Truths of Tragedy

by Kri Dennett

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The Tyburn Tree in Marble Arch marks the spot where witches dropped.
Women hexed by desperate men who hunted them for games and pence.
In 1621, Winchmore Hill, an offering was found;
Elizabeth Sawyer, said to be possessed by Tom the demonic hound.
She refuted the claims and stood her ground.
A strong willed woman who tested man.
For this she paid the ultimate price; first they took her eyes so she could not see, and then they hung her from the Tyburn Tree.
And down the road just by the water another woman was took to slaughter.
For she was cursed with a Devil’s Mark; only it was the same dark spot the man who killed her wore.
Thumb to toe, a swing and throw; will she sink or will she float?
If she sinks she’s innocent and if she’s buoyant she’s a witch.
Either way she will drown, now in the Thames forever a hidden treasure.

South of the river in 2018 a glass land stands; the global hub for the modern day slave where the City hides an early grave.
Sixty hour weeks of sweat, tears and turmoil turn hopes and dreams into fears.
Migrants used to serve the bankers who leave the tip tray dry; greedy wankers.
Out of their seat and on their feet with stomachs as full as their pockets.
Their glutton claims back the price of the lunch, meanwhile their server scrimps and saves for a three-pound Tesco meal deal.
‘Your service was great!’
‘Dziękuje kochanie…oh I’m sorry, you don’t understand? God bless my ignorance for speaking more than one language in this ‘equal’ land. You find treasure in what the Queen speaks, but I find it in my mother’s tongue.’
Said the young proud Pole; an unsung hero who makes Big Ben tick,
for twenty-four-seven beats nine-to-five.
Migrants come to find their treasure, but soon discover its hidden well within; it’s time to escape before the diggers arrive.

Back to Marble Arch it’s the present day.
The crowds pave their way from Baker Street to Trafalgar Square; rainbow flags and Pride tote bags dance in mid-July heat.
Time has turned the throwing of bricks into the throwing of paint powder.
From high above the gold-glittered faces shine; an open treasure chest as
there’s no hiding in Pride.
There’s no more riots or police defence lines, just ‘Love is Love’ tees and ‘Yass Kween’ signs.
Hate doesn’t have the power to last forever, it just moves in phases to another unfortunate mask.
In the way a tortured spirit chases from one body to another.
The pubs, banks, shops and red-top papers all lick their lips as they listen to the march’s raucous sound, but all they see is the power of the pink pound.
The LGBTQ; tomorrows headline and this month’s profit.
It’s a cash in, henny.
But no acceptance or money will ever forget the Soho bomb, chemical castrations, public humiliation, laws of segregation and incarcerations all because of same sex love.
Now the fight begins again for our Trans siblings, just rest assured that love always wins. Queer love.
No longer hidden.
Just a treasure.

It’s the digital makeup era and the city is trying hard to make up by turning tragedies into treasure.
They turn our torture into Halloween tales.
They give us a room in a museum.
But only the smallest one.
They put us on the cover of Time Out.
But only for one day of the year.
To romanticise us is to try and pull the wool over naive eyes.
After all, treasures hidden in heartache are still hidden treasures.
But it’s a little too late.
It’s a culture rape.

And you too can be a treasure in this city.
Just hide your queerness; they only want it for Saturday night entertainment.
Hide your feminism; they only want it in the history books.
Hide your blackness; they only want to stream it.
Hide your eastern culture; the only want to eat it.
Hide it all because they’ll steal your treasure.
It’s appropriation without any appreciation.
And when the time comes your authenticity will be your freedom.
Wear it like a peacock bouquets its feathers.
That’s your treasure in the Western man’s world.
This isn’t Americanisation.
It’s maninisation in the hetero matrix; you’re either on the outside looking in, or you can join the hunt.
The default.
Grab a suit, take out a mortgage and chase a marriage; you’re a modern day slave.
You’re vanilla now, baby; but they’ll never take your treasure.

In this city of trends you kneel to the normative or face raised eyebrows.
The city gave me a life but I made lemons of it.
A bitterness to my palate and a lump in my throat.
Living in sour segments of time.
The acid has tarnished my treasure.
When does treasure become a burden?
Is it when the weight of prejudice, death and power latches onto the gold?
We will never be your next poppy field; you will never turn the blood we have lost at the hands of corrupt greed into a tale of sacrifice hidden by the beautiful, innocent life of flowers.
This land tells a tale of those begrudged; witches, slaves and queers.
Their pain romanticised, forced to forgive for a legacy in the classroom, but never forgotten by those who see.
Who really see.
Why must we find our truths through tragedies?
Victims of an adapting space that yearns for peace, equity and equality;
their footprints forever hidden treasures.

 

Kristian Dennett
Kristian
 Dennett
is Sheffield born and London reborn. He specialises in Queer writing; focusing on screenplays and articles with LGBTQ themes.

