By Zahrah Surooprajally


The one thing I want to do is forget.

All the shit the other guys put me through.

You’re different. I love watching the sun set

with you. I don’t get bored. Get stuck like glue.

The rainy days in – we snuggle and fight.

We’re so different, but our souls are the same.

Clichéd? Love always is. Let’s dance the night

away. Take my hand. Close. Whisper je t’aime.

I’ll say Ana Behebak. It’s our thing.

You teach me the gavotte and I teach you

how to Bellydance. Then I let you sing

to me in Arabic. The way you do.

It’s been tough; shit, but there’s one thing I know:

you fix it all, but let’s just take it slow.


You fix it all, but let’s just take it slow.

Stop the phone calls, because you “need” to know

what I’m doing all the fucking time. No.

I’m done with this third break up shit, just go.

We go through the motions, like a TV

series that was never going any-

where. Yes I’ll roll you a cigarette. Easy

way to avoid the arguing. Many

thanks for doing the bed this morning!

Turned off Spotify when you heard our song.

Saw the texts. Don’t say I left you! Storming

off. Blaming me for the things you did wrong.

You weren’t the one, you are all just the same.

Our love is like hairspray when set aflame.


Our love is like hairspray when set aflame.

We want closeness, just to feel less alone.

Just want that posed picture in a gold frame

Reasons to keep looking down at our phone.

I really miss waking up next to you.

Numbing with Netflix and chill: smoking weed,

kissing me, holding me. I miss it too.

Dancing in the moonlight; I’ll always need

you. Broke my heart, why did you do that for?

Why did you fall for her? Why the lying?

I wait, with my Oyster card, by the door.

Knowing you won’t come but still I’m trying.

While you are waiting for the sun to set –

The one thing I want to do is forget.


By Alex Ciobanu

Dicks were flying at me from every direction, but I just couldn’t catch any. I sit on my bed and blow the smoke out towards the opened window, from a joint leftover from last night. I’m only a little drunk now. I watch the smoke fill the room, unveiled by the six different colors of the Tetris lamp. I’m still giddy with excitement over what transpired earlier. Frantic laughing took over me on the bus home, when the last dick flew in on a grey bubble at 4:50 am, an ex-fling drunk texting me, “Are you out tonight? I’m on my way to Vauxhall with a friend.”

It was merely a chuckle minutes earlier on the tube to Brixton, when Jack kissed me again and went out at Stockwell. I sat down, and just seconds later another ex walked by outside the carriage, waving hello with characteristic enthusiasm. I didn’t want it to end, to stamp out the joy of the absurd. I snickered all the way home in my palm. I remind myself now to keep laughing.

I used to decry being a club scene gay. It always felt like it stripped intimacy of its building blocks, one by one, until you get to the hole, or the phallus, depending on how you swing. I was better than that, I was an intellectual. Now it doesn’t really matter either way. Nothing feels good, but it’s fun to see people behave as if it does.


It’s in the way they all manifested at once. Potential, former. I went to the club because Patrick was going to be there. I’ve known him for a few months, and it’s always been the same, friendly conversations on Fridays or Saturdays that never went anywhere. I wanted this night, as I did all the other nights, to make me feel like there was a point to it. He’s a young Irish guy, with blue eyes, blond hair, and a beautiful, kind face that always seems inviting. Never to kiss him, though. Or to suck him off, anywhere, anytime. I would’ve, had it seemed at any moment that he was flirting. There seems to be something off about him. Almost too polite, seeming never aware that everyone around him wants to lick every inch of his chiselled abs, or his pecs and biceps carved like that of a Greek God. His demeanour is that of a stoner, but without having smoked any weed.

He makes me stupidly aware of my sex drive, as very few guys do. Once, on a night like this, I thought at the end we would be taking the bus together, as he lives in Streatham too. But standing outside the club, a friend of his approached him and offered him a ride home. There were always other friends interjecting, grabbing his attention. I was on the bus home, resigned to my unlucky sex life, when I saw him sitting alone at the stop in Brixton. Before I could react, the bus had left. I rushed out of my seat and mulled over whether to get out at the next stop and bolt over there. And I did. I ran down the street, but when I got there, he was gone.

I wish I was still that determined.

“Have you met Alex?” a regular customer asked Patrick, trying to introduce the two of us, taking me away from having just met Jack.

“Yeah, we’re good friends,” Patrick replied earnestly, cordially putting his hand on my shoulder.

I laughed so hard; I hid it, only a chuckle out loud. I moved away and started to dance, at moderate speed.

It’s absurd that we would be good friends, even friends at all. It’s short-sighted. Or maybe he is just a nice guy who likes to be friends with people. Maybe he’d prefer he weren’t considered just a piece of meat, which is what I’ve been technically doing. It’s all empty anyway.

Jack, a good-looking guy from Newcastle, about twenty-eight years old and dressed in a pink tight T-shirt, spent the better part of the next hour and a half trying to set me up with his friend, who backed away in embarrassment.

Matthew was an insanely handsome guy, wearing a regular sized plaid shirt and straight jeans, so obtrusively hetero looking that it was annoying and attractive. He’s twenty-four, working in Westminster; I dragged it out of him while waiting on the platform for his train, the only bits of information he could muster saying all night, besides “you’re cute too” spoken awkwardly by the bar earlier.

I wasn’t comfortable with being the self-assured one, to try to develop a rapport. It was all ridiculous anyway. I couldn’t understand why he was shy, this grown man with amazing features and the body of a jock. I sat on the bench next to him at 4:15 am, only a few minutes left before his northbound train was due, Jack on the other side. He needed to know I was worthy, that I wasn’t just some Romanian guy working in a gay bar. “I’m a writer, doing an MA at Westminster,” I told him.

“I work in Westminster. Maybe I’ll see you on Grindr,” he said, with a chuckle.

He could’ve just given me his number. Instead, his train came and he seemed shocked I didn’t go with him. There he stood, raising his arms in confusion, betraying his severe intoxication.

“I thought he knew I was going south,” I told Jack as we were walking to the other platform, “maybe you could give me his number.”

It never happened. Jack went into a self-deprecating speech about how he didn’t think I liked him, trapping me into saying he was a handsome guy. True as it may have been, “I like your friend better” were not words I could speak out loud. He kissed me, without an invitation or a sign that I wanted it. All I felt was his stubble irritating my skin.

I’ve done it before. I tend to let guys kiss me because I feel like they need that from me to feel good. I’m helping, it’s the least I can do. No one can do that for me anymore.

It’s funny how quickly Jack switched from pimp to client. “You always date assholes,” he told Matthew earlier, while I stood there watching in amusement as Matthew squirmed and looked for any way to flee from the pushiness. What made them think I’m a good guy? I was just there, responding to social cues.

“I’m not going to ask you to come back to mine or anything. What I want you to take away from tonight is that you’re a really sexy guy,” Jack told me as he we were approaching Stockwell.


I was never going to go home with Jack, or Matthew. I didn’t need him to raise my self-esteem. I know I’m a good-looking guy. Do I come across as someone who needs to be reassured? Isn’t it pointless anyway? All I have is myself, and I find that arrogance is necessary to function. It’s fun to see how absurd it is for people to rely on others for fulfilment. I’m free. It’s amusing how empty it all is; it’s the attitude I adopted recently. It’s entertaining to strain social standards.

The weed makes my head spin and I lie down. In an instant, I turn on myself. It’s not joy. It’s all a sham I built around myself so that I don’t break down in insignificance. I’m stupidly aware of my every feeling, and I see myself as a derivative puppet, whose thoughts and emotions could never be valid in themselves. Do these people feel whole, authentic? I pick at the thought, like you’d do with a scab at the back of your head, one you can’t see but can’t help but remove, and I’m short of breath. My heart is pounding. That nothing matters is no longer comforting, it’s suffocating.

I turned the night into an absurdist scenario. I built on the coincidences. I wanted them to be funny and validate the new me, a reward for being so good at my positive spin on nihilism. But I twisted it too much now, and my head is bleeding because I took away the cover. It all should’ve been nothing more than a soundbite.


By LJ Cadogan


my skin no better
than a graffiti stained wall
from where you tagged your name
over and over and over
until every brick was covered
in your signature mauve spray-paint

you only ever tagged me after sunset.

like all illegitimate things, I was

a secret held in the flap of gum

at the back of your mouth
before the wisdom tooth grew out

and you could say you knew better




By Soraya Bouazzaoui


It had ended as incidents like these always do, with a rage so indescribable that Amal’s eyes were blinded by it. Burning hot like molten iron, and flowing through her veins as blood would, adrenaline accompanied it much the same. Her strength was unusual for someone of her small stature, barely reaching 5’5”. Luckily for her, the unruly and wild curls she usually left out had been pulled into a do at the top of her head. She had found the heat of University Halls unbearable during the summer, and with the vast amounts of drunk students loitering inside the six bedroom flat in Bethnal Green, she thought she chose wisely by putting it up.

The night had begun as most of the student parties Amal had gone to did, with her pre-drinking in that same flat, home to one of her friends, Ria; if she could call her that. The tall, dark skinned girl had left her braids fan around her shoulders, despite the suffocating humidity of her flat, her black septum ring matching the thick black eyeliner shaping her hazel eyes; Amal had always found it to be incredible that she could create a wing so perfect that it looked professional. She sat at the end of the breakfast table, the rest of Ria’s housemates engaged in loud conversation as they played a card game, of which she was left out. Naturally, she was the outsider, invited mostly due to Ria’s guilt, their one mutual friend no longer around to make the effort to include Amal for them.

“Do you want another drink?” Ria spoke up, coming to stand beside her in the small kitchen.

Her tone lacked warmth or a welcoming stance, Amal sensed. She knew Ria didn’t particularly dislike her, or find her irritating, but felt slightly uncomfortable by her presence. A forced formality to honour their old friend, perhaps.

“No thanks, I haven’t finished this one yet,” Amal replied, attempting to smile, raising her white plastic cup for good measure. Ria nodded, and motioned with her hand to the fridge.

“Well if you want a refill, the fourth shelf is mine. Help yourself.”

Amal nodded in confirmation, but was unable to make eye contact with Ria, who walked away to speak to someone else, leaving her there to ponder on her own thoughts. She continued to do so throughout the evening, as more people began to filter into the small kitchen, leaning against counters. The only two sofas were located on the opposite side of the breakfast bar, separating them from the kitchen in the open room. Watching Ria from the opposite side, she noticed the girl roll her eyes at the young man attempting to make advances at her, Ria’s shoulders relaxed, slouched almost, leaning away from the boy. He was someone Amal had only met in passing, since she wasn’t much of a talker. Merely a bystander, someone who tagged along.

That’s what took place with Clara in the previous two years of University, having lived in the same flat together. Amal had met Ria through Clara; they had gone to school together. Naturally, Amal felt like an invader, unwelcome to the close friendship that Ria and Clara already had, but tolerated nonetheless.

She didn’t question whether it was out of pity or genuine kindness, on Clara’s behalf, that made Ria befriend her. Only grateful that she had made a friend to begin with. She pushed down on the thoughts, reminding herself of where she was and who surrounded her, knowing best not to mull over such things in a place so public. Downing the contents of her cup, she moved towards the fridge, taking Ria up on her offer to refill her cup. She felt guilty, the stench of vodka and beer in the room reminding her all too well of her mother’s repeated chants about going to hell for such a sin.

“The party’s kinda dead, right?”

Amal turned around, the voice unfamiliar to her, though it dawned on her once she took in the features of the young man who stood before her. He smiled widely, revealing full lips. She remembered she had thought it charming, though the last time she’d seen him, it had been directed towards someone else.

“Only if you don’t know anybody,” she said quietly, noticing how his green eyes cast over the bronze skin exposed from her white cold shoulder top.

“Yeah, but you looked pretty underwhelmed, staring into space for that long.” He swayed on the spot, though tried to play off his intoxication with a light chuckle.

“You were watching me?” She asked softly, though she forced a smile, attempting to, at least, seem like she was flirting.

“Someone as pretty as you shouldn’t spend the evening alone,” he said, running his hand through his dirty blonde hair. She remembered him pulling a similar move before; he still hadn’t recognised her.

“Josh,” he said, extending his hand.


She let him lead the conversation, wondering how long she could keep it going until he remembered her. Then again, she hadn’t been the object of his affection a year ago, Clara had. She wasn’t particularly memorable in the first place; Amal was quiet, easily overlooked and inconsequential in a life with a story like his. Perhaps she would’ve forgotten about him as well, had it not been for the way the events of that night transpired.

