South & Plunderer by Charlie Hawksfield

‘through the first urban gloamings of the day, light shows
the lollipop lamps and crimson morning and the grey skin of night peeling back
and back and back to show the yawning city with its dreams and its dirt.’

South

Try reading the brail of the streets with the barterers of Brixton shouting,
through the smell of Ackie and Saltfish in the markets under the filthy arches

past black faces and blue eyes, that meet and spin in perfect harmony
in oily cafes and the back alleys that simmer in half-light

through the first urban gloamings of the day, light shows
the lollipop lamps and crimson morning and the grey skin of night peeling back
and back and back to show the yawning city with its dreams and its dirt.

Hear the lost wake on Coldharbour Lane, their souls spluttering to life as they traipse down to Ruskin Park puling and moaning and brittle with hues of the blues they suck their special brew through tinny smiles till all the leaves of grass lay down.

To Camberwell, and Greek patisseries that spill urgent babbling voice and the smell of baklava into the road, it mixes with gangland lingo and ‘blud’ and the stench of weed, all awake and alive and harmonious with the constant excitement of violence

past the tortured twisted willow behind St Giles, stoical in the maelstrom

past the blocks, rectilinear catacombs in the sky, lives in limbo bathed in screen light behind St George Cross and washing and flowers.

On and on to Peckham as the day begins to bleed and the fear of the drip drip subterranean horrors into the evening and the night and light shows again

cascades of orange and sharp pricks of white and the thundering wheels of lorries with their head lamps throwing sinister silhouettes high onto brick and through glass.

Then finally to New Cross or Deptford, terror and beauty with sticky feet and barflys cutting the rancid air full of stories and smoke and abandonment, all breathing heavily into the frenzy, iridescent and fleeting as the great leviathan rolls over again to crush another morning.

Plunderer

She was all beige on a winter’s day
crumpled up like paper
a garlic bulb wrapped in gauze
muttering down Rye Lane
her thin white lips fluttering
in the stiff wind.

Stopping outside an estate agent
she drew her tartan trolley
to her side and gazed through the window
at the photos
of the houses
of the flats
of the new socially mobile
of the first time parents
of the dead middle
of the aspiring upwards.

She looked at the streamline kitchens
at the symmetrical living rooms
at the dainty little pitched roves
at the even gravel driveways
at the fresh comforts of the modern
at the gifts given to those who strive.

She stood there
barely five foot tall
plundering the dreams off potential buyers
pillaging all hope of improvement
of a new start
of the next step.

She stood there
for twenty minutes
then she shrugged her shoulders and walked away
dragging behind her the tartan trolley
full to the brim with
empty
plastic
bags.

 

About the authorCharlie

Charlie Hawksfield is a writer and artist whose poetry, fiction and non-fiction has been published in a variety of magazines including Middlebrow, Dial 174, Ariadne’s Thread, The Irish Literary Review and Masque. Charlie grew up in Sussex, but moved to Brixton when he was 20. Charlie writes a lot about the city, especially London, the speed and ferocity of a big city and especially the snatches of tenderness in the rush.

London Walk by Kit Samuels

‘We sit quietly, holding hands, listening to the early morning city sounds. The murmur of the distant traffic, the boats’ horns from the river opposite, the snatched pieces of conversation as people hurry by to work. Their words change but the sounds never do.’

Home seems a long time away now. I can see pictures and I hear noises but they have no connection. But that day, that special day, that last day, plays and plays in my mind with such clarity and such pitch-perfect colour that I feel as if I am there once more.

And still it goes round and round and round. In a circle. In a loop.

We sit on the bench – our bench – by the statue of Robert Burns in Victoria Embankment Gardens. We always start our journey here; have done since we were kids. The very first time we came here, Rick said that the poet reminded him of our class teacher Mr Thomas. I couldn’t see it, but I remember Rick getting very worked up saying,

“Look at his piggy eyes and his pointy nose. It is Mr Thomas. It is!”

I was fond of him even then and just went along with it, pretending that I saw the resemblance, but I never did. We always joked about it. Every time. Even this time.

We sit quietly, holding hands, listening to the early morning city sounds. The murmur of the distant traffic, the boats’ horns from the river opposite, the snatched pieces of conversation as people hurry by to work. Their words change but the sounds never do.

That first time had been on my twelfth birthday. It had been a perfect spring day and we spent most of it chasing each other round and round the gardens. When we were tired, we sat eating our jam sandwiches and drinking stewed, lukewarm tea out of a green tartan coloured flask. We laughed as we watched the squirrels fighting for the tiny titbits of bread that we threw them.

It is autumn now. We have sat for some time without saying a word. We both know what the other is thinking. But I sense a sudden sadness in him and turn to see a tiny tear trickling down his cheek. I squeeze his hand tightly and kiss it away.

Still holding hands, we get off the bench and climb the gentle slope behind the statue to the London plane that we have watched grow tall over the years. With his free hand, Rick brushes the moss from the trunk. It is still there, faded but quite visible:

Ricky loves Jenny.

He had carved it as a present for me on my fifteenth birthday. I remember him saying;

“When we are really old, we’ll come back here and show our kids this and even our grandkids.”

As we look at that soppy tree now, I hold his hand to my face and kiss his palm. I know then that we will never again stand here together, never bring our children to this place. He knows it too.

Rick puts his arm around me and pulls me close and I bury my head hard against his chest to hide my tears. I feel that dark, gnawing, emptiness in my stomach as we leave the gardens. A feeling I thought had gone forever.

We make our way back on to Villiers Street and head towards Trafalgar Square. We walk to the little cafe at the back of the square near the lift. Fortunately, our usual table is vacant.

There were so many pigeons here once. We used to buy cupfuls of seed from the old lady on the square and watch the birds swooping and squealing and squabbling when we threw handfuls of it on the ground. Now, we just sit quietly and sip our drinks and watch the children clambering over the bronze lions and the last of the summer’s tourists taking their pictures of each other in front of the column. It was here, on my nineteenth birthday that Rick asked me to marry him.

Our drinks finished, we retrace our steps across the Square and make our way on to Whitehall. We walk silently, deep in our own thoughts, deep in each other’s. At Whitehall barracks there is the usual horde of happy snappers posing in front of the mounted soldiers. Their helmets and breast plates sparkle in the autumn sunshine, exactly as they had done when I had stood here as a little girl holding Daddy’s hand, just as I am now holding Rick’s.

Past the Cenotaph now and further along Whitehall, we cross, as is our custom, to the Red Lion. I remember back then the look in his eyes when I told him. He was sad but clearly not surprised.

“But you’re only sixteen”, he said, “have you really thought it through?”

“You know I have otherwise I wouldn’t have told you, silly,” I had said, “besides, I won’t be starting training until I’m eighteen.”

He smiled.

“Women in the army. Where will it all end?”

I loved him more then than I had ever done. He knew what it meant to me. And I knew then that he would never stand in my way, never complain about the long absences or the fact that when I came home on leave, all I would ever talk about was army this and army that. Oh, how I miss him. I want him here beside me now. This moment. This instant. This second.

Leaving the pub, we walk the short distance to Victoria Embankment. We have done this journey so many times it is as if our feet are programmed to know where they are going. By the time we reach the boat we have fallen silent. Across the street is moored the Tattershall Castle. A few early drinkers are on deck and the aromatic smoke from the newly lit barbecue is already spiralling into the air.

I had been back for about six months from a tour of Afghanistan. It was a blissful time. When we found out that I was pregnant, I don’t think we could have been happier. I said that I would come out of the army but Rick said he knew how much it mattered to me and, now that I had my captain’s pips, I would be certain to get a desk job.