Contact Kristian

Etant SDF

by Hamour Baika

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The first time I accidentally came to look at the world’s most famous clock, it took away my breath. Not because I was awe struck. Rather, I found it hard to breathe as I tried to swallow my sobs. I was tired. And hungry. And cold. I’d come to London to go to school, with full scholarship and stipend. But it came long after the deadline to apply for school accommodation. I hardly made it in time to register for classes. Upon landing, I left my big suitcase in storage in Heathrow, took the Tube to Holborn, and went to the Student Services Centre. Within a couple of hours, I had my first stipend cheque in hand. I found out I could go to some cheap hotels with shared rooms, called hostels. All I had to do was to cash the cheque. It went downhill from there.
           “How do I cash this?”
           The woman at the Financial Support Office looked at me sideways. “Have you heard of a bank account?”
           I guessed as a Middle Eastern guy, I looked to her like a savage creature, unfamiliar with modern institutions. I didn’t ask anything else.
           As I rehash this memory, I pat my back pocket, touching the thickness of my wallet. It’s still there.
           “What’s wrong?” He asks.
           “Nothing. All good.”
           “Is this reminding you of… your hard times?”
           “A little.”
           He grabs my hand and pulls me, walking away from the Westminster Palace.
           “When we get to LSE, I wanna check if the bank is still there,” I suggest.
           On my first day at the School, I noticed that NatWest sat next door to the Old Building. I entered and told the teller I wanted to open an account. In hindsight, I should have asked if I could cash the cheque. But I didn’t know better. The teller said my debit card would be mailed to my address in two weeks. Two weeks? My $120 had turned into a meagre £75. I’d already spent six quid on the Tube. You want me to live on 69 pounds for two whole weeks? I had to calm myself down. Be cool! Nobody likes a hysteric Middle Eastern drama queen. Don’t be a stereotype. I didn’t have an address. No pre-arranged accommodations. I begged some guy who I had noticed earlier at the Student Services Centre to let me use his address. He took pity on me. And boom! I got a bank account. To become active in two weeks!
           And that’s how I ended up temporarily sans domicile fixe. When the library closed that day, someone told me the computer lab in the Old Building was open 24 hours. I searched on Craigslist, found the cheapest shared room possible, and took down the phone number.
           “I’m calling about the room.”
           “The bed? Yeah, it’s in my room.” The guy had a foreign accent. “The bed, well, it’s a couch really. We share the room, but it’s perfect because it’s not pricey at all. Water and electricity included. Phone is extra. There’s a chair and a desk. Five guys in the flat. All students.”
           “Great.”
           “Yeah. You saw the location, right? It’s pretty good. Access to everything. Banks, grocery shops, laundry. We just ask one thing: no gays. Nothing against gays, but you’d share a small flat with five guys. No one should have to feel uncomfortable.”
           “Yeah, of course.” I could still pass, right? I didn’t think I was that obvious. “Sounds great. When can I come and see it? Tomorrow?”
           “OK. Call before you come. Don’t forget you have to pay first and last month upfront.”
           I hung up. My one-pound coin fell into the belly the phone. I had £68 left to last me two weeks. No need to look for a place. I couldn’t afford to pay for the first and last month upfront. I went back into the computer lab. An old guy wearing some sort of uniform walked up to me and asked for my student ID. He looked at it and walked away, not asking for anyone else’s.
           After I wrote to my mom that I was staying at a hostel tonight until my stipend is processed in a couple of days, I took my bag and went for a walk.
           Soon I found a grocery store. I found large bags of “crisps” for 73 pence. When I was ready to go back to school, I realized I didn’t know the way. I asked a policeman. He told me to make a right and go straight for several blocks. I turned right and after one block, I faced a fork. Which way is straight? The one on the left or the one the right? The key to whole city was called an A-Z book. £5. That was my food ration for a whole day.
           I spent the night at the computer lab, pretending to be writing emails to folks back home. By 5 a.m. I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore. So I went for another walk. I found a street along the river. The same one we’re walking on right now. When I saw the lights in the Houses of the Parliament, the sky was still dark blue. I looked at the buildings and hoped I could just go back home.
           By gods’ intervention, I found a McDonalds on my way to school. Surely it couldn’t be true that a Big Mac cost only £2! That was the first good news I got in London.
           At the Old Building, I found a “loo” with only one toilet and sink. One could lock the door to the whole thing. So I locked myself in, washed my socks and lay down on the ground. Not sure how long I slept, but my socks were almost dry by the time I had to wear them and go back outside.
           I discovered that there were showers in the basement. The hot water treated me well. I spent a long time under the hot water. Some days, I would soap my body twice. Three times. Just as long as I could stay under the hot shower. Until one evening, someone else at the showers noticed how long I stayed there.
           “I’m sure you’re pretty clean by now.”
           “Excuse me?”
           “Sorry, I didn’t mean to be creepy.”
           He came out of his shower. The drops of water looked like pearls on his olive skin, dripping off of his long hair as he ran his fingers through them. He looked like a Bollywood superstar. And he was talking to me.
           “Siddharth!” He extended his hand.
           I told him my name and shook his hand, afraid my body was going to display my instinctive attraction.
           “You’re already clean! Me, I like it dirty,” he winked and walked away.
           I had to turn on the cold water before I could leave the shower. I guess it took me too long because he was nowhere to be found when I went into the hallway.
           Maybe he’ll show up the same time tomorrow. I showered there at the same time, the next day, and then the next day. On the third day, I lost hope.
           For two weeks, I napped in the library and the computer labs. Sometimes, I would walk all night.
           We reach the Somerset House. The fountains spray particles of water onto our faces.
           “I was so stupid then,” I confess. “If I looked nice and I flirted a bit, I could go home with people. I could have slept on their beds, eating their food for breakfast. If they were nice, I could even ask them if they could pay for my Tube ride.”
           “I must admit I am happy that my husband wasn’t a former sex worker though.” He squeezes my hand.
           “Not really a sex worker. I was even a virgin at the time. I could’ve at least dragged it out with you so that I could sleep in your bed a few nights before I let you… So stupid!”
           “You were stupid! Not that you should’ve been sleeping around with anybody willing to take you home. But you should have told me. I would’ve invited you over.”
           “I didn’t wanna look like a needy loser.”
           “Needy winner,” he corrects me. “You won my heart!”
           “Charmer!” I push him towards one of the fountains. It wets his jeans and one side of his shirt.
           “What the hell!”
           “Thought you like it dirty!”
           “You rascal!”
           He pulls me toward himself and kisses forcefully my lips. I’m now also partially wet.
           I gaze into his shiny brown eyes. “I love you, Sidd.” My hidden treasure.

 

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Hamour Baika is a Middle Eastern author in the making. He wrote his first novella around the age of 12, an ET fan fiction. A series of migrations has led him to the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, where he’s grown roots. You can find his work here.

Contact Hamour

Hollow People

by Ali Mulaga

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           So I’m standing on this bus crouched next to the door, anonymous in a sea of commuters. My headphones are on at full blast so as to annoy the poor sardines next to me (kidding– I just like my bass loud). It’s so typical, the buses are full, the trains are full, but other than the turning of the wheels and the low roar of the engine, the only socially acceptable sound to emit is the occasional heavy breath or annoyed grumble.
           
During the lull of a song I think I hear someone speaking, so I pause the music to listen.
           “Why is everyone so sad?” a man asks to no one in particular. “I’m lookin’ around at everyone on this bus, and you all look so sad.”
           It doesn’t take long to identify who it is. He’s the only person on the bus talking, and loudly. He stands on the bottom step of the staircase, perched up and facing the crowd, speaking to everyone as if we’re there for him and not just going wherever we’re going. No one is reacting. No one even seems to be listening, but they must be because even with the Gorillaz playing at full volume I could hear this man preaching. Look, the dude is clearly a crackhead so I get why no one replies, but his monologue is probably the most profound philosophical tangent I’ve stumbled upon in real life and this is the reaction. Not that I’m about to tell him that.
           The bus is in standstill traffic. I can feel everyone around me wanting this guy to shut up, I can almost see the fantasies about telling him off. The cheers that would follow. But no one does. We all avoid eye-contact, and he carries on, undeterred by the lack of engagement from his audience.
           He digresses from his rant to comment: “This kid is looking at me like I’m weird, and that’s making me feel weird.”
           I stand there on the bus with my headphones over my ears and no sound coming out, fully attentive. He rambles on without pause and goes on to talk about economic class. He shouts about how taking the bus is so middle-to-low class. Everyone with money is out there driving their nice cars, their nice Mercedes and BMWs and here we all are standing on an overcrowded bus with metal rods that are hollow inside.
           Just to check, I give the light blue rod next to me a little tap.

           On my way to my friend Knot’s house later that night I’m sitting on the silent tube. Couples stare vacantly into the distance in opposite directions, categorizable only because they get on and off the tube together, not because they’ve actually said any words to each other. People give wary looks to the weird man reeking seventy percent of beer and thirty percent of pee but maybe they avoid him more because every few minutes he mumbles to himself and starts coughing up what seems to be both lungs and probably his stomach too. A woman asks the girl next to her to turn her music down. It’s really loud. Some people flip through the newspaper. Flip through, not read. I’m sitting on the silent tube, and I start to think maybe it’s not just the metal rods that are hollow inside.

           Isn’t it weird how people stand on escalators? It’s doing half of the work already, so just… walk up. It’s seems like more effort to be walking and then suddenly having to find footing, stop for a while, read advertisements, entertain the self, and then be aware when the top approaches, only to walk about fifty meters and do it again. Just walk up. It’s the same with moving walkways and people who take the elevator at the gym–  why?
           
I guess it’s none of my business.

           Some would say I’m late. I say time is an illusion; what is ‘late’ anyway?
           
