Snowflake

by Namya Naresh

Gravitation and gratification, ruled their bodies

like pendulums they swung, back and forth

The lines of the city were masters of their souls.

The lines of the city were the creators of their homes.

Redundancy, hypocrisy, autonomy

‘What’s mine is yours, Honey!’

They lied to one another.

‘Life is good,’ they lied to themselves.

The darkness in which the city now lived

harboured, haggard, almost killed

the joy of the sun and the magic of the soul.

Their warm bodies were their only familiar home.

Every sunset pulled on their heartstrings

for every sunrise meant another day had begun.

She grew older and he grew sadder.

An empty nursery and elegant mourning.

At the very end came the snow, radiant and pure

a blanket of white upon the darkness below

with it the light of a new day, warming hearts with its cold,

whispering new beginnings into the lost and forlorn.

She awoke to a new world that morning. A pure world. At least on the surface. While she lay in the comfort of her dreams, the snow had tucked the city in a blanket of white. As she looked out the window she saw that her big city had finally become the snowy English town she had always dreamt of. With it’s white rooftops, salted trees and cushioned roads. After months of slowly losing the magic of the city, it was rich and luscious around her again. She ran down and soaked it all in. She touched the snow on the floor that turned to ice as her warm hands gripped it tight. She could feel it inside her. Pure happiness.

But the sky slowly lost its light the snowfall began to stagger and soon its crystals stopped plunging from above. As the invisible sun began to set, the snow began to melt and the magic slowly weakened.

She closed her eyes, felt the last of the snow on her face and held on to the magic of the moment. For fear that, if she kept her eyes open for too long, the magic might disappear and it would all be just tedious snow like it was for the Londoners bustling around her. That afternoon, as darkness took over the city the purity washed away with the rain as though it had never been there in the first place.

Freedom Train

by Bob Boyton

1

The hostel want more ID off me than old bill need to put you away for three years but I
tell ‘em I’ll be a good boy and get loved up with my key worker in the morning so they
book me into a double.
After that they keep me hanging around for a couple of hours then they give me the
room key tell me to go up to 39 on the threes.
When I get there I knock on the door, out of politeness, ‘new bloke here mate.’
The door opens and I walk in.
I see a black guy in his early thirties sitting back down on his bed along one of the side
walls.
My bed’s along the opposite wall.
All he’s wearing are a pair of black boxers and flip flops. I can’t help noticing plenty of
muscle on his upper body, looks a bit like a middleweight I used to know.
He’s looking at me the same way I’m looking at him, neither of us with any ‘ag, just
checking each other out.
He could be an ex fighter who’s kept himself in shape.
I say ‘Hi.’
He leans forward half getting off the bed and shoves his hand out, either he’s relaxed or
he knows how to pretend.
‘Fitz’, he says.
I shake his hand, ’Ray’.
I notice his eyes, yellow and brown, hardly any white, like a cat, must be contacts, good
if you get ID’d, you can take ‘em out.

2

I sit down on my bed, half way along it. The sheets are whiter than I’m expecting and the
bed’s a lot softer. I feel relaxation spread its way from my arse down to my boots.
I rub my face.to try to get rid of the tredness.
He seems alright so far but I wish he wasn’t there so I could just crash out. After the
kickings I’ve had today all I want to do is go to sleep, be grateful I’m not in lock up and
start thinking again when I get up in the morning.
He says, ‘shut de door mon.’
As I reach forward and shut it I see a short brown plastic stool that’s been hidden
behind it on Fitz’s side of the room, on the seat of the stool there’s a round shaving
mirror, five or six lines on it chopped up and ready to go.
Fitzy half sits up again, sticks his foot out and hooks it round the stool to drag it over so it
ends up between us.
He’s sitting up now, almost opposite me. I’m looking down at the white, thinking he’s
playing chess, that could be anything, all ready for him to get someone up, fuck ‘em up
or take the piss.
We could be back on a poxy landing somewhere, only in here he can be more blatant
with his gear.
I can’t think of a move, I’m so tired the top of my head’s coming off.
He almost shouts, ‘ousewarming innit.’
He can see I don’t know what comes next.
He chuckles, ‘you tink it’s poison?
‘Let me show you mon,’ he takes out a twenty pound from under his pillow, does a line
up each nostril.

3

I’m looking at his face as he comes up from the mirror, watching for the quality of the hit,
thinking I’m behind with him already, but hoping the stuff’s rubbish, then seeing his face
telling me it’s probably primo which drops me further behind. It’s three or four years since
I did some but I used to love it a lot and watching him I’m hungry for it again, full of
wanting to blast off and forget meself, besides a line of that I can fight him all night if I
have to, even if he’s the one knows the dance steps right now.
He breathes out and gives me the twenty, ‘Is good stuff mon.’
I look at those eyes that aren’t their real colour, then in my chest it feels like surrender as
I bend down to the mirror and throw my three months AA out of the window.
I do a line and the rush is a rocker, freezing my brain until I can talk again.
‘Yeah that’s good Fitz,’ and then I’m going like I’ve never been tired.
‘Yeah lovely, and know what, I haven’t even had a drink for three months, that is good.’
‘Knew you’d like it mate,’ he says.
That’s about the last word he gets in because now I’m on one, telling him about the pearl
diving, getting back from the job at two in the morning, having to go out for a run, three
or four miles, almost like roadwork in the old days, just to tire myself out, because
otherwise the walls are going to come in at me, then I start the story at the beginning
how I used to think I was going to be middle weight champion of the world and where I
ended up with that.
Fitzy chops up a few more,
I’m saying, ‘You’re about the first geezer I’ve talked to since I got out.’
Fitzy gives me a smile.
I feel like I haven’t been warm for about a million years until just now and I wish I could
explain it to him.

4

I’m trying to make my mind up whether it’s a good thing to tell him about the passport
and having to have it on my toes when he says, ‘yeah knew you’d been a fighter soon
as I see ya, teef as well innit, I sees you I reckon plenty a porridge, just like me. Tell
you bout my last lot, seven months remand in the Ville, my brief reckons I’m on for a
bender goin to walk it, I said only one doin any bending is me in some other geezer’s cell
and I don’t like it up the bottle. Then I get three years sentence, after I’ve been nutted off
he don’t say anything to me at all, can’t look at me in the face.’
I say, ‘Yeah, like most briefs mate, everything’s cuntish.’
Fitzy chops up a few more and now we’re both going.
Nicks we’ve both been in, what happened to a geezer who tried to cut him in Leicester,
five days I done on the block in one place, all about the diesel treatment because
keeping on getting moved from one nick to another is better than grassing.
I don’t even know how long we’re talking because I’m in the time tunnel but I know we’ve
talked loads before Fitzy has to go out.
He stands up, puts on a pair of black joggers and tucks a money belt down inside them,
Help yourself, be appy,’ he says nodding towards some more he’s cut up on the mirror.
‘Bitta business’ he says as he goes.
I don’t even really want any more coke, but without him the night’s gone a bit cold so I do
another couple of lines.
Ten minutes later he’s back, with a Tesco’s bag he didn’t have when he went out.
A minute later there’s a knock on the door, I look at Fitz and down at the mirror, to say
‘shall I get rid of it’ but he says, ‘safe mon,’ and gets up.
When he opens the door it’s one of the crack heads I saw in the canteen, the way he
looks at me he thinks I’ve stolen his train set, sold it for smack.