That night on the Castle is still so vivid. I couldn’t concentrate on the show. Rick took my hand and led me up the stairs to the deck. Darkness was beginning to fall, and a light spring breeze blushed our cheeks as we came out into the night air. We stood by the guardrail and watched the pleasure boats with their happy diners floating by on the river below us. On the far shore, the Eye turned slowly on its axis, its neon blue lights illuminating the darkening sky.

He put his arm around my shoulder and held me close to him.

“It’s the baby, isn’t it?”

I nodded. My eyes started to sting. I felt empty.

He gently kissed the top of my head and pulled my hair back over my ears.

“I love you,” he whispered. “I love you so very much.”

It was my birthday. I was twenty eight years old.

We walk under Hungerford bridge, this last time, as we had done so many times before. Overhead, the noise and the vibration of the train rattling into Charing Cross, startles the dosing gulls on the high rafters above us, making them flee their roost in squawking distress. We climb the few steps that lead to Embankment station and turn and look towards the river one final time. As we do so we hear the familiar and comforting sound of Big Ben striking up the start of the Westminster chimes at noon.

Across the river lies the concrete confection of the South Bank. In the distance, the jingly-jangly cacophony of sound of the children’s carousel eddies tentatively across the water. To our right, back under the bridge and behind us now, is the Castle. But to our left are our gardens. Our own special sanctuary. And in there, that bench where we spent so many blissful hours as children, as friends, as lovers and as man and wife. We have come full circle. Rick squeezes my hand once more. We know that we are saying goodbye to our beloved city, to our precious London walk and to each other.

Home seems a long time away now. I see pictures and I hear noises but they have no connection. In the distance I can hear small arms fire and a drone overhead. There are people talking, but I don’t know what they are saying.

“I.E.D?”

“Afraid so. Took out half the platoon. Mostly with minor injuries though. But this one took the full brunt of it.”

“Bastards. When did they bring her in?”

“About half an hour ago. Poor bitch. M.O. says she won’t make it through ’till morning. Mercifully, she’s unconscious now so won’t know what’s going on.”

And still it goes round and round and round. In a circle. In a loop.

We sit on the bench – our bench – by the statue of Robert Burns in Victoria Embankment Gardens. We always start our journey here; have done since we were kids. The very first time we came here, Rick said that the poet reminded him of our class teacher Mr Thomas.

 

Kit SamuelsAbout the author

Kit Samuels is a retired teacher who has lived and worked in London most of his life. Since joining the course, he has particularly enjoyed the playwriting module. He is currently working on a play for his final assessment about the development of radical socialism in North London at the start of the First World War.

The Architect by Jon Wood

‘A very human silence permeates every corner of this post- industrial void, wrapping itself around the cold steel beams, seeping into the porous painted clay of the internal brickwork, and pushing up to the metal framed windows. Maybe it’s not the eternal silence of a mausoleum; nor that of prayer in the cavernous half- light of a medieval cathedral, but to the ears of an ex bricklayer it’s pretty close.’

I take up my position on the bench. The desk in front of me stretches out left and right, almost to the full length of the warehouse. On either side of this long, plain table there are architects and assistant architects on full production. A very human silence permeates every corner of this post- industrial void, wrapping itself around the cold steel beams, seeping into the porous painted clay of the internal brickwork, and pushing up to the metal framed windows. Maybe it’s not the eternal silence of a mausoleum; nor that of prayer in the cavernous half- light of a medieval cathedral, but to the ears of an ex bricklayer it’s pretty close. With each tap of the keys, each click of the mouse, the dream of becoming another Denys Lasdun* leaks into the ether. I am a ‘Cad Monkey’*.

Behind me there’s an alcove. It is still part of the free flow of space, the same material, the same white paint but set back from the main room. In this niche the polite, rounding figure of Hilary Flotsam, the Director, sits. Solitary wisps of blond hair remain on the predominately bald landscape of his head. His soporific tones, like a distant boys’ choir flow into the telephone all day. They burble and caress, it’s a sound from an out of reach echelon, a hollow somewhere in Arcadia, a cantata too refined to decipher. Apart from the tapping of the keys it’s the only sound that compromises the silence but I’ve no idea what it means.

I get up and free flow through an opening to the kitchen. The same white, the same original metal Bauhaus but not quite Bauhaus windows look out across the panorama of mixed- use buildings. It could be viewed as bleak but this is one of London’s most celebrated backyards. A solid brick tenement block reminds me of a previous era when public housing had value. I can feel the texture of the multi- hued common brick, slightly darker and more considered than the usual industrial staple. I sense the brick in my hand, I can measure its weight, like a spin bowler with a new ball. I twirl and flip then press it down to the building line, just a millimetre away, the mortar pushes out and before it can offend the brick’s face a swift stroke takes the excess and butters the next brick: rhythm; skill; order; and so these little entities, these units of fired earth find their purpose. I can finely judge each movement brick after brick until Victorian London stands – church, school, factory, pump house, dwelling, sewer, brick on brick.

A band of creatives flutter by, dressed down and tidy. Light, bright new Edwardians, they pass a leftover wall, whitewashed, sprayed expertly in thick flecks of black to form a giant rat. Ah,there’s Nadja avoiding the pulse of cycles, (bygone lovelies rattling their way to broadway). She’s late for work, her hair is platted today and she’s wearing one of those traditional Belarusian gypsy dresses. It’s held to her with all the vitality of the present. She can’t see me so I can stare with impunity at the particulars of her form. I’m jealous of the light fabric that complements and caresses her.

Terry is in the kitchen, he’s washing up. He offers me some wisdom. ‘I find if you’ve done the washing up then you have done something with the day.’

He’s a good mate of Flotsam, well they hang out together, but he’s the opposite in his manner, hewn stone straight. He’s a dedicated climber, knows the unforgiving extremes of nature. He’s been to the highest, most difficult peaks and senses danger in compromise. His tone is didactic like I imagine the greats were. We have casual political arguments and brief architectural discussions. He thinks Albert Speer* was misunderstood. Maybe he was. Sometimes he goes to Africa on business.

When I get back to the long desk Joseff is sat almost directly opposite me. Nadja, a little flushed sits next to him. He gives me a smile as if to say what’s all this bullshit about. We go drinking together. He’s always got this hang-dog look of the benignly discontent. He has a slight stoop as though his general good humour and wit has begun to buckle under the increasing weight of his melancholy and disappointment. His drawn handsome face is made more credible by the cigarette he frequently draws on.

-You can’t have a job you love, a decent place to live and a girl you’re happy with all at the same time. Not in London, It’s not allowed!-

He would say, with his fag, his sparrow’s frame, (don’t hug him too tight he’ll turn to dust), yet his burning Catalonian eyes are like the roar of a bonfire writhing against the free- fall night – he twitches with a brave kind of energy. And I would reply:

-Yeah, but you’re fucked on all three counts.-

I was given a break. It was tiny, just an extension to a refectory at the back of a Further Education college. The space backed on to the ugly end of the college, old shed spaces where building craft was taught and a dead end service entrance. I went to see the School to do an architectural survey, get the sizes, see where the services were, maybe get some ideas about design. And I did get some ideas.

When I return brandishing a roll of tracing paper Joseff gives me a look of feigned surprise which says: Do you know what you’re doing with that?

I smiled back and gave him my gormless look.

I rip at the roll of tracing paper and begin drawing thick dusty lines, bold mark making, the masters are going to be proud, this is where it begins! I was moulding myself in their image. I was burning, enjoying the exquisite conflagration of my energies, until there was a snag and I could smell the fire dampen. Another coffee and I was away again, swaying between a sickening sense of glory and hard sobering reality: I started to work with the function then I went on rising, flowing, surfing on the timeless river of form. I imagine Nadja is looking at me, looking at the hands of a real Architect. Some hours later I look up and catch Joseff’s raised eyebrows. There’s an alarming amount of overlaid drawings piling up and spreading well beyond the confines of my portion of desk. This time his smile says ‘steady on it’s only a refractory extension.’

