10/30/09

Ethel Rohan

Rights Of Passage

She knew it was wrong to fantasize at her husband’s funeral, wrong that the fantasy felt real, the service a dream.

She imagined her husband sitting on a throne, looking every inch an Egyptian king, and she standing before him, as proud, beautiful, and hard-jawed as Cleopatra. He beckoned her closer. She presented him with a large silver sword, the gesture heroic, but hesitant too.

Her husband’s brother delivered the main Eulogy. Other family members and friends also took center-altar. Some she recognized. She didn’t hear much of what anyone said. Let it not take much longer.

They wheeled her husband’s coffin down the aisle on a brass trolley, its wheels squeaking. She wanted to chase the pallbearers off, lift the coffin, bear it atop her head, and run far away. Or maybe just home. For tea. Earl Grey. For two. From behind her, whispers of spirit and sorrow. She knew to fake-cry.

Outside, snow had spread its shroud. I’m so sorry repeated over and over. On its roof, the waiting hearse wore a boa of wreaths. She looked quickly away from the driver, dressed in top hat and tails, more suited to a wedding.

The windowed sides of the hearse mystified her. All packed-up, the flowers pressed against the glass, crushed by the coffin. Oh to grab at the wreaths, pull them asunder, and scatter their petals and sap-filled stems over the snow. So fresh and he so withered.

She remained on the church steps, and removed her shoes, letting her feet sink into the snow. Mourners stared at her sodden nylons, snagging their lips, shaking their heads. Her husband’s brother gripped her arm: I’ve got you.

Still she felt falling, falling, run-through with the sword, smiling up at her husband before landing at his sandaled feet, saying better I.

Ethel Rohan loves to read and write Flash Fiction. Her most recent publishing credits include Keyhole Digest, Wigleaf, Staccato Fiction, and (So New) Necessary Fiction. She blogs at www.straightfromtheheartinmyhip.blogspot.com.

10/29/09

Melissa Mann

BANG

Nina listens to his cock banging rhythmically against next door’s wall. The plasterboard seems to pound like a chest. Moving forward, she presses her naked body against the peeling wallpaper. She wants to feel him inside her again.

“Baby,” Nina says, then waits for the echo. It comes back through the wall, “oh baby!” Loud, guttural. Like it’s coming through the woman he’s shagging. The woman that used to be her, but now isn’t.

Nina had imagined them on the floor, the woman lying there like an exotic animal skin. But she couldn’t ignore the creaking, had to revise the image playing in her head. So now they’re in bed: gothic, wrought iron, dark sheets. He rolls off onto his back, eyes turning quietly into lids. It’s over, but for Nina it will last all day. Inside, her stomach is quicksand swallowing itself. She slips on a robe and looks down at her own bed. A mattress on the floor, stained but trying not to be - the marks arranged in a vague pattern. Nina stares at the depression in the mattress. It feels like all there is left of her. She climbs into herself, face pressed to the soiled ticking, and smells the greasy hair of every head that has ever lain on a bare mattress in a squalid bed-sit like this.

Mumbled voices. He never used to talk afterwards. Not with her anyway. Nina presses her hands to her ears, eyes squeezed shut. She doesn’t want to hear him say anything ever again. What cannot speak cannot lie. Nina stares at the cracks in the ceiling. She should probably do something. Get up, go in the other room. Then again she is doing something. She’s waiting for him to leave. She’s waiting for the end of the past, even though she can’t bear it to end. Bed springs. Footsteps. Heavy. His.

She should hate him, of course, but can’t find it in herself. Anger, yes. The violence that was in her fists is still there. Nina would like to hurt him again, more than anything. But she can’t hate him, even after all he’s done. This man, who keeps coming here. This man, her husband, who can’t stop himself doing what he did to her. Perhaps she could pay someone to hate him for her. Perhaps there are people in the world who can provide that kind of service. She really should get up. Or not. Stay here then. Stay here and not listen. Just wait. For him to leave. Get up stay here listen don’t listen wait don’t wait. Nina’s in two hundred minds and none of them know what to do.

Eventually she gets up and goes into the other room, pulling her robe tightly around the cold. The room hasn’t moved since she was last here. It’s a comfort to her, this non-movement. This certainty of things being where she left them: the extractor fan in the middle of coming away on one side; the sofa still wedged against the kitchen cabinet to stop the arm falling off; the Lidl bag taped upside-down over the hole in the window. A defiant mid-day sun shines through it turning the plastic into stained glass. Squares of coloured light – red, yellow, blue – are scattered across the linoleum like children’s building blocks.

She sits down on the sofa’s edge and looks round, not knowing who she is in this place. Her reflection in the kettle she can barely recognise. And where is she? Nina’s not sure. This bed-sit is everywhere and nowhere; one down every backstreet in every town, always available for those desperate enough to need one. Or mad enough, because it’s madness that has brought her here.

Keys, slide-bolt, door hinges. Nina looks at her own door, expecting to see it open, but doesn’t get up. She knows it’s him. They are all him. Her eyes close… He’s still wearing her cut on his cheek. Jagged, red, but less livid. It’s the cut she gave him a month ago when she followed him here. The cut she’d waited in the half-light of the landing to give him when he came out. Nina opens her eyes and stares at the door with the blindness of statues; her seeing, like theirs, internal, inside her head. A seeing that’s fragmented. Glimpses of remembered moments flash through her mind: the surprise on his face; the half-naked body of the blonde woman posed in the doorway; the car keys in Nina’s outstretched fist; the deep track in his skin filling with blood. Fragmented moments like pictures taken by throwing a camera then catching it. Fragmented moments repeating themselves.

“See you later, babe.” Her voice. Girlish. Fake. For him.

His: “Yeah, later. I’ll call you.”

Gone. Nina’s still on the sofa, knees under her chin, hugging herself. He’s twenty minutes gone now, but it’s the kind of gone that will return; casual cruelties always do. She wipes her cheek with her sleeve. Footsteps on the stairs. A knock at the door. Her door. She’s off the sofa before she can stop the thought that it’s him. Before she can stop the hope that he’s found out where she is and has come here for her. How quickly forgetting and remembering become the same thing. She looks through the spy-hole. The vast sweating man in the circle of glass is not her husband. The man steps back, checks his watch, then bangs on the door again with the meat of his fist.

“Other door!” she shouts, gripping the frame. “It’s the other bloody door, how many times!”

The blonde woman appears in the doorway opposite. She’s wearing a sheer baby-doll nightdress with pink fur round the neckline.

“Hey babe, lookin’ for me?” the woman says, flashing a white smile. The man replies - small unintelligible words. She beckons him into the flat with her finger. “Sorry,” she throws absently over her shoulder at Nina, then kicks the door shut with her stiletto.

Melissa Mann writes, reads but is crap at arithmetic. She is the brawn behind Beat the Dust, BTD TV, Beat the Dust Bookshop and Beat the Dust Press. Her new poetry book, baby, i'm ready to go is out now, published by Grievous Jones Press. Her writing has been widely published in various short story anthologies and literary magazines, as well as selected bus shelters and public conveniences
across London.

10/28/09

Andrew Gallix

Dr Martens' Bouncing Souls

It didn't hit me at first. Not straight away it didn't. For a few long seconds there, the world was freeze-framed. I half expected to see tumbleweed blow by. All around, people emitted muffled sounds as if sporting ball gags under water. Possibly swathed in cotton wool, they spoke in slow motion, their syllables hideously elongated like limbs on the rack. I distinctly recall being put in mind of an unravelling audio cassette, or one of those avant-garde sound poems that were all the rage back in the day. And then it hit me.
Hard.
Really hard.
Repeatedly.

To describe the pain as excruciating just wouldn't do it justice. It was unspeakable, unsputterable; not even stutterable — utterly unutterable. What I can attempt to convey, however — to a certain degree, at least, though not, alas, to the third — is the unrelenting nature of the whole episode. I was stunned. Dumbfounded. Gobsmacked. At a loss for words. Mouth agog, screaming on mute. Bent triple, pissing bleeding blood. Pummelled into that liminal zone beyond which no representation is possible. With the benefit of hindsight, I see it as a crash course in transgression, no less. Nothing would ever be the same again. Not quite. Not for me. Uh-uh. Blown was my mind. Rocked were my foundations. Shaken was my core. Topsy-turvy was my world. Over tit was my arse. And then it hit me again.
Hard.
Really hard.
Really, really hard.
Repeatedly.
Repeatedly.
Repeatedly.
Repeatedly...

I blame it on Effie. Effing Effie and her fucking frock. A brown flower-print number, the kind usually modelled by ladies of a certain age. Ladies who have long ceased to turn heads. Ladies who are fading away inexorably. Ladies who are almost invisible already. Ladies who, even as we speak, are being cut out of the equation with tiny toenail scissors. Slowly. Surely. Snip, snip — snip. But draped around Effie's nubility it became impossibly erotic, as if the breath of life had suddenly been pumped into a long deflated blow-up doll. As if all the old biddies in their flower-print dresses were in bloom again, having magically recovered their pertness of yore. As if our very planet were a tight pair of bouncy buttocks and the whole wide universe had a massive hard-on.
Hard.
Really hard.
Rock-hard.
Rock on.