5

‘Dahn the corridor mate,’ Fitzy orders him.
He goes out after him, then comes back on his own about a minute later.
For the next half hour it’s like rush hour on the tube, I even hear Fitzy outside in the
corridor telling them to line up properly and keep the noise down.
That finishes and he comes back and gets another wrap out of his pocket, shakes it
gently onto the mirror and does the business.
I’m wondering where he’s put the money, in his pocket or the Tesco’s bag he’s slung on
the floor then I remember the money belt.
Now he’s going top speed, all about boilings he’s seen in Highpoint except he calls it
Nighpoint, the way he’s telling me about it it’s almost he doesn’t think I’ve ever seen it
happen.
Then he stands up again, ‘could be good mate, you n me, make a whole heap a
money,’ then he looks me in the eye and he holds his cock through his tracksuit bottoms,
to let me know he’s not just talking about the dough we could get hold of.
‘Bout ten,’ he says but I see a shadow cross his face before he goes out the door.
This time he hasn’t left any out and it begins to die down a bit.
I reckon he’s had well over his ten minutes when I notice an alarm clock on top of his
bedside cabinet, see it’s half past four.
Five o’clock and he still hasn’t come back but there aren’t any knocks on the door so he
must have gone out, for a meet.
I’m still hanging in space with the coke stopping me sinking as I sit there pondering what
he’s said, knowing I could stay here, go to work with him, and the two of us have a bit of
the champagne life. Spend the money, all the powder I want, and feel those muscles as I
discover his cock.

6

But I remember his face when he was telling me about the boilings he’s seen, know he
can still see the sugar being put in the cup before the water’s drawn off so it’ll do more
damage, still hears the screaming in the middle of the night and looks out the window for
the ambulance because the last time they let him out they did but they didn’t and if I wait
for him I’m probably going the same way.
I don’t move though because I’m potless skint, way behind with him for all his Charlie,
still thinking about his muscles and I’ve got no place that feels like home.
Six o’clock and the cokes lying down but I’ve realised the shadow that crossed his face
just before he went out was the shadow of the jailhouse and he isn’t coming back.
I make myself stand up.
There aren’t a lot of places to look but I get lucky straight away, four wraps and eighty
quid in tens in a rip in the bottom of his mattress.
All I’ve taken off is my jacket so I bung that back on and I’m out of the room, hoping I can
find the right staircase.
I crash down the stairs and this time’s God’s smiling, the bottom of the stairs brings me
out right by the canteen.
I knock the wraps out to a couple of likelys who’ve got a oner between ‘em.
Outside I turn away from Kings Cross and trouble.
A black cab comes along with its light on, my first one for years.
‘Victoria Station.’
Class A and Old Bill, Police and Thieves, I’m leaving them all behind.
I get on the one that’s leaving first, almost asleep before it pulls out.
My freedom train.

Adapted from www.bomberjacksondoessome.com

The Starring Role

By Kristian Dennet

Sophia watched the audience as the curtain slowly fell. Like a shop awkwardly closing its shutters for the night. The faces in the audience only looked in one direction; all eyes on Rene, the venerated star of the show. As Sophia wondered why that couldn’t be her, a hand grabbed out and dragged her off of the stage. Sophia was used to this nightly occurrence yet it still always took her by surprise. “Soph! For the millionth time when the chorus plays for the second time you need to be off the fecking stage! It can only be Rene for the final bow. This must stop.” roared John, the director. Without a single breath Sophia strutted off knowing that the following night she would wait on the stage for even longer, maybe even taking the final bow with Rene.

Show number two-hundred-and-fifty. An anniversary show in the minds of musical performers. A signifier to the actor that they have endured and withstood an entire year of the physical and mental battles a script has given to them. The same script. For some of the stars performing the same script nine times a week. Like Sophia. She only has twenty lines within the whole musical. When she wakes her inner voice immediately recounts the first line. “Well, thank you for such a grand gesture Madame!”, whilst she brushes her teeth she imagines the dance moves she must perform in the second song, before sighting the other meagre lines within the first two scenes over breakfast. Everyday granola and yoghurt, and everyday those same lines ranging from two to six words long. During her journey to Aldwych theatre, where Sophia half-lives out her dream, she recalls her remaining lacklustre lines concentrating on how little they add to the narrative. Like clockwork her final line always climaxed within her mind at Charring Cross station, her final stop on the northern line. Two-hundred-and-fifty. And still nobody had asked her for an autograph, only posing for a few selfies with ‘fans’ who don’t even know her name. Tomorrow will be a momentous day for her, yet she couldn’t help but feel bittersweet and disappointed.

But now it was time for pre-celebrations. Every fourteen shows the cast celebrate in gluttonous style, as their contracts stopped them from tasting the forbidden fruits that are liquor and junk foods. A ritual of excess. Today the fourteenth show fell on performance two-hundred-and-forty-nine, gifting the actors two days of liver-destroying, cholesterol-raising hedonism. “Don’t call me cunting Rene. You know how creepy I think it is. My name is Alexa.”

“I’m sorry R-, Alexa…”

“Yeah, well if you’re sorry you’ll join me in getting the fuck out of here and going for drinks. We’re boycotting the other losers if we’re with them tomorrow evenin’. I can’t pretend to be nice two nights in a row.” Within minutes of her final utterance an Uber was already pulled up outside the theatre. Within the same amount of minutes the car had already pulled up outside of Dandelyan bar in South Bank. Sophia was already dreaming of the sugar-dipped glass rim of the cocktail glass touching her lip. After a silent journey with Alexa glaring at her phone screen as it glared back the constant refreshing of twitter mentions that congratulated her on the evening’s performance, she needed something to give her joy. Even after two-hundred-and-forty-nine nights of the same tweets in the show’s post-hour comedown, Alexa’s ego still thirsted for the unified gratification; drinking it like clockwork until her eyes got tired of the screen’s backlight.

“Twenty-quid for a Hugo?! Do they grow the elderflower in the bar or something?” Sophia gassed

“Darling it’s fine, I’ll pay the bill just order whatever,” boasted Alexa. Following an hour’s table service and four rounds the tab totalled one-hundred-and-sixty-pounds.

“Are you jealous of me? I see the way your eyes grow whenever my fans catch us and they don’t know who you are. I wouldn’t blame you hun…I would be too, it’s natural,” Sophia was caught off guard by this, and her tipsy tongue couldn’t lie. But it could plan a response that both pleased and shaded Alexa at the same time. “I envy you. But I’m not jealous. I have plans of my own, and remember you’re ten years older than me…When I’m your age I’d like both fame and a family. I’d hate to be lonely at thirty-five…” She was pleased with her response, Alexa’s slit eyes and fake smile was the exact response she had predicated. A lemon. Her words were like a twist of lemon to the pallet of Alexa’s already bitter soul. Suddenly loneliness and longing danced within Alexa’s mind as echoes filled her heart. The cure for this was another two Negronis. Sophia sipped water, sobering up as she watched Alexa drown her psyche in a dark lake of Italian spirits. As Sophia bathed and soaked in her newfound power over the leading lady, karma brought her down to earth when Alexa passed out as the bartender brought the bill to the table. Two-hundred-pounds for a litre’s worth of liquid courage and an evening with the enemy. As Sophia’s fingers reluctantly entered her Topshop purse she recoiled at the thought of her contract earning her five times less than what Alexa takes home. Sophia overcame her bitterness by taking a pair of tweezers and stabbing Alexa’s Miu Miu clutch, smiling at the now imperfect leather and feeling a cathartic twinge in her chest.