I was happy with the rhythm of my scheme, I’d created a balanced contrast between the solid and clear spaces. The aesthetic looked good, classical but with a modern twist. I ran my ideas by the young whiz kid Associate Director. He was third in command. He liked my little design but then it was casually mentioned that I’d have to run it by the Big Boss, the man in the alcove. It wasn’t anything to stress about. He was hugely experienced, I’d be able to get some ideas about the finer details.

I stepped into the alcove at the appointed time with my tracing paper renditions and early computer drawings. About a third of the way through my explanation of the scheme he cut me short. He’d lost his caressing velvety tone, he seemed angry. I had made him angry? He dismissed the permeability of the layout as unsuitable. The outside area I designed would apparently encourage bad behaviour by the students; within seconds he had traced over my main plan, sketching a traditional cavity wall with a double door in the middle. He wanted me to replicate the details for the roof and fascia from another one of his designs. I just had to feed his idea through the machine. Job done he got back on the phone.

Joseff gave me a shrug which said ‘never mind mate it happens to the best of us’. I left work early and walked towards Shoreditch. Occasional tall towers stood like giant concrete and masonry stubs, silent sentinels overlooking the uneven low blocks that made up most of the terrain beneath them. Figures appeared at regular intervals as if on timed release, making their way with quiet resignation. I walked within the shadow of a tower, it was one of Lasdun’s. As the light began to fade it had lost its texture and delicacy of form.

Denys Lasdun* most notably designed the National Theatre and the Royal College of Physicians. He was one of the greatest modernists.

Cad monkey *Somebody who has gone through years of difficult and strenuous education in engineering, architecture, or a similar field only to wind up with a mindless and repetitive job where they do one task on a computer drafting drawings over and over again.

Albert Speer* was Hitler’s Architect

 

Jon WoodAbout the author

I attempt to craft my stories around work. I’m interested in how work in a city forms us. Most of my material comes from my own experiences in the building trade both as a Bricklayer and Architect.

If You Know your History by Stephen Thompson

‘A short while later, he’s peeling off his hot sweaty socks and struggling to breathe through the cloying smell of dubbing and Deep Heat, when he starts daydreaming again. In an extension of his earlier fantasy, the Orient fans are now chanting his name.’

As the players are leaving the pitch, heads steaming in the mid-winter chill, Mr Bedford walks up to Leon, pulls him aside and whispers, ‘Was a scout here today. Leyton Orient. Seems you made quite an impression, young man.’

‘Stop muckin’ about, Mr B.’

‘I’m serious. Offering you a trial, they are.’

Leon stops and stares, momentarily distracted by the condensation forming on Mr Bedford’s salt-and-pepper moustache. ‘You never said nuffin’ about scouts coming to the game.’

‘That’s ’cause I didn’t know, boy. They’re not after announcing it, you know, otherwise you’s get all nervous and can’t perform.’

Leon tries hard not to smile. ‘They really want me to go for a trial?’

‘Yep.’

‘Only me?’

‘That’s what yer man said.’

‘When?’

‘Next Tuesday.’

‘But that’s a school day, sir.’

‘Don’t you be worrying about that.’

Leon thinks a while, barely able to contain his excitement. He pictures himself making his professional debut for the O’s, scoring the winner and celebrating in front of the home supporters. Mr Bedford brings him back to earth.

‘Now listen, son, if I were you, I’d be sure to keep this thing under my hat for now. The other lads don’t know yet. Best to wait and see how it goes before you…’

Leon doesn’t wait to hear the rest. He sprints to the dressing room to brag to his team-mates. When he gets there he’s surprised to see that they’ve arranged themselves into a guard of honour. Glen Barlow, team captain and Emlyn Hughes look-alike, starts clapping and the other boys quickly join in. Grinning from ear to ear, Leon walks slowly between them, his boots clack-clacking against the mud-spattered concrete floor. Along the way he gets slapped about the head and kicked up the backside and at one point his strike partner, Deadly Darren Davis, says: ‘Taught you everyfin’ you know.’ Leon is all set to deliver a comeback when Mr Bedford strides into the dressing room with a netful of footballs slung over his shoulder.

‘OK, OK, break it up there now. He’s only going for a trial.’

‘Yeah,’ says Darren, ‘for Orient.’

The boys fall about laughing, even Leon. A short while later, he’s peeling off his hot sweaty socks and struggling to breathe through the cloying smell of dubbing and Deep Heat, when he starts daydreaming again. In an extension of his earlier fantasy, the Orient fans are now chanting his name.

* * *

When he gets home from school that afternoon and hears from his mum that his dad won’t be home till very late, Leon pulls a face.

‘Wha’ wrong wid you?’

‘Nuffin’.’ Leon looks down at his feet, ashamed for being so close to tears.

His mum puts her finger under his chin, raises his head. ‘Speak.’

‘Was hoping dad would be home tonight.’

‘Why? Wha’ so special ’bout tonight?’ Leon reveals his good news. ‘And causa dat you mek up you face? But you is a real baby. Come here.’ She pulls him roughly into her mid-riff, which is soft and warm and smells of carbolic soap. ‘You can tell you faader ’bout it tomorrow. Now hush.’ She plants a kiss atop Leon’s head then holds him at arm’s length. ‘Hungry?’

* * *

Later that evening, in the middle of dinner, the doorbell rings. Leon is about to get up when his mother shouts, ‘Bwoy, siddung and finish you food.’

‘But Mum…’

‘”But mum” nutten. You frien’ dem can go to juices!’

With a down-turned mouth, Leon stares at his plate. There’s nothing left on it but a small piece of dumpling and a partially-eaten chicken wing swimming in oil. The doorbell rings again. Kissing her teeth, Mrs Simon leaps to her feet, marches over to the sash window, lifts it open and leans out. A blast of cold air rushes into the room, causing Leon to shiver. Two floors below, Neville and Oladi are standing on the doorstep, the former wearing a black woollen parka with the hood up, the latter dressed in a dark-green, knee-length duffle coat. Neville has a football under his arm. On seeing Mrs Simon, the two boys stiffen.

‘Look here,’ says Mrs Simon. ‘Leon eating him dinner. Now go ’bout unnu business and stop ring aaff people bell.’ She slams the window shut and strides back across the room and plonks herself down at the dining table, muttering curses under her breath. Leon doesn’t look at her. He finishes his dinner, puts his knife and fork together on the plate and waits patiently. His mother ignores him and carries on eating. For a few minutes, the only sound in the room is that of cutlery against crockery. At last Mrs Simon raises her head and looks across the table at her sulking son. ‘Oh for God’s sake. Don’t sit there watching me like some kin’a obeah man.’ She waves him away. ‘Gwaan. Gwaan. And tek you dutty plate wid you.’ Smiling, Leon grabs his plate and quickly leaves the room. Moments later he runs back in and kisses his mother on the cheek. She barely has time to react before he’s gone again.

* * *

‘Stop lying,’ says Neville, spinning the football on his forefinger.

‘I’m not!’ shrieks Leon.

‘Then swear on your mum’s life,’ says Oladi. He grabs the ball from Neville and starts doing keep-ups on the pavement.

Leon puts his hand on his heart. ‘I swear on my mum’s life that Orient’ve asked me to come for a trial.’

Neville studies him, his hands stuffed into the side-pockets of his parka. ‘Nah,’ he says, shaking his head, ‘don’t believe you.’ He looks at Oladi, who’s still doing keep-ups. Patting his chest, he says, ‘Put it here, Ladi. If you can.’