Blowing mellow bellows from below, a cheeky breeze sported with the hem. Effie even had to hold it down on occasion, which lent her an air of charming vulnerability. Despite this precaution, and after a great deal of hemming and hawing, the flimsy material finally resolved to flare up, possibly in answer to the prayers of all those who had slowed down to admire the young lady's graceful sway. Time almost came to a standstill as the dress made its giddy ascent in the manner of a Big Dipper inching up the steepest of Battersea slopes. I half expected to see tumbleweed blow by. Then suddenly — amid a cacophony of catcalls, wolf whistles and screeching tyres — the world went into overdrive frock'n'roll-style. Effie gasped in surprise, looking back instinctively to see how many oglers would be going home with a spring in their proverbial and diaphanous black lace on their minds. As she did so, I could not help but notice the imaginary ejaculates from a hundred passers-by glistening in her hair like so many constellations of icicles. It was hard not to really.
Really hard.
Really, really hard.

The heat was well and truly on. You could almost feel the sap rising as Effie walked by. Men for miles around seemed to be picking up illicit frequencies, pricking up their ears at the mere sound of her killer heels in the distance. I tried to throw them off the scent by accelerating or crossing the road at regular intervals, but to no avail. I knew I would bump into him eventually, or rather he would bump into me. He was out there somewhere — everywhere — whoever he may be. It was just a matter of time now, and now was the time. He loomed up, he loomed large, hurtling towards me with all the inevitability of tragedy. There was no way I could avoid him. In fact, he veered slightly to the right to ensure that we were on a collision course. It was fight or flight. It was lose face and face loss. It was too fucking late.

Effie did not notice anything at first. She pursued her monologue looking straight ahead as he rammed into me, only pulling up when I remonstrated with my assailant. This, of course, was the cue he had been waiting for. I was playing right into his big lumberjack hands, which he balled into mighty fists before felling me like a sapling. Effie screamed while I attempted to regain verticality by means of the wall. Paying no heed to the abuse that was being hurled his way, he slowly removed his jacket and folded it rather fastidiously. By the time he had finished rolling up his shirtsleeves, Effie had run out of expletives or patience. I noticed how she rolled her eyes in desperation as I finally staggered to my feet, still puffing and panting, only to hear that I was going to be taught a bloody good lesson in front of my wife. And then he hit me again. Hard. Really hard. Repeatedly. He decked me, then he floored me, then he pulled me up again and decked me some more. At first I was under the cosh, but soon I became conversant with the sentence that was being executed with such surgical precision; I could even distinguish the nuances of each blow.

Taking on the demeanour of an impartial spectator at a boxing match, Effie stepped back to embrace the whole scene. She was more open-minded now. She wanted to hear him out. She was hedging her bets: let the best man win. At some point — a couple of cheeky jabs followed by a cracking right cross — she even started seeing his point, which he put across so eloquently, so forcefully. After all, he was only being fair. Firm but fair. So fair and so firm. Hard, really hard. With her arms folded across her ample bosom, she looked down upon me, sighing and shaking her head, as if she thought, on reflection, that a good lesson would indeed do me the world of good. She was bowing to the inevitable, submitting to a superior force and was silently urging me to do likewise, to let go. All resistance was futile: I had this coming all along and now it had come, and that was that. It was in the order of things to put things in order. It felt right; it even felt good, so good. Hard, so hard. The wicked gleam in her eye proved that she was now baying for blood. Baying, obeying some primitive urge. Harder, really harder.

After an uppercut and a left hook had left me on my knees again, begging for mercy, he slipped his jacket back on and bitch-slapped me to the ground. Blinking through the streaming blood, I caught a glimpse of my wife's expensive black panties as she stepped over me to join him. They walked away hand in hand.

Andrew Gallix is editor-in-chief of 3:AM Magazine (where he created the very first literary blog) and publisher at 3AM Press. He writes fiction, criticism, edits books and teaches at the Université Paris-Sorbonne Paris IV.

10/27/09

Aimee DeLong

The Girl Who Used To.

The girl that used to. She used to . . . about so many things. She walks hastily to work. Always, usually arriving on time. Early even. Her mother called on the phone this morning. And she yelled at the phone. “Fuck you!” With feeling. It was real. It had feeling. Dastardly feeling, aware of its own ridiculousness. Thus tragic. The voice is tragic, because it has lost its potential to utter, “Hello, how are you?” She walks to work hastily.

There is squirming and racing, bumping, repeating in her mind. OK. OK. Give her some room. Look quickly. She’s wearing a tight skirt. Her hips swing with blatant sexuality, but her head is stiff. Her arms are stiff.

Give her space. As she moves hastily attempting to reach her destination. OK. Give her a nod. Do not smile. Do not show her your teeth. She does not want to see them. Do you understand? She has no desire to find out about your story. She only cares about her own story. Because this is the way she is. This is the way she believes you really are, so do not tell her the details of your life. She does not care.

If you are extraordinarily talented, attractive, mysterious, charming, idiosyncratic. These are reasons for her to talk to you. She is well aware that these may be arbitrary criteria. But, she has not figured out any better criteria to keep her from staying in her apartment at all possible moments of the day, or year. She actually does not mind being asked for directions. This a question with purpose and to be able to answer it efficiently may be one of the worthier endeavors throughout anyone’s day. Do not ask her about her day. Do not ask her about her weekend. She probably doesn’t remember, not because she partied so hard that she literally can’t remember. She just really can’t remember. Because her experiences don’t soak in quite right. Not right enough to be able to answer your questions. Unless she went to a movie. She will say, I went to a movie and it was good or it was bad.

If she is not noteworthy to you, then . . .

So she arrives at work four minutes early.

“Some guy called for you and wants to know if you can do a heavy sub-session.”

“What does he mean by heavy? I can do medium today.”

The girl that used to can only take a medium amount of pain today. Well, she can’t feel her ass, until she sits down and all the pain compresses on hard surfaces. The other girls are sleeping on the sofas, and there are only chairs.

Here, the girl that used to’s name is Genevieve. And she does not care about your situation.

She has many men tell her how special she is on a regular basis. Then she hears how they say the exact same thing to other girls. She does not care about your situation. She cares about your money. She cares about whether or not you are sufficiently interesting. Inherently. She has no inclination for the details of your situation. The scenario that drives you. She only wants to know if there is anything that can sustain your fucked up mind in the middle of the night when other people are sleeping. Who or what do you masturbate to? Do you even know?

After the shift, the girl that used to about so many things and places and people and little tiny things walks home. She walks quickly, trying to get home as soon as possible. When she walks through her door she notices that everything looks the way it did before she left, hastily.



Aimee DeLong lives in Brooklyn and is working on her third novel. Slightly more information about Aimee can be found at www.amieedelong.com

10/26/09

Shya Scanlon

Forecast is being serialized semiweekly across 42 web sites. For a full list of participants and links to live chapters, please visit www.shyascanlon.com/forecast.

Read the last chapter here. Read the next chapter here.

Chapter 30

Though I missed witnessing the following scene firsthand (off chasing Marshall “Wild Goose” Karuth), I later received a sufficiently nuanced overview, and was able to forge a reasonable recreation of dialogue. It made sense anyway, really. For all Jennifer's progressive politics, there was a strong pleasure principle running through her that manifested in often traditional attitudes toward intimacy. You could arm yourself with whips and ball-gags, but in her book, you stood by your man. Besides, Zara was at the start of her first real relationship, and Jennifer knew it wouldn't be just anyone who could handle her daughter. So after Marshall had left the house and been driven away, Jennifer paid Zara a visit.

“Zara honey,” she called out from the other side of the door. “Can we chat for a second?”

Zara was only partially dressed, and was on the verge, she felt, of assembling the perfect outfit. Moreover, “chats” with her mother usually meant either condescending lectures about personal authenticity or rather repulsive advice about sexual liberation. Zara had made a habit of having better things to do. So I'm sure she hesitated. Still, this would give her an opportunity to silently bask in the warm and, most importantly, private glow of her epiphany about stripping. In the end, that was too rich to pass up.

“Sure mom,” she said, almost cheerful despite herself. “Come on in.”

Jennifer opened the door and, seeing Zara's costume, surely resisted an urge to comment or help coordinate her outfit. Instead she smiled, saying, “You look lovely.”

“Well, 'lovely' isn't quite what I'm going for, but thanks.”

Jennifer sat down on the Zara's bed, and motioned for her daughter to join her.

“Zara first let me say that I think what you're doing is very brave and I'm very, very proud of you.”

Zara rolled her eyes and sat down on the corner of the bed. “Mom,” she said.

“I'm so proud of what a beautiful, talented, strong person you've become, and I just want you to know that your father and I, that you have our full support in whatever you--”

Mom,” Zara said. “Please.”

“Okay honey I know you don't like it when I talk like that but I just think it's very important that you know you're very special and that your father and I are so--”

“Mom!”

“Honey I'm wondering if you've told Asseem.”

Zara registered surprise. Asseem had been the last thing on her mind, just then, and she knew immediately what her mother was talking about, but she wanted to hear it out of Jennifer's mouth. “What do you mean?” she said, and froze in mock-quizzical face. It gave her some time.

“I know this must be the last thing you want to think about but I'm just wondering if Asseem knows about the stripping thing.”

“Asseem.”

“Men can get a little weird about this kind of thing, and I don't want to see--”

“What, mom, you don't want to 'see me get hurt?'” Zara raised her air quotes into the air like a flag. She was an independent state. “Give me a break,” she said.