“Late is when you show up after 10:30 and it’s no longer free entry,” is Knots’ smartass answer.
           Fine. So long as there’s still enough time for me to smoke a spliff before we go I’m not bothered.
           “Do you even have your ticket yet?” he asks.
           “Ticket? Where are we going?”
           “There’s this club in Camden. Koko,” my friend Matangi says. “It’s in an old theater.”
           “A club?” This comes out as a drone. “I say ‘let’s do something fun’ and you guys want to go to a club?”
           “Yeah, the website says they’ve got some good music on. Cool indie, alternative dance, eclectic pop…”
           None of this sounds appealing (what is ‘cool indie’?). I guess it’s clear from my face because my so-called friend says, “Come on, don’t be so… yourself. New year, new you! It’ll be fun.”
           “I’m sure it won’t.”
           Matangi smiles knowingly. “They said there would be bubbles.” She shows me the page when I call bullshit.
           Grudgingly I agree to go. But somewhere not that deep down I know there’s something better I can be doing with my life.

           I lose my friends in record-setting time. We don’t even make it onto the tube platform before I don’t know where anyone is or where I’m going. Vaguely I remember that my personal hell tonight is in Camden, so that’s the direction I go in. There’s absolutely no certainty this will work out. For all my crusades and rants about technology there are situations where yes, perhaps it would be useful to own a phone.

           When I find my friends standing in line outside Koko I can’t tell whether or not I’m relieved because now I have to go in. It takes me a while to cut through the line and when I do Matangi is waiting by the bouncer.
           
“You pay ten pound yeah?” says the bouncer when we get to him.
           “Isn’t it free entry?”
           “Until 10:30,” he says. “It’s 10:31.” Of course it is.
           “Let’s just go to the Blues Kitchen,” I suggest. “Or anywhere else.”
           “Everyone’s already inside.”
           Once we’re finished being robbed at gunpoint we walk inside and immediately have to start yelling at each other because there’s a Drake remix more shit than the original blaring over the speakers.
           “Where are our friends!” I shout.
           “What? I can’t hear you!”
           “What is this music?”
           “What’d you say?”
           “This already blows!” I complain, at this point talking at rather than to her.
           “Should we find the rest of them?”
           They’re on the dancefloor trying to dance. The DJ’s playlist must be titled something along the lines of “how to make people sway awkwardly” because that’s all that’s happening. Occasionally there’s a huge silver beach ball people tap around. No one seems to question the fact that we are not at the beach.
           After about twenty minutes I can no longer take the mindless shuffling and head upstairs on a quest for bubbles. The club being an old theater is labyrinthine and in seconds I have lost track of where anything is or where I’m going. I start to ask around but no one seems to have seen the bubbles. Someone suggests that it’s the large beach balls people are throwing around.
           “But beach balls aren’t bubbles.”
           A shrug is the only reply.
           Somewhere above I look over the edge and into the pit I earlier escaped. From up here it looks nothing like club scenes in the movies with the strobe lights and the good times. It looks more like the floor has gotten so sticky that moving around feels like molasses. They all look like zombies, aimlessly staggering around to a beat. And same with everyone upstairs, sitting alone at tables nursing warm beer. They stare at their phones, with the occasional look up to confirm that no one is paying any attention to them.
           No one seems to question the fact that it doesn’t look like anyone is having fun. Here they all are, hollow people in a hollow room, trying to figure out what mix of uppers and how much will it take to not care about how much fun they’re not having. Well, at least it isn’t just me. Except, I don’t take uppers because I like to know exactly how much fun I’m not having. Kind of like how I know I’m too high to deal with the bullshit of being here and somehow simultaneously I’m nowhere near high enough for it.
           In the bathroom I roll a joint. Retrospect is the realization that a grinder would have been a good idea.
           It dawns on me that for the second time in a few hours that I’ve completely lost my friends with no way of finding them. It must be something about the way I tend to wander off without saying where I’m going, but who can say really? At least finding them will kill some time. I check the dancefloor first, and it doesn’t take me too long to find the main staircase. When they aren’t where they were when I left I weave through the throng of bodies and see no sense of familiarity as I pass face by vacant face on my way to the opposite stairwell.
           Eventually I find them on the first floor, leaning against the railing looking out into the stroby abyss.
           I announce my presence. “Does anyone else really feel like smoking a joint?”
           “Oh god,” says Grace, looking over at me. “Please.”
           Over his shoulder Knots tells us,  “If you leave I don’t think you can come back in.”
           “Well, I’m convinced. Let’s get out of here.” Grace and her boyfriend, Mute (not his real name– I’ve always wanted to ask but his name is also the problem) are the only ones that want to come with me, so the three of us make a hurried exit for the door. We get lost in the labyrinth for so long I eventually become convinced that they’ve done this on purpose and there is, in fact, no exit. And then we see the glass doors, push them open, and draw in the freshest breath of crisp night air.
           The closest station is literally in front of us on the other side of the street, but we turn and walk down the other way. A kind stranger lets me borrow their lighter.
           “Well thank fuck that’s over with,” Grace sighs when I pass her the spliff.
           “Oh thank god, I thought it was just me. I felt really lame for a second. How is this thing that everyone says is fun so actually horrendous?”
           “I can’t believe we were there for so long.”
           “Yeah,” says Mute.
           “I knew I didn’t like clubs,” I say. “Don’t actually think I’ve ever been to one and now I know why. I should just stick with my gut, this is exactly what happened to me with pickles.”
           “Pickles?”
           “Pickles are wack, don’t let anyone tell you any different. I did, and I regret it.”
           “So why did the rest of them stay?”
           “Matangi and Knots are all squeamish about smoking in public after the police searched them that one time on Matangi’s birthday,” I explain. “ But look at how not arrested we’re getting!”
           In fact, there’s no one on the street we’re walking down. Gone are the beats manufactured from synthetic happiness, replaced by the random hum some buildings make, the wind rushing in the spaces between. London at night carries its own life, the subtle yin to the day’s boisterous yang. The streets empty, there is no roar of traffic, no stench of gas, but the conversation of people who pass by on the other end of the street carries its melody over.
           Grace and I chat– I feel personally victorious when Mute contributes a full three sentences to the conversation– and for a while none of us realize that we have no destination in mind.
           “Let me find a route home on my phone,” Grace says, mapping it out. When she gets it, we follow her, our conversations dancing around the world and back again. I learn about travelling in Morocco, how creative and cool a city Bristol is, and dream about living in the consistently beautiful Italian countryside. No one seems to notice how bad at directions Grace is until she says we should be at Kings Cross station and all we see is some chicken wire fence blocking off some construction.
           “Oh shit, I typed in Kings Cross the area, not station.” And then we’re on our way again, Grace apologizing for the mishap.
           “Don’t worry about it,” I tell her. “This accident has been much more enjoyable than something I didn’t actually pay ten quid for.”
           “I know what you mean, I actually really like walking around London at night.”
           “Me too. It’s a shame I only do it when I’m trying to get somewhere.”
           “Yeah, same here. I should do it more, we live in such a beautiful city.”
I look around, breathe in. “How lucky are we?”

           The platform on the night tube is alive. People are buoyant and vibrant on their way home with some friends with beer cans no one bothers to put in paper bags. No one looks sad, though there is that one guy passed out on the bench.
           The chatter is so overpowering it’s almost a strain to hear the train coming in. It’s full enough that we can’t sit down, but Grace scores the perch seat next to the side door.
           “Ah hey, you got the best seat on the train!” I tell her. The guy on the other perch spot looks over with a small smile.
           “You’re right, it really is the best.”
           “Trust me, the seats are overrated. Not even that comfy.”
           He laughs. “Do you wanna sit?”
           “Yeah, why not.” I perch and introduce myself. “What’s your name?”

           You know, come to think of it, I never did find those bubbles. Talk about false advertising, huh?

