Running in staging mode
Start writing!

Ephemera

...writing as it happens

'What a wanker,' he commented ruefully. 'Bet he talks in an overly-loud voice at train stations.'

'Fuckity fuck!' I yelled as I pushed the bastard down the stairs. 'Now you're in for a real bumming.'

Vehicle crawling across a dusty landscape. Clouds swirling from beneath the tyres, dusty windows, finger leaves a trail. Jolting over rocks and dips and bumps. Travelling ever onwards towards the border. Can't see it yet but we know its coming. We ready ourselves. Hands rustle through pockets to retrieve the necessary documents, then clutch them in preparation.

Earlier the road was smooth, easy - we cruised, foot down hard on the pedal and tarmac uncurling fast behind us like a gymnast's ribbon. The vehicle moved with intent and we had the windows down, sun roof open. The air was cold and we could almost taste the light - clarity!

Now slow, sluggish, bumpy but still moving onwards, propelled by some force.

It is always different. The crossing, the road, the transition from one country to the next. The car makes this journey everyday and yet no day is the same.

Here now, going through the barriers, we may enter tonight and are in a different state already. Why does that tree have no leaves thought it is summer time? Why does that house have no windows? A hint of the unfamiliar, like an unidentifiable scent, faint and lingering. But we've been here before!

The vehicle negotiates its way through the landscape. We observe. We drive on.


Quarter

there must have been
a hundred kites up that day—
in myriad colours and size
they filled
the beautiful, spotless sky.

people arrived and spread
their picnic baskets,
brought out
their Sunday's
best behaviour and such.

all was well
until one little red kite
teased and taunted
the three-times winner.
such impudence—
it took just seconds
to bring him cut him to size.

kite-hormones surged
and armies soon
took their sides.

strings were cut
kites, felled
even as laughter died

minutes before
the winner was
announced,
a gust of wind
thought otherwise.

and so this year,
there was no trophy
to take home at all.

talk is abound
with plans
for the next fest
when kites will be painted
like country flags.

rumours are rife
as to who might win
against the sky.

My Facebook’s full of sentiment about how mammals
miraculously understand one another,
we watch a monkey’s empathy, cry with emotion then kick the cat.
It alternates with sentiment about mammals that
make money from abusing one another and we watch half,
then stop before we cry bitterly,
It’s interspersed with efforts to save mammals
For, I guess, one of the above purposes.

But on another continent someone’s having an election,
Trying to choose a safe form of freedom, fighting for the truth
On another continent they’re saying never, never again will we
Suffer, now we will be great, everything will be alright now, this
Human has his priorities in the right place, and his morals
More or less – another new dawn.

And all of this through social media makes her feel
Sick and trapped and depressed and that the only
Decisions we can make are what to click and what
To press, and what to watch or not to watch;
all our morals and actions have come to this;
and I long to be up a high mountain in thin light air
with only a few thoughts

There was nothing that made Patrick more happy and at ease, feeling like a naughty school boy, than to sing this song to his wife;

'I love the world
Many countries
Can't get happy
because of the wars

I love the world
So many creatures
different features
what can they teach us?...'

Sheila would roll her eyes and shake her head and tell him he was a buffoon, and then they would get on with preparing their B&B for guests, or what ever other task or duty needed doing. The song had more verses that became more and more worthy and idiotic. Years ago it did make her angry. He would sing it on and on until a vital new verse he composed which he would sing ecstatic with delight, egging her to react. As they grew together in life and business the song became a charming habit, new verses would come and go, 'I love the world, so many bedsheets, clean for the elites, I'll do the receipts...' and it became something they shared, a performance they both enjoyed.

The B&B was a tall building in the old town of windy Arlington, near to the brown and bloated Potomac river. Guests would take the short train ride to Washington DC to visit the George Washington memorial, the Smithsonian and other national treasures laid out for the masses. Divot patriots left early in the morning, said a prayer at the gates to the White House and returned with plastic stars and stripes.

When everything changed they had a full house, three teachers and a German couple. It was breakfast in the cosy kitchen, everyone was up and the snow had started to fall and it was almost going to settle. It started with a sound, like a hum something you could not be sure was there. Within minutes the hum was a loud roar in the air and no one was unafraid. A bright, white light shone from a point in the air near to the center of the room, and yes, there was an angle.

Patrick sang:

I love the world
I love the country
I love the wars
I love the chores

I love the witches
I love the fear
I love the beer
I love amer

Two minutes

Gathered inside the small box, on a sea of red
They stand.
Oversized feathers in cap
Fur piled precariously.

'Turn the telly up so we can hear the silence.'

Momentarily, he falters, heavily plummaged hat hits the ground: sick, embarrassed.

The small scenes move from the dignified to the gaudy, but sad, always sad.
A young boy still in a war zone holds his breath under the insistent gaze of the world.

'I always observe the silence,' she proclaimed loudly.
Then,
'Oh for goodness sake!' She mutters as her phone sounds, breaking the two minutes. Fingers eager to check the contact fidget over the digits until the wake up tone is permitted.

All desperately hoping without hope
that there was a reason
to send a generation across continents
and spread their blood to feed the greedy soil.

Once in an aeroplane
we approached the coast of America
with so many islands, green parts, sections
of blue sea, sparkling in the sun
and the trajectory of our arriving,
and the fresh silence of the land
made me understand the American Dream
for the first time.

Always I must think of us as particles
our whims and wishes part of the evolutionary code
so that all of humanity is a flask of blue liquid
settling, settling, slowly over millenia
as the trends occur and reactions happen

and all the energies dissipate and feed
into a greater, more stable whole
It's inevitable truth, where truth has no moral value.

So, when a majority start voting passionately
through idiocy, making our country reactionary
and the resistance from the minority creates
a phoney struggle, and it seems that everything
is a frustration of despair,
my heated mind soothes itself
by drinking in the pure blue liquid.

'We love queuing,' I said. 'Come on. Let's queue at the post office. Then you'll be really British. It's one of the things that defines this country'.

A queue can be a thing of beauty, motion through unwritten understood paths. Simple queues at the shop; intricate queues snaking towards a bus door; the informal queue where no one is quite sure who was there first, 'After you!' 'Oh no, please, you were before me'. Unspoken rules that you must follow or risk the penance of the tuts.

I imagine a queue as geometry. Shapes that sprawl across the clean paper of a school book. Endless contortions and predictions of size and where, how, when the line curves or bends.
Or a small ballet, played out by dancers who know the steps intuitively. There isn't need for a common music: hip hop on an iPod, opera swirling around a mind, the well rehearsed lines of a nursery rhyme on a toddler's lips, all will serve as the soundtrack to this formation.

'You've convinced me,' he said. 'I'm in! Let's daringly and Britishly queue at the post office.'
Not once, but twice. Later, at the pub, we laughed about it.

Imagine then my surprise when I travelled across continents and found another country with better queues than ours.
In a culture where I had struggled for any points of reference, the simple mechanics of the queue made me smile as I remembered the post office.


A lot of years ago you asked me on a date
I said no - I was too cool for boys
And then

Eating continental chocolates
in the country of my kin

Playing with a fountain
turning it on and off
on and off

I heard you call across the
decades so I walked and walked
and ran and ran towards
where I thought you might be

though it couldn't have been more
obvious what I was celebrating with
my life, you didn't understand

but by then I was sick and tired
and also sick and tired of all the
songs that blame everything on 'you'
'You' are such a small arbitrary part
of everything
just a small measly meaningless country in
a vastness of continental potential

I'm up here in the country and it's blowing a gale;
but over on the weather-mapped continent
there's the sun peeking out in Petersburg,
though its hiding away in Kiev;
Lisbon's looking bright
but Madrid is fading fast
I love Vienna in the sun
and tearful Tirana below,
For true, full-blown solar
we're moving right through
Turkey's bottleneck, breaking out to a new
sun-baked exposed continent in
the limelight of the world,
full of factions and fighting
and modern moral questions
with unknown danger in store
We scutter back home
like a balloon with the air
suddenly released
to the windy, rainy country
beyond the buffer of
our friendly, warm continental plate.

Emigre

For some people,
where they come from is a geographical absolute,
an intersected space of latitude and longitude,
a continent,
a country.

My homeland is grief.
Its citizens are too numerous to count,
but we all feel alone.
I have sucked milk from its rivers
since childhood,
and its weight bows my body.

Our culture is founded upon
an ideology of worst case scenarios.
We expect bad things to come for us
always
because they have come for us before.
We measure the likelihood of our salvation
by the toughness of our hides.

The customs of our country
seem intolerable to tourists,
but none of us ever claimed to be content.
I don't plan stay here,
but it's where I come from,
not a place I will ever disparage,
ever apologize for.
When I move on,
no one who lives here will notice that I'm gone.
I will tell my new neighbors I don't miss it,
and most of the time, it'll be the truth.
Still, I'll always remember how to get home.
It's not that I plan on wanting to return,
but I suspect it will be inevitable.
The coordinates of grief are impossible to forget.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Integer quis dictum quam, a rutrum magna. Suspendisse fermentum quam nec ante vehicula condimentum. Praesent sed volutpat ex. Nulla rutrum mollis efficitur. Sed porttitor lorem quis vehicula sollicitudin. Quisque euismod vulputate justo, malesuada hendrerit turpis ultrices at. Donec cursus nibh augue, ac ultricies augue suscipit id. Interdum et malesuada fames ac ante ipsum primis in faucibus. Curabitur venenatis, ligula ac faucibus imperdiet, sem risus luctus metus, nec scelerisque felis nisl sit amet orci. Duis ac dictum nisl, a porttitor nisl. Vivamus feugiat magna vitae diam accumsan, facilisis fermentum turpis varius. Sed eget facilisis orci. Curabitur massa nulla, imperdiet a pretium at, placerat mollis urna. Quisque facilisis arcu neque, ut luctus lorem porttitor eu.

Proin aliquet odio nec felis pretium, vitae consequat orci scelerisque. Praesent dapibus tortor a arcu molestie, eget lacinia dui fringilla. Integer eu ligula ut dui auctor congue interdum vel felis. Donec ut dignissim ligula. Morbi ligula nibh, aliquet a finibus ut, eleifend eget mauris. Cum sociis natoque penatibus et magnis dis parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus. Nam non risus sit amet nisl gravida posuere. Donec mauris nisl, sodales vel sapien eget, aliquet efficitur enim. Proin ligula dui, sollicitudin eu eros sed, placerat pellentesque risus. Aliquam in finibus urna, sit amet posuere eros. Etiam lobortis porttitor sapien tempor iaculis. Maecenas non massa at enim venenatis dapibus id nec nisl. Nunc at tortor eleifend, cursus elit vitae, scelerisque purus. Fusce feugiat malesuada faucibus.

Across the continents, Across the blind of stars
Like a whisper in the heart
Something dead awakens
What once was, gathers another start.

For company are bones of memories
Disjointed and disbelieved
Something kicks inside me
That which I thought I'd sieved.

A long silence, geography and broken lands
Now to talk to me again
Blend continents with lips
And old, sweet tears with rain.

The way you ran your hand across your chin
How you praised with your eyes
How your guitar quoted songs
How it filled me with surprise.

Tonight, continents link hands
Across the seven seas
Like silent waiting friends
In a state of complete ease.

Though borders burn bitterly,
Never ceasing fights
Peace knows that its summit
Lies in love's sweet device.

Hatred between countries
Is ludicrous by far
When precious hearts connect
And dismiss the clouds of war.

You cannot ever know
How much to me you've taught:
To ignore the maps on earth
Worthless, from love's shortage and drought.

Our identities hold only so long
As we can feel each other's pain
Countries are made, remade
But the bonds of hearts remain.

Lay me on barbed wires
That separate your land from mine
Then watch me color both soils
With a singular red bloodline.

I surrender to my feelings
I put away unrest
Blanketed in long, black years
That put us to the test.

Gentle, tender, loving
Just like your precious smile
Weathered in my memories
But still worth my while.
*********



Earth sits in the Solar System three stops from the Sun, somewhere on one arm of a barred spiral galaxy called the Milky Way. It is estimated that this spinning cloud of gas, dust and rock is a little more than 13 billion years old, spans about 100,000 light years and contains between 100 and 400 billion stars. We know what we know. The rest is just guess work.

*

Perhaps a moment arrives, when balance is lost and there is conflict with the world. It is time to escape right then and a call is made. You explain to the agent, the need for a flight to anywhere warm - and as soon as possible. The friendly voice says that a 707 leaves tomorrow night for Orlando. That sounds perfect.

It happens that tomorrow is the 31st of October and in the spirit of things, the cabin crew welcome passengers in Halloween costume. Yours is a window seat at the rear and as you excuse your way past the aisle occupant, he grunts and coughs. The safety procedures are mimed by witches. Given the course of recent events, you take this surreal performance in your stride but as you flip through the magazine, the heavy sighs of your neighbour signal a difficult flight ahead.

A delayed take-off finally happens and as the no smoking light flicks out, the grumpy man produces a soft pack of Lucky Strikes. He offers one and you accept. Co-conspirators and kindred spirits suddenly, fuming at the back of the plane. When the nicotine hits, he relaxes and you realise that the bad humour was only the withdrawal symptoms of a dedicated smoker. So you talk. And he begins to tell his thick accent life story, punctuated by those piercing coughs.

Tales of escape from Poland in World War Two, jeopardy, near capture and death. Asylum in Sweden, and finally washing up on American shores.


For almost 50 years in the land of the free, the home of the brave, he has made a living crafting up-market wooden boats for the well-to-do on Long Island. His wife runs the business end of the business because he is just an illiterate carpenter. A perfect match, he says.

Eventually, he sleeps for a while and you gaze through the lozenge window as the moon slides by. You take in the stars, thinking once more about time. And whether yours is almost up.

As the plane descends for landing, your new friend places his lighter in your hand. He explains that his wife made him give up smoking, after an X-ray showed evidence of his chest caving in. But on the visit to relatives in London, he lapsed and fell back on the Luckies. Their rendezvous in Orlando begins a two-week pilgrimage to Disneyworld, and other tourist traps, an anniversary present to his better half. She will meet him off the plane as a non-smoker once more, so he won’t need the Zippo. You hope that for the sake of domestic harmony that his wife has no sense of smell but accept the gift with thanks. In a parting shot, he fishes an emergency pack from his jacket and gives it up as wheels bump and squeal on foreign tarmac.

He says, ‘God bless America.’ and means it.

Shaking hands, you feel the strength that comes with physical labour and the palmed callouses of this gnarly craftsman, as he wishes the best for your life. Watching him file down the aisle, you hope that those crackling lungs will hold out for a good few years more.

And wonder what it must mean to have a skill like this man. A simpler life perhaps.



It is early hours in Orlando airport but the friendly agent has arranged that a station wagon is ready and waiting to accept your luggage and the Kona mountain bike that you brought along. There is a vague plan to drive down to the Keys - or perhaps Miami to cycle around the Everglades.

But after heading south on Highway 1 for a while, past the parked rockets dotting the Space Coast, a new station cuts in. A different beat to the usual wallpaper music. In short order, Fela Kuti, Penguin Cafe and The The, bang through the speakers. These tunes are broadcast by WFIT public radio and suddenly it seems like a good idea to hang around for a while. So you make a left and head seaward. And somehow by chance, you have arrived in Melbourne Beach, Brevard County, Florida.

This tiny town has a population of 3015 according to the road sign, which reminds you to drive careful. On hearing your accent, the perceptive gas station attendant hands you a tourist guide, which list the facts. That Melbourne Beach is located on an unnamed barrier island. A thin slice of Earth, which separates the Atlantic Ocean from the Indian River Lagoon and is anchored by two causeways to the mainland. And in bullet point form, that the town is Brevard County’s oldest beach community. And that more wildlife is concentrated in this area than any other in America. And that it was a favoured hangout of writers in the 1930’s. Golf is a feature.

‘Welcome Snowbirds!’ shouts the front cover. The young attendant helpfully explains that the term refers to the thousands of old folk, who migrate temporarily from the northern states, to overwinter in the south.

He says, ‘Yeah, they all fly down here from Maine, Michigan, Montana and - er..’

‘Minnesota?’

Yeah, that’s right!’ he says.

As neither of you can think of any more northerly ‘M’ states, it’s thanks and goodbye.

You are just about to take off when he shouts, ‘Hey!’ and waves you back.

‘Missouri!’

Big beam. Day made.

Your main concern now, is to find a cheap motel near the beach before you fall asleep at the wheel. And you do. The Jolly Roger couldn’t be closer to the sea and is owned by a Bavarian frau, who may be crazier than you. Her name is gone now - but it might be Heidi. Which seems entirely inappropriate, given that she weighs at least 18 stone and looks like a man in drag.

You hit it off with this unlikely character, who takes you for an eccentric English artist and calls you ‘dahling’ from the outset. The accommodation that she offers at a bargain rate, is perfect. A cabin, one of 20 or so ranged in a quadrangle around the swimming pool. Inside, a decent-sized living room and a kitchen, bathroom and bedroom off. With a picture window view of the ocean that couldn’t be more than 30 yards away. You’ll take it. Time to sleep.

When you wake some hours later, it suddenly hits that no one knows where you are. That for the first time, you are really alone. Not lonely, however. Glad to be out of it, like Thoreau in Walden - but without a doting mother down the road to cook the odd dinner. That’s fine though because in this climate, cooking is barely necessary. Raw salads and the odd baked fish will be absolutely fine for now.

You kill some time hanging out with your Germanic landlady. When you ask if there is a Mr Heidi, she details a bitter divorce, dismissing her ex with the final comment. ‘He looked like a vindow cleaner.’ The vindow cleaner had apparently run off with the chambermaid some time back. You imagine that the pair must have set up a tidy home together, with crystal clear views of the garden. When Heidi gets busy, you lounge by the pool downing Barney’s Beanery coffee and think how blue the sky is for November.

This temporary stay extends first into days and then weeks. It is not long before you get into the habit of waking early as the sunrise hits the windows, out of the door and along the silver beach. At that hour seabirds hog the shoreline. Some like the herons, are easily recognisable but the smaller models have a distinct look that you haven’t seen back home. These tiny waders work around the old men casting lines into the surf. Retired insurance executives, plumbers, police officers - all equals now, wielding rods and fishing for sea bass.

The beach is strewn with detritus. Flotsam. Or Jetsam, you are not sure. Later when you look it up, the distinction is clear. Everything on the beach is the latter. Objects still floating around out there, the former. Lagan and Derelict are classified as other nautical debris that lie still on the sea bed. So it’s Jetsam that interests you. The scraps of smooth worn wood, snips of coloured rope, glass bottles, rusting metal and other oddities, all seem like ideal materials to make found object sculptures.


Because you have no tools, fishing line and hooks from the tackle shop can be used to bind and hold together the structures. Nothing could offer more pleasure. Fooling with shape, form, balance and tension can lose days.

A week or so in, you sit one night on the beach to witness a spectacular storm out over the ocean. Lightning cracks from the sky in a free show that lasts for hours. Next day you awake to hear that the Berlin Wall has fallen at last, East Germans knocking lumps from concrete and jumping the borderline.

Here the dramas play out in a lower key but are still to be found. Naturally you brought a camera that you can use to make records of this place. At first, seascapes, landscapes, the disused Ice Factory, the Mack trucks rolling cargo down to Miami. Then the wildlife takes your interest, the lizards, the pelicans, the stone crabs and the Sand Dollar shells.

And finally the citizens of Brevard County. It is easy to approach anyone with a portrait request with that English accent of yours. Like the family of seven, poor though happy enough, fishing for supper in the Lagoon. Like the immigrant 24/7guy stacking shelves in the convenience store. Whose partner stole his business, working three jobs now to claw his way back. Like ex-boxer Jackie, who spends nights in the jail cells, after drunken scraps in the Severns Bar.

Although you don’t drink as a rule, The Severns is where some evenings are spent studying the locals and chatting to Honey, the world-worn barmaid. Honey, a white witch with half a dozen kids, who between them have six fathers. She claims that MB is special because of the mystical highways of ley lines that course through it. That the Severns was one of Hemingway's favourite hangouts, pointing to the moose head on the wall, as if that is proof of the fact.


At the far end of the bar is regular Jackie, a man who has lived evidently. Broken nose, huge hands and a ladies’ man face that makes you wonder if any of Honey’s children share his genes. She handles Jackie with ease but the Severns’ clientele know that it’s best to avoid argument with the big man.

You spot him staggering along the highway one evening and offer a ride home. Jackie lives with his brother, an inventor entrepreneur who has made and lost several fortunes. His latest effort is designed to combat erosion of the dunes, a big problem here, particularly in the hurricane season. He explains the concept - a long tube of perforated plastic, filled with sand and lodged at the base of the dune. This sandy slug absorbs wave energy and stops sea eating the land. Maybe he will make another fortune with it. And if not, he has plenty more ideas.

Breaking a rule, the night dissolves in whisky talk of big science, environment and escapades. Jackie meanwhile, has passed out in the corner.

‘He could have been a contender’, says the brother, without irony. But not a bartender apparently. (contd.)

Beyond Treasonable Doubt

I didn’t want it to end this way. Of course not. But as the rope tightens round my gizzard I must confess to savouring the moment. For this is the final proof of my victim-hood and we would not have it any other way.

To strangle the life from this body is a more tangible murder than what I have done to my soul over the years with rusty knives.

I look at the virtual crowd on a vast screen above me, faces in the Cloud. It was a big selling point that a billion YouTubers could subscribe to the grand finale, and that I would watch them watching me watching them. The rope chafes my neck. I may be getting a rash. It worries me.

The black cloaked man that is a recording of myself continues to read the charges. It is clear, his wrinkled lip sneers, that I am guilty of failures and betrayals beyond all treasonable doubt. But treason against whom? Our brave boys who fought for the English language?

It is true that I never listened to the Word of my Teachers, the grey tank-tops charged with transmitting the tribal lore. I stared through the classroom window for ten years, cultivating succulent shoots of asparagus syndrome.

And then the years of my rebellion. When Royal weddings came I limply refused the general erection. As gleaming carriages passed by I wanted only to be a passenger on that Golden Gravy Train, not an on-looker. When the great arenas filled with human fragments of collective charitable hysteria I deserted to fields of absinthe green reading Keats beneath a tree. When the Soap Princess popped her diamond slippers I kicked the flowers all over the road and laughed when they locked me up. And you know what? I’m glad I done it.