Her mother was unmoved. She was used to her daughter's independence. She'd given it to her, after all. She smoothed out a small patch of wrinkled bedding, and asked again. “Zara just answer, honey. Have you told him?”

“Asseem doesn't give a shit,” Zara said, “for conventional ethical frameworks.” She'd been reduced to speaking her mother's language. She hated herself for it.

A tiny smile swam across Jennifer's face. I don't think Zara saw it, but it didn't matter. She'd already lost and she knew it.

“Oh Zara. Oh honey.” Jennifer stood up. She knew she'd made her point. “The world is such a crazy place.” She put her hand on Zara's shoulder and Zara shrugged it off. She walked slowly to the door, and paused before passing through. “Sometimes people really don't know what they care about.”

Zara stared at the floor.

When her mother had closed the door behind her Zara began to pick sullenly at the clothes she'd taken from her closet. Her excitement had vanished again, but she hadn't forgotten her earlier triumph. She'd held on to it, and maybe Asseem wouldn't approve of her decision after all, she thought, but he'd sure as hell have to deal with it. She tolerated the entirely reprehensible people he worked with--that saccharine menace Mr. Stiles--and he'd have to do the same.

Zara stood up and put her street clothes back on. She suddenly had the urge to get this over with as soon as possible. She knew she'd be able to find him down on 5th Avenue, and it would be on his turf, sure, but she'd have the element of surprise working for her. She looked out the window and saw that it was beginning to rain a bit, the wind tossing tiny wet pellets against the glass. Where was her parka? She glanced around the room for the bright, shiny blue plastic shell, but didn't see it. The clothes she'd pulled out of the closet lay limp at her feet, and she kicked them aside, scattering them to see the floor. She crouched down and pulled things out from under her bed, straining to see behind boxes and books and whatever else lay in the way. Nothing. Zara stood and walked to the foot of her bed, where a big chest stuffed with random stuff spilling out and onto the floor stood partially closed. She flung it open and started to dig, but then realized right where she remembered seeing the parka last. It wasn't in her room after all.

Zara ran to the kitchen nook and found it where she'd thought it might be, crammed in the corner of the breakfast bench seat. She heard her mother typing in the den, pulled the parka over her head, and made for the front door. As she walked by her room and caught a glimpse of it she paused, looking in. Clothes lay strewn about, books spilled out from under the bed, and the trunk lid she'd left open revealed a boot she'd been looking for. The room was a mess, a beautiful mess. Asseem would hate it, she thought with satisfaction. Zara stared until thunder sounded, and she hurried outside to join it.

It was raining only lightly, she found, but the wind was strong enough to insist that she lean a bit, shift her weight against it like she was opening a heavy door. The wind had been acting strangely for a few years by then, but it was exceptionally fickle that afternoon. That is, the force was steady, but the direction changed quickly. Since it was strong, everyone on the street had to continually change the direction of their lean, and the result was a top-like look, bodies spiraling around the axis of their feet as though pinned in place and spun, an upside down tetherball spinning to a stop. It was comical, really, and even though Zara knew she looked the same, she looked around and laughed. How could she have known that in just a few weeks she'd marry a man who'd finally pin a name to this weather condition - his first of several credits in the scramble to articulate the quickly changing significance of weather as the world went mad. How could she know how soon she'd be calling it Spindy™? She simply pressed on, or whichever way needed pressing, heading to Knuckle's to tell him the good news before continuing downtown to tell her boyfriend the bad. She'd decided to give it two days. She'd lock her outfit down, develop a routine, and spread the word.

I returned from the awkward near-miss with Marshall just as Zara was approaching Knuckle's stand, and though slightly rattled, got the download from my assistant and quickly pieced together what motivations must have brought her to that spot, and what would move her further. I reclaimed the helm.

Knuckle was helping another customer when he saw Zara approach, and he promptly pushed the man aside. This earned him a cascade of invectives, but he barely heard them, intent as he was on hearing her news and preparing to propose they find another way should there have been a problem. He grinned and stepped back from the counter a bit, allowing her room to work. Zara came up and leaned in, their routine, once rote, now charged again by the new dimension, and he looked her strait in the eyes, like he used to, knowing the skin of her young chest lay just below them, a vanilla blur amid the flood of blue plastic.

“Miss Zara,” he said quietly.

“I'm in,” Zara said. “My folks don't give a shit.” She didn't want to explain her parents' enthusiasm, and Knuckle probably wouldn't understand it anyway. She didn't want to spook him.

For his part, Knuckle knew what a loose arrangement this was, and getting an okay about this out of Zara's own mouth wasn't exactly the work of a Notary Public, but he wasn't going to second guess it.

“How about you start tonight.”

“I already decided to give it a couple days,” she said without missing a beat. “I'm thinking--”

“What about Thursday?” Knuckle said. He folded his big arms over his big chest. “They say it's the new Friday.”

“I know what they say,” Zara said. “Thursday works.”

Knuckle grinned and began wiping down the countertop with his stained, oily rag.

“Most of these bit--most of these girls they just run away. I got to tell you Zara but I think you can handle it. Sometimes the men will get drunk and, you know? They want to dance.” He paused to measure Zara's reaction. She showed no sign of alarm. So far so good. “I keep them off the stage you know but they reach sometimes, you know? And a girl's gotta be able to--”

“I can take care of myself,” she assured him.

“I know you can, Miss Zara. That's why I'm thinking you'll do just fine up there.”

Zara pushed herself off the counter, into the wind. Her parka whipped and fluttered and her red hair danced above her head. Behind her the trees swung around, dressed to the nines in trash.

“I'll come by, what, 8 o'clock?”

“You come by at 7:30 and we talk business a little first before you dance.”

Zara nodded and leaned off in the direction of downtown, her head out in front of her feet until the wind shifted, making her feet go first.

It began to rain harder.

**
Read the last chapter here. Read the next chapter here.

10/23/09

Hendrik Wittkopf

to day 33 and to day 34




the image left,

suspended between you and me,

never leaving,

never arriving



Hendrik Wittkopf is a London-based artist.

10/22/09

Maxi Kim

Did Somebody say North Korea?

Risible though it may sound, many of us are still deeply under the impression that a vague notion of the end of history still applies to our current political landscape. Is this not the most insidious aspect of our current era? From the way conservatives in the United States lump in North Korea with Iran and Iraq, to the way liberals[1] treat North Korea as simply one unfortunate case in a series of unfortunate cases in the third world – it appears that the default mode of today’s humanism is global consumer capitalism with a human face. Even if you’re not a right wing cretin like Francis Fukuyama who argues in his book The End of History and the Last Man (1992) that “What we may be witnessing [at the end of the XXth century] is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government”; even if you don’t explicitly self-identify with this ideological line, the way we (our current Secretary of State for example) act as if it is simply a matter of time before pre 9/11 bad places like Iraq will become sooner or later post June 12 election good places like Iran – tells us a lot about how the unconscious expectation of the end of history or the specter of the end of history still has the profound ability to shape and structure our political activities. To avoid any misunderstandings, my point here is not that pluralism, secularism, and free-market democracy isn’t worth fighting for. My point here is the exact opposite; that is to say it is precisely to fight for pluralism and secularism that we ought to shed ourselves of the premature triumphalism that is inherent in the concept of the end of history. Premature triumphalism breeds a certain lazy armchair engagement with reality as it is; after all, why should I have to work for justice? Why should I struggle for emancipation if it’s simply a matter of time? if it is simply written in the stars, why should I bust my ass? It is precisely to break us out of this end of history malaise, this neoliberal neoconservative ennui – that I propose that we not only “return to history” but return to a zero level. Because what has become almost impossible to express to even my relatively open-minded academic friends is the truly singular, “ahistorical” uniqueness of North Korea. As Christopher Hitchens so aptly put it, ‘But not even in the lowest moments of the Third Reich, or of the gulag, or of Mao’s “Great Leap Forward,” was there a time when all the subjects of the system were actually enslaved. In North Korea, every person is property and is owned . . . Every minute of every day, as far as regimentation can assure the fact, is spent in absolute subjection and serfdom. The private life has been entirely abolished. . . . George Orwell’s 1984 was published at about the time that Kim Il Sung set up his system, and it really is as if he got hold of an early copy of the novel and used it as a blueprint. (“Hmmm . . . good book. Let’s see if we can make it work.”)’ [2] To underline the point again (if you didn’t get it at the first go around) – as a point of fact North Korea as a system is not only the worst totalitarian system compared to other systems from modern history, but it is even worse than the worst fictionalized, dreamt up system in recent history. Beyond Kim Jong Il and the Chinese state that props it, where else do our enemies reside? The answer of course depends on who you ask. You ask my dad and everyone else who listens to Rush Limbaugh and the answer is simple: liberals. You ask my anarchist friends and the problem is the Jewish state. For my moveon.org friends who are still avid readers of Noam Chomsky & Ralph Nader, the problem is big business & the corporation. For a growing number of moderates (Christopher Hitchens belongs in this group) the totalitarian wing of Islam is the major threat today. As for old school Leftists like Slavoj Zizek the problem is still and always will be capitalism. To avoid yet another misunderstanding – my point here is not that the matrix is an illusion. My problem: they all assume that a certain vague notion of humanism is the answer. But what if humanism itself was the problem? What am I most afraid of? A permanent holocaust. To be quite cynical I can well imagine a distant future Bladerunner type dystopia where global warming has killed off all the bees, the fight against AIDS in sub-saharan Africa has been lost, the peaceful two-state solution in Palestine is deferred to a zero-state solution… Meanwhile, North Korea is still being run by the Kim Il Sung and Kim Jung Il father-son duo – only this time it is the son of the son of the son of the Dear Leader who is deemed the heir apparent of North Korea. It is precisely to avoid this apocalyptic future that I maintain that humanism is not enough. Perhaps what we need is a new nihilism to break us out of this XXth century humanist funk. As Hyok Kang, a recently emancipated North Korean refugee put it, “In the true meaning of the word, a nihilist is someone who refuses all forms of social constraint and calls for total freedom. In North Korea, the term refers to the worst enemies of the State.”

