‘Little Thoughts’

Marlene awoke to the hot breath of summer on her face. The flowers on her curtains danced in front of the rising spotlight of the sun, swaying back and forth. She rolled over, rubbing her eyes – the gritty remnants of yesterday’s mascara dragged across her knuckles – and lay blinking up at the ceiling. The alarm clock radio clicked on.
‘Ugh.’
“It’s Seven-Thirty AM and a day for celebration here on Wake up with Wogan! While we have been unable to have the show renamed ‘Arise with Wogan’ in light of the New Year’s honours list, yesterday London was confirmed as the host city for the 2012 Olympic Games. So, to start us off we’ve got the campaign’s wonderful theme song ‘Proud’, by Heather Small.”
Marlene aimed a swipe at Terry Wogan, but caught a bottle of Tesco’s finest Everyday Vodka instead – it exploded as it landed on the floor. She lay static, her eyes closed and her mind drifted back to sleep.
“Not today, Terry,” Marlene said, allowing her flailing arm to rest on her chest. The looming threat of vomit grew with each movement, like a time bomb ticking closer to detonation.
POP. POP. POP.
It sounded like someone jumping on a juice carton full of air.
There was yelling outside.
“Jacob?” She shouted.
Leaping out of bed she approached the window. Crouching, she poked her head through the curtains and peeked out. Outlines formed like an emerging Polaroid. Mrs Tilly was yanking Freddie, her English springer spaniel’s chain. Freddie had stayed with them earlier in the summer whilst Mrs Tilly went on her annual cruise. It convinced her that this was the year they would get their own for Christmas.
Freddie was doing his best to piss on the graffiti covered broadband box. The Dixon sisters dueled each other in the garden behind it, waving their wands at each other as they ran around the swing. Marlene squinted – the sound started again – and then rolled her eyes. Of course. It was Steve next door.
“That fucking car. Piss on it, go on Freddie, piss on it,” she whispered.
Steve waved up at her and she crumpled back behind the flimsy protection the curtain offered.
The door creaked and Marlene watched her son’s button nose poke out as he edged the door open. He stood in his Arsenal academy tracksuit with his foot on a ball, fixing an Alice band over his shoulder-length black hair. Marlene gazed up at him, remembering how he had clung to his first player of the tournament award in the under 6s, trying to take it to bed with him. The way he stood now, nearly ten years later, resembled the trophy.
“Are you giving me a lift to training today? Or-“ Jacob asked.
“Sorry love, you’ll need to get the bus. Mum’s not feeling too well. Give me a minute and I’ll come make you breakfast.”
“It’s fine. I’ve already had it,” he said, “I’ve left you out a bowl.”
“What time is it?” She asked, looking round at her alarm clock.
“And we’re coming up for 8.30…” Terry answered.
Jacob flipped open his mobile phone.
“Oh shit. I’m sorry,” Marlene said.
“It’s fine, I’ll hop on the bus. It’s a nice day anyway,” Jacob answered, not looking up from his phone.
He lingered in the doorway, snorting at a text message he received before looking up from his phone, “Just remember the tournament tomorrow.”
“Of course. July the 8th. I’ll be there.” She said with a smile.
He nodded.
She gave him a thumbs up and stretched her smile wider.
He returned to his phone, pulling the door closed behind him.
“Just leave the door Jacob, I’ll be two minutes,” Marlene said.
It was another ten minutes before she peeled herself from the muggy room and staggered her way towards the kitchen. Jacob was filling his water bottle. He brushed past her before she could enter. The little jobs she used to do for him now reminded her how hopeless she was at the bigger ones.
“That’s me heading off,” he said.
“Be careful,” she replied, half raising her arms for a hug.
“Always am,” he said, opening the door.
“Go score some worldies!” She said.
“Muuuum,” he replied, leaping out of the door.
“Bye love.” She called after him as his outline melted into the light, her hand hovering over her brow as she squinted.
Back in the kitchen, Marlene pulled down the blind, squeezing out the daylight. Her attention turned to the bottle of vodka perched above the biscuit cupboard. She dragged a chair over and leaned her foot on it. Spread across the back of the chair was one of Jacob’s football tops.
“You are killing me, Jacob,” she said, stepping down off the chair and picking up the jersey. She glanced at the vodka again then held the jersey closer – inhaling the scent of lavender – before sighing and returning it to the chair.
She replaced the chair under the table and turned on the TV. Red bled into the screen as the darkness lifted, revealing the words “Breaking News”.
“It’s thought though, that the incident was caused by a collision between two trains, a power cut or a power cable exploding,” the anchor said.
“Liverpool station is of course one of the busiest hubs, especially during rush hour,” his co-anchor added.
“We’ll let you know more as soon as we get it on this developing story.”
The rest of the report was drowned out by the tap water as she filled a kettle to boil. She grabbed her mug from the drier and rubbed her thumb over the worn print which read ‘Mum in a million’. She dumped the instant coffee in with five teaspoons of sugar. One new message flashed on the answering machine, Marlene listened while she waited for the kettle to boil.
“Hi Marlene, it’s Jenna here from the job centre. Just a quick call about your job seekers meeting we had scheduled for yesterday. If you could give me a call back on-“
“Message deleted.”
As she emptied the contents of the kettle into a mug her attention returned to the report.
“If you’re just joining us, terror has come to London,” the announcer said. “We have reports of three explosions on Underground trains.”
The kettle slipped from her hand as her throat tightened, spilling the remains across the counter and crashing into the sink. Her hand shot to her mouth. Her eyes nipped as tears threatened to well, the nauseous lump that had lingered in her chest climbed into her throat. Marlene rushed to the kitchen phone hanging on the wall, the handset slipped in her clammy hands. She dialed Jacob, her throat growing drier with each number pressed.
Engaged.
Marlene thrashed the handset against the dock, leaving it to swing and strain against the wall. She charged off in search of her mobile, ready to erupt. Cushions rained down on last night’s dinner plates, abandoned on the floor, as she attacked the living room couch. She seized her mobile from the void down the side of the couch. Sweat trickled down her back, as she cycled through the numbers, finding the right letters to text.
“I need you home NOW. Phone me”
Marlene returned to the kitchen and replaced the now lifeless hanging handset on the dock.
The steam from her coffee was absent, sitting on the kitchen table. Marlene draped the sleeves of Jacob’s jersey over her shoulders from the back of the chair. Tapping her foot on the floor, grasping her phone, she willed a response. Her phone trembled, vibrations rippling against her tightening grip.
‘Message failed to send: The message to Jacob failed to send.’
She tossed it across the table.
Pulling the ashtray closer, she plucked a charred cigarette from the ashes and sparked her lighter. Her hand quivered as she drew the last sign of life from the remains. Smoke slivered from her nostrils and the cigarette extinguished.
She laid the cigarette to rest and snatched her mobile, resending the text. The same response:
‘Message failed to send: The message to Jacob failed to send.’
Fumbling through her phonebook, she selected Jacob. She dialled. She waited.
“This is Jake. You know the drill.”
An extended beep followed.
***
Marlene awoke wrapped in red Arsenal bed covers, clutching a bottle of Everyday Vodka. Her head pounded. Each swallow felt like dragging bare feet on the old hall carpet they had replaced a couple of years before.
Her spare arm broke free from her cocoon – glancing the breakfast bowl of cigarette butts – and grabbed her phone. The battery was dead. She watched the clock which hung below a match magazine poster of Thierry Henry. The second hand was stuck, unable to pass fifteen.
“I kept telling him to replace those batteries.”
Her stomach gargled on a cocktail of vodka and hunger. Peeling off the covers, she staggered out of bed, kicking over her ‘Mum in a million’ mug as her feet touched the floor. She heard the hiss of rain behind the undrawn curtains.
The rain followed Marlene as she draped the duvet over her shoulders, rattling along the ceiling as she descended the stairs. She lingered for a moment a few steps from the bottom, remembering how she used to tell Jacob off for jumping onto the new carpet. It felt like a routine the two of them had, an activity they could share with each other. He would apologise and she would scold him; she had almost looked forward to doing it again.
Envelopes were gathering at the door to pay their respects; friends, neighbours and well-wishers. She walked past the fifteen voicemails that looked to do the same in the kitchen. Each cupboard was barren. Inside the fridge lay the remains of a tray bake. Mrs Tilly had brought it over with a cluster of white carnations that now lay discarded, still in their packaging and shrivelling on the counter.
Marlene froze at a chap on the door. She pulled the duvet tighter. Another chap. Her head peeked around the corner. The letter box was held open, she hoicked her neck back behind the wall.
“Mrs Ramsey?” The voice asked. “Mrs Ramsey, my name’s David. I’m a volunteer from the Victim Support organisation. I saw you through the kitchen window, do you mind if I come in and have a quick chat?”
She pulled the door as far as the security chain would let her. He produced identification with a smile and she considered closing the door again.
“Just a second,” Marlene replied. She collected the envelopes and placed them on the kitchen counter.
She returned to the door and removed the security chain. She let the draft ease the door open to invite him in.
He followed the trailing duvet into the living room and presented his hand as she sat, “I’m so sorry for your loss,” he said. She dangled her hand out in response and he shook it. He picked up Jacob’s football jersey before placing his satchel on the couch across from her.
“Was this his?” He asked, sitting down.
Marlene nodded as he held it out. She broke free of the duvet and snatched it. The straggling sleeve dragged a half-eaten Tesco cottage pie container from the table which separated them. He cleared his throat.
“We left you several voice messages but I understand this must be a difficult time for you.”
“There’s some tray bake in the kitchen,” she said as her stomach groaned.
“I-I’m fine, thank you. Mrs Rams-“
“Marlene.”
“Right. Sorry.”
He cleared his throat again.
“I came to chat about the support centre we’ve set up in Westminster. It’s at the Royal Horticultural Hall.”
“Do you know when I can bury him?” She asked.
“I-I’m not really privy to that info, but if you come down to Victim Support-“
“I’m not a victim.”
“Mrs Ramsey-“
“MARLENE!”
He bowed his head. Marlene cradled the jersey, weeping as he placed a contact card on the table. His hand lowered towards her shoulder but she dismissed it.
“This… clearly isn’t- I’m sorry, Marlene. We’ll be in touch again, but please, don’t hesitate to contact us. Our details are on that card. Come and visit us. We’re here to help.” He got to his feet. “Goodbye Marlene, please take care,” he said, stepping on the cottage pie container as he left.
She waited for the front door to close before lifting the jersey to her nose, inhaling. The smell of stale smoke slithered into her nostrils – forcing her to pull it away. Sniffing, she laid Jacob’s jersey to rest on the couch.
Tears dripped from her chin onto the container as she collected it – carrying it through to the kitchen – and placing it at the top of the bin, overflowing with flowers and food. Her attention turned to the letters lying above the bin on the counter. The seal of the envelope on top was flimsily clinging to the back, begging her to tear it open. Inside was a condolence card from Jacob’s coach with the new team photo, signed by the rest of the team. Tears trickled onto the photo, she wiped them away with her thumb, resting it over Jacob’s face.
Discarding the card and envelope, she clutched the photo and opened the cleaning cupboard under the sink. Marlene stretched back behind a mountain of cloths and unused Mr Muscle to grab a bottle of Everyday Vodka. She placed the photo on the counter and tried to unscrew the bottle. There was a knock on the door. The lid grated against her palm as she twisted. Another knock at the door, she tightened her grip. The ribbing burned her skin and she sent the bottle crashing across the kitchen. The front door opened as she sunk to the floor, holding her knees and burying her stinging eyes between her legs.
“Marlene?!” It was Steve. “Marlene are you alright?!”
Glass crunched at the kitchen door and she raised her head.
“What happened?” He asked.
She sniffed in response.
He stepped around the debris and sat next to Marlene, wrapping an arm around her. Her tears formed a dark patch on his sleeve. Finally, she raised her head, the tears plugged by her constant sniffs.
“Sorry,” she said, as he removed his arm.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “What happened?”
“I was… I was trying to read some of the cards and I just… I don’t deserve this sympathy.”
“Of course you do.”
“But it’s my fault.”
“How can it be your fault?” He asked.
Her eyes followed the creeping sunlight, unfolding across the floor and lingered on the remains of the vodka, “Because.”
“Marlene, I’m not here to preach at you or tell you it’ll get better. I can’t begin to imagine what you’re going through, but you’ve got to give yourself the best chance to get better. Blaming yourself, isn’t the way.”
“That sounded a little preachy, Steve.” She spluttered.
“Fine, but give it a shot. Your neighbours are here for you, whatever you need.”
“I chased a guy from Victim Support ten minutes ago,” she said.
“I know, he came knocking on my door asking me to see you.”
“Oh.”
“Give them a chance. Give us a chance.”
She got to her feet, collecting the team photo, “Can I ask you a favour then?”
“Of course.” He answered, standing.
“Do you mind, getting that awful car of yours and taking me to their centre in Westminster?”
***
Steam rose as the sun baked the road ahead. The exhaust popped and spluttered as Marlene dragged her fingers along her jeans, clawed at her pockets and chewed her fingers nails. She felt a cold sweat emerge across her forehead. They passed a group of boys kicking the ball around in a park. Her attention lingered on the rear view mirror, on the park and the empty back seat it reflected, before resting her head against the window and closing her eyes.