Deftly, using his in-step, Oladi lofts the ball towards Neville. Neville traps it with his chest, lets it fall onto his knee, then, like Oladi a few moments earlier, starts doing keep-ups.

‘Just admit it, Leon,’ says Oladi. ‘You’re telling porkies.’

Leon gives him a long, narrow-eyed stare, then pushes him hard in the chest, sending him sprawling across the bonnet of a parked Austin Wolesley. Before Oladi has recovered, Leon marches up to Neville and grabs the ball from him and gives it a hefty kick, sending it soaring over the roof of one of the many terraced houses in the street. For a moment Neville is speechless. He and Leon stand almost toe-to-toe, breathing into each other’s faces. Oladi looks on nervously.

‘You bes’ go and get my ball,’ says Neville.

‘Or else what?’ says Leon, his fists balled.

‘Or else…or else…I’ll get my dad on you!’

‘I got a dad, too,’ growls Leon. He shoots a look at Oladi. ‘And who you staring at, bubu?’

‘Who you calling a bubu?’

‘You, you bloody African.’

Oladi takes a step towards him, then freezes when he sees Mrs Simon throw open her living-room window and stick her head out. ‘Leon!’ she shouts, ‘Time fi you come een. Right dis minute!’

Slowly, Leon mounts the small flight of steps leading up to his front door. Neville and Oladi glower at him. They want to say something, hurl one final insult, but with Mrs Simon still leaning out the window…

* * *

Leon comes in and heads straight for his room, slamming the door behind him. He flings himself onto his bed and lies there mentally abusing Neville and Oladi. After a few minutes he hears, through the plaster-board wall that separates his bedroom from the living room, the theme tune from The Good Old Days. He has to cover his ears. How can his mother watch such rubbish? He gets up and pads across the room to his cluttered study desk and sits there leafing through his latest copy of Shoot! magazine. From the centre of it, he rips a glossy double-page poster of Steve Perryman and sellotapes it to the wall above his desk. It’s the latest in a growing collection of posters featuring Tottenham Hotspur players, past and present. His favourite, occupying pride of place in the centre of the wall, shows Glenn Hoddle wheeling away in celebration after scoring against Arsenal in the North London Derby.

* * *

Leon wakes suddenly to see his father sitting on the edge of his bed, silhouetted by the hallway light.

‘Me could’n wait,’ says Mr Simon. ‘You madder just tell me.’

Leon sits up and starts rubbing his eyes. ‘What time is it?’

‘If I was any prouder of you, me bwoy, I would bus’ wide open!’

Leon smiles. ‘Thanks, Dad, but it’s only a trial. And it’s only Orient.’

‘Bwoy shet you mout’! Everbaddy haffi start somewhere. Dis is a great ting you achieve. A great ting. Don’t belikkle it.’ He pulls the sheet back from Leon. ‘Get up. Come watch some TV wid me.’

‘But mum said….’

‘Don’t worry you head ’bout dat. You madder gaan a bed. Besides, you n’ha no school tomorrow so you can stay up and keep you old man company likkle bit. Wid all dis over-time me a do, me kyaa ‘member when las’ me see you face. Come, man. Quick. Kojak soon start.’

Without another word, Mr Simon rises and departs. Leon, though exhausted, hauls himself out of bed. To counter the cold, he puts on his hand-me-down dressing-gown, over his hand-me-down pyjamas, and slips his socked feet into his threadbare Moccasin slippers. Before he leaves, he remembers to light the wick on his paraffin heater so that the room warms up in his absence.

 

Stephen ThompsonAbout the author

Stephen Thompson was born in London. Though his primary interest is in prose writing, fiction and non-fiction, he also dabbles in screenwriting. He is the editor and publisher of the online literary journal, The Colverstone Review.

Vellichor by SN Rasul

‘I’ll be turning fifty-nine tomorrow. Is that old? I can’t tell nowadays. I don’t feel old. Maybe I’m old, just not elderly.

Before I came in today, my wife asked me what I wanted for my birthday. I said, “I’m getting old, don’t you think?”

She didn’t reply; just smiled at me.’

Odd, musty smell.

“You.”

Me?

“Hey, you!”

What, you piece of shit? “Yes, sir?”

“Clean this mess up.”

“Right on it, sir.”

I’ll be turning fifty-nine tomorrow. Is that old? I can’t tell nowadays. I don’t feel old. Maybe I’m old, just not elderly.

Before I came in today, my wife asked me what I wanted for my birthday. I said, “I’m getting old, don’t you think?”

She didn’t reply; just smiled at me. After a few more minutes she asked me again, “So?”

“Yes?”

“What would you like?”

Honestly, I don’t know what I’d like. So I told her I’d like a fancy new beard trimmer. These dreadful chin locks are getting obnoxiously out of control. Though my wife always tells me she likes how they tickle when we make love. A woman laughing while you’re trying to give her an orgasm isn’t ideal but at least gives me time for the Viagra to kick in.

I go past the aisles: milk, bread, cheese; canned tomatoes, canned beans, canned soup; toiletries. The light is so much brighter in here now, and all white. It makes me feel like I’m floating in space. I take my glasses off and give them a wipe over. Doesn’t help much but at least I know approximately where I’m going. I go into the cupboard at the back of the store. I take a deep breath; I breathe out. My spirits lifted, I take the broom, the mop and other things I’ll need and head back to the vegetable aisle where the mess is. There is pink liquid spreading on the white, sparkling floor like diluted blood.

I bend down to take a closer look. The smell is overpowering. I see pieces of shattered glass swimming in the fluid like puzzle pieces. One of them has text on it but I can’t make out the brand. A perfume bottle. Expensive, by the looks of it. Is this really what perfumes smell like nowadays? I throw the pieces one by one into a waste basket. I can see my reflection in the pools: white dome of a head surrounded by a ring of whiter hair and cupped by a C of white, scraggly beard. I am almost meshed in with the background of white shelves and ceilings and lights. I look up. This building is enormous, the ceiling teasingly unreachable like the sky. There is a slight crack amongst the canvas blankness: a brown, almost wooden crevice.

There are floating pieces of whiteness within the pool of perfume. I hadn’t noticed them before. I use my finger to wade through them and I see various words and letters look back up at me. Pieces of paper. They continue to spread and shred.

I sniff at my hand; the odour is all intrusive. No wonder the odd, musty smell. Like dead characters. The first time I was inside of this building, I had had a tinge of the same, vexing smell. I was twenty-two, I think, in awe of the gigantic wooden doors which were always open and the proportionately massive doorknobs. I climbed up the steps and noticed gigantic engravings of gods and cherubs and angels on the panels overhead and the doors themselves. The moment I walked in, the air became so thick I almost chocked on it and initially, as if it were a stench, my nostrils flared and crinkled, trying to keep it out. My eyes shot upwards at the ceiling, concave shapes littering it like internal domes. But my attention was stolen by the shelves, rows and rows of –

“Hey.”

Again?

“Hey!”

What do you want now, you fucking wanker? “Yes, sir?”

“Sir?” Laughter. “I’m like, half your age.”

I turn around to see a young man, in his early to mid-twenties, looming over me. He seems tall but as soon as I stand up we are level. He has a full head of dark brown hair and a stylishly cut goatee. I notice he’s also wearing an ASDA shirt but I haven’t seen him before. His badge reads “Rodney”.

I apologise and ask: “What can I do you for?”

“Oh, sorry, but Mike says to hurry up a bit. Says there are a few other bits near the utensils that need cleaning and everything should be done by the end of the day.”

