A Matter Of Priorities

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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.

 

 

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Mr. Weekes

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Mr. Weekes

Mr. Weekes is hard at it lifting potatoes. I feign a cough. He looks up, sees it’s me, dives back into his work.

“Just the stragglers now,” he says, careful as he sieves soil with his pitchfork. The tweed jacket he’s wearing looks older than I am, a bit tight on him now, elbows threadbare and unpatched.

He doesn’t bother asking me about school anymore.

“There’s coffee in the shed,” he says, “I’m just about done.” He leans his pitchfork against a post, takes a bag from his trouser pocket and stoops down to gather the crop, tossing away the bad. He pops on the cloth cap the post was wearing and trudges his way over. He sets the bag down and without flinching plunges his hands deep into the big refuse bin brimming rainwater.

Among the flowerpots and tools in the shed, there’s enough space for two rickety chairs and a once-white picnic table. Mr. Weekes tells me to sit, wipes his hands on a tea towel, half-fills two cups from his thermos.

“I ever tell you about the time I jammed with Bob Marley?” He asks, smiling.

Continue reading “Mr. Weekes”

Just Above The Clouds

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Just Above The Clouds

Yesterday I got to stand atop the summit of a nearby mountain, just above the clouds. The peak was marked with a concrete bollard daubed with paint: 1470 metres it read. There was no snow on the mountain as yet; in fact yesterday was another quite balmy October day with a blue sky and some twenty-one degrees. I say twenty-one, that being the temperature indicated at sea level, but when we parked the car a couple of hundred metres from the top, the gauge was reading fourteen, so I figured that if an elevation of approximately 1500 metres equates to a drop of seven degrees, then it falls one degree for every 200 metres. Having said that, I’m almost certain it doesn’t work that way, and that it’s far more complicated and involves all kind of algebraic formulae. It would be nice if it didn’t though. I like things simple.

Continue reading “Just Above The Clouds”

The Others

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The Others

I’d been given the bottom bunk. Rabinowicz is up top. He’s a shorn-haired, pallid kid from Poznan, somewhere that I’d never heard of. And just like mine had, his face contorted in puzzlement when I told him the town I was from, but he said that he’d heard of Syria.

Four other boys share the room – four, red-eyed, tall as palms, dark as coffee, boys. They speak no English at all. Mine is okay, I was learning it at school when it got hit. Rab’s though, is excellent, but that’s only on account of all the years he’s been here.

The rooms are sorted on account of our ages, so we would have all been eleven years old, and while none of us are alive, none are yet ready to be dead.

Rab says that some of us get to go back, but only the ones who’ve managed to forget the horrors, only the ones schooled in forgiveness. He then shakes his head, and bites his lip, more like become brainwashed, he says.

He then calls them something else – in Polish – which I do not understand, and yet I understand completely.

The Governess calls them Angels, but in her heart she knows that most will lose their purpose on the long and treacherous journey, that they will be dismissed and ridiculed, that soon they’ll be forgotten, and that they will return to this place with wings fractured and hearts desolate.

Rab says that on one special night of the year, we – ‘The Others’ – as we are called, get to visit the place we once called home, and for one night only we get to scream suffering upon the howling wind, to plant terror deep inside shadows, and to cry tears as torrents of rain – to show that a world where hatred is king will soon no longer be.

I’ll Take The Aston

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This Short Story of mine was shortlisted for the BBC’s ‘Opening Lines’ competition in 2015. It has since popped up on-line as an example of an editor’s critique. I have since re-worked it a little. And so here it is. Oh, and that’s me on the right in the photo – can you see the matching tie! Well, it was the 1970’s!

I’ll Take The Aston

Ronny wasn’t born this way, no sir. He considers those negative months as the most beatific forty weeks of all the twenty-one years what’ve followed.

He’s sat on a sun-bleached sofa worn down to the bones, pallid and bug riddled. I prefer to stand, reckoning it’s safer. Someone’s patched the hole in the roof with army-marked tarp, the window’s slatted with bust up bed, the air’s thick with stench. Once upon a time this was somebody’s home. Once.

Shiner’s wearing out the floorboards, his arse must be giving him jip cause he keeps scratching at himself, just like that foamy-mouthed mutt did one time we went out hunting and wound up lost in the rain.

Continue reading “I’ll Take The Aston”

Wood-Smoke and Goat

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Wood-smoke and Goat

Mr Ishelwood left before sun-up. That was three suns ago. Dr Usui said to forget him, she was sure he’d be long gone by now.

‘But he took the rifle,’ I say.

Dr Usui embraces me. Her furs smell of wood-smoke and goat. She spits into a callused hand and smooths my hair over my scalp. I close my eyes. She sings in a tongue I don’t understand, but it makes me feel less frightened.