[1]“For Rorty, the liberal . . . is someone who believes that cruelty is the worst thing there is. Liberal society, therefore, must encourage the value of tolerance as a way of minimizing suffering.” See Simon Critchley’s Ethics-Politics-Subjectivity, London & New York: Verso, 1999, p. 85.

[2]See Christopher Hitchens’ Slate article, Worse Than 1984: North Korea, slave state. Posted Monday, May 2, 2005 @ http://www.slate.com/id/2117846

Maxi Kim is the author of One Break, a Thousand Blows! (Books Works).

10/21/09

Adelle Stripe

Quietism

I listen to you
tap tap tap
on an underweight keyboard

gain some kind of comfort
from the rhythm
and your cough

outside the snow is falling
like moths burned by
a nitrate moon

silence envelopes
these once busy streets
footsteps are cushioned
in the ginnel of dust
where the pink reflected halogen glow
is the tone of my cheeks
just half an hour ago

Mogwai’s
You Don’t Know Jesus
plays a codeine drone
from the speakers downstairs
somnolence drifting up through the air
condensation in fuzz guitar notes

I open the window,
hang my legs off the sill,
let the snowflakes collect
on my Clara Bow lips
soft and sweet
I dream of vanilla

and listen to you
tap tap tap
on an underweight keyboard

on this February night
under stoned
Titian clouds.



[1] Note – I had remembered this image as a teenager, but couldn’t remember where I had read it. I wrote this poem in the winter of 2009 and looked up the phrase ‘moths burned by the moon’ online and found Richard Wilbur’s First Snow in Alsace from 1947. I suppose I am indebted to him as the poem is closer to his than any other I could recall. It must have had more impact than I first realised, and apologise for the unintentional similarities . . .

Adelle Stripe is a Brutalist poet, journalist, editor, copywriter, window dresser, raconteur and rat catcher. She is the author of Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid and the forthcoming Cigarettes in Bed (Blackheath Books).

10/20/09

Darran Anderson

The Spiritualist

It’s in the blood. Simple as that. Passed down in the genes like blue eyes or haemophilia. A family heirloom. You can trace it right back to the first ancestor that slumped onto dry land, gulping down oxygen through their gills. There’s something in us. We’re set to a different frequency. We’re lightning conductors.

In a certain light, the family tree is a gallows. My great-great-grandmother had the gift. In travelling fairs, she’d do card tricks and impersonations of departed loved ones for a fistful of guineas. Between lifting her skirts. Then her daughter holding hands in Victorian parlours, making the gaslights flicker and books fly from the walls and men with waxed moustaches and top hats squeal like schoolgirls and empty their bowels. My mother ran a psychic hotline from the house. It’s no big mystery, just like being able to hear a dog-whistle. Our eyes can only see a miniscule part of the spectrum. 5% percent of all light they say. You imagine what’s hidden?

Ghosts are as they lived. Some are snobs. Some wish to be celebrities. Some are intolerable bores who only want to speak about themselves, weaving vastly inflated accounts of their lives and their deaths. Most just function, spend their eternity in a state of quiet desperation, not really doing much. Some are accountants. Some still stampede into sales and gaze longingly in the reflections of shop windows. Some have lingering nicotine addictions and float around ceilings in smoke riptides. On rare occasions, they can still surprise. A railway conductor, with his jaw missing seeking tickets. A blood-spattered drunk shrieking for a drink in a crowded bar. The ghosts of cavemen running petrified from motorways. The vast majority are mundane though. They sit in doctor’s waiting rooms voicing their hypochondria to people who can’t hear them. They scowl about the living having no respect. They talk about the weather, school catchment areas, mortgage rates; the ill-discipline of youngsters these days. Stroll around supermarket aisles for decades, complaining about the prices. Talking just encourages them. The only sure way to end it, once it begins, is to point out to them that they’re dead. They don’t tend to come back after that.

Maybe they’re different elsewhere. I’ve heard all kinds of stories: narrow-necked teardrop ghosts taunting snow-blind Sherpas, the Brahmadaitya scurrying around Indian treetops, the foul-tempered Duppy who reside in the roots of silk cotton trees and can be lured out to wreak havoc with the promise of rum, La Llorona drowning her children in the Rio Grande. Not far from here, they talk about Blue Cap somewhere down in the night-maze of the mines, Jenny Greenteeth who drags children into lakes and thorn-rivers, Jack-In-Irons roams deserted highways clad in chains and decapitated heads. Hag of the Dribble, Ocean-Born Mary, Lorelei. Then you’ve got the famous ones. Dick Turpin galloping down the runway of Heathrow airport as planes come in to land, James Dean speeding his Porsche 550 Spyder down Highway 46. Robert Kennedy’s still out there on the campaign trail trying to pick up votes. James Joyce constructing a gargantuan riddle to dumbfound and outwit God, documenting every labyrinthine detail of Dublin, mapping streets that are no longer there and hiding from lightning storms inside wardrobes.

Someday the eggheads will begin to unravel death’s dark mysteries. Theories already abound. That luminescence people see when they’ve stepped out in front of a bus or ran the lights too late or fallen from windows is down to oxygen-starved optic nerves or injuries to the right temporal lobe or the body tripping out on endorphins. Unease at night is an inherited subconscious memory, a fear for what stalked us when the Neolithic sun set or the effect of infrasonics in the walls. Those near-death visions of candyfloss clouds and harp-plucking angels are a Western cultural construct, so the thinking goes. In India, those who awake from comas claim heaven takes the form of a limitless office filled with clerks filing reports on reincarnations. I read that somewhere. Maybe that’s why some ghosts are still here? A bureaucracy failing to meet its processing targets, afterlife civil servants who do not like their jobs. Like the old zombie movies said: heaven and hell are full. A red neon light blinking: No Vacancies.

Sometimes, I’m not proud to admit it gets too much so I mock them, call them all sons of bitches. Tell them to go fuck themselves. And the only place I can find any peace is by the sea, slip off to some deserted cove and for hours just hide amidst the rocks and listen to nothing but the ebb and flow of the waves. They still intrude from time to time. You can hear them singing sometimes. Not a graceful siren song but the bellows of sailors bawling sea shanties or a drowned one bloated, washed up and weeping, or the lonesome voice of a U-boat captain lilting, “Lili Marlene” from brine-filled lungs.

I drink myself to sleep. And my dreams are of emptiness, wide wheat fields, open seas, silence and solitude, those rarest of things. Most nights, I struggle to slip away, wrestling with the sheets, making shapes. I lie in bed and watch squares and rectangles of light climb the wall and move across the ceiling. And leaving the window ajar, I listen. You can peel away each layer of sound, strip away the wavelengths one by one; the cars, the sirens, the drunken shouts, the hum of the helicopters, the tides of the rain, peel away even the silence. And then you hear them, the whispering ghosts . . . gossiping, bickering, being blown about by the winds.


Darran Anderson is an Irish writer and poetry editor with 3:AM Magazine. He has just completed a novel entitled The Ship is Sinking and his poetry chapbook Tesla’s Ghost is forthcoming from Blackheath Books.

10/19/09

Tom McCarthy

Agamemnon – a play in two acts

Act One

Lights up to reveal the entrance to a house. This consists of a free-standing doorway (frame only) installed in the middle of the stage and facing along the stage right to stage left axis, i.e. at an angle of exactly ninety degrees to the audience. On the floor immediately to the doorway's left (stage right), a doormat bearing the word 'Welcome'. Several feet to the doorway's right (stage left), a bathtub. At the base of the doorway itself, a block of wood or metal three feet long and one and a half inches high. This must be firmly attached to the stage floor.

Enter, from stage right, Agamemnon, a man in his mid-forties. He walks from stage right towards stage left in a straight line that runs through the doorway. As he passes through the frame, he trips on the block and falls over.

Lights down.

Act Two

Lights half up to reveal a set cleared of doorway, doormat and bathtub, i.e. consisting only of the block. Across the stage's back wall the events of Act One, which have been filmed by a camera installed in front of the stage exactly in line with the doorway, are replayed by means of a video projector. The replay must take place in extreme slow motion, at such a speed that the sequence from Agamemnon's entrance to his arrival at a state of rest on the floor lasts forty minutes.

Lights down.

Notes
1. Agamemnon's fall must follow the same stage right to stage left trajectory as his walk, so that he falls through and from the frame towards the bathtub, coming to rest face down with his feet pointing back towards the doorway and his hands towards the bathtub.
2. If the video replay equipment being used for the production is not sophisticated enough to replay Act One in extreme slow motion within Act Two immediately, Act One should be filmed and the footage slowed down to the desired speed using appropriate editing sofware prior to the performance. In this case, the actor playing Agamemnon must ensure that his movements are identical both times he performs Act One.
3. For this version of Agamemnon, the camera must be placed among the audience seating exactly in line with the doorway, as stated. The director can, however, choose to stage different versions by placing the camera on the theatre's ceiling directly above the doorway pointing down towards the floor, in which case the play's title for that particular production should be amended to Agamemnon (Gods); or by placing it off stage left pointing across towards stage right, in which case the play's title should be amended to Agamemnon (Clytemnestra); or by using three cameras, one placed in each of the positions indicated above, in which case the play's title should be amended to Agamemnon (Cassandra).