I nod and start to mop up the liquid. From the corner of my eyes, I see that Rodney is still there, shuffling feet. I do not continue the conversation; I merely focus on getting my job done. A minute or so passes as he pretends to pull things forward on the shelves. I am squeezing the perfume out of the mop when he asks, “Need any help?”

“Sure,” I smile. “Can you get some air freshener? And the wet floor sign?”

He nods vigorously and runs off. I have mopped and am about to squeeze the last few drops of the perfume out when he comes back. He starts to spray it into the environment. The old smell starts to fade. I pretend to rub my face so I can take a last sniff of the dying odour.

“You new here?” I ask.

“Oh no, I’ve been here for a couple of months now.”

“Oh?” I am wondering if I’ve ever seen him. “Don’t think I’ve seen you before?”

“Really? I’ve seen you a couple of times.”

“Getting old, you see,” I laugh. He laughs back to humour me. “I’m turning fifty-nine tomorrow.”

“Whoa, no kidding?” He looks genuinely surprised. “Almost sixty!”

“Yeah,” I reply. “My wife still says I’m young at heart,” I lie.

“I can tell,” he lies back, sniggering. There’s a slight, awkward pause as I put everything in order to carry them back and put the yellow “wet floor” sign up. “How long have you worked here?”

“Hmm, let’s see…” I act as if I haven’t counted every day of since I worked here. “Almost forty years.”

“Forty? You serious?”

“Yes, sir,” I say.

He hesitates a little before he asks, “Have you always been a cleaner?”

“No, actually,” I begin to say. But I change my mind. I have a tremendous urge to tell him all my life stories but I can see myself through his eyes. “Yes, but don’t worry,” I console him. “I just missed out on a lot of opportunities.”

“C’est la vie,” he says. “I should be getting back. Mike wants me to –“

“Yeah, yeah, go,” I provide him with an encouraging, guilt-free smile. “I know how Mike can be.”

He scuttles off towards the counters as I head back with all my gear towards the cupboard. I place all my things in their assigned places and sit down on a lone stool. I look at my watch: 11:07 pm. Fifty-three minutes to get to utensils and finish my rounds. I take out my copy of The Wasteland from behind one of the cabinets and flick through to a dog-eared page.

“Who is the third who walks beside you? When I count, there are only you and I together But when I look ahead up the white road There is always another one walking beside you Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded I do not know whether a man or a woman -But who is that on the other side of you?”

I bring the book up to my nose and breathe in. When I’d first walked in through the big wooden doors, this was all I could smell and I had covered my nose and mouth with the collar of my t-shirt, trying to keep it out. Shelves and shelves of endless volumes of words cluttering a single behemoth of a room, shelves that reached the domed ceilings and kept on going, ladders which led to the infinite end of history. I walked in to see Mr Reed for the first time as he greeted me with a smile and said, “You must be Archie Winkle’s son.” Excited, I nodded; “Pleased to meet you,” I said, ecstatic at the very thought of my first paycheck. He led me through the endless maze of shelves, introducing me to the history of the shop, and instructing me on how the books were stacked, how they were colour coded, how they were priced.

So much to read and a lifetime wasn’t enough.

He led me to the back where there was a small room with a tiny desk with two chairs and a typewriter. This is where I would sit, he told me. This is where I would work from. Even the walls in this small room were adorned with shelves and they held rusty, yellowing bound copies of texts I had never even heard of. I covered my mouth with my t-shirt again the moment Mr Reed left me to my own devices. I sat there thinking it was a small price to pay for this new, magnificent world.

 

SN RasulAbout the author

SN Rasul is the greatest writer in the history of the universe to never have been published (not yet, anyway). He hails from the trenches of middle class Bangladesh and is fervently dedicated to the art forms of TV, film, music and literature. He also enjoys the company of good friends, good family and, occasionally, misery.

New York, New York by The Hornsey Hound

‘I tightened my hold on the hand grip and peered out into the gloom. At 5.30 am traffic was almost non-existent and we must have touched 60mph as the Licensed Lunatic approached Archway roundabout. He took it as if he’d just been told it was having sex with his wife.’

‘My little town blues….’

Well they weren’t melting away exactly. It was more like they were getting the Hell kicked out of them by a Licensed Lunatic who was hammering into the speed bumps on Hornsey Lane as if each and every one of them had crapped in his shoes. The man had no respect for his taxi’s suspension system, let alone my internal organs, and I could almost hear the anti-roll bar screaming under the strain. Or was that noise coming from inside my head?

I had left home 10 minutes earlier, but it seemed like a fortnight. My suitcase was sliding like a drunken tortoise to and fro across the polished taxi floor. On its first few excursions it had chopped at my ankles and I had taken to lifting my feet at cleverly calculated intervals like the steps of some bizarre solo quickstep. Outside was pitch black and empty; inside this strange blazing ballroom the Licensed Lunatic continued to pull the strings and his hapless, exhausted puppet of a passenger danced on.

I breathed a sigh of relief as we reached Highgate Hill. The speed bumps had ended. One mile behind me, and 3,500 more to go.

‘I want to be a part of it…..’

Yes indeed. Assuming of course that the Licensed Lunatic would leave all my parts in good working order. I tightened my hold on the hand grip and peered out into the gloom. At 5.30 am traffic was almost non-existent and we must have touched 60mph as the Licensed Lunatic approached Archway roundabout. He took it as if he’d just been told it was having sex with his wife. It was all too much for my suitcase which was cowering in one corner of the cab like a beached whale. I felt its pain. Onwards we sped towards Camden Town.

It was around this time that the Licensed Lunatic switched on the cab radio. Never was the distraction of ‘Talksport’ more welcome. I fingered my crucifix in gratitude as the calls flooded in. West Ham was robbed. Even my dog could see that was offside. The ref was a disgrace. He should have gone to Specsavers. He should be shot. Or made to work in a dress shop. The Licensed Lunatic guffawed at the wit of it all. But it didn’t slow him down.

A huge covered scaffolding had been erected alongside one side of the concourse at the drop off point at Paddington station, blocking out the emerging daylight, and giving the illusion that I had arrived earlier than I’d left home. Perhaps I had. I proffered a bunch of £10 notes through the open window and chanced my luck with a peek at the Licensed Lunatic. He looked completely normal. Except for the smoke coming out of his ears.

I scurried off on rubbery legs. My suitcase followed with the minimum of effort on my part, as if it had feet of its own (and by God it was going to use them).

I hadn’t got very far when a hand-written sign stopped me in my tracks. The Heathrow Express was not running and we were to find alternative transport. Panic rose in my chest. Dear reader, I need not have feared. From behind an overflowing litter bin, a bell shaped woman enveloped in a corporate uniform and bearing the casual demeanour of a supervisor in a high security correctional institution took immediate control. Pointing her clipboard at me like a fully operational Taser she indicated that I should move no further. Black cabs were in an orderly row to the side of us; and she was organising groups of three or four to share the expense. She went on to state with absolute conviction that my journey would not be disrupted by this regrettable inconvenience.

‘Sir’ she added as an afterthought.

‘top of the heap……………..’

There was as yet no queue. I stood on my own, imagining I was in the line for a Chuck Berry gig. ‘They’re really rocking in Boston….’ Before too long my first taxi sharer appeared. Draped in an immaculate three piece suit, his shoes glistened on the concourse like ripe figs floating on freshly made porridge. His suitcase whispered softly that it had cost more than my entire wardrobe. Refusing to make eye contact, he stood alongside me and began to leaf absently through a copy of the Financial Times. Glancing this way and that he conveyed the impression of a man who had very recently mislaid his chauffeur. Presently travelmate number two appeared. Overweight, perspiring and chewing aggressively he tugged a trunk that had more space than my bathroom. ‘How ya doin?’ he ventured amiably to no one in particular. All my instincts told me it was going to me a fun ride.