 

 

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Ali Mulaga is a full-time creative writing student, part-time hooligan. She Writes poetry and the ocassional disgruntled letter about vegetables. You can find her in her hammock somewhere.

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Consolation

by Namya Naresh

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When people say the world works in mysterious ways, my inner voice laughs out loud. Yes, it very literally laughs in my head vibrating throughout my body. Because I do not believe that is true. At least I didn’t.

I’d say it took me on a journey. But that just sounds stupid doesn’t it? Like we live in an ideal world where everything eventually works out. But we don’t.

Do we?

No. It wasn’t a higher force that I can’t comprehend. It wasn’t supernatural. It wasn’t a self help book.

It was me.

I did it. I changed.

I opened myself up and turned hope into reality. No. It was always reality. I just let myself see it. Acknowledge it. Believe it. Trust it.

Trust myself.

I walked out of my apartment that morning and found myself paralyzed by the sun. It had been so long since I felt its warmth on my face. One of the things I took for granted I guess. I had spent my whole life hating the heat. I spent my time cribbing, crying and wishing for it to cool the fuck down. Except it wasn’t just the sun, it was my life. I wanted everything to just take a beat and chill. I was over heating and slowly drying up inside. Now I was standing on the other side. I got what I wanted didn’t I? Moved to a cold country and slowly froze into an ice popsicle. The sun became a distant cousin who almost never visited and I became stale.

But that morning, I was warm.

After I recovered from my momentary paralysis I refocused on my day. It was late and I had to run to class now. I hated running. I hated sweating. Dolled up in all my layers that were meant to protect my body from the cold, underneath them I was hot and sweaty.

Just my luck.

I suppose I could have run through the streets, stripping off layer by layer as the people around me wondered if I was having a mental break down. It might have been liberating. But liberation wasn’t in store for me. Not yet. I walked at an even pace, melting inside. By the time I made it into my class I was late and stinky.

I brought it on myself. No one else to blame.

It was a normal day and I was sitting in a normal class. I had sat through that class all semester, bearing it. And it was always the same. Average. Like me.

You know those moments when you pretend you are listening but really you are dancing in a meadow in New Zealand? That was me. Except it wasn’t so much of a meadow but my garage back home where I sat and aggressively applied to college. I was so determined back then. I knew exactly what I wanted.

I wanted to become a writer.

So there I sat in class, months later getting exactly what I wanted. And yet I was not fulfilled. I sat there going over all my failures. I had failed to get a decent job, I had failed to enjoy this city because of the cold, I had failed to write as much as I thought I should have been writing. And yet as these rants invaded my brain I was scribbling down ideas on my book. Ideas to turn into proposals for jobs, ideas for pieces of writing, ideas for what I was going to go home and cook. Half way through the class I realized what was going on. My body was literally rebelling against my inner voice’s annoying and depressing verbal onslaught. The scribbles on my notebook were exactly what made me who I am.

I am an ongoing battle.

The very battle that made everything I have done in my life possible. As long as I had my scribbles and my ideas I was succeeding. My ability to constantly come up with new ways to get a job and new things to look forward to, was my success. I was a success because of the simple fact that I hadn’t given up yet. And I wasn’t going to. In that moment I looked at the students around me and realized that I had always been a girl who wanted to become a writer.

Now, I was a writer.

Simply because I had decided that I was. And no one, not even life could take that away from me.

Trust myself.

A huge weight was beginning to lift off me. I found myself squashed and breathless underneath. As I caught my breath I wondered, was this my moment? Was London my city? Was I going to bloom into the flower that I was always meant to be? I sound like my mother. I wasn’t a flower or even a bud. I was the London sun. The sun that’s always there but is shadowed by the clouds who reign over it.

The clouds, my fears.

I was the sun that you couldn’t always see but when you did, its brightness and warmth would paralyse you. It would stop you and make you admire its rare brilliance. I was always told that I was brilliant. I was always told that I was beautiful. That didn’t make me brilliant or beautiful, it made me dark and bitter. Being told what I was, only made me see everything I was not. That day I saw myself for who I am. I am made up of moments of brilliance that don’t come along very often. But that doesn’t mean that they are not there.

It’s a start.

 

 

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Namya Naresh
is a writer from India, taking on the city of London as her bottomless source of inspiration. She writes short fiction, poetry and is working on her first novel. She strives to create a beautiful blend of reality and fiction within the pages of her writing

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The Commuter

by Harriet Weston

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The platform was cold and empty, just as I liked it. No distractions. No delays. With my feet planted firmly, I waited.
           3, 2, 1…
           
Soft rumblings forewarned the tube’s arrival. The doors opened to a partially filled carriage, the commuters segregated within their own pods, and a metallic voice announced the station. Interrupting the voice was my Transport for London app, beeping at me from my watch to tell me the train had arrived. A quick glance told me the number of the seat I had paid for.
           I sat without another look around me and activated my pod. Immediately the hushed noise around me was silenced by an opaque wall. The pods were a godsend by TfL. When the price of the tube rocketed a decade ago, Londoners demanded more of the service. TfL’s answer was to carve out more lines, specifically for those within the central zones, and to install pod seats. Pods were controlled via an app through a phone or watch and once activated sealed you in from floor to ceiling. It meant that those who had the means paid for privacy, hygiene, and isolation. It was a slice of heaven in an otherwise hellish day.
           Gradually the pods became obsolete as crowds thinned out on the tubes due to rising fees. People, like myself, still cherished the physical cut off, despite the lack of crowds. The smallest noise could set me off and I needed silence. Though not a great way to relax, the pods allowed me additional time to prepare for work. Relaxation was a luxury these days. I had to be ruthless and take time where I could find it.
           I sighed. Another day. Another project.
           The particular project I was working on was a goddamn nuisance. Stress seemed to spill from me, filling up the pod. My shoulders ached. I could have sworn I had shrunk from the amount of tension I had been carrying around.
           Speaking of stress, I checked my phone. My boss hadn’t called to check up on me. I wondered what was holding him up. He usually liked to ping me at least twice on my commute, giving me tasks to complete before arriving to the office. I was on my way to becoming the beta to his alpha. Just a few more months of hard, life-sucking work until I was rewarded with the same hard, life-sucking work on a much higher wage.
           I smiled at the thought.
           The train jolted.
           No! Please don’t—
           My watch beeped. Delay.
           They were rare enough not to warrant my immediate aggression, but I paid through the roof for this service to run on time. I growled, hoping my will would power the train to move faster.
           If I was late by even a minute, my boss would be on my back and my chances of becoming manager would shrink.
           My fingers played with the edges of my coat, anxiously fiddling with a loose thread. What could be holding up the train?
           As the train began to inch forward again, my watch beeped to announce I had received a message from the TfL app.
           Our sincerest apologies for this delay to your commute. Another line has been taken out of service due to an electrical fault. As a result, this train will detour to cover stops on that line. An additional 30 minutes will be added to your commute this morning. We apologise for any inconveniences caused.
           