Fireworks lit up the inside of the Uber ride home like a strobe light, lulling Alexa into a deeper sleep and settling Sophia’s sense of sourness. Sophia had used Alexa’s finger in the club to unlock her phone and order the two an executive ride back to Alexa’s apartment. “Christ on a bike I can smell the gin coming out of her nostrils!” chortled Lenny, one of North London’s highest rated drivers; what he lacked in tact he made up for with an AUX cable, phone charger, out of date wine-gums and stolen Fiji water bottles. “Yeah…she’s…having a tough time at work, and with money…She’s one of my backing performers so I thought I’d treat her to a night out. I must have treated her too much.”

“I wish I had mates more like you! Although she won’t be thanking you in the morning, that’s for sure!” admired Lenny.

“She definitely won’t be thanking me! In fact can you drop me off just near Archway station my love? I’ll not be going back to hers; I fancy my own bed tonight.”

As Lenny pulled up by the abandoned pub next to the station Sophia climbed out and stood for an entire minute. Still. Transfixed. Numb to the February cold that bit her ankles. ‘The Archway Tavern’ read the sign adorning the glorious Victorian architecture of the detached building. A beaux-arts canvas flecked with comical late-nineties signage free in its stature, surrounded by post-and-neo-modern erections all breathing the same typography. Even though they were open to business the shops all looked tired, wishing they were closed down and not overworked by consumerism. The juxtaposition invited Sophia to juxtapose herself with Alexa. Alexa was the tavern that everybody remembered and photographed in awe, whilst she and the other crew were the repetitive and featureless row of retailers that people used but didn’t care about.

Sophia’s joints began to creak as she noticed the time on the clock of the tavern. Three A.M. Rehearsals were only eight hours away. This meant her routine for eight hours of solid sleep was out of sync. Sophia picked up the pace so that she was only four minutes from home, abandoning her preferred speed that would take closer to seven minutes to reach her front door. With time against her and a headache burrowing itself within the pits of her eye sockets Sophia began to care less. It was at the lowest point of giving a fuck that she noticed she was being followed. Turning around she spotted the fine feline as it tried to keep up with her, desperate and slow in its manner with a heedless limp. She allowed her stalker to carry on, knowing nothing bad could happen to her if she wondered behind. She actually enjoyed the company deep down, nine-point-five out of ten times she returned home alone, so this was a joyous occasion. Sophia began to plan what she would do with the cat for the remainder of the evening; where it would sleep and the bedtime stories she would tell it. All she had to do was get it through the front door without anybody else in the house noticing it, which was difficult as the cat began to grow louder and louder in its injured state. Groaning, even knocking into everything like a toddler who had eaten too much chocolate. Once Sophia’s house was within view she hurried to the entrance, leaning on the Georgian door whilst tapping the lion paw knocker with her shellac fingernail tips as she watched the spectacle of the debilitated cat drag itself across the street. As it staggered up the mosaic step she began to open the door, enjoying its intense stare as it clearly relied on her for help. Is this what it feel like to be loved? To be a mother? She thought.

Inside the house was warmth met Sophia with a personified sense. Kissing her cheeks. Evolving from tender and blue in colour to soft and rosey within seconds. After Sophia’s new friend finally crossed the threshold of outside space to inside space, the door closed gently before she double-locked it. Inside. Chained and bolted. A triple sense of security was felt by all. The next challenge was getting up the six sets of stairs that led to Sophia’s bedroom. She lived in a five-bedroom house illegally. With the four tenants paying the landlord in cash monthly at a slightly lower rent to the other tenants in the area. Even though they all shared the same safe space the five felt like strangers to each other. After two years. Still unaccustomed. To Sophia the savoir faire of London seemed only to be alive when it furthered the careers or financial gain of its inhabitants. Not like back home in Harrogate where she could spend half an hour stood talking to a neighbour about bin collections.

After yet another intense and time-consuming performance of dragging claws and yanking fur up the stairs the two were outside a row of three white doors. Against white walls. And white rails. And beige carpets. No pictures or rugs. Like an empty gallery space. Once in her bedroom Sophia took off her mask. Cleansing wipes removed her light dusting of makeup, as well as the film of air pollution that deposited on her face throughout her day in the city. The ritual was complete when Sophia was free of her clothing, noticeably her bra, as a rush of freedom reenergised her body. Now she felt light. Completely herself. Like the antithesis of a drag queen; she only felt whole without all of the feminising embellishments she had to wear to be taken seriously. Almost forgetting about her guest who recoiled in the corner of the room, still unaware of its surroundings. Purring, eyes widening. Unsure if it was in its usual nightly resting place or if it was experiencing the tropes of a new bedroom, like a yuppie high on MD having a one-night-stand.

As the cat became more aware and comfortable it also began to make more noise. Bollocks! Thought Sophia as she worried her landlord would hear in the room below. He didn’t like her having guests over, especially the feline kind. She didn’t want to be lonely so she gave the kitty a sleeping pill to ease its sprain and help it sleep. This only made its state even worse as it began to wallow, regurgitating bile and producing a piercing sound not too dissimilar to the post-orgasmic grunts of a human climax. After an hour of moans Sophia could no longer bear to be in the room. She tried scrolling through her twitter, liking dozens of Instagram posts, watching micro-clips on Facebook and even tagging Alexa in events she was interested in knowing that the pair wouldn’t be going to any of them.

Yet nothing could distract her from the noises. It was going to ruin tomorrow’s performance if she couldn’t get at least a fraction of sleep. Crazy. She had finally lost it, even after telling herself she was fine. It didn’t stop the voices, not coming from her own mind but from within the room itself. She began to hear fully-formed words coming from the cat. Entire clauses. Clauses that made sense. Clauses she didn’t like. Whole sentences that damaged her ego and made her feel less than. That was it. The feistiness was now rude, hitting too many nerves. Sophia began to feel physical pain. Her heartbeat rocketed as her migraine began to snap like a rubber band. She planned on harbouring her company just for a day or two, freeing it when it regained full health and consciousness. However the pillow under her head was too tempting, she knew it would do the trick…Silence. At last.

She smothered it until there was no more energy in her wrist. The toast now dripped in butter. As Sophia licked the knife clean, she swapped hands to smother the soggy slice in marmalade. No granola and yoghurt today she thought, today is going to be different. She stared at the breakfast for a few minutes before demolishing it in seconds. She swallowed her pills and hid the pills. Happy. Her new sense of energy made her feel normal again. It was time for the clock to resume so harmony could be restored. Her performance wasn’t just between the hours of seven-thirty and nine-thirty that evening. It was twenty-four-seven. Every action, facial expression and word spoken was well balanced and thought out in order to conform with the rest of the London bubble. After hiding last night’s incident in a dry cleaning suit bag in her walk-in wardrobe she let her morning routine begin again. Rehearsing the script for the show, getting dressed, applying her makeup – today heavier than usual – and taking an Uber to the theatre instead of using the tube. Today was a special day, it was show two-hundred-and fifty. The audience didn’t know it, but the entire cast had been excited about today for weeks. It then occurred to Sophia how on any given day she either felt totally uninterested and depressed, or totally high and happy with life. City life was extreme. It meant living in binaries. If London brought light into her life, it also brought darkness; if she found love, heartbreak would be waiting around the corner. A week of living lavishly brought a following week of budgeting and coupon hunting. Today, though, Sophia was only thinking positively about the night ahead. The negativity of the future did not exist.

“That vile bitch! I thought today she might not be late for rehearsals. Queen of fecking Sheeba. She forgets she’s replaceable. She’s no Meryl, or Helen. She’s barely even a fecking Olsen. Mary-Kate or Ashley could get more fecking cheers and tears out of the crowd. She’s only here because of the amount of Instagram followers she has!” John bellowed, knowing how to speak in only one volume and tone. Backstage at the theatre the cast and crew were walking on eggshells. What should have been a buzz in the air was now a chill, after Alexa had neglected to get to the rehearsals on time. With three hours to go before the show was to begin the night was now spoilt for everyone. “Hardly a surprise, this’ll be the fifth time since we started that she’s not turned up and Natalie’s had to fill in for her.” Muttered Andy, a producer.

