Until Tomorrow

The mother of the murdered child has been standing ankle-high in the sea for the last twenty minutes. I recall the summer two years before when the murdered child was on this very terrace with her murdering husband: sun-kissed and lost in love — whispering, dabbing disinterest at their food, dreaming of tomorrows.

I come to this same taverna every summer: the same metronomic beat of cicadas, the same surprise when an unexpected gust of wind makes kites of sunhats, prises unripe olives from their branch, topples toddlers in the sea. I stay late sometimes, watch the sky change from blue to red to black, wait for the fluttering stars, a remembrance of life long ago.

In the shallows an Italian lady I know from yoga is with her son, splish-splashing laughter and love at each other. What a blessing to have born a child, I muse, reminded that ‘if only’ never really leaves us.

To be distracted, I feed threadbare oval-eyed cats the heads and spines from my sardines. It brings a smile.

My gaze reverts to the mother of the murdered child. Does she want to be alone? We have always said hi when we meet, but I don’t know the mother of the murdered child well. I never really knew the murdered child, but in such a small community you kind of know everyone; smile as each flower blossoms, weep as they wither.

I decide to join her in the sea, and if the mother of the murdered child wants to speak, I will listen. If she doesn’t want to speak, we can stand together, and if she doesn’t want me there at all, I will leave.

I approach. She falls into my open arms.

Never have I felt a heart so broken — never such suffering and pain that no mother, no parent, should ever have to endure.

We hold each other still, and here we will stay — even until the sun sleeps behind the mountain, or longer if she wants — until the tomorrows that never come.



Running. Propelled by the lamenting cry of a cello wind. Downhill. The ground crackles like bones of birds fallen from flight. Long-fingered giants lash at my face. I think it’s sometime near sunrise, pause as everything quiets for nature’s moment of reflection. The earth is cloggy – the river must be near. I gulp breath beneath a leaf and branch blanket, become stuck in the mud. Metallic blood slicks between my teeth. Then comes the squark of generals whistling through their teeth, cajoling their drooling dogs.

Earlier, at the gathering in the meadow, the girl told me she was an angel. We smoked, drank rum, then she and the square-jawed boy danced by the fire, swaying as one with braided arms and intertwined souls. When the singing stopped, the girl turned to me. Her eyes illuminated the starless night and, just for a moment, everything I’d ever thought to be true became dust.

Seeing me alone, she came over.

‘Do you want to dance?’ she asked, as the musicians eased into another song.

Before I could answer, the sky cracked gunshots.

I’m floating face down in a river. Blood marbles the water. Fishes with kaleidoscopic eyes and pincer teeth come and look, lick their lips. Before she fell to a gunshot, the girl put her hand on my heart and said don’t be afraid. I shuddered, knowing that I became afraid the day I first saw a world such as this.

I raise my head and see snarling wolfpacks on the riverbank tearing my shirt to pieces, bowing and scraping to the men that own them. I hear roaring cries of shaven-brained men, manpacks believing every lie they’ve ever been fed.

I take a deep breath and hold it out, and as I’m sinking, the rising sun cuts through the murky water just as it always has, just as it always will, with, or without me. And through the gloom, I see her by an underwater cave, calling my name, waiting to dance.


This story was first published by Tethered By Letters/ f(r)iction in 2017, but has recently disappeared from their archive, so I’ve made it available here.

The morning bell was sounding. At least that meant it wasn’t my turn to do the wake-up call. I breathe in and out between each chime, slowly counting to four in my head. I figured it must be a Monday, if not, then a Wednesday. There’s not much difference in the days here, except as to whether I get to do the ringing or not. Days grind their way into weeks, weeks into years. I’ve been here four years already, just two more to go by rights.

I hear Grainger approaching, rattling his discipline stick across the metal railings in the corridor outside. It may have shoved fear deep into me once upon a time, but not anymore. But Samir, the boy sitting bolt upright opposite my bunk, he’s a new arrival. His white knuckles clutch the threadbare grey blanket right up to his chin. The panic written deep into his eyes punctuates his sallow face. He catches me staring.

“Don’t worry Sam,” I mouth slowly. “You’ll be fine,” I lie.

The sounding of the last bell hangs in the air. The percussion in the corridor comes to an abrupt stop. The thick steel door sings open and his stubby fingers flick at the switch on the wall. The fluorescent tubes on the ceiling splutter and choke, exploding into life, all except the one in the far corner that buzzes and flashes away, but never quite makes it. The sudden blast of artificial brightness hits me hard, and even though my eyes are already accustomed to the early morning sunlight, my eyes shut tight. When I tease them open Grainger’s standing in the doorway.