 

 

Critical Analysis
This short story falls into the genre of historiographic fiction, existing on the fringes of history. I was interested in how ‘The Dark Room’ tackled the war and considered how I might be able to do something similar in a more contemporary setting. I chose to expand upon a homework exercise on the London bombings on July 7th 2005 because I felt there was scope to explore something on the periphery of that event.
I transcribed and adapted an intro to the ‘Wake up to Wogan’ radio show from June 2005. Wogan had been named in the New Year’s honours list and the Olympics had been awarded to London the previous day, this gives a hint at the time-frame without being explicit. It also enabled me to insert some foreshadowing into the story. I adopted segments from the actual Sky News broadcast coverage, where the initial incidents had been reported as an electrical fault, a collision or a power failure. This allowed a small window where the reader will likely know what is going to happen, creating some tension as Marlene carries out some simple tasks and reveals a little more about her life which is going to be changed dramatically.
I wanted the initial focus to be on a mother and son whose relationship was straining. Jacob was growing up and becoming more independent, Marlene was slipping deeper into alcoholism and becoming less reliable. Her awareness of this only serves to hasten her decline. When writing Marlene I felt that she would find some hope. It felt unrealistic that she would conquer her alcoholism, and by extension the guilt from her failure to her son by the conclusion. However, I felt she would find the desire to battle those demons in the face of the tragic event.

Nice staff & good prices – Peter McLeod

Nice staff & good prices – Peter McLeod

5/5

The traffic dawdled deliberately in a herd as a traffic police car weaved past. Snaking through the traffic behind them came Artemis’ Flower van. She’d found a new hobby. Lithuania. The driver said, as he looked in the mirror. Folk tend to avoid places colder than Scotland in October. The van roared as it moved to the far away lane, presiding over a new herd, one to hold dear without her bow and arrow.

A volley of rays

through the clouds

they pierce the windows

on the passenger side

She must have loaned them to her brother. To be honest, I can’t say I’m looking forward to it. Gav replied as the taxi slipped to the outside lane. The words lingered for context, the silence sewing ungratefulness to the previous sentence.

 

It’s for the European People’s Festival.

It’s basically for a meeting.

I’m the team chairman.

Yay responsibility.

 

<- GLASGOW AIRPORT 

Drop off point ->

That’s 11.00

Overhead, a jet follows the sign.

altogether. He says

Try not have too much fun.

Gav laughs. He wheels his bags off THIS WAY ^

^

^

towards the terminal

Please pay at the exit                                                  20 zone

43.43 became 40

2+2=5

Please drink responsibly,

This is a final call for passenger Ingram

82%

Gate 18

Ei-FAV

43

16a

3325

WARNING: PHOTOSENSITIVITY/ EPILEPSY SEIZURES

INT. MARUKYU STRIPJOINT. ELEVENTH FLOOR.

