should’ve done, but it’s acquired a caustic smell. Communication with the corpse is impossible. Sex with the corpse is impossible. I’m invited on TV but nobody understands a word I say. I try to explain the grief conundrum but I’ve been caressing the corpse willing it to move, and it won’t move, ever again apparently, unless I attach strings, dance it like a puppet. That can’t be explained. I say, Grief is like sand everywhere. The Prime Minister attempts a reassuring speech but she’s a famous liar. Then pundits posit the question of another deceased, who it might be. I finally agree to bury the corpse. People that never knew it are weeping, not because they’re devastated, but because they’re newly scared for themselves, the bastards. After something called a funeral, emissaries from other cultures visit. We’re so terrified of death, they say, we invented absurdities. Music, to drown out the noise of it. Money, to forget it. We invented war, which is a fight not to be the first to die. They teach me heaven and hell, various afterlives, resurrection, ghosts. An emissary says reincarnation and sand slips out of my ears and eyes. Now I’m roaming the earth, shouting her name at newborns, puppies, lion cubs, piglets, tadpoles, ducklings, fledgling owls, dolphin pubs, vapour trails, sapling trees. Until I find her again.
Do you want a death without dying?
Death without the key benefit:
Just the no going back
No official funeral
If your friends want free drinks
From your wages they must come
If given this choice and only this
I would prefer to live out
The dying death
Feel a little something
Before the eternal stretch
Give fewer the call
They never wanted to receive.
Gary W. Hartley