I can’t sleep when nights are so cold. I lie staring into black, and shiver, wondering why the train tracks ended here – in the middle of nowhere – and why we can’t go back.

Mr Ishelwood told us of dangers back there far worse than freezing to death. To escape his thoughts he would set off alone in search of wood and food. He was a big strong man, but always his eyes were full of fear.

I heard the rifle shot twice, when five of us became three. I didn’t need to ask Dr Usui, and she didn’t need to tell. I preferred not to speak to Mr Ishelwood from then on.

Now we are two.

The days have grown shorter; the firewood damper, and soon there will be just berries to eat and melted snow to drink. We share a bed, Dr Usui and I; it’s not so cold this way.

On a day we think near our last, we hear a rifle shot; the same sound as before. Dr Usui wipes a window free of mist, and through a circle we search the horizon. The light is strong, blinding and painful. We blink it better.

They are coming, four of them – on horses – galloping through the snow, kicking up a veil of white.

I smell wood-smoke and goat, and hear a familiar song.

Delighted that this piece was placed third by judge Jan Kaneen in Zero Flash’s May competition. It’s a good job we’re not a competitive household, as Bibi, (Mrs H) was the winner!

 

Eve

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Eve

She walks at dawn, the first to scar sand smoothed by the ocean, the first to mark the canvas with scalloped toe-prints, the first to see the sky dissolve, and the first to hear the songs of the wind.

She is tired, and so very close now. Her hand smooths over the dome of her unborn’s refuge, whispering to him love in its purest form, from the purest of places. She feels a kick of anger from within, and asks him why.

Come now, she says, stroking her belly again, this world was made for all men, in all of their forms, she tells him. He kicks again, harder this time, and a tiny fracture bejewels her heart.

She lies upon the magic stone, burnished and cooled by the waves of the moon. The cave is dark beyond black, quiet beyond silence.

And here she sleeps, and here she dreams, and here she will wait.

 

Awakened by the howling of wolves, she knows it is time. Through the portal of the cave’s entrance, she sees the moon; milky and full and bathed in the diaphanous silk of clouds.

The wolves’ cries dance on the wind; the wind dances with the sea. Waves, rising and falling: waves of rage, of calm, of life, and of death.

And so he is born.

He emerges from the cave to take his place in this world, to kick, to fight and to struggle, and to carry with him forever a part of his mother.

 

This piece first appeared with Zero Flash; placed third in the March 2016 competition.

The photograph is of a winter sunrise in Alonnisos

The Blackstart

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This popped out one afternoon on a day I’d just about resigned to being a blank page day. I read it to my audience of one, and it made her chuckle – which is always good enough for me.

The Blackstart

The Blackstart comes when she’s in town,

to peck at crumbs put on the ground

for sparrows, who come in fours and fives –

plus one to watch, plus one to cry, a warning

if Mrs B is by, or Maggie the magpie with the evil eye.

And sometimes doves will coo on down,

then button their lips to make no sound –

a couple: a wife, a husband, (or lover)

and help themselves to what’s left over.

But if they’re seen, they’re shooed away,

I’m not sure why. I couldn’t say.

The Blackstart always comes alone,

she takes her fill and then is gone

on flittered wing, for she’s made some plans,

to the beach perhaps to kick some sand,

or dip her feet,

or catch the sun,

to take a tea,

to meet someone…

Or does she always dine alone?

I’ll ask her… When she comes again.

There’s a starman…

I, like millions of my, and next generations, was shocked and deeply saddened to hear of the passing of David Bowie. I heard the news in an email from my big sister, fitting really, as it was she who loved him first, back in the 70’s. A love I inherited.

I was travelling on that Monday, and not connected to social media most of the day, but in my own way wanted to write something. So I did, whilst on a ferry. On the same morning I’d seen my writing prompt for this week, which seemed oddly connected.

When I did get to see the outpouring on twitter etc., it was testament to the creative genius of the man how everyone seemed to have chosen a different track to remember him by. Music spanning genres and decades, electric and acoustic, but all crafted from the beautiful mind of David Bowie.

And to think, just two days before, my wife and I were marvelling as we listened to the Blackstar album, remarking on its utter brilliance.

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…Waiting in the sky (A short fiction)

Our protagonist sits alone in his dressing room, staring into himself. With one finger he delicately lowers an eyelid and holds it still. With the other hand he applies the black pencil. He is the best man for the job. He is the best woman for the job. Whereas other men would be clueless and afraid of such a task, he is confident, skilled, and comfortable. And he is fearless.

Continue reading “There’s a starman…”