Tom McCarthy is a writer and artist. His first novel Remainder, which turns around trauma and re-enactment, has been translated into more than ten languages and is currently being adapted for cinema by Film4. In 2008 it won the Believer Book Award. His avant-garde art ‘organisation’ the International Necronautical Society (which may or may not actually exist) surfaces through publications, proclamations and denunciations, live events and conventional art exhibitions at institutions that in recent years have included Tate Britain and Moderna Museet Stockholm. McCarthy is also author of the non-fiction book Tintin and the Secret of Literature and of numerous essays that have appeared in publications such as The New York Times, The London Review of Books, Harper’s and Artforum. His new novel C, which explores the relationship between technology and mourning, will be published by Jonathan Cape and Knopf in 2010.

10/16/09

Jenni Fagan

The Second Time

We were crossing bridges.
your side of the river,
my side of the river
on a boat
Gin & London’s finest,
back over again.

I saw your smile
through the crowd
before you got to me,
a flash, a reflex
I wore the stockings
just for you,
on the bus
the looks
in the street
but yours was the one
I was seeking.

There was a band
on the bridge
trumpet going,
our first words
were notes.

Your shoes
clicked
and later
in the hotel room
I listened to the street
waiting to hear that click,
re-prints staring
at me laying on the bed.


Jenni Fagan is a Scottish poet and novelist based in London. Her poetry collection Urchin Belle is out now on Blackheath Books. She's been published in various places online and off, including Brand, Paris Bitter Hearts Pit, BTD, 3AM, Tate Modern and Pulp among others.

10/15/09

Matthew Coleman

The Fallen

I smile that I am still here.
I’m still alive.

I breathe; slowly, surely.

I try to take each day as it comes.

Finding moments of awareness.
Seeing sky and wave and tree and sea.

Day and night and sun and moon.



Matthew Coleman takes pictures, writes, paints and folds origami cranes. He can be found here: http://www.matthew-coleman.co.uk

10/14/09

Ben Myers

Tastes Like Chicken: 6 Spam Poems


Ball Point Men

State-of-the-art sensors
laser-directed artillery shells
and hunger strikes for 114 days.

The chemicals could be at risk.
Young people are fighting and
dying over a failure to give evidence.

He saw things. He was aggressive.
He excelled in “immeasurable damage.”



Pablo Escobar

Prior to a local women’s volleyball game in Cuba
pre-organized by hooligan clubs in the area,
he apparently stored the gun inside a landmark
sea-line shore home then accused the US of pedantry.

Muddling through nimble moves in the financial markets
he used a great deal of capital. And so he broke the bank.
He was confident that he could still watch the game though
and wrote of this purpose in a letter with a knife on a child.



Coup D’etat

African tribes take these herbs all the time -
this is why they have such big cocks.

Bigger than the
federal reserve.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair called
the detention of the sailors “wrong and illegal.”



Retaliation Whisper

The lion emerges
bright and clean
to pace the wart house
under a twilight moon.

The twisted fronds of the overhang
silent in repose,
the birds in the trees
fear frozen like gargoyles;

an anaemic shadow crosses the window
drunk on cleaver dreams
and the hot wind
of this colonial savannah.

Behind him lies bloody body
parts dressed in khaki -
no more the landlord,
the new king growls



The Grandest Canyon

Smashed in the head from close range
blood pours from a flap in his scalp.

She screams like an air-raid, her
rope hands slippery with his blood.
A feminine echo against the canyon walls,
getting smaller and smaller and smaller -

below them another coyote joins the pack
collective snouts, jaws and teeth cocked to the air

as lizard lies laconically on a rock
waiting to see what will transpire.



No-One Knows Their Neighbours Any More

From the nearest house
a pungent smell of
rotting matter
came.





These poems are off-cuts from the author’s collection Spam Poems (Blackheath Books, 2008). Ben Myers next novel is forthcoming on Picador. www.benmyersmanoifletters.blogspot.com

10/13/09

HP Tinker

Excerpts From The Extraordinary Autobiography of Mister HPT

Let me speak with ruthless candour for there isn’t much time.

I was born on a mountaintop in Montana during an entirely unexpected flower festival. My mother was a blooming orchid, a dazzling drop of golden rain, a sizzling sunshine shower who worked in retail fashion. Raised in a brothel on the wrong side of the tracks, she found salvation as a part-time good time girl until she met my father, a Texan rustler only just re-released into the wider community. Soon wrangling Levi jeans for a living, father became a semi-professional metaphor for rural American life and flew us to England for narrative reasons. Here, rented seaside circumstances and a lonely, humbling childhood of smartly-observed bowling greens and luxuriously rundown sports pavilions. Father being an uncertain man in many ways to mask his uncertainty he wore many masks. Favourites included ex-President Jimmy Carter and a hard-faced Catholic hard-man known only as West Fife Frank.

Around March 1975 father became increasingly delusional.

He began dressing in ill-fitting maternity clothes and declared himself to be the long lost brother of Gore Vidal. Often he would disappear mysteriously into the middle of the night only to reappear again outside Sainsbury’s several hours later having drunk heavily. Eventually he was imprisoned for smuggling imaginary cocaine to footballers and not long after an intruder broke into the family home and stole all of my mother's affections. In buoyant mood, she left for Calais on the newly-invented hovercraft before throwing herself over the side just five minutes later. She left behind few clues why - only some laminated suicide notes and an erotic mural of Anne Sexton eating pizza. Orphaned to the fates of chance I went to live with my Uncle Goethe who ran the local reptile zoo from his simple mountainside chateau. Very quickly I acquired a lively appreciation of the arts here, surrounded as I was by ancient holy artefacts, dark occult research materials, and boys from the local squash courts.

One evening I awoke to find Uncle Goethe hunched over my bed, the warm smell of distilled beverage on his lips. Almost immediately he began adjusting himself and slurring heavily in italics. “There has been a slow and steady erosion of melancholy from the modern world,” he mumbled darkly. “Genuine melancholy is now being replaced by new forms of State-subsidised emotion and the ruling classes have introduced mass-manufactured melancholy into modern ITV drama - apparently realistic programming which induces a state of faux melancholia within the viewer, evoking only the palest responses, causing people to dissolve slowly over the course of many years, fusing into armchairs and sofas, like a hugely worrying national symbiosis …”

Uncle Goethe too was now insane.

And by June 1977 he was also dead, killed by a falling pig.

February 1978 arrived eventually - and after six months in an All-Catholic Girls School, I became incredibly self-important and intensely shy and very unpopular. Soon however it was 1980 and Capitalism was everywhere closely pursued by the ZX81, the Falklands, Space Invaders, school bullies, divorcing parents, Double Fantasy, bad poetry, Geography, and Kajagoogoo. Then 1981 followed. Or 1983. Or 1982. (Which, I can’t recall.) And I fled into the woods with Isabelle and Alexis and Louisa and Claudette and Little Tommy. That first evening beneath the stark gaze of the moon, we swore our allegiance to the Six Ruling Principles of the Forestry Senate and hung Little Tommy from a sycamore tree.

When I woke the next morning Isabelle and Alexis and Louisa and Claudette were gone.
I took to taking long lonesome walks through the brutal wilderness and spent approximately the next five years alone, accompanied only by a badly damaged lingerie catalogue. Curiously, the images of semi-clothed women contained within cheered me, instigating as they did strangely hollow feelings similar to actual sexual desire. Many hours passed me here alone in quiet contemplation of my catalogue until one afternoon when several savages appeared some way off in the mid-distance. On closer inspection they seemed to be disgruntled career women removing their business suits near the motorway service station bottle recycling facilities.

Dear reader, some strange and rare compulsion overtook me in an instant and I sprinted towards these women with a most uncommon vigour. One woman - who claimed her name was Miriam - explained that a time of human cloning was drawing near. I listened intently, noting that her head was shaven and there appeared to be a surgical scar across her brow. For what felt like several hours “Miriam” passionately espoused a radical philosophy combining guilt-free sexual relations with the lesser known scientific theories of Karl Popper. My penis rose and she kissed me and the next morning she kissed me again until after several days I ejaculated into the palms of her hands.

Two years later I escaped to Bromley and joined André Deutsch.

This heralded a period of intense personal creativity for me, characterised by an incredible self-belief that - I would later discover - had absolutely no grounding in any basis whatsoever. Sitting at my heavy oak desk, I was 37 again, having aged backwards while my contemporaries wrinkled visibly around me. It was winter and I was being treated for severe incontinence, but my cancer was in remission and my cock was showing small signs of life. Late one evening my close friend Studs Terkel lured me into his office from across the corridor by performing the Theme From Shaft on a ukulele. On entering his damp, rather stuffy quarters I was surprised to find a fatherly face contemplating a Woodbine. I was even more surprised to find the face and Woodbine belonged to Doris Lessing, the semi-handsome female author blessed with prominent canines.