And when they wanted cynicism I was sincere. And when they wanted sincerity I became heartless. And when sex became a cyber-product I found some real balls. I fell foul of the family nexus. Refused to consent to consensus reality. Systematically avoided the System.

As a youth my collars were always too tight. And to think I once contemplated clipping on a dog collar! This bow tie around my neck takes me closer to God. I’ve learned to tie my own, you know.

But when it comes down to it I might say that my greatest act of treason was to collude with all of you. To have suffered a thousand whips of rejection and given sanctuary to them all in this prison of laughing faces is the act of a man determined to overthrow his own State of Mind.

And if I don’t jump now, you’ll want your money back. But I ask you this. Whose face is this? Mine or yours? Did you dare to be yourself or did you sell your own body down the river a long time back? Whatever. I must think of a good last line.

“Minnesota Fats, you play a great game of pool.”

Not mine, but it will do.

It's hard to know when you've crossed the line. Things stick to you -- that's the problem. You do something, you choose something, and then you're locked in, you're on the path. Your choices, your actions, even the things that have happened to you, come to define you.

I like the smell of the fire from outside homes which enters mine today through the window. Accompanied by the cold. And the bottle of portvain on the table. Accompanied by the several orangies and cakes. Just a glimpse of treason to the speed of my days...

What is Treason?
Everyday sweet shocks, like
sunlight suddenly on a puddle, turning
a corner into the bright wind, hearing
birdsong and seeing
somebody else’s soft-eared spaniel.
Laughter
round corners, a future
of laughter.
The loneliness that bites but doesn’t bark; the wounds will
Heal, and leave not even an echo. A future
Of hope.
A future without you, but with a me
you found and said
“Look. This is you. See the magic?”
Treason is keeping your gift, and losing you.

Treason is waking up each morning, crying, and
Staying away from you anyway.
It is remembering the beauty you showed me and how
Life, sharper and brighter under your safe hands
Glows still now you are gone.
Treason is relishing the life you handed me and
Giving none of it back,
Never,
because it hurt.

They called it "treason." Yeah, right, like they would know. They don't know. They don't know anything. How can they stand there in judgment of me when they know nothing about me or anything I stand for.
It boggles my mind how helping the whole of mankind can land someone like me in prison. And not just any prison. . . Oh no, one of the top security jails in the land! Like I'm going to try to escape or some such nonsense. I'm too old for digging through cement walls and foraging under brush for miles.
But what I'm not too old for is the truth, dammit! Someone had to hear how it really is! So I may have let some facts slip about some seemingly unimportant national security details. . . It's been years since I worked for the government. I can't believe they actually care what an old codger like me has to say. And so what if it was the Russians I gave the old secrets to, it could have been the Canadians or the Lithuanians or the Polish for all I care. . . I just needed to let people know what they were doing to all of us. . .treason my eye. They should be applauding me and using me as an example of how real world citizens live.
Oh wait, I hear the guard calling my name . . . Yes, yes officer, that's me, yes , Lillian Hammond, here and accounted for.
Just wait 'til I get out of here. . .wait to see what I do next!

He had thick reddish-brown hair,
and his father died when he was only 8,
Tonight I’m crying for Guy Fawkes;
I saw his signature, that old trope.
They shouldn’t have done those things
To someone with so much life in his hair.
But that life took him out of this life
And straight into the stars forever.
**

Fleeing The Country. A Betrayal (of sorts)

Earth sits in the Solar System three stops from the Sun, somewhere on one arm of a barred spiral galaxy called the Milky Way. It is estimated that this spinning cloud of gas, dust and rock is a little more than 13 billion years old, spans about 100,000 light years and contains between 100 and 400 billion stars. We know what we know. The rest is just guess work.

*

Perhaps a moment arrives, when balance is lost and there is conflict with the world. It is time to escape right then and a call is made. You explain to the agent, the need for a flight to anywhere warm - and as soon as possible. The friendly voice says that a 707 leaves tomorrow night for Orlando. That sounds perfect.

It happens that tomorrow is the 31st of October and in the spirit of things, the cabin crew welcome passengers in Halloween costume. Yours is a window seat at the rear and as you excuse your way past the aisle occupant, he grunts and coughs. The safety procedures are mimed by witches. Given the course of recent events, you take this surreal performance in your stride but as you flip through the magazine, the heavy sighs of your neighbour signal a difficult flight ahead.

A delayed take-off finally happens and as the no smoking light flicks out, the grumpy man produces a soft pack of Luckies. He offers one and you accept. Co-conspirators and kindred spirits suddenly, fuming at the back of the plane. When the nicotine hits, he relaxes and you realise that the bad humour was only the withdrawal symptoms of a dedicated smoker. So you talk. And he begins to tell his thick accent life story, punctuated by those piercing coughs.

Tales of escape from Poland in World War Two, jeopardy, near capture and death. Asylum in Sweden, and finally washing up on American shores.

For almost 50 years in the land of the free, the home of the brave, he has made a living crafting up-market wooden boats for the well-to-do on Long Island. His wife runs the business end of the business because he is just an illiterate carpenter. A perfect match, he says.

Eventually, he sleeps for a while and you gaze through the lozenge window as the moon slides by. You take in the stars, thinking once more about time. And whether yours is almost up.

As the plane descends for landing, your new friend places his lighter in your hand. He explains that his wife made him give up smoking, after an X-ray showed evidence of his chest caving in. But on the visit to relatives in London, he lapsed and fell back on the Luckies. Their rendezvous in Orlando begins a two-week pilgrimage to Disneyworld, and other tourist traps, an anniversary present to his better half. She will meet him off the plane as a non-smoker once more, so he won’t need the Zippo. You hope that for the sake of domestic harmony that his wife has no sense of smell but accept the gift with thanks. In a parting shot, he fishes an emergency pack from his jacket and gives it up as wheels bump and squeal on foreign tarmac.

He says, ‘God bless America.’ and means it.

Shaking hands, you feel the strength that comes with physical labour and the palmed callouses of this gnarly craftsman, as he wishes the best for your life. Watching him file down the aisle, you hope that those crackling lungs will hold out for a good few years more.

And wonder what it must mean to have a skill like this man. A simpler life perhaps.

It is early hours in Orlando airport but the friendly agent has arranged that a station wagon is ready and waiting to accept your luggage and the Kona mountain bike that you brought along. There is a vague plan to drive down to the Keys - or perhaps Miami to cycle around the Everglades.

But after heading south on Highway 1 for a while, past the parked rockets dotting the Space Coast, a new station cuts in. A different beat to the usual wallpaper music. In short order, Fela Kuti, Penguin Cafe and The The, bang through the speakers. These tunes are broadcast by WFIT public radio and suddenly it seems like a good idea to hang around for a while. So you make a left and head seaward. And somehow by chance, you have arrived in Melbourne Beach, Brevard County, Florida.

This tiny town has a population of 3015 according to the road sign, which reminds you to drive careful. On hearing your accent, the perceptive gas station attendant hands you a tourist guide, which list the facts. That Melbourne Beach is located on an unnamed barrier island. A thin slice of Earth, which separates the Atlantic Ocean from the Indian River Lagoon and is anchored by two causeways to the mainland. And in bullet point form, that the town is Brevard County’s oldest beach community. And that more wildlife is concentrated in this area than any other in America. And that it was a favoured hangout of writers in the 1930’s. Golf is a feature.

‘Welcome Snowbirds!’ shouts the front cover. The young attendant helpfully explains that the term refers to the thousands of old folk, who migrate temporarily from the northern states, to overwinter in the south.

He says, ‘Yeah, they all fly down here from Maine, Michigan, Montana and - er..’

‘Minnesota?’

Yeah, that’s right!’ he says.

As neither of you can think of any more northerly ‘M’ states, it’s thanks and goodbye.

You are just about to take off when he shouts, ‘Hey!’ and waves you back.

‘Missouri!’

Big beam. Day made.

Your main concern now, is to find a cheap motel near the beach before you fall asleep at the wheel. And you do. The Jolly Roger couldn’t be closer to the sea and is owned by a Bavarian frau, who may be crazier than you. Her name is gone now - but it might be Heidi. Which seems entirely inappropriate, given that she weighs at least 18 stone and looks like a man in drag.

You hit it off with this unlikely character, who takes you for an eccentric English artist and calls you ‘dahling’ from the outset. The accommodation that she offers at a bargain rate, is perfect. A cabin, one of 20 or so ranged in a quadrangle around the swimming pool. Inside, a decent-sized living room and a kitchen, bathroom and bedroom off. With a picture window view of the ocean that couldn’t be more than 30 yards away. You’ll take it. Time to sleep.

When you wake some hours later, it suddenly hits that no one knows where you are. That for the first time, you are really alone. Not lonely, however. Glad to be out of it, like Thoreau in Walden - but without a doting mother down the road to cook the odd dinner. That’s fine though because in this climate, cooking is barely necessary. Raw salads and the odd baked fish will be absolutely fine for now.

You kill some time hanging out with your Germanic landlady. When you ask if there is a Mr Heidi, she details a bitter divorce, dismissing her ex with the final comment. ‘He looked like a vindow cleaner.’ The vindow cleaner had apparently run off with the chambermaid some time back. You imagine that the pair must have set up a tidy home together, with crystal clear views of the garden. When Heidi gets busy, you lounge by the pool downing Barney’s Beanery coffee and think how blue the sky is for November.

This temporary stay extends first into days and then weeks. It is not long before you get into the habit of waking early as the sunrise hits the windows, out of the door and along the silver beach. At that hour seabirds hog the shoreline. Some like the herons, are easily recognisable but the smaller models have a distinct look that you haven’t seen back home. These tiny waders work around the old men casting lines into the surf. Retired insurance executives, plumbers, police officers - all equals now, wielding rods and fishing for sea bass.

The beach is strewn with detritus. Flotsam. Or Jetsam, you are not sure. Later when you look it up, the distinction is clear. Everything on the beach is the latter. Objects still floating around out there, the former. Lagan and Derelict are classified as other nautical debris that lie still on the sea bed. So it’s Jetsam that interests you. The scraps of smooth worn wood, snips of coloured rope, glass bottles, rusting metal and other oddities, all seem like ideal materials to make found object sculptures.


Because you have no tools, fishing line and hooks from the tackle shop can be used to bind and hold together the structures. Nothing could offer more pleasure. Fooling with shape, form, balance and tension can lose days.

A week or so in, you sit one night on the beach to witness a spectacular storm out over the ocean. Lightning cracks from the sky in a free show that lasts for hours. Next day you awake to hear that the Berlin Wall has fallen at last, East Germans knocking lumps from concrete and jumping the borderline.

Here the dramas play out in a lower key but are still to be found. Naturally you brought a camera that you can use to make records of this place. At first, seascapes, landscapes, the disused Ice Factory, the Mack trucks rolling cargo down to Miami. Then the wildlife takes your interest, the lizards, the pelicans, the stone crabs and the Sand Dollar shells.

And finally the citizens of Brevard County. It is easy to approach anyone with a portrait request with that English accent of yours. Like the family of seven, poor though happy enough, fishing for supper in the Lagoon. Like the immigrant 24/7guy stacking shelves in the convenience store. Whose partner stole his business, working three jobs now to claw his way back. Like ex-boxer Jackie, who spends nights in the jail cells, after drunken scraps in the Severns Bar.

Although you don’t drink as a rule, The Severns is where some evenings are spent studying the locals and chatting to Honey, the world-worn barmaid. Honey, a white witch with half a dozen kids, who between them have six fathers. She claims that MB is special because of the mystical highways of ley lines that course through it. That the Severns was one of Hemingway's favourite hangouts, pointing to the moose head on the wall, as if that is proof of the fact.

At the far end of the bar is regular Jackie, a man who has lived evidently. Broken nose, huge hands and a ladies’ man face that makes you wonder if any of Honey’s children share his genes. She handles Jackie with ease but the Severns’ clientele know that it’s best to avoid argument with the big man.

You spot him staggering along the highway one evening and offer a ride home. Jackie lives with his brother, an inventor entrepreneur who has made and lost several fortunes. His latest effort is designed to combat erosion of the dunes, a big problem here, particularly in the hurricane season. He explains the concept - a long tube of perforated plastic, filled with sand and lodged at the base of the dune. This sandy slug absorbs wave energy and stops sea eating the land. Maybe he will make another fortune with it. And if not, he has plenty more ideas.

Breaking a rule, the night dissolves in whisky talk of big science, environment and escapades. Jackie meanwhile, has passed out in the corner.

‘He could have been a contender’, says the brother, without irony.

But not a bartender apparently.

copyright john adams 2014.

treason

T reason
T' reason!
What's your reason?

What's t' reason for the depletion in flying cats just before noon?
I've got no idea, mate.

Trea Son
The Son of Trea surveys his realm, calmly, assuredly. Bountiful fields as far as the eye can see.

Tre ason. Sounds vaguely French. what might 'ason' mean? Tre? Three donkeys.

Treaso n
Treaso, Brasso, Jello, Bisto
New brand of spreadable, ready mixed, consumable, sellable, stuff.
Comes in nice vintage tin.

My eyes feel heavy. Time to go and trim my beard.

The word treason is really charged and heavy, I think, I mean, if I were to write a story about treason, I think it would be, I would want it to be set in the domestic sphere, in the home and it would all about the loyalties and the little battles that go on in the home, and how small decisions can be seen as being very important and in the story there'd be these two parties battling their ideas out, erritory, yeah, in the home, even if we are sharing the home with someone we love we can still be very territorial and hostile. Sometimes we overstep boundaries, offend the other party, commit treason, often without even noticing, realising! I mean, if I was pressed for a definition I don't think I'd be able to define treason, Betrayal is mainly what the word communicates to me, definitely political, I mean the first thing you think of is Guy Fawkes, betraying your government, people, ideas you are meant to have loyalties towards, I think that's why I'd want to write about relationships in the home - the word treason is not used in that situation, but the drama of a betrayal in the home needs to heaviness that the word treason gives, and then in terms of word associations, the word treason also makes me think of treacle for some reason, treacle, like a black gloopy substance, maybe like treason in visual form, sticky and black and guilty, and I've got an image of the houses of parliament now with treacle oozing down the side of the building, or

An old world, antiquated concept now.
Do we know the ways in which we betray our country?
Are they when our taxes go to Cayman,
when we charge our pleasure to our comrades?
Is it treason when we refuse to vote?
Do we betray life when we deny the truth,
Or when we decline to use our minds?
Whether I betray my present, when I relive my childhood slowly
between waking and sleeping reading through my kindled memory a story of how my mind was then,
or I am detective and scientist, depends on the findings.

How shall I betray myself when I look at you?
Can I commit treason when we think the same thing,
when I laugh, take comfort from your presence?
Or is it an act of self-deceit?
Do my servant eyes perform murder of the master of my soul,
Or is it the other way round, and ‘tis really the unreal part of
My human presence which commits the sin?
Though we believe treason be betrayal of our state,
If thou governst my body then my body can only commit treason against thee
And just deserts mean I must surely lose my head.

You ask me 'What is Treason'?

I am the prince of my eyes, and the emperor of all the senses.
'We need to keep this ship going' I hear a voice in a dream, and when I wake I pay my dues as always; perform the little rituals and offerings, make some coffee, maybe buy some clothes or some books.

You ask me 'What is Treason' and I look up over my wine and tell you 'This is treason'. Every time I fall short, I am less than treacherous scum – not fit for purpose.

I look out over the sore watery blue shores, at the room we share and bed we escape to, and I see you are broken too.

Here only the old and lazy cat is fracture-free. She is warm in her world and treachery has not found its way to her. She knows a good thing and has no questions.

What is treason
Where is the nation
I am a traitor
and a weak little hater

Where is my prize
for being alive
I am not to be trusted
the greedy survive

I really love UKIP
I really hate Europe
I am a Tory sceptic
Drink up and cheer up.

Don't kill me with details
I'll rhyme how I like
'evidence based policies'
for 'snore' democracies

Now I'll drive my car
as far as a star
and smoke a cigar
in Bellamy's Bar

I need you friend
we share a dream
we are stronger together
the Great England Team

Black Waters

The revolutionaries were exiled for life 
in a puce colored colonial prison 
on an archipelago, untraceable on the maps.
Every breath harrowed, black-hued or not at all.

Iron contraptions for the neck and ankles
Coarse jute tunics for torsos. Rations - fit for sparrows
Flogging that made buttocks bleed.
Permitted to urinate just once a day.

Tortured and abused on hand-driven oil mills
extracting 10 lbs of coconut oil, like an indemnity.
Their nerveless hands slack, their countenance fractured
Up in the heavens, stars glistened moistly for these rebels.

No one ever escaped these Black Waters, the excruciating seas, the agonizing oceans.
Only screams made it out. Raided the air,
cracked the winds, lay scattered like dead leaves on the islands...
like fragments of a tormented mind.

To think that political dissent could be like this.
Indictment could be like this.
That a man might lose all dignity, die of hunger, lose his mind,
be crucified at the edifice of endurance but gain a country, nevertheless.
*************

Here I am lying on my back looking at the sky. I need to do a wee. I love the way of the green in the blue. It relaxes me. I feel a bit thirsty and I cry. I feel more thirsty and I cry more. I hear a sound of music nearby and it relaxes me and I find myself going to sleep, but I don't want to sleep yet. I want to find something. I don't know how to find it. I don't know what it is. I lie simple and move a little, and I stretch my legs and it feels good so I stretch my arms above my head. My wispy hair blows gently in the wind. I'm worried about my mother but I can't get up. So I cry, more than before. I am in despair.
My mother runs in and says 'Happy birthday! Let's get you dressed for your first birthday party.'

It was about this time that I got really interested in the battle going on in Kobane. We live in a strange and new time – one where it’s possible to see online a huge amount of what’s going on all over the world, and that usually means the bad things. It seems odd to me to be writing this actually – if you’re reading it obviously you know this already as you’re not living in the past… But I guess by putting it down like this I make it clear that I’m someone who’s of the generation that has lived through these changes – can remember a time when this kind of thing wasn’t possible, while being young enough to have taken it all on-board but still finds it strange and a bit surreal. It gives everyone all these choices and positions – do you watch the videos of people getting their heads cut off in the Middle East for example, which keep being posted all over the place. Personally I don’t because I don’t want it in my head (so to speak) – I don’t think there’s much to be learnt from it and having bad experiences in your head with no purpose is a pretty negative place to be. I think it’s different from looking at a road accident as you drive past – that ties in with a couple of other bits of positive electric we have going in our brains – the impulse to play detective and work something out quickly, like what exactly happened, and the desire to learn from other people’s bad experiences, along with the side-helping of satisfaction that it’s not you. Pollyanna wouldn’t like that last bit – she rejected a similar sentiment as a candidate for the Glad Game having said it wasn’t in the right spirit, but sometimes we’re just playing survival especially when we’re driving down the motorway at 100mph with the family in the car.
However, for some reason this battle for Kobane seems very real and very unreal in the way that reading a novel is. It’s going on right there, and there’s right and wrong, but it’s too far away for us to get hurt.

Now we’re coming up to 31st October – it’s as if we’ve decided to put everything into a box labelled ‘scary’ and celebrate it once a year at Halloween. I wonder what would happen if instead of small ghosts, witches, zombies, skeletons, draculae, vampires, hulks, aliens and blood, we brought together all the things we’re really frightened of: natural disasters, plane crashes, capture and torture in foreign countries, being invaded by radical Muslims, rape, our children being hurt, thunder and lightning, loved ones dying, dying alone, being alone, death. That would be a different kind of party and not a child-friendly one. As for why we continue to pile together this collection of comedic bogeymen at the end of October, it’s easy to say ‘Oh, it’s just American marketing’ and it’s easy because in part it’s true - but also it makes sense that just after the clocks go back and everything’s getting dark and cold we cock a snook at our fears by making them laughable and cause for silly celebration.
I’m someone who lives on her own with a cat, and sometimes I know things about other people that I haven’t been told, and sometimes I’m right. And I know when people are going to phone, and occasionally I know when they’re going to die, or get divorced. I think there is some real ‘magic’ that will sometime be explained by some aspect of quantum theory we’ve not discovered yet, where particles connect in ways yet unknown. But not very long ago I could easily have been accused of being a witch, sharp metal prongs forced into my mouth till I confessed to being a messenger of the devil, intent on harm. I tell you, if you read the news It’s not often women living alone with cats who go off and shoot up a school, or permanently remove a teenage girl from life, or set houses on fire with young families inside. It just isn’t, that’s all.
I don’t know what made us move away from the barbaric witch phase – it could have been the same thing that caused it – namely Christianity. Anyway, things have changed and it’s good, and I’m going to a party tonight dressed as a pumpkin. I didn’t want to be a gooseberry, and I thought it might be handy to turn into a carriage when I’ve had enough of any of the parties.

'Seriously mate, I was hiding in this tiny cupboard with like, 17 other people for 20 minutes before I heard SURPRISE outside and people shouting Freddy, and we tried to get out but the door was locked shut and they had to break the door to get us out!' 'My leg was killing as someone had their knee in it and we where all really stiff and numb with pins and needles, and no one could walk properly, it was pretty funny. As the music was already going everyone took the piss by dancing like zombies.' 'There was one girl who had fainted and no one had noticed she was still in the cupboard, and I got her out and got her some water.''Yeah, and that was Sarah, mate, serious, it's how we met!'

'So we were walking to this other party, me and Sarah, when some total dicks in a shitty vauxhall astra pulled up next to us and started shouting all kinds of shit.' 'You know, racist stuff and telling her to keep away from the white dude.' 'I said a couple of things and they stopped the car, right, and like 7 of them got out and starting pushing me and saying they would look after Sarah.' 'But get this mate, they was kids, really, like only 12 or something and I just stopped walking and grabbed two of them and like banged them into a wall.' 'Then I had like the worst pain ever in my arm when one of them stuck a knife in it, and they ran off.' 'Sarah took it out and tied a sock round it and we went to the party, like fucking vampires all covered in blood!' 'Yeah, it was fine, went to doctor next day.'