“They don’t fecking pay to see Natalie. Who by the way fecked off to Dreamgirls over six weeks ago must you forget you fecktard…She is not doing this to us today, not on two-hundred-fifty. She can kiss her contract goodbye if she’s not here in the next hour. Has she replied to anyone yet?”

As John paced up and down the glitter-red path set from act-two scene-one Sophia cleared her throat. “Well, to tell the truth we were out quite late last night. We got an Uber back together, she got home around half three. We even Facebooked this morning so she’ll probably be here soon…”

“Well, to tell the truth THAT AIN’T FECKING GOOD ENOUGH! If she’s not here soon we need to tell twitter and all that shite that she not feeling well, for the fifth time. It’s either another hangover or she’s disappeared to Milan like the first time she didn’t perform. I hope for her it’s the fecking latter. And FYI Ms. So-bad-influence-phia, if she’s not here in the next hour then it’s you filling in for her because Natalie is too busy singing Beyoncé knock-offs. I know you know all Alexa’s words, I see you fecking mouthing along and you probably sing better than her…shame nobody knows you. Can we quickly drum up some publicity for Soph across the social pages? You’ve got an hour to try and get people excited to see her. Good luck.”

For the next hour Sophia sat watching the backstage door, squeezing her left hand until her index knuckle nearly touched her pinky knuckle. Hoping. Praying that Alexa didn’t turn up. Last night was heavy enough to keep her sleeping until the show started she thought. Even though her excitement had never been so strong, neither had her doubt. When the hour was up she disappeared to the toilet, punching the air and biting on her hand as she tried to hide her shrieks of pleasure. This was her chance to live out her dream, and it was totally unplanned and by chance. Even though the opportunity was gifted to her out of desperation she knew she deserved it. Finally everything that glittered was gold. After running through a dress rehearsal with Sophia as Rene the cast and crew gave her a round of applause. Whilst this was a nice feeling all Sophia could thing about was the gratification of the audience. The standing ovation. The autographs. The tweets and followers.

“Well, that was fecking nice to have a drama free run through. Well done Sophia. And not that it matters but Alexa sent me a text just before you started. “Sorry”, that’s all she cared to say people. If it goes well after tonight Soph, well, who knows.” And with a wink It was now less than one hour to the curtain call. The smell of fresh flowers filled the dressing rooms as an electrifying excitement began to build. Nobody was talking about Alexa, her name became a taboo. Synonymous with Judas. Sophia was finally on everybody’s lips. Just where she belonged.

The curtains opened in the darkness. A spotlight hit Sophia, as she opened her mouth Rene was reborn. The crowd cheered immediately after her first very ad-lib. A tear escaped as Rene watched the tears of audience members. She watched. Counting. Every single eye in the audience, on her. She forgot about the other cast members behind her. Is this was it feels like to be Alexa? Sophia thought with manic laughter swarming her mind’s peripheral. After the first act and three ovations Sophia sat in her dressing room, reading the hashtags and looking at the emoji’s of love being sent to her. Like artwork filling her mentions. Hearts in every colour. Yellow faces with happy tears, smiles. Digital high-fives. Icons of angels and dancing divas. She had broken the West End.

Walking onstage for the second act Sophia stroked Alexa’s dress, trying her best to walk the same way as Alexa did. Holding her posture with the straightness of last night’s Rene. It was during the final moments of the performance when the entire audience was stood with ruckus adulation that Sophia noticed a man and a woman who walked down the aisle of the theatre. Both with eyes on Rene, only they weren’t cheering. Or smiling. Instead they were there to do their job. Sophia spotted the handcuffs in the woman’s belt. They must have gone in the wardrobe she thought. The cat is out of the bag. They found her. She could see the headlines in tomorrow’s Metro now; ‘Former Leading Lady Spiked and Murdered By Leading Lady.’ She smiled as she took a bow. And another. Then slowly, her last.

Family Tree

by Naseema Khanom

I spy on the neighbour’s garden

an apple tree, six foot three

with perfect ripe reds and greens

growing towards the heavens.

Every spring without fail

doctors, lawyers

and pharmacists blossom

on every stem.

 

It is a mighty sight to behold

roots so strong, resilient

the rich soil, bountiful.

The good apples run wild

whilst the bad ones are left at home.

 

Week after week

wedding invitations jam the letterbox

saris, flaunted

sharp suits, rented

laughter, song and dances are rehearsed one after one.

Painted smiles are then packed away for the day

in the trunk of an aunty’s hefty kameez collection.

 

Windows wide open the Adhan begins to play

I look at their glistening white gate

and wonder what secrets are veiled.

On the ground lies a popped football,

a broken doll misses her head.

It only takes one to swipe the blade.

 

I wondered if the whispers are true

that the good son is hiding a bastard child

or that the daughter has ran away with a Chinese man.

The branches will not reach that far

her mother searches the map

and is met with strange names

and decided that the roots will rot.

 

I can’t live without him, he’s the one.

Hushed and chided

the family loudly divided

No tears flow for the wayward child

as she swings the sharp axe splintering its heart.

Picture courtesy of Qasim Alam. 

 

Recipe for Home

by Sajidah Iqbal

I want to make a home here, it’s just that, I don’t know

how to go about it. I wonder if it would be easy to do
it all over again; to carve my name on the bark of the
new trees, that don’t recognize me or leave my
footprints on the sands of the new ocean which
doesn’t own me. It’s so baffling, how can I clutch at the
spirit of this new city, so that it inspires and braces me?
How do I make it my new proud home? I left my home-
land far behind, many sleepless nights away. The
troubles and cares of adapting to, this new brilliant city
kept me up at night, at first the struggle seemed
exciting and then it crept on my mind and body like
poison ivy, numbing my senses and leaving me even
more desperate to be a part of London. I whispered to
God, “Please, I am trying to hitch a ride with this new
world, help me.” A vibe of hope electrified and made
me think, every day is a new day and is a blessing of
God, I won’t give up, until I make it my home.

From tomorrow morning, I will put in my best effort,
once again, but the first thing I have to do is, get a new
pillow, this one is twisted and gives me a stiff neck, I
look like a zombie with swollen, red eyes. You know
what, this struggle to procure sweet dreams has left
me busted. I have shopped for seven pillows, in the last

five months. But, I don’t know, why they can’t fill up
pillowcases just enough to make them soft and downy,
so they make you fall sleep instantly. Pillows here are
either too soft or too hard. Back home, we had the
best pillows ever, you just put your head on one and
you would drift off into the sweetest dreams.

This Friday we are eating out, we are planning to go to
a restaurant in Hounslow, “Taste of Pakistan”. I have
tried their food couple of times before, it’s really good,
especially their “Chicken Karahi” with its beautiful
tomato gravy and julienne ginger garnish. I love its
aroma, but every time I go there, something is missing,
I don’t know, I can’t put my finger on it, whether it’s
some kind of spice in the gravy or the naan which is
served along with the dish is not baked to a crusty
perfection or their repulsive metallic crockery puts me
off, or the specious air of originality about their food
drives me crazy, something is not there. I can’t name
it.