“What do you study?”

“Psychology, you?” she replied, though she knew already.

“Nice. Studying Marketing. Predictable, I know.”

Forcing a laugh, Amal pictured him years from now; in a nice suit, set up in a nice flat and working for some company in London where he earned great commission. Thriving in life as if he deserved good fortune. She forced herself to unclench one of her fists at her side, noticing how he leaned against the counter beside her now, invading her space.

“Do you live in these halls?” He asked, quietly this time. She knew what he was insinuating.

“No, I live in Unite. The one just down the road.”

“Ohhh, heard that’s a rough one.”

“Not as nice as The Hive, but it’ll do. I’m only there for one more year. You know anyone from there?”

He hesitated before taking another sip of his drink, and this time she could tell he forced a smile of his own. If she hadn’t have been looking for it, she probably wouldn’t have detected the lie.

“No, can’t say I do. All my mates live here, though I’m kicking myself for not going before. Would have met you sooner.”

She remembered he’d dropped the same line to Clara; had a conversation almost identical to this one. He knew exactly what to say, how to charm, and if she’d been anyone else, she would have thought him nice enough. She figured he could’ve easily come across that way, a good-looking boy making the effort to talk to one of the few girls standing alone, clearly an outsider, not as conventionally pretty, and slightly bigger than most. She supposed that she must have seemed like an easy hook up, oozing a lack of self-confidence, especially since she’d been drinking. lIf his back had been turned, she would have curled her lip in disgust.

The fist that came flying between them connected with his chin swiftly, and he fell forward into Amal, who stumbled back from his weight and from being caught off-guard by the blow. She turned, noticing the petite redhead to her right, her freckled face red with rage as she attempted to shake away the pain from her hand.

“What the fuck are you doing?” He yelled, rubbing his chin, as he stood upright, Amal taking a step back. His lip started bleeding.

“Making sure you know you ain’t fucking welcome here, you piece of shit!”

The redhead in question, Chloe, was another familiar member of Clara’s friendship group, though she had been an extension on Ria’s side, and lived in that very same flat. Her floral printed dress was stained with various splotches of red wine.

“Is that so?” Josh laughed out, motioning to two tall dark-haired boys by the door, “because I distinctly remembered Owen and Maz inviting me.”

“You think you’re allowed anywhere near this flat? You’re scum, you’re a fucking piece of shit after what you did to Clara!”

Josh laughed in a way that deliberately seemed patronising, and it made Chloe’s face visibly turn angrier, building up to a darker shade of pink, but that could have just been the alcohol.

“They dropped the case, remember? It’s not my fault she topped herself!”

Chloe raised her fist to go for him again, but she was halted by Ria, who grabbed onto her elbow. Her face was stern, but Amal had known her long enough to notice the conflicting emotions of anger in her dark eyes. She wanted to beat the shit out of him just as much as Chloe did, as they all did.

“He’s not worth it.” She mumbled, barely bothering to look in the boy’s direction, not for lack of interest, but in order to keep her own anger from escalating. “Owen and Maz live here too, we can’t control who they invite.”

Chloe forcefully pulled her grip away from Ria, tearing her snarled glare away from Josh to look at Ria with accusation. She turned away eventually, pushing past her and out of the kitchen; her night was now ruined. Ria followed her as the spectators in the room remained in stunned silence for several moments, Amal among them.

“How about we down the last of our drinks and head for Shoreditch, yeah? I need some fuckin’ bass!” Owen yelled out with forced glee, clapping his hands together, the lilt of his voice betraying his heavy Irish accent.

He received some cheers, and Amal watched as he headed for Josh, patting the boy on the shoulder. His voice was low, but still within earshot of Amal.

“Sorry mate, you know how girls get. The bathroom’s down the hall, yeah? Go  clean up.”

They parted then, Owen returning to his group, and Josh heading for the kitchen door out to the hall. She wasn’t sure why, maybe she wanted to see if he genuinely believed his bullshit, but she followed him. She knocked on the wooden door, waiting to hear him say ‘come in’, and entered. She closed the door behind her, the sound of music and loud chatter muted to a low hum.

“You okay?” She asked, watching him hover over the sink.

The bathroom was brightly lit, with the tiles noticeably dirty, and the toilet seat was broken, the lid placed beside it. It was expected in student accommodation, something she realised she’d have to get used to when she left home. There was a bright orange traffic cone situated between him and the small shower.

“Yeah,” he said, a tone of annoyance in his voice, “I’m fine.”

She watched as he dabbed a wet tissue to his lips in the reflection of the mirror, his eyes turning to focus on hers.

“Sorry about that. Not a great first impression is it?”

He seemed genuine then, a hint of tiredness in his voice. It was the kindest he had sounded all night, and if she’d been anyone, she might have felt bad for him.

“So what was that all about then, with that Clara girl?” She inquired, taking a step closer towards him, noticing the drips of water on the floor.

Discarded cups of drinks, some half-empty, were lying around in the bathroom, most likely left throughout the night during girls’ drunken therapy sessions. The last time she had had one was when Clara had admitted, in a drunken haze, what Josh had done. The sound of indescribable pain in her voice still felt as real to Amal on this night as it was a year ago. The mascara that had streaked down her face, how sunken the skin around her eyes had appeared, how skinny she had gotten. To everyone else, she had seemed fine, as if she could handle it. Amal knew differently.

“Some girl I used to know,” he scoffed, and this time Amal noticed the change in demeanour. “We hooked up once, she was drunk as shit, and she came back to mine. Next thing I know the police are at my door saying I raped her. You believe that? Raped her! Me!”

His laugh this time was bitter, and angry, as if an injustice had been done unto him.

“Once they took me in for questioning, they realised I’d done nothing wrong. I mean, look at me! Do I really look like the type to drag a girl away and force myself on her? She had way too much to drink, and regretted it. That was all.”

The rage that began to climb from deep within Amal’s chest was fierce, dialling up a notch with every word that left his lips. With every scoff that escaped him as he continued, and she bit down on her lip to stop herself from interrupting.

“I don’t know what it is with girls like that, you know? Acting like they want it, sending you mixed messages and shit. If you don’t want it, just say, you know? And it’s apparently my fault she killed herself.”

The memories of that night flashed through Amal’s mind, creating a lump in her throat, manifesting the urge to cry and feeling sick. It made it difficult for her to breathe as Josh jabbered on, bringing back the moments that she had chosen to forget. She remembered the devastation on Clara’s face, how her angular features had begun to wither away, how her expression crumpled when she’d been told they were dropping her case. There hadn’t been enough evidence; she’d left it too long. Amal recalled how Clara cried every night, then slapped on a smile during the day, despite continuously being called a liar, and a slut.

Worst of all, she remembered how useless she had felt. For even though she had said she’d be there for her, even though Ria and Chloe had vocally always fought her corner, Amal had failed to do so. That wasn’t her way; she wasn’t confrontational. Clara was the one who defended her, not the other way around. In the end, she’d been a terrible friend, being the weak one when Clara had needed her most.

“Worst part is, if it had been any other guy, they probably would have raped her, you know?” He continued, oblivious to the growing temper he was causing, “Girls like that, who get that drunk and dress like that, they’re fuckin’ asking for it.”

Everything from there on out became a haze for her. She didn’t realise when she picked up the heavy toilet lid, didn’t even notice the weight of it in her hands as she hit him on the back of the head. The scream he may have emitted was ignored. In that moment, her head consumed by images of blood, the time she walked into Clara’s unlocked bedroom, she lost control of herself. The images of Clara’s slit thighs engulfed her, the way her limp body leaned against the foot of her bed, her head bent. Body unmoving, chest no longer rising to indicate that she was still breathing. Blood, so much blood; that was all she could see for so long.

She kept switching from memory to the present, until it splattered onto her face. Until her breath had calmed down, and she let the weight of the toilet lid fall to the floor with a loud clatter. She let out a loud, disbelieving breath, taking in the scene in front of her, blood seeping onto the tiled floor.

The door to the bathroom was pushed open, and Amal barely had time to get her bearings before her confused eyes made contact with Ria’s wide ones, the former taking in the blood on her hands, on her white top, shaking her head in disbelief as she took a step back. Ria stepped into the bathroom, casting one glance back out to the hallway before shutting the door behind her, her voice barely audible as it broke in shock.

“Amal, wh-what the fuck did you d-do?!”

“I”―Amal broke her sentence, shaking her head continuously, voice beginning to take on desperation―“I don’t kno… he was talking about Clara, he was saying all these things and I just… I don’t know why―”

“Okay, okay!” Ria said, hands digging into her braids and pulling on them as she swore profusely, and took a deep breath, “Just shut up and let me think.”

She was silent for a moment, before forcing herself to look at the figure on the floor, bile rising in her throat.

“Is he dead?” She questioned, placing a hand over her mouth for a second, to make sure her drinks throughout the night didn’t come back up.

“I don’t know, he’s not moving,” Amal replied, voice shaken. “I was just thinking about when I found Clara,” she choked up, and as Ria cast her eyes back to Amal, she noticed the usually quiet and harmless girl lean over as if she were about to be sick, “when I found her like that and how I didn’t d―“

“Listen to me,” Ria interrupted, her voice far from the controlled and calm person she usually was, a thousand different scenarios running through her mind. “You were just defending yourself, right? He was coming onto you, he got forceful, it’s not like he doesn’t have a re―”

“Ria we can’t say that, I hit him from the back. I don’t have any bruises or scratches. I attacked him!”

Before she could lose control, and before the remaining members of the party would hear the commotion, Ria told her to shut up once more. She needed to think, knowing that, before anything else, she would have to wait until the people in the kitchen went out, not having a bunch of drunk people discover a might-be-dead body in her flat’s bathroom.

“Of all places, why did this have to be in my fucking flat?”

Amal said nothing, helplessly looking at the body on the floor, her hands wringing and shaking, as she stood there dumbfounded. Ria watched her, the wheels turning in her head, and took a deep breath. She was involved now; she’d made a decision when she closed the bathroom door behind her. She had to help.

“Here’s what we’re gonna do,” she said steadily, placing her hands up with open palms as a calming gesture to Amal. “We’re gonna wait until everyone’s left for Shoreditch. I’m gonna say you felt sick and you’re in the bathroom, and that I’m staying with you. Then we’re gonna get Chloe, and we’re gonna sort this out.”


By Amanda Fuller


It wasn’t love at first sight. Not that I didn’t find her appealing, there was definitely something about her. No one would ever call her pretty, but there’s a rough, unconventional charisma, a quirky charm, that it’s easy to overlook, at first.

She has a split personality, you see. Misanthropic and miserable, or welcoming and approachable, depending on her mood, which is difficult to interpret. You only have to look at her to know she has an intriguing past, that you probably don’t want to know about, in its entirety. She doesn’t want you to know, anyway, so you don’t go delving, you just follow her, blindly, into whatever crazy-assed adventure she feels like leading you into at that particular point in time. Before you know it, you’re FUBAR, and she’s not going to rescue your sorry ass, she’ll leave you to it and slope off to wherever the next good time is likely to be.

All in all, she’s a bit of a mess, and she has a reputation for being no good, but when someone falls for her, they fall hard, and when it all becomes just a bit too much, as it inevitably will, they remember her with fondness, and defend her from those who try to judge or criticize her. That’s what happened to me, anyway.

I came over to London from New Zealand on a two-year working visa, to experience a bit of cosmopolitan Europe. I liked the idea of being a stone’s throw from all those other cities―Paris, Milan, Brussels, Berlin. I imagined swanning off every weekend, hooking up with exotic European ladies, smiling selfies in front of familiar landmarks and leisurely lunches in little cafes next to rivers and fountains and art galleries, depending on where I was. I made it to Paris on the Eurostar, and it was okay. After that, though, I never seemed to get around to booking trips to any of those other places. I was in the first throes of a passionate love affair, blinkered, optimistic and stubbornly determined to make things work, regardless of what it might cost me.