Mr Pristine slid into the cab, with his suitcase resting delicately at his feet. I hesitated before entering but I had little choice. Enormoman was engaged in a meaty argument with our cabbie who was adamant (logically so) that the trunk had to go in the front alongside of him. How our sweaty companion heaved and hawed to manoeuvre the brute into place! After several attempts, he slammed the cab door, and with a final huff, climbed into the back, ramming me with not inconsiderable force into Mr Pristine. There I sat, the air being squashed out of me by mounds of flesh on one side and bespoke tailoring on the other.

‘start spreading the news……………..’

I eyed the fold-down seat opposite us, and was about to make my move when there was a tap on the window. An unshaven face grinned inanely at us. Between the cracks of his dry lips were little folds of blood, and his pupils were worryingly dilated. A homeless person maybe? Enormoman wound down the window and I gagged as a strange, foetid odour pervaded our cabin.

’Room for one more?’ the idiot grinned.

‘We’re going to Heathrow not Rehab’ I felt like saying, but didn’t, confident that one of my travel mates would come up with a wittier response. But Enormoman simply opened the door.

‘All helps the cost’ he said as Wildman pulled down the fold-up set and sat facing us, tugging distractedly at his seat belt. He carried no luggage save for an orange Sainsbury’s carrier bag from which protruded a broken umbrella. He was dressed in a shabby tweed jacket, even shabbier trousers, and filthy brown brogues that must have walked straight out of a crime scene. This all topped off with a T shirt that displayed evidence of at least two previous meals and which proclaimed ‘Also Available Sober’.

‘if I can make it there…………….. ’

Off we went. After several minutes of silence I felt emboldened enough to attempt some conversation.

’ Where are you heading’ I asked lightly in the direction of Mr Pristine.

‘Chicago’ he spat.

At least I think that’s what he said. Could have been ‘Go boil your private parts, you bothersome insect’. Undeterred I asked the same of Enormoman.

‘Detroit’ he replied. He made it sound like a military operation that would inevitably incur some collateral damage.

Wasn’t this great! I wasn’t even there and I was already having conversations with real Americans. I looked across to Wildman and prepared my spiel:

‘And you sir, what holds today for you? Gator wrestling in the Everglades? High-rolling in Vegas? Shifting quantities of Class A substances to…………’

Just then a suicidal walker attempted to cross Ranelagh Bridge and the cab swerved 90 degrees into the middle of the road before shuddering to a halt. The trunk rammed itself into the side door and somehow hit the handle causing it fly open and the side of it to poke out like a sort of alien barnacle. Enormoman exited the cab, uttering a range of surprisingly imaginative and truly unpleasant oaths, and attempted to shove it back in. The driver cursed right back but frankly it was a non-contest. Behind us and ahead of us, streams of traffic honked and hooted. Wildman smiled idiotically.

‘I’m leaving today……………..’

We finally set off again with a huge lurch. A quarter bottle of whisky dropped from Wildman’s pocket and slid across the floor. Unperturbed he picked it up and pointed it in my direction.

‘And where are you heading mister?

‘New York’ I said

‘New York! The hell you are!’

I liked this! Boy did I like this!

‘The hell you are’. I would certainly use this. On arrival maybe, with the yellow cab:

‘You going to Manhattan sir?’

‘The Hell I am’

But why wait? I could use it before that, on the plane. Or even as I checked in:

‘You’re flying to JFK today sir’

‘The hell I am lady’

Yes it was all good.

We pulled up outside Terminal Five without much further incident. Mr Pristine, Enormoman and myself all knew we could have picked up the tab and justifiably claimed it as expenses. Wildman was having none of it.

‘You boys run along, I’ll take care of this’.

We nodded our goodbyes and peeled off in different directions. As I stood in line for check- in I saw Wildman sprinting furiously across the concourse heading for passport control, dropping his carrier bag in the process. I was going to the city that doesn’t sleep. And London was waking up with a fellow who hadn’t gone to bed.

 

The Hornsey HoundAbout the author

A keen chronicler of London life, the Hornsey Hound takes particular pleasure in exploring the capital’s musical connections as well as his neighborhood and the city’s parks and open spaces; and will often document his ramblings. He is also an enthusiastic guitarist, and, at the wag of a tail, will happily engage in lengthy discourse on the brilliance of Jeff Beck, Brian Setzer, Bert Jansch and many, many more.

Man in the Ivory Tower by Frances Gow

‘If I closed my eyes I could pretend I was at the beach, walking across the pebbles. But then the rank scent of the Thames did nothing to persuade me of that. I had forever left behind that little girl in her seaside town with Mother clutching at memories and the hope of a brighter future.’

The entrance to New Concordia Wharf was via a small blue door, cut flush to the old wooden gates that separated a cobbled courtyard from Mill Street. In the black hole of night, I almost missed it.

Perhaps that wouldn’t have been a bad thing after all.

I shuddered, took a quick look over my shoulder before shimmying my dress up above my knees so I could step through. Damn you, Mother, you could have given me something sensible to wear. My heels click-clacked on the courtyard, then my ankle buckled and I stumbled as my foot came free, leaving the shoe stuck between the cracks. I slipped my other foot out of its shoe and stood barefoot on the cobble stones. If I closed my eyes I could pretend I was at the beach, walking across the pebbles. But then the rank scent of the Thames did nothing to persuade me of that. I had forever left behind that little girl in her seaside town with Mother clutching at memories and the hope of a brighter future.

I looked up at the flat sandstone brick bearing down on the courtyard and wondered why they had kept the oppressive, square, meshed windows. The ironwork, now painted royal blue, reminded me of my childhood nursery where every spare wall was painted in bold colours. A dull ache settled in my chest.

“Only rich people live there,” Mother said. “You can’t buy anything for less than a million. We’ve landed on our feet this time, Rose.” Her eyes glittered with unshed tears and the burden of a single mum.

I retrieved my shoes and made my way across the courtyard. The earthy fresh smell of grain permeated the atmosphere and the shadows moved with pictures of yesteryear; dockers hefting sacks and loading carts. I could almost hear the jovial banter and the whicker of horses. I stood before a number of blue doors and wondered which one led to my future. Perhaps it was a test. Perhaps if I chose the wrong door, it would lead me right back to my past. But I knew I had to do this, to do it for Mother. She had spent every last penny we had on this black Vivienne Westwood taffeta dress and shoes. I looked down at my feet. Suppose I should put the damn things back on, otherwise he might mistake me for the street urchin I was.

The door entry system, although modern, had been disguised in antiquated brass so it seemed as though I was stepping into the past. Through the door and in front of me was a metal helter-skelter that spiralled down from the ceiling to the ground, seeming to go nowhere and serving no purpose. Next to the chute was a chunky old weighing machine, belonging to a century gone. I rode in the lift to the sixth floor and stared at my daunted expression in the mirrors that lined the walls. Pale cheeks, hair piled up on my head with just a spray of bronze curls dangling down to entice the devil. The lift shuddered to a halt; I pursed my lips and stepped out.

Two doors, once choice. Take the door to the left and there may be someone who could help me to escape from this cycle of inequity. Take the door to the right which led to an unknown future. Left door, right door. I had to choose.

I approached the door to the right, fuelled by my mother’s strife. The door flew open and a blast of cool air made my skin tingle. I took one tentative step over the threshold; just the pointed toe of my shoe inside the door, the heel still piercing the plush black carpet in the hallway on the other side.

I paused.

There was still time to go back.