'There was this other party when we were supposed to go to Sarah's sister's birthday, but then her ex who is my mate was having his engagement party. I was like nooooooo!' 'In the end we went to my mate's first where I drank so much champagne, it was quite messy, and then we got a taxi to Sarah's sister's. When we got there it was all so civilised and proper with like coasters and candles everywhere – you know little paper plates with like bits of pineapple and shit.' 'And Sarah was being so nice to her, with wrapped presents and everything, but there was like hardly anyone there.' 'And then we saw some other mates from the other party arrive, and then more and more and more with champagne until it was really full and messy!' ''I just thought 'My mate's a prick' and before we left I went and told Sarah's sister and she gave me like a massive drunk bear hug even though I thought she thought I was a prick!'

'Okay, and get this right. So you know my Dad was having a do the other day for the election, so he can rip some cash out of the businessmen.' 'Yeah, well he got me and Sarah to go along beforehand as he was going to do this speech and he wanted us to stand all fucking to attention at the front.' 'So we went along and there was this big hall full of banners and rosettes and rows of seats and this guy I know who works for my Dad showed us what to do, which was all cool.' 'Then there was people all on phones and apparently there was a bomb in the building, so we all rushed out onto the street into the rain.' 'And then as soon as Dad was out, out of nowhere a crowd appeared with placards and anti-poverty banners as if he can do something about it.' 'I mean how the fuck did they know he would be there then if they had not done a bomb scare.' 'Mate, he just does what he's told, they tell them what to vote.' 'Mate, he is not going to change his mind if they pull shit like that.' 'Yeah, and Sarah said the same as you.'

'Right, one more story, mate.' 'I was at the club when I got a call from Sarah saying she is going to a thing at her work, and I should come too.' 'So I went along and went back stage where the bands get ready, and there was like champagne and drugs everywhere, and you will never guess who was there.' 'Mate, fucking Freddy was there, from the surprise party. He is a douchbag. So he was like dancing with these girls who didn't know what they were doing, fucking sleaze-bag, when this dude comes in and lamps him with like one punch.' 'He then gets one of the girls and like drags her out the door speaking Russian or something, and Sarah is shouting at me to do something, do something, do something!' 'I am like What the Fuck!' 'Anyway we go outside and find the Russian guy all hunched over her and I grab his hand as he is about to inject her with something, and loads of other people are there a now and he just runs off.' 'I am like What the Fuck! What the Fuck! As I have no clue, and Sarah is talking to the girl really nicely and takes her home.' 'Turns out the girl was like a slave or something.' 'Yes mate, I will tell my Dad.'

We’re living in a valley
And looking at the stars,
In the evening after dinner we work
After the baby’s in bed we work
When friends visit we work
But on Fridays we watch tv.
In bed we work;
We say we’re working all the time.
But this Friday’s different -
it's party-time, and we’re dressing up as tigers
and we’ll see if it works.

Before the party I sit with my head in my hands wondering if I even like the people I've invited. They aren't really getting me anywhere, I thought, in terms of where I wanted to be in life, mostly we were just friends because we make the same bad decisions, we're angry about the same things, and we have a similar amount of money.

But it's important to keep up appearances, so every now and then I invite all of my friends round. We mostly met at school or university, and they come with new or old boyfriends whose jobs we could all approve of (if not sometimes with a slight sideways glance of one-upmanship or jealousy). Most of these men are handsome and have good manners, and seem content to talk amongst themselves amiably whenever the girls get together.

With the girls, however, it tends to be a different story. Maybe it was our upbringing, maybe the culture that demands we tick all of the boxes of career, of looks, of relationships; or perhaps we do it to each other. But there is, in every sentence we speak, in every thank-you card we write, in every party invitation, a subtle, insidious competition, an urge to be the best, to appear the most generous, the most capable, but yet the most humble.

Our friendships are haunted by this constant battle -- this constant need to appear the most together, the most controlled, the most successful. And often we go back to those boyfriends and fall to pieces in the bedroom or the shower and they come to us and prop us up again and then we take ourselves out for another day of it. But they are like that too with their friends, and often it is just exhausting and we lie in bed and cling onto each other for dear life. Then we get up early for work, go through another day of it, go out for drinks, get home exhausted, argue, make up, have sex, and then fall asleep again clinging on to each other like two emotionally redundant limpets.

So anyway -- the party. It is my birthday. Twenty Seven, if you must know, and three of my friends already engaged. Banker, PR Man, Accountant. They all step out in nice suits, they all smell of mid-to-high range aftershave. The accountant isn't even boring. My boyfriend gets on with him. But then again, my boyfriend sometimes cries at episodes of Made In Chelsea, so he really isn't to be trusted.

The party. Everything is ready. Place mats are laid out. Chorizo stew bubbling away in the casserole on the hob, starters in the oven, prosecco in the fridge, glasses and name cards next to their places on the table, boyfriend upstairs somewhere brushing his teeth, birthday girl sitting in the kitchen with her head in her hands wondering how she's managed to get to twenty-seven without once, in her whole life maybe, ever really feeling like she'd opened her mouth to speak, and said something that she really meant to say.

Other people do it, all the time. I've heard them. Always speaking their minds, clearly and succinctly. Once when I wore a particularly low cut top in summer in Central London I heard a lot of people speak their minds extremely bluntly. So I know it is possible. But why can't I do it? Why can't I, just once, stop with all the pleasantries and trying, and grace and poise, and just say something I really mean?

Even in bed I find it difficult, sometimes, to tell my boyfriend that I love him. Sometimes I can, but then almost straight away I wonder if I really, really mean it, deep down, or if it's just something I'm so used to saying now that I just say it automatically. I don't think I really have to think about it every time I say it, and yet, I hope I mean it, but I don't know if I really do. I try to remember the first time that I said it, just after we'd gotten back from a weekend away, where we had spent two days being as close to happy as I think it's possible to be, and when we got back and parted ways to our separate flats (it was that long ago), he leaned in and kissed me and told me that he loved me. And I told him: "I love you". But somewhere in me there was still a little knot of doubt: is this love, then? Is this what it is? Could it be different to this and still be love?

I don't know. It certainly feels sometimes like I love him. Sometimes it feels more like we are just together now by default. I feel the same as when I was a girl and I used to come home from school; I knew my mother would be there. Now I know, when I get home from work, that he will be there. Or his things, or a letter for him, or his jacket hanging on the back of a chair. But I wonder if that is the same as love, or a type of love, maybe.

And I wonder if I can't say that I love someone, with any certainty, but I say it anyway, if then I have somehow compromised my voice, and I can never speak the truth again, because somewhere I am lying to myself about the definition of words, somewhere inside me my internal dictionary has been ignored, and now there is no truth left to speak.

I wonder if my friends are in love. I wonder if they have doubts like these. I know that later, when they get here, conversation will glide elegantly, like a skater over a frozen lake, and if a topic threatens to break that thin layer of ice, and plunge into the icy, black water below, that the skater will change course, having heard, ahead of time, the warning pings and groans of the ice shifting, and her line will be unbroken, graceful, and pleasing to the eye.

So it goes with my friends.

Excitement turns to this?
This is what it is:
drinks, talk, drunk, sing,
outside, inside, phone,
start again.

Scene: Living room telephone rings:
Sarah: Hello
Anne: Hi, how are you? What are you going to wear to the party tonight?
Sarah: Party - what party?
Anne: Well, Jessica's party - didn't you get your invitation a couple of weeks ago?
Sarah: No, I didn't get anything.
Anne: Well, I'm sure she meant to send one - you should come anyway.
Sarah: Are you kidding? No way - this is just like Jessica- the bitch! She's been trying to work me out of our little group for as long as I've known her!
Anne: Really - I've never noticed anything like that - she doesn't seem like the type. . .
Sarah: You haven't noticed? What about the time everyone was invited to her place for a Halloween party and you all dressed up in that pirate theme only she never bothered to tell me and I came as a flippin princess. . .
Anne: Yes, but you said you had missed the email and besides, we made you into our "Wendy" amongst all our Captain Hooks.
Sarah: Well, yeah, I guess that was what happened. . .but oh, then there was the time everyone was going on that picnic and she sent a list of what to bring, only I didn't get informed and instead of bringing vegetarian I brought along a big old ham and cheese submarine sandwich to feed fifteen people!
Anne: (chuckling) Oh yeah, I remember that - but then you found the crumpled up note she had given you in your pocket - so it wasn't her fault after all.
Sarah: Well, maybe not - but this time I definitely did not get an invitation in the mail. And even if you don't think she's trying to push me out, I get very definite vibes that she is. I have half a mind to phone her right now and give her a piece of my mind. . . Wait, hang on, there's a beep - I'll get right back to you.

A few moments pass - Sarah comes back on the line with Anne.

Sarah: Uh, hi, you still there?
Anne: Yep, was that something important? Do you have to go?
Sarah: Uh, it was Jessica - she said she found my invitation under a pile of papers - never got it sent - she was phoning to invite me to the party -soooo, what dress are you going to wear?

Janice sat peering at herself in the mirror, cradling her head in her hands. Her eyes followed her hairline, satisfied she had just the right kick on her blow-dried bob. She shook her head, enjoying her hair bobbing rhythmically.

Her gaze turned to her face, scanning her make-up. Reaching for a cotton bud she touched up a few imagined smudges. She wished her mother had let her use the red lipstick. Pink seemed so ... so pallid.

Was she ready? She was ready, she decided, and stood up straight twirling slowly, checking the fall of her yellow party frock. She loved how the under-netting made it stand out with such fullness. She smiled at her reflection ... even gave herself a cheeky wink, satisfied she looked the part ... the pretty birthday girl.

Then her face dropped suddenly ... someone was at the front door! A shot of adrenalin pierced her such that she bent over slightly, punching at her solar plexus. A guest had arrived! Would it be him? Immediately her hand went to her mouth to gnaw a fingernail but, catching the movement in her reflection, she dropped her hand again. How ugly!

She turned to face the bathroom door, poised ready to open it, restraining the impulse to dash out ... to see if it was him.

"God if I feel like this just at the thought of him, what'm I going to be like when I actually SEE him," she remonstrated herself. She swallowed hard, opened the door and walked out ... calm as a cucumber.

"Janny, where are you? Your first guest has arrived," her mother was calling.

Janice greeted Adrienne politely but was quickly distracted by the next arrival. Was it him? Her heart thumped in her throat. No, another girl, Paige, she didn't even really like Paige. Janice remained the respectable host, all the while waiting, watching, waiting.

Then she heard his voice, calling to a friend outside. He's here! Excitement, like electricity, coursed through her body. Paige was talking to her but she couldn't make out a word. She smiled and nodded, feigning listening, trying not to make it obvious she was really watching the front door, now propped open to welcome guests.

When he appeared at the door, Janice turned away, babbling suddenly to Paige as though she hadn't noticed him. But her body was no longer her own, it belonged to HIM. Her mind reeled with the sense of his presence in the room. It was as though her sense of being, her total life focus was on ... Hayden Martin.

Paige said something to her, she tried to listen, she really did, but a hot flush was creeping up her neck and that wasn't supposed to happen, not now! That wasn't supposed to happen at all.

"Excuse me a minute," Janice said, rudely interrupting Paige's moment chosen to share a confidence, as she urgently retreated to the bathroom.

Her back now against the shut bathroom door, her chest heaving, her fingers tingling with anticipation she coached herself, trying to calm down. Eventually, after much too long an interval for her to be missing, her flush had abated and she paused, hand on the door handle, ready to endure more torture.

But before she could open the door, it opened, taking her by surprise she fell forward. Hayden, as surprised as she was, let go the door and stepped back but not soon enough to avoid her face nudging his chest.

Regaining her balance, Janice retreated, apologising profusely. "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. Oh no!"

Puzzled and still a little disoriented, Hayden looked down. A large pink lipstick smudge now adorned the pocket of his white surf shirt. Instinctively his hand moved to wipe it away, succeeding only in smudging it further.

"No, no! You're making it worse." Without thinking further she pulled him into the bathroom and shut the door behind them, fearing watching disapproving parental eyes. She scuffled in the draw to find her make up remover and pads. "Here, this'll work."

So intent on rectifying her indiscretion, it took a few moments for the intimacy of this new predicament to dawn on her. Her mind started to whirl in circles as she tipped far too much remover onto the pad, spilling it onto her dress. So clumsy!

Pretending it didn't happen she began dabbing at the lipstick smudge avoiding his eyes, but wanting more than anything to look into them. The remover was proving less than effective but she kept dabbing anyway, wanting to prolong the moment.

"Is it coming off? God ... get it off." His words stung Janice ... seemed to hit her in the face which drew into an involuntary pout as she rubbed even harder. "What about if I take it off," Hayden added.

Janice stood speechless, mouth gaping, bottle of remover in one hand, pad in another, as without further ado, Hayden slipped off his shirt. "Give it here, he said," taking her implements of love, rather abruptly.

Watching him work at his shirt, now under the tap, he scrubbed away at the stain, developing adolescent muscles rippling on his back as he did. Janice's heart pounding, her feet and hands tingling, her mind unable to focus seemed stuffed with cotton wool.

Then in a moment, he had turned, returned his shirt to it's rightful place, leaned in and kissed Janice on the cheek, saying, "Thanks!" Then he was gone and Janice was left standing arms still out in front, speechless.

Her first kiss! Sweet 16 and she HAD been kissed even before the party had really got started.

Silk. Cigarette. Cotton is better in case of sweat. Cotton. Ashtray. There will be spies everywhere. Silvery lapel pin. It will confuse some of them.

What will she think. What will she think of me...

How will I know? How will I know it is her...

Spray. Is that too much? Another smoke. I don't want to be a walking ad for this celebrity name perfume.

It all used to be simple. Straightforward. I suppose it happens after college. Your university degree comes with a pretty creative cache of consequences.

It was the chess club and suddenly secret meetings in the hallway of your mind.

Is love even possible...I wonder if she's kept her hair brown.

Key. Cell phone. A thirty-eight caliber bullet for the weapon beyond the entrance... Possibly bolted beneath the dining table.

One hot hit and hopefully a cool nightcap with her or with the memory of her which for better or worse won't let me down.

A dark shade of N5. Purely ordered mixture of tweed and lace. Bone glasses to suit the harmony of thoughts. Silence to strengthen them. Silence. Before.

Before The Party...

Here I stand
Replacing my shadow
by my light, my smile
so that when I enter
The party begins.

That I come from a bloodstained carpet
called life doesn't matter here.
This is a party
and what went on before it
should in no way spoil the fun.
Any mask will do.

Forever has turned its back forever.
Forever was what you left behind.
What you forgot to carry in your purse.
Forever was the first cigarette you smoked to ashes
here, in the glitter of this charcoal night.

His words are still plaited at your nape
Their strands flying into your ears
with every tiny breeze.
They sparkle like wine in your eyes
just short of spilling over.

But this is a nice party. So much to do.
So little to feel. Perfect way to live.
Forget the car keys with the valet
reminding you of long roads
serpenting your home.

The mountains so tired. Departing skies.
Such a haze before the party.
And now this other haze
that tucks you into tinkling empty words
and sparkling champagne.

Somewhere in between
you feel your oak splinter. A lightness.
You feel your shoulders dissolve.
No more burdens. Just a pool of laughter.
and you, drowning without trying.
*********









end and begin, end and begin

I like the new font for the writing

the site looks really nice

Story:

Dusty had always loved wooded Beck Head with its round, relieved rain. It was a place where she felt distraught.

She was a brave, strong, damson gin drinker with lengthy legs and elongated hair. Her friends saw her as a hushed, hissing hero. Once, she had even revived a dying, mouse. That's the sort of woman he was.

Dusty walked over to the window and reflected on her wet surroundings. The rain hammered like eating sheep.

Then she saw something in the distance, or rather someone. It was the figure of Poppy . Poppy was an awkward monkey with short legs and stubby hair.

Dusty gulped. She was not prepared for Poppy.

As Dusty stepped outside and Poppy came closer, she could see the doubtful smile on her face.

"I am here because I want a bone," Poppy bellowed, in a clumsy tone. She slammed her fist against Dusty's chest, with the force of 4896 donkeys. "I frigging love you, Dusty ."

Dusty looked back, even more so-so and still fingering the hairy ball. "Poppy, woof woof," she replied.

They looked at each other with overjoyed feelings, like two loud, lonely lions running at a very ne'er-do-well barbeque, which had acid jazz music playing in the background and two obnoxious uncles fighting to the beat.

Dusty regarded Poppy's short legs and stubby hair. She held out her hand. "Let's not fight," she whispered, gently.

"Hmph," pondered Poppy.

"Please?" begged Dusty with puppy dog eyes.

Poppy looked upset, her body blushing like a thirsty, tense thimble.

Then Poppy came inside for a nice drink of damson gin.



Disclaimer: I made this with a plot generator

Grand Hyatt, Washington

Someone has shaken the white sky.
I sit behind glass,
Watching bright‐busy lifts hum
Behind giant orange flowers
spinning slowly.

How have I got through this summer?
Sex and the City 12 years later or thereabouts.
Last summer it was red wine and daft punk and not
being pregnant.
This year
the tedium of spreadsheets and
research passed to a heady backdrop of things I was
too critical and cynical to know back then when I was 21,
and they were all 35,
But now I’m 35 and they’re
37, or thereabouts (on the series; not in real life)
And I never knew I could drink cocktails and
have sex in New York for so long
Before I started to panic;
I should have watched it.

Motherhood: some notes

The end of:
Lie ins
Space to myself
Time to myself
Quiet
Sleep
Satisfaction in feeling on top of life
Empty laundry basket
Nights out
Privacy

The beginning of:
Warm, urgent little arms around my neck
Slowing down
Seeing the world again
Knowing another human being completely
Singing and dancing every day
Guilt
A new centre
Love like no other

And always the promise and the threat that this too shall pass.

'Do I dare disturb the universe?' asked
Alfred J Prufrock. The fact is, we
are all apes born equal. Think back
to school. The one who invents
the game dictates the rules.
Once the rules are in place it's
hard to change them. But essentially
they were just a whim on a day.
Maybe they are subject to evolution too;
do the best rules survive the longest?
The most popular games win out?
Take the terrible Victorian games of
unlikely chance: Ludo, Snakes & Ladders,
and put them in the bin.

How does marking work? A, B, C, D, E... The first portion of our life is spent in a world of marking - our reading, writing, knowledge, spelling, and largely our ability to communicate is judged with a scale. Once we are living in the wider world we do not receive so many marks. How did I conduct myself on the tube on the way to work today? How did I manage that argument with my girlfriend? How well did I manage the money for living expenses this week? Was I on good form at the pub last night? Many of us may have a hidden system of marks inside us, but with no one to moderate these they may often be manipulated by the way we prefer to see things, or the way we wish things had been.
I am going to finish writing this now because I have a lot of other work to get on with!

Down Hill Fast

An Iowa childhood means lots of memories of snow. I'm further south now, but the last few years we've had our share of the white stuff. One of my favorite memories of winter growing up was sledding at Brady Hill, the one street in the Quad Cities all the marathoners in the area trained on because nothing else would be half as hard.

After a big snow, along with hundreds of other folks in brightly colored ski wear, my father, brother, and I would take assorted sleds, including a huge toboggan to the face of the hill accessible from Vander Veer park. While I remember the thrill of steering the silver saucer sled on my own all the way down the hill, the toboggan was the big lure. Nobody else had one--Dad had gotten ours at some long-forgotten garage sale. We used to take a few runs and then let other folks borrow it, often in exchange for shared cocoa or snacks.

That toboggan was something else. The combined weight of the three of us made it go much faster than most of the sleds, and the only steering was the pressure of our legs out to the sides, which is to say, not much.

The trust involved in riding it down hill fast was probably a lot like what it takes to tandem parachute from airplanes. But we were kids, I was 10 or 11 at most, my brother 7 or 8. Dad thought it was reasonably safe. Mom refused to participate--but she never thought anything was safe anyway. So we went for it. Over and over again during the harshest winters of my childhood.

I only remember one troublesome incident where we hit a rock and jolted all of our spines, fell off the thing in different directions and still had to fetch it from the bottom of the hill. I remember being sore that night, so much so that it wasn't until we'd had Tylenol and big steaming bowls of soup that we were willing to climb out of our gear, Mom torn between concern for us and concern for the couch, even though she'd draped a tarp over it to keep our melting outer coat of snow and ice from soaking into the upholstery.

We don't have pictures of us tobogganing. No one to snap the photos. And no safe place to stash a camera. But from those same winters, we do have pictures of us out on the jungle gym, the snow chest-high and our faces obscured by scratchy wool-blend facemasks. Awful as the conditions were, including the roads we took to the park and back, there was something magical about holding our own in such weather, and seeking something not just good, but joyful from it. A certain willful resilience.

My Dad had a heart attack 10 years ago. Though he's recovered and is physically doing well, he's developed severe anxiety and depression issues. Different kind of down hill fast.

Left to myself, I've never been especially adventurous. Curious yes, but more likely to let caution have ultimate sway. My brother's not much different. Growing up, we relied on my father's sense of adventure to push us beyond our comfort zones, whether that was tobogganing downhill, chatting up strangers, or exploring the great outdoors. It's been hard to watch Dad pull in this last decade, shrink back from even routine encounters with the world.

These days, my brother and I work to hang onto that toboggan. To help Dad do the same.

Brenda Smurthwaite dominated the accounts office at Pococks Logistics the way certain dictators dominate some South American and Far Eastern nations by the sheer force of their will alone. When she wasn't around, no one could relax in case she suddenly appeared. When she was around, the rest of the office population willed her not to be there. She knew the ins and outs of everyone's life from the financial to the intimate. She knew how many pens each person used each month. She knew how long each one of the them spent in the toilet during works time. She even knew how much toilet roll each one used. If asked she could have produced spreadsheet charts detailing the cost to the company of each of the eight emplyees she saw in front of five days a week. Even if not asked, she still felt the need to knock up a pie chart every now and then. The account's office lived for the two weeks she spent every year in a caravan in Pwlheli with the husband no one had every seen and who Brenda always referred to as Mr Smurthwaite.

Brenda Smurthwaite was not a woman given over to humour. Or sympathy. Or empathy. Or indeed anything that might expose a chink of humanity somwhere in the heart encased in Brenda's sturdy, meaty frame which itself was clothed in the Edinburgh Woollen Mill's finest. From behind thick, but always clean, lenses, Brenda's small piercing eyes, the colour of Lakeland slate, would survey her sorry charges and she would proclaim, whatever the topic of conversation they had chose to strike up to relieve the monotony of a logistics firms' account office, that almost everything would lead to the slippery slope of failure and would result in despair, misery and in many cases, a slow painful death. Whatever the starting point, in Brenda's opinion, it was always 'down hill fast from there'.