Before coming to London, the thing that fascinated me
was the concept of outdoor seating at cafes and
restaurants. Tranquil rose-trimmed terraces,
retractable roofs to cover diners from damned summer
rain, chic and comfortable seaters, scintillating glass
walls, bloom-filled terracotta pots and a clubby
atmosphere thriving with buzzing diners,

demonstrated the meaning of exotic and romantic for
me. After coming here, the magic stayed for a while
and then vanished somewhere, the delighted chirpy
diners turned into an annoying mob, and the rose-filled
terraces into a waste of space.

Where did I go wrong? Did I not make a genuine effort
in embracing you, London? Why did I end, screwed up?
Perhaps…. I never explored you in you, London! I tried
to pursue the beloved old faces in the new faces,
foraged familiar flavours in the new food, beat about
the new paths hoping to reach the old destinations and
searched for the tantalizing hot weather in your rainy
summer. I searched for the peace in pillows and not in
peace of mind. My search has been faulty, I have been
wrong all along, I was only looking at what I wanted to
see and was searching for what I left behind.

I took for the graciousness of strangers for granted,
who bent over backwards explaining directions when I
was lost. I was so immersed in complaining that I failed
to appreciate the mother-like kindness of the midwife,
who tried to comfort me in the moment of utter pain. I
was so busy kicking up a fuss about rains and cold that
I couldn’t spot the splendorous rainbows afterwards.
My prejudices never fully released me to value the new
world as it is. I wish, I had broken the shackles of past

affiliation and would have allowed myself to enjoy the
short-haul ride of summer, melodious songs of birds
and warm smile on alien faces. I ignored your true
essence and blissfulness, London however, I found out
the recipe of home.

Homesick Blue

By John Philip Gething

Homesick Blue
It is that sense of home,
that almost grieving addiction
for
a place.
Stitched into the fabrics,
sewn to its walls that
drip a color of youth. Like vines.
Veins.
We painted the walls pinstriped
Blue when we moved in.
american yankees.
I was seven years old. Would have my
own bed for the first time,
everything a parent works for.
Love was present, always.
We fought that house to the
ground and screamed at it to stay
together. Shouting matches.
In one piece,
a part of it.

*
I am weariness of the night,
playing cricket ballads
in a moonlight smoke

to sounds of country sleep,
sullen dreams, a finely lit home.
The crying night
sees me
stoned, a
sad music. The barn
we stored all belief
in a craft,
played our heart
strings
and drank of romance.
It’s all covered in dust now.
Brotherhood is
lupine, blood and wolves.
Remembering that time,
the laughing over
and struggling for breath.
We are the lively ones
in the forgetfulness of death.
*

Away I part, a stranger.
In new walls, material white
and boring.
Shapes all the same.
City lined sky
now the trees
shaking their seeds
to the dirt. Water. Needs water.
But rain falls different. A
mist in your eyes, tearing before
you cry.
But a blur, good enough to
hue the light and hurt.
Soon, I will build a house
of skin and bone, and love her
growing old.
*
She is amnesia. I have no sense of
place,
but within
Her.
Here and then I miss
my pretty home.
That sadness lives
as long as the day
we mourn for,
wanting light to return.
.
Then I hear the voice, and It
looks to me. With the same eyes,
in a pinstriped Blue shirt, against
a portrait of fire.
Our music is exchange of breath,
of
beating
heart.
Still beating.

One Too Many

By Roderick O’Sullivan 

“Flight 407 to London Heathrow is now boarding at Gate 34. American Airlines again apologises for the long delay, resulting from the earlier security incident. American Airlines thanks you for your understanding on the inevitable seating changes that have proved necessary to make up for lost time and backlogs. A complimentary bar service will be available throughout the flight. This is the last and final call for Mr Patrick Murphy. Will Mr Murphy please make his way to Gate 34 where this flight is now closing…”

“It’s swell having you back on board again,” said the smiling chief-stewardess. “To your left, doctor, as usual. First class, 2A. May I?”

The tall silver haired man handed over his jacket and in the same movement bent to stow away his briefcase. Settling into his seat, he adjusted the creases in his pinstriped trousers.

“Thank you, Cherry. And may I say how radiant you look this evening?”

“Oh, that bedside manner of yours. I’m beat already, you know it’s been chaos and the flight is jammed. Anyway they’ve arrested those two crazies carrying Kalashnikovs. Thank the Lord nobody was hurt. Can I get you anything, doctor?”

“Most kind, Cherry, but no thank you. All I need is a little simple peace and quiet to add the finishing touches to my lecture. Later a little Brahms and maybe, just maybe, a chilled glass of Chablis with my meal.”

“It was so fortunate having you aboard back in April when that woman took that turn. You remember?”

“Indeed; I hear she made it to hospital in Seattle. Didn’t she make a full recovery? I was never informed.”

“According to Captain Wainright, complications set in and she passed away some days later.” She smiled as her eyebrows arched. “I think they wait for you to come on board before having their seizures.”

“Sometimes I think the same, Cherry.” He stroked his beard then tapped the small pouch at his side. “I make a point of always carrying my emergency kit.” As an afterthought he added, “Anyway, one can only do one’s best…”

“I’m sorry, doctor for being so, so, erm, flipperant. I know you did all you could for the elderly lady. You were so composed…”

“Thank you, Cherry, and I think you mean flippant, not flipperant.” His quick smile disappeared. “May I say at this juncture just how very helpful you yourself were when the good lady lost consciousness. What an excellent nurse you would have made.”

“Oh, doctor, you do say the nicest things. Oops, this way madam …if you would excuse me…”

 

With ten minutes to take-off, the only empty seat was 3A First Class. As the last passenger entered, he bumped against the doorway and after taking two unsteady steps, tottered, scattering a bottle of liquor, a carton of cigarettes and a half-eaten sandwich from a duty-free bag.

“Whoa,” he cried, stumbling after the bottle as it rolled along the aisle. “Come here, me little beaut, you’re not gettin’ away that easily.”

The bottle had come to rest against the doctor’s shoe. Breathing heavily, the latecomer slowly knelt to retrieve it. He winked knowingly, straightened up and held the bottle aloft.

“John Jameson,” he said, showing an irregular row of chipped and stained teeth. “The only stuff, I’m tellin’ you. Would you be fancyin’ a tipple yourself, sir, seein’ that it was your good boot that arrested my liquid friend here. And he tryin’ to escape, no less. Aye.”

The doctor suppressed a shudder. “I rarely touch spirits, my good man,” he said, staring pointedly out the window. “Thank you, nonetheless.”

“You don’t know what you’re missin’. Good old John J.”

“Your seat is there, sir,” interrupted Cherry, using both arms to propel the man into his berth. “Strap yourself in quickly, you’re delaying us long enough as it is.” Her eyes rolled heavenward. “Mr Murphy has been upgraded from Economy, doctor. I’m sorry about this extrusion, oops, I mean intrusion…”

“Aha, doctor is it?” Murphy said, his ruddy face beaming. “That’s one for the books, eh? Me sittin’ right next to a real medical man. Put it there, sir.”

Murphy stretched forward and before he could react, grabbed the doctor’s right fist with his rough-skinned hands.

“Delighted, doctor, dee-lighted. Wait ‘til the missus hears just who I was sitting next to. Always knew you’d get a grander class of person in the First Class. PXBM at your service; that’s Patrick Xavier Boniface Murphy to all and sundry.” He inclined his head backward and squinted. “And who might you be?”

His lips forming in a thin line the doctor quickly withdrew his hand and muttered, “My name’s Dr….”

“Please fasten your seat-belt,” interrupted Cherry, making no attempt to conceal her exasperation, “and kindly allow the other passengers their privacy. You happen to be in First Class now, Mr Murphy, not Economy. Respect. Manners. Please get a hold of yourself and remember where you are.”