The carpet ran like a river down a winding hall. The walls were ivory black with compartments that housed an array of figurines; an African carving with red and black striped people, a marble Buddha and a granite sculpture of an angel. The angel’s eyes popped out of its head and looked at me, following my every move. No more murmurs from the past came to pester my ears; only a whisper of anticipation.

I adjusted the bodice of my dress and took another step forward. He must be a freak to live in all this black. And why had I come trussed up like a Christmas turkey? Mother, you have sold my soul to the devil. And now, it was time to ride the devil’s back. I took a deep breath and stepped into the vestibule. The door slammed shut behind me.

I jumped and thought I heard a low growl rumble from inside the apartment. I followed the hallway, which branched out into an open plan living area lined with windows, casting light from surrounding buildings. My eyes were drawn towards a dais at the far end of the apartment, with V-shaped marble steps on its approach. The raised area jutted out over the Thames and a round porthole featured in its centre. A large black wooden table occupied the space, surrounded by tall-backed Mackintosh chairs with red and black embroidered cushion covers. The table was laid with an assortment of joints, bread, pickles and cheese. The smell of roasted meat made me nauseous, but at the same time my stomach grumbled; a lifetime of living on the edge could not tame my body’s response to food. No sign of the man himself.

The skyline outside the window caught my gaze; Tower Bridge nudged the clouds and the Gherkin poked its obscene nose into London’s horizon. To the left, on the opposite side of the dock, lights winked on and off in Butler’s Wharf as people went about their late night routines. When I looked back to the table, he was seated there, his inhuman head blocking the light from the porthole. His face was obscured by shadow, his eyes dropped and a hand curled claw-like around the edge of the table. I took a step closer and he looked up, blasting me with a look of pure hunger. A quiver ran through my body and I resisted the urge to slither to the floor in a puddle of perspiration.

He looked me up and down with unfathomable eyes. Eyes that ate into your soul and hid a thousand untold stories. I looked away, unable to gaze into those deep red pools. He smelt of whiskey, cigarettes and Hugo Boss, which reminded me of the men my mother used to bring home. But Mother had grown too frail in recent years, so this was her idea of making a life for us both. Only problem was, I had to stay here to keep her from the brink of starvation, keep her off the street and able to live a life that resembled normal in her final years. If I ever left this Ivory Tower, then the agreement was revoked. Payments would cease and we both would descend back into a life of poverty, embracing street life once again.

I looked around the apartment. It mightn’t be too bad; the plush sofa and chairs arranged in a ring around a cinema style screen and sound system could keep anyone entertained until eternity. But the thought of never leaving here left a shiver of prescience snaking down my spine. I looked back to him and his gaze was eager, eyes full of deep longing. Feeling self-conscious in my figure-hugging dress, I pulled at the fabric, wishing it to be longer and cover more of my quivering bare skin. His lips curled into a smile and he lifted his nose to smell the air, as though he felt my discomfort and gloried in the scent of it. My heart raced, aching to be free of my chest which cramped under the shackles of my situation.

His hair was a long mane, reaching far below his shoulders and his face was peppered with hair, like a teenager trying to grow a beard. He watched me watching him and narrowed his eyes, so I looked away like a naughty school girl caught having a swift fag in the girls’ loos. A look of reproach clouded his eyes and only made my heart lurch in its express journey to the Outer Hebrides of my soul.

He opened his mouth and I half expected to see a torrent of fire pour forth from his gaping maw. I closed my eyes to shield myself from the impact and wondered if I screamed loud enough whether the occupants of Butler’s Wharf would hear my cries and come to my rescue. And then he spoke; a razor-like voice wrapped in velvet words.

“I asked for a rose… and here you are.”

 

Frances GowAbout the author

Frances lives and works in London and has previously been published in magazines: Crossing the Border, Monomyth, Legend and Scriptor-3. Most recently, her short stories have appeared in online magazines: Liquid Imagination, Aurora Wolf, The Lorelei Signal, Bewildering Stories and The WiFiles. She is currently studying for an MA Creative Writing: Writing the City at the University of Westminster and blogs at www.francesgow.co.uk

Cracked Porcelain by Samantha Kelly

‘Kramer wanted to take a picture. She looked so peaceful and so at ease as she curled into a late afternoon nap. Her arms formed a little pillow under her soft blonde curls and her eyes fluttered with sweetened sleep. He felt like her protector. The world wouldn’t get to her here, Kramer promised, as he pulled the blanket over her defenseless shoulders.’

Toasted autumn air seeps through the bay window as they lie in the rubble of their relationship. The pan still steams through the puddle of cold water in the sink. He holds her and brushes the soaked strands from her puffy face. He lets her fall into him, feeling warmth in the nook of his arm. The smell of her perfume fills him, always sweet and reassuring. They feel normal being here, as if they exist to fall and climb together in endless waves of happiness and pain. She whimpers in his ear as heavy breaths finally subside enough to make way for noise. The plates crack beneath her leg as she moves further into his hold.

Kramer wanted to take a picture. She looked so peaceful and so at ease as she curled into a late afternoon nap. Her arms formed a little pillow under her soft blonde curls and her eyes fluttered with sweetened sleep. He felt like her protector. The world wouldn’t get to her here, Kramer promised, as he pulled the blanket over her defenseless shoulders.

She had thrown the burnt bacon at him, but what he said was the catalyst. He knew how to topple her down from her core with mere words, to detonate a bomb that would explode their relationship into unsalvageable territory. He often played with lesser levels of spark as petty fights waged on, but today he let one hurtful sentence drift out from his arsenal in a weak and defenseless moment. Now all that’s left is two shells of people lying on the floor in cracked porcelain, pulled like Frisbees from the poorly painted cupboard.

She searched every store hoping to find the perfect gift to prove she knew him better than anyone. Kramer always told her that his father was his best friend, but this time she would beat him, she would seal her place as number one. She went into the jewelry store to pick up the engraved watch. “Skinny Love” had been carved into the smooth metal.

She looks so small and helpless, like she does after every fight. Her legs pull into her chest; her face falls childlike and as pure as discovering the Santa Claus fallacy. He watches her peel from his side carefully and begin to clear the mess, plucking porcelain from the carpet. Even in the midst of the end she can’t stand the clutter.

It was raining and they dipped into the red, foul smelling phone booth. It was a tight squeeze and their bodies pressed together as the rain puttered down on the firm little structure. He kissed her as passionately as he could, needing her approval more than anyone else’s. When he pulled back to see if the kiss had landed, she smiled and told him to check his left nostril, the base was loaded. He touched his nose to her head as she laughed and pushed him way. With her small hands pressed to his chest, Kramer caved in recognition that this was the physical moment that he fell in love with her.

“I thought you wanted to exist as us. Just us. Just our endless ray of grilled cheese and scotch topped with lemon rinds,” she says softly as she scrubs the wall with the rough side of the worn down sponge.

He couldn’t make it new again.

Annabella picked out the perfect blue dress that showed just the right amount of cleavage. She painted her face far more carefully than she ever usually allotted time for. Her tongue popped out to the side, as always in deep concentration, steadying her hand for the eyeliner to graze her skin. She fastened her grandmother’s pearls to her neck and let the little spheres fall along her clavicle. She caught him studying her from the corner of the mirror. Looking nervous, he took a drag from his cigarette and went back out on the porch. Kramer always looked at her that way, a puzzle without pieces that he couldn’t make whole, mocking and robbing him of his manhood.

He grabs her into a hug, pulling her from the sponge soaked wall. Hot tears begin to pool on Kramer’s shoulder as he fights the urge to let go any of his own. Her hands pull at the crest of his shoulders and her face dives into Kramer’s neck. The twisted knots of his gut tell him not to release her.