The INVESTIGATION TEAM stands at the top of the stairs. In front of them is a pink curtain draped across a pink carpet with eyeballs encased in diamonds some darker, some lighter in shade. They run parallel to one another. Spotlights with lips swoop around the hall as drum and bass plays over the speakers.

Teddie

… I think that girl Rise is ahead of here… I’m not certain.

 

GAV

Raise the curtain and enter?

 

Yes/no

 

The INVESTIGATION TEAM enters under the curtain. The camera cuts to the back of the room, showing them approaching under an arch with blue lights. The walls are lined with purple curtains. RISE kneels on the floor wearing her white pin over. Dangling from the pole is SHADOW RISE wearing a golden one piece.

 

YOSUKE

Look the real one’s here too!

 

SHADOW RISE

(laughing)

They’re all watching!

 

RISE

Stop it!

 

SHADOW RISE

Aww what’s the matter? You wanna show your stuff, don’tcha?

 

SHADOW RISE spins round the pole and flexes.

 

 

RISE

Please, stop this!

 

 

SHADOW RISE

As if that’s even close to what you’re really thinking, you little skank! You’re me… and obviously I’m you. Not Risette, the fake celebrity! Look at the girl right in front of you!

 

RISE

No! You’re not…

 

Exclamation marks appear above the INVESTIGATION TEAM’s heads.

 

CHIE

Don’t say it!

 

RISE

You’re not me!

 

SHADOW RISE laughs as a blue aura grows out of her, feeding off the rejection. It unleashes a wave of smoke, shrouding the room before for a moment to mask the transformation. SHADOW RISE’s true form appears; a giant blue body with rainbows rotating around its limbs. The boss battle begins.

 

 

All aboard the Cobus 2700

You wonder why you’ve not got a brother or sister!

Daddy’s a mean person

                                                He’s not mean,

he’s just

                                                               

Yeah it was an impromptu journey

to Wales- I mean France!

 

Dubai

Manchester City

Dreamliner

 

Plaistesch agus cannai

Additional seating up stairs

 

“There are so many career paths, the possibilities are endless.” Robert, Graduate

 

 

“A boy has the right to dream. There are endless possibilities stretched out before him. What awaits him down the path he will then have to choose. The boy doesn’t always now. At some point, the boy then becomes an adult and learns what he was able to become. Joy and Sadness forever will accompany this. He is confronted with a choice. When this happens, does he bid his past farewell in his heart? Once a boy becomes an adult, he can no longer go back to being a boy. The boy is now a man. Only one thing can be said: “A boy has the right to dream, for those endless possibilities are stretched out before him”. We must remember… all men were once boys– Robert Graduate

 

pumpkin spice

we’re half way there

can I have a slice?

livin’ on a prayer

queues of leather

loves a blether

 

 

 

Seat 26e

26 C B A

(Can’t. Be. Arsed.)

rests his arms upon the table

 

pillow

 

 

F

Lurdes

Our flight is delayed…we are in Viena …portuguese delegation

 

Virginia

Ok

You are not the only

Hungarians also have problems

 

Aurore

We are in the plane. No pb for us. Ready to land.see you soon

 

Virginia

See you

 

Lurdes

In the plane now….2 hours more….and Vilnius…see you later

 

Lurdes

Sorry….but we dont have pilot….we are stoped

They said…more 30 minuts…or more….waiting for the first oficial

 

Virginia

It’s ok @Lurdes Silva

Heidi Rasmussen has left the conversation.

 

Life jacket under seat, please

Fasten seat belt whilst seated

sign is on

locate your nearest exit

 

Q                  61%

 

 

Rise: What do you think, Baz, are Tottenham bound to come up short on all fronts?

Gav: Errr… I have a suspicion they might do, yeah.

Rise: They’ve just drawn at the Bernabeu, could this be there year?

Gav: It very well could be, Max but I think, though they’ll beat Liverpool this weekend, they won’t have enough to topple City or United.

Rise: I think they’ll have enough on Sunday but, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what else it is they need.

 

[“Sure, I’ll show you around.”]

 

Rise: Do you want to hear my case for Poch’ being the best manager in the league, Baz? Before you answer I’m going to tell you…

 

> You sense Rise’s natural, easy friendliness…

> You feel a faint bond forming between you and Rise…

 

Thou art I… And I am thou…

Thou hast established a new bond…

 

It brings thee closer to the truth…

 

Thou shalt be blessed when creating

Personas of the Lovers Arcana…

 

> You have established the Rise Kujikawa Social Link of the Lovers Arcana!

> You may earn an EXP bonus when fusing Personas of the Lovers Arcana!

> Rise’s determination in battle has been enhanced…

> She will now cheer you on during all-out attacks!

 

Rise: They’ve taken the most points this calendar year…

Rise: Harry Kane and Deli Ali continue to look like they’re on the verge of world class.

Rise: They’ve improved from last year, despite the financial constraints of the stadium and they’ve no particular weak point!

Gav: Yet they won’t win the league Max.

Rise: It’s bizarre!

 

Dojima residence

Welcome home big bro!

Study,

Tutor or

work at the hospital

Q                  45%

 

 

Harmony Park

Pilieciai

Welcome Scotland!

Fall ‘17

Zanarkand Ruins

Who are you

Nobuo Uematsu

J-E-N-O-V-A

 

-1

Dotna Bilank

Seduva

 

 

Radviliskis

Cognac + beer

 

07:50am –

07:55am –

08:00am –

 

 

Mokyklinis Autobus nr 469

Cia

Pirmosios

Raides

 

 

-Antanas Caiciulaitis?

– Here

– Antanas Skema?

– Here

– Ignas Seinius?

– (silence)

– Jurgis Savickis?

– Here

 

 

 

 

Vinco Kudirkos Progimnazija

President’s trophy

post football kebabs: 860239699

1992: The town crest was designed and

J’mapelle Roddy Cairns. Je suis chevalier blanc

 

 

Mazuras

1999

 

 

Just Do It. To the victor, the statue

Wind whipped through the hissing trees. Rain lashed against the container they leaned against. Five of the squad remained, their backs to the enemy. In the foreground a body lay face down in the mud. Edvard felt his greatcoat strangle his body, holding him down in the mud. Next to the container lay a cannon. We must push forward he said. Moisture dribbled from his forehead, ricocheting off his lips as he spoke. The salty warmth crept inside his mouth. He tightened his grip around the handle of his rifle through the film of water. What’s the plan sir? Ignas asked. Can you use it? He gestured at the cannon. If you cover me. Edvard nodded. We fire that cannon and push them down the rail tracks until they’re out of Radviliskis and then we make sure they don’t set foot in our town again he replied. What about reinforcements? Edvard shook his head. We have the momentum. The cannon should deal with enough of them. The reinforcements will arrive to hold them out of town. Go to it on my mark. The rest of us, push forward and draw the fire. He checked his bullets, cocked his weapon, closed his eyes and leapt to his feet.

Forward! He shouted. The squad scrambled out from behind the container. They roared as they steamed along the train tracks. The Bermondt’s were holed up behind a train carriage. Bullets zipped through the air, snapping at their feet. Ignas turned the cannon. The wind howled against them. He hoisted a shell. Barrages of rain carried on every gust. Lined up the trajectory. He hauled on the lever. Direct hit! Bodies bled from the charred remains of the carriage. The squad charged on. Their roars were flanked by friendlies from the trees. The roars turned to cheers, Ignas stood atop the cannon watching on. The bullets flew only one way now. They reached the train, abandoned by their scampering foes.

 

gubernija anno 1665 x8

cognac x

left

on read

 

Please do not throw toilet paper

in the toilet.

Thank you for understanding.

 

Thierry Kepykla

Plauk Rankas

October, 1708Washing makes no difference. I huddle around the fire. The skin on my knees tears as I drag them over the floor. I let my face linger closer, hoping that it will melt away the sores which plague me. Fire spits back at me and I cower behind the dust ridden rug that belonged to the victim before me. He has willed this yet I see no golden gates when I close my eyes, only darkness. Yet I am rejected by Hell. It will not welcome me nor will it grant me its warmth. My bones grind with each movement, my teeth rattle yet the cloth sticks to my back.  I clasp my hands together and lift them over my head, my ribcage ready to rip through my skin. My mouth wrenches open but all that escapes are the groans from my stomach. My arms drop to the floor and I roll onto my side and watch the fire. My eyes feel heavy and the binding of my hands loosens.