“An attractive older lady like you shouldn’t confuse herself with quirky semi-autobiographical prose,” I quipped in a voice that suggested it knew what it was talking about.

She agreed and beat me zestfully across both nostrils.

Although my nose bled for weeks from her playful ramifications, I commissioned her to write the greatest novel of the 1980s. She declined and wrote the greatest novel of 1960s instead. A few days afterwards she danced into my office wearing a beer-stained raincoat, a curious expression all over her face. Peeling off the coat to reveal a pair of tennis shorts beneath, she soon stood naked where the rest of her clothes had once been.

“Let’s discuss James Joyce!” she cried.

“No,” I said sternly and following an unsuccessful bid at carnal relations she flew to Ibiza to shoot a fitness video with Kathy Acker.

A year then passed while I ruled Shepard’s Bush like a vagabond Messiah, wreaking my peculiar brand of sexual magic upon the local populous, sleeping with an alarming number of alarmingly young harlots at a quite alarming rate… followed by a whole other year, a year of living vicariously in brightly lit places where lonely taverns and twenty-four hour strip joints are traditionally traditional. Eventually, however, I moved to Muswell Hill – home of acclaimed film director Mike Leigh and popular Scottish homosexual serial killer Dennis Nilson - and turned to eviscerating quirky semi-autobiographical prose to myself, examining the lost celluloid of youth… expressing my years of dismal dismay in beautiful words… reconstructing tragic events out of day-to-day emotional bric-a-brac… until eventually they resembled a small masterpiece. This small masterpiece even went on to earn itself a small heap of praise.

“What do you get from a small heap of praise?” I asked Mrs. Empson at one of her famously crapulous garden parties.

“A whole heap of trouble,” she laughed, flexing her shoulders like a heavyweight boxer. Amongst the bevy of young Victorians sprawled languidly across the lawns I noted a gaunt Malcolm Lowry looking immensely pleased with himself and the young novelist Fay Weldon cheerfully beating CS Lewis over the head with a hockey stick. Returning to Gower Street several days later in a state of sartorial disarray I vowed that from now on my life would proceed in a quite different direction. So it proved. In less than six months I grew a Lou Reed poodle perm and married Gertrude Peppercorn, the well known solo pianist. We moved to Worthing and lived together very miserably in a cemetery by the sea. Most weekends were spent painting curtains onto the window panes in an attempt to replicate the apparent happiness of others.

“What is happiness?” she asked me one day.

“I have absolutely no idea,” I admitted. (I had just eaten stale prunes and cold water, washed down with a hot jug of custard.)

An explosion of contemptuous wrinkles rippled across her face.

“Button up your pants,” she barked, “and never remove them in front of me again.”

She sliced a cucumber viciously while I contemplated a career in investment banking.

The next morning after a traditionally stressful marital breakfast she ran naked along the beach and climbed into a taxi that by sheer coincidence happened to be waiting there. There swiftly followed a depression of such spirits as I have ever known. By now just the very business of being Mister HPT was proving fruitless and barren. From certain angles I resembled Gene Hackman in The Conversation and I was barely able to scratch out a living as a tuna fisherman, crop-picker, hired gun, short order cook, cab driver, lithographer, door-to-door Bible salesman, floorwalker, and personal cocktail waitress to ex-Communard Jimmy Somerville – whilst also publishing prodigiously on the early political slapstick of Bertolt Brecht and Walter de la Mare in prestigious Parisian journal Les Temps Modernes

In time I became so poor I began chewing my own shoe leather.

For the next few years I travelled extensively, exploring myself and much of South East Asia.[1] The melting pot of New York offered a temporary sanctuary from other melting pots worldwide. I briefly tasted the warm throb of Rome - but when Rome stopped throbbing and Paris proved indifferent, I started to flounder. (In retrospect my subsequent affair with a young, impressionable, flame-haired 19th Century prostitute was probably always doomed to failure.) Following a nervous breakdown in the Pyrenees I flew home to discover a kind of economic cataclysm had taken place within general society. Amidst the dreary post-war landscape of Paul Auster austerity I staggered through an abandoned Piccadilly, lurched down a silent Trafalgar Square and urinated freely in front of the unguarded Buckingham Palace. Eventually I found refuge in a lesbian gyp joint where my few sources of comfort included the novels of Rick Moody and a Venezuelan gymnast I encountered cheerleading in the remains of Canary Wharf. For a while it seemed as though my entire life had lost much of its previous meaning.

Then one morning everything changed.

On July 16, 20--, a handwritten manuscript of China Miéville’s greatest works fell into my possession.[2] For only the second time in seventeen months I leapt onto both feet and snorted "jebo ti morski pas mater!" decisively through upwardly flared nostrils. From a close textual analysis of the text I began extrapolating various revolutionary literary theories which had previously baffled Creative Writing tutors for centuries. Uncertain of how to proceed I handed the manuscript to DCB Pierre, an acknowledged connoisseur in the field of lyrical Gnosticism, for further analysis. DCBP was unusually interested in the unthinkable and how you go about actually thinking it.

“Unsayable things do exist,” he insisted. “Like a spastic colon, for instance.”

“What do you mean by that?” I asked.

Ahhhh,” DCBP said, rather mysteriously, “you’ll never know because I'm being rather mysterious.”

The next day DCBP sold the manuscript to Hari Kunzru for £150,000 and chartered a prawn boat in search of the lost treasures of Stéphane Mallarmé. I can still recall the fateful afternoon he set sail with near brutal clarity.

I stayed at home reading Martin Chuzzlewit.

THE END

[1] A long, somewhat drawn-out journey, I must admit, encompassing the ancient hills of Cork, Geneva, Bordeaux, Colorado, Libya, Gothenburg, Venice, Iceland, Kyrgyzstan, Cornwall, an apocalyptic traffic jam, a group of violent ex-philosophers, a couple of wise-cracking carjackers, Sir Stephen Spender, Joan Baez, Charlton Athletic, Jorges Luis Borges, and ELO, live at Wembley Arena.

[2] The exact details of how it did so are not important.

HP Tinker lives in Manchester. He does not write for the Guardian, the Independent, the New Statesman or Time Out.

10/12/09

Heidi James

Roses

I eat sugared violets and roses while sitting on plumped cushions. Crushing the sweet lilac and pink carapaces with my teeth. My lover, who will eventually be my husband, so I like to imagine, and perhaps eventually will, when he is free to be, possibly, always possibly, leant over me and asked why the dark scent of roses clings to my pale skin. There are answers to his question. Always answers; I am reticent to speak the correct one.

A field of roses, cultivated, cajoled by my Grandfather, growing around the house. Nonna plucking the petals to make rose water, with which she bathed her breasts each morning, leaning forwards, her shoulders braced, dipping each breast into the basin, using her wide hands to palm the liquid to her neck, slowly, before sitting straight, her brown nipples dripping, and then reaching for me to sit on her lap to clean my face, her fingers gentled around my eyes, my delicate arrangement, but tougher over my cheeks, my ears, probing, my nose. Here we are with the perfumed mythology. That is what memory makes of this. Or. Perhaps the answer is the knock on the door, my mother, young and black-haired; sleek as if untouched by the elements, unscathed, opens it to deliveries of flowers, young men, maddened by a promise, send them in gaudy armfuls. She dances about the kitchen, desired, smiling, forgetful. Who will be tasked with her remembering? We know the answer, of course. How silly.

And roses, it could be as simple as this – barefoot, a summer ominous with heat, the balding lupins, fat insects terrorising, treacherous long grasses, and being very small. The roses, crumpled balls of white and pink, curving around the house and stepping in amongst them, their cool dry absorption, my soft feet testing the soil, going in further, the linger of the placid scent, caught in hair and on fingers, lingering, staying too long, or not long enough, before turning and turning to retrace steps, toe extended, fingers worrying at the air, and hair, long strands, baby hair, tangled caught, the cotton summer dress, that too snagged in the sharp clasp of the rose bushes. And my hero, he comes, Grandfather, the roses only thigh-high, he pauses – a shadow on the garden – and stands on all that growth, he crushes the flowers to get to me. Delicately, his fingers untwist my hair; patiently he prises me from the innocent flowers, his breath on my neck, so close, holding me to him. He lifts me up, his hand – I remember tucked under my bottom – hot against my skin, he holds me to him. I felt the sharp bristles of his chest hair against my cheek, cleansing me; I am held far above the danger. The next day he cut them all down.

You see? Answers; that if I lie very still will settle around me like truth, and persuade of my purity.


Heidi James’ novella The Mesmerist’s Daughter (published by Apis Books) was launched in July 2007. Her novel Carbon (published by Blatt) will be out in Autumn 09 and is published in Spanish by El Tercer Nombre. She has collaborated with artists including Delaine LeBas, Marisa Carnesky and Tara Darby. Her essays and short stories have appeared in various publications and anthologies including Dazed and Confused, Next Level, Flux, Brand, Another Magazine, The Independent, Undercurrent, 3:AM London, New York, Paris, Dreams That Money Can Buy, Full Moon Empty Sports Bag, Pulp,net etc. She is a doctoral research student.