Brenda Smuthwaite was a not a woman to enjoyed the thrill of a gamble. So when Julie Parkinson suggested the office set up a lottery syndicate, she felt the full force of Brenda's ire. 'Oh yes, Julie Parkinson, you might think that all you're doing is setting up a weekly syndicate, but you'll get the taste for it, you will. You'll get the fever. Gambling fever. You might think that all you are doing it setting up a simple way for the office to support good causes that also offiers the minute hope of an escape from your hum drum dreary lives, but believe me, it's all down hill fast from there. Before you know it, you'll be in Tesco wearing your slippers and a malibu and coke stained onsie spending your housing benefit on scratch cards, and him, him" she pointed at Declan Quinn, a young man innocently involved in the activity of refilling his stapler, "he'll be sat in some hokey pokey bed-sit in nothing but his pants, playing casino games he has NO HOPE OF EVER WINNING until he dies of malnutrtion. It'll just be down hill fast as soon as you start this ridiculous syndicate up."

The office set up the syndicate when Brenda was in Pwlheli.

Brenda Smurthwaite was not a woman who enjoyed the glamourous side of femininity. Carole Malone was once showing Julie Parkinson her new lip gloss when Brenda gave them the benefit of her opinions on make-up. "Mr Smurthwaite appreciates the natural woman. If I painted myself like a strumpet, Mr Smurthwaite would be disgusted with me." As Brenda resembled the elder, uglier brother of John Prescott anyway, Carole was not surprised. "It's make-up this week for you," Brenda continued, " But next week, it's down hill fast. Some rich arab takes a fancy to you, it's nice at first but before long you're walking the streets of Rochdale in December wearing hardly anything but an inappropriate gusset. And him, and him," She pointed at the unfortunte Declan who was completing his latest delivery schedule, "He see's a pained face and it's down hill fast from there, he's in Thailand surrounded by Lady-boys breaking his motheres heart. I hope you can live with that, Carole Jackson.It's down hill fast for Declan and it's all your fault. And with that, she went back to her accruals.

Brenda Smuthwaite was not a sporty woman either. To be fair to her, she was not built for sport. She was built for quarrying. Dave Dean, bored by chasing up late payers, asked the whole office in one question if they'd enjoyed the Winter Olympics so far. Brenda shot him a venemous glance and snoryted, derisively, "Winter Sports? Winter Sports? Once you start with them it's."
"All Down hill fast from there?" asked Declan, anticipating the mauling he would get for no crime other than filling in his timesheets while in Brenda's eye-line.
"Yes", said Brenda, "All down hill fast from there. Actually..." there was a pause. "That's quite amusing." THe office had never known Brenda find anything amusing before. In fact no one had ever seen her smile. But now, yes, there was a twitch. There was a smirk. There was a full smile! In fact, Brenda began to laugh. "Down Hill All the ..Way..."

There were now tears in her eye. She clutched her belly. Attempting to compose herself did not work and , still in a fit of giggles, Brenda left the office. Early, to every one's further shock.

The following day, the office learned that Brenda made it home but died of heart complications shortly afterwards. Mt Smurthwaite came in to thank them for making her last hours as pleasant as she had ever known. To everyones surpise, he resembled George Peppard very closely. "Once she's started laighing for the first time," Mr Smuthwaite said, "I'm afraid it sent her body into shock. It was down

Anna peered at the slope, taking a step backwards towards the summit. Why had she said that she could do this? It wasn’t like Simon would be impressed when she crashed onto her arse. Which was bound to happen thirty seconds after she set off. It hadn’t looked so steep from the bottom.

The others had already set off. She could see Eloise’s blonde hair flapping like the long pointed flags knights used to fly on their lances when jousting. The two techs from the office were just behind her, heads back laughing, following Eloise's twists and turns. They all seemed to be enjoying themselves. Anna was beginning to wish she hadn't come.

It sounded fun when they were talking about it in the office but Anna hadn't signed up at first.
'Don't be such a wet blanket.' Eloise had said, 'It's for charity.' As if that made it mandatory but Anna still didn't sign up. Then Simon smiled at her as he was putting his name down and offered to give her a lift. So she signed her name below his. Anna had driven herself there though. Going in a car with him would have been a step too close to driving herself crazy. This was her first job and she didn't want to mess it up with an office romance.

Anna sighed and tightened up the strap of her helmet. None of the others had bothered but she could hear her mother's voice in her head scolding her at the very thought of Anna not wearing the right protection.

'Hullo' Simon said, as he came up behind her. 'You made it then.'
She nodded. Why could she never think of anything to say when she was around him? It was fine as work when she could rattle off sales figures, but out of the office she just felt like a fish, mouth, opening and closing but nothing coming out. It wasn't like he was especially handsome. Eloise had described him as an otter faced robot once, when she had been feeling bitchy. Anna suspected that Eloise's dislike for him stemmed from the fact that Simon beat her sales figures on a regular basis. Anna liked him because he smiled at her, and didn't seem to care that she once beat his sales figures.

Simon looked down the slope and then looked away.
'Steeper than I expected.' He muttered, almost as if he was speaking to himself. 'Christ, Eloise is going quick.' He glanced down the slope again.
He was nervous, Anna realised. She hadn't thought he would be worried by this.
'Well, once we get this over with, then we can start the bar-b-que.' Anna said. 'I'm starving'
'Food would be good.' Simon said. 'I missed lunch.'
Too nervous to eat it, Anna thought. She hadn't wanted lunch either.

Everyone else had already headed down the slope and Anna realised that they were the only two left.
'Shall we set off together?' she asked.
'Thanks,' Simon replied. 'I'm beginning to have second thoughts about this.'
'I'll be brave if you will.' Anna said.
'Sounds like a deal.' Simon said. 'Shall we go on three?'
They lined up at the top of the slope.
'One' Anna said. 'Two'
'Wait.' said Simon, 'Listen this probably isn't the best time, but I'm moving to a different office next week, it's a bit of a promotion.'
'Congratulations.' Anna said. It seemed an odd time to mention it though.
'Well, I wanted to say that I would miss our chats and I was wondering if you would like to continue them sometime over a meal in the evening, a date in fact, if you wanted it to be, otherwise just a meal would be nice. I'm going to stop talking now.'
'A date would be lovely. If we survive this.' Anna said, gesturing to the slope in front of them.
'It can't be that bad.' Simon said. 'Although - is that Eloise?' A small crumpled heap of red was sitting at the side of the course. Eloise had taken the corner too fast, trying to show off, knowing her.
'I hope she's not hurt.' Anna said.
'Only her pride I think.' said Simon, pulling his helmet more tightly onto his head.
'Together on three?' he asked.
'One'
'Two'
'Three!' They shouted together, pushing themselves onto the slope and downhill fast.

DOWN HILL FAST

It was Hassan's very first trip into the English countryside and his mind was racing.
'See those fields Miss? I like the way some them, like, slope upwards, and then, well, those there, see? They're sloping downwards!'
Dawn smiled. She knew that Hassan's had likely never been beyond a square mile of his high-rise home in Shoreditch. It was always fascinating to hear how an eight-year-old mind works. This was the first school trip of the year. A former teacher herself, Dawn and her husband Gerald had moved to Dorset some six years ago to set up a small holding. Then they had the idea of converting one of the barns into a bunkhouse, so they could offer kids from the inner city a taste of country life. Hassan and Shakira had arrived the day before, having won the trip for their star performances at school that term.

On their first full day, Hassan and Shakira were being taken on a walk around the whole farm by Dawn, to help them get their bearings before the work began.
'See those trees over there?' Dawn bent down and pointed along Hassan's eye-line, 'that's the boundary to the farm on the north side. You'll get fantastic views up there, but we don't have time today. You can see the sea from there.'
Hassan dark eyes glittered as they darted around the horizon. He pulled at Dawn's jumper.
'Miss, I can't see any shops. Are they underground here?'
'No love,' Dawn laughed, 'we grow alot of our own food, and Gerald drives to the supermarket at Bridport once a week.'
Hassan frowned. 'How can you grow food?' His eyes widened, ' do you grow chocolate?'
'Don't be so stupid. Idiot!' Shakira pushed Hassan so hard he fell forward on his hands onto the soft, new grass. He stayed facing the ground waiting for his moment. As Shakira strutted past him, he spun his leg out sideways, causing her to trip and tumble into a pile of fresh cow muck. The screaming caused a flock of startled crows to rise from the next field. Hassan leapt to his feet and ran towards the field gate.
'Hassan!' dawn pulled Shakira to her feet. 'Wait by the gate!' She pulled up some nearby dock leaves, and roughly wiped some of the muck off the wailing girl. 'It won't harm you. Come on, let's get you home and cleaned up.'
'I stink.' Shakira sobbed, 'and I hate this stinking place. I want my mummy and I want to go to my home, not yours!'

On the second day they were started on their farm chores. Shakira was sent out to feed the hens. She tiptoed amongst the chicken shit in her pink willies, holding the feed bucket out in front of her, and dipping her hand in to flick the corn from side to side, as she had been shown. Shakira was very good at following instructions.
Hassan's went out with Gerald to round up the sheep in the valley bottom and herd them up to the high field where the trees lined the horizon. It was a bright and breezy day and Hassan's was looking up at the sky, fascinated by the clouds scudding past.
'Look!' He cried, 'the clouds look like sheep! And there's an elephant!' He giggled, 'it's a sky zoo!' Then he fell into a rabbit hole.
'Never mind the sky lad,' said Gerald, 'you need to look where you are going and watch these sheep here.' He pulled Hassan's back onto his feet and strode onwards with his two sheepdogs weaving behind him.
When they reached the field with the sheep Gerald stopped at the gate and lifted Hassan onto the stile beside it so he could see across the hedges.
'Now then lad, this is what we're going to do.' Gerald waited for Hassan to look at him. 'Belle and Fly will round up the sheep and head them towards this gate, which I want you to keep open for them. Once they are all through, close the gate, and follow them to the next gate, which I will have opened. Keep closing the gates after them until we get to the high field. Got that?'
'Yessir.' Hassan nodded his head very quickly. Hassan was very good at following instructions.

Once they had all the sheep in the high field, Gerald gathered the dogs around him and put his hand on Hassan's shoulder. 'Good job done lad. I'll make a shepherd of you yet.'
Hassan grinned, his face flushed with pleasure and the sea breeze. He looked up the hill towards the trees.
'Please sir...' He hesitated, 'please sir, can I go up to the trees? Miss Dawn said I could see the sea up there.'
Gerald checked his watch. 'I have to get back for the feed delivery. Why don't you go up yourself? You know the way back don't you?' Hassan nodded very quickly again. 'Don't be late for lunch mind.'

Hassan took a deep breath and scampered up the hill toward the trees. It was the steepest hill he had ever climbed, so he stopped half way to catch his breath. Looking behind him he could see nothing but fields stretching for miles and miles. A patchwork of various greens and yellows divided by hedges and fences. And yes, he could see some of the fields were sloping upwards, and some sloped downwards. Funny that. He grinned and continued his climb. When he finally reached the trees he was breathing hard and he could feel his heart thumping in his chest; he felt fit to burst. Turning to face the sun, he put his hand up to shield the light and shouted 'yes...YES! I see it! The sea! I see the sea!' He knew he just had to run back and tell everyone. He set off down hill fast; sure footed this time, racing the clouds above him, flattening the thistles and dandelions underfoot, he clattered through all the gates of the fields he had been in charge of on the way up; leaving them all wide open as he made his way back to the farm.

THERE'S ALWAYS A MOMENT


When A said "come on, we're both
good-looking people" and I started
at his ugliness - pigeon-chested, culpable,
a jigsaw heap of bones and bargain lager;

when B pronounced "it's LAZY. Councils
ought to take the notice down
AS SOON AS THE EVENT IS OVER" - military,
disappointed by the blurriness of rainbows;

or when C shouted, toe-to-toe
"if it is like this now, how will we live together?"
so that I understood what he had not
and headed for the car;

when D, half-stoned and speaking of
the night he burned a car out with his friend
for the insurance, said "you're sheltered, honey.
Everybody lives like this,"

or when E told another slow-burn joke
explaining it as if to toddlers,
turned another phrase in Latin,
said "Oh, you state-school girls!"

or when you said "she's pregnant"
and tried to make of me a little boat
to bear you through your own tsunami,
carry you across your coral reef of guilt:

each time, each circumstance a ski-lift
that delivers me again to stand
unbalanced at the hilltop, scanning
all the great slant swathes of white

to choose a route - until I push off,
lean into my own weight, building speed
to take each corner in a knife-smooth arc;
belting downhill for the sweet dark pines, and spring.

Never been one to move quickly
Even as a child
the pace was measured
careful
behind the safety
of an apartment window
observing, always observing
first.

There are times
when slow equals stopped
a zero sum game
with no transfer of energy.

When observation is death.

This time
the payoff matrix
is directly related to speed
terminal velocity
down the fall line
a clock ticking against
my heartbeat
the line of greatest slope
gradient.

The end isn’t so far away
fear a cloud behind my eyes
my body an avalanche
downhill fast
cold air condensing the heart
focusing the breath.

Sleep can come
later
in the inertia of recollection
when the painful pulse of adrenalin
ceases.

Jack did not believe in the power of prayer and actively despised those who would beg something of a higher power rather than strive for it themselves.

Hello, they said.
Hullo, I said.
Haven't you got a nickel for an ex-Nickelodeon child star down on his/his luck? they said.
No, I said.
Haven't you got the time to listen to an old fellow describe the loves and losses of his length of time before the end? they said.
I don't know. Who is he? I said. Is he related to me? Have I met or heard of him before?
He is a stranger.
No.


As the weeping willow said to the koolabah tree, Friend me on Facebook?

fade in

girl at a microphone
holding a notebook,
hair like a messy tumble of wires
in a basement box

costumes in October,
paint
and
gauze
and
light hearts

dancing in a silver dress
on an open dance floor,
the choreography of celebration
and the winter snow

a birthday cake decked with dragonflies
waiting behind a closed door,
together with the excitement
of the party guests

family at a wedding,
cheeks flushed and smiles genuine,
the connection of humans
to other humans

a pet rat nestled in a cradle
of gentle arms,
whiskers fanned out
like a bouquet

the space
between the panels
between the frames
between the camera clicks

fade out

My Facebook Movie was exciting. At one point there was a picture of a drainpipe. I'd taken it whilst in the middle of repairing it, partly as a record and partly to show my dad, should it prove too difficult to complete. My Dad's a big man, used to working with his hands and feels more at home with inanimate objects than he does with people, he'd have loved the movie. The gentle but simple piano that played in the background was an inspired touch and gave real gravitas to this monumental juncture from my hectic online life. 2008, it seemed, had been a fun filled year.

Many of the other pictures threw me. The people were randomly selected, firstly by myself in some unusual display of online bonhomie back in 2011 and then secondly by a Facebook algorithm that seemed intent upon rewriting my own history. These people smiled and made comments about my son's painting or the witty message I wrote on a car windscreen covered in snow, but they were minor players in my life, not even bit-part actors and yet, through the power of code, the binary dance of zeros and ones, they were given top billing in a film that wouldn't even receive a DVD release.

I sagged, both physically and emotionally. I was a sack of a man. My life from 2007 to now was nothing more than out of focus pictures of half-remembered nights out and 'thumbs up' from people I didn't even know. It was like watching a relative's holiday video, I tried to look interested, but my heart just wasn't in it, even though I was.

I paused over the 'Share' button. It was one thing to discover that I was less than zero but did I really want everyone else in on the secret?

I viewed other people's movies, only a few; even I, the dullest man from 2007-2014, had a limit, but what I saw gave me heart. I wasn't alone. These people were no better than me, they were no more exciting, or invigorating, their pictures just as mundane and out of focus as mine, some even worse, their posts no more profound or 'liked' than mine and all of them linked by the same shitty piece of piano.

I picked myself up, straight back, deep breath and pressed 'share.' Come on you dull bastards, let's be having you.

Dear Facebook Movie,
Looking through the photographs that would be edited into your platform I was reminded of that night two years ago at the Benefit Party for the Lower East Side Girls Club when I was part of a competitive costume group. We all dressed as crows--we were the Murder of Crows. My face mask was a black mask with full wings and beak decorated with plastic pearls and safety pins, a true punk crow for the ages. I was there with my dear husband who was such a good sport about dressing as a crow. His mask had a trout across the crow's brow. Very sexy. Alcohol coursing through the crows' veins can be detected as the night rolls on. My eyes tilted forward, my beak askew. And then there is the old boyfriend (we were a number for about 15 minutes back in the day), now a success in the fake real world of movies and thus brought to be a master of ceremonies, reigning king of the Mardi Gras themed night, sees behind my mask and sidles up close. We are friends till the end, but the husband's eyes go askance seeing the old beau so happy and extra friendly in his happy drunken state. The three of us together in the photograph is anything but flattering, and I would have to decline its presence in the movie of my life till now. It was a fun night, but after that encounter it was time to go home.

Moving on, to the photo with my girlfriends E and O. Why do I scrunch my face like a weasel when a photograph is taken. And those glasses I used to wear, they were ridiculously expensive, and make me look like a schoolmarm with a bad case of sciatica. The others know how to pose and look rough and tumble bad ass, as they are.

And then the photo where you can see me floating blissfully on a pond. The only problem is that the large fleshy part of my left thigh is hanging off the edge of the rubber float. Oh no no no, no one needs to enjoy that roll of flesh, even from afar. It is however a good reminder to me to start that barre class next week where that problem area is addressed.

The photo that a friend called 'hilarious' in her comment was the one and only modeling job. A friend has a shop around the corner, a delight of a boutique with hand made bags and ephemera from around the world. He started a clothing line with fabrics he uses for the handbags. The dresses, skirts and shorts are well made and the fabrics span the vintage gamut of patterns used for 1950's linoleum to cowgirls roping steers on high fenced corrals. With all the good intentions, and in the spirit of helping my friend, I posed wearing his latest creations. The 'hilarious' comment is most kind, and once again I must decline.

Then there is the photo where I am climbing over boulders and driftwood on what is known as a beach in the Pacific Northwest. No laying about on towels are sand, this is place of tidal pools and barnacles, cold water beds where oysters flourish. That night at a local restaurant I took my first bite into the three inch fried oyster on the communal platter and was instantly accosted by a stream of boiling oyster juice that hit my accepting lower lip and a blister the size of a dime was the result along with gut seizing pain. The waitress in fear that I would sue brought the burn balm from the kitchen and asked if there was anything else she could do. With ice and balm on the protuberance I closed my eyes to hang with my pain while the companions finished the platter of deadly bivalves. Fired oysters are off my list. And the photo even no oysters appear, it reminds all to well of the pain, that was finally quelled by a cold cold bottle of beer and a double shot of schnapps.

There is one photo that I would allow you, dear Facebook Movie to play over and over. It was Fall 1976, a brisk, leaf swept day at the bucolic country campus of the college where I was in my third year. That day we were all blessed with a visit from the jazz legend, composer and genius upright bass player, Charles Mingus. He was to play that night in our modes dining commons, but as part of the visit he walked the campus during the day. And wherever he walked I followed--fifteen paces behind in a true manner of a stalker for her stalkee. And as it turns out that because of my lurking just close enough, I am in many of the photographs taken on Mr. Mingus that day. In this one he and his wife, Sue are standing out in the cold, heavy coats closely held, and Mingus with his wide brimmed hat and full length cigar waiting for the photo to be taken so they can go inside for a cup of tea. There I am, the only figure in the background, hands in my khaki pants pockets, prep sweater, short curly hair, looking like a the tough fifties girl gang member I was trying to emulate. Tough in looks, and so shy in demeanor. Too star struck to go up and s

The Real Picture

My Facebook movie was just too much
It lit my face with a clever touch
Transitioned me down 2013, this way and that
Awakened memories, brought them back

The collage put together by robotic choice
Looked very pretty but I wish it had a voice
Still, this montage I hold dear to my heart
It makes me see the whole of which I am a part

Heck, Facebook! You should have given me more
Should have exposed my tears behind the smiles I wore
Viewers would have realized that the face is a mask
But to highlight the roots of emotions is no easy task

The musical encore that accompanied the movie
Projected life as Merry, hunky dory
Ah! the quiet stillness that measured my breaths
Was left unheard, left unexpressed

I know it was all up to me, how I played the game
Posted joyous smiles but kept hidden my pain
They say - laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone
So it's wise to hide life's bumps and present it in an even tone

Thank you Facebook movie for the condensation of a year
Of good times and glories and everything dear
Thank you for a minute encompassing 365 days
Thank you for showcasing each one of life's memorable phase

Perhaps this year I will post keeping your movie in mind
Exhibit not just the achievements but also things I've left behind
I'm tired of crying alone, tired of crying alone
I'm so done with masks and and feeling lonely when forlorn

I want the world by my side, whether happy or sad
It that's too much to ask, then that's just too bad
Don't want to live on the surface, no, not any more
Dive with me deeper friends, touch the heart's core!
*********

"What time will you be back tonight?"

I could hear the almost pleading tone in Karen's voice, which trailed off as she saw the expression on my face.

"I can't say, love. You know what it's like at the moment - there's a killer out there, and that means I can't be like other husbands, I'm afraid."

Karen knew that I was right in what I said, and, on any other occasion, she wouldn't even have asked the question, but I could tell from the look in her eyes that she was going to make one more attempt to persuade me to put her ahead of the job for once. "But today's Valentine's Day. Surely you can make an exception on such a special occasion?"

I sighed. "I know it is, and I'd give anything to be able to spend the evening with you, and I'll do my utmost. But I can't promise. You know that, don't you?"

Karen lowered her gaze. "Yes, I know. I just thought ... well, I tried."

"Why don't you go over and see your sister? This will be her first Valentine's Day since that lowlife Eddie left her. I'm sure she could do with some company."

"Tracey is going to be out of town. She told me yesterday that she didn't want to be at home today - too many memories and all that."

"Of course," I replied. "Look, who knows what's going to happen today? We might get a break at last and catch the guy. I'll do whatever I can to get away on time and we can then have a nice cosy meal together."

"Promise?"

"I promise I'll try."