He wears a shit-brown uniform that’s far too tight for his thick waist. The cloth looks scuzzy, like it rarely gets a clean. But he always keeps his black leather boots immaculate. They’re not polished and buffed up to be mirror-shiny, but moist looking, like rain-touched earth. They’re just like the Adidas football boots I got for my ninth birthday, the ones I used to rub oily dubbin in with a piece of cloth torn from one of granddad’s old shirts.

Grainger’s hair is sharply parted from the left, and pasted to his scalp. They say he combs it through with hand-soap, leaving it matted and greasy, dirty looking. He stands dead still for a while, looking nowhere but at his pocket watch.

Even before he hollers, I’ve tossed the blankets aside and sat up. My digital clock reads six o two. That’s all you’ll see on the top of my cabinet. Some of the boys have a photograph, or some other reminder. But I prefer to keep memories in my head, where they’re easier to forget.

Continue reading “Just”

Evil, Hurt, Rage, Good, Hope, and Love

ever told her that you loved her?

vicious, hissing tongue

invited ghosts, imprisoned thoughts

looking no further than before

heaven cries for what he sees

underneath the underneath

reminded in a sleepless dream

torn from loving arms

running away, I never

asked for this or you

gunning for destruction

everything confused

gather up the wishes

of summer, spring, and fall

offer them to every child

deliver winter’s hope

hear angels on the wing

on the page, and in the song

peace in every feathered step

easy on the mind

look for me in water

outside in

voices singing of a secret place

ever was and ever more


It is a warm enough morning for him to practice outside today. 

Taking his gaze upwards, he is reminded of a beautiful Van Gogh painting he saw once in Paris, or was it Spain? Maybe it was in London. He can’t recall exactly where, and anyway, that part of the memory is not so important after all.

The terrace has a dark chestnut stained pergola that in the summer months he used to cover with sailcloth to provide respite from the summer sun, but now the grapevine has claimed it for its own, weaving in and out of the timbers. He put the sailcloth away somewhere or other, now it sits in the back of his mind, along with other memories.

The grapevine is a maze of gnarly grey scrawny fingers at the moment, without bud as far as he can see, (well, it is only March after all), and he’s not certain it will flourish again after the two metres of snow that fell suddenly from nowhere, last month.

His wife has a postcard of the Van Gogh somewhere. He thinks it was a cherry, or perhaps an apple tree, with pink blossom set against the bluest of sky, quite Japanese in a way, and quite beautiful. It may not even been a Van Gogh, he muses.

Sometimes one in-breath can seem to last for ever. 

He folds forward, inwards. The muscles of the back of his legs grumble their objection. He is used to their whining, tends to ignore them, and simply wait. They usually surrender before his will does. 

Taking his gaze inwards he hears the name Hokusai. He is counting his breath for his mantra, and Hokusai departs.

He is taking his thoughts inwards, where he is nothing but everything. In this moment he can be neither the past nor the future.

His Guru was a man of few words, not in English anyway. He would say: ‘practice is all,’ and so, all has become ‘practice.’


Though a few years shy of fifty, Charlie-Ray is a man withering on the vine.

He’s sat at the piano.

His head hangs awkward, askew – like it’s all too much trouble for his spine to hold up. A solitary spotlight casts his eerie shadow deep across the stage.

Everyone who was once here has up and gone already. I guess they all had lives to go back to.

Charlie-Ray makes under-the-breath groans as he caresses the keys, letting each note breath, letting each one speak, letting each one be. The melody is from an old-time musical, but in that version was full of words, leggy dancers, smiling faces. The way he’s playing it has me close to tears – it always did.

He stops mid refrain, stares at his hands.

‘I’ve been playing this tune for over thirty years,’ he says, ‘and you know something, melodies don’t ever change, they’re written in blood. It’s me that does the changing, every time I play it is a different me.’

Is it? I wonder.

He smiles as a million memories come flooding back all at once. 

Let them only be good ones, I wish. 

He takes a deep drag on a cigarette that’s been wasting away in an ashtray, coughs from deep down and looks over.

I’m sat five tables back in the shadows, but he knows it’s me. 

‘Lydia, is that you? How you doing?’

Last time I spoke to Charlie-Ray was a decade ago, when two years too late I found strength enough to say goodbye. Yet here I am feeling all the love for a man I knew could never love me back the same.

‘You remember what I said the day you left… that I hope the man you end up with knows he’s the luckiest guy on the planet… well, does he?’  

‘Yes he does.’ I say.