M10_official                                         Arsenal 5                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Rangers 0

 

 

 

 

What I attempted to do was replicate Bridget Penney’s style in Index and apply it to my experience of travelling to Lithuania. I documented details ranging from conversations, to prices, posters, initials, brands – anything which I managed to catch and take note of on my phone whether it had meaning or not. Each heading creates a structure, but the information which follows it breaks from that structure.

I fictionalised the character ‘Gav’ in place of myself. The first heading is a google review for Artemis Flowers from a customer. An Artemis Flowers van drove past my taxi on the way to the airport, I found it an amusing use of the name at the time. Somehow Artemis had become a domesticated florist. I applied the technique coherence to this initial segment, references to she should inform the reader that there is something going on that’s not explicit in the text as there is no she in the taxi and the actions are referring to Artemis.

The mention of 43.53 became 40.00 is the exchange rate for pounds to euros at the time. It is also a reference to Ian Hamilton Finlay and the structural parallelism he employed in Ovidian Flowers. This also made me think of 2+2=5, a chapter heading in Orwell’s ‘1984’ which holds significance in regards to use in the French Revolution as well. In that context it refers to value placed on a particular portion of the aristocratic French population over the rest, whilst Orwell uses it to question the party. I felt this applied to the values of currency, we value one more than others and frankly, if Travel Express tell me that is the conversion rate I just accept it without question.

Please drink responsibly was plastered on bottles and posters in restaurants. Ei-Fav was on the side of the plane, travelling from Gate 18 and I placed the 82% at the side of the page to mimic the battery percentage I was keeping an eye on and there was a final call for a passenger which I noted because Ingram’s is a bar back home.

I played Persona 4 Golden on the Playstation Vita during the connecting flight to Dublin. I used the health warning when you start the PS Vita as the heading, then chose to write out the segment of the dungeon I played through in script format, taking inspiration from the stage actions which Penney employed during Index. I put Gav in there to mimic the style of Penney using Roland and Julie as recurring characters. The player can choose the name of the protagonist they take control of in Persona 4, answer questions prompted to him and fighting as him. I saw the protagonist as an extension of Gav.

The segment following that are extracts from a conversation between a family of three on an airport shuttle bus, a Cobus 2700. This stuck with me, along with a bizarre line confusing an impromptu trip to France with Wales. The contrast between the two countries forced the line to stick with me.

The heading is Gaelic for plastic and cans, on a bin in Dublin airport. This demonstrates a change in location – but not the end of the journey. The quote by Robert, the graduate was on a poster in Dublin Airport and the combination of ‘possibilities and endless’ in the final segment of the line will always remind me of the quote ‘A boy has a right to dream. There are endless possibilities stretched out before him”. It’s from an anime I used to watch called Outlaw Star and also features in an advert ‘Toonami Dreams’ on an old TV station which holds nostalgic value. The piece of rhyme here is simply applying structure to actions, drink and experience of a hen party singing Springsteen in the airport.

My seat number was 26e on the flight but looking across the row I noticed 26 CBA – cba always triggers ‘can’t be arsed’ in my head due to over use of the acronym to denote this feeling. I had several messages in the Festival Delegation group chat on Facebook to read before the flight started, this was a brief snippet of that. I found it amusing because Heidi left. I imagined her patience might have ran out. I used wingdings font to show the mobile phone going onto airplane mode and the battery percentage remaining.

There is further Persona 4 gameplay here but I’ve adapted someone’s fictionalisation of the scene, reduced to dialogue but replaced the dialogue with part of the conversation in a football podcast which I listened to whilst playing the game on this flight.

I started to take notes on my surroundings in Kaunas airport which now had no meaning and triggered no nostalgia compared to those attached before. Harmony Park was advertised in the airport at Kaunas, Pilieciai hung at passport control. I used song titles that appeared on my playlist in the car to the hotel before falling asleep.

Mokylinis autobus 469 was written on the bus we used to visit the schools we would be staying at next summer.  Some of the words quoted appeared on a particularly creepy picture drawn in the primary school.

The men mentioned here had pictures on the wall with their birth and death dates, but there was no description attached to them so I fictionalised a class register in the style Penney wrote the questioning of Julie. The class register, a list, provides a structure to the names. I employed cohesion to show that each ‘Here’ is a response to the name, showing a different responder.

We were shown a town monument with the town crest on it, it was a white horse with a white knight which reminded me of a joke we made about a friend whilst we were in France in the summer – we called him the white knight in French.

We were given a brief explanation about the statue of Nike in the town centre, it was to commemorate the victory in 1919 over the West Russian Volunteer Army. I decided to fictionalise an account of this battle as Penney had done with the French revolution. I used the cannon and the image of Ignas standing on the cannon because the statue of Nike shows her atop of a cannon holding a sword.  Plauk Ranks read ‘Wash your hands’ in the bathroom, this reminded me of the fact that Radviliskis was uninhabited for two years due to the plague. I wrote a fictionalised account of someone infected like a diary entry, as Penney had done in Index, using elements of coherence too.

Throughout the piece there are pieces of information left unstuck and without structure such as flight numbers, phone numbers and snippets of Lithuanian. There are also a few notes I had taken which I do not recall taking, perhaps I was trying to set my alarm drunk or had noted how many beers I was to order at the bar. I felt these belonged in there to represent the arbitrary nature of information obtained by an intoxicated consciousness.

‘By Any Means’

My arms are burning, like my triceps are ripping through my skin.

“Faster,” I hear him shout from the side of the pool. “Come on!”

They slosh through the water. Hold them steady, I think. Visualise your fingers. You’re touching the wall.

“BREATHE.”

My mouth is assaulted, my throat nearly clogged by water, I grit my teeth, hold my head under, purse my lips and wheel my arms, the end is in sight, fingers reach out, my toes wriggle and I wrestle the last ounce of strength from my legs as I reach the wall.

I feast on the air as I break through the surface and rest my head against the side of the pool. He sighs, checking the stopwatch.

“Once more,” he says.

I raise my head and open my mouth but the only defence I can offer is to let my head rock from side to side. He slings the stopwatch against the wall.

I turn my back to him and pull off my hat and goggles. I close my eyes and bury my head under water, letting my forehead sooth. I exhale slowly then resurface.

“You’re down three quarters of a second. You need to work on your breathing technique.”

I nod as I edge over to the ladders and try to heave myself out of the pool. My shoulders droop as I clamber up, the arch of my foot tightens between steps. I stop halfway as his hand lodges on my shoulder. I look up at him, his smile mounted above that barreled chest and broad shoulders. Light obscures the rotting grey hairs emerging from the side of his head.

“You’re better than this,” he says.

I summon that smile he demands.

“I’m better than this,” I say.

“There’s my state champion.”

My smile grows wider than I’d intended.

He offers a hand I can’t decline, wrenching me out of the pool. Then he lingers – like he always does – at the side of the ladder so that I have to walk in front of him.

“Nationals are a month out,” he says as we walk.

I tread towards the locker room when I feel those calluses clamp around the base of my neck. His steps stalk mine, he presses down and my insides shrivel like the tips of my fingers. That familiar grip grinds along my shoulders, like someone strangling water from a towel. The door feels so far away now.

“You need to work harder if you’re gonna keep your place on my team,” he says as his fingers creep under the straps of my swimsuit, crawling backwards and forwards.

The locker room door edges open and his fingers recoil but his hands linger on my back.

Alex pops her head out like a soldier peaking over the trench.

“Howdy Alex, I’m just about ready for you,” he says. “Why don’t you dive in and cut loose those legs of yours?”

“Sure,” she replies, emerging from the door that’s been shielding her.

She looks at me and then to the ground as she approaches.

“S’up Karen,” she says, turning her head to the pool.

HELP.

“Hi,” I reply, as I watch her pass.

