A lifetime

We are all tourists
Waiting between visits
To the florists;
Sad standing and
Eyes down
Into the abyss.
Hands stuck in clap
Praying for the last flower;
Slow-dragging heels
Towards our last hour.

Pencil cases

Mouths wait agap
In search of offence
And react with fire
In organised pretence.
Wordless we all spill
From one shadow
To the next
With tape stretched
Across our teeth
And rope tied to our necks.
Today, a gun caused
The pen to bleed
In hope to censor
Every word we read.

Being offended does not justify ending lives and defaming an inherently peaceful religion.

The McRib

Established initially as a marketing icon for Flintstone followers, McDonald’s have been literally shoving the McRib’s second coming – or is it third? – down everyone’s throats as of late.

This flat rectangle of pork laxsidasically dropped onto the floor and then between two stale Sainsbury’s basic range buns is what we have come to expect from culinary journey that is McMastication.

The sauce is seasoned in such a way as to hide the taste of the grey meat. The meat is, I am sure, of high quality – as advertised; it is just a shame that they McFucked it up into a mince of pigness.

I was sold a McRib, however felt compelled to return my sandwich. There was not a ounce of bone in sight! At least get that part right, Mr McDonald. I told the waiter: “I ask for a McRib, St. Louis style (of course), and you give me this?! A McMeataroundthebone?!” He was not amused and kindly asked me to leave.

On the whole, my experience was a good one, contrary to everything I have previously said, even though I can’t explain why. It seems that the McRib has an addictive quality much similair to smoking: we know it’s a dirty habit and makes our insides turn to mush but we just cannot stop ourselves. Look out for the launch of McRib Bbq sauce flavoured nictone patches and E-McRibs in all common goods stores in the near future.

National Rail

A story of
what if?
and where are we?
at any moment
in history.
Growing outwards
and spreading into the green
like a plague of greyness;
A town where men
and women
move mouths
in the South
and lay down
tracks of self-preservation
for everyone to follow
without deviation
towards stations
with familiar names,
visited again and again –
late, of course –
using the same old trains.

Where all things hide

There is nothing I can write which is scarier that what your mind can create. Different things scare different people. So in order to tell a story which will truly scare someone, a story which will lurk forever present in the recesses of a reader’s mind, it is necessary to leave the unknown inherent within your writing. A story which is void of certain pieces of information opens up vacant spaces for the reader to accommodate with projections of their own.

The closet door opens and presents a slither of darkness. In this darkness, you see a tiny red light. A pin-prick against the deep darkness around it. I do not know what this light is, but perhaps you do. What is the small red light you see half-recognised in your closet. What do you know that this light could be? A lit cigarette? No, you can’t smell the presence of smoke. A reflection off of a button of a piece of clothing? Perhaps, however when you move the angle of your stare the light does not move or change shape like you would expect. The red light is still and directed straight towards your bed; it is staring directly at you.

You’re just being silly. You open and close your closet day after day and you would have noticed that light before now. However, can you be sure that you would ever notice such a small light during the day? And during the night the closet door is typically closed. So why is it open now? Why is there a red light staring at you now, in bed and at night? Why can you not find the courage to move from your bed a reveal its truth?

Enough is enough. You throw the quilt off your body and huff in a way to make noise. It is a feebly attempt to invite sound into the room and within seconds a muteness returns. You return the stare of the red light and your mind begins to assess what it could be. Measurements and comparisons begin to reveal themselves in your head. The red light is approximately 3 feet from the floor, about the height of a fully-grown man crouching. What a sinister means of assessing the situation. Do all your comparisons have the image of an intruder lurking beneath the shadows? Well, an intruder is one answer. However, this is one answer out of an infinite number of reasons why there is a solid and piercing red light seemingly hovering in the darkness of your closet.

Where were we? Oh yes, silence and darkness and still the ever-present unknown. Your body moves. You are now standing and your joints feel reluctant and tight with anxiety. Ration jumps at you with so many solutions, but you remain unsatisfied. You need to know what that red light is. Does your room seem darker to you? No. It’s just that light. It has grown slightly brighter, illuminating only a small surrounding area within the closet and, in doing so, has plunged the rest of the world into a deeper darkness. In the small area of redness you see the outline of a coat hanging, arms long and shoulders sharp. This is your coat. However, it looks unrecognisable in this light. The light cuts red edges around parts of the coat leaving it still half-revealed. From what you see, your coat has taken on a completely new identity.