Murphy burped then whispered conspiratorially against the back of his hand, “Know somethin’, doc? I reckon her ladyship’s got up on the wrong side of the bed this mornin’.”

“Cherry?”

“Yes, doctor?”

“I’ve changed my mind. Would you be so kind as to bring me a large malt? Laphroaig.”

“Certainly.”

“Oh, miss? Miss.”

“Yes, Mr Murphy?” came the icy response.

“I’d like to order somethin’ from this here, complementary list o’ drinks. I’d like some of that Klug champagne. Make it a bottle while you’re at it.”

“You mean Krug, Mr Murphy.”

“Indeedy, bottle of Klug. The very man.” He rubbed his palms together. “Ah, ha, way to live, way to go.” Leaning across the aisle, he tugged the sleeve of the passenger in the adjacent cubicle, a sixty something-ish lady of Middle Eastern appearance.

“How’s it goin’ there, missus? I bet this Klug stuff beats the livin’ stuffin’ out of Matt Molloy’s pints of Guinness, what do ye reckon, eh? Eh?”

With a perceptible shiver, the woman shook her sleeve free, her smouldering dark eyes never deviating from the book firmly held in her grasp.

Murphy stepped backward and jostled the doctor jostled playfully in the ribs. “Have you heard the one about the one-eyed lesbian who…”

Brow furrowing, the doctor unbuckled his seat-belt and stood up. “My lack of interest in social discourse, Mr Murphy,” he grated, sliding his laptop free, “is due to my having to complete my lecture. Do excuse me.”

“Say no more, doctor. Never let it be said that any member of the Murphy tribe ever put as much as a toecap in the way of expandin’ the frontiers of medical science.” To the stewardess he called, “How’s me old friend Mr Klug comin’ along there, missy? Chop, chop, what?”

“We’re taking off very shortly, Mr Murphy. You’ll just have to wait until we’re aloft.”

 

 

Five hours into the flight, only a muffled snoring and small movements of bedclothes disturbed the dark serenity in the First Class cabin. The sole light came from overhead 2A, its cone-shaped beam illuminating Murphy’s slouched figure like a searchlight. His shirt open, half-sitting, half-lying on his bed, he rose unsteadily to his feet and stepped across the aisle. He stared down at the doctor for a few seconds before shaking him by the shoulder.

“Sorry to be botherin’ you, doc,” he slurred.

The doctor’s sleep-filled eyes shot open, unsure of where he was. Blinking, he glanced at his watch. 2.43.

“What on earth is up with you, Murphy?” he growled. “Do you know what time it is?”

“Two things, doc. One, I’m damned if I can remember the words of the third verse of ‘My Lagan Love.’ Great song entirely. You wouldn’t happen to know them by any chance, eh? I’ll never get to sleep otherwise. As God’s me judge.”

The doctor half-rose from the bed, propping himself up on an elbow.

“No, Mr Murphy, I do NOT know the second verse or the first verse or any verse of your ‘Lagan Love’”.

“I’m all right up to…” With that he broke into instant song,

“But dew-Love keeps her memory

Green on the…”

“For heaven sake,” spluttered the doctor. “People are trying to sleep…”

“Cut out that bloody racket,” came a gruff male voice.

The doctor was wide awake. “Now look, I’ve had it up to here….”

“…I’m really sorry sir, really. It’s not me fault, it’s the drink, it does do funny things to me mind. Unless I can go to sleep satisfied about things like, then I do be tossin’ and turnin’ the whole night through. It can be the words of a song, me youngest being in trouble again or that eldest waster of mine being on the lash – anythin’ can put me right off me beauty sleep. Don’t tell me it’s weird, I know.”

“You’ve drunk enough to put a herd of hippos to sleep for a week. I’m amazed you’re still able to speak, never mind think about the words of songs…”

“…Not just songs. Poems are the worst, doc. I’m grand durin’ the day when I’ve tons of things to do and that but come the night and it’s a different kettle of fish. Soon as I start thinkin’ about poems I learnt at school I’m in real trouble. If I can finish the verses I’m all right like but if I can’t…” He didn’t finish the sentence but drained his glass in a swift backward movement. Wiping his lips with the back of his hand he continued in a tired voice, “And tomorrow I’m guaranteed to have the father and mother of hangovers. I buried the brother day before yesterday in Los Angeles – God rest hiss soul – and I’ve been on a rampage of a skite since they laid him in that cold cold clay. Aye. God, those hangovers.” He rummaged beneath the blanket. “Where the hell is it?”

“What are you digging for, man?”

“Me John J. It’s your only man at this stage of the game.”

“Haven’t you had enough?”

Murphy grinned crookedly. “One’s not enough; two’s too much; three’s not half enough.”

“For all our sakes, Murphy, let me give you something to make you sleep.”

In spite of the volumes he’d put away, a spark flickered in Murphy’s rheumy eyes.

“Like what?” he growled.

The years spent digging trenches and building motorways had honed his sixth sense to the presence of danger that no amount of alcohol or First Class travel could dampen. Blearily he took in the crocodile eyes, the dispassionate stare, the deep facial fissures. He shook his head as if to dismiss the cloying doubts that were tugging at the edges of his addled consciousness. This doctor bloke’s what real men should be like. Men who’ve seen it all. Men of education that you can really trust. For those few fleeting seconds some of the crooked gangers he’d served flashed by; Pudsey Ryan – a man who’d rape his own mother for a round of drinks; Gerry Collins who’d rob a blind man of his guide-dog without flinching. Yet both bastards had done well – one a government minister, the other running his own road-haulage firm – he shook his head again, trying to dismiss the unfairness of it all. You’re in First Class now, in with the real McCoy – educated folk – not like yourself – here it’s real class – people who really wanted to help other human beings…not like those gob-shites I have to rub shoulders with in the Queen’s Head…

He released his breath slowly, still reprimanding himself. Suspicions about a doctor? Shit, what was I thinkin’ of?

“What are you goin’ to charge me for the, erm, stuff, doctor?”

“Nothing. I’m giving you a helping hand. You’d do the same for me.”

“That’s sort of real kind, doc, it…”

“…It will also free you from your hangover. Judging by what I’ve seen you put away, you’ll be feeling pretty sorry for yourself in the morning.” He glanced at his watch. “Five hours to go. A half-decent night’s sleep is what you need. With what I’ll give you you’ll feel like a new babe when you wake up.”

“You mean with one tablet I can forget all this poetry thing, the hangover, the…”

“…The lot. It’s not a tablet, an injection. Faster, quicker, effective; gets into the bloodstream immediately – what your body is crying out for. A boost of multivitamins, electrolytes, essential minerals and a tincture of a mild homeopathic sedative. Never fails.”

“Good man yourself.”

“Roll up your shirt then back into bed quickly because you’ll …”

“…You’re a sound man, doc; know that?”

“Keep the voice down; sleeve up a little further; a tiny little prick…”

 

Cherry again shook the sleeping figure by the shoulder. “Doctor. Doctor. ”

His eyes stared unknowingly at her face before recognition set in. “Ah, good morning, Cherry,” he said rising on an elbow. “Breakfast already?

“We’ve thirty five minutes to Heathrow but I…” She choked back a cry and held a hand over her mouth.

“Whatever’s the matter?”

“I can’t seem to wake Mr Murphy,” she said, biting her lip.

“I’m not surprised seeing what he put away.”

“No, doctor, as First Class manageress I’m well used to people… you know. Mr Murphy isn’t just chilled out, he seems so still, so very still. And he feels, well, coldish…”

Her voice trailed off as her eyes pleaded with the doctor’s.