He ushers me over to the door with his hand on my waist as I hear a splash behind us.

“Alex has been doing some extra training with me,” he says. He leans in, his stubble scratches my cheek. I feel his warm breath tickle my ear. Chills swim down my spine and he whispers, “I think she might be able to compete in the 200m.”

“Oh…” I begin my approach towards the door, one step at a time.

“She’s shaved nearly a second off her time. You should think of doing the same.”

“I’ve got math test comin’ up and-” He latches his hand around my wrist, reeling me back to him.

“I’ve got a math test for you,” he hisses. “What’s 1:40 minus three quarters of a second?”

“Our target time,” I answer.

“Our target time. Mine, yours and more to the point: my friend at TMU’s target time,” I taste the stale milk on his breath and I lean my head to the side. “Now, Alex is in damn fine shape and you look like you could drop a few pounds never mind seconds. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

I purse my lips and nod.

“Hit the showers,” he says as he releases my wrist before snatching the door handle and swiping it open.

I catch a look at myself in the mirror inside my locker door as I collect my things. I turn my head to both sides, sucking my cheeks and clamping them beneath my teeth. Then I release them.

I thrust the door back against the cabinet and make my way to the showers. I turn each shower on and let the steam smother the room. I feel tears plotting their escape. I sit and rest my head against my knees and I feel the water scorching my back. I will it to melt my skin and beg the steam to choke me. I watch as a strand of red hair is lured into the drain. The tears begin to flee.

***

The smell of bacon flirts with me as I arrive home. I head straight for the kitchen. Mom’s standing over the cooker, still wearing her work apron.

“Hey hon’. How was practice?” She asks.

Tell her.

“Exhausting,” I say.

This can’t go on.

“Coach still pushing you hard?”

The bacon hisses as I lean against the counter.

“Yeah.”

How do I say it?

“It’ll all be worth it in the end,” she says.

“Mom-“

The pan spits oil onto my jeans. I pat at the spot.

“Do you mind taking over? I need to get back to work,” she says.

Now’s not the right time.

“Another double?” I ask.

“’Fraid so.”

“Don’t push yourself too hard,” I say.

She wraps her arms around me, cocooning me.

“Oh hey, a letter arrived for you today. I left it over on the table.” She says.

I go and pick up the letter. Underneath it lies an open one. Urgent is printed across the top of it.

“What’s this urgent one?” I ask.

“Oh it’s nothing hon’. I just forgot to make an electricity payment, that’s all.”

“Mom you still remember to send birthday cards to Dad’s family and we haven’t seen them since-.”

“Must be all this cooking I’m doing for you between shifts that’s making me forgetful then!”

“Are you sure you don’t need me to get a job?” I ask.

“Positive dear. The only jobs I need you to do is open that letter and watch this bacon whilst I go to work.”

I dunno if she’s getting worse at changing the subject or I’ve gotten better at noticing. I pick up the letter and wander back over to the cooker; she kisses me on the way past and says goodbye. I take a knife from the drawer and slide it along the top.

It’s from TMU. I got in, it’s a scholarship offer! Place dependent with a full one being offered if I win at nationals. Tears breach through my defence again and my throat clogs. I look at the bacon, now shriveled and smoking. I strip it from the pan – the stench burns my nostrils – and drop the rashers in the bin. I toss the hissing pan into the sink and head for my room.

I plug my iPod into the Iron Man dock and play my Disney Hits playlist. Tom Brady grants me a smile as I turn on my computer. I open a homework tab and a Facebook tab. Murmurs of discontent arise from my stomach. I convince myself that by allocating ten minutes to Facebook, I’ll commit to fifty to work.

Half an hour later and the homework tab’s been replaced by her twitter feed. I’m still swiping through photos of Alex. Moana has done little to dampen the howls of derision from my stomach. Happy family photos, Christmas and that perfect holiday bikini picture. I pour over photos from swim meets; zooming in on those toned legs of hers that glisten in the pool. There I stand on the podium, supported by two tree trunks. I hammer the mouse to close each tab then toss it away and hold in the standby button. I slap the light off and throw myself onto my bed, staring at the ceiling.

***

I get the message at lunch time. He wants to see me in his office after school. I spend the rest of the afternoon wondering how to get out of it, each solution riddled with errors.

I arrive late to the pool. I nudge the entrance door open and he spots me. He’s waiting for me outside his office. He walks towards me and I freeze. I can’t leave, but I don’t want to enter. He opens the door fully and I nearly stumble into him.

“Come in, come in!”

“Sorry I’m late,” I say.

“I didn’t even realise,” he says fanning his hand. “Come on, let’s go talk in my office.”

I follow him down the corridor, under the eyes of previous swim teams, their pictures lining the walls. He holds the door open and his breath licks my hair as I pass into the office, polluted by cologne.

“Please, take a seat,” he says.

“I’d really just like to get started with training. Maybe I’ll stay a little later tonight,” I say.

“Well, I’m glad you’re coming round to that idea,” he says, pulling the chair out from under the table. “Sit.”

I buckle and kick the desk as I sit, a picture of us at the state championships threatens to fall. I’m taunted by his medal from nationals.

“I gather you got the letter from my friend Mr Herrera at TMU,” he says, sitting down.

“Yeah. He offered me a scholarship, a full one if I win at nationals.”

“That’s too bad.”

“Too bad?”

“I think I’m going to go with Alex for the 200m at nationals.”

“You can’t!” I say.

My throat dries.

“She swam sub 1:41 last night.”

“I’ve done it before.”

“But you’re slowing down.”

My eyes burn.

“I’m going…“ I croak.

I get to my feet, sniffing, I approach the door.

“There is one way…” He says.

I turn as he snakes around the table towards me.

“How?”

He unzips his jacket.

“I don’t know if there are enough shifts in the day for your mom to cover tuition fees,” he says. “You could still enter nationals. You might even win.”

My grip on the handle loosens under my sweaty palm.

He slithers forward and leans his forearm against the door. He leers down at me.

“All we need is a little cooperation,” he says as the hairs on the back of his hand brush me. “Teamwork.”

He lifts my hand from the handle, wrapping his fingers around mine. My eyes are burning. I grip his hand tighter. My temples are pounding. I lure his face towards mine. Then I feel my right leg crunch between his legs. He wails as he recoils and I run.

I’m back in the main school building. Tears stream down my face as I sprint down the corridor. I spot the girls toilets and burst through the door. I nearly fall on the sleek tiled surface as I slide to a halt. Alex stands in front of me.

“Karen?! Are you alright?” She asks.

I stagger back towards the door but she latches onto me.

“I lost my place on the team, and-” I stutter as I shrink to the floor, laying back against the door.

“What happened?” She asks, crouching.

“You happened.”

Her eyebrows jolt as she answers, “Me?”

“You,” I say, trying to cup my hand steady over my mouth as I wheeze. “You and your sub 1:41.”

She lets out a confused laugh and says, “I can’t swim sub 1:41.”

I feel the tears subside.

“Karen, what the hell happened?”

“He told me you were doing extra trainin’,” I say, rubbing my eyes. “He said you were takin’ my spot in the 200m. Then he…”

“He what?”

I glance up at her, “H-he tried to… or suggested that we…”

I thud my head against the door and inhale. She sits down beside me. I exhale. She cradles her arm around my shoulder. I inhale. I lean my head against her shoulder and exhale once more.

“My scholarship…” I say.

“We need to tell to someone,” she says.

I lift my head off her shoulder and ask, “Will they believe me?”

“Hey,” she says, brushing my hair out of my eyes, “I believe you.”

 

 

Commentary

I had initially considered this piece to be contemporary fiction as it deals with themes that are current societal and cultural issues. However, as it developed I found it belonged to the young adult genre. I felt it would be more effective to tackle the themes with first person narration.

The piece deals with sexual harassment. After some research into sexual harassment involved in Olympic Teams and sports teams in general I read an article about the economics of consent by Brit Marling which helped tie my ideas together. Economic security is something which grants women a modicum of power in a patriarchal society. Men are often the gatekeepers of a woman’s potential for economic security, they often abuse this power and apply pressure on women from their position of power.