As he walked down Park Lane he was in a fit of nervous knots. It took him months to find the perfect one. Annabella walked a few paces behind, muttering indifferent complaints about arriving too early for their reservation. He pulled her aside and into the phone booth, forced to fight back the urge to laugh as her shocked face scrunched the freckles of her nose together. His knee could barely make a bend in the tight space as he pulled the velvet box from the inside seam of his blazer. She would have preferred the in-the-champagne approach, especially if it meant him loosening his tightly wound purse strings for a bottle of Veuve.

He lets the door slam behind him. A door that is moodier than most and doesn’t allow anyone to make an exit without the whole row of flats knowing about it. The bang echoes through his bones leaving nothing but a spineless skeleton rattling against his thoughts. He steps outside from the building in desperate need of hindsight, but the sharp breaths do nothing to help him harvest through the rubble.

She yelled at him for keeping the window open overnight again. The full-length mirror stood fogged with the cold as they bundled together under the duvet. He laughed at the incredible amount of anger she had mustered. Kramer grabbed her fist and brought it to his lips to tell her what a ridiculous little creature she was being. The tension in her brows released and rippled into a laugh. She wrapped herself into him and whispered that like and love are mutually exclusive.

He returns to a spotless flat, down to the bacon stained wall. He doesn’t even have to look to know she is gone, he can feel it. Warmth has given way to emptiness, love to recovery. He pours himself a glass of scotch only to find a little silver ring clinking its way to the top.

 

Sam KellyAbout the author

Samantha Kelly is from New York City, but now lives and works in London. She graduated from Indiana University’s Ernie Pyle School of Journalism is 2012 and is now pursing a Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Westminster.

The Dirty Bastard by Anne McCarthy

‘Martin and Warhol were engaged in a private neighborhood warfare. The thing is, poor hopeless Martin had no idea the spat was even going on! He was but a simple American, blissfully and obnoxiously ignorant. Actually, he graduated the top of his class from Harvard, but that’s neither here nor there.’

“Regents Park. High Noon. Partly cloudy. Chance of meatballs…hehe…just kidding. Rain coming in from the west….the Dirty Bastard should be by at any moment.”

“Detective” Warhol – a self-appointed sleuth – released the record button on his oh-so-dorky handheld tape recorder. It looked like the Talkman featured in the Home Alone films. In fact, Warhol got it for that reason.

As Warhol predicted, a man wearing a Seattle Mariners baseball cap strolled by walking his Beagle, Buddy. Martin named the dog Buddy because that was the name of Bill and Hilary Clinton’s dog when they lived in the White House. He was a fresh-out-of-college aspiring politico in 1992 when he was hired to work on the Clinton campaign. That’s where he met his wife, an Irish woman named Molly.

His dog’s name was a tribute to that time in his life.

Martin and Warhol were engaged in a private neighborhood warfare. The thing is, poor hopeless Martin had no idea the spat was even going on! He was but a simple American, blissfully and obnoxiously ignorant. Actually, he graduated the top of his class from Harvard, but that’s neither here nor there.

“Dirty Bastard should be by at any moment…Camera phone is poised and ready. Soon, I shall have proof!…And I will get him banned from the park and my beloved rose garden.”

Warhol clicked off the recorder and retreated behind the prickly shrubbery to his left.

He followed Martin on his lengthy stroll through Regent’s Park: around the lake, (narrowly escaping a vicious pigeon attack – “They’re just rats with wings!” Warhol liked to say to anyone who would listen) past the cafe, over to the zoo, up the winding path to the tennis courts, and finally to the long-awaited destination where the deed would be done, just as Warhol had seen it happen every morning the past few weeks while he sipped his coffee on the bench in the rose garden, and watched Martin and the Beagle saunter in.

“The smug bastards,” Warhol would look up from his book and his coffee and mutter to himself, after he saw it happen beside the fountain.

The dog and his master entered the Queen’s Rose Garden. They were creatures of habit:

walking the perimeter of the garden, stopping by the far side for a sniff around and ending at the grand fountain.

Then it happened.

The Beagle relieved himself by the fountain. Among the pristine roses named for the Queen! Warhol was appalled, as usual. Shook is head in disgust and poised his Kodak disposable camera at the ready.

He snapped a picture, then jumped out from behind the bushes.

“Hah! Caught cha! And I’ve got proof! You know you can’t have your dog shatting about in these gardens! Just wait till I show these to the park authorities! You and your stupid baseball cap…think you can just come in here and break the rules, huh? Well think again, mate!”

“What? Oh, I…I’m so sorry. Normally I don’t take him in here, but I have the last few weeks. Since my wife died last month. I just can’t bear to walk him on our old route. We walked him together along Bayswater Road every night, but then she…”

Martin’s lip quivered and he pulled his baseball cap down a little further over his forehead.

Oh my G- I. I…you just. Go on, now. Do what ever you want to do…

Detective Warhol walked home to his flat, with his tail between his legs. He realized he needed a new hobby, and that it was him who was, in fact, the dirty bastard.

 

Anne McCarthyAbout the author

Anne McCarthy is a writer living in London. She is a graduate of Chicago’s Second City Training Center and a former intern at The Late Show with David Letterman. She is a contributing writer to the Second City Network, Bitch Media and Bonjour Paris. Anne is a Masters Degree student in Creative Writing at the University of Westminster. She and Steven Spielberg were both rejected from USC Film School upon application.

Love at Short Sight by Antonis Kazoulis

‘His face was inhabited by thoughts and looked as though moths were bothering it. You could see the lines form on his forehead. Wrinkles come with age, not ageing. I wanted to ask him about his troubles, but I didn’t know his name. Then again, what’s in a name?’

I met him on the stairs. I didn’t really meet him. It was more of a glance, an extended glare, on my part at least. He wore jeans and a plain T-shirt, Nike boots and his hair was messy. He looked at me, but I don’t think my face registered. It was an empty look, blank and void of purpose. He was on London autopilot, pacing away through his day, probably hiding from the things that really bothered him; doing the things he did every day, things that felt familiar.

He had headphones on and I think I heard ‘Green Garden’ playing, or was it just me, obsessing about the song the past month? His face was inhabited by thoughts and looked as though moths were bothering it. You could see the lines form on his forehead. Wrinkles come with age, not ageing. I wanted to ask him about his troubles, but I didn’t know his name. Then again, what’s in a name?

I didn’t catch the colour of his eyes; it was only a moment after all, but what I do remember is the dark circles. He wasn’t the type to get them from smoking. It must have been all those sleepless nights, the moths that would not let him rest, the thoughts that were never ripe to be turned into action.

His lips were dry, torn and beaten. If I could ever kiss him I would choose now. He could save his best kisses for girls on a Friday night, next to the river when he would pretend to be something he already was. I wanted to kiss him now, to soothe him, to relieve him.

That’s when it happens you know, love. When nobody is looking and somebody doesn’t know he is being watched. There is no stage or bright lights; there is no soundtrack or build up, there is just the big city. It’s a short-lived moment, a silent tick of the clock that cannot be captured, saved or revisited. It feels like a blow of cold air in the centre of your stomach, a stream of feelings you did not instruct, cannot control and do not recognise. Maybe this is the closest we come to love you know, that unexpected moment with a stranger on the stairs, on the bus, in the neighbourhood café. Before the mind goes to work and starts to contemplate, to expect, and to demand.

Maybe it’s that moment, when we know nothing about the person in front us, but we feel like we know everything there is to know. When all bets are off and all possibilities are there for the taking.

 

About the author

Antonis Kazoulis is 25, with a Business Management degree and is now pursing a Masters in Creative Writing. He wants to write about the city, modern life and the way people come to London, or go to cities to find true liberation, realize their potential and discover their dreams.