“I’ll take a look.”

Pyjama-clad, he threw back his blanket, slipped the emergency-kit from below his bed and stepped across the aisle. He seemed unaware of the handful of silent passengers standing to the front of the cabin, while another cluster stood apprehensively by the First Class exit. Murphy lay immobile on his back, half covered with a blanket, an arm hanging over the bed, his drooping fingers hanging above the carpet like a claw. The doctor moved quickly, first feeling for Murphy’s wrist-pulse, then the carotid-artery before bending down to place his ear over the wide-open mouth. Without speaking he loosed Murphy’s shirt and tie and placed a hand over the heart. After a short hesitation he straightened and spoke without turning.

“Cherry, please inform the Captain that one of his passengers has most likely passed away in the night. Have him alert Heathrow; have an ambulance standing-by with a resuscitation-team. I don’t consider there’s much hope but we just might be lucky. In the meanwhile try and keep everything calm with the rest of the passengers while I administer some adrenaline. It’s a long shot.” His dark eyes continued to regard the body. “Poor fellow,” he muttered, kneeling down in the aisle beside the body.

Zipping open his bag he quickly removed a tourniquet. In a swift well-practiced action, he snapped the top from a phial and in almost the same movement, flicked the ampoule upside down. Inserting a needle, he quickly loaded a syringe with clear liquid.

 

Captain Neehammer coughed self-consciously as he stood with Cherry behind the doctor. “What do you think? Any hope?”

The doctor didn’t reply but slowly stood up, his eyes still focused on Murphy’s face. After a short hesitation he said softly, “I did what I could. No response, I’m afraid.” As if remembering something, he bent down and gently closed Murphy’s vacant eyes. “May God have mercy on your immortal soul, Patrick.”

A voice from the small group of spectators said, “God be with him.”
“Amen.”
”You did all you could, doctor. Awesome.”

“Amen to that,” said the Captain. “I’ve alerted Heathrow. Team’s on stand-by. Thank you again ladies and gentlemen for your understanding. Now would you all please return to your seats for landing.”

“Excuse me, Captain.”

“Yes, doctor?”

“Will there be an inquest? Will my presence be required?”

“A post-mortem maybe; an inquest I think not. It’s obvious the man was grossly intoxicated. I saw him in the Departure Lounge myself, singing he was, could hardly stand. In the event of perhaps having to make a statement to the police I would be most grateful if you could leave your card with Cherry. From what she tells me this isn’t the first time you’ve been on board to lend a hand. May I express our heartfelt gratitude, doctor – we’re soon turning onto finals so, please, everyone… Cherry, cover Mr Murphy, we can dispense with seatbelt procedures. Excuse me.”

 

Captain Neehammer and crew stood upright in a silent semi-circle by the exit, watching the doctor make his way down the aisle. The police, forensics and ambulance-crew had been and gone and he was the last passenger to depart the plane. A yellow-uniformed cleaning-team stood in the vestibule.

The Captain shook the doctor’s hand and proffered an envelope. “We’re real appreciative for all your help, doc. Two open-ended First Class return-tickets for yourself and your loved one to visit the United States. At your leisure. A small token of Atlantic Airlines’ appreciation for your efforts.”

“I couldn’t possibly accept…”

“…Nonsense,” smiled the Captain, sliding the folded envelope into the doctor’s handkerchief pocket. “We all sure hope and pray that your next trip with us will be a sight more peaceful.”

“Thank you, Captain. And you, Cherry. Here’s my card should you have any formalities etcetera you’d like me to attend to. Goodbye.”

They watched as, hand-luggage in tow, he stepped onto the gangway, aware for the first time that he walked with a slight limp.

Cherry glanced at his card. “English doctors are much more, how shall I say, Clem, more mannerly and old-fashioned than our New York guys, you think?”

The Captain nodded. “You’ve a point there, Cherry. What was his name again?”

“Shipman. Dr Harold Shipman. Got a real doctor’s ring to it, don’t you think?” Her doe-like eyes remained focused on the departing figure until he rounded the corner into the terminal building. “Lovely man.”

[Dr Harold Shipman: History’s most prolific serial killer with 218 deaths, although he’s suspected of murdering many more victims. Convicted and sentenced for fifteen homicides, he committed suicide in Wakefield Prison, 2004.]

The Waiting Room

By Rae Gellel

It’s a waiting room like any other, that standard doctors surgery set up with the mismatching furniture and a pithy offering of well-thumbed women’s magazines. It greets you with an encompassing, inexplicable hush, perhaps the result of those awful hard-backed chairs that make everyone sit up so straight and formal, and the guests mutter to their companions in whispers and haste to mute their squabbling children or stab at their bleating mobile phones.

Except it’s not a doctor’s surgery and todays’ visitors know that. Their heads roll on their shoulders and their eyes are pendulums in their sockets, searching for a clue as to what planes may lay beyond this particular purgatory. Perhaps a few specs of blood on the lurid yellow wallpaper, the remnants of a Jackson Pollock reproduced by a gushing wrist? Claw marks then, a snapped nail embedded in the plaster, a testament to some wild thing’s last grab for freedom? No? Bars on the windows, bullet proof glass at the receptionists station? No. Nothing. Just a couple of painfully restrained posters embellished with stock photo-people in sadness-connoting positions; heads pressed against  rain-splattered windows; black and white and composed with a single tear leaking down one cheek; staring with rigid dignity into the empty distance.

Today’s three visitors are Celia, the young woman, overdressed as if for a date, and John and Margaret, the old couple, overdressed as if for church. John shifts in his seat, makes a dash for a magazine, slaps it back down again, picks his nails and yawns, flicks his eyes over the girls bare legs. Margaret elbows him in the ribs, hisses for him to not crease his suit, crosses and uncrosses her stocking-clad legs. She holds a purse primly in her hands, but her fingers hover skittishly over its metal clasp.

Celia is still, sunken almost petulantly into her chair. Her arms are crossed over a burgundy top that spills out a triangle of pale cleavage, and her two companions both note how the inky black of her extravagantly curled hair brushes pleasingly over the white flesh; John fleetingly, with embarrassment; Margaret with raised eyebrows, licking her back fillings.

The women are sat opposite each other, and smile beatifically, defiantly, when their eyes meet.

The younger of them is almost disappointed by the rooms’ unremarkable decor; she had expected a snake pit, a cuckoo’s nest, a cage to stifle the audacious, the dangerously creative, the non-conformist. The elder is relieved; such an un-formidable room could only front un-formidable patients with un-formidable problems.

In the corner of the unremarkable room is an unremarkable door. Their three lines of vision avoid it as if repelled by a magnet.

White strips of light bleed through the dusty wooden blinds from the window behind Margaret, igniting her white bouffant hair like a halo.

“Why are you here, then dear?”

Celia clears her throat, sits up a little straighter.

“Visiting my, er, partner.”

(My lover.)

“We’re here visiting our daughter.” John blurts, and Margaret’s head snaps towards him, eyes narrowed with vehemence. When she turns back to the girl, her smile is reapplied as carefully as her demurely pink lipstick.

“Not visiting her – not like that. She works here – an internship. She’s studying to be a doctor, a psychologist. She’s giving us a tour. We’ve not been to London before.”

(We are visiting her like THAT she’s mad our little girl has gone mad oh.)

“I see.” Celia noted the edge of panic in the woman’s powdered face with a faint disinterest.

(Don’t look at us like that, we were good parents. She was a good girl, a happy girl. It’s just bad blood, John’s blood. They’re all meloncholy on his side.)

“So how did you and your boyfriend meet?”

