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”

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.

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

I am…

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Lauren can put her leg behind her head. She can only do this because she does it many times a week – many times a month – many times a year. And she has done this for many years. She does not truly know why she does this; it has never become an easy thing to do. She followed her guru’s instructions, though he spoke no English. She followed his directions, though at times he seems disinterested in her. She follows him still, though he is no longer of flesh. She still hears him in her head.

Some days her body is simple – her mind is complex. Some days her body is complex – her mind is simple. This is her journey. Every day she swims, sometimes with the tide, sometimes against the tide. This is her life. Her practice has become her gauge.

Lauren does not like the dark. She cannot see in the dark as those big-eyed fish in the deep oceans do. Sometimes Lauren is in the dark. She does not like the dark. Lauren can put her leg behind her head. It helps her escape the dark. Her Guru says life is simple – said; life is simple. Lauren had, has her doubts. Guru laughs, freely, like a child. Life was never simple, life is never simple, but she heads towards the light, and on some days she too laughs, though not as freely as her Guru.

Lauren can hold her breath, her breath in, and her breath out. Holding her breath in, or her breath out, brings stillness into her mind, calming the waves. It brings stillness to every single cell of her body. Life can be simple, and sometimes, even beautiful.

Lauren has been learning Greek. Her favourite verb is εἰμαι. Εἰμαι translates as ‘I am.’ Her favourite Sanskrit mantra is ‘So ham.’ It can be said to mean ‘I am that.’ She breathes out with the sound of ‘soooo’ in her mind, and she breathes in with the sound ‘hummm,’ also in her mind. These are also the natural sounds of the breath. When reversed, the mantra becomes ‘Ham sa,’ it is said to mean, ‘that I am.’ This is a helpful mantra for Lauren.

Even when she is in the darkest ocean, where only the fish with big eyes can see, she knows that light is sure to follow. She just has to be patient, put her leg behind her head, and breathe.

I originally posted this on the ‘Visual Verse’ website. I have edited it slightly from that version.

Whatever Happened To The Laughing Gnome?

Here’s a very short piece of prompted Flash Fiction that first appeared here: Zero Flash

It never won, but if you are of a certain age and musical persuasion it may appeal.

By the way, the visual prompt was of a stone dragon gorging on a gnome, and here’s the musical reference: The Laughing Gnome

Whatever Happened To The Laughing Gnome?

We had a whale of a time living in Bromley. It was Mrs Jones that took me in, but her boy David that took a shine to me. He thought me an oddity cool enough to duet with him on one of his songs – he didn’t even know we gnomes could sing!

And laugh! I nearly cracked my side when we recorded our song for real. ‘We’re going to be stars!’ he said.

David let me invite my family over to stay. Fred, my brother was a bit suspicious of him, ‘something in the eyes,’ he said. But I ignored him. He’d given me my big break after all, and it was such a thrill when our song came on the radio.

But the tune never hit.

In fact it bombed.

In fact, it was universally mocked!

It seemed we were not going to be famous after all.

Fred said he’d met this dragon in Soho who said I was the best thing about the record, and a huge star in the making. He said that if I formed my own group he’d launch our careers. I didn’t much like to let David down, although he’d embarked on a direction I sensed would not include me. Then the day all these longhaired spiders from Mars arrived at the house, I knew we were through, so packed my bags and left.

Fred phoned the dragon, and arranged a meeting. I know I should have been a bit suspicious he wanted to meet in some alley behind Berwick Street, even more so of the powdery tasting champagne he greeted us with. But hey, hindsight and all that.

So alas, within seconds we’re as stiff as boards, our bodies can’t move, but our eyes continue to work, and poor old Fred is first on the menu.

Yoga! For men!

‘Yoga! For men! No, no way,’ he says.

Incredulous doesn’t cover it. I think his head’s gonna fall off the way he’s shaking it. Steve’s from up north, he did tell me exactly where, but it meant nothing to me, though he looked at me like it should. He’s ex-army, one tour, no action, ‘God it were like oven out there,’ he says. He’s sticking with the buzz cut and soup strainer, in solid silver. He coaches the under 12’s when he’s not fixing stuff, engines, boilers – ‘I’m good with me hands me,’ he says. His lad’s gonna be a pro for Man U, his wife loves Peter Kay, thinks he’s brilliant. He’s on his second bottle and I’ve only met him 5 minutes. I told him my name and that I teach yoga, and it’s been one-way traffic since. Maybe if I do an arm balance that’d shut him up. Just maybe.

Bones

Kings House was on land where once stood a church. Out back, each family had a small plot of earth.

Johnny liked to dig holes.

With a seaside bucket and spade he’d make mud-castles.

Sometimes he’d dig up bones, sniff at them suspiciously; show them to father.

‘That looks like cat to me,’ father would say.

Johnny would shiver.

And if the bones were bigger, ‘dog, definitely dog.’

Johnny would quiver.

The routine:

1 – check neighbours weren’t nosing out windows.

2 – toss the bone behind the posh lady’s shed.

3 – wash hands – with soap.

4 – show them to mother.

To father, the bones were nothing but Sunday roasted chickens he’d fed the soil with.

‘Stop doing that, you’ll scare the life out of the lad,’ mother would shout.

‘Bah, I’m just messing,’ father would reply.

Until the day Johnny unearthed the skull, that is.