It cost me plenty. Our first kiss was in a park in the centre of the West End. I’d somehow gotten in with a group of fellow Kiwis that I’d met on a Meetup site, just so that I’d have some folks to hang around with, until I found my feet. This was a rougher bunch than I was used to, though, and after several hours of knocking them back in the Walkabout bar―not my choice, by the way, but I decided to go along with it that time―I somehow found myself squaring up to a bunch of Aussies along with the rest. The next thing I knew we were all at each other in one of those big parks scattered around the West End. Not being much of a fighter, it wasn’t long before I found myself flat out on the ground, my nose busted, my head ringing, breathing in crazy, ragged gasps. As I rolled over and stared up at the sky, all fuzzy and orange from the streetlights and pulsing in and out with my heartbeat, I started laughing, because this was living. I was a thousand miles from home, and I had that sense of belonging to nothing and everything, that I could go anywhere from here. I rolled over, and literally kissed the hard, prickly turf beneath me. Endorphins bathed my battered body and I felt a surge of something like desire.

The chemistry was undeniable. Many great dates followed, out on the town in grimy bars that stank of stale beer, strange meals of I’m not-sure-what in Chinatown and experimental jazz nights in Hackney and Shoreditch. There were no limits to the things we did; nothing ever grew stale or boring. She had a million and one tricks up her sleeve to keep me interested. I danced in the fountains at Trafalgar Square, took part in a Halloween zombie-thon for charity. I even tried performance poetry on the South Bank. She lured me in with words, with wonder, with what the fuck?

But before long, things started to go wrong. They talk about the honeymoon period being over, but it wasn’t like that for me. I was as in love with her as ever, things were still exciting, raw, and wonderful. But I was starting to lose myself. She got me into things that were bad for me. She tried to change me.

I’m not talking about the drugs and the drinking, crazy though those things were, for a time. I did my fair share, but for most of the time, and at least in the early stages of our affair, I felt in control of that shit. I’m talking about the things that she stole from me. The easy optimism and the way I had of making everyone my friend. The inclination to give other people a break, to help them out whenever I could. The nice parts of myself, the parts that I took for granted, assumed were just part of me and would always be there. I didn’t realise, before I met her, that they were just the parts of me I’d borrowed, or learned, from other places. She taught me other ways, not nice ways. She turned me on myself.

One of the many contradictions of life here is that Londoners simultaneously strive for wellness and moderation, while at the same time determinedly hurling themselves headlong into ill health and excess. It’s a curious kind of doublethink that only seems to exist here, and at first, it’s perplexing to temporary residents like myself. They apparently fail to see the absurdity of chugging down multi-vits, necking wheatgrass shots and pumping weights at the gym during the day, then knocking back twelve pints or a few bottles of wine after work, snorting cocaine off the back of a toilet in a sleazy club and inhaling a kebab on the way home, where they may, if they are lucky, catch a couple of hours sleep before rising, bleary eyed and trembling, to do it all again.

At first, I just couldn’t do it. I was too used to looking after myself, brought up on daily jogs along the river and wholegrain muffins for breakfast; not a processed, pre-packaged sandwich in sight. I was used to a few tinnies every now and again but the relentlessness of this, the determined pursuit of oblivion on a near-nightly basis, well, I just wasn’t cut out for it. My mouth tasted like puke no matter how much I rinsed with mouthwash, my head pounded from morning ‘til late afternoon, and I was losing weight. My body was shrinking, disappearing beneath baggy, pale skin. I just couldn’t bring myself to hit the gym or go running.

Then, all of a sudden, it became easier. It became my normal. I stopped stressing, what was the point? The skinny look was a thing here anyway; everyone you met was in tight black trousers and clingy tops. Everyone was pale, and drawn, and a bit sweaty and anxious. I fit right in. Man, I ROCKED that look.

Until the night I found myself chucking my guts up, for the second time that week, on my knees outside some grimy dive in Shoreditch. Everything hurt. My guts were on fire and I was covered in sweat. It ran down my face like slimy tears and dried to a clammy gunk on my neck, chest and arms. I felt like a frog that had lost its pond. People hurried past me as quickly as they could, with expressions of disgust, contempt or concern, as I reached into my jacket for something, anything, to wipe my mouth with. Somewhere in my inebriated brain, it dawned on me that my fingers should have brushed against my wallet, but they hadn’t. I had no idea whether I had been robbed or, more likely given the state I was in, had dropped it or left it in one of the many bars I had graced with my presence that evening. Either way, it came back to the same root cause; this was HER doing. This kind of thing never happened to me back home. Back there, Auckland looked after me, an ever present, concerned big brother. Sure, he might be a little dull, a little introverted and isolated, but he sure as shit kept me on the right track.

London was destroying me. I was in love, but she was no good for me, she was holding me back, bringing me down, trying to change me, and starting to succeed. She was the woman friends and family had warned me about, the one they said was no good for me, would drag me down, use me up. Everyone who cared about me back home had tried to steer me away from it, suggesting more refined alternatives they hoped might pique my interest. No chance. None of them had her charisma, her quirkiness, her rough, unpredictable charm.

Y’know, that’s my lady. It’s tempting to buy into the belief that only those sound of mind and body can withstand the tumult and the crush, the pushing and the huffing and the shrieks and smells. The threat of disease and damage everywhere, in the globules of gob on the cracked paving slabs just waiting to trip you up, the terrifying traffic, the very air itself. But she prefers to be courted by someone a little rougher round the edges. And if you’re not quite rough enough, not quite the degenerate lowlife that she craves, she’ll make you that way. Or try to, at least.

It might have worked, if she’d had more time. But my visa expired, and I didn’t try to find another way to stay. I knew it was time to go, although the effort of leaving her almost broke me. I’m back home now. The air is pure and sweet, everything is green, lush, and lovely. I’m running four miles every morning and I can’t remember the last time I got past three or four drinks in a single evening, once a week at the most. I’m doing very well, looking after myself, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t pine for her. I doubt she misses me much, there’s always a new bunch of innocents to corrupt. She never looks back. With everything she’s seen and all the other suckers she’s had in her thrall, I guess it was easy for her to let me go.


By Benjamin Corry Wright Kootbaully


I take a step from off the deck and in

To night; a heady lift of air, to steep

The week.


As light subsides, lungs open wide,

Exhaustion, engines, fall behind.

The grounds will rise at lower tides,

Unlatch the filters – serve the night.


My breath awakens freeze-dried streets again,

My spirit stirs this cast of featured bronze;

My smile returned, black liquour on my lips,

My eyes, acute with widowed innocence.


For London runs within my blood; to drink

In waves of scoured brass upon the Thames

Enlivens thought, as caffeine does; to sink

The weight of life to come when study ends.


I take a seat.

The cold dispelled, I meet the sun,

With weary eyes and absent mind,

Myself and London,







By Rae Gellel

At the end of a busy night, the strip club is almost beautiful.

Once the empty bottles have been swept from the mahogany tables and dropped into the bin with a satisfying clank, once ring stains have been scrubbed at and velvet chairs pushed in and the deep purple carpet vacuumed by the middle-aged cleaning lady, who also plucks the occasional crumpled tissue from the floor with two fingers of her marigold-gloved hands; once all is still and silent and smelling of lemon polish, then and only then.

There is something satisfying about the proficiency with which the staff restore order and calm to the room, like a family cleaning up after a party where everyone got too drunk and did shameful things. Where just moments before there was clamour, too many bodies pressed together in too dark and intimate a place, suddenly there is just a room.

Fluorescent bulbs retired for the evening, the remaining light is dim and warm, and the small tables each have two heavy-backed chairs that face each other as if expectant of couples, and indeed many do visit. Overseeing it all from the dark-wood ceilings are cheap but very grand chandeliers, and if it were not for the glimmering pole protruding from the black-tiled stage at the centre of this room, its overall effect would be almost romantic, suggestive of clandestine meetings and groping under the tables but nothing outright salacious, like a motel bar.

It was the early hours post-Valentine’s day and Magda thought the men had somehow been more hostile that night, thought that she saw clenched jaws and hateful side-glances and money thrown down too hard, as if they blamed her for their lack of more respectable plans. But Amal said she was imagining it, and it was true that this was the sort of thing she would imagine.

She was in the dressing room, which was long and narrow and homey and cluttered, quite deficient in the glamour that was just a security-code protected door away. A discarded kebab shop carton protruded from the bin that none of them could be bothered to empty, and Magda periodically dropped used wet wipes onto it, stained with red and black and flesh tones like Rorschach tests all suggestive of the female face.

She blinked at herself in the mirror, which was marred with thumb prints and smears of foundation, and the tired face that looked back did not much resemble the face on the poster on the peeling wall behind, in which she posed with her lips parted and her eyes half-lidded. With her skin scrubbed of make-up and pinkened by her rough wiping, she looked old and young all at once.

In the silent, empty room she sighed from somewhere deep in her stomach, as if centring herself for a big show.

Amal was nervous. He was behind the bar, loading the glass washer, and the frequent, clattering avalanches caused by his jittery movements drew glares from a kneeling Sonya, who was carefully placing various cleaning sprays back into a basket. Though she would not show it, she, too, was excited, and for the first night in many she did not wish that she was back in bed with her snoring husband.

Minutes after Sonya had thrown her yellow gloves into her basket and vanished into the back room, giving Amal one final, disparaging look as he shut the dish washer with a resounding clang, Gazza, the doorman, bumbled in. He brought with him a blast of cold air and his vast shoulders filled too much space in the low-ceilinged room. ‘Are we ready?’ he asked, his gruff voice gleeful with excitement, and Amal kept one eye on him as he emerged from behind the bar.

‘We’re ready.’

Four chairs were arranged in a straight line at the foot of the stage, where a single spot light baked the dark tiles. Sonya appeared, trailed by Zanna, the toilet attendant, a tired looking older woman who spoke no English. They sat for the first time in a long night and the women murmured in their foreign tongue. Only Gazza’s receding hairline was visible above the high-backed chairs.

Then, as is always the case before a performance, there was an abrupt, heavy hush, a silence pregnant with expectation. The soft patter of rain against the windows was suddenly audible, and Amal remembered that had he had forgotten to turn off the fluorescent blue ‘Gentlemen’s Club’ sign outside. He fiddled with the cuffs of his shirt, damp with sweat and spilled drinks. His anticipation was the greatest of all.

There was an excruciating pause.

When the music started, his breath caught in his throat. He spied a foot, arched and bare as Magda took slow, deliberate steps onto the stage. She stood in front of the pole, looking like an impaled woman as it emerged from the top of her head and from between her legs, like a woman at the stake. She worse a loose, cotton dress that Amal recognized as one she often slept in.

She started slow. She raised one hip in a slow arc, and then the other, she swayed from side to side as if shaking something off. Her hands snaked out shapes, the spotlight shining through her parted fingers. Her body moved like waves.

When she sighed, they sighed, and they marvelled at how much weight she could put on a single toe, and how her legs did not tremble, and how her spine did not snap as she contorted her body on the floor, and rose-up as if connected to strings.

At first she circled the pole, tentative, as if afraid to ask it to dance. But when the music suddenly picked up she grasped it with one hand when her feet left the stage and cut through the air above their heads they gasped at the effortlessness with which she flew.

And when again the music rose, and rose and rose, soaring to a crescendo, she climbed the pole and began to spin, and spin faster and faster until her heart thundered in her chest and air hissed passed her ears.

And as she spun she saw crumpled tissues and crumpled twenty pound notes, security codes and fluorescent lights, rows of men tense with an anger that was only in her head, marigold gloves and make up wipes, old women who should be in bed and wives that waited in their beds and the worn skin of Amal’s hands. And though she could not say it in words she knew she spoke to a fury that they all felt. And though it was just a minute or two it felt like the sun must surely be rising outside and that soon the too-few windows would expose all that was cheap and tacky about the club, almost beautiful at the end of a busy night, but never in the morning.

When the music stopped she turned to a row of stunned faces and applause echoed in the empty room.


By Timothy Willmore-Flowers

‘Explain it to me again’ he asked.
‘Sure.’ I replied.

I finished work twenty minutes early so I could go to the gift shop and buy ten heart-shaped helium balloons. It was our wedding anniversary: ten balloons, ten years, it was obvious, but perfectly appropriate.
On the overground train heading home, I mostly apologised for the inconvenience the balloons were causing. Three times I told the kid with the ‘Adventure Time’ rucksack that balloons were not punchbags. The remainder of the journey I continually tried to call my unreachable wife.