The coach attempts to use Karen’s need for a scholarship to reduce or eradicate the cost of her going to university. She’s coming from a home with a single mother working in a diner. If she stands up to him and reports him, does she lose the scholarship? Is she now a troublemaker, a persona non-grata like so many are when they report harassment in the workplace? That’s a dilemma I wanted to expose – something which countless victims of sexual harassment have faced.

Secondary to this, is how the coach pits two girls against one another. He objectifies Alex, and paints her as the obstacle to Karen getting her scholarship. Those seeds are sewn onto Karen, dividing them. It was then important to show support for the victim, uniting the divided parties. If Alex confessed to Karen, considering how she was controlled, would Karen have believed her? Showing belief in the victim, especially in a world where social media allows people to destroy victims, is incredibly important.

I think on reflection the piece would work better with wider context, which exists in my head but the piece had a word limit. I don’t think I’ll return to this and expand upon it, however. I think it only scratches the surface of the characters and I think it could maybe have been subtler in places. When a piece contains difficult themes, it’s not about marching in and becoming some kind of martyr. Whilst the story has roots based upon plenty of research, I think it’s important to acknowledge that I’m still learning and there’s a fair chance there’s something problematic in the piece. I also think an additional feel for the characters existing in this world would be beneficial to the story having life outside of the theme of sexual harassment.

‘Finch’

Light shredded the darkness as Charlie opened her eyes. The room smelled like her cats litter tray had been left out in the sun. Her head throbbed, her wrists and ankles burned under her uniform. Above Charlie, a spider dangled from a solitary thread. She tried to sit but jolted back to the carpet, which barely concealed the concrete underneath. Charlie thrashed her feet, shaving her skin. Blood tickled her ankle before her sock dampened. She hauled both arms against her restraints but the cuffs stripped her flesh like a knife thinning bark.

The spider had slipped further from a sagging ceiling tile. She wrenched her neck to the left as its legs fidgeted furiously. Charlie heard voices behind the metal door. She fought frantically with her restraints. Two men armed with guns entered. She twisted her body, the smaller one remained by the door. She ground her limbs against the restraints as the bearded one approached.

“Please, sit still.” He said.

Charlie fastened her lips as she battled.

“Please. I cannot undo these restraints if you do not sit still.”

She rested her arms and legs but she kept her neck craned. Sweat stung her wrists and stained her white vest, exposed by her unbuttoned uniform.

“Why?” She asked.

“To show you how we treat our guests.”

“I didn’t ask to be your guest.”

“And I didn’t ask for you to occupy my country.”

He placed his pistol in its holster. Charlie let her head rest.

“Boy, go and collect our guest’s food.”

The smaller one left the room, leaving the door ajar.

“What’s on the menu?” Charlie asked.

“It’s a surprise.” He smiled.

He unlocked the restraints around her ankles.

“Why don’t you just kill me?”

“If you stole a hundred dollars would you just rip it up?”

“I wouldn’t steal a hundred dollars.”

“No, you people would conquer the fucking bank.”

He unlocked the remaining cuffs and stretched his arm out. Charlie recoiled, caressing her wrists with her hands. She unwound slowly, then leapt to her feet. She sprang towards him reaching for his pistol. He ducked her assault. She charged towards him again, thrusting a fist at his face, but he snatched her wrist. He kicked the back of her leg and pushed her towards the wall, slamming the side of her face next to a post-box window slot. She noticed two finger nails lodged into tears in the wallpaper.

He held her there, breathing on her neck.

“You had to try. I understand.” He said.

He forced her twisted arm further up her back.

“You’ll stop trying in time. You’ll appreciate how good you have it.”

Charlie let a whimper escape.

“Sir.” The other returned.

“What took you so long Tariq? Set it down over there.”

He loosened his grip and Charlie slumped with her back to the wall. Tears breaking out.

“My name is Finch.” He said.

“The reason you’re here…” He broke off as a jet ripped through the sky above the building. She followed his eyes to the roof. The spider hovered above him. There was a pop, then an explosion wrestled with the room. The spider fell from the ceiling, bouncing on Finch’s face before landing on the floor. He drew his pistol and fired five shots at it, taking chunks out of the floor.

“Fucking spiders!” He said, firing once more at the wall. Charlie retreated into the opposite side of the room near the bowl and Tariq.

“That!” He said, gesturing to the sky “is the reason you’re here.”

“There are two guards outside. It’s up to you whether we do this the easy way or the hard way. Come on, boy.” He said, marching out of the room.

Tariq handed Charlie a wooden dish of cold soup, its contents were cloudy. She placed her finger in and swirled around. He pulled a piece of bread from his pocket and gave her it.

“Thank you.” She said as a tear crept down her face.

He nodded.

“Wait. Wait!” She hissed.

She pointed to her sock which was smothered in blood. He left the room.

Charlie peeled a couple of strips from the bread at first before inhaling the rest of it. She carried her bowl over to the window and emptied the contents between three rusty rods which punctuated the view. A rustic red smeared down the inside wall.

She looked at the burning brown which strangled the road out of the compound, suffocating the land until it was interrupted by huts in the distance. In the courtyard below a truck growled as it prepared to leave. There were a couple of smaller buildings to each side of her window. She noticed Finch and Tariq arguing at an iron gate which blocked the exit. Surrounding the compound was a barbed wire fence; littered with tiny shoes.

Charlie approached a mattress which was decorated by vain-like yellow stains. She flipped the mattress and discovered a ripe red stain which peeled from the carpet. She resisted her body’s retching and wiped the tears which drowned her eyes. She approached the mattress and flipped it back over and then retreated to the opposite side of the room.

The spider crept towards freedom, climbing towards the slot in the wall. She looked at the bullet holes in the floor and noticed the chunks of concrete that had been chipped out of the floor. Charlie collected the pieces and sharpened them against the bars in the slot. She blew the dust away from the slot as the spider reached the summit.

“I’ll be right behind you buddy.” She said.

Charlie slipped into sleep soon after hiding the shards under the mattress.

Charlie awoke to shouting outsider her door. Water snuck through the sagging tile. She got to her feet and went to the slot in the wall. She looked beyond the spider which had remained and constructed a web, patrolling between the bars. The truck had returned. The door opened and Tariq entered the room, without a weapon. He closed the door and pulled a cloth from inside the front of his trousers. He emptied some of his flask onto the cloth.

“Thank you.” She said, sitting down and easing her shoe off.

Tariq knelt and she peeled the sock down from her ankle which left strands of fabric sewn into the scab of her wound. He caressed her ankles with the cloth, allowing her to clean her wrists.

“I’ve got to get out of here before he kills me. Will you help me?”

He shook his head.

“You don’t know what he’ll do to me.”

“Don’t be afraid of him. I have a plan. Just get him to come here. Tell him I’ve got information on an operation.”

“Are you sure you want to do this?” he asked.

“I just need to get his gun.”

He nodded and left the room.

She checked outside to make sure the truck was still there. The spider had snared its first victim and was busy weaving web around a fly. The door swung open, nearly springing back on Tariq as he followed.

“I hear you have some information for me?”

“Yes, but first I want guarantees; that you’re not going to kill me.”

“I’m the only person here who wants you alive. Tariq here would rather see you killed after what your people did to his family and to his village.” He said, gesturing at Tariq.

Tariq shook his head after Finch turned his back.

“What have you got to tell me?”

“I’m not telling you anything.”

“Do not waste my t-“

Charlie tossed the mattress at Finch. He swatted it to the ground but Charlie was on him with the two stones. She crushed one against the side of his head embedded in her hand and drove the other into his eye, forcing him to the ground, driving the stone deeper. There was banging on the door as he screamed. Tariq pushed against the door. Charlie grabbed Finch’s pistol. She checked the safety. He continued to yell. She pulled the trigger. He was silent.

“Open it!” She shouted.

Tariq released the door, falling back as one guard stumbled through with the other behind him. She fired two bullets at each, one in the chest and one in the head.

Charlie hung the pistol at her waist and picked up one of their rifles. She lifted Tariq up and gave him the rifle.

“Thank you.” He said.

“Let’s go.” She said, leaving the room.