Another step forward and another shape reveals itself to you from the shadows. A pair of shoes at the base of the closet, seemingly unoccupied. Dark shadows rise up from the shoes towards the red light. The night stands infront of you parading in your shoes and your coat, wearing your clothes and piercing into you with that incessant light. You want to move quickly to get to the truth as soon as possible, however something is stopping you from doing so. The closet door appears to open slightly as your foot plants into the floor. You see something shift beneath the darkness.

What is it that haunts you? What is it that stirs within this current of wild shadows? You move closer and the light disappears as a shadow moves in front of it. Closer, the darkness moves towards you. What is this that stares back at you? Your hand reaches towards where the light used to be and you see the subtle shape of a hand stretch out towards your own. You touch the darkness and it touches you. Glass-cold. Fingertips mirrored in a double-world. A person stares back at you from the shadows.

Your eyes, wild; you look at yourself. A mirror. An illusion of an intruder. Relief spreads across your shoulders and your joints loosen. You scared yourself. Your own image, it tucked itself away within the unknown to create fear from the nothingness in this room.

With a smile, you turn back toward the bed and then then you see it. That same red light as before. In the corner, above and behind headrest on your bed. It too had been reflected in the mirror however its original source had been out of sight, dwelling in the unknown. A flash and a click. The room lights up and blinds you. Another flash and click. Again the room reveals itself. Flash. Click. Light. Flash. Click. Light.

You stand dazed trying to wipe the puddles of whirring colour from your eyes. That’s when you hear it. A voice, barely audible above the silence: ‘Come back to bed, beautiful.’

10/07/1915

Dear Rose,

Happy Birthday, I hope this gets to you. 20 years and you have formed into the most beautiful woman I have ever known. You’re more than the English channel from me, but you’re always close to my mind.

It’s been more than two months, yet I still see you in the dress you wore during my departure, bright red with sharp shoulders which seemed to push your hair into loose curls around your neck. I remember how the autumnal colours of your hair swept across your face and stuck to your cheeks with the wetness of tears. I told you to smile for me. I didn’t want my last image of you to be without that smile. You were so strong to do that for for me. Thank you. I love it when you smile; it influences the shape of your face. Your mouth takes a pretty form and pushes your cheeks into a plumpness which compliments the almond cut of your eyes. A smile starts in the eyes. I have always told you this and I will continue to tell you the same once I return home – if I return home. Ignore that. I will come home.

The mud is life here and I could really do with a shower. You’d really disapprove of the state of my fingernails right now; they look like they have been soaked in hena ink. I have certainly kicked the nail-biting habit whilst out here. Worms are the enemy and I can’t afford to be eating for more than myself.

I’m sure that you want to know how I’m doing. I’m feeling fine. The other men in my battalion are amicable and easy to get on with. We talk about books we have read and music. It passes the time while we wait through the thick silence. I hate it. I can sleep through a barrage of bombs, but it’s the silence that really gets to me. It’s because the silence isn’t really silence; it’s just the moments between the deafening assaults where you can hear a slight humming sound saturate the air. The sound is deep and can be heard on the edge of existence. It is ever so slight, the half-recognisable sound of flies on flesh. The buzzing and humming filling the fields between each thunderstorm of war and gently vibrates against the back of the brain. The ever-present reminder of death. I hum to myself when I am alone to drown out the sound. It does help sometimes.

I have dwelt too long on death and must rejoice in life, more specifically your life and the twenty years that you have blessed this earth and those around you. Thank you, Rose, for being alive and for being the reason to fight on and survive. I will be home to tell you Happy Birthday on your 21st, I promise.

I love you.

Toby.