After a balloon-bobbing twenty minute walk from the train station I arrived at my front door. At first, I thought I might have strolled up the wrong path, to the wrong house, but a man knows his front door like a familiar face, and this was my door, but bizarrely, the lock wasn’t accepting my key. Anyway, a long story short, my wife didn’t want to be my wife anymore, so she had ‘Dan Dan the Door Lock Man’ come and change all the locks while I was working hard for our future.
Wendy, that’s my wife, called out from the front bedroom window and told me that ‘changing the locks was a statement that even I couldn’t ignore.’
Was I missing something?
Apparently I was.
Wendy said our marriage was like the aftermath of a high-speed car crash, and by some miracle we were still trapped and surviving in the wreckage.
‘But I’m happy there’ I pleaded.
‘And I don’t love you.’ she stonily revealed.
Weakened by the cold words that sliced straight through me, the helium balloons wriggled free from my hand. I didn’t bother watching as the ten heart-shaped tokens of my love, separated and drifted away on a brisk evening breeze. There was a metaphor in there somewhere, I know it.
I looked up at this woman I no longer knew, as she leant out the bedroom window, her arm flinging out gestures.
‘Just go away!’ She bluntly said.
‘Go where?’
‘I. Don’t. Care.’ She said it like that. ‘Go, or I’ll call the police.’
‘For what?’
After a long day at work, I wasn’t expecting this, but here I was, awkward and confused on the doorstep. That’s when Nibbles our cat ambled over to rub up against my trouser leg. At least someone was happy to see me, I thought.
‘Can I at least get some clothes? Please.’ I sounded apologetic by now, with no idea why.
‘No’ snapped Wendy, her scowling face getting redder.
I gazed down at Nibbles.
‘And don’t touch my cat’ Wendy warned.
I had the lightbulb moment right then. I looked back up at Wendy and felt evil tugging up the corners of my mouth. I smiled.
‘Don’t you dare’ she screamed. ‘I’ll kill you. I swear I will kill you.’
She knew what I was thinking.

That was Wednesday evening.
Yesterday, Friday night, me and the ginger cat Nibbles were moving into a grubby little first floor flat, somewhere up the reckless end of an undesirable neighbourhood. I don’t even like the cat that much, but I had to walk away with something, didn’t I? Taking the cat was a small victory in my heartbreaking discovery that I was unloved, as was hearing Wendy scream out the window as I ran away up the road, Nibbles tight under my arm.
‘Don’t you take my cat!’ Wendy shouted. ‘Somebody, help. Thief.’
I threw my redundant door keys over the high hedge of number 37 and heard a satisfying plop as they landed in the garden pond.
Now a man with more time on his hands would have done his homework on the area he was about to call home. You know, a few observational laps around the potential neighbourhood, assess the hostility of the natives, look for green spaces, book clubs, that sort of thing. But beggars can’t be choosers, right, and this bloke at work, Ahmed, said his dad had an empty flat above a laundrette. He said I could live there rent free.
‘Yes, mate’ Ahmed replied. ‘Just give it a lick of paint.’
‘That’s brilliant. Thanks Ahmed.’
Then Ahmed said, ‘you might need to get rid of the squatters though.’
‘The squatters?’
‘Yeah, but don’t worry about them, the rats are more of a problem than the squatters.’
‘Yeah. Rats, squatters, a lick of paint. Do you want the flat or not?’
I hate rats and am indifferent about squatting, but the previous two nights on my Aunt Erica’s couch had my posture begging for realignment.
‘I’ll take it’ I said to Ahmed, trying my best to appear grateful.
We shook hands to seal the deal, though I had my fingers crossed, because you never know.

So Friday night and I am stood outside Ahmed’s dad’s empty flat: a first-floor ruin with views to make an inmate weep unfair. Upon a busy junction, thick with the misery of traffic, and a brutal wind that never heard of giving up. It is a place so wretchedly unhappy that even the Black Death would have took a wide detour.
I looked at Nibbles, who seemed content, under my arm for another day.
‘What do you think Nibbles?’ I asked, despondently.
Nibbles said nothing. He’s not much of a conversationalist. God, two days single and already asking the cat for his opinion. Is that what they will call me around here? The cat man. The mad cat man.
It was about 9 pm when the black sky boomed, cracked, and burst an aorta, and the rain came lashing down. It was time to go inside.
I turned the key in the lock, but the door wouldn’t budge. It took a couple of shoulder barges after that before the swollen door flung open and I landed on my knees in the downstairs entrance hall of the upstairs flat. Remarkably, Nibbles was still under my arm, though his claws were now hooked through my parka and into my skin. Ouch.
I flicked the light switch on and off but there was not a single spark of electricity. Then I remembered that useless little torch on my mobile phone. A light that was unlikely to brighten anyone’s day, though it was all I had. With mobile phone flashlight in hand, I noticed some writing on the grimy wall above the light switch, it read:
‘1, 2, 3, and lift’

What’s that about?
I aimed the beam from the torch up a weary-looking staircase. Half illuminated, I could see graffiti sprayed walls. Further up, the bannisters rickety and gapless like the teeth of journeyman boxer.
I stood on the first stair, and it creaked. The second was much the same. The third, more of an unsteady groaner, and the fourth, well, that fourth stair gave up the moment I stepped on it. As my foot and leg went straight through the rot, Nibbles broke free from under my arm, but more important things were about to happen. I went crashing down until my crown jewels slammed so hard against the wood, I swear I dislodged at least one fleshy diamond. The pain is hard to describe, but it was there, a hot rush of pure unpleasantness filling my body.
So there I was with my left leg through rotten wood and tears ready to be deployed, when I heard a dreary voice call out from upstairs.
‘Dude, what’s all the commotion? The voice said.
I heard footsteps above, then someone appeared at the top of the stairs: a gaunt face in the flickering glow of the candle he was holding. I shone my torch up to reveal a lank crusty character, with body and clothes equally undernourished.
‘Hello,’ I winced.
‘What the heck dude’ the crusty one cried, shaking his head like a disappointed parent. ‘Listen man, everyone knows not to step on the fourth stair, and if you didn’t know – try reading the damn notice.’ He pointed a finger down the stairs toward the ‘1,2,3, and lift’ scribbled on the wall.
‘Oh,’ I said. ‘That’s what it means.’
‘Well it means fuck all now’ he said irately. Then puffed hard on a cigarette, which seemed to calm him instantly.
There was silence as I tried to free my leg from the hole, but life is extra challenging when the gonads are still ringing from being chimed.
The crusty, who said his name was Swampy, sat down on the top step and smoked his cigarette. ‘You don’t look like our typical kind of squatter’ he remarked.
Before I could say ‘hey, I’m not a squatter’, Swampy started giggling, then pointed toward the open front door.
‘Hey dude, look outside! Your cat is sitting in the rain! Awesome.’
‘A what? Oh no.’ I shifted and turned, leg still down the hole.
Nibbles was sitting kerbside, under battering rain and the glow of a streetlamp, unbothered, like he was already king cat of the hood.
‘Argh. Come here Nibbles!’ I demanded. ‘Biscuit. Biscuit Nibbles.’
Either Nibbles couldn’t hear me, or he didn’t want to. This had me thinking that the cat was more like her than I had ever cared to acknowledge.
There was a lot of awkward manoeuvres before I finally freed myself from the hole, and fell to the bottom stair.
With pain and a wide stance, I stepped outside, but Nibbles was gone. Believe me, it crossed my mind to let that soggy ginger cat wander off forever, but any chance of a reconciliation with Wendy would definitely include Nibbles, so I had to find him, for the sake of my car crashed marriage.
It took 2 seconds of being drenched by the rain for me to start thinking like a cat. It was another 10 seconds before I noticed the door of the laundrette was ajar. Yes, of course. If I were a cat, I’d go through that open door.


Inside the laundrette, it was hard to tell who was there for laundry and who was there sheltering from the weather. Obviously, I was there looking for the cat, on all fours as I crawled down the centre of the laundrette, looking left and right, and calling out. ‘Nibbles. Nibbles?’
‘Did you say nipples?’ a young mother asked, a snotty baby stacked on her protruded hip.
‘No’ I replied. ‘I’ve lost my cat. Nibbles.’
‘You called your cat nipples? What kinda of moron does that?’ Someone joked, then laughed.
Did you know laughing is contagious? It is, I saw it happen in the laundrette. Soon everybody was laughing about the Nibbles/nipples confusion. Even the snotty baby was giggling about something, and babies know nothing.
‘It’s not funny’ I said. ‘I’ve lost my cat’ which only caused the people to laugh harder. ‘Stop laughing!’ I shouted. ‘What the hell is wrong with you people?’ I stomped to the door and made an exit in what I could only describe as a temper tantrum any toddler would be proud of owning.
I slammed the door behind me.
Outside and greeted by the only reliable thing in my life right now – rain. I could still hear laughter as it seeped from the laundrette. I looked up and down the pavement for a roaming ginger cat, but nothing. I even checked the road, just on the off chance Nibbles had become a victim of his own curiosity, but nothing. I was on the verge of giving up, when I heard a noise behind me.
Swampy and his musty odour materialised through the haze of his own smoke. ‘Dude’ he said, ‘a buddy of mine just saw a ginger moggie go into Kebabs-4U.’
‘And where the fuck is Kebabs-4U?’ I asked, my patience threadbare.
‘Hey, mellow that aggression, dude. No need for it. No need.’
I stepped back, took a moment, then stepped forward and apologised.
Before Swampy disappeared back into his smoke cloud, he told me the kebab shop was just past Tescos. I couldn’t miss it, he said.
My phone rang, deep in the drenched pocket of my parka.
It was Ahmed from work, asking how I was settling into London life, then getting to the real reason for his call. He forewarned me that a screaming Wendy phoned the office, only for Ahmed to let slip that I was moving into his dad’s flat. He gave her the address too. What the…
Trying to terminate a phone call in the rain was another problem I had to deal with, but don’t worry, because a hooded curse on a pushbike went whizzing past, snatched the phone clean from my hand, and pedalled away like he was Brad ‘bloody’ Wiggins. I couldn’t be bothered to chase him. I couldn’t even be bothered to pull the hood over my head to stop the rain and its tortuous pummel. I wandered off to find Kebabs-4U, and hopefully Nibbles. If nothing else, I wanted to find that ungrateful cat so I could tell him he wasn’t wanted.


Eventually I found it, Kebabs-4U, a place of overwhelming fluorescent glare, an underwhelming menu, and a queue of downbeat carnivores waiting to be served a Friday night treat.
I won’t go into detail about what happened in Kebabs-4U, but suffice to say, it doesn’t matter what I said or meant, or what those customers thought I said or meant, just mention a cat, dog, or rodent in a fast-food joint, and everyone starts leaving by the nearest exit. Trading Standards being the very next people to come through the door.
After the queue of people had left the shop, vowing never to return, I sensed something unpleasant was manifesting when I noted the aggressive faces of the staff. I considered running, but the door seemed further away than I remembered. I heard an angry voice say something like, ‘i’m gonna smack the bitch out of you, bitch.’ After that, I don’t remember.


Not sure how much time had passed when I woke flat on the pavement, spread out and wet like a starfish. People stepped over me, around me, and that one idiot stepped all over me and laughed. The left side of my face throbbed like a toothache, but much bigger. Blood trickled from my nose. I wasn’t quite ready to stay on the floor amongst the wetness and rubbish, so I mustered the strength to pull myself up a lamp post, back on to unsteady feet. My eyes tried to focus, but the world was shrink-wrapped in a blur, my equilibrium punched out of shape. I stayed where I was, held on tight to the post, and breathed.
And breathed.
My vision was clearing, and I breathed.
I could feel energy refreshing my legs. And I Breathed.
And I…
And I couldn’t believe what I saw.
A black cab drove past. Through the back window of the taxi I could see the silhouette of someone’s head – and I could see Nibbles. His ginger face peering out the back window like a stolen child who didn’t give a shit.
‘Oh for God sake. Really?’
The next bit was the easiest part of the night: I raised my arm and a taxi rolled up. Easy as that.
I jumped in the cab and said, ‘quick, follow that taxi!’
The cab driver thought I was joking. ‘Is this for real?’
‘Of course it’s real’ I told him. ‘Follow that taxi.’
Without another word, we were in (slow) pursuit.
Shortly after that, I fell asleep.