An extra thirty minutes!
           I whipped my phone out and called my boss. He didn’t answer. I tried again – nothing.
           Where the hell was he?
           I looked around on instinct. The pod’s walls enclosed around me were stifling, their soft blue not calming me in the slightest. The tension within the pod grew. My breathing became jagged.
           Accessing my pod’s settings, I changed the opaque wall to clear.
           I gasped.
           The carriage was packed with people. It took me a while to adjust to the sight. I hadn’t seen this many people on the tube in years.
           My breathing slowed as I took it in. So many faces. They were covered in dirt, all wearing uniform overalls. I peered at the logo on their chests. TfL maintenance. Probably finishing a night shift.
           I gratefully patted the walls and thanked the TfL gods for the creation of the pod once more. The number of germs they carried could put me out of commission for a week. Or longer!
           My body shook at the thought. Vile.
           Checking my phone for messages, I pondered what to do. Usually I would have tasks to work on, or at least talk projects over with my boss. But he was radio silent.
           I scrolled through notes on my phone, picking the most recent to peruse.
           The crowd in front of me jostled. Glancing up, I caught the eye of an older lady. She gave me a small smile. I blinked at her. Slowly, my lips raised. I hadn’t smiled at a stranger in so long, my face felt like it was cracking.
           The lady turned away as a colleague spoke to her. She laughed, her eyes crinkling with glee. When was the last time I laughed in such a carefree way?
           The fact that I had to question myself meant it had been far too long.
           The maintenance crew were a mixture of ages, the lady being the oldest. I would have placed her between 60 and 70, but that was too old to work, especially in such a manual role.
           I discreetly examined her, my notes forgotten. She was small and her hands gripped a pole to keep her balanced, with pale skin that was hardened and dry with grime. Her face was lined, no doubt from laugh wrinkles. The crow’s feet around her eyes deep. A smile seemed likely to break out at any moment, her lips naturally half-raised in good humour.
           We stopped and more people piled on. It was only for an instant, but I saw her humour slip and fatigue plagued her features.
           Deactivating my pod, I froze as the impact of smells and noises hit me. I pushed through my initial shock, sliding my phone into my pocket, and stood.
           The lady glanced at me in surprise. I gestured to my seat.
           She understood immediately and shook her head.
           “Please.”
           A tentative smile forewarned me of a full-blown grin. “Thank you.”
           She sat down, as I stood in her place by the pole. I breathed, trying not to touch anyone. The lady settled into my seat, visibly relaxing as she leaned back. I smiled and stood tall, holding the pole to keep steady.

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Harriet Weston is Bristol born and currently living in London as a freelance writer. She has a weakness for science fiction and coffee houses. You can find more of her work here.

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Joe the Barber

by Naseema Khanom

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Wash

Friday, 9 o’clock, Jummah, Mile End Station. In pendulum style, Imran crosses the dotted borders of Mile End to West Ham on the regular to get to his shop. The morning sea of serious faces wash over him, as he skids across the tiled floor in a rush to get to the platform. He gets stuck behind a large shouting Somalian lady, who shoots bullets of spit down a flip phone, the line cuts out and she stops in her tracks, to then hold it frantically above her head in search for bars. A long domino line of commuters stack up behind him. Her guttural squarks can be heard from a mile off, his fillings start to tingle in frustration. He tries to side step her trailing black burka before spotting a mirage, a small gap between her and the wall and he begins to calculate the chances of pulling through and making it out in one piece. The thoughts of doing a runner flashed through his mind but his knees are not cut out for it anymore. He has tried everything to conceal the bald patches, the belly and grey splashes on his beard, but the boys still call him Pops. Pops you’re getting fat, you’re so slow, come on old man put some muscle into it, la di da. He will never know the moment he turned from a young man to Pops. Life seems to bash and clang around him, before he knows it he’ll be buried deep inside the cold ground. He is getting too old for this young city.

Harassed, he longs for his bed inside his box home. When Saima and him moved in, he had joked that the new place was so small that you could barely yawn without touching the walls on either side. She didn’t see the funny side her nose met her brows. He always sensed her disappointed in him, as if he told her they were to live in a cardboard box outside on the road. She didn’t marry him for his humour. Students, single mums and loners littered his estate. A bunch of hang abouts, with tick marks on their shoes and untucked school shirts zigzagged on low bikes. No gooders who took refuge on his doorstep in the midday gloom. He takes pleasure in interrupting their irritating rap battles and bare fist boxing matches. He shines with pride in watching their foggy expressions turn startled as he threatens to kick them deep into the ground and turn to dust. They run away from the crazy old man who lives inside a box.

He is caught like a cow in headlights with his arse stuck in the air. The woman swerves sharply before smashing him into the wall. She was wondering what this stupid old man was doing, creeping up on her like this. She hits him with her bag before storming off, leaving him wishing he never left home.

Cut and fade

Underneath a ruin of scaffolding stands Joe the Barber. Sajid sellotapes the left window with black gaffer tape, whilst Nazrul watches him with his feet up, playing with a comb and a pair of scissors. He marvels at the outline of the boot print that left a perfect hole through the glass, he couldn’t decide if the cracks look like a map of the underground or the popping veins in Imran’s balding head.

From outside, the wall stencil declares that The hair makes the boy, the beard a man. Sajid shakes his head at this and assumes Imran was going through a midlife crisis, but Nazrul puffs air through his mouth and clicks his fingers brap brap brap. An assortment of floating heads of football players, MC’s and “Grime g’s” (Nazrul’s recommendations) are stuck on the peeling wall, the other half is covered in Google images of brown men donning a new fade. There are three red stools in front of white slab tables, mismatched mirrors and a plastic plant. These small details were Imrans idea of making the joint more appealing. He’s always harping on about how the other joints are out-doing them. They need to move on with the times. A black flat screen hangs low in a tangle of wires connected to an unloved VCR, it balances precariously on a black trolley and next to it is an Aux cable jammed into an IPhone which pops out ballad after ballad.

Nazrul’s legs shoot down from the table when he sees, Imrans floating head through the window coming closer and closer towards the broken glass. A look of red rage fills his face, his moustache begins to quiver and wiggle in all directions. He stares from the window to their sheepish faces, Nazrul dares a wave and Sajid wears a tight smile. It is going to be a long day.

 

 

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Naseema Khanom was born and brought up in Yorkshire and now has moved to London. She writes poetry, short stories, and has been published on series of fashion magazines online.

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The Knoll

by Emily Rath

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She wears a cape of winter grey

draped over her shoulders bare
they call her Prim
bow to dance
her suitors unaware,
of victims past and
lovers gone
regarding false identity,
mounting her in cold dominion
riding her absentmindedly.

A path is laid with daffodils
heads heavy from winter rain,
would you stand tall
Crowned
Radiant
if thousands trampled your mane?

A girl drinks coffee
watered by rain
sits under a
Rowan Whitebeam tree
amongst the treasures of quiet roses
the self can finally see

Prim opens arms
Wet and
Verdant
undressing Girl’s secret scars
washes memories of hospital
Away
while conversing with hidden stars

Girl asks Prim the answers to lore,
of knowledge owned by Destiny
Prim lays quiet, tired from Sun
and welcomes Moon’s neutrality

‘if Sun met Moon and Moon went blind
would Sun remain faithfully?
Would Moon release her dreams of courting
one younger than Sun’s infinity?’

buried beneath the earth of Prim
lay prayers left by
Dreamers like Girl,
relapses
pills
drink
drop down
from leaves
as Flowers
unfurl.

 

 

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Emily
 Rath is from Denver, Colorado.  She writes fantasy fiction and poetry.

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Travel Joy

by John Philip Gethring

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                                 The camera shivers through
                                 a quiet touch of eye contact
                                 shuttering a fracture of time’s square-ness.

                                 In it, friends dress
                                 tastefully gross
                                 formed to styles of denim queens.
                                 That of generations not present in their age.

                                 Evermore interesting,
                                 the billow of cigarette smoke
                                 shaping to a spray of iris flowers,
                                 purple, when is thought of dream.  And so
                                 broken are the laws of literature and singularity.

                                 Turn these haunts to falling weeks
                                 as fabric to the weave
                                 mechanism to the water.

                                 The drive home keeps us partly in motion,
                                 into the night and its flaw.

                                 A variant of red darkness creeps across
                                 her face, headlights bursting her
                                 skin to roses.

                                 The breath of rain fogs the road
                                 and our bodies steam
                                 behind sweating windows.

                                 Watch air become heavy
                                 with water, rinsing city lights to lambent phosphenes,
                                 rub the
                                 sleep from off our eyes.

                                 And say goodbyes to where we met
                                 our gypsy camp that sketched the
                                 planet, inviting friends to be lovers.

                                 Isn’t this all temporary? There’s too much
                                 ground to cover.

                                 Fit what we can in our pockets, stuff
                                 them with finesses
                                 of Grosvenor road, The Union
                                 where early mornings danced in the smoke
                                 of dry ice, light rays passing
                                 through us.

                                 River Thames, our muddy compass
                                 dumping the city’s imperfections
                                 into the North Sea and
                                 sunny-day-architecture
                                 folding with unexpectedness,
                                 people sharing half-smiles for
                                 the ephemeral splash of blue.

                                 But our particles collided beautifully here,
                                 in and out of moments,
                                 what a mess we have created.

 

 

John Philip Gething

John Philip Gething is originally from Scranton, Pennsylvania, but is now based in the UK. His chosen genre is poetry.

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Nice Day for a Picnic

by Wayne Goodman

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“Nice day for a picnic.”

I looked up into the face of a middle-aged gentleman with noticeable sags under his steely-blue eyes made more obvious as he had bent at the waist. That toothy grin seemed amicable enough, but those mutton chops had significant amounts of grey and much of the hair on his head had previously departed.

“Beg pardon, sir?”

He straightened up and repeated his opening remark, “Nice day for a picnic.”

It was May 1895. I had just received notice that my request for employment with the National Gallery had been declined–again–and news of Mr. Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment brought another gloomy cloud over an otherwise gloomy day in London. The front page of Police News showed dramatic “Closing Scenes at the Old Bailey,” and the Evening Standard proclaimed, “The Abominable Vices of Mr. Wilde.”

My time at Oxford would soon be coming to a close and I needed to secure suitable employment. I sat upon the steps of the recently-dedicated statue of Anteros in Piccadilly pondering my fate.

The rather forward fellow bent down again and whispered in my ear, “Are you not Ajax?”

“Ajax?” I responded in a clear volume, “The Achaean? Trojan War and all that?”

“Ssshhhh! Keep your voice down, young man,” he admonished. He looked left and right, as if I had just revealed his secret identity to the world at large.

A moment later, a scholarly-looking gent about my age, height, hair colour and styling passed us and sat on the stairs of the monument a few feet away.

“Excuse me. Sorry for the bother,” my tormentor apologised and scooted off to the newly-arrived man. “Nice day for a picnic,” he began, and the two of them chatted for a few minutes before they walked off together toward Charing Cross.

As I reflected on this odd encounter, I looked up and saw one of my old mates from Oxford. “Algie!” I called and waved. “Algie! Over here!” I stood and greeted my classmate as he stepped up from the street.

“Why you old thing! What are you doing in London?” Algernon Horatio Fitzhugh looked rather dashing in a hound’s-tooth tweed jacket, his raven hair pomaded to the point of drowning. He was a year ahead of me at school and sat Literature.

“Oh, Algie, it’s been tough. My appointment at the National Gallery fell through, and then the news of Oscar.”

“Yes, poor Oscar. We’re all going to have to take more care these days.” He looked left and right, but I couldn’t tell if it was because he was nervous about talking with me or because he was looking for someone. “It’s so good to see you.” He continued to swivel his head about, which led me to believe he was seeking another.

“Algie, the strangest thing just happened. An older fellow came up to me and said, ‘Nice day for a picnic.’” Algie’s head halted in its search. “Have you ever heard of such a thing?” He then turned his eyes on me directly. “He thought I was Ajax or some such nonsense.”

Just then, another, even paunchier, middle-aged gent in a dark grey overcoat approached my friend, doffed his hat and greeted him with, “Nice day for a picnic.”

My eyes bulged at the now-familiar phrase as Algie turned to the newcomer, “Yes, indeed it is. Please give us a moment, sir.” He looked at me and said, “Sorry, but I’ve got to go.” Algie reached into his jacket and pulled out a visiting card. “Here. Pay me a call, and we’ll chat about the old days.” With that he strode off with the very gentlemen. Indeed!

When my composure returned, I glanced at the card: “Mrs. Borden’s Confidential Companions, 12-13 Greek Street, London.” While not familiar with that particular address, I believed it was in the area referred to as Soho, a neighbourhood well-known for its depravity.

With all the misfortune of the day, I decided it might be best to return to campus. I put Algie’s card in my own pocket and began walking toward the station. What kind of business could he be conducting?

In his own Oxford days, we did belong to a special boys’ club, which is how we first made our acquaintance. Due to our empire’s severe laws against any type of sexual relations between men, we had to be very discreet and sworn to secrecy. With the imprisonment of our Oscar, things looked to be getting even worse for men like us.

On the ride back to school, I daydreamed of languorous afternoons in the dormitory, starkers and unabashed with other like-minded fellows. We were far from home, healthy, randy young men who had biological urges that propelled us to have long sessions of sexual expression. At first, we were not sure how to satisfy each other’s passions, but after a few rounds of frigging by hand together, we graduated to using our mouths and lips upon each other. Some of the boys could not acquire a taste for the semen of another, but I relished the unpredictable flavourings. Those who did not preferred to have their partners slide back-and-forth between their legs instead, kissing optional. Some of us developed forbidden feelings, as we had no other outlet for our adolescent emotions. Even at this early stage in our lives, we understood these male-to-male relationships ran counter to society at-large and how the outside world had proper expectations and made unsolicited demands on our particular sex.

Not everyone chose to abide by the common rules, and some of us managed to maintain our surreptitious activities throughout the terms. I was just reminiscing about the first time I lay with Algie unrigged–and how surprising the enormity of his stiffy–as the train stopped at Oxford station. When I went to stand, I had to put a hand in front of my pants to hide the arousal caused by my reveries.

The subsequent month, once all of my classes had terminated, I traipsed back into London again for yet another disappointing round of interviews with yet more galleries. This began to worry me as my funds would evaporate after a week or so. I do not believe I was ready for the poor house just yet, especially with an Oxford degree in hand!

As I was near Tottenham Court, in Oxford Street and Charing Cross Road, I realised my proximity to the Soho neighbourhood. I pulled the card from my pocket to reacquaint myself with the address: 12-13 Greek Street.

When I reached Soho Square, I meandered along the paved paths, taking the southern way to the top of Greek Street. It seemed plain enough. Stately buildings lined the row, and I strode to the door marked 12-13. A large brass knocker in the shape of a bull’s head dominated the otherwise ordinary slab of wood. I lifted the thing’s head expecting it to moo or snort, but it merely created a loud “thud” when I let it free.

A moment later, the door opened a hand’s-width, and a rather tall woman in a conservative, high-collar frock addressed me through the narrow gap. “May I be of assistance?” Her voice sounded somewhat deep for a woman.

“Oh, yes, please,” I stammered. “I’m looking for a friend of mine who gave me this calling card.” I retrieved it from my pocket and slipped the card to the woman. She snatched it from my fingers, examined it quickly and handed it back. Her expression remained placid, neither acknowledging nor denying that I was at the correct place. “His name, ma’am, is Algernon. Algernon Fitzhugh.”