10/9/09

Adrian Slatcher

The Girlfriend Who Got Me Into Mazzy Star


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Ok. This is a story. Believe it if you like. Because girls don’t get boys into bands, do they? Well, wrong. I had a girlfriend who got me into Mazzy Star, the ethereal American band who were the missing link between the Velvet Underground and the Cocteau Twins. A missing link, I’m sure you’ll agree that was waiting to be found. David Roback had been in the Rain Parade, a band I loved with a passion, so I don’t say I’d have never got into Mazzy Star, but sometimes your love for a previous band blinds you to the charms of the next one (I’m talking more Microdisney-Fatima Mansions than Beatles-Wings here.) So I’m there in her tiny flat in Fallowfield, on her bed, half-sitting, half-lying, and she’s at the window with a cigarette because I don’t smoke and she doesn’t like the smell even though she’s ten a day, more with alcohol, and the record player’s next to me, with its lid up, and the previous record has come to an end. I’m wanting her to finish her cigarette and come back and lie next to me, I’m trying to think of things to say which won’t mess things up. I rifle through her record box (it’s 1994 and she’s still not got a CD player – this is why I love you, I remember thinking) and pretty much everything’s second-hand and enough to make a sensitive boy feel a little low in the testerosterone department; Hendrix. The Doors. The Cult. Led Zeppelin. AC/DC. Guns N Roses. “Hey, what’s this?” I say, taking out a record I’ve not seen before, the purple sleeve of “So Tonight That I Might See”, by Mazzy Star. She’s still looking out the window as I put the record on. First track. Side One. As the music begins, she turns round faster than anything. “Don’t play that,” she says and runs over and pulls the needle off the record, violently. “Hey,” I say, “that sounded good.” I guess you could call “Fade Into You” our break-up record. Still play it to this day.

Adrian Slatcher is based in Manchester and writes poetry, fiction and music. He blogs regularly about literary matters at artoffiction.blogspot.com and advises arts organisations about new technology. He will be reading creative non-fiction at the Lancaster Literature Festival in October.

10/8/09

Grace Andreacchi

Cabaret de la Peur

Please come in. This is the place, the one you have been searching for all these years, night after night, sleeping and waking, in the streets and alleys of distant cities, in the country of your dreams and the country of your wakefulness, and now you have found us at last, how happy you must be! So step right inside and don’t be afraid, or rather, be afraid, be very, very afraid for this is it, the one and only, the real thing and no common imitation, le Cabaret de la Peur. We have a table waiting, just for you. Look, your name is on the little pink reservation card. Please, sit down, make yourself comfortable. A glass of champagne? I think you’ll find 1961 was a very good year. See anyone you recognise? That’s funny, they all seem to recognise you. Of course, they knew you’d be here tonight. Word gets around, of course it does. There are many more of them waiting just behind that curtain. Another glass of champagne? Why, of course. Yes, your mother and your father are here. The quick and the dead are here. The two-headed boy is here. The girl with the removable heart is also here – surely you remember her? What’s that you say? Her face looks familiar but you can’t place it? Perhaps this will refresh your memory. Looks like you, doesn’t it? Yes, you looked like that once. A long time ago, you say? Not so long ago as all that, you did indeed look exactly like that. Didn’t you? Don’t try to deny yourself, we know who you are. Everybody here knows who you are. You thought by changing your name you’d put us off the track, but it’s not that easy. You thought with that cheap plastic surgery you had done on the sly in Morocco to put us off the track, but you see it hasn’t worked, we recognised you the moment you walked in the door. We’ve been waiting for you such a long time. Now the show can begin.


Grace Andreacchi - American-born novelist, poet and playwright. Works include the novels Scarabocchio and Poetry and Fear, Music for Glass Orchestra (Serpent’s Tail), Give My Heart Ease (New American Writing Award) and the chapbook Elysian Sonnets. Managing editor at Andromache Books.

10/7/09

Ellis Sharp

Leytonstoned

Where shall we go? Mohammed asks. The car is a silver Fiat Quibble, with Cadillac fins, retro boosters and punk upholstery. Los Angeles, says Douglas. I’ve always wanted to go there. Don’t be ridiculous, snorts Mohammed, whispers Mohammed, Mohammed nods. Even if it floated, this car would never get across the Atlantic. We’d run out of legendary gasoline. Also consider the breakers, the sperm whales, the world war two hedgehog mines. We’d break up. We’d sink and go drown. Go down, down, down, all the way to Davy Jones’s slurred place. Be realistic, Doug. I say Scotland. I’ve always wanted to go to Scotland. The tartan transvestites. The Loch Ness monster. Castles on little islands. My aunty has a Views of Scotland calendar. It’s lovely. Sure, Scotland, why not? If you’re sure the fins aren’t retracted wings. I was certain I saw a bone structure there the other day. Perhaps feathers. I’m almost positive I saw some movement there when I looked in the rear view on Tuesday. Remember Tuesday? So how do we get there? You know how to get to the Green Man? I’ll direct you from there. Cigarette, my man? The turbine vibrated. Condensation dripped from the windshield. Thanks, squire. Mohammed ducked to avoid a fragment of Sonnet 77 (the first line, he realized, as it shot past with a crackling noise). Mohammed wore a leather shirt with tassle fringes. An hour later they are past Stansted and heading north for the A1(M). There was lassitude in plenty. Look at that! What? Mohammed is hunched over the steering wheel. He seems to be staring at the dashboard. In the sky. That plane. A jumbo. It looks like it’s going to crash. It’s so close. Nah, it’s just landing. They come in low. Like at Heathrow. If you say so. Cigarette, squire? I don’t mind if I do. They reach the A1 (M). Its four lanes have almost no traffic. Then it narrows and turns into the A1. Roundabouts appear like blood clots in an artery. Fancy a slug of whisky? Douglas unscrews the cap, takes a few glugs, and offers it to Mohammed. Are you corrupting me, squire? No, I’m offering you whisky. But it won’t be any hassle if I have to fight this thing myself. Hand it over. Mohammed takes more than Doug, Doug can’t help noticing. Later they stop at a service station for a piss. Here, for two pesetas, they gorge themselves on beer and shrimps and a paella of rice, sweet peppers, saffron, snails, crawfish and little eels. As they eat they watch the local fishermen sitting in their black felucca-rigged boats watching a DVD of Jaws. Yorkshire is dreary, with views of distant slagheaps and a bunch of cooling towers on their left. A nuthatch whistles from a derelict paragraph. The sun, becoming warmer and warmer, drinks off the dew, and what were once tall candlesticks, silvery with white bloom, are now tall jade candlesticks of leaves beneath the blue cathedral of a sky leaking from the pen of William Faulkner. It’s not long before they are in the border country. Here the air is fresh and translucent. The young grass glows with a happy emerald brilliance. The ringing voice of the chiff-chaff resounds overhead. Shortly afterwards they go under a bridge where someone has spraypainted ‘Blair is a cunt’. Now the trees fuse into large blackening masses. An oriole gives a sad cry. Soon they reach the Great Glen. Look at that! The monster! Mohammed says: I can’t see it. Where? Over there, by the castle! Three enormous humps. A head like a dragon! Fucking fantastic! Wow, yeah. Cool. A little over a third of a matador’s sword, properly placed, will kill a dragon that is not too big. Half a sword will reach the aorta of even the biggest dragon. St George taught me that. Cool. Hey, look! There’s the Queen Mother! She’s dead, idiot. There’s the ghost of the Queen Mother! Sort of luminous! She’s ascending to heaven! And they’re playing that Led Zeppelin song! How very retro. Can’t we have something more modern? Where’s the Eels tape? Jack borrowed it. Anyway it wouldn’t work in this car, remember? Damn Jack. Where is he these days, anyway? In Sheffield, I expect. That’s where his girlfriend lives. Ooh, look! That sign. ‘Sheffield 4 miles.’ Let’s go there now. OK, guv. But Sheffield is empty. No sign of Jack anywhere. There was complete silence in Jack’s girlfriend’s room. Somewhere in the same building a gramophone began to play. It played and played. Something sweet and onomatopoeic by Mendelssohn, full of waves breaking in echoing caverns. I think one of those bombs must have been dropped. The sort that kills people but doesn’t damage property. The ideal American bomb. As a matter of fact I think one’s been dropped in Leytonstone. I can’t see anyone in the street, can you? And no cars being driven. That’s weird. No it’s not. Colworth Street is always like this. The road humps put people off. None of these cars go anywhere. You look tomorrow. Mine will still be here. And so will Mr Smith’s outside his house. And that couple next door with the camper van. That never moves. Yeah well obviously yours will still be here tomorrow, Mohammed. It’s because you’ve taken the fucking battery out. What I want to know is if it’s ever coming back. That battery. So’s we can really go somewhere. Shouldn’t think so. Who needs a battery? I like sitting here. As that Shakespeare song says, all you gotta do is dream. Plato. You what? Greek bloke. He said everything was a dream. He was right. Anyway, I better go. My uncle wants me to help out in his fucking shop at four. Better do it, for the sake of family values. Also with luck I can nick some ciggies. Coming? Nah, think I’ll stay here and finish the spliff. What will you say if he catches you appropriating his cigarettes? Forgive me, dearest uncle! It was an error. I vow never to do this again! A wilfulness in my nature has drawn this calamity down upon me! But it was not intentional. Can you pardon me? O wound not my agonizing soul! Incidentally, Doug, you bloody well remember to lock the door when you go. I don’t want people pissing in my car. Will do. Douglas waves goodbye and settles back into the passenger seat. He closes his eyes. The heat of Los Angeles beats against the windshield. The bass frequency of his heart is murky and rich. Observing the steady fall of the barometer he realises there is some dirty weather knocking about. Yes, it was the sweetest thing, that hyperventilating day. You helped the chokes to go away. Iron in my soul, a bloodied hole. Blue collar rhythms and muscular spasms. Aeroplane glue, what’s it to you? Gastric juices and toxic sluices, elephant milk and faraway ruses. Overcome by mist and a voice that hissed. Let me tell you, let me toil you. Let me trick you, let me spoil you. Tales of girls and all that fails. That arch in Whitby, a girl named Anne. Of empty rooms, capsules at night. A total absence of delight. Bleached bones, beached whales and all that fails. Fish paste and dirty fingernails. Drunken laughter and mornings after. Emaciation and dehydration. Hepatitis, then bronchitis. Descriptions of repeat prescriptions. Doctor’s appointments and pills and ointments. Bouncing cheques and sunken cheeks. Fried afternoons, injected moons. The dentistry and the sophistry. Dynamite banana and Futurama. Political tosh, economy wash. Bloody feuds and posturing dudes. Shivers and slivers and rivers and liver. Sallow skin and a cheesy grin. Dandruff showers and springtime flowers. Hairsprays and clichés and two-thrubber frith. Cough syrup brands and punk rock bands. Jubbs and dubs. Quaaludes and preludes. A kneeling nude, a moment lewd. Mona Lisa, just a teaser. Ultrasound scans and wedding banns. R. Budd Dwyer and the dyer’s hand. Methadone and Al Capone. Sound box and detox and all of the gold locks. Exhaustion, contortion, and narrative impairment. Ink penitentiary, blue velvet stationery. Coke-snorting daughters and tabloid reporters. Prefab and rehab and rosewater blubber. Musicians’ physicians. Empty TV and vacant sky. Irreversible heart disease, the lees. Backwards, down the birth canal. In The Cusp of Modernity we drank ourselves sick, took some stick. Then headed for the Red Dragon, off the wagon. That’s where you’ll find me, you bet. Listening to the Cliff Trotsky Quartet.