The taxi driver must have slammed the brakes hard, because when I woke up I was in the process of hitting my head against the glass partition that separates cabbie from the passenger. As I struggled from the floor and back onto the seat, I noticed the fare meter was reading 127 English pounds.
‘Jesus Christ! How much?’
‘Listen, mate, you said follow the taxi. So I followed the taxi.’
‘Where did we go? Timbuk-bloody-tu.’ I was unimpressed.
‘More like Essex’ he said.
Across the road, five or six cars up, the other taxi had stopped middle of the road. I could see someone getting out.
I got out of my cab and instantly recognised the place: it was the street I lived in with Wendy.
‘Oi’ the cabbie shouted, ‘you owe me hundred and twenty-seven quid.’
Across the road, the other cab drove away, and I saw Wendy standing on the pavement, Nibbles reaching over her shoulder like a burping baby.
‘Wendy!’ I shouted. ‘Give me that damn cat.’
‘You don’t even like the cat’ she shouted back. And then she started running.
I started running, but she was closer to the house than me. I could see Wendy was already thinking ahead: door key in her hand. I started running faster, but Wendy was already in the front garden.
I could hear the cabbie shouting, ‘Oi, you owe me money’, but I kept running.
Wendy had the key in the lock by the time I stepped onto the garden path. By the time I reached the door, it had already been slammed in my face.
I banged my fists on the door. ‘Wendy. Give me that cat!’ I rang the bell, over and over, but eventually I gave up. I couldn’t be bothered anymore.
Defeated, I turned to leave, but the cabbie was standing there on the path, his hand out and palm up, ‘you owe me a lot of money’ he said.
That’s when I realised I didn’t have my wallet. Stolen or lost, it was the same end result. I had no cash.
The cab driver was stronger than he looked. He grabbed the scruff of my parka, lifting me so I was on the tip of my toes, then said, ‘what happens next is up to you, pal.’
I don’t remember anything after that.
Until now.

‘And that’s exactly how it happened officer. Can I go now?’



By Bistra Nikolova


Somewhere in the narrow, dark streets behind Leicester Square, the early hours were exactly the time when a different kind of people would walk as shadows trying badly to forget about the light part of the day. Or maybe even about the dark one too. Many of those night creatures had been living for that very moment, greedily snatching everything they could reach to help fool themselves for a while. To forget about the time they could never manage to beat. This was the only thing they had some power over, and not quite so. As you see, they could decide where to go, but for obscure reasons the place could be closed, or the way they reach it could be obstructed by someone else they had never met or known. Once in the place, they did not possess the ability to choose the audience there, neither to decide what menu to be offered as that was a privilege saved only for the owner. So the choices were quite limited, but yet the ability of the human brain to trick us and even flatter us in a way was rather imaginative. With a little outside help, the chemical laboratory in our bodies could, in fact, produce an astonishing result.


Brad looked at the empty street. The crowd had gone and the darkness brought him back the sense of a pleasant and relaxing stillness. At last, time for him to finish his inner conversation which he’d begun earlier. There was one disturbing thought circulating in his head. Did he lock the front door or did he just pull it shut? His brain violated the memory puzzle. He recalled going out, pulling the door, then the next thing he could remember was climbing down the stairs. Anyway, the cat would not be able to escape the flat. His cat was a very clever animal, able to open the fridge, the door to his bedroom, but the exterior door was heavy and the delicate creature would not manage to do it. And even if he could, where would he go? On the staircase. Mrs Flington would protest, of course, against animals in the building, especially if the cat decided to do its business on her mat. Well, he would manage to calm Mrs Flington, who liked to make a fuss about everything, as she was an elderly woman living on her own and believing everyone had to respect her age. Not that she liked to be reminded of the years behind her back; she would rather slap you on the cheek and slam the door under your nose. She tried so hard, as any self-respecting woman does, to hide her real age. In fact, Mrs Flington dyed her hair some fancy hue, some sort of cherry red and purple which made a disastrous combination, but was very suitable for her character. He smiled. She could bring a little tension in his life but he was used to that. After all, his job was nothing else but nerve-wracking.

A young couple came out of the nearby restaurant and, swinging from one side to the other, slowly advanced down the street. He’d seen many drunks. Most of them rather young. An established trend with no trade mark behind it. The alcohol was stalking every insecure soul only to make them a part of its possession. The couple reminded him of a pendulum rather broken but still moving. What was their aim in life? He moved from foot to foot. Alone again.


A cat crossed the street to him inaudibly as its paws were so soft, but he saw two yellow diamonds shining in the dark. She stared at him for a moment. Estimated the situation and seeing no threat slowly moved away. What was his cat doing right now? He remembered the time he found the small kitten in front of his door. He had just moved in the flat. A year ago. A small soft ball was lying on the mat in front of the door. He had never had an animal before. Never thought to have one. But it happened. It was not planned, not even considered. It was an invisible hand that put the cat on his mat, a hand that decided his destiny. So he had to take the chance and live his life with no regrets. No regrets. Only if he could. He would rather be an actor. Why did he drop the class? He should have proven himself, worked hard, and not paid attention to that miserable Mr. Port, his acting teacher. His body shivered at the recollection of their last meeting six months ago. Mr. Port had thought, and made it very clear, that the little boy had no talent at all. Yeh? Well, he did. He definitely did, and tomorrow he would prove it. Tomorrow he had an audition for a small part in a film, a big American production.


New steps echoed in the dark, steps of someone who was in a hurry. He tried to see who was coming but there were buildings set as a decor hiding the actor. The steps were coming closer and closer, cutting the distance with a pace of a predator determined to catch its prey. His whole body stiffened in an attempt to sense a clue, anything that might tell what was coming. The primary instinct of every living being. The steps sounded very close but there was still no sign of a person.

And then a stranger, messy hair and baggy clothes like he had no time to dress properly, appeared out of the corner. He looked like a sleepwalker. There was an awkward pause when they were staring at each other. A strand of hair fell over Brad’s eyes and he moved it away. The stranger moved too; his hand shifted in his pocket and pulled something out of there. Brad couldn’t see what exactly that was. The stranger hit his own forehead and released a stone. His hand was moving frantically up and down.

‘Are you okay?’ Brad asked.

‘Shut up!’ the man scolded him and began talking inarticulately to himself.

‘Maybe I can help.’ Brad moved towards the other guy, who reacted quickly. His hand straightened, a bang noise, and a flash. Brad swayed. His chest hurt as if pressed by a train. His hand touched his ribs. His shirt was wet.

“Fu . . .” Brad gave rales. His lips froze as he remembered his mum would not approve of it. She always wanted him to be a good boy, polite and very . . . She told him. So his lips whispered “freesia”, his mum’s favourite flower. There was another bang. He fell down. But strangely none of his extremities could move. Like someone had pulled the switch off, he felt faint. One thought disturbed his reflection. His cat was alone. Maybe hungry.


A few steps further, in the night club, people were revealing their secret identities. Like a magic hat, the place easily could turn singles into couples, or implant a third person where all human understanding could not accept. The trick dated back in time. The premises were changing every boring man or woman from their daylight substitute to their glamorous being. For this was a palace of joy and illusions. Some of the guests were laughing at a joke, or maybe simply at themselves. Others were dancing. The music tried its best to challenge the strength of the speakers but they heroically withstood it, letting the sound out and straight to human ears’ membranes. The problem was not theirs. In such a state, no one noticed the newcomer and the cold air he brought with him.


The night flesh-eaters came to feast with their flash cameras, microphones, and recording devices.

The morning newspapers had the type of headlines journalists call ‘catchy’, used to sell their issues as they, like everyone else, had to pay their bills and eat, pay for childcare, book a nice holiday somewhere. “A sleepwalker firing in a night club. All 65 dead.” People were shocked; they tweeted the news, posted on Facebook. They shared posts at breakfast, at lunch, and finally at dinner time. It was a tragedy that occurred in someone else’s life. A tragedy soon to be replaced by the next day story.


By Sophie Raphael


The lights turn off and my existential crisis begins.

I am a lie and a figment of my own imagination,

Caught between who I want to be and who I’m settling to become.

I chop, re-design and change.

Should I be allowed to dream, to believe, to feel?

Fear of failure, I’m too afraid to fear,

It’s a burden and a weight on my tired shoulders.

I fear the dark, the shapes that shift with no rules,

Moving along my walls, waltzing to an eerie beat.

A tap drips; wind rustles the trees and loud breathing is heard,

Tormented, I twist and pull the sheets around me.

Sun rise,

Another night not slept.

I get ready and conceal my heavy eyes with heavy makeup.

Drawing a smile onto my face, opening the door to another day,

Knowing that it brings no meaning, purpose or value.

But I wait until dark to allow my crisis to begin once again.





By Dele Oladeji


I fell apart, not to fall ever again.

Flickering like a lone star. Voices, I hear.

I wove myself out of darkness,

My cataract infected eyes twitched.

I looked through the window,

Murky smell of thick air oozed.

This is the East End-

When the leaders see our faces

They see nothing. What we feel is poverty

That has drowned our lives.


Where do I start? How do I survive?

These bliss’s that ferociously reap us apart.

The leaders said, with pomp,

‘We’ll improve the economy of our Great Country!

We’ll reflect on medical services for all!

We’ll reform the state of social welfare!’

Mama said, put your head down boy,

Do your very best and let the devil run mad.

What I feel are pains of wretchedness and hopelessness.

Set me free! I need freedom! We all need freedom!

Won’t you come to me soon daylight?

We are the hopeful Voices after the City Lights –

We’ll be free to speak out!

Let me dance one more time.

Let me fall in love with living all over again, dear fucking life!














By Sophie Bowles


Because I

only have friends who

do madnesses unto themselves and never go out on

Saturday night,

only out to the offy, bed & back to hide behind the pillow with the strops and

socks while everyone else laughs and dances away, or robbing the bookies,

I watch

the scenes alone,laughter, and smoke and stilettos

looking for meaning in men and picking my mind

off the floor with the fag ends, striking a match in a strangers eyes but the lights

have died in all of them, I need that one with the black clouds, not mr  happy with his hair preened back roaring his head off, the one who could

hold the leash back and teach me.

I still look for his face in the large crowds

Looking for love in the next one.

I see him dancing away,

come out for a fag could you handle me and everything I have done,

deal with my father, waiting at the door with the silent questions…could you be that

who’d rise up to him and take me out of myself, don’t just pacify, but grab my waist

and smash the life out of the man who ever tried,

I’m spinning… How quickly the night wants to rain down

on my head, in a trail and the girl with the square head and bloodshot eyes puking it out,

looks at me dead,

mind your own, never taking her eyes off the strangers who eye up the orange mess on the streets

I need that arm around my waist of the girl with big tits and glittering lips, tossing at the traffic lights,

oblivious to banging her head on the wall begging for change in the steamed up window,

and crying it out in the city after dark.

I can grip it if I wanted to,

Be that woman who the music and lights long for

Who laughs over glasses and conversation and men in shirts showing lust and affection

And up is the cloud of the future, me, great beautiful bum one day in silver heels, folded into the city’s

dazzling arms by the men pouring shots at the bar, away fom the chips and the

longing for change, I’d be that one who London loves, not spinning.

Loved by London after dark.


By Morghan Nunn-Menson

It was all cast

In colourless tones,

And an air

Of crossed eyes

Weighed down

The streets

Like a military parade.


The birds I heard,

But rarely did I see.

So much life,

Yet so little.


What united us,

It seems,

Were our guarded hopes

And sacred dreams

And the lullaby

Of sunset.


By Sajidah Iqbal


His soul shrouded in a dismal, dreary darkness,

Bereft of as much as, a tiny tinsel of brightness.

He is destitute of words and deficient in life,

Devoid of any luck and depleted in pride.

Blitz, bombs, burns, rifles, tanks, devastation,

His life upside down, like some frenzied fiction.


He was Aleppo’s born, where life brimmed with life

Before his brood was massacred, in front of his eyes

His nest burnt to ashes, he witnessed his folks die,

He had to leave his homeland. He had to say good-bye.

Once a living man, boasting home and hearth,

Today a path-finder, … a burden on earth.

He suffered through war and had had no brake,

His hopes have been vanquished, inciting immense ache.


He persuades his inner-mate, it is London no more war

But smears and scars of yesterday haven’t faded so far.

Those visceral voices and thundering squalls

Still strike, crack and shatter his glass eyeballs.

Splinters of his dreams, dent his drowsy mind

And his torpid, tired self is gloriously declined.


Shard, Plazas and towers, everything cast in pale,

His jaundiced view of life, shall ever stop to prevail?

Heralds of bright future and cheerful songs of spring,

Are often illusory promises, with silvery fleeting wings.

“If London is vicious, venal and vile in darkness deep,

Light a beacon of hope, to get you through disbelief

You came from the death’s door, pale and knackered

But the dream of budding life won’t keep you shattered.