Her already arched eyebrows raised even higher. “I see. Well. You had better come in then, Dear Heart.” She opened the door fully and walked away along a narrow entrance hall. I have been referred to as “Love,” “Sir,” “Master,” “Mister,” and “Sweetie,” but never “Dear Heart.”

Once inside, I could see that her manner of dress appeared quite odd. She wore neither corset nor bustle, and the puce-colored dress seemed nearly vertical in its lines. Her chestnut hair appeared to have been plopped atop her head and knotted with a grey bow, yet it still managed to cover her ears.

She led me to a cosy sitting room with a few plush high-back chairs and a low table. Pointing her rather large hand, she indicated one of the chairs, and I sat down nervously. As I looked about the dark-panelled room, I could see stacks of ornamented china plates and cups, all in a creamy shade of light blue.

“It’s Wedgwood, Dear Heart,” the woman explained, “Old Josiah himself once lived here and left some of his handiwork behind. Would you care for some tea?”

When I looked into her eyes for the first time, I realised they matched the colour of the china almost exactly. “Yes, ma’am. If you please, ma’am.”

She elevated her chin as if looking for stray dust on the ceiling. “Please do not call me ‘ma’am.’ It makes me feel rather like an old lady. Mrs. Borden is the name, if you please.”

“Oh, as in Mrs. Borden’s?”

“Yes, Dear Heart, the very one.” She disappeared through a swinging door.

What had Algie gotten himself into? This mysterious woman, this mysterious home, this mysterious life. I just hoped he had not fallen victim to the undertow of immorality.

“Here you go, Dear Heart.” Mrs. Borden returned carrying a silver-plate tea tray with two Wedgwood cups. She set it on the low table. “I’ve already taken the liberty of putting milk and sugar in the cup. I know how you Oxford boys like yours sweet.” A hint of a smile wrinkled her face.

“How did you know I attend Oxford?”

The smile broadened. “Because of your acquaintance with young Algernon, of course.” She poured from the teapot a cupful each. “I’m afraid your friend is out on business at the moment, but you’re welcome to keep me company until he returns.”

“Thank you. Thank you very much indeed, Mrs. Borden.” I looked about the room. “Will Mr. Borden be joining us? I don’t want to seem improper.”

The woman’s smile turned into pursed lips, “There is no Mr. Borden.” She stirred using a small silver-plate spoon, which called attention to the size of her hand, especially with the pinkie extended. Two taps on the rim and she set the spoon back on the tray.

“Oh, I am truly sorry to hear that.”

“No, Dear Heart,” she placed the same rough, warm hand with slightly hairy knuckles upon mine. “There never was a Mr. Borden,” and she winked at me. I wanted to pull my hand back but did not wish to seem rude to my hostess, and it remained under her cover until she finally decided to take her tea.

We sat, sipping (and it was mighty fine tea at that), without speaking.

After several minutes, she turned to me and inquired, “Do you have your affairs in order?”

“I’m not sure what it is you are asking, Mrs. Borden.”

“It has come to my attention that many of the recent university graduates are having difficulties procuring positions at this time.”

Given that I had just finished another set of unsatisfactory interviews, she might have been reading my mind. Or, perhaps, my face.

“Yes, Mrs. Borden, many of my schoolmates are finding it difficult to procure proper employment at this time.”

“Are you one of those?” Her eyebrows arched higher again.

I decided to be candid with her because I frankly saw no advantage in prevaricating. “Yes. I had hoped that an Oxford degree would speak for itself. Up until now, it has remained rather hoarse.”

She smiled a little. It could have been my slightly humorous remark or a passing thought. “I don’t know if your Algernon mentioned this to you, but I do provide rooms for young men like yourself.” Her eyes seemed to examine me in a watchful way similar to a job interview. Or, perhaps, an audition of some sort.

“Mrs. Borden,” I set down my teacup, “while this appears to be a rather nice home, and I’m sure the rooms are top-notch, I am afraid that I could never afford the tariff as such.”

“Tariff?” She seemed surprised or taken a-back. “There is no tariff here, Dear Heart.” She slurped some of her tea.

“You mean I would be able to live here without paying you anything? That seems rather generous.”

She smiled and lowered her chin. “Case in point, you would earn money while you reside here.”

If I had had some tea in my mouth, it might have accidentally sprayed forth like an atomiser. What kind of rooming house pays you to stay there? “Are you suggesting I become part of your house service staff, Mrs. Borden?” What else could she have been hinting at?

“No, Dear Heart. We don’t have service staff here. I am proprietor, business manager and scullery maid-of-all-work rolled into one.” Her tight smile hinted at courtesan flirtation.

Again I had to wonder what kind of rooming house. Oh. Wait. That kind of rooming house. I reminded myself we were in Soho and took some more tea straightaway. My heart raced and I could hear the pulsations in my own ear.

“We serve only the cream-of-the-cream. You would receive a percentage of the fee plus whatever gratuities your clients determine. It’s all discreet and very hush-hush, you know.”

“But I never —”

“No, none of us ever, Dear Heart, but there comes a time in a young man’s life when he has to make some very difficult decisions regarding his future.” Her eyes lingered on my face, searching for an answer to her unspoken query. She drummed the fingers of one hand in sequence across the side of her cheek. “Such opportunities present themselves only fleetingly.” She stood and began walking to the entryway, as if preparing to usher me out to the street.

A thousand conflicting thoughts criss-crossed my mind like a train round-about at high speed. What if my parents found out? Where could something like this lead? Would this have kept me from obtaining a bona fide position? When would I receive an honest job offer? How would I have been able to pay for my next meal? “Wait!” I blurted. Mrs. Borden returned to the chair. “Would I have to be… you know… um… intimate… with these gentlemen?”

“Why Dear Heart, what do you think this is, a brothel?”

I looked around the rather comfortably-appointed room, with its dark, plush furniture, china rails, mahogany highboy, and ivory statuettes. A bit of butter-upon-bacon, if you ask me. Yes, it did give one the air of a bordello.

“Well, I can see where one might arrive at the incorrect impression; however, no intimacy–as you put it–occurs here under my roof. If a gentleman wishes a thruppenny-upright, he can find that sort of thing in Gropecunt Lane.” She pointed in a generally westward direction. “And, besides, if that’s all he wants: he’s no gentlemen. I only provide companions for the well-to-do: MPs, titled nobles, and the sort.” Her face shifted to a self-satisfied sneer. “My clients are select, discreet and proper.”

“I must confess, Mrs. Borden, that given the recent bad turn for Mr. Wilde we must all be cautious with our affairs, and I am currently attempting to procure proper employment with a local gallery.”

“My boys are all university-educated and well-bred. No laws are broken; although, some might be temporarily bent.” She giggled to herself. “As it so happens, I have a vacancy at this time. You shall be taken care of very well, and you can still pursue your scholarly interests.”

As if responding to a cue line from a play script, my mid-section grumbled its desire for nourishment.

 

 

Untitled 2.pngWayne Goodman has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area most of his life (with too many cats). He and his fiancé, Richard May, host a reading series called “Perfectly Queer,” which holds monthly events in San Francisco and Oakland. Goodman also hosts a quarterly ‘In-Conversation’ series called “Queer Words.” When not writing, he enjoys playing Gilded Age parlor music on the piano, with an emphasis on women, gay, and Black composers.

Contact Wayne

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.

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.

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.