I kissed Karen and set off for the car, wondering as I rode the lift down to the basement whether today really would be the day we finally ended the reign of terror of the man the press dubbed 'killer cat'. He only ever targeted females living in high rise flats; he was like Raffles with a difference - not only did he take their jewels, he also took their lives.

*****

"Any new leads today?" I asked as I saw the DS.

"No, Tony, not a thing. It's been very quiet. Too quiet."

"I know what you mean. He hasn't struck since the first week in January. I can't help but think that he's planning something big for this special day - it strikes me it would suit his mentality to make this day of love into something to be feared."

"I sincerely hope you're wrong. The last thing we need is a modern day St Valentine's Day massacre."

I smiled wryly as I walked to my office; I knew it wasn't in the least bit funny, but I couldn't seem to stop myself.

The day passed slowly as I waded through mountains of paperwork, hoping to spot something that somehow we'd all missed before. It wasn't even as if we had anything to work from - there hadn't been a single sighting of the murderer, with only the bloodied corpses bearing testament to his existence. The words on the papers seemed to dance in front of me, taunting me for my blindness. I don't know how long I'd been staring at them when I heard the DS ostentatiously clearing this throat.

"I said, isn't it about time you were off home Tony? Haven't you anything special planned for tonight with Karen?"

"I'd love to go home, but I can't. Somewhere in here is the answer. I know it is."

The DS shook his head. "They always say we're married to the job, don't they? You've been staring at those reports for hours. You need a break. Go on, get yourself home. That's an order."

"Okay boss, you win. There's just one thing I've to follow up first - don't worry, I'll make sure there's plenty of time for romance tonight."

"You just make sure you do!"

*****

I stood outside the tower block of flats and wondered whether he would ever consider trying something here. I tried to count the floors - twenty-five, thirty, perhaps more. He'd never targeted anything other than eight stories high before. No doubt the remaining occupants of this monstrosity felt they were safe and secure.

I walked towards the graffiti-strewn entrance, and tried to imagine what could ever have possessed the planners when they agreed to build this abhorrence. How could they have ever believed that they would be beneficial to those who lived in them? Barely forty years, the entire block looked as if it were ready for demolition.

The lift wasn't working, of course, so I climbed the stairs, slowly and steadily. I was fit, but it was still an ordeal, and I paused to gather my breath by the time I'd reached the tenth floor. I took the paper from my pocket and looked again at the number I'd jotted down; I was only halfway there.

I carried on, pausing again when I reached the sixteenth floor. And again, much longer this time, at the nineteenth, pulling in great lungs full of air; I could swear that it was much thinner this high. Finally, I was at the twentieth floor. I walked along the dusty corridor, looking at each abandoned flat as I passed it. There was only one that even hinted at signs of occupancy; the one whose number was on my scrap of paper - number fourteen.

Slowly, holding my breath to try and stop the pounding in my chest, I eased the door open. A flickering yellow light offered partial illumination; it was coming from a door to the left. I walked through the archway, my eyes straining to see in the half light, and saw that I was in a bedroom. Or, to be more precise, a room containing a bed. A figure lay on the bed, that of a young woman, her naked pale alabaster skin illuminated by the light from a dozen candles. She looked peaceful, as if she were asleep.

I gave an involuntary gasp, and her eyes flew open. "Tracey," I whispered.

"You took your time," she said. "I'd almost given you up. I was cursing you for going home to my sister instead of fulfilling your promise to me."

"Never," I replied. "You're the only one for me."

"What did you tell her?"

"Oh, the usual, that I was far too busy trying to catch that killer cat."

"And she bought it? She's even more stupid than I thought."

"Let's both be thankful for that," I said, as I pulled her towards me and began to kiss her. She kissed me back, passionately, and then she suddenly tensed. I heard a tinkling sound behind me, as if glass were breaking, and whirled round. I saw something large hurtling towards my head and felt an explosion of pain as I toppled to the floor. I had a vague recollection of hearing Tracey's agonised screams before consciousness left me.

*****

I don't know how much time elapsed before I woke. I was lying on the floor, and when I looked across at the bed, the scene was exactly as it had been when I entered the room. Correction. Almost exactly. Tracey still lay on the bed, beautiful in her nakedness, but instead of the paleness that I had seen before, now all I could see were the scarlet blood stains that covered both her body and sheets.

"He's awake, boss."

I looked up to see the DS walking towards me. "Off home to the wife, were you? Just a little thing you had to see to first? I never did fully trust you. It's a good job I checked your desk after you'd gone, and saw the impression on your pad of the address you'd scrawled down. Room 2014. And you yourself said he'd do something on Valentine's Day. Of course, you'd know that wouldn't you? What happened? Did she catch you with a flailing blow in her death thralls? It doesn't matter, you can save that for the jury. You're spree is over, killer cat, and I'm the one who's here to neuter you."

Re: a bookish heart. 


Dear Arthur,


Well I must say that I never thought I'd be replying to one of these but your ad just sounded.. like me really! I thought it was worth a shot anyhow. What does one say in these? How do you sum up yourself in a few sentences? I'm Maggie. Maggie Lee. I'm half Korean and half Australian.
Sometimes people ask me what my real name is, it's Maggie! It always has been. They also ask whether I'm Chinese or Japanese. When I say Australian they say, 'no, but where are you really from Maggie?'. But I
guess that's a story for another day, right? Where are you from
m Arthur? I noticed that you didn't say so in your
Ad. I did like your profile picture though. You look like you've aged well, you know? Men always seem to look more refined when they get older, and women just get haggard. I think so anyway. Women have it rough all round don't they?oh, please don't think I'm some kind of feminist be because I'm not. 
I'm 59 years old. Wow 59! Writing that down and seeing it just took me surprise! Where does the time go? I'm sure you feel the same. I don't have any children either. I've always wanted them but the timing was always all wrong. Not that I'm saying I want them now! Gosh Arthur, would that even be possible for a woman at my age?
I live on a small piece of land in Tasmania, just outside of Hobart. It's really beautiful. I think you would really like it Arthur. I have two cats, Billie and Cleo, a dog, Barney, and a miniature pony, called Mr. Tidds. 
More about me? I love nature, just like you! I love children, swimming and books. Books are my saviour too Arthur! I've turned my spare bedroom, as I don't get many visitors, into a library. With beautiful high shelves and a ladder... A ladder! It feels like just something out of a movie. Perhaps Belle from beauty and the beast? It's glorious really. Rows and rows of books. Why need friends when you have Gatsby, and Mr Darcy and Heathcliffe! Right?!
Anyway, enough about me. Tell me more about you! I can see from your photo that you have a cat too. What is your cats name? 
Well, thank you, Arthur, for posting your ad. The internet really is a fantastic thing, especially for old fuddy duddys like us, wouldn't you say?
I'd love to hear back from you Arthur as I too am looking for love in 2014. But,please don't feel like you have to if you think I sound horrid!


Yours warmly,
Maggie Lee 

Love In 2014
Growing up a girl in Iowa, I couldn't see beyond first kisses. Couldn't tell what it was that was supposed to be so amazing after those initial fireworks. My folks seemed well partnered, and there was certainly evidence of some affection between them, but LOVE, L-O-V-E, that big cherry heart from all the Lisa Frank stickers I pasted over everything, that was a puzzle.

Love In 1985
I'd had crushes before Joe Cooper. But I got science-partnered with Joe just about the time all those love songs, all those romantic comedies, started to feel different. Just about the time *I* started to feel different. Looking back, I think I was just looking to cast a role in my life: romantic lead. And he simply gave the best audition.

Previously, when I'd gone crushing on somebody, I'd merely watched with some awe as the object of my affection went about his business in the world. Actually talking to a boy I liked? I think extraterrestrial communication was more likely. But with Joe, we were science partners, we had to talk to each other. EVERY DAY. For 45 minutes. I saw him at other points in the day, but for one almost-hour of of every schoolday's 24, he was *mine.*

And, peacock that he was, he threw himself into the part of teen idol. He'd have me check his hair, inspect his nails, make sure I noticed when he wore his jersey (Game Day!). Of course, I was also happy to check his homework, write up our lab reports, lend him whatever paper, pencils, erasers he'd left in his locker.

When he took the time to teach me how to lodge a pencil behind my ear, I thought I would sublime away from the sheer joy of it. He touched my hair! He touched my ear! I could smell the nachos on his breath!

The pencil thing's still one of my favorite tricks.

Love In 1989
Barry C. Ward II. Sounds like the trust-fund baby he never was. Sounds like a guy who's going to throw himself off the top of a parking garage when his marriage sours, his law practice tanks, and he's separated from all the SCUBA culture that kept him upright for that first decade out of college.

That was Barry. No middle ground. Capable of kisses so hot and sweet I'd have shucked him clean of his clothes in our first weeks together if there hadn't been a whole lotta church in my head telling me hell would be even hotter.

He had a key to the house, used to drive over before school in his rusted-out Chevy Malibu and sneak upstairs to wake me up, sometimes right where he'd left me the night before. Alone, we couldn't get enough of each other.

But add other folks to the picture and it got complicated. He was jealous, cut me off from enough of the rest of my life that I got squirmy. Needed a little room to breathe. Needed to keep up my grades, pick a college, write some things, work a couple lousy jobs, hang with a couple good friends.

So I left and true to form, he never forgave me. He understood. He knew the kind of storm he was, but right down to his dying day, he thought I was wrong to go.

Love In 1993
Crazy-frat-party leads to white-knight-savior leads to let's-not-wait-let's-get-married-now. And three really quiet years with Kelly Boswell. Deathly quiet. After Barry, I wanted his opposite. Somebody less fixated on me, somebody more even keel. I got somebody who married me because he was casting a role: little wife. And I'd given the least objectionable audition.

No Love: 1996-1999

Love In (1999-) 2014
After a fling with a colleague, I felt a little steadier about dating post-divorce. And, so, when I met a cocky would-be pilot at a hot-air-balloon race some friends had insisted I crew for, I was ready for David Drum.

But I wanted to move more slowly than I *wanted* to move, so the first time he asked me out, I had my excuse all ready, "Oh, sorry, Saturday night I have to wash my dog." Honest to God, it sounded good and reasonable in my head. And I thought he was going to cry. So I babbled out my schedule for the rest of the week. And we were off to bed and beyond.

15 years down the line, there's a child, a house full of animals and already quite a range of shared experience. I keep thinking each decade will get simpler, that what was was beyond those first kisses I imagined in junior high could only be less exciting.

But it's never been that way with us, though exciting isn't always awesome. We've each had serious health challenges. Money has always been an issue. Parenting and handling extended family relationships have pushed us to the brink of pushing away from each other.

Yet there have been, even in the worst of things, moments of passionate connection. Some born of laughter, some tears, but all of them part of the sum total of Love in 2014. Happy Valentine's Day.

Love in 2014 is no different than love was in 1420. Even then, what most people knew of love was professed to them - by poets and actors and those who seemed to know, to have been blessed in the wisdom and warmth of love.

To this end, love is like death - often alluded to and the subject of much speculation and dramatization in literature and on the stage - but only known by those who have experienced it. In the case of death, the reliable testimony of those in the know is unavailable. In the case of love, testimony is also unreliable.

For love is the most personal thing. And many don't know what it is - they've heard, they've been told, they can imagine it. But until one finds love - or love finds someone - he or she will never truly know what it is.

There is swooning to be sure. And desire of the mind and the flesh. There are palpitations and flushing of the skin and a weakness in the bones supporting the legs.

But there is also understanding. The deepest sympathies expressed in the silent squeeze of a finger. The greatest joys shared through a quick meeting of the eyes.

Stop searching for the love you've been told of. It doesn't exist. For while the story tellers and the lovers are not lying - they are only narrating their own love - and you will not find the same. Instead, open yourself. Shut down the voice in your head that judges others, that doubts yourself in the presence of others. For these are the things that will block love from finding you.

There are two great unknowable things in the world - a pair of overturned cards that everyone has unplayed in their deck. One is love. The other is death. Open yourself to others and write your own story - so that love may find you first.

Scene: Office building - two cubicles next to each other - one belongs to Hank the other Molly

Molly: Morning Hank. Happy Valentine's! What are you going to do to celebrate?
Hank: Well, I signed up with a new dating site - "Heart to Heart.com" and I've got a date for tonight. Wish me luck.
Molly: For sure! All the best!

Next day
Molly: Hey, how was the date?
Hank: Well, went to a restaurant I've never heard of before - kinda hard to talk as she didn't speak much English- and I think I might have gotten some kind of food poiso. . . (gets a panicked look) Excuse me. . . (bolts to the men's washroom)

Hank returns from washroom
Molly: Sorry to hear it didn't go so well. Here's a box of chocolates I bought, but didn't give them to anyone. Enjoy!
Hank: Gee, thanks Molly.

Next week
Molly: What are your plans for this happy Friday night, Hank?
Hank: Well, I'm trying a different dating site - this one's called Lite Up My Life.com. Can't hurt to try something new, right?
Molly: Of course not. Good luck with that.

Monday Morning
Molly: How was the date on Friday.
Hank: Well, not exactly what I had planned.
Molly: Oh, how come?
Hank: Well, she didn't exactly fit her profile. Instead of blond, blue eyes 5'10" and 135 pounds it was more like dark, hairy 4'9" and 200 pounds. Why do people lie like that?
Molly: Ok, but was she good to talk to, have a winning personality?
Hank: If you like discussing hunting coons in the middle of the Manitoba winter, yeah, I guess she was interesting. She killed me at the paint ball venue we went to. Don't think we'll be hooking up again.
Molly: Too bad. Oh, by the way, that antique train poster you were looking for but hadn't found at the shop down the road, I popped in yesterday and there it was! So I picked it up for you.
Hank: What! Thanks, Molly - you're the best! (gives her a quick hug)


Thursday afternoon
Molly: Almost the weekend. Anything planned
Hank: You're not going to believe this, (chuckles nervously) but I'm trying another dating site - this one's called You and Me.com. Third time's the charm as they say.
Molly: Let me know how it goes. Maybe I'll try that one, too.
Hank: Yeah, sure (gives Molly a wistful look after she turns back to her desk)

Monday morning:
Molly: Mornin'- how was your weekend?
Hank: I'd rather not say.
Molly: Oh, how come?
Hank: I am officially giving up on dating sites.
Molly: It was that bad.
Hank: Well, it started off great. Met at the bar. He name was Wendy. Went to the movie. Had lots of laughs and great conversation. Went back to my place. Getting comfortable and. . . (Hank looks down at his feet, twists his hands together)
Molly: What was the problem - sounds great to me!
Hank: Yeah, well it was until I found out Wendy was actually Wendall!
Molly:(gasps) NO! You mean. . . ?
Hank: Yep - guy dressed up as a girl - not something I was prepared for let me tell you. Anyway, she. . I mean, he left without too much fuss - We actually shook hands when he left - yeah, not too much more to tell. (Hank looking very depressed)
Molly: (stifling a laugh) Oh Hank, I'm sorry (gives him a hug).
Hank: (pleasantly surprised by the hug) Hey, no problem. (Both turn to go to their respective cubicles)
Hank: Uh, Molly?
Molly: Yes, Hank
Hank: Well, I was wondering (looking down at feet, wringing hands together)
Just wondering if you were doing anything on the weekend? Maybe we could go for a coffee after work?
Molly: Well, I thought you were never going to ask! Of course, I'd love to go for coffee, anytime, I don't think we need to wait for the weekend - let's go after work.
Hank: (Jaw open) Really - well, great!
Molly: It's a date - 4:00 at the coffee shop across the street?
Hank: See you there!
Hank: (talking to himself) - Wow, the time I spent on those sites and she was sitting next to me the whole time. Who knew?

I don't tend to get much mail. When I do, I usually assume it's a bill or an offer for an exciting new current account from my bank. I say 'my' bank but I suppose it's more accurate to call it the multinational company, which creams profit from holding my money hostage. Maybe I should just stuff my cash in my mattress...

This morning was different though. I rolled out of bed and ambled downstairs to stop the incessant meowing emanating from my cat. As I tried to grab some final precious moments of sleep, she'd taken up her usual position on my chest and stared shouting in my face (In cat-speak of course). Her fishy breath was ten times as potent as I imagine smelling salts to be - do smelling salts actually exist outside of films? So began another day in paradise. I was due in the office at 9 and for once, I'd got up in time. Unusually, I also had some post. Real post too, seemingly from a real person.

My knees clicked with each step as I descended the stairs (I'm 29 going on 60) and after satiating my feline companion with the contents of a 'luxury' pouch of meat, I made for the porch. I needed tea very quickly to make the world seem hospitable and for that, I needed milk. I found myself back at the kettle with a pint of semi-skimmed and three (three!) envelopes. Two of the envelopes were white with those little plastic windows in them that make them difficult to recycle. They could wait. The other envelope though, was red.

I examined the front, which had one handwritten word on it - 'Ian'. After a second or two, my addled brain computed that this was, firstly, a name and secondly, it was my name. Weird. My priorities remained unaltered though and the kettle went on. God I needed a brew. When will I learn my lesson about mid-week drinking? As I waited for the water to boil, I tried to get my brain to warm up too. Was it my birthday? No, that was in November. Why on earth have I got an actual letter?

Steam rose from the kettle and the button on the side clicked just as I cracked the riddle.
'It's February 14th!' I said out loud for no reason. My cat paused her gorging and looked up at me confused. 'Valentine's day' I said, explaining my statement. This seemed to satisfy her as she moved to her water bowl and began to lap the liquid up enthusiastically. Surely, this couldn't be a valentine's card. For me. Surely not.

Having been awake for ten minutes, my brain started to get up to speed. Stimulated by with caffeine, sugar and fat, my brain had a brilliant idea - toast. In went the bread. After a couple of seconds, I realised that the fridge wasn't the toaster. Out came the bread. The real toaster was identified. In went the bread and minutes later I was sat on the sofa, eating burnt bread like a recently released hostage. As I munched, I stared at the red envelope on the table in front of me.

I tried to remember if I'd ever had a Valentine's day card before. I'd certainly sent them before when I was a child in school but had I got any back? Ah, yes, now it came back to me, I'd received a lovely Sonic the Hedgehog card in junior school from a girl called Claire. The only slight draw back was that I'd given her that card an hour before. She'd scrawled over my neatly written request for reciprocal love with a thick black marker pen, 'leave me alone' it read. I did.

This event rather set the pattern for the next couple of decades of my love life. Whenever I found a female that interested me, I would attempt to engage with them and be instantly rejected. I'm not an entirely unattractive person but I was clearly doing something wrong. After the third time that one of my Valentine's Day cards was returned to me, I decided to shut up shop. The pain incurred just wasn't worth the expense. Greetings cards are overpriced anyway.

So I'd decided to settle for the single life. I've got plenty of friends and a cat. What did I need love for? It's all a con anyway. Just a hormonal reaction that's probably developed as an evolutionary aide. Probably - I'm no scientist. Love was for suckers and Valentine's day? Well, that was just a way for greeting card companies to make some money in the middle of February.

Having entrenched myself in the camp of the embittered singleton, I looked at the mysterious card like it was some kind of trap. I felt scared to open it. It had to be a Valentine's card though - it had clearly been delivered by hand as there was no address, just my name. My name. Someone had written my name on a card. The least I could do would be to open it. I don't often get post.

With time running out before my train, I guzzled a second cup of tea and took a deep breath. I carefully opened the envelope as if it may contain some kind of explosive and took out the card inside. It was a fairly standard looking greeting card. The front of it had a big red heart on a white background. I was stunned 'It's a Valentine's card' I said dumbly to myself out loud. I tried not to get to excited as I opened the card up to see who it was from.

The neatly written message inside read as follows: 'To Ian, We all loathe you. Kind regards, All of the women in the world'. I read the message, closed the card and put it on the table. I turned to my cat sitting on the floor at my feet, 'hey puss! You'll never guess, I just got a real Valentine's Day Card!' and with a skip in my step, I left for work,

"Sunny room available in two bedroom, $500." The Craigslist ad read.

His tall frame greeted me at the porch door and he stepped aside to let me in, drawing a curtain almost as an after thought. His hair was a little bushy and little ginger and he wore a trimmed, subtle beard. He was tan and I could tell by his forearms that he was most likely strong all over. I came in and took my shoes off, a little embarrassed by my bright, striped, purple socks.

I followed him to the bedroom. It was square and carpeted. He kept the door to the sun room closed to discourage the two cats from making a home of it in the absence of a roommate. The two cats barged in ahead of us to explore the cordoned off room. Bagheera, the black one, slunk around the side and leapt up onto the windowsill to enjoy the view of the green backyard. The grey and white one was Cecil and still a kitten. My heart melted for this perky ball of fresh fur.

"Cecil is adorable. How old is he?"
"About four months. We found him on the farm after the flooding in the spring."
"Poor little guy."
"Earlier, we had seen what I assumed must have been his mother, but she took off and we haven't seen her. When we found him, he could fit in the palm of your hand and he couldn't get on the bed. Looks like he likes you."
"Mm, you like that don't you?" I smoothed my fingers back behind his ears and drew my hand along his entire length, to the tip of his tail. He leaned into me and kissed me with slowly closing eyes. Through his cute kitten size, I could tell he was a handsome boy and had a fun personality. Bagheera's yellow eyes observed down at us from his perch.

"Would you like to see the rest of the apartment?" We moved to the kitchen and he showed off the gas stove. He grasped a handle and I noticed his hands, large and beautifully rough from what I assumed was from work on the farm he spoke of. I followed him to a pantry at the side. It was a little tight and I was suddenly very conscious that were standing very close. I felt heat in my face and along my ears and I prayed this wasn't visible to him.

Cecil followed us around the apartment and paced around our feet. When we finished the tour, I pulled him in close and held him against my cheek. I'm not sure what he thought of such an intimate hug from a stranger. I could still feel the warmth of my ears and energy in my chest as I walked off the porch.

"I think you'd be a great fit for me as a roommate." The email said.

There is one true love for you. Fact.

We might now use online dating as a kind of comparison shopping. And we do definitely filter the search by whether someone lives conveniently close, has the same politics as us, or feels exactly the same way about dark versus milk chocolate. But we're filtering the hunt, we're not changing the search itself: we are looking for our one true love.

Especially in 2014 when online means we are connected to more people than ever before and when online means we don't actually meet as many as we did. Our circle of friends is a number in the corner of Facebook and Twitter's screens, it's not the group you know you could go crash on their sofa.