By Amanda Hein

It was after 4 am, I can remember that. Herded; the change of music to a slow hum, like a pied piper sending the sheep out of the club at 3, flocking to the nearest kebab. Bah. Greasy burgers sopped in mayonnaise, chips drenched in ketchup, the overpriced taxi ride. Yes, it was at least 4. The front door’s latch echoed through the marbled entrance. Bastard. We scuttled quickly, my hand and heels in each of your hands, you balanced like a tightrope walker on a slippery line. Sanctuary is carpeted stairs, politely silencing our steps. Stairs do not judge. Shh, the first door on the right, a stagger and a half past my sleeping parents. The room was a cascade of moon light; I didn’t dare disturb the glow with a bulb. I undressed, leaving stained and smoky clothes in a heap on the floor. You left your underwear on. I stole your shirt, and wore it as a nightgown. Fucking buttons. You were so thin, it barely fit over my breasts. You loved it. We fell into the sheets. My antique, third generation bed creaked and sighed underneath each turn and breath. I didn’t want to sleep, neither did you. Please. You pulled me in close, too drunk to notice my unbrushed teeth. Laughs, giggles; short and long kisses through the night. It came out, bursting from me like a shaken beer can rich with alcohol: “I think I’m falling for you.” Shit.

More kisses.

“Trouble is, I’m falling for you too.” Thank God. My eyes were lead; the alcohol wore off and overcame me. In the last moments of consciousness, you cradled me, your long arms swaddled me. Our breathing slowed, and we drifted away. Your head rested on mine.


By Rob Hakimian

Through his window he watched the rim of the sun disappear behind the top floor of the high rise across the park. Its shadow now blocked out the last rays of sun that made it through his small bedroom window. Soon it would be dark, and after that he knew his resolve to do any writing would evaporate along with the daylight. Several times he had started and deleted, started and deleted. The most he had written was two sentences, before realising the obvious flaws: the clichés, the lack of a hook, the lack of any semblance of voice or direction. He had retreated back to the blank page again, his text cursor back in the top left of the screen, blinking tirelessly. Not even a title. Four hours he’d been sitting there, alternating steadily between coffee, tea and water, perhaps somehow hoping that a different taste, a different smell, a different colour, might just bring to mind the seed of a story.

Now it was entirely dark outside, and soon she would be calling. They had only been together a couple of months, and only really got to see each other on weekends because of her busy work schedule on the other side of the city. So, they talked every weeknight when they were apart, and he was always excited when she called. Despite the relative shortness of their relationship, he was totally in love with her, and he was sure she felt similarly about him. The worst feeling he could ever imagine was letting her down, but that’s exactly what he was going to have to do. She believed in him utterly as a writer, and was the most encouraging person in the world in regards to his work. She had been extremely complimentary about what he had shown her of his past writing. Her praise was even more valuable than anyone else’s.

Recently, however, he had completely dried up. Not a single word for a couple of months now – at least not ones that had lasted more than 10 minutes on his screen. The fallow period had probably started around the same time they had started getting physical. He was worried. She reciprocated his worry, but with undercurrents of faith and certainty that it was just a phase and that he would be back on track again soon.

As his dry spell had extended, and his anguish at his lack of output sharpened, she had tried various ways to try to goad him into writing something again. At first it had been merely vocal encouragement, which made him feel better, but had not resulted in any work. Then she tried to set him specific tasks, writing about a holiday, a memory, family history – anything – but that had proved just as fruitless. He found it too stale, too predictable, not something he could sink his teeth into.

Now she had come up with the latest scheme to get him working: by promising him a very secret surprise upon the completion of a short story. He had no idea what the secret surprise would be, but he knew that she would not let him down. She knew all the things he wanted; from simple material desires, to emotional desires and even sexual fantasies. He had not kept anything from her, and she understood him better than anyone. He knew that whatever the special surprise would be, it would be something that he would cherish.

But alas, the compulsion to write something in order to acquire this special surprise had not manifested. And he sat there, staring at his own reflection in the window, with the blackness of night outside mirroring his mind’s canvas.

His phone started buzzing. It was her, of course.

He picked up, “hey you.”

“Hey sweet one, are you alright?”

“Not too bad thanks, just sitting in front of my laptop, figuring things out.”

“Oh yeah, has it been a productive day then? I can’t wait to read what you’ve written.”

He gulped, did he sense a little drip of suggestion in her voice? The special surprise was going to be sexual, he knew it. He wanted to do so many things to her body.

“It’s not that great.”

“Don’t be silly, your writing is magnificent.”

“So are your delicate little features, cuteness.”

Silence on the line as he imagined her squirming a little bit with the directness of his adoration.

“So…?” she said, after a moment.

“So what?”

“So what have you written? Are you going to read it for me? You know I want to give you your special surprise, but first you have to convince me you deserve it.”

There was definitely no denying the sexual undertones in her voice now. He had to have her. He had to get her to show him the special surprise. Or “do” or “carry out” or whatever the correct action would be for what she had in store for him.

“Erm, it’s about…” he faltered, not sure how to lie. “It’s not really about anything. It’s just the start for now.”

“Well I still want to hear what you’ve got, you know what your writing does to me. Especially when you read it to me in your sexy voice.”

He gulped again, unsure what to say.

“Please read me something…” she said softly, seductively.

He looked at the blank screen in front of him and screwed up his face in frustration. “I’m not sure I’m ready to do that yet.”

“Pleeeeease,” she mewled. “I know it’s just a first draft, but I also know it’s going to be great. Because you’re great.”

His heart melted. He couldn’t let her down. What was he going to do? He cast his eyes about for some kind of inspiration. His eyes fell on the book he was reading, across the table, and he quickly whipped it up and turned to a page he’d dog-eared.

“Well, maybe I could read you a little bit,” he intoned, trying to match the ripe sexuality in her voice.

“Please,” she uttered.

“OK then,” he looked down at the page he’d saved in his book, took a deep breath, and started reading. “‘Night, however, succeeds to night. The winter holds a pack of them in store and deals them equally, evenly, with indefatigable fingers. They lengthen; they darken. Some of them hold aloft clear planets, plates of brightness…’”

She listened quietly, attentively, as he read the words out of the book. He read them with passion and gusto, wringing the brilliance out of the author’s prose. When he had read a page he stopped. There was silence on the other end.

“That’s all I’ve got for now,” he said, “or as much as I want to read anyway.”

She let out a long, languorous sigh that made his skin prickle with desire. “That was wonderful. Amazing, even. I knew you had it in you. It’s so different to what you normally write. What was that part about clear planets and plates of brightness – will you read it to me again?”

He looked back down at the page he had been reading from and saw the bit she mentioned. It was truly great, but he was already feeling sick at having passed it off as his own work, especially with the effect that it had had on her.

“I don’t want to read it again… I’m embarrassed,” he concluded, feebly.

“What are you embarrassed about? It’s wonderful.”

He stayed silent, wrestling over whether to push forward with this or to come clean.

“OK, Mr. Sensitive, you don’t have to read it to me again if you don’t want to. You can email it to me, and I’ll read it for myself in my own time, in my own way.”

“Maybe when I’ve written some more…”

“No, send it to me tonight. I want to spend some time with your words, since I can’t spend any time with you tonight. I want to think about you while I read it, and think about all the naughty things you’re going to do to me.”

His trousers tightened slightly. “Erm, seriously, I don’t think I’m ready to send it yet.”

“But don’t want your special surprise? Your very sexy special surprise?”

It was going to a be a sexual thing, he knew it.

“Of course I want that, I want that so badly.”

“Well then mister, just send me your work, and I’ll see just how worthy you are. Maybe I’ll…”

His mind went into a blank fuzz as she delicately described all the things she would allow him to do, and all the things she was going to do to him. While the lower portion of his body reacted in the way that you’d expect to the graphic descriptions she was unfurling into his ear, his mind was revolting.

“Stop! Stop!” he yelped, eventually.

“What, too much for you to handle, baby?”

“Well no… yes… kind of…”

“It’s OK baby, I know you want this…”

“I really, really do… but I don’t deserve it.”

“Of course you do. You worked so hard on that, and now I want to work so hard on you.”

His palms were slick with sweat. “But I didn’t, I didn’t…”

“Didn’t what?”

“Didn’t write it!”

“What do you mean?”

“I couldn’t write anything today, I tried and tried but nothing was coming.”

“So what was that you just read me?”

“It was from the Virginia Woolf book I’m reading.”


“I panicked, you just turn me on so much baby and I didn’t want to let you down…”

“But you did want to fuck me, so you lied to me. That’s disgusting.”

“I know it is baby, but you’re just so –“

The line went dead.



A week later, and no end of groveling, he had managed to get her to calm down and understand. She had agreed to maintain their usual weekend rendezvous. He had brought her flowers, and committed himself to giving her no end of pleasure. His jaw was aching and he felt like he had a touch of RSI in his middle and index fingers on both hands, but things were right again between them.

He hadn’t got the sexy special surprise he so desired, though. Just before he left her for another week apart, he had cheekily asked her if the deal was still on; if he wrote something, would she oblige in all the ways she had promised? Maybe it was just the afterglow of all the pleasure he’d brought her over the weekend, but she had laughed self-effacingly and agreed.

Now here he was, at the end of another long day of starting and stopping, typing and deleting, and he was no closer to writing the story that was going to unlock the door to all his sexual desires. The weekend of pleasure with her had only inflamed his yearning to an even greater extreme, but hadn’t provided literary inspiration. Most of the day had been spent dreaming of her sumptuous skin and precious, sexual lips. He had had to masturbate a couple of times to try to refocus, but it hadn’t helped. All he could think about was doing all the things she had whispered to him a week earlier.

Outside was dark, like the inside of his head. Not a flicker of inspiration. But he needed her body. He needed that flesh. He needed to do all the things he wanted to do, yearned to do. What was he going to say when she asked him to read her something? He had to say something, he couldn’t let her down. And he couldn’t let himself down. He needed this.

He went to his bookshelf and looked at his books. He was looking for something he knew she hadn’t read, and whose style of prose he could pass off as his own. It would be too obvious if he used Virginia Woolf again. He honestly had no idea how she had ever believed that he’d written that. She trusted him too much; he didn’t deserve it.

He spotted a book that he thought matched his criteria. He flicked through it, scanning the pages for an excerpt he could read that would impress her without arousing suspicion. He found one and marked the page.

He went back to his laptop with the book, waiting for her call. Maybe he could still write something of his own before she-

The phone buzzed, he picked it up.

“Hiya,” he said, trying not to sound guilty of anything. He hadn’t done anything wrong anyway – yet.

“Hello again,” she cooed. “I know I only saw you yesterday, but I miss you already.”

“It’s not just you, I wish I could be with you right now,” he replied. Touching your bum, caressing your inner thighs…

“How’s your day been? Any luck with the writing? Hopefully our… activities over the weekend would have cleared your mind enough to start afresh.”

“Yeah, it’s been alright. When I’ve been able to take my mind off you – which hasn’t been often.”

“Oh shoosh. I know your type. When you writers are in the zone nothing can jolt you out of it.”

“If anything can, it’s your body, baby.”

She snickered happily down the line. “Well I hope you got your fill of that this weekend so you could write today… and then you can come back for round 2 this weekend…”

He laughed softly down the line, but furrowed his brow as he wondered if he was really going to do this.

“You know, I’ve been thinking about all those things I promised I’d do for you… I can’t wait.”

“Is that so?” he replied weakly.

“It is… I can’t wait to…”

He took a sharp breath as she once again started to lavishly detail all the acts she wanted to perform on him.

“…but before all that you have to have written me a story. How’s it going?”

He faltered for a second, but his raging boner pressing against his trousers took charge.

“It’s going great. You really did unlock something in me. I’ve been writing non-stop all day.”

She let out a low sound of satisfaction. “Read me something then.”

Without hesitation he picked up the book and opened it to the page he’d marked. “OK… ‘He put the dog down on the runner under the awning and then stepped out into the rain with the leash. In the darkness the apartment buildings on the other side of the avenue were a serene black wall holding back the city’s sky, which was a steaming purple. It glowed, as if inflamed by a fever…’

Once again she seemed to be listening attentively, but he sensed some movement on the other end of the line which made him nervous. He stopped.

“Do you like it?”

“It’s great. So detailed and dark. It’s not what I’d expected you to write about though, since you said it was me that opened up your writer’s block.”

“Well, the mind works in mysterious ways my dear. Anyway, I’m not sure I have the power to fully capture your graciousness and gorgeousness in words… at least not until I’ve fully explored you in all the ways I want…”

She didn’t make the usual utterance of satisfaction that she usually did at comments like this.

“Everything alright?” he asked.

“What was that bit about the buildings and the city sky?”

He faltered for a second, “er, let me find it… oh yes, it was ‘the apartment buildings on the other side of the avenue were a serene black wall holding back the city’s sky…’”


“What’s the matter?” he asked, trying to sound nonchalant.

“Well it says here that Tom Wolfe wrote that exact sentence in Bonfire of the Vanities. In fact I think everything you just read to me just came straight out of that book…”

“Wait, what?” He was fucked. “Where does it say that?”


“You googled my work?!”

“Well, it’s not really your work is it?”

He coughed, the hand with the phone now trembling slightly. “Well, ok, no, I didn’t write it. It’s just I couldn’t think of anything, but I wanted you to feel like you had inspired me baby –“

“You did this for me?!”

“Yeah, kind of. Everything I do is somehow-“

“Oh fuck off, you fucking prick. I can’t believe you tried this again. You’re never going to touch me again.”

The line went dead.



A week later, and he was exhausted. In the first few days after their last conversation he had tried to call her again and again and had been ignored. He had left her countless voicemails and texts, pleading with her, explaining to her all the reasons why he was not worthy of her, but desperately needed her, all the ways he would make it up to her. But nothing.

He had then spent the next few days writing, writing, writing. He barely ate, he barely slept, all he could do was write. His feelings at his utter spinelessness, his remorse, and his endlessly burning desire had coagulated into… something. He didn’t really know what it was that he had written, but it was good, he was sure of that. He hadn’t shown it to anyone. The only one he wanted to show it to, the only one who mattered, was her.

He paced back and forth around his flat as he thought about what he’d written, and fantasized about how amazed she’d be by it. “It’s the best thing you’ve ever written,” he imagined her saying. “I can’t wait for you to write more,” “I can’t wait for the world to read this,” “I’m so honoured that I inspired such great work…”

He watched the last piece of sunlight coming through his window get blocked out by the high rise outside. Monday evening; he knew she would be home, as she was every Monday evening. He needed to talk to her; he needed to read to her, to express everything to her via his prose.

She would ignore his calls, delete his voicemails before even listening to them. There was one thing he could do. He could put 141 before her number so that it would appear as an unknown caller on her phone. It was a sneaky thing to do, but hardly unfair considering the total blackout she’d cast upon him.

Reading back over the work he’d produced, he picked out his favourite passage. One about his love for her, and how deep it ran, comparing it to the spring of the river in the Garden of Eden. Truly beautiful, if he did say so himself. Just like her. God he needed her.

He picked up the phone and dialed the number. It rang a couple of times and then she picked up.


“Hey, it’s me. Listen, I’ve written something. Really written something new and unique and inspired by-“

“What the fuck?! Why are you still calling me, you creep?”

“Baby, don’t say that. Listen to what I’ve written about you.”

“Fuck off, I don’t believe anything you say. Don’t call me baby.”

He forged on “The contours of her supple skin are as lush and vibrant as the holy ground where once Adam and Eve copulated. And when we combine there is no other world, we are like the first man and woman…”

“I’m changing my number.”

“But wait I’m just getting to-“

The line went dead.



By Rachele Salvini

My grandfather had a little boat, where

we sailed until our salted skin got burnt.

His hands were fast, spotless and young

as he talked, gripping the ship’s wheel.


He told me about squids and moray eels.

We had no canals, but we had Fossi

which literally means moats. Trenches.

Green, dirty, putrid water, stagnating


among the pitch black streets of the city, heading

to the sea. And when the dusk sets over the Thames,

we go back to shore. His suntanned fingers

caress green waters. He smiles. Night comes.


In London, I can’t smell the sea, but can feel his voice,

the pungent odour of his shaving balm,

squid, fish and moray eels swimming home,

the rocking of the boat putting him to sleep.


By Zoe Maynard

White lights speed past
my body. Screeching screams
escape from the track, the
doors fly open.

No hustling and bustling
like in rush hour mayhem, the
carriage has a scrunched up
newspaper to keep me company.

Outside the station, the eye
watches me as she turns
full circle. Without blinking,
she watches the city sleep.

The Thames, her beloved
friend, swims past the decaying
walls of parliament,
and sighs.

Crown jewels glimmer inside
the Tower of London, away
from the prying, intrusive

The Shard, still awake, looks
across the miniscule buildings,
Canary Wharf catches his gaze
and winks.

St. Paul’s will not bow down
to the illuminated dome, the O2
that roars with music. He prays
in silence.

Red, white and blue, the soldiers
protect the sleeping Palace walls,
and Her Majesty treasures her
sixty-five year reign.

These visions curtsy in front
of her ageing eyes. I pull out
a fiver for the next train, and
she smiles back at me.


By Bethan Morgan

Excerpt from the Ministerial and Other Salaries Amendment Act 2025:

In the case of the aforementioned offices a salary may be paid to each holder of office subject to the limitations expressed below, that is to say—

  • That it is within the jurisdiction of the Prime Minister to appoint any number of Secretaries of State as he or she so wishes, who will receive salaries in accordance with the quantities laid out above
  • That the shadow cabinet may expand to employ an equal number of ministers given it does not exceed the limit set by the Prime Minister at any given time


The leaf was splayed on the ground at the entrance to Westminster station, red as rage.

Perhaps that’s why Jack’s eyes locked on to it as he climbed up the steps from the Underground. It had been glued to the pavement by rain and guck but still retained that fiery echo of autumnal vengeance. He imagined its lonely journey to this brazen spot, its doomed companions mercilessly scattered by the wind. Like the generations of leaves, the lives of mortal men, he thought sadly, suddenly remembering Glaucus’ fateful words in the Iliad.

His reverie was shattered as the leaf vanished beneath a pounding boot, replaced swiftly by a gleaming trainer, and then the silver exterior of one of those new WeatherKicks, whose soles adapted automatically to different surfaces.

‘Excuse me,’ a voice growled somewhere over his right shoulder.

Jack stumbled out of the way in bewilderment, muttering an apology as the owner of the voice swept past, arrogantly stabbing the air with the cane gripped in one gloved hand and disappearing under the umbrella that unfolded in a flash from its tip. Jack buttoned his own coat to the neck, shrugging his satchel further over his shoulder. A newsstand blazed, waist-height, beside him, the morning’s headlines curling across its screens.

Cyanide Soaks Westminster Again As The Shadow Deck Loses a Deuce.

An icy spider of unease crawled down his spine, but he shrugged it off as quickly as it came, disabling the Bluetooth on his phone before the tabloid’s contents began downloading onto it.

Only then did he step out into the rain and look up.

He squinted through the droplets at the looming spectre of Big Ben, heart racing. The sight would never fail to stupefy him. He’d only approached the ancient clock tower from this angle once before, and his feelings of awe were the same now as they had been then, a whole decade ago. His mum had held his hand and pointed up at the colossal ticking hands and whispered in his ear telling him of what it had stood for when she was his age, not the mud of maze-like ministries but the heartbeat of liberalism in a chaotic world.

He turned back to Portcullis House with great reluctance. It was a violent juxtaposition indeed to see such a glorious building faced off by such an ugly one. He finally understood what Kafka had meant when K. gazed on the castle for the first time. If ever a building had looked like a gloomy inmate bursting from the ground it was this one.

Jack swallowed nervously then set off to find the entrance, dodging a delivery drone as it zoomed around the corner. He was about twenty minutes early but thought it better to be eager than indolent, especially given the state of the transport services these days.

The silver-haired security guard manning the visitor’s entrance X-rayed his coat, belt, boots, identity bracelet, and satchel, which contained nothing but his tablet, headset, a battered copy of the Iliad that had belonged to his mum, and a deck of cards, the latter two items added as good-luck charms before he left that morning.

‘Come through, please,’ the guard on the other side of the metal detector called.


‘Jack Allways. I’m here for work experience with Julius Gruelon, Shadow King of Diamonds.’

The woman tapped away at the tablet in her hands for several seconds then nodded stiffly. She pressed a small silver encoder to the screen until there was a tinny beep, then seized his right hand and stamped his wrist. He winced, glancing down to see a cryptic web of dots and lines glowing blue just under his skin.

‘That will dissolve in three days. Now, go straight along the length of the atrium and turn right past the conference suites. There’s a waiting lounge at the end of that corridor next to a bank of elevators. Mr Gruelon will be with you shortly.’

‘Thank you.’ But she had already turned away.

The atrium was like the open hull of some vast naval galleon from a forgotten century. Great metallic sails stretched across the latticed ceiling far above and two large pools of water dominated the floor, watched on each side by rows of leafy fig trees.

Jack accelerated towards the opposite end, peering curiously at every black-suited figure who hurried past him, many racing along on e-boards. He spotted four cabinet ministers, identified by those distinctive black and red brooches pinned to the lapels of their jackets. The two he saw sporting red hearts also wore bright-red patent leather shoes, while the club and the spade were dressed head to toe in black.

The lounge was empty when he found it. Two leather couches faced each other across a light oak table split down the middle by an emitter. The image projected up from it was a newsreel, the reporter’s voice drifting eerily across the room.

‘…amidst accusations that the Shadow Deuce of Diamonds had been implicated in a plot against her counterpart, the Secretary of … of Public Political Persuasion and Opinion, who was elected as MP of Ochil and South Perthshire in the 2050 General Election last year. This places suspicions of foul play directly on the head of the Diamond Deuce and in turn the entire Diamond hand, raising the question of whether this Shadow plot had actually been verified and, if not, why this latest cyanide flush was so swiftly committed. Prime Minister Rosewing is yet to release a comment as her cabinet reshuffle enters its eighty-fourth day, with the Shadow deck now entering its one hundred and nineteenth. We turn now to yesterday’s developments which unfolded with rumours the Ace of Spades had tipped off his Trey and Queen that Amelia Rosewing was set to reallocate their positions to the MPs from…’

Jack tuned out in disgust and began to pace, his mum’s final whispered words to him that morning echoing around his head.

Be careful, Jack. Be more careful than you’ve ever been before. Reason is your armour, you’re the star of the waning summer who beyond all stars shall rise.

He clutched his satchel tighter, feeling the weight of the Iliad pressing against his leg.

At that very moment an elevator hissed open behind him.

He whirled around to see a tall, lupine man stepping out, red shoes gleaming like rippling blood. He had a long face, chin as sharp as glass, obsidian-black hair gelled back over his head, and glaring eyes set beneath a heavy brow. His sleek, black suit was paired with a burgundy-coloured silk shirt buttoned right to his neck and a red diamond pin glinting like a drop of blood from his lapel. Jack couldn’t even make a wild guess at his age. There had been a shocking lack of information online about this particular minister.

‘Jack Allways?’ the man said. His voice was crisp and cool, the faintest of accents clipping his syllables, possibly heavily diluted Welsh.

‘Yes, sir,’ Jack replied, stepping forwards and offering a hand.

‘My name, as I’m sure you have deduced already,’ he said, leading the way into the open elevator, ‘is Julius Gruelon. I understand you’ll be with us for the next three days.’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Please, I am yet to receive my GBE from His Majesty, so call me Julius for now.’

‘Right, okay, um… Julius.’

The elevator doors whooshed back to reveal a long, carpeted corridor lined on one side by glass windows that looked out over the atrium and on the other by pale oak doors.

‘This floor is occupied by our party,’ Julius continued in a monotone, striding off down the corridor. ‘And most of our cabinet ministers also have their offices here. You’ll know of course that there are fifty-two Secretaries of State in both cabinets.’

Shining dully from the centre of each door was a small plaque hosting either a diamond, heart, club, or spade with a Roman numeral engraved inside it. Jack thought bitterly of how many permutations there were of fifty-two cards in a deck. Even if the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition just randomly reshuffled the cabinet ministers they already had into different positions they could go at it for quite literally billions of years before hitting the same outcome twice.

‘Don’t you like it?’ Julius asked in a bored tone. It was only then that Jack realised he had been glaring at the plaques as they went by. He tried to fix a look of awe onto his face.

‘Why should you assume I don’t?’ he replied, smiling to himself.

‘Visitors never like it.’

He looked at Julius in surprise, his stomach flipping. The quote was word perfect.

‘Why should you assume I haven’t read Kafka?’

Jack was saved from trying to respond to this when Julius stopped in front of one of the doors, Diamond 13, gesturing stiffly. ‘Please.’

Jack pushed through it hesitantly and found himself in a low-ceilinged room interspersed with banks of interactive screens. He counted six people, all of whom looked up as they entered.