DEMOCRACY OF DREAMERS

By: Paul Chafer

 

An intrepid outsider just visiting London;

Smitten, dazzled, by stunning illuminations

From within a black cab, transporting me,

Not only weaving in present day airy streets,

But through stacked layers of storied history;

Some dark, treacherous and dastardly sinister,

Some light, celebratory and blithely triumphant.

 

On alighting from the Hackney Carriage,

(use of the word ‘carriage’ emphasising

a vivid stretch of a willing imagination)

Museum of London beckons, offering pleasure,

Absorbing a tableau of delightful treasure,

Engaging unfettered thoughts and feelings,

Absorbing echoed cries of distant past eras,

Reminders of who we were and who we are,

Plunging archaic depths of vicarious displays,

Delicate fingers pressing upon vibrant pulses

Within this webbed tomb of sanitised decadence.

 

In the coolness of encroaching night

She slumbers, this anchored sprawling behemoth

Suffering barking dogs, wailing of infants,

Sweet kisses of lust in cardboard-strewn alleys,

Screeches from a gaggle of hen-partying girls,

Screams from urban foxes, cries of a feral cat,

Curtailed by hurried rumble of clattering steel,

Train arteries busy pumping, wheel to wheel,

Ferrying the masses, crammed together classes,

Silent tubes exposing the numbness we feel,

At destinations end our tensions slyly unpeel.

 

Busy pedestrians skirting human detritus;

Shunning, vagabonds, tramps and thieves,

Amidst intermittent beeps of frantic car horns,

Squealing brakes and hot roaring engines,

She encompasses this amorphous miasma,

Towering skyward, snaking deep underground;

A blaze of coloured light, her own silent sound,

Inhabitants ‘pigged together’ the majority above,

But many, ignored and mistreated, surviving below,

Recognised, yet avoided; pretending, not to know.

 

Ancient sewers, dead rivers and even deader bones;

As far back as hunter gathers, howling and rutting,

Stout wooden pilings now sodden river sentinels

Whilst fire-blackened-pain from early conflagrations,

Blaze through time, ashes of destruction, no deterrent;

Romans plying trades in walled Londinium’, aye,

Emotional fingerprints etched into carved stone,

Resilient through Viking and Saxon times alike,

She survives, strives and thrives, our proud Lady,

Welcoming all, galleons, tea clippers and schooners,

Surging through her carotid artery, such spoils

For the Big Smoke, tea houses and coffee shops,

Parks and palaces, bridges, tunnels and hovels;

Where now, the bedecked Town Crier? Is all well?

 

Brash glitz and glamour of threatened Tin Pan Alley,

Cultural elite behind facades of Doric columns

While Roman foundations bold form, hold firm,

Twisting through the underneath, far beyond forever,

London crunches into the future, unstoppable,

Embracing humanity in a technological fervour,

She adapts, snarls, struts, proud and confident,

Akin to a sentient beast lapping up our needs;

Feeding desires, never judging, only accepting.

 

My very being saturated within this teeming city.

Of the city, I’m now enmeshed in the infrastructure;

Heart, mind and spirit willingly shackled, captivated by

Cold agglomeration of steel, glass, concrete and stone,

Wreathed in transient emotions of warm flesh and bone;

Giving and breathing life unto all, even me:

An intrepid outsider just visiting London.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WE NEED THE FOREST

By: Jessica Wragg

 

The tracks of the underground train from the carriage window. Hot breeze of the last act of summer whistling beneath my blouse. Barbed wire like thumbprints and fingers and outstretched palms. No, the jungle is not the same as Streatham Hill, but the birds are just as loud.

Jealous of our travelling friends in Thailand and South America we did the best we could. Tooting Bec Common was our wilderness, that place in which we searched for things un-done, never tried, never seen. You wanted mountain-scapes, thick cities rich in colour, but instead the horizon was tower blocks behind Bedford Hill and the same church building; a thick tapestry of brown brick and a canopy of tile rooves.

We blew smoke rings, propped up by our elbows until the room filled with the thin mist of mid-morning, searched the internet for the cheapest flights to the furthest distance. We visited the aquarium and spent hours in the tropics, in the pacific, in the mangroves. We fought through the thickets of commuters going south as we travelled north and hiked the Parliament Hill. In Richmond Park we got as close to the red deer as we dared, ignored the twenty others around us snapping pictures on their smartphones, throwing a peace sign to the buck. The zoo was as close as I came to the Savannah desert, or the outback of Australia.

Car exhaust on our tongues, pigeon shit, stagnant water; we turned them to spices and incense, salt water and red dry dust. Our flat was our cabin; pale floral wallpaper faded to brown, overrun by damp. We looked out onto a neat row of garages; grey, brown, black doors, blue beneath as the paint cracked off. Ten, perhaps twelve angular hatchbacks parked in front but to us they are rocks in a stream. At night, sirens turned to the chirping of crickets, and the headlamps of passing cars illuminated our window like torches. Cars that scraped their bumper on the road taking a speedbump too quickly sounded like the cracking of branches. I worried sometimes that the longing would drive us mad, you wondered if we already were. Me and you, we both fitted in quite well.

And then one night you woke me when the sun hadn’t risen yet. My eyes searched for you in the dark and found you, a figure crouched at the end of the bed. Your body bent double and your back hunched with urgency, the cool side of your hand brushed my ankle. In the black I found your face and felt the damp contours and the rolling tears. The shuffle of your canvas rucksack was soft and quiet, and when you put it on your back I could tell it was heavy from the sound you made. You kissed my hair and opened the door of the bedroom and yellow light drowned the room, blinding me. The last thing I saw was the rubber heel of your boot as your closed it again.

I lay on my back until the sun came up and waited for the birds to signal morning, climbed the tree down from the upstairs window to the forest floor. The soft gravel branches crunched beneath me and the mist hung low by the very ground. I caught a sparrow by the wing and plucked feathers from its breast, hung it by the limp feet and bit into it with a frenzy appetite until the guts dropped onto my chin. I bounced from the rocks in the stream, dipped my toe in cool water of the puddled pavement and ran barefoot over broken glass and the speedbumps. The ground shook with an underground train but to me it was the earth sighing, and when the rain fell thick it got caught in the canopy. I spoke a strange language that I didn’t understand, walked upon my hands and lost my fingernails digging in the dirt.

Wildness is a strange word, but I understand it to be me. We did our best there, in the city. Yet still, the feeling that I needed the forest and the mountains, the beaches of an island and the tongue of natives won me in the end. A life without me seemed to have won you.

***

Jessica E. Wragg is a full time fiction writer, a some-time butcher since the age of sixteen. now 24, she divides her time between telling stories, image1drinking gin, and longing for cold weather so she can crack out her winter coat selection. Her fascinations include women in history, short fiction and second person narration. If she could she would write everything in italics. You can visit her website to read more: jessicawragg.co.uk

 

THE BLINDEST FLAME

By: Lorenzo Curti

 

The blindest flame
of a gaze
slowly ransacks through the grey
buildings

some children mimic the trembling shadows
of the street lamps – switched on right before the sunset –
laughing and bringing talismans

in their hands

the edges of the day
bend around the corners
of the grey palaces
and there’s a quiver that forces us
to sing and to stamp our feet upon the ground

a quiver that makes us mutate our skin
like snakes

the asphalt’s noise is the mirror
of the raindrops
and a ferocious humankind
without time and evergreen
is the drizzling laceration
the cut
that spreads from electricity’s cracks

you can bring me all the gifts you want
but they’ll be thorns
on the threshold between my body and yours
and I’ll always be in that instant before
on my knees along the Thames
with deformed flesh as in a Bacon painting

– eventually empty