Especially on Valentine's Day when remembering to buy a card, to reserve High Tea and to book theatre tickets is now a job for our To Do software instead of our head and heart.

Only, we're searching for our one true love.

I vividly remember the day I learnt that there was such a thing as homosexuality. I was six years old and was told that some men like men more than women. Fantastic, I thought. Best News Ever. Because even at six I knew this meant my chances with women just doubled.

And then in the next moment I was told that in the same way there are plenty of women who prefer women to men. Worst News Ever: because now my chances reverted to exactly what they were before.

I was a bit statistic-minded as a six-year-old, as 59.73 percent of all UK white males aged 6-7 between 1965 and 1979 obviously were.

So maybe it's just that I've kept that part of my brain working, maybe I've just not chosen to forget statistics the way we're supposed to. We are definitely supposed to because look at the odds.

There is one true love for you. Okay, if you're a man and you're heterosexual, we mean a woman and she needs to be heterosexual too. It's no hard and fast rule but generally this is the game we play and already you've ruled out a gigantic proportion of the population.

Then while long-distance relationships can work, they don't usually start off long-distance. Maybe you meet on holiday, that happens. But normally, if you're in the UK then you aren't looking in New York City. You've just ruled out every person in every country except yours. Probably every person in every other town.

If religion is important to either of you, you need to have the same one. Again, not a rule, but close enough. Within certain religions, you have to be really specifically in the same group.

And we're forgetting time. Your one true love is out there and he or she is also approximately your age. Yet again, there are exceptions: there are plenty of May to December romances. But, frankly, there are limits: if you're alive today in 2014, your one true love is not going to be working the night shift at a snazzy Martian bar in 2319.

The statistics are preposterously against you. Out of all time and space, out of every person who is alive or who has ever lived, who ever will live, there is just one who is your perfect true love – and you are theirs.

Actually, yes.

The thing with a chance like one in a billion, trillion, quadrillion is that they do happen that one time.

And you only need one.

Tokyo, January 1946

I know I said last time that I wouldn't write, not for a long time at least, but I see glimpses of you everywhere here. I'm talking to you all the time. It's a sham to pretend I'm not, and I know you hate it when I pretend. I might as well give you the chance to reply.

Hana calls it o-furo-no-yurei, the bath ghost. She was sticking yellow prayer papers on the windows last night, asking if I heard the voices in the bath room. I know I scared her at New Years, with all the fireworks exploding and me in a state, yelling at everyone to get down, get under cover, screaming at any Jap face that tried to get close - that's everyone in this neighbourhood. I probably did seem possessed. I couldn't get my head on straight til Hana got me home, and into the furo. I think that was the first time she heard o-furo-no-yurei. She didn't say anything then, but she tuts under her breath when she hears it now, saying it's not good to encourage ghosts. But you know? she never really tries to stop me.

The bathroom is the fourteenth room of the second floor of my building, just down the corridor from my apartment. A big old wooden furo takes up most the space, looming over a stool and a wall tap for soaping up and rinsing off. It's always hot, and dark, and steaming, and its where I come to find you.

Outside, the world so often presses on my nerves, bursting with noise and movement, rubble and destruction, uniforms and soldier's faces, rifles and snatches of memory - a frond, dripping, a severed hand.

Inside, Tokyo's ruined winter-bitten streets evaporate, gone in a humid breath. There's no sound but the water's echo. The faces of the homeless melt into the darkness. The water slips its arms around me. The steamy air presses its cheek into mine. And before know I'm talking to you. More often than not you'll reply, too.

"Remember?" I'll say, "the first time I came to the House?" You duck your face to hide your smile. Sometimes you're sitting beside the bath, head resting on your forearms. Sometimes you're perched on the edge. If I'm really lucky, you'll slip in beside me. "I didn't know anything, did I? I thought baths were for getting clean." Your smile widens into a chuckle, remembering those nights, the hot breath of the desert, the salt sigh of the sea.

I said I'd give you up til I was stronger. Well, one thing at a time I guess. I'll give up the drink before I give up you. And before that, the nurse says I have to deal with what happened in the jungle, in New Guinea. That might take some time.

How many thousands of soldiers fought in those same jungles, and just shut it all off and went home, back to their families, their jobs, their lives? You said the war never ended for me. I reckon you're probably right. I think that's why I agreed to come here. The nurse thinks it's crazy, me fighting the Japs and then thinking I can come over here and straighten them out, fix everything up again, me included. But it feels right to me. We're not fighting them anymore. We're both putting things right. It's good to be part of something that's building up, not tearing down. I think that's part of the healing. I wished my head healed as quick as my back did: everyday is a battle here and I still don't know who'll win. Whether I'll get sent back in a wheelchair and dumped in one of those veteran's homes, wrecked for good. Or if I'll walk off the boat on my own two feet, my bag on my shoulder, walk right up the street and across the front yard and knock on your door.

You're probably still mad at me for leaving. Just when it looked like the war was finally over, too. I saw it in your face, before it all closed over, that you thought I was abandoning you, that I had some kind of heart of stone. It's just the opposite. The Occupation Force won't be here for ever, and then the War really will be over, for good. I didn't want to bring any of that home, baby. Can you see that? I don't want any of that in our house. I'm probably getting a bit ahead of myself there - don't be shy to write back and tell me that. You never were shy before.

Anyway, Hana will be happy: I am going to get rid of the ghosts of the past, one at a time. All but one that is: I hope o-furo-no-yurei will talk to me forever. I'm going to take down the yellow papers on the windows now - not all of them: Hana would have a fit. Just one little corner, just to make sure you keep coming. Who knows, maybe one day I'll take all those papers down, let all the ghosts in. They always seem to find a way in anyway. Maybe that's when I'll finally be able to walk away, a free man. Maybe then the war will be done.

All my love,

Harry

Yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Better than ever I remember his face. Especially on Christmas days when the sun hangs in the sky like a brass gong shivering in the blue summer heat. Especially here at South Bank. Where we first met.
But there is never time to go back, not until it’s too late.
Across the park old men talk on benches, scaly and broken veined legs red and weeping, bare to the sun. Tomorrow’s promise is death. Today’s is depression, and no energy to save oneself. No energy to care. No space to breathe.
Had he really been so oblivious.
Mel?
I remember dreaming of him. Not often. Now and then. He wears a plastic bag over his face. His mouth is huge and black. The bag stretches tight across the space between his teeth. He wants to scream. I want to reach out and break the membrane, gouge his eyes until his mouth fills with blood, scream my black rage. Try to wake him.
Mel! Mel! I didn’t know you were back.
What. What?
Joey? Should I laugh, sound surprised, jump up. Fake it.
Yeah - I didn’t know you were back.
I didn’t know I’d been away.
Where have you been keeping yourself? Jude said…
Judy said -?
She said you’d be all right.
Did she?
Let me buy you a coffee?
He arranges himself in the chair. The light is white on his face. I am in his sunglasses. He moves. Shuffles the chair. Places his glasses on the table between us.
Flat white, he says to the waiter and looks at me: Low fat soy?
The waiter, a baby boy with calf eyes and acne moves off, fat breasted pigeon in tow.
So.
So.
What have you been up to? His glasses wink.
Oh the usual staying alive staying sane surviving -
Aren’t we all.
He looks around.
Waiting for someone?
No.
His finger flutter against the wing of those glasses. You’re not smoking…
A fleck of paint slides under my fingernail. Locked in a glance with his glasses I give nothing away. My index finger tastes of iron.
I never wanted to talk with commas floating in the air.
…anymore. No.
All I'd wanted was a place where we both could hear each other.

In hunting and gathering we triumphed
and then we had time to love;
was it gratitude for food and warmth,
or was it something new?

Persistent knocks at the door with flowers...
More bangs and parcels,
the strategy of love

Is there an updated bit of the brain, that
mingles the lust of attraction with
the need of protection?
A nouveau love zone.

It's natural to sleep with conquerors;
and in fact in 2014 love is
an advanced survival technique,
just as it was when it started;
it doesn't always work, but
that's the gamble;
sometimes you put all your reserves
into catching that deer because you're
starving, and miss; eating grass is fine.

"Love is in the air."
"Oh Mum, you're so old fashioned."
Mary grinned at her daughter. Old fashioned she might be, but she still believed love existed in 2014.
"Don't you believe in love, Leona? They used to say love made the world go round."
Leona dragged a chair over plonked herself down, elbows leaning on the table top while she stared at her mother.
"How can you say that, Mum? Think of all the wars going on around the world. You can't say there's any love in them."
"Agreed, but love between two people can be a beautiful thing, and that makes their personal world go round." Mary waited for Leona to reply, wondering what comment her daughter would make.
"Love isn't necessary for a relationship," the teenager stated firmly. "As long as you enjoy the same things and don't deliberately upset each other, then there's no need for love."
Leona shot up from the table and headed for the door.
"I won't be late, Mum. We're going to the club."
Mary shook her head as her daughter disappeared. At times the girl moved like a whirlwind, at others like a snail.
"Love isn't necessary," Mary snorted. "She'll learn. Love is still there if you look for it."
Days passed and Leona appeared and disappeared with only a passing comment to let her mother know where she was going. Mary didn't worry too much. The school holidays had only just started and she knew her daughter would soon run out of steam and the long mornings in bed would take over. First the long discussions with her schoolfriend had to take place. They always sat on Leona's bed, or floor, sorting through make up, CDs or other paraphernalia as they talked about anything and everything. Boys, clubs, dances, pop stars - anything to do with the day to day life of a teenager.
Mary climbed the stairs to put the ironing away and heard the low voices coming from Leona's room. She respected her daughter's privacy but on her way downstairs again the high pitched voice of Leona's friend came clearly through the door.
"He didn't! Leona you are so lucky. I wish Guy would tell me he loved me. He grunts when I tell him he's so handsome, but he never tells me he thinks I'm lovely. Tell me again what he said."
Leona's voice was low and Mary, aware she had overstepped her self-imposed boundary of privacy, carried on downstairs and sat at the kitchen table with a cup of tea.
So a boy had told her daughter he loved her, but did Leona feel the same about the unknown male? Mary grinned.
"Of course she didn't. My daughter doesn't believe love is necessary in this day and age."
Her words caused Mary to reflect on why the girl thought this way. Some of the reason could be teenagers in 2014 lived for the day, not for the future. Mary wondered if the lack of a father also played a part in her daughter's disbelief.
The one love in Mary's life, her husband Dave, had died in an accident six years ago and Leona had entered her teenage years without a father figure. Mary had no interest in finding anyone to take Dave's place, but the lack of a father meant Leona hadn't seen love at its best.
The days passed but Leona didn't mention any boyfriend in her life. Mary longed to know the details of the conversation she'd overheard, but knew if she broached the subject Leona would accuse her of eavesdropping.
"I'll just have to wait until she feels ready to talk to me," she sighed, then grinned. "Which could mean I'll be waiting forever."
Mary didn't have long to wait. Two weeks before the end of the school holidays, Leona came down for breakfast. She ate her cereal without saying anything, then joined her mother in a cup of coffee.
"Mum," the girl cradled her mug in her hands. "Can I talk to you?"
"Of course." Mary hid her amusement. Leona always started a conversation with these words when she needed help to make up her mind.
"Did you and Dad love each other?"
"Yes Leona, we did. We loved each other very much." Mary mentally crossed her fingers that the conversation would lead to talk of the lovestruck male in he daughter's life.
"How did you know you loved him?"
"He was kind and always showed me respect. Your dad would do anything for me - and you - and went out of his way to make sure we were warm and comfortable. Loving him was something I couldn't help. He made me feel safe and when I wasn't with him, I felt lonely but as soon as he appeared the warm, safe feeling returned. Does that help?"
"Did you cuddle a lot? I don't mean the sex thing, just cuddle in each other's arms." Leona seemed to think this was important.
"Yes we did, and walked along holding arms. Your Dad would put his arm around my shoulders. He often dropped a kiss on my cheek or lips, even when we were outside. We weren't ashamed of showing our love for one another."
"Thanks Mum. I didn't see that side of Dad. He was just my Daddy. I wish he was still here." Leona didn't see the pain on her mother's face as she left the room.
Days later Leona asked if she could bring a friend home for tea.
"We're going to the concert in the park tonight and it's easier to get there from here," the girl explained.
Mary assumed the friend was the girl her daughter usually hung out with. To her surprise Leona turned up with a boy in tow.
"Mum this is Jon."
Jon seemed a nice boy and by the stars in Leona's eyes, this was the one she'd been discussing with her friend. The way Jon treated Leona showed how much he cared for her daughter and Mary thought they made a nice couple.
After they'd left for the concert Mary sat cradling a cup of tea.
"Love isn't necessary," she shook her head. "Just goes to show teenagers in 2014 aren't always right."

Technologically Yours

The other day the buzz in the neighborhood was about an online couple who had found perfect compatibility in the virtual world and when they decided to meet in real life they turned out to be husband and wife, unknowingly dating each other under false identities.

I think the story just about sums up the story of love in 2014. We are more distanced from our real life families than we are with online community of friends and well-wishers.

My son dons ear phones perpetually, so I've almost given up knocking on his door. I send him a text message from my bedroom to his, asking if he's ready for breakfast. The light of the message on his cell is easier to grasp in a world swirling with music from iPhones and iPods. Then, when we are face to face I have to use sign language to ask him what he'd like to have, because, of course, the ear phones are still on. I miss the sound of my voice in this house. Why can't I speak, talk and communicate like my mother and grandmother used to do? Why is so much sound inside our ears and heads despite the fact that our lips utter a word these days. If things continue at this rate and going by the laws of evolution which says that the least used functions of our body gradually disappear from our DNAs, then the human race is sure to lose its larynx pretty soon!

A lover once told his sweetheart that he had studied her skin like a blind man reads Braille. Every little bump under her skin and mole outside it was familiar to him. I have to say that this kind of intimacy would be something to die for, for anyone in love and indulging in physical foreplay. Sadly though, the lover still reads it like Braille, only his fingers are on the keypad, not on warm skin. He's either typing notes of love to his Facebook find or texting messages from his phone to some unknown friend with whom he feels this great soulful connection. I wonder if he ever gets up and greets the real people surrounding him...the physical entities present in his life. The same is true of women too - no gender bias here!

Love in 2014 is about 140 characters, worded to perfection on Twitter. It's about a timely reply to a narcissistic post simply begging for attention. It's about wall papers of romantic sunset points on other social media sites. It's about how many followers you have on these sites. How 'present' are you in this gigantic virtual world. Yes, Internet has made a global village out of this vast planet earth, but as His Holiness The Fourteenth Dalai Lama rightly said in this context - we know people sitting 8000 miles from us, but do we know out neighbors?

I think its time to return to the good old days of one to one contact, where eyes relay warm messages of love and the touch of skin is really pore to pore. It's time to send over your next batch of cookies to your neighbors and not send out pictures of it on Facebook where hundreds will relish its sight but none will taste it. It's time to get the family back to the dinner table instead of each member in their separate room munching tastelessly,,glued to television sets.

Alienation from the lives we really lead is a dangerous Frankenstein that Internet has created. It wasn't meant to be that way. Internet was a glorious tool of communication. It brought even the remotest corner of the world into the forefront of existence. It gave every individual an equal opportunity to express his views and opinions. It brought our loved ones who lived far from us closer to us through skype and viber. Internet was a revolution towards awesome development of nations and societies and it was all almost free of cost! What could be more beautiful than that! And how could something as dynamic as the internet ever be blamed for alienation?

Well, that unfortunately is the irony of our times! The tool that brings us all together under one roof, so to speak, is also responsible for our loneliest evenings and bleakest mornings. Everybody in the house is too busy making individual connections across the globe with tailor made, customized profiles to make efforts adjusting with a few flaws that exist in their real partners.

We don't want to invest in our relationships anymore! Investing takes, time, effort, soul searching and one big heart. It's easier to dump and move on in the hope that the next partner you meet will be easier to get along with.

Well, if the partner is a virtual one, she or he might be showing you a veneer and if you get up close and personal with them, you'll find yourself facing the same bag of adjustments this time too!

I hope that Love in 2014 will strike the right balance between the time we spend between our real and virtual worlds. I hope it will give us better perspectives
on the things that really matter in our lives. That tomorrow, if there's a medical emergency, your family and neighbors will be the first people to rush you to the hospital, that nothing can compensate for softly spoken words whispered with true feelings and a robustly beating heart.

Let our presence on the social media enhance and enrich our lives. Let it give us a better platform to express our views and share our achievements. But let it not leave us stranded in dark corners in our own homes. Let it not create walls in our precious relationships.

Let love in 2014 be a tender unfolding of a season of love that is ripe with long walks, hand in hand on the road strewn with pine cones, scenting crisp mountain air and real coffee nestling aromatically in a flask slung on the shoulders.

She bore the resemblance of a twenty-first century Marilyn Monroe, hair that fell upon the pillow like cascading swoops from an artists brush, platinum waves broken by linear cappuccinos and deeper bronzes.
Her eyelids fluttered and for a moment I abdicated my right to a next breath. I couldn't allow the spell to be broken. Not yet.
The early morning sun pushed gently through the horizontal blinds above my shoulder creating a feng shui effect on the solid blue comforter. The one that she had chosen, to match the blue-grey paint of the bedroom walls. She will appreciate the feng shui, when she awakens.
On any other morning she'd be out of bed before me, pulling her delicate legs into tight blue jeans and wrapping her upper body in a low cut T or a button-down blouse, reaching for earings and chains in the shadowed dimness of a solitary lamp. She'd creep to my side of the bed and bend to my face, planting a light kiss on my forehead while I luxuriate in the smell of her.
Today she sleeps, casualty to an nocturnal power outage and an alarm clock disarmed, its red digits blinking sardonically. I watch her breathe. It comes easily to her, without thought, so unlike my own breaths at this moment, bridled and purposeful.
She moans softly and I wonder who she's dreaming of - what she's dreaming of. Three years together and I still don't really know her. She is mystery like a crop circle, the lines of Nazca. She will awaken and tell me later of her dream world, the bizarre happenings of her post R.E.M. sleep patterns, the time when wakefulness wrestles lightly with sleep for position. It's an honest telling. She has nothing to hide.
I can't do the same. My dream-tellings are brushed with a wash of evasion and deception. A perjury of the soul. My dreams do not include her. They aren't friendly to this monogomous love. They are treacherous, ludicrous, fanciful schemings of a man's crazed fantasies. But I love her - and so I lie with a smile.
My life is wrapped in lies. She doesn't know the way my head swivels when her sister Paige walks in the room, the way I follow the contours of the legs of the waitress at DeLuca's or that I have a secret crush on Zooey Deschanel. And I can't explain to her that my love for her can still be perfect within that imperfect dichotomy. I am the monster - she the

"Unless it's mad, passionate, extraordinary love, it's a waste of your time."
- Dream For An Insomniac

Abby toweled off, blow-dried her hair, and threw on a terry cloth robe before pouring herself another glass of wine in the kitchen. As she went to do so, the phone rang.

“Hello?”
“There’s a delivery for you at the front desk, Miss Ryan,” replied the night manager.
“That’s strange, I already picked up my mail today and I haven’t ordered anything.”
“A well-dressed man dropped off an envelope for you and said it was of the upmost importance.”
“Okay I’ll be right down.”
When Abby arrived at the front desk, the night manager smiled and handed her the envelope.
“Did the man say anything else?” Abby asked.
“No,” the manager replied, “Just that it was important that this note found its way to you.”
“Thanks,” Abby said, smiling. She then took the lift back to her loft.

The envelope was peculiar to say the least. There was nothing on the front of the envelope save for her name, Abigail Ryan, scrolled out in calligraphy. Turning the letter over in her hands, Abby noticed it was sealed in wax with a strange insignia, embossed on the back of it. She broke the seal and found a piece of parchment inside with a letterhead that simply read: The Estate. The letter began as follows.

[Dear Miss Ryan,
You caught my eye this evening at the grocer’s. Since then, I have not been able to free myself from the thought of you.

“Could it be?” she thought. Thoroughly intrigued, Abby read on.

[I inquired of the cashier where such a beauty as you might reside so that I might deliver you this message. Apparently you and she were well acquainted seeing how often you frequented the place. I assured her that my intentions were entirely benign, that I only wished to write to you. Thankfully, she obliged my inquiry.

[All formalities aside, I have a proposition for you. And before I say on, I rarely extend this invitation to anyone. But from the moment I saw you, you struck me as a woman who craves excitement in her life. Think of it: every sensual thrill you crave explored in a safe and private environment. All the world’s frustrations washed away as you step into a world that welcomes you with open arms. That is what The Estate promises and that is what it delivers. All that is required of you is to say yes.

I humbly await your reply.

Faithfully yours,

T.
p.s. Your adventure begins on Boulevard and 5th.
Bring this note with you.]

Abby was immediately drawn in by T.’s words. The mystique of The Estate was all to alluring. She scoured the web for the address but no such streets intersected each other. How exclusive was this place? And why had she been invited? Abby reasoned that a place as elusive as The Estate must be hidden from the public eye and so she searched the terms again in general search. This time there was a hit: The Boulevard on Fifth, an upscale café on the east side of the city.

Throwing on an overcoat, Abby rushed out of her building clutching the note and hailed a cab. When she arrived, the café had long since closed for the day. Down an alley however, there was some commotion as a pair of pneumatic twins emerged from a side entrance. Dresses visibly rumpled yet demeanor largely removed, the pair eyed Abby, appraising her as if she were a porcelain vase.

The couple spied the note in her hand and grinned, “Well it seems that Alice has come in search of Wonderland. No worries, dear. The rabbit hole is just through there.” They gestured to the door that had closed behind them.
“Thank you,” Abby called to them as they sauntered away, giggling as they left.
The heavy metal door locked shut behind the twins and left Abby in the cold, so she knocked. A slat opened and the face of what appeared to be the doorman emerged.
“Yes?” the doorman asked rather gruffly.
Abby flashed the note and the doorman nodded and motioned to open the door.
“Welcome to The Estate, Miss,” he said as he gestured to the velvet lined corridor that extended away from him. “Not too many newcomers have an invitation. You must be something special. Theo will be looking for you. He should be in his office entertaining some guests. I’ll fetch him for you. Wait right here.” With that he slammed to door shut behind her and stalked down the corridor to a backroom somewhere, leaving Abby on her own for a bit.