“I can’t let you do that.” He replied.

Charlie awoke facedown. She was back in her restraints. She spotted her uniform in a bundle to the side, she was in her underwear and vest. The door groaned as it opened. Footsteps crept towards her. Tariq lifted her head to his by her hair.

“It’s just us now.” He said.

The spider watched on having devoured its prey.

‘The Hermit’

You approach the enclosed beach from the main road. You notice sand shimmering on the path under the stingy lights which line each side, craning their decaying necks to observe. To the left you see the cliff which wraps itself around a constricted coast, cramping the stretch of sand. You look at the town perched upon the edge guarding against the cruise ships which often sail below.

You reach the patch of grass at the back of the beach trapped between sand and stone. You squat down and squint your eyes. Doing this extends the jetty at the tip of the beach across the horizon to Kilika Straight, the passage of water which ships sneak down to the freedom of the ocean. It felt like your only means of escape until now.

The town had become your home for the last two years, but it was only at this beach where you felt any connection to it. You’d shoot this beach in a movie but the thought of it becoming a tourist attraction triggers a frown. You first met Lisa here, at a karaoke beach party. You used to hate karaoke but that night you sang for hours. She still has that effect on you. She’s helped open your eyes to a plethora of interests. You hope this won’t be the last time you can be here together but she might not give you any choice.

You watch the sun as it slips closer to the sea seeping red, yellow and orange like a nasty wound in the sky. Clouds gather above, papering over the scars. You sit on the sand, just far enough away from the tide as it climbs its way up the shore and clutches at your ankles. The tide jostles, unable to prevent its secrets spilling over the sand.

You notice a hermit crab shuffling its way across the beach, carrying its home like a worn out brown backpack. The crab approaches a marketplace of shells. It scuttles around, pausing at each of them before settling on one with a patterned blend of gold and orange stripes. If your boss were here he would swipe it and hang it in the bar; a supposed compliment to his arty aesthetic. The hermit struggles to free itself from its suffocating shelter. The sea claims the sun and you wrap your arms around your knees feeling the warmth wander from your body.

You shouldn’t have asked her to meet you here, but you couldn’t let her think that something was up. You should have told her earlier but you weren’t even sure until now. Are you sure now? You had to see her here, even if it was the last time.

Hands gently smother the light from your eyes.

“Guess who?” She said.

“Sounds like Obama.” You said.

Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time.” She said.

You let a laugh sneak out, despite your attempts to contain it.

“Where’ve you been hiding? I hadn’t heard from you in a couple of days and nobody at the bar had seen you.” She asked.

“Sorry. I wasn’t feeling too great. Forgot to call in.”

“Jessie! Call them when you get home, you don’t want to lose your job.”

“Yeah. I will.”

You never lied to her before this, now you can’t seem to stop yourself.

Darkness trickles across the sky. The wind creeps down the back of your t-shirt. She sits down next to you and clings to your arm. Goosebumps crawl up your skin. You are cold. You notice the hermit crab has freed itself from its dingy dungeon and has moved into its new crib, testing out the new surroundings.

“I was thinking; maybe in a couple of weeks we could go for a weekend away in the city like we talked about?” Lisa asked you.

She rests her head on your shoulder. You say nothing.

“Work’s winding down. It shouldn’t be so hard to get time off and it’d be a nice change of scenery, think of all the karaoke bars we could visit.”

That is what you want but you can’t, not after what you’ve done.

“Yeah. Great.” You can’t stop yourself.

“Great. I’ll have a look at hotels when I get home.”

You need to tell her.

“Lisa, I need to tell you something and I’m afraid of what will happen when I do.”

Her grip on your arm loosens.

“W-what is it?”

Her head abandons your shoulder.

“I got offered an internship at a film studio and I’ve decided to take it.”

“I thought you stopped pursuing that dream?”

“I did, or I thought I did. I dunno, I was angry, I’d just moved here and then I met you and I just kind of put the plans on hold.”

She discards your arm.

“You said you were ready to settle into a real job. Was that all just a lie?”

“No I-“

“Were the last two years just a stopgap? Am I just a stopgap?!”

“No! You weren’t. You’re not. I can’t imagine my life without you, Lisa.”

“Liar! Otherwise you’d never have gone for the internship, never mind taken it.”

“You could come with me.”

She rises and you follow.

“I can’t just leave and go with you.”

“Why not? What’s keeping you here?”

“My family is here, my job is here and I like living here.”

The wind whips her blonde, curly hair as you look down at her pleading eyes.

“They’ll always be here, your family and this town. What’s stopping you from moving and working the same job in a different city and building your own life?”

“I’m happy here! You want me to move for your ambitions but you don’t give mine a second thought. How is that fair?”

“I want you in my life but this is the opportunity I’ve been waiting for, that I’ve always wanted. I can’t help but want you both.”

“You can’t have everything.” You hear her voice crack and she turns her back to you.

The tide bursts onto the beach, pushing at you and Lisa but you both remain. You notice the hermit crab has abandoned its new home in favour of wriggling its way back into the apartment it dared to abandon.

“You gave up on that dream when you settled down here; when we got together. You let me believe you were happy and that I was safe. You said we had a future together, now you’re going to throw it away over an internship.”

“You have to choose. The person you can’t imagine being without or the job that you’ve always wanted.”

“Can’t we work something out?” You ask.

She speaks through tears.

“What’s to work out, Jessie? I won’t stand in the way of you if you want to pursue your dreams.”

Is this really your dream? Maybe you are being selfish. She’s right, you have hurt her and lied to her. You hated the thought of that. You think about all the plans for the future she’s suggested, how happy she was, are you ready to give them up? For an internship? Not even a guarantee. What if things went wrong? Maybe you won’t like the city. You might not meet another girl like her.

You watch as the tide destroys the shell market and claims the hermit crab, dragging it back into the depths. The shells scatter across the sand and you notice the shattered remains of the now discarded shell, a faint reminder of the pattern remains. You consider collecting it for your boss.

“It’s you, Lisa. I want you. I love you.”

She faces you again.

“You need to be sure. You can’t flip flop on this.”

“I am sure. I’m happy now, here with you. The thought of losing that happiness terrifies me. I was too busy thinking what might be to stop and realise what is.”

“I love you too.” She said.

Freckles of light heal the sky as they melt through the disintegrating blanket of cloud. Your feet stick in the sand, submerged as the tide tickles your achilles and you shiver. You embrace her and she kisses you.

 

‘The Boy and the Camera’

The phone roused you from your slumber. You were cocooned inside your Star Wars bedcovers. You liked to imagine you were camping out inside a Tauntaun on the planet Hoth with Han and Luke. It was the last weekend before term ended, you felt like sleeping right through as the first half year of high school would soon be done.

“Tom, Pete’s on the phone!” Your Mom shouted.

You squeezed the covers and held your tongue, understanding the futility.

“TOM!”

“Just a minute!” You called back, as you got out of bed.

“Why are you not dressed yet?” She asked.

“I was asleep.”

“It’s 10am.”

You shrugged, trying to pick that days fight. You still look back at those meaningless rebellions and cringe.

You picked up the phone: “What’s up?”

“Dude, get out of your pjs, stop scratching your ass and grab your camera. It’s snowing! You know what that means?”

“The winter scenes!” You’d only finished writing the story a week prior.

“Exactly. Meet us at Mara Hill and hurry up will ya, Kimmet and Allan are already on their way and Lily is on her way too.”

“Lily is coming? I thought she wasn’t interested after last time?”

“What did I just say? Girls change their minds all the time. Don’t get all weird and don’t forget that camera.”

“My Mom’s home so I need to sneak it out.”

“You’re clever, you’ll think of something.”

Pete mastered the skill of giving you what ought to be a complement but rarely delivered it as one from an early age. You hate to think what his kids are having to endure now. You were clever, though and you couldn’t turn up without the camera, though part of you did want to see Pete implode.

You claimed your rucksack was a snack pack and you weren’t going to be home for a while so you needed to fill it. Your mom asked what you were taking and you replied: “Food and stuff.” You weren’t that clever, but you got away with it.