Charlie-Ray turns away, takes one more hit before he grinds the cigarette out in the ashtray. His gaze follows the exhaled smoke as it rises and fades, lets his hands hover above the keys for a moment, then lowers them slowly and begins to play another melody written in blood.

In Our Country



“In our country,” the woman just sat down on the next table to me said, “they’d stab you for your cell phone, leave you on the street for dead.”

“Is that so,” I said, noticing that mine was sitting amongst the empty plates strewn across a tablecloth peppered with breadcrumbs and olive pits.

“Yes,” she said, “and, such young children would never be allowed to run around until such an hour unsupervised, they’d be long tucked up in bed, safe and sound.”

Her voice was shrill, like a winter’s breath. I placed her accent as African, and if I were prone to making assumptions, which I try not to; I’d say South Africa. Fair to say it was not easy on the ear, not the way Italian, or French is.

“Safe?” I said.

“Oh yes,” she said, “safe and sound. Have you lived here long?”

“If fifteen years is long, then yes,” I said.

“Wow, that is. And what was it that brought you here?” she asked.

I smiled at her; it was a thin-lipped smile, apologetic really.

I was still considering my reply when I felt my youngest, my daughter, tugging at my dress, her face hot, her breath quick from running up and down, up and down.

“Can we go home now mummy?” she said. I could see her eyes fighting the tiredness.

“Okay,” I said, “go and get your brother, meet me by the car.”

I folded a twenty-euro note in half, and placed it under an empty glass just in case the unpredictable wind decided to have a blow. Then I got up, managing to catch the eye of a waiter as I did.

I turned to the lady. “Have a nice evening,” I said, nodding politely, and turned away. I could feel her eyes grinding into me as I left, as if she was still awaiting my answer.

BSF 2018

Okay, so this year I’ve not written much, or rather, not written much worth reading (or subbing!), but to have my first nominations for ‘Best Small Fictions’ is a real honour. I honestly never thought it would ever happen, and am especially proud as the two  journals nominating my work are both fabulous.

Many, many thanks to the editors at Atlas + Alice (USA), and Flashback Fiction (UK)

Collage_Fotor BSF NOMS

A Matter Of Priorities

Screen Shot 2018-07-29 at 10.17.30

Today, the fantastic ‘Fictive Dream’ published my short story, ‘The Day’s First Wisp Of Blue.’ (link above) This was the first piece in a series that led on to my writing a novella-in-flash that was longlisted for the 2017 Bath competition, and it is the last of the seven pieces I reworked to be published, so I’m delighted it’s found its home. The short piece below is the eighth piece, and probably the last, but you never know, as these characters keep on calling.

The photo is by Konstantin Aal.

A Matter Of Priorities

A ripple of cymbal and flurry of saxophone ebb away. Stage-lights dim and the room holds a quiet hum. The quartet of players wait in stillness, empty as shadows.

In the audience, Boots nods his appreciation, and says – though more to himself than anybody else – “Circular breathin’.”

“What’s that you said?” asks Ed.

“Circular breathin’. That’s how he can blow so long without stoppin’. He’s breathin’ in all the while he’s breathin’ out.”

“Man, that’s cool,” says Ed, looking around the room. He elbow pokes Boots’ ribcage, “Hey Boots, there’s a fine looking lady over in the corner keeps checking you out.”

“Yeah, yeah, Ed, I know. I seen her lookin’. She was in here last week too, stood right in that exact same place.”

Stage lights brighten and the bass player counts them in. The tune is familiar – movie theme familiar – though now being interpreted in a whole different light.

“Man, this guy is good, these guys are real good,” says Boots.

“I reckon Jack’s got the chops to match,”
says Ed.

“No way. Least not yet, he ain’t. One day he might, if he keeps puttin’ in the hours.”

“Amen to that!”
 says Ed.

“Yeah, gotta practice like crazy if we want to get anything close to this good. S’all a matter of priorities, Ed.”

Boots closes his eyes and sucks it all in; losing himself – though it’s more like finding himself – in a zone that not even a fine young lady can sidetrack.

Ed thinks it’s high time that he should quit talking and start listening.

The tune ends and the porkpie hat wearing pianist leans in close to the microphone. He announces in a voice too deep for his wiry frame and too placid for his feverish playing that their second set will begin at eleven. Chairs begin scraping and legs begin stretching. The barman readies himself for the onslaught, setting down his newspaper, straightening his thick- rimmed spectacles, dusting off the creases.

The room lights up. Boots awakens, blinks eyes wide and looks over to where the lady’s still stood, still looking, still intrigued. Ruby shies away from his gaze, but not before seeing him coming straight towards her through the smoke-hazy crowd, feeling the colour rush into her cheeks and the moisture drain from her lips.