‘You must be Jack,’ a short, elfish woman with bleached blonde hair said in a falsetto voice, stepping forwards to shake his hand, also wearing a black suit and red shoes.

‘Meet Frieda Block,’ Julius said, ‘head of my team here. She’s your first port-of-call for any questions regarding parliamentary processes or deck lingo.’

‘It’s a delight to finally meet our highest scoring applicant,’ Frieda said. Her eyes were a peculiar shade of hazelnut, almost golden. ‘92% on the party affiliation and loyalty test, 100% on the cabinet names and titles test.’

Jack tried to smile. ‘Yes.’

The only reason he had managed it was due to Malika in the year above him outlining in detail the nature of the questions after she had failed to secure the same work experience last year. The whole test was a twisted farce.

Julius swept past them to another door at the back of the room. Jack nodded politely at Frieda before following.

Julius’ office was low-lit with dark-panelled walls and a thick maroon carpet. Gleaming mahogany cabinets lined the back of the room, upon which sat an ancient cribbage board, a small ornament of a double-edged axe, and a row of antique decanters filled with red wines and golden spirits. Above the wide desk hung a real oil painting of a man standing heroically at the prow of a longboat, clad only in a windswept red cloak and a plumed bronze helmet, sword and shield raised proudly in his muscled arms.

Jack stared. It was Achilles. In fact, it looked like the 18th century portrait by Bon-Thomas Henry dog-eared in one of his mum’s books. This, surely, could not be the original.

‘You like Grecian art?’ Julius drawled as he began tapping away at the screen set into the surface of the desk, one of the only signs of technology in the room.

‘Yes. Very much. My mum’s a Classics professor at London University.’

‘Where you study…?’

‘Politics and Economics.’

‘Right.’ Julius’ attention was still fixed on the flickering screen at his fingertips. Jack tried to make out what was displayed there. Live-chat? News headlines dominated the left hand side, all displaying what looked like stories about yesterday’s murder, or ‘cyanide flush’ as the sensationalist vultures had been calling such acts since before the reshuffle had started. Seeds of rage blossomed in his gut as he pictured the homeless people crowded around the tube stations seeking any conceivable glimmer of warmth, the rapidly censored clips online of gang violence in the ghettos, the street-long queues curling out from the collapsing hospitals, the constantly smoking crematoriums, the only burial option now given the rampant overcrowding across the city.

‘And your father?’

Jack blinked, uncurling his fists.

‘Not around.’


‘It’s only me.’


‘Um… a Chocolate Lab, Hector.’

At this, Julius looked up. ‘Hero of Troy, eh?’ He smirked.

Jack frowned in confused annoyance but said nothing, following Julius out of the room again with one final glance back at the text still cycling across the desk screen.

The next few hours seeped by like tar. Jack took notes during Julius’ committee meeting that had nothing to do with business or finance but rather discussion over some convoluted amendment to ministerial procedures that dragged on until late afternoon, all the while trying to memorise faces, cryptic comments, sinister gibes, and words, words, words.

Eventually he found himself back in Julius’ office, donning his coat and satchel once more and straining to hear the heated exchange Julius was having with Frieda. He pretended to be examining the cribbage board when Julius stormed in a few seconds later, his angular face red, teeth gritted.

‘I need you to stay late tonight. There’s a meeting.’ Sweat shone on his brow.

‘Um, ok.’

‘The Queen of Spades is on his way,’ Frieda said, leaning around the door. Her eyes were wide. She looked frightened. ‘It was his only window.’

Julius swore and strode across the office, pulling the chairs away from the wall until they were spread out around the small, round table in front of the cabinets. Jack watched in confusion, unsure of how to react to this inexplicable scene of panic.

He was about to ask what on earth was wrong when Julius swung round manically and seized his wrist, dragging him to one of the cabinets.

‘Listen carefully to what I’m about to tell you.’ He dropped to one knee and delved into the back of the cupboard, emerging a second later with a thin vial of clear liquid. ‘We’ve just been tipped off that the Spade Queen won’t be shuffled. This is very bad because he just uncovered a clue that could lead him to the heart of the Shadow flush network, in short, to us. He thinks he’s coming to a shuffle speculation meeting. Ten minutes before the end, I’m going to run a hand through my hair. When you see this, get up to refill the water glasses, and pour this vial into the Queen’s glass. He won’t suspect you given your age and status. Do you understand?’

Jack stared.

It was a joke, some kind of crude joke. The room tilted as though the whole building had slipped into the Thames, water rushing in through the windows.

Do you understand?’ Julius growled, gripping his shoulders painfully.

‘Yes,’ he said weakly. He felt detached from his body, numb.

‘He’s here,’ came Frieda’s voice, higher than ever. And then, several seconds later, a large, bearded man entered the office, a black spade shining from his lapel.

‘Julius,’ he said gruffly. ‘And…?’

‘Jack,’ Jack managed to stutter, shaking his hand. ‘Work – work experience.’

And the meeting began. Jack didn’t hear a word of it.

It felt like it had only been seconds when he saw Julius carefully sweep his hair back.

Jack rose mechanically to his feet, lifting all three, now empty, glasses from the table and walking over to the drinks cabinet as though in a trance. The vial was lying flat behind the decanters. He poured several inches of sparkling water into each glass, and emptied the vial into the one in his right hand, making his mind up before the cyanide hit the surface.

Keeping it on the right, he picked up one of the others in his left hand then turned back to the table, and set the left one down in front of his own seat, and the right one in front of Julius.

He returned to the cabinet, picked up the third glass, and placed it carefully before the Spade Queen, quietly lowering himself back into his chair. His mouth felt like sandpaper. He sipped his water, head spinning, and didn’t look once at Julius, though he heard him take several gulps.

Less than fifteen minutes later, the Spade Queen had left, closing the door behind him.

Silence fell like a gavel.

‘You know,’ Julius said, ‘Frieda thought you would do it.’

Jack looked up at him. His head felt like a block of lead. Nausea swept up from his stomach in a hot wave. He couldn’t quite seem to focus.

‘But I knew, you see, the moment I saw you,’ Julius continued, ‘the moment I saw that spectre of defiance and outrage in your baby eyes. You don’t understand the mechanisms of this world.’

‘I don’t – ’ Jack gasped. The room tipped and he fell hard onto the ground. Had they crashed into the Thames?

‘I switched our glasses when you went to get the Queen’s.’

Horror convulsed through his chest. Was that a fist clenching down on his heart?

‘You can’t – ’

But Julius had risen to his feet.

‘You know what they call a Jack of Diamonds… Laughing boy.’ His face split as he let out a bark of laughter, holding his stomach and wheezing.

‘They’ll find… You’ll be c – caught.’

‘Oh, Jack, my dear boy,’ he murmured, kneeling down, his face now the entire world. ‘It’s about time you realised. No one cares.’

The floor was falling away.


His throat was closing up.

… Mum…

Zeus and the weeping horses. Zeus had said to them. They wept and he said.

There is nothing alive more agonised than man

of all that breathe and crawl –



By Paul Chafer

Journeying towards the galaxy centre, I pass a blue pearl and become intrigued by the pulses of energy dotted around the dark surface. On descending towards these glowing power buds, I detect the thrumming buzz of life. More than this, I see it is both one amorphous mass, and a gathering of independent sentient creatures existing within the teeming hubbub of light. Curious, I descend further, discovering an arterial network strung with colour, white streaming one way, red another, with brief intermissions of winking amber where various strands intersect and cross. I realise my timeframe is mismatched and slow my temporal pace, realising as I do that these colourful streams are individual packages containing cells, rushing hither and dither within this webbed city at night.

I wonder if, like my own system, the cells are essential nutritional globules providing energy or defence, but on closer examination, I see there is no coordinated pattern to their movement. They act independently, doing their own thing for purposes that are currently unclear. I descend further, stunned by the complexity of this intermingled, stratified, irregular beast.

Between the weaving arterial veins, various structures stand, many much larger than even I, but most quite small. The tiniest appear to be artificial caves, dwellings for worker cells, along with medium size ones, climbing skyward. Some appear dirty, dilapidated, emitting unhygienic odours, whilst others present pleasing aesthetic facades. I begin to understand that there is a cell hierarchy, an inequality, lives governed by a corrupt monetary system, making this humdrum polluted agglomeration important. An invisible god rules here, a calamitous dishonest deity, which has so successfully instilled its presence deep inside the inhabitant’s brains that the worshipful enslaved happily imagine that they are the imperative successful cells. I smile inwardly at their simplistic, trusting ignorance.

The largest aspects of this city, stacked side by side, towers of steel, concrete and glass, are cathedrals to this base monetary god who, it seems, is an uncharitable, unforgiving monster. A deceitful beast that has infiltrated the financial structure and taken advantage of those it fraudulently alleges to serve. As I slip through myriad minds of cells, I learn that they all have different labels according to their function and purpose; bankers, brokers, lawyers, managers, and many other priests of this disproportionate, ravenous idol. I find its control is absolute. I am uncertain if I should respect something engineering such complete control. Should I fear it, destroy it, or seek it out and subjugate it to my own will?

On closer inspection, within the centre of lights that the cells lovingly call ‘their city’ – though derisive claims of ownership border on dubious to laughable – I see the despotism has been achieved by the simple trick of tawdry illusion. The offering of trinkets, gaudy glitz and glamour fuelled by wanton greed, like a fully evolved Star Kind shaking shiny baubles before the eyes of a naïve infant. These cells see themselves as superiors, but are completely mesmerised and totally captivated. To them, nothing is more important than the narcissistic preaching of their heartless monetary god, not even the wellbeing and continued existence of their own kind.

Disappointed in this discovery, this ‘city’, I consider swatting it from existence, even though the human cells, like everything else visible, hail from the hearts of stars, as do I. Then I notice substrata, deep down on the arterial level, in nooks and crannies, and even lower, an underclass of minor humanity living quite separate from the centrally focused uncaring creatures above. Here, at last, I find hope and salivation for this strange species. I find love and caring, sharing and giving, empathy and understanding. On analysis of further input, I find that these beings have conquered what they term the ‘rat race’ and are not fooled by the monetary god, but resist its fake allure. Poets, artists, thinkers, writers and their many menial worker companions are fighting for a more wholesome way of life. These are people whom, those who are worst affected by the all-seeing wealth god, call losers, wasters and plebs. To me, they are the true meaning of life on this bizarre blue world.

Oddly, many of these most worthy creatures inhabit the worst of the artificial caves. Some have no cave at all, living and sleeping in the open, but taking comfort from the fact that they are free. Many would rather live in the city gutter, gazing at the stars, rather than live on their knees in opulence entranced by large, flat, moving squares of colour churning out greed, avarice and gluttony; representations of the despicable god.

There is no doubt that, like my own species, going back countless generations, humanity once inhabited green forests, so I am wondering why they now clump together in this sprawling urban mass? What is the underlying attraction? This strange phenomenon requires further investigation, and so, I choose to stay, to explore the hidden recesses and undercurrents. I decide to cast down this callous, deceiving, monetary fiend sucking the lifeblood of this infantile society, by breaking the communications enabling it to thrive and rule. It answers to nothing and nobody, but it shall answer to me and I shall inform it, and its denizens, that its time here has ended. I will also raise those who have already freed themselves, who know that integrity is not negotiable and that they shall be my vanguard.

I sink beneath the city, far down, finding remnants of cultures that once blossomed and thrived amongst peace, serenity and beauty by the riverside. Traces of past lives, their emotional fingerprints stretching towards me, touching, showing me how they were. I inhale them, these beautiful naked priestesses and priests from long forgotten religions, dancing before firelight, skins glistening with scented oils. I taste happiness and excitement, a people alive as they greet the rising sun, the air threaded with birdsong as golden light bathes the scene. I assure them that, what once was will be again. Those seen as the least, by those in control, will become the most worthwhile, as they see hope in the future and are willing to fight for their species and their way of life. They will bring about a bountiful, beautiful city of grandeur of which they can be proud.

Rising, I determine to expose the autocratic, wealth hoarding oppressor, crack open the shackles and chains of limitless wealth, and if necessary, lay waste the blind clerics who do the bidding of their sham god. Should they think to resist, in this city, and all cities on this backwater world, I shall be envenomed and reveal my true strength, terrible to behold. Settling in, comfortably ensconced, I begin to thread myself through the labyrinthine infrastructure, awaiting the new dawn, preparing to create a better world where natural abundance thrives. As a starting point for the coming changes, I choose . . . YOU!