Mara Hill overlooked Littleton, our houses laid out like a monopoly board. We spent a lot of time up there in the summer. You always liked to visit on your own. Mom wasn’t keen on that but you had reached that age where vague was no longer a deterrent but a catalyst, though she pleaded you to trust her.

Kids at school told tales about the woods on the hill, how a boy had trapped his leg under a fallen tree and died. They said the forest masked his screams and how his ghost haunts the forest, screaming at those who walk alone in the forest at night. You weren’t afraid of ghosts, but you never did visit at night. You found getting Lily to join the movie cast was far more terrifying, well until you actually asked her. The kids told other stories including the old man who lived in a hut and fed children to his dog.  Some said the old man made soup of the child stuck in the woods. These tales inspired the movie shorts; we decided to create and investigate our own myths. You only filmed and wrote while the others acted. That annoyed you, but it was better than giving the camera to Pete, Allan or Kimmet, who would have found a way to destroy it and that would have resulted in the end of your life.

Lily waved as you approached.

“Hey. I wasn’t expecting you back.” You said.

“I wasn’t really expecting to come back either, but I decided not to let him ruin it for me.” She nodded at Pete.

“That’s usually my line.” You replied which prompted her to show that smile which you thought must have been designed someone who built boats inside of a bottle.

“I like your stories and you’re really good with the camera.” She said, you felt the warmth spread from your cheeks and you forgot about the cold.

It might have been the second time she had joined the group but you felt uncomfortably comfortable around her.

You didn’t notice your stomach growling until night crept in, according to the camera it was half past five. You developed a habit of leaving the camera on between scenes. It took up more tapes, which eventually led to Mom catching you out, but you know now it was worth it to be able to look back. Even if it opened your eyes to Pete spending a lot of time being a dick.

“Okay, our last scene is the chase scene through the forest.”

“Any reason we saved this for last?” Lily asked.

“’Cuz it’s darker and colder. It’ll look more dramatic.”

“The camera has night vision too.” You said.

“You’re a frickin’ genius, that’ll look sick!” Pete declared.

“It’s getting a bit dark for me.” Kimmet said.

“Go home then, you’re dead anyway we don’t need you for this scene.”

“What if the ghost comes?” Allan asked.

“There’s no ghosts up here Allan, you should be more scared of the cold.” You were trying to comfort him but really he just had something else to be scared of.

“You don’t have to follow in, we’ll be right back once we’ve shot the scene.” Lily said.

“I’m not staying here by myself. I’ll follow in just behind you.”

“Fine. Don’t get in the way.” Pete said, before shouting: “Action!”

Lily ghosted past the trees, her feet kissing the snow as she swooped through the forest. The branches tugged at your coat and snatched at the camera as you tried to keep up. The forest whispered as you pursued. You halted when you lost sight of her, a moment you regret.

You swivelled the camera around and realised you had lost everyone. You started walking. You called out names. Your voice ricocheted, swallowed by the forest. You stumbled and fumbled. Something trapped your foot. You’re wrenched to the ground. You elevated your wrist, saving the camera. You looked through the green tinted lens. There was a shoe in front of you, kidnapped by branches. Your mind returned to the child, though you pleaded it didn’t. Now you felt the cold. You leapt to your feet. The camera covered your face as you turn. Engulfing the screen was a mouth, it consumed you with a scream. You collapsed backwards, the scream broke down into a laugh which melted away the fear and revealed a shame which lasted. You remove your eyes from the screen you notice Lily’s long, hazel hair sneaking out from under her purple hat.

“Are you kidding me?!”

“I thought it was only the cold we were to worry about?” Lily asked as she offered you a hand up. She never stopped reminding you about this.

“Yeah, yeah. Whose is the shoe?”

“Dunno. I saw it and I couldn’t resist.”

“Maybe it is the kid’s shoe.” You joked.

“Ooh! Maybe it’s Pete’s and the old man finally gave him what’s coming to him.”

You laughed a little harder than you should have done.

“Maybe we should find out?” You gestured to a cabin which peaked through the trees.

“It can be our investigation.” She said.

‘Bright Eyes’

Anna parked outside her home. The Sun left a red trail behind as it slumped down the sky and into cover behind the trees which cocooned the cottage. She adjusted the rear view mirror, taking a wipe to remove any make-up that remained, pulling at the bags under her eyes. She ran her fingers through her hair a couple of times and revealed a necklace from underneath her jumper before nodding in the mirror.

“Can’t believe I’m wearing this thing.” She said.

The wind battered the car door as she battled to leave. The trees around the house brawled with one another unable to hold onto their faded façade of green and brown, soon there would be nothing left to hide their shame.

She stood at the head of the path which the surrounding grass smothered as it hissed at her approach.

The porch welcomed her with a reluctant creek. She paused at the doorbell before pulling a key from her pocket, the keyring missing its photo, and unlocked the door.

Barging past three suitcases she ignored the stairs as she entered the house, instead heading into the living room. The windows howled as she entered, clouds were confronting the sunset. Framed memories of smiles and hugs judged her every step.

She approached the mantelpiece and examined a vase which held captive some drooping flowers, drained of colour. She rubbed the stock between two fingers which prompted petals to drip into the embers of the fireplace below.

Anna looked at the mirror which hung from the wall. Her grip tightened around the vase as she caught sight of a picture of Mark and David which hung on the opposite side and she launched it across the room crashing into the wall. The picture remained, defiant, as pieces of glass clung to the wall. She stared at the picture as the trickles down her cheeks grew into streams.

“This isn’t my fault, it isn’t!” She said.

“Mum?” Asked a face half hidden by the doorway.

“Oh David, I’m so happy to see you!” She said.

David recoiled as Anna approached but she snatched him up, clutching him close at her shoulder.

“I’m sorry Mum.“ He said, trying to separate from her.

“It’s okay, David.” She said, pulling him in for a hug.

“Are you going to leave?”

“Leave?” She asked, yet to release him.

“Dad packed your clothes up.”

“Your Dad’s just a bit confused, David. It’ll be fine. Mum’s here now.”

As she separated from David, Anna looked past him into the mirror hanging on the wall. A sliver of smoke rose from the fire below, the last of the petals had been consumed.

“Put him down.”

“Mark, I-“

“Put him down, Anna.”

“Right, yes.” Anna replied, freeing David.

He scuttled across to Mark’s side, facing Anna and revealing a dark circle which consumed his eye before hiding behind Mark’s leg.

“David, why don’t you head up to your room while Mum and Dad talk?” He said, ruffling David’s hair.

David fled the room and Mark entered, leaving the door open.

“Mark, I’m sorry.” She said.

“David doesn’t know that. He still thinks he did something to deserve it.”

“I’ll make it up to you both, I promise.”

“This isn’t like missing a school play! You can’t click your fingers and make things fall back into place!”

Pieces of glass slipped from the wall and onto the floor.

“God damn it Anna! You can’t even control yourself around a fucking vase! How are you supposed to be a parent?!”

“I’m not a good parent but I want to be.” She said, moving closer to Mark who stood arms folded.

“And you thought by turning up here and what, smashing a vase and trying to smash a picture would show that? You’re crazy.”

“Give me a chance, one more chance. Help me get past this, we can get through it.”

Anna placed her hand on his wrist.

“I don’t believe you.” He said, swiping her hand away.

“I can be better, I don’t want to lose David.”

“You lost him the moment you lay a hand on him like that.”

“I’m sorry. I know it’s my fault, what else do you want me to say? To do?”

Mark slammed the living room door and it rebounded open.

“There’s nothing you can do. It’s not safe to have you around him.”

“Mum? Dad? What’s going on?!” David asked.

“Nothing, Anna’s leaving now.” Mark said.

He grabbed hold of her wrist now and dragged her out of the living room.

“Let me go you piece of shit!”

Mark opened the door. By now it was raining heavily. He threw two of the suitcases outside before opening another and throwing the contents to the whipping winds outside which littered the garden with garments. Anna crashed into him as she raced outside, trying to collect each piece of clothing.

Lightning split the warring clouds for a moment’s truce as the sky roared. David sat at the bottom of the stairs, unmoved, wrapping his arms around his knees as he watched.