Abby looked around and it appeared she was standing in some sort of foyer, backlit with all sorts of subdued lighting. There was some commotion far off down the corridor. Abby swore she heard some muffled moans of pleasure in the distance. The aroma of the place was intoxicating. Where she stood it smelt of lilac and jasmine. The lights and sounds and smells lulled her into a deep reverie.

Before she knew it, the same wavy-haired man from earlier that day was before her. He was about a foot taller than she with her lithe 5’4” stature. His build carved a stunning contrast to her toned, feminine form. Over six feet tall, he had a broad chest and strong shoulders. His chiseled features complemented his deep set hazelnut eyes which only seemed to draw Abby in as he approached, disarming her with a welcoming smile.

“Hello Abby, I’m Theo,” he said offering his hand. Abby shook it; he had an impressive grip. “I’m glad you found us so expediently. Forgive my cryptic note.” He smirked, seeing her standing before him, utterly bewildered, clutching the note he’d told her to bring. “We value discretion here at The Estate.”

“What is this place?” Abby asked.
“Exactly what you think it is,” he responded, “And so much more.” He observed her carefully. “The place seems to be working its magic on you already.” He grinned, offering his arm to escort her down the corridor. “Please follow me.”

Abby didn’t know what came over her, but she felt compelled to follow his request, putting her arm through his.

“Right through here is lounge,” Theo stated, parting the curtains. Abby caught a glimpse of naked bodies sprawled out among rugs and pillows. Several cries of lust were muffled as Theo let the curtain fall back in place.

“We’ll explore it in due time.”
Abby walked alongside him, not knowing what to say.

“Yes. We get that reaction a lot,” remarked Theo, observing the look on her face. “But then you’ve been looking for this place all your life.”
Something about that remark rung true for Abby, everything he said to her seemed to a certain hold weight and truth.

“You’ve always craved something like this, haven’t you?” Theo said, opening the door to a backroom, ushering her in.

Abby complied, “Yes. I’ve craved it all my life.” As she entered, the scent of the space hit her again. This time it was a sweet aromatic smell she couldn’t quite place. Across from her in the corner of the room, two curvy blondes, in varying states of undress, pawed at each other in earnest.
“Girls, would you please give us leave? I need a moment alone with Abby here.”

“Of course, Sir,” they answered in tandem with a soft, breathy lilt to their voices. They looked longingly at Theo and ran their eyes all over Abby before leaving without another word.

“Forgive those two. This place has a way of stripping back inhabitions,” Theo said, coming up behind her. She felt him pressed up behind her and was immediately awash in bliss.

“I knew from the moment I saw you that you belonged here with us.” Theo whispered softly. She felt a warm wave wash over her when Theo spoke to her in this way. His hands slipped past her as he unbuttoned her overcoat. Abby only sank deeper into the reverie she’d experienced earlier.

“You are a lovely woman, Abby,” Theo whispered, “And you should be treated as such. Would you like that? To be treated like the goddess you are?”

“Yes, Sir, I would like that,” Abby responded, not surprised that she addressed Theo in such a way. It felt right, so did him slowly undressing her.

“Such beauty should not be hidden. Wouldn’t you agree?” Theo inquired, already knowing the response.

“Certainly not hidden, Sir,” Abby replied as Theo took off her overcoat, revealing her nakedness underneath. She could have sworn she had gotten dressed before leaving her apartment, but none of that troubled her now. Abby was too lost in Theo’s words.

“Such a goddess should be shared shouldn’t she?” Theo asked as his hands roamed freely, exploring her body.

“Mhm,” Abby said, no longer being able to form a more coherent response, the pleasure of his touch being all-consuming.

“And shared you will be. But first, we must explore,” Theo said and slowly undressed himself, revealing an endowment that commanded respect. Abby spun around and melted before him.

“Yes, Abby. I can see you have been well instructed by my attendants.”
Attendants? Instructed? Abby couldn’t recall any instruction, but then again her memory wasn’t serving her well at the moment. Maybe they’d taken her clothes from her clothes at the door. Maybe she was feeling rather obedient, feeling the sensations she felt now. Yet, those thoughts came in passing.

Abby knelt before her Master and obliged his every command, more than willing to see how far the rabbit hole went. Master Theo pleasured every curve of her body. He caressed each inch. Abby felt each inch as he entered her and claimed her for the Estate. She was nude and bound to her Master. Bent double over the chair, Abby was fully consummated by Master Theo as he slid deep into her awaiting entrance. Abby could barely hold onto consciousness at that point. Pleasure ripped through her body. Abby felt magnificent. She did feel like the goddess Master Theo had promised she would be. She felt complete with Theo finally inside her. Soon the pressure built inside him and he pulled out, releasing and leaving Abby eager to clean up after Master.

The blondes were then called back in, and, before she knew it, Abby was awash in hands as they pounced on her and kissed her body up and down hungrily as if commanded and driven by an unknown force. The blondes speedily made quick work of Abby until Abby came with full force before her Master who watched from afar, simply admiring. She was then led into the group room where others awaited the beautiful goddess to worship her properly. While Theo was her primary and only love, she would be shared by many others, none having the allure of her Theo.

Abby felt drawn again and again to the Estate, never quite knowing what drew her there but the promise of something special and fulfilling. The pleasure would be so overwhelming often she would have fuzzy recollection of it afterwards. The Estate made sure that she was well taken care of.

It's rushed by the impending
tax pay-in of
next year

Legally single means figuratively
screwed
Panties on,
no whipped cream
in sight.

Dripping
with insincerity we
rush
to the next
level
to save a couple
bucks.

It had just gone ten pm. We were sitting in the Crown and Court, not far from London. Not far; but not London. Three hours ago when the storm had begun, and my windshield wipers fought helplessly against the rain, Lea told me to keep going. We'd seen the pub from the road, driving at walking speed, and I'd told her I was pulling over.
"Fuck that," she'd said, "keep going, this place looks like a total dump".
"I can't drive like this, mate. Let's have a drink and wait it out."
Above us a bolt of lighting flashed, casting the building in a sudden white light.
"It looks like a something out of a horror movie," Lea said, peering out, her breath steaming little circles of doubt on the window.
"Come on, it'll be fun. When was the last time you got pissed in the country?"
Lea cast me a long glare as I pulled up into the Crown and Court parking lot. She pulled down the mirror and by the light of the storm touched up her make-up.
"You looking to score some free booze, honey?" I asked, waiting impatiently for her to finish. It seemed like I was always waiting for Lea. Since we were little, I had been stopping in my tracks, holding back, waiting for my little sister to catch up. Where ever we where, and what ever we were doing, Lea found ways to detain me when I would rather push forward. Because of her, we had stayed in Norwich an extra day, which meant that we got caught up in the storm and I would miss a day at work.

We ducked out of the car and ran for it, getting drenched as we went.

Just past ten pm we stood by the long almost empty bar waiting for our two glasses of red. The barman, a short, stocky middle aged man, smiled at us.
"Some weather, hey?" he said.
"It's pretty bad," I agreed.
"Worst storm in 25 years. That'll be eleven pound, please."
As I handed him the cash, I looked around the place. A couple of old boys were nursing their pints on the other side of the bar, staring at us with blank uninterested expressions. At one table a man was slumped forward, his head resting on folded arms, his pink untouched by his side.
"Is he ok?" I asked the barman.
"Ah, that's our Georgie… A little under the weather, that's all."
The barman offered me my change and with another smile, walked off to chat with the old boys.
As we watched, Georgie, lifted his head briefly and look straight at us. His eyes were bloodshot and his expression pained, but in spite of this our Georgie was a handsome guy, maybe thirty, with the kind of perfectly chiseled face that made me nervous. Lea immediately perked up by my side.
"Oh he is super cute."
"Leave it, Lee… he looks out of it."
"I'll just go and say hi."
And without further ado, Lea sauntered off and took a seat by Georgie. She smiled, and tossed her hair, crossing one leg over the other to offer a glimpse of leg. Georgie looked at her for a moment, puzzled, then put down his head again.

Over the next couple of hours I watched Lea in action. She, in addition to being blessed with extraordinary good looks, had the ability to talk until the cows came home without having anything to say. I had always envied that. Being the ugly sister didn't bother me so much, but I did wish I to had the gift of small talk. I wished I too could waffled on, brightly, without feeling every word spoken to be a link in chain.
On the way to the ladies at one point, Lea passed me.
"He's great. Really listens, you know… And I think he likes me," she winked, implying that of course he did.

A couple of hours later the storm had finally died down. I walked over to Lea, now sitting right up close to Georgie.
"We should go," I told her.
She gave me a sad face.
"Oh fine."
On the back of a napkin she wrote down her mobile number and passed it over to Georgie.
He didn't move.
"My number," she said, coyly, "in case you're ever in London."
Nothing, but as she touched his side, Georgie fell over onto the bench. His eyes were wide open and frozen in a stare.
Lea screamed and jumped away.

When the police arrived, a short while later, an officer asked Lea:
"And you didn't notice he was dead?"
"No… of course I didn't."
"But he wasn't talking much, was he?"
"I thought he was a good listener."
Lea told the officers we really needed to get back to London.
"My sister needs to get back to work," she said.
The officer looked at me.
"Oh it's ok," I said, "I have all the time in the world."

They lit out of the cabin near midday. The storm had rolled in the night before and they'd stuck it out though the morning, hoping for a break, but got none. The light was flat and the bottom of the clouds and the top of the new fallen snow on the peaks bled into the rough canvas of an obliterated horizon.

Williams took the lead. He'd grown up not far from the cabin and had a sense of how the jumble of peaks and ridges arranged themselves toward the points of the compass. Howard hauled the bulk of their food and kept the skin of water inside his jacket to keep it from freezing.

The leather lacework of their snowshoes seemed to do little to keep them floating on the three feet of new fallen snow, but both men knew that if they'd taken them off, their feet would punch through like fenceposts and leave them hopelessly mired to their crotches.

The men were quiet in their exertions, saving their breath for the long trudge downhill and back to Mill Creek.

As they crested the ridge, Williams knew that the lake spread its pale blue mirror somewhere out below them to the left, but it was invisible through the thick flakes and cold fog. Two drainages forked away from them and, estimating their spot on the ridge, he called back over his shoulder.

"Stay right! This'll take us home."

Howard was quiet but Williams could hear the squeak of his snowshoes behind him as they traversed their way down the steep and narrow slot.

After a couple hours, Howard overtook him and tapped his bamboo pole to the top of Williams' pack.

"Let's eat something."

Williams led them up the far side of the little gully that spun through the trees below them and out of sight. When he reached a cluster of big pines he slid out of his pack and wedged it up against one of the massive trunks. Howard did the same with his after unpacking a canvas bedroll and a small bag of dried meat. Spreading the canvas atop the packs the men had a small place on which to sit and eat, keeping their torsos out of the snow.

"How much longer?" Howard spoke out of the corner of his mouth as he worked at the tough pieces of dried elk.

"It's slow going. At this pace we should hit the meadows in a few hours and follow the flatbank all the way back to camp."

"I'll cut trail after lunch." Howard said it not in offering, but as if he'd already made his decision.

"I know the way. Why don't you let me lead us out."

"You found the right crick, now we just follow it down. I can tell my down hill from my up."

Williams nodded his assent. The cold air had been stabbing at his chest for a while and his legs were already stiff from carefully packing a trail for the two. When the canvas had been rerolled, he shouldered his pack and followed Howard's ghostlike silhouette down through the thickening weather.

After not having to pick his way down in a serpentine fashion for the two men, Williams became mesmerized by the dance of the falling flakes which stuck to his lashes and stung his eyes. He focused on the oblong depressions made in the snow by Howard's snowshoes and was startled to feel a jolt as his own shoe came to rest on the tail of one of Howard's.

Williams looked up to see why they'd stopped. They were in a flat spot where the small creek should have continued to descend amongst the pines and granite walls. Just ahead were the unexpected coach whip stems of willows poking from the snow.

He felt a cold stab in his aching belly. They were in the wrong drainage.

Williams picked up his foot and removed it from the tail of Howard's shoe. There was nothing to say that wasn't obvious to both men.

"I musta picked the wrong drainage. We're one over from where we're s'posed to be."

Howard, his back still to Williams, nodded.

"Let me lead down this flat water Dan."

Howard stepped aside to let Williams pass on his right. They didn't make it more than twenty yards before the snow began to give way beneath them, their snowshoes plunging awkwardly into the hollows of tangled willow branches beneath. The trickle of the creek could be heard in the darkness below their feet. What would have taken them minutes in clean snow would now take them hours to pick and fight their feet through. The wind blew up the flat little gully which would take them miles away from the meadows - if this gully drained into Mill Creek at all. Williams looked through a thicket of pines to his left and followed the darkness of the ridge that now loomed above them. On the other side of it, the canyon he'd meant to lead them down descended to the meadows below and, beyond that, the wide banks that would have taken them down to Mill Creek and the warmth of camp.

"I'll split the food between our packs in case we get split up in the dark of the storm. Or the night." Howard's voice was flat and didn't reveal the fear that Williams knew was creeping through his bones too.

Quietly, the two men divided the weight they'd have to carry on through the storm. And maybe for the rest of their lives.

Ruby had never seen a dead person before. She didn't know what she was expecting but her Grandmother had looked quite angelic with her made up face and coiffed hair. Her blue eyeshadow had been perfectly applied, rather than the usual smudging arounds her crinkles. Perhaps it was the cooler body temperature. Or perhaps her Grandmother just hadn't been able to see what she was doing anymore. Her slightly crazed look always made her appear under the weather, hair poking out like she'd just stuck her finger in an electrical socket, a pale sheen on her sun deprived face, shapless mismatched clothing paired with bulky loafers, not to mention the frizz that could be seen beneath her arms when she perched yet another item from Vinnies precariously on top of all the others. She was like an old chook insesintly flapping about her barn, finding more things to add to her growing assortment of filthy nest objects.  

'She just won't die' Ruby's father said every time Ruby came home to the increasingly claustrophobic Willowbank estate for a visit. He always said it in good humour but Ruby knew that when her Grandma Mimi decided to leave it all behind he would be inconsolable. 


It had been twelve months since she had last come home and the housewalwere closing in on each other. Piles and piles of things sat unopened and forgoten in the hallways and rooms, every nook and cranny. Ruby had to watch where she stepped as the walls seemed to be closing in on each other. She didn't know how her father put up with it. She'd hightailed it out of here on her last day of highschool, battling her way out like she was on the frontline. She had little money, but a strong case against how one should be living. And this odd life was not for her. That was just the word for her Grandmother, odd, and Ruby wanted to rid herself of its clutches. She already felt as though it was pulling at her barriers, swirling and settling itself around her like a fog. 
'The Willowbank's are just plain odd.' 'Have you senem Mimi? Walking around in her white see through nighty and pink knickers?' 'Jday I caught her muttering about dragons in the garden.' 'And what about all that stuff...' The tail ends of conversation followed her around like a stench. She'd had little friends because she'd been too embarrassed to bring them home. Thank god she'd escaped its clutches. Her father, however, had not been so lucky.


Whilst her Grandmother sat deep underground in her coffin, the one she hadpicked out and stored in Rubys old room for 'when the time came' along with boxes of cuttlery, oven mits, washing detergent, toothbrushes and the biggest elephant collection she had ever seen, Victor Willowbank, the man of the estate, her father, was curled up on what Ruby assumed was a bed. Was this her grandmother's room? It looked like a tip shop. Books stacked high in corners, plastic bags of cheap finds in breeding mounds. She opened the nearest one, and found it full of socks. 'One can never have too many pairs of socks' She could hear Grandma Mimi say. Ruby shook her head. Did her grandmother really know what was in all these bags? She thought it was doubtful, but she also remembered the time she took a bag full of objects to school for a charity fate, choosing things from different piles thinking it would go unnoticed. 'Where is my wishing well?' Mimi had screamed. 'It was just here! A little black pot, what is going to happen to my wishes? And, my coat hangers and lamp shades? Someone's been here. Someone has taken my stuff!'


Ruby worked around her father, sorting through toilet paper rolls and buttons, bags of condiments and sewing fabric. Ten hours slugged by and she'd only managed to clear out a corner of the room. Her father still slept. She feared that if she left he would get lost among it all, just another item in this sad cluttered house. 


Ruby caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror now visible on the wall. Hair sticking out at odd angles, sweat clinging to her upper lip, and her eyes... God, she looked just like her grandmother, slightly crazed and under the weather.  

Under the weather

Inside
skin,
trickle treat
lips
wet, dry
cavern swirl
blows off
feet,
tips up
chin.
Blue sun
eyes,
burning.

I have been sneaking about under the weather. The colour of the weather is deep blue, a teal so dark it should be indigo; the shadow of Eau de Nil. The Dog Star is in the sky , bright in its winter glory. In Egypt, in the summer, it rose with the sun and raced across the dawn. The Nile would surge up to meet it, break over the fields, and the dog days would be upon us again.

I have been sneaking about on the opposite side of the year. Our floods pour over us in winter, and Sirius never sees the sun. There is a grey, slate tone to the blue, and the green drips onto its reflection in puddles which are lakes which are waterways. They rage. It's as though a tap has been opened and all the memories of dark, smothered confusion pour around us. We're powerless again. Remember the last time this happened? Remember when it was impossible to breathe, because the next breath happened in the future and the future was too frightening to face?

I have been sneaking about under the face of the weather. I can't see its face directly, which is reasonable. I'd need a mirror to do that, and although the ground is all mirrors these days, I'm too far away to take a close look. I've grown up, you see. I'm tall now. I can't see my face in the ground so clearly.

I've gone through my house like a tornado. It shines, like sun on smooth water. The floors have been scrubbed, and the sink is living up to its name of stainless steel. I scrub away the mysterious tracks of the past - odd splodges, alien smears - like a rough baptism. I feel different - lighter, liberated - and my old habits and fears seem to blow away under my scouring fingers.

I've bought new shoes. Fur-lined, blue and waterproof. I dream of walking through the wind on wild, hilly tracks that I have never walked before. I'm surfacing; slowly, through the surf of the weather, I'm rising into the air. It's been a hard winter, but now I'm racing the sun; I'll reach my dog days first, and laugh as the bright light catches up with me.

I'll surge upwards, to meet the storm with my own flood; and I'll become the weather, and never sneak about beneath myself again.

How I Wasted My Life

after James Wright

One leaf caught
In the fishing line that holds
The bird feeder high
Above a high-wired red squirrel’s reach.

Two webs in morning
Bright out the mudroom door.

Whiff of grass in the midst of
Mowing and cloud’s cover returned.

Rain: vertical, horizontal, three-dimensional, wet.

A white balloon and its lift
Past the window box geranium pink against
Blackening green, the leaves, such brood-gray light.

One more maple leaf caught in one more
Web spinning, spinning yet more crazy
Rain meets wind then
Hail falls,

All hail!
Late afternoon

After downpour,
Sun and the drops on the screen,
How they crystal, refract sublime.

All this becoming so late,
Too late?

Oh the everlasting now, both lie and
Only-ever truth—I am wandering
Home at dusk.

Under a vast sky, split.

I am feeling under the weather ! Michael Fish is standing on my head.
I wish I could get into bed!
But Fish is here and he wants to be fed.
I mix him up some oats and raisins, a hearty breakfast for the man.
But he wants spaghetti out of a can.
What can I do? I only am what I am.

3am. Wide awake, restless.
Dreams of feral storms.
She's under the weather
Send her to bed, ride it out cosy and warm.

The soft down duvet was a fog,
Thick, heavy, suffocating
Heat trapped, rose
And entered her inner nightscape
Setting fire, raising smoke
Creating dark clouds
That rained wild demons.
Free and frantic
Mischievously malevolent
They ran amok.

Trees of reason lay uprooted
Amid the hail of broken promises
While trust, flailing
Drowned in floods of betrayal.
Lightening struck dead
The last shoot of hope
Thunder claps
Flattened and evened the terrain.

Through the dream window
She looked on.
A silent witness
Shaken from sleep
By the cold fingers
Of a wailing wind.

It had been raining for days, and the earth was soaked through. We went to bed on a Thursday night as the rain intensity increased and maintained the high level throughout the night. My sleep was restless as I listened to the roar of the water and the sound of millions of raindrops crashing into our metal roof. Water seeped in through the front lounge where gutters failed to cope with the downpour, sending water back under the eaves and inside the wall. Buckets had to be hastily assembled under leaks in the ceiling as the old roofing iron let in water. I stumbled out the back patio in the early morning, and gasped as I saw water half-way up the backyard. The nearby ponds had long gone over, and water was now entering into neighbours' yards and houses. I had never seen it flood like this before. I drove around the corner to find part of the street underwater, and houses surrounded and inundated in a brown swirling mass. A whole shipping container had crashed into a bridge a few streets away, while various flotsum -- natural and artificial -- had been pushed down the creek. We had worked to clear the gutters, and when the rain finally stopped, counted ourselves lucky that our home had escaped inundation. Emergency response crews worked feverously to evacuate people in nearby units and houses. The owner of what had been a former nursing home transformed into a residence, offered people free accommodation.

February 15, 2008 had been a day of disaster for the city of Mackay on the central Queensland coast. Much of the city had been flooded, both from creek and waterway overflow, and simply the intensity of the rain not allowing water to get away quick enough. A neighbour rescued an elderly couple in his canoe, providing them with a relatively dry transfer from their home, while another neighbour offered them a room where they could stay for as long as it needed for their home to be repaired, and soaked furnishings and appliances replaced. People spoke of losing personal belongings that no money could replace. It brought out the best in people who reached out to help those affected, and stories of those acts of kindness and generosity were everywhere.

Dull Ash

The rain has got to my dreams now
That bright, sunny porch of promises
Lies scraggly wet and limp
Unable to fly an inch on sodden wings
The rain has got to my dreams

This bed on which I lay every night
And twittered excitedly in my head
About the scintillating colors
In which life promised to dance before me
Is damp like the last shuddering breath of moist lungs

Grey is a shroud that sternly ushers a rainbow in its folds
Like a hard nazi soldier rounding off a flourishing race
Life is greying... like flowers being burnt to dull ash
I can't seem to meet myself anymore
I have forgotten who I am

Under this grey shroud
You and I are islands
Nothing connects us except idle sea water
Empty, tired-looking, bereft of any message in a bottle
Eroding our edges with every wave

Ah! That it came to this!
That our blood turned so cold, our words so bitter
Darkness has seeped into dawn, has flooded the sun
If It drowned me, you wouldn't know. You're that far
And I'm that under the weather
*********

Oooo, oooo, look at the seagulls and the tsunami princes and rancid priebes washing ashore on ambiguous flings. Doesn't it make you want to do something real with your life, such as joining a Duck Dynasty discussion panel to bring back Paula's good Southern cooking or scraping Syrian babies off the tarmac to feed to homeless puppies who will never register to vote?

I am so bored at being bored about our boring irreality that I can't even remember what was so funny about those stupid seagulls to begin with, which has nothing to do with Jonathan or Stephen, at least at first glans. Give it a lick.

Let me know what it tasted like.

They said it was the kind of city where the best of humanity lived alongside the worst. The bright city walls that lit up in the sunlight were contained within a maze of alleyways, dark and menacing to those who did not know by heart their wandering routes.

Many years ago, it is written, a dictatorial leader of the church sponsored a massacre that reverberated through the mountains to which the city clung. Some say that the city's walls have never been fully cleansed of the blood.

In fitting with the secretive ginnels that lay below the city's sheen, the politics, legal system and the upper reaches of its social classes covered a complex system of brotherhoods and secret pacts. It was a world that those who were not part of would not believe existed. Is this not true of the best of fairy stories and folk tales?

The night it happened, there was rain such as had never been seen. Wind blew as if it would tear apart the very walls of the city. Shards of water fell so fast and hard that they shattered the pavements. Rain mingled with the unforgiving filth of the streets: cigarette ends oozing into shit filled puddles. The night it happened, more than one child hid beneath its blanket, terrified that the howling monster without would break through the windows.
A murder so vicious and unprovoked that the good citizens tried not to speak of it, in case putting words to the story might bring its awful truth to their own door step.

They arrested the witch of course: a young woman who lived in the darker part of the city. She moved only at night and those who saw her said that her large eyes flashed dangerously, that her beauty hid a soul full of debauched evil. It was known too that she consorted with the lowly, they who knew only chemical happiness, who lived in the most neglected quarter. The gossips whispered that they provided her with spells and potions so that she could weave her magic across all who met her.

Some people swore they had seen her transform into a cat and this was the reason for her feline allures and her ability to spit and hiss when backed into a corner. Others said she had a black crow that followed her around as her familiar, to whisper black magic in her ear and to pick over the carcasses of her enemies.

Rumours attached themselves to the witch like leaves blown against a wall. But rumours are not so insubstantial and hold fast to their subject, clinging and moulding themselves to its shape. She wore the rumours like masks, shooting her directive glances through the shield and the whispers followed her, 'Witch! Whore! She Devil!'

She was guilty of the crime before tried; guilty of this and many other contortions of human nature. Pictures of her circulated around the city, those in which she shot her most wicked looks and gazed far more lasciviously from under lengthened eye-lashes than a young woman of any good character ought.

When she herself spoke of the crime, her eyes filled with tears one day and the next, the sound of her laughter rang around the city walls. It was the shriek of an evil banshee and the hysterical sound of a creature hunted and backed into a corner.

Yet others saw not a witch, but an angel: an young woman innocent of al that was levelled against her. 'Bambino' they called her, 'Angel face', falling into a fixation with her beauty.

Guilty though, pronounced the court of the city. Guilty of this crime and all other crimes besides.

'Witch, witch, killer, she-devil!' the voices pounded insistently.
'I am not who they say I am. I am not that person,' she insisted, rocking to her knees, 'I am not who they say I am.'

The people talked of little but the witch, 'her eyes said it all' they agreed, although most had not seen her in person. Her beauty bespoke a soul sold to the devil.

Witches are not unusual in folk tales, you are thinking. But what is unusual about this one was both her age and her denial. Not the old woman on the edge of the village. No dalliance with herbology and natural medicines. Our witch was the Ann Boleyn: scheming, manipulative, full to the brim of wiles to get her way. Beautiful, manipulated, used.

For a mediaeval crime, for witchcraft and murder, an old punishment. As she was thrown to the lions, the watching people whispered in delight, 'Six fingers on one hand! Her tongue is forked! Look! Look!'

To The Lions

Thank you for being such
wonderful neighbours,
enquiring about my health
and sharing the odd snippet.
I’ve always admired
your toothy bull’s eye wink,
the way you let those flies
hang on your whiskers.
As you’re aware, I’ve always
seen myself as bit of a naturist,
and though I quite like my patchy
coat, I’m not so sorry I won’t
be wearing it when I’m gone.
As I’m a firm believer in
renewable energy, and had I lived
a fuller life beyond the rail,
I’m sure, like you, I’d have used
the juice of stray bones.
I’m sorry I haven’t been
much of a socialite of late.
As a token of my appreciation,
I’ve had a word with Bob
who’s promised to carry out
my final wish.
Marius.x

To The Lions

So it goes, every morning. The lions of the body's losses. I keep tossing myself into their den. Because my options? Well, I like those less.

You see, I'm sick. Over the last 10 years, I've had two miscarriages and two serious blood clots. I suffer from multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome and an impressive range of food and pollen allergies. My thyroid, insulin, and progesterone levels all require help to regulate themselves. I'm double jointed, which as I age has been less exciting than it was when I was younger, as now it means it's easier for everything to simply fall, painfully, out of alignment. Twice a year, I go in for an alternative-therapy immunology treatment that requires me to live in the kitchen and its adjacent half-bath, all scrubbed out as a surgical clean room. And there's no "special diet" quite like this one: lamb and yams. With a side of purified water. For four days. Anxiety, depression, insomnia, those other lions, are regular visitors.

I'm 40 years old, and as I tell myself regularly, too young for this level of physical maintenance. But I keep getting up. I keep patiently sorting through the how-am-I-today interior dialogue. I eat well. I exercise. I spend quality time with my family and our furry companions. I work when I'm able and I'm grateful daily that my family's financial stability doesn't depend on my income. But it does depend on me keeping myself out of the hospital and all my conditions under sufficient maintenance so as not to require additional pricey medications and treatments. Proof positive that I'm fighting the good fight? I'm typing this at a treadmill desk.

Proof positive that I'm losing? At least in the short term? I woke up soaked in my own urine this morning. For the first time ever, some combination of the blood thinners for the active clot and the various meds for the yeast allergy/infection I'm struggling with left me unable to respond to a lifetime a of hard-wired training.

Not my favorite way to wake my husband, start the day, or end a night in which I'd only gotten 4.5 hours of sleep. But I'm down here, in the office, recommitting to a fuller writing practice by checking in here before prepare the tax information on my writing and editing service for my accountant and then roll into checking our household budget outlays for the remainder of the month. Somewhere in there I need to wake my homeschool child, get her something to eat, and review our joint agenda for the day, which will involve a lot of cleaning, straightening, and decoration.

Our annual Chocolate Party is Saturday night, we always hold it in celebration of Valentine's Day. Decadent desserts, alcohol, a house of friends and children. Though this year I'm gritting my teeth, as all I will be enjoying is a couple mugs of chocolate tea. Really, it's a thing, toasted cocoa nibs, boiled with a little mint extract. Not exactly the food of the gods, but enough to stave off most of the cravings most of the time.

Are you sick of me yet? That awful lion breath, the furling snarl getting tiresome? Join the club. I'm usually able to turn this all into a comedy act. It's how I get by. The sheer ridiculousness of having a body makes for great material. Especially a body like mine.

But, probably owning to the dampened spirits accorded by my urine-soaked waking, I've only given you the downside. The health stuff that lolls across the savannah of our household life like a mangy, belching king.

There is a lioness as well. What all the health stuff should tell you is that I'm sensitive. Not delicate, for sure, or it would all have finished me off a while ago, but able to register subtle changes, interior and exterior, and respond.

Not bad equipment if properly employed. Road tar may be able to knock me out a thirty paces, but I know when the lilacs are going to bloom well before they do. I can determine exactly what a soup needs a soupcon more of, almost without effort. I know when the milk will go bad, when the child is teetering at the edge of something, when the husband is covering his own infirmities. I sniff them out.

I watch for changes in our aquarium, where one fish is struggling with the transition into our household more than the others. Among our furry friends, one, again who is ailing, though the causes of her pain aren't are clear. When I work, I prowl client documents, looking for the weak creatures to cut from the herd.

And most constant of all, the vigil over my own body, ailing as it is, the awareness of its pleasures, ultimately keener than its pains. The hot water of the tub and its intoxicating citrus salts. The yogic stretch and carnal touch. All heightened, a compensation of that greater awareness. All the lioness's private reserve.

To The Lions

In 'Mr. Pip', mother and teacher were fed to the pigs,
later slaughtered and buried out of respect, thus
condemning the village to a severely limited diet.

I knew it was coming - read the book -
and still was shocked by the suddenness,
the ordinariness of the violence.

Killing comes more easily to some.
Petr Zelenka (Czech Republic). Pierre Chanal (France).
Pedro López (Colombia). Peter Sutcliffe (England).

In the USA there are too many such killers to count
and they include Presidents, Generals and the
Scud and Patriot missiles of The First Gulf War

though it's nothing personal in those situations.
We all knew it was coming - watched the news -
when Desert Shield morphed into Desert Storm.

In Syria it's hard to know which side is right -
one Government's zealot rebels are
another people's freedom fighters. Maybe.

When the alternative to peace is feeding
your own people to the pigs it's no surprise
when death that comes suddenly, becomes ordinary.

It's not the first time we've seen the destruction
of creatures with no genetic future.
The missing element of The Holocaust

was the lions.

Izzy peeped out through the mane. She was holding on for grim death, as Kai was in full flight. She could feel the confident rhythm of his powerful limbs as he pounded across the open plain, smell his sweat. She tried to see what game might have caught his attention but it was too hard to see anything. Despite her legs and arms being entwined in thick strands of his course hair, she still had to hold on and it gave her no stability for sight.

Her own heart was racing now, both with the effort to hold on, and the excitement and apprehension of not knowing what might happen next. She feared her firm grip may not survive a pounce.

Sweat rolled down her forehead, stinging her eyes. She could do nothing about it, neither could she sweep away her matted hair.

Was she mistaken? Had she heard a soft rumble beneath? Had Kai growled?

Something had changed. She was sure, his paced had slowed. He was walking now, but she could sense his muscles remained alert. A definite grumble rumbled through his belly. She marveled how the vibration could be felt even through his mane.

She loosened her grip slightly to lower her stocky legs until her feet could feel Kai's body beneath. Rolling her body with a clever twist and flick she managed to further entwine herself in the mane. Now she had a more confident stance, feet on the back of Kai's neck, yet her body encased in his main, leaving her arms free. But Kai, perhaps, sensing her movement, flicked his head twitching the muscles under his skin as if to throw off an irritation of flies.

Izzy froze, knowing she had pushed the limits, bringing a distraction at a critical time. She held her breath and waited. Knowing that Kai could not easily dislodge her with such actions gave her no comfort. But she knew that a lick or two with his tongue would be more than she could fend off. She must not move again.

She wasn't ready for the roar. Kai's head tipped back as he strained his neck forward drawing the muscles of his stomach up all in one quick movement.

R O A R!!!!! It wasn't just the sound that chilled Izzy to the bone, it was the vibration through his throat that emanated up her legs. Her whole body was trembling and she was having trouble deciding whether it was from the roar or whether terror had struck her. She didn't have time to think about it further.

R O A R!!! But it wasn't Kai this time.

"Oh my God," thought Izzy, her throat suddenly dry. Another lion. Perhaps a fight was about to ensue.

This was not part of the plan. This was taking things too far.

Her initiation, a simple dare, a dare for an exhilarating ride, was not meant to be life threatening. Sure, she conceded there were always risks with Lion Cantering, but she'd always focused on the expected exhilaration, not the risks. Suddenly stories, stories of those before her, whispered around the fire late at night ... of those who'd been injured, even died, reared in her mind.

There was no time to think, as Kai moved again, slowly this time, pacing, watching, wary.

Izzy tried desperately to see but no matter how much she strained her neck she couldn't see the other lion.

Kai roared again but it never quite ended, rolling onto a constant grumble, like an angry purr that shuddered her ankles.

She weighed her options. Should she abort? While ever Kai was moving, dismounting was extremely dangerous. It was a long way to the ground for her tiny stature and there was always the risk that a sudden unexpected movement by Kai could fling her body in any direction.

To abort meant her initiation would be deemed failed. Apart from the embarrassment that would draw, joining the hunt and war parties would still be denied her. Could she wait a year for another opportunity?

"No!" Izzy clenched her jaw with determination, deciding to face her fate whatever it be. She just had to hold on and she knew she very good at doing that.

But despite Izzy's bravery, it was not to be. For Kai took the decision out of her hands. He twisted his head and reached his tongue close to her spot, probing for her exactly where she was standing. She had no defense, his course prickly tongue easing her out of the mat of mane with a dexterity that chilled her.

He twisted the tip of his tongue and she, still wrapped in mane hair, was suddenly flying through the air.

Thump. She landed in some soft mud at the edge of a water hole. She pulled herself up, gasping for breath, anxious to move out of the mud to safety as quickly as possible. It was tough going as her hands, feet and knees seem glued. But through her shear panic and determination she managed to scramble under a near by bush, heart pumping, lungs gasping.

Kai was pacing and roaring again and she could see the other lion, scarred and older than Kai, eyeing and pacing nearby, returning his roars convincingly. It seemed likely a fight would ensue.

But as Izzy's breathing gradually slowed and her heart stopped beating in her ears, she felt in awe of Kai. For despite all she had been told over the years, the tales and myths of her tribe, she felt in absolutely no doubt that Kai had deliberately dislodged her. He had saved her. He skin tingled and rush of emotion caused a tear to emerge. Thank goodness there was no one else around to see that.

What this all meant for her initiation she didn't now, but she knew that someone would have been following and someone would have seen that she had been dislodged not of her own accord. She could only live in hope.

But regardless, her love and devotion to Kai had been cemented. In some weird way she was now bound to him.

Feed him to the lions! All those religious movies of the 60's and 70's roar onscreen, as loud as the lions themselves. Gladiator scenes abound. Thirty years later, Russell Crowe recreates the same scene for younger audiences. They kept the lions hungry until time to feed the Christians to them. I can think of only a few ways to die worse than being torn limb from limb by a lion, or a pack of lions. Not a pack, a pride. Who makes up these rules anyway? Who decided that the lion was "king of the jungle" and as such his group of homies would be his "pride?"
Now the lions don't come to us via zoos or movies; we go to them in air-conditioned safari buses -- not to shoot them with bullets but with cameras. So very civilized of us.
I refuse to disturb the lions in their native habitat just so I can take my own personal photo or have the thrill of seeing them close up without the bars of a zoo cage. Let them be. If enough time passes, our species may be the ones being photographed, spied upon, observed, by whatever evolves next - after we've ruined planet earth for most of what's here now to survive on into the future.
Let us salute the lions while we may. Perhaps, in saving them, we'll save ourselves.

Said the baby Giraffe to the Lions

I am born from my mother's milk
It has always tasted of fear
And rung alarm bells at the teat
She tells me that in order to be safe
I must always feel unsafe

These savannah grasslands are like my eyes
Open and wide and green with envy
At your power, great lions!
They say you have a golden coat, an auburn mane
Though I always see it soaked in red blood, I don't know why

Gazelles, zebra foals, wilder beasts
Pass on their heartbeats to me
When they fall prey to your prowess
I see the air churn sickeningly
Like a mad man's mind, whenever you are around

Mother says it's not your fault that you kill
Hunger is nothing if not motivating
If leaves could talk, wouldn't they admonish us for devouring them?
Yet, even if it's natural and ok for you to hunt
I can't help but wonder about love

Where does love go when lives are suddenly extinguished
When mothers lament the cruelty of loss
And children anguish over missing parents
When tears are unstoppable and milk lies wasted in the udders,
Is that why the air feels moist? Is that when new shoots come to life

On mangled, rootless tree barks?
*********

Cal's eyes were open in the dark long before his alarm went off at 8 o'clock that morning. The radio clicked on mid-song, the beat the only thing coming through the static of the little black alarm clock he had used since he started his first job delivering advertisements door-to-door when he was twelve. The tape deck that used to play Brandenburg's Concerto had broke long ago, but the click of the alarm was now so ingrained in his psyche, that it was what woke him more than any jingle or jockey.

The threat of the night before had chased sleep away, worsened by the late hour of his return. The sparkle-stucco ceiling in the bachelor suite apartment met his gaze as light came through the slatted blinds, leaving stripes on the ceiling. The song shifted out of reception, and left just the sound of static behind. Somehow it felt right, a white noise and oblivion that he knew was going to meet him when he reported into Penale at ten.

Danny was dead, and the mark had spooked. The kid, he couldn't of been more than fifteen, had known they were going to be there. He had back up. He just saw the bob of black hair that matched her garb, seeing it before the blade that stuck in Danny like the pig he was. Danny's rolling jowls had quivered and there was a sigh, like the air let out of a tire, and he slump down, deflated and weeping blood.

The same sound seeped out his chest now, the quilts that lay atop him heavier than he remembered. Constricting.

The kid swore and cried out, but the woman just swept him under her arm and darted behind the fire escape. Three shots, Cal was sure he had fired three shots, but they were gone. And Danny was wheezing, wheezing and pleading as he cupped at the blood spilling in the alley.

He should of ran after the kid. If he'd kept his shit together, he'd have gone after them and left that fat bastard behind. But they'd been together since the beginning. They'd got the job done so many times, what was this one, this woman who had downed him.

But Danny was dead anyway, and Penale was waiting to hear the kid was dead, the data stick was crushed and given into his waiting hand. Piece of cake. I wouldn't trust anyone else, Penale said. It's only a kid, but only the best.

The static still crackled from the alarm on his dresser across the room, broken now by an irate meow. The bed creaked as Cal finally moved, throwing back the covers and leaving them in disarray. A patchwork thing left over from his momma's after she passed, in green and pink pastels. The faded thing clashed with every other bit in the room, but it was the only one he cared about.

Cal plodded to the bathroom in his gitch to take a piss, passing a glance in the mirror at the stubble on his slumped cheeks. He was never greeted with hat he remembered, there were always more lines and splotches, flaked, aged acne that hit him now, forty odd years too late for the prom. And the grey in his stubble. Penale hated an unshaven face. He left the lid up and went to dress.

He was sitting down to pull up his socks when his other Socks emerged from the carpet-stapled play structure house. The smoky tom cat had white paws, unlike the black wool the slumped at Cal's ankles. The hollow in his gut widened as the cat regarded him, before walking to its dish in the adjoined kitchen, and yowling with more insistence.

"Calm yer ass," Cal said, as he stood and pulled up his still-wrinkled pinstripe pants from the night before. Socks meowed tree more times, each with growing distress as he snapped his suspenders.

Cal grabbed a can from the cupboard overhead and snapped the lid. Socks wound between his legs, as he gripped the edge of the counter and looked down at the glistening pate that reeked of fish.

Danny used to feed the shit when he was out of town. Said that Socks was the best cat he knew, catching birds on the balcony and dropping them on the windowsill. Cal used to say he was full of shit, but now what? He was going to the lions, and Socks had no one. He clenched his jaw and spread his wide hands out on the counter, the belt buckle on his gut snagged on the edge of it.

Socks bit the top of Cal's foot and the man jerked aside. "Fuck sakes, I'm not starving ya." He overturned the can into the small, pink dish on the ground, directly on Hello Kitty's emotionless gaze. Socks was on it before the can was pulled away and discarded on the counter.

Cal could hear Socks lapping and gulping the gristle down with ravenous glee. As he buttoned up the shirt stained with Danny's blood, he called, "Remember to breath, ey?"

Tie and jacket snapped on his frame, Cal sat on the bed and watched Socks eat, his mouth drawn down in a severe line. It was only when he looked down that he saw his hand clenched in mamma's blanket. There was still dried blood on the back of his hand. What would he have said if she knew? A fight, she'd think he'd gotten himself in another fight. She'd wipe it away and give his cheek a kiss before chiding him.

Socks was purring amidst the gulps, lapping and smacking his lips as he took in the food in chunks, the dish pushing along the tile with every few bites. Cal pulled the quilt off the bed, and scarce gave the cat warning - not like the kid, no the kid had warning, it was the only way the woman knew - and scooped Socks up into it. The tom yowled and thrashed as Cal wrangled it into a sack to keep him hid, and hugged him to his chest.

"Just stop," Cal said, his voice cracking as he made for the door. With some difficulty, he grabbed his hat and made it out, not bothering to lock it behind him. In the exposed hallway, the sun was just breaking through the trees, the air still chilled and dewy from the night.

Down the hall, he went to his landlady's door and knocked hard on the wood. Socks thrashed again, yowling deep in his throat. When Cal went to knock again, the door opened on a lock half way through, showing Mai, the small Chinese lady who owned the building.

"What you want?"

"Hey, it's Cal Mahon. Remember the pie?"

"I remember," she said, and moved the latch. "It's early, what are you - what are you doing to Socks?"

"I gotta leave town," Cal said with some difficulty, and he tightened his grip on the cat. "My guy who usually minds him ain't around no more."

"I see, I see," Mai said, and eyed him with her arms crossed.

It was then Socks burst from the quilt and clawed his way down Cal, getting trapped between their legs before darting into Mai's apartment. He was cussing, but she was laughing, even as she nodded.

"I guess that's a yes?"

"Yeah," Cal said, and forced a smile. He neatly folded the blanket, unable to meet her eye. "Think you can take this? It's his favourite. And here, some cash for his food and anything, yeah?"

"Uh huh," Mai said, and took it as she watched him. "I'll take good care of him. He's already made himself at home, yeah?"

"Thanks," Cal mumbled, glancing past Mai into the apartment. "Later then. A week, maybe two. Rent's paid up."

"Socks will see you then," Mai said, and waved him away with the quilt, before shutting the door.

Cal was left in the hall with his back to the sun, staring at the numbers 201, before marched down the stairs and got in his Chevy to drive. Penale would be waiting, and it was a long drive to his maker.

Did I really say "Eat me, bad boy?" I guess I'm what's rotten in Denmark.

My Notes