The thinking room

The mind is a house. Home to all the parts of your identity. A maze of corridors leading to rooms which can be opened and closed throughout the day. Thoughts and experiences are archived, shut away and revisited.
A cameo of characters roam the halls and once seen they take your hand and drag you to a room attached to their being. This character will place your hand onto the door handle and turn it for you. The lock will crack and you will fall into a world which hangs from the heels of this person. A memory of how you met this person, perhaps? A memory from whence you last saw them? Or perhaps a completely estranged experience which has tenuously tied itself around the two of you. Bill and I had such fun before he died. He reminded me of tractors. Though I had never seen him on a farm before. Or talk about anything of the sort for that matter. Then a tractor will appear, scraping at the textured wallpapered walls of your mind as it forces itself across the biege patterned carpet your father spent a whole weekend laying in the first house you lived in.
The tractor will slowly chug off past you and out of sight to reveal a new corridor and a tall, authoritive figure standing in the shadows. His shape is etched out from the darkness by a dim golden light. It is a flame. The small fire lives at his feet, its movement shifts the golden edges of this man’s silhouette into another shape. A shape of a woman. The fire burns brighter and the woman is now another door. You approach and reach out. This door does not open. Instead the handle burns your palms. After a flurry of cursewords, the blood fades from your hands and, after your eyes return to yourself, the door is no longer there. A memory for another day.
You search the house for this room, the room of the woman of fire, to try and discover that which remains unknown to yourself. The memories your mind has chosen for you to not revisit. The rooms in your mind which remain unopened and locked, hiding those moments you chose to forget.

Two coffees, cold.

The cafe was half full. Mouths moved in a mindless tidal flurry. Pete fidgeted in his seat at a table for two near a window which looked out onto the street. The air outside was hatched with lines of rain and umbrellas marched past. Feet moved with purpose. Pete’s attention panned from the window to a clock on the wall. The clock hands made no sound. She was late. A fly landed upon his hand, he slapped it into a small pool of blood. The pieces of fly were swept away promptly.
        A waitress approached, they both spoke about something – he may have ordered another coffee – and she left. He observed her shapes as she visited each table. Her body spoke; she was tired. Pete lost interest in her and noticed that another fly had landed on his hand – it had accomodated the same spot as the fly before. He attempted to swat this new fly, however he missed and the insect whizzed about his head before taking refuge on some wall space near the clock. The time was the same as before.
           He felt the waitress brush past his chair. A coffee sat in front of him. Someone started talking behind him, their words gently buzzed in the back of his head. “These eggs are not right; they are cold.” Sorry – Pete spoke for the waitress under his breathe.
“Sorry, I’ll get you a new breakfast.” The waitress was apologetic to this unseen customer.

Pete’s coffee cup was now empty. The clock showed the same time as before. He may have been sat at the table for days or weeks, he could not remember. The waitress brought a huge plate of eggs and bacon to the dissatisfied customer behind him. The smell of food clung to him long after the food had disappeared from sight.
        A small mound of sugar appeared on the table as sachets began to empty; Pete then spread the granules out into strange patterns. An ant marched across the table surface towards the sugar, Pete squashed it and flicked away the remains; he then went on to pinch a small collection of sugar granules and sprinkled them into a small puddle of coffee that had been clumsily spilt over the table. The coffee had assumed the shape of the bottom of his coffee mug and had started to dry, leaving a memory before him – evidence that time was in fact passing in a linaer sequence. The puddle of coffee seemed to bleed and outline every tiny molecule in front of him, etching an unknown script into the textured table surface. What did these words say? Nothing. They were chaotic and unintelligible marks of the past. Pete’s eye raised up from the table to see Claire sitting across from him. She was smiling and so very still. She looked like a photograph.
“You’re late.” Pete’s face folded, his eyes flicked downwards and he swept away another ant from the table.
“Am I?” Claire’s face did not seem to move as she spoke. She continued to wear her Hollywood smile. Pete’s eyes panned over to the clock again. It was the same time as before. The fly was still there.
“I want you to come home.” His words were familar, as if he had said this sentence before. Claire did not respond for a moment or two. She picked up a menu and began to scan through a list of hot drinks.
“Home?” Finally, she spoke, albeit into her menu. “You know I can’t. That place is no longer my home. Wow, coffee isn’t cheap this side of town.”
“Why? All of your things are still there. Come on, that must mean something. That must mean you intend to come back?”
Claire nodded over to the wandering waitress, who suddenly appeared beside her.
“A cappuccino and coffee, please.” Claire handed the menu to the waitress; who then dissipated from view. Two coffees arrived moments later – she had got the order wrong. Neither Pete nor Claire mentioned this to the waitress.
“Two fifty for a coffee I didn’t order.” Claire’s face warped into a grimace as she drank from the cup. “How hard is it to get-”
“Fuck, Claire! No one cares about the fucking coffee!” Pete’s fists struck down hard and left the shapes of sugar strewn across the table.
“You’re insane. This is why I left you.” Claire’s words remained with him long after she had gone.

Two coffees, cold. Pete asked for another. The empty seat was now occupied by a man with glasses. He asked his assistant to fetch him a coffee too. The man had a beard of experience and a clinical stare. He looked Freudian with his palms pressed into a sloppy prayer position in his lap. The scene around him changed.
          The cafe was an office. The clock showed the same time. Flies everywhere.

“For fuck sake Doc, open a window! Let the flies leave here. I hate their buzzing; it hurts my brain.” Pete’s eye moved around the room after each flying menace. He clapped into the air. A small smear of blood painted his palms.
“There are no flies, Pete.” The doctor’s speech was a collection of precisely-picked, rational words.
Pete looked down at his clean hands. There were no flies, no ants, no sugar, no cafe and no waitress messing up her orders. Even the coffee he had thought he was drinking was just glass after glass of air – nothingness touching his lips like a caffinated dream. All that remained was the man who sat opposite, his eyes looking into Pete as if trying to decode him.
         The bearded man leaned in, over the desk, towards Pete. He placed a cigarette into Pete’s mouth, flicked his thumbs and inspired a small flame. The bearded man then shifted back into his chair. Pete stared through the smoke, the man infront of him appeared as an apparition. The plumes of smoke danced around his face creating an image of semi-existence. The image of the man dissipated as the office began to change. The desk became a diner table, the assistant became a waitress and Claire returned to him. Two coffees, cold.

Pete smiled at Claire. She remained still like the photo in his wallet. Her stare was clinical. Was she going to return home? Pete’s mouth started to open. The image in front of him raised an open palm as if to ask him to remain silent. He did.
         Claire’s hands came together in her lap and formed a sloppy prayer gesture. Flies everywhere. The mouth in front of him began to open. She was going to tell him that she loved him and wanted to move back home. That she wanted to forget the arguments, the mistakes, the clenched fists, the backs up against the walls and visits to A and E. She was going to tell him: ‘Let’s make this work, Pete.’

Finally, she spoke: “Now, Pete, we need to have a long discussion.” Yes. This is it.
“This may not be as easy as I first anticipated.” Here we go. She’s going to say it.
“We need to talk about is this ‘Claire’ you keep referring to.”

A fishing boat on the river

I want to share your mouth,
breathe in the fever
and spit it out
and answer the questions
your body asks.
Shapes shake;
they move and create
another heartbeat between us.
Sweat, like a lake,
in this lucid state
we move and slide
to sex out the demons from inside
and bring us up for air,
for a moment of
eyes rolled back;
heart attack –
love, death, fear,
it’s all here
to push us onward
to the place we love the most:
ripped up, cut up
and broken in a fixed moment of completeness,
a tide of calm,
in each other’s arms.

Rose

I woke up ill, with whisky-breath and half of a head. Arms stretched out into the scattered shapes of sun which had managed to squeeze between the blinds. Rose always complained about the light in the mornings. My fingers went searching for skin – a breast, a handful of ass or a piece of inner thigh. There was empty space next to me. I sat up half-asleep with hair meshed into an insane shape and waited for a moment before standing. A dressing gown, a pair of glasses and unsteady footwork. I was still drunk.
I found Rose naked, sat on the decking. Her eyes looked out over the flames above the town.
The sun was still rising. Its light had discoloured the undersides of the clouds above it. Rose moved with the light and her face split into a pretty smile for me, then she turned back towards the horizon and her smile faded. It was a flash of fleeting happiness, as if seeing me had momentarily given her the chance to gasp for air before submerging and then continuing to drown. Gingerly, I sat next to her. The sunlight cut golden shapes from Rose’s profile and made her shine. My arm stretched out and dragged her into me. Her head sunk into my chest. Her tears made my chest wet. My hands combed her hair softly.

“Rose, you realise we need to leave here and can never return?” I spoke to the colours of autumn in her hair. She nodded. Her head rose out from my chest and she looked at me. Last night’s mascara made patterns below her eyes. Our faces moved. Her lips were electric. Whisky-kissing with teeth and last night’s breath. Softly, gently our faces separated. Her eyes, like molten glass, burned. She was strong. Stronger than any person I had ever know. She was strong enough to leave her old life behind, to kill it with fire and run away kicking the flames from her heels. We could not restore what we had done. Last night birthed the darkness in us both. She embraced me tight before pushing herself to her feet and extending a hand.

“We need to go now, Toby,” Rose said, her smile flashed once again, “I’ll pack our clothes and the money; you make the body fit in the car somehow.”

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