(My lover took me by the wrist and led me into a darkened lecture hall, whispered terrible, acid things into my ear, licked my neck, pulled me onto the teacher’s desk and devoured me.)

“We met at university here, in London. ”

(It was that university that did it. She wasn’t ready for it, wasn’t used to the city. She was always so quiet and studious – all work and no play, girls’ nights in.)

“Oh lovely, another student. What do you study?”

(We don’t study, we crawl inside of Plath and Lowe and Sexton, my lover’s ilk, my lover’s compatriots, and we wind our bodies around their words, the margins blotted with bloodied thumb prints.)

“American Literature.”

“Oh, interesting.”

There is a second of silence, marred by the whir of a passing car that momentarily blots out the creeping fingers of light from the half-opened blinds. On a poster behind Celia’s head, in the brief half moment of darkness, Margaret reads;

‘How well do you know your mother, your sister, your friend?

If you suspect someone may be at risk of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline today. It could save their life.’

The car passes. The room is flooded with light and quiet again. With its return is the sudden deafening crack of footsteps on linoleum, footsteps coming from the nothingness and everythingness behind That Door. It takes a second for their ears to swallow the sound, a second for their minds to digest it, to understand its’ awful meaning.

The breath is punched from their chests. Three sets of eyes share a fast, panicked exchange, thoughts swarming behind them like clouds of angry bees.

(We burned each other like we were preparing a shot of tequila, with lines of salt and ice.)

(It WAS my fault I was cold and unkind and jealous of her youth I held her at arm’s length.)

(Oh please don’t let Margaret cry, I won’t be able to bear it if she cries.)

The door swishes open. A nurse stands in the doorway with her hand on the solid oak, bespectacled and frowning. The visitors are all yet to breathe.

“Who’s here to visit Janet Downe?”

They share a final, reluctant smile, the couple and the girl, sat in their stiff chairs with sinking hearts; and then all three of them stand up.

Loud Speakers

by Oladele Oladeji

Open the fucking door! This is Frankie’s opening to expression and frustration. Ricky
replied, “I’m fucking my wife for Christ sakes. Haven’t you got any decency, you fucked up
waste of space?” It’s London. It was a very cold night too. We were in the depth of Epping
Forest. Trees stand erect, waiting to flourish, open land spreads further afield, the air smells
nicely, with the touch of peaceful days. Ricky and Frankie have been friends for about seven
years now, travelling around the country living as campers. Frankie has no interest in pets but
Ricky has got a bulldog. The dog is named Billy.

“Fuck the dog.”
“Fuck you too.”

London is our hub, hiding under its warm atmospheric feel, and its cold days. There’s no
joy when jealousy and anger reaches the peak of a man’s life. The nights are calm. Stars
smile too. Lights went as the moon came out. Ricky parked his caravan opposite Frankie’s
derelict caravan. Frankie was busy doing stuff inside his caravan. Ricky came out of his,
looked around for a while, then went back inside. Music started playing from Ricky’s
caravan, “I fought the law” the silence of the night sharpened with suspense and thrill. It was
a strange beautiful night. The moon kisses the earth. The clouds dancing as they travel.
Dogs howled in the distant. Frankie woke up. It’s quiet. He sat for a while, then started to
dream – Remy was sewing a black cloth. The sound of her machine rose. “How do I get me a
life that differs from the one I have now? I’ll like to stay, watch you sew. In London life is
mental. It’s turned me into a clown, like I’m a waste of space. I’m bare to my skeleton.”
Twenty years ago I dreamed I’ll be rich. But now I’m stuck in an old caravan, pretending
life is full of beauty. “Keep your fucking dog under control, you shameless twat.” Most
mornings the dog pitches outside my caravan, his saliva drooling. So I’ll deliberately walk
into the woods, hoping he’ll have gone before I return. But no, the fucking dog is there
seated, waiting for my arrival. He then walks away, gets seated outside Ricky’s caravan.

“That’s your home, you four legged beast. Don’t come round my way. I’ve got nothing to
offer.”
“Why wag your tail?”
“Woof”
“What’s that got to do with me?”

“Woof”

He’ll come seated again staring at me. We’re the least strand of the human chain. So, I’ll
bang on his door. “Open the fucking door! Ricky. It’s me, Frankie! I’ll keep banging until
you open the door.” He replies, “Get the fuck away from my caravan, Frankie. I need no one
disrupting my ride.” So they decided, Ricky and his wife, to travel, find a new life, stay away
from the fucked up loser, Frankie. London is a cool city. We bought our caravans intending
to run away from our past lives and start afresh. Frankie remembered life in London. The
morning newspapers, the dark, sonorous sound of trains. The smell of fragrance and stale
booze. He remembered vividly picking up a copy of the Sun Newspaper, looking through it,
and then chucking it in the bin. Ricky’s usual exclamations came back to him. Politics! The
entire world is fucked by politics and politicians. The silent breeze of the marches slammed
coolly against his face, his skin. Ricky says it all the time. The world is crazy. We’re the
clowns! Everything of our previous lives is gone. We are the insatiable clowns struggling to
get a life. We are human. In short, we’re damn hustlers. We run after lives. We beg for a life.
Our lips are wet, our eyes glow, full of pain. We’re the voices of humanity. You got your
dog, I’ve got my caravan, you’ve got your caravan too. I’ll move on then. The Lee Valley
Camping and Caravan Park. I’ll buy me a new home, make me some new friends. “Open the
fucking door, or else I’ll smash it in.” Ricky said, “You can fuck off, I’m having a good time,
you fucking twat. Find yourself a fucking life” It was a Sunday morning, so I drove my
caravan to the buyers. I got paid. Then I disappeared. I’ve forgotten about Ricky, and his sex
maniac wife. Maybe our paths will cross somehow, someday soon. We are floaters. We have
no anchors to hold us. We were determined to survive, we’re dying for life, we were hopeful.
We were determined to survive.

Maybe we’ll know who we are later in life. We’re holding onto the little lives we’ve got,
running after another life, the ones we dreamed. There’s nothing wrong in the lives we
choose. There’s nothing wrong in whom we are. Messing around with life is a dangerous
game. So we’re loud speakers. We’re the images of our future. The clowns of our world!
We’ll move away from what life has thrown at us. We’ll find another life. The routes to
success are pride, resilience, patience, hope – and a future. Life is full of love, if one tries to
find it. If one runs madly after it. Life is full of adventures if one rides along with it.

Two Women

by Emily Rath

 

A call across the ocean

unmuffled by the waves

a bridge at midnight reaches

to the other in the light of day

 

Her voice like a joyful sparrow

although her winter’s just come

the spattering of a snowy rain

obstructing half the sun

 

Sadness stained on white pillows

Black feathers reach for prayer

One lies weak in a tiny bed

the other’s in a doctor’s chair

 

rest.

holistic.

stage 1.

lumpectomy.

worry.

alkaline. 

hiding.

mastectomy.

 

is it an

Uncontrollable

Monster?

 

is it a

Passing Storm?

 

she bathes in blue waters

moves golden light within

hears whispers, wild and knowing

from the Colorado Mountains

 

Prayers and knots in her belly

the other wakes with sweat

Monday waiting

Tuesday cries

days built on prayer and unrest

 

when did the word lump become poison?

a lump of sugar tells all

evil and white, seductive demon

feeding the winter through fall

 

a plane crosses the ocean

and

Mother and daughter embrace

the bridge built in the darkness

holds light on Hope’s young face

 

Two women eat in the kitchen

the birds and cats don’t answer

the Mother smiles and cries from joy

with Love, she’ll cure her cancer.