Ellis Sharp lives in London. Dead Iraqis: Selected Short Stories of Ellis Sharp was published by New Ventures in August. He is currently completing his fourth novel, Bomb Island.

10/6/09

Shiona Tregaskis

Waiting

In knots of fours and fives
the boys hang on the gates,
swollen with gossip,
throwing chips at pigeons.
Bulge and spike, thrust and recoil.
This is where they learn to jostle like ponies
raucous, rhythmic, terrible.
Childhood hangs about them
and these dry, bright daily ordeals
can only ever amount to micro-studies
in how far you can push things.

Here come the girls.
Cherry lipbalm, onion hotdog.
Playground seagulls drop like
roof tiles, beak first,
demonstrating the types of sighs
women may come to rely on in life.
Deep behind their school ties,
deep behind the aertex,
a tiny, spiral shift of matter,
a pile of pennies tipped over,
like a house of cards knocked down.

Shiona Tregaskis lives in London and works as a subeditor. This is her first poem to be published.

10/5/09

Peter Wild

Counterparts

Each morning, he takes himself out of the wardrobe and dresses. There are freshly pressed rows of himself placed there each night by the creator and each morning he and his brothers dress accordingly until all of them look like one another and are ready for the day and for the world. From the moment he appears on the street to the moment he disrobes again at night, you wouldn’t know he was any different to you or me. If you were to look as you passed him on your way to the newsagent for a newspaper or to the sandwich shop for a sandwich, you wouldn’t think twice. You probably wouldn’t even look all that hard. If you saw anything you’d just see a man, probably, in a suit. It’s the same at the office. He appears at the office each day at more or less the same time. He performs more or less the same functions, albeit with the odd seasonal twist here and there. He laughs when others laugh. He helpfully sends on the same joke-y email attachments. He has a broad list of adequate responses for topics as diverse as ‘The TV Last Night’, ‘The Weather’, ‘The Sport’ and ‘The Wife Said’. He was built to cope with the unexpected.

And yet, saying all of that, as he withdrew, slug-like, from his suit and his skin each night, he couldn’t help but wonder what it was about him that stopped them loving him as they loved each other. Life wasn’t like maths, he concluded. Some things didn’t add up, no matter how hard you tried.

Peter Wild comes from a music journalism background. He is the editor of Perverted by Language, The Empty Page and Paint a Vulgar Picture, (anthologies of fiction inspired by The Fall, Sonic Youth and The Smiths) published by Serpent’s Tail and Harper Collins. Peter is the co-founder of http://www.bookmunch.co.uk/. His writing and fiction have appeared in Noo Journal, Word Riot, The Big Issue, Nude magazine, Alt Sounds, City Life, 3AM magazine and Eyeballkid. He lives in Stockport.

10/2/09

Steve Finbow

slumbible

chapter 1

Generals


Videotapes, intentions, kissing the grime, dung moustache, beginning overweight. Abaziah. Weight. Have ever afternoon, homeless, stairs eventually forward. Zichri. Pock-marked from sweaty shirt at frontier, black, rolled away. Jotham. About numb and private. The toilet door closed. Zebediah. Star-shelling flutes and eggs. Aggregates. Assignments. Explanations. Shallum. We have looked at it easily and it does not. Quickly replaced besides. Ahaz. Oozing together over shaved. Points that expire brightly in the chocolate receptors. Eliashib. Bats. In the passageways. Lungs. Cartilaginous. Uzziah. Two spots of land. Surrounded by. Lakes. Pumped up and screaming. Hamath. Tumbled beyond. Lost there. Flickered abstractly. Jehoram. Climbing through mornings. Jerking laughter out of clocks that are yet to exist. Iddo. Lower lip engineering. Bright light. Brighter. Concentrating. Concentrated. Mishael. The little spank. The opening of the mouth, the eye, the anus. Zerubbabel. Barely enough. Mechanical. Unfathomable. Punctuate the skin. Puncture the page. Ahikam. Just edit down the particular. Clouds of dust, frosted glass, Vaseline lens. Darius. Plunging gums alongside clumps of hair. The spectral bloom of shit. Tophet. Imperative. He takes your hand. You. Open up. Sticks it in. Beautiful. Jarib. Licking nostrils. Fucking trees put the cart before the horse. Shelemiah. I can’t take it. Wounded somewhere – temple, buttocks. Any time you want. Pashah. Glans. Learn the secrets. Forget them. Again. Turns out flesh. Again. Johanan. Parasitic. Gazes as it passes. Pulsing virus plucking at the bones. Achor. You smelling of fate. And he perfunctorily fucked. Micaiah. I haven’t made it. Got lost in the imagined. Grasping, entwined. Jabez. The construct. Calloused and adversarial on the backseat of the bus. Scintillating. Unconcerned as we descend the mountain. Chemosh. Against the wind. The smell from the ovens. Excremental juices. We all turned toward the exit. Azriel. Hugging thighs. Screeching. The gates pierced your nipples. Sparks. Rezin. The objects used for opening, for drainage – catheter, cannula, and stent. Don’t blink under the surgery lights. Anathoth. Rags spread. Hands spread. Spoon clenched between teeth. Dog. Muscles unfastening. Masseiah. Dog. Relax into the light. Kicking. Smell of a. in. Out.


chapter 2

Exocet


Interior. Rampant. Twice experienced. Bleeding sheen of garden path. Zephaniah. Outward. Between her lips he blows chunks. Size of her schnozz. Hanani. They were merged. After her visit. The birds of prey. With this twisted white and memorized the became black as. Elioenai. Follicles bound to stone. Man and woman. The bystander. Preciseness. Pedaiah. Their boots mired in earth. Ever closer. Teeth forming. Morning indication in the trembling lash of light. Shushan. An outer circle of trees. An orange unbuttoning. They entered out of nowhere. The dear ones. On and in and out and up. Shephatiah. Becomes. A and an and the. Becomes you and we and he and she. Becomes. I. Gone down. Gaza. Conveyor. Sleet on their faces. Pressed. Feet. Bandages. Eliakim. Peering through the broadening light at the elsewhere. Personal. Carnage. The night before. Gedaliah. Ordained. Disgorged. Names arose. They must learn the mirrors and the passions. Last night, when they were all alone, the other crept amongst them, penis in hand, sweat dripping along his flanks to finally leave perfect spheres of moisture on the cold sands of the desert. Sodom. Reduce. Redemption. Colony. Trick to recognize. Been there since. Given this number. Kerioch. They were going over when they came between. Spectral elements. Detained. Like the cries of falling glass. Shebnah. Amongst the pines. Within the reeds. Covered in dirty water. Fatigue. Deliberate. Deliberate. Deliberate. Because of your age. From a distance. Behind the crescent. Waxed. That I will serve. No. They chose the latter sign. Edge. Avoiding. For some days they could not distinguish the incident from others in their history. At the draining water. Jerimoth. After the walk. The wondrous terror. Bestirred. Never uttered. Ahaseurus. And then slowly in the red glow. Shameless. The awakening. Heaves it out. Glistening. Bald. Zoan. Traverse and pebbles. Turds. Embellished beyond ritual. A cave of vases. Unglazed. Hilkiah. Bent over. A gap there. And the librations. Man turning into. Impenetrable. Hands callused and held us. They dared say and they said. Assur. Menaced by shadows before the barbwire fences at the outer reaches of the land. Bedbugs. Exhumation. Micaiah. The smell of a fountain tickles their nostrils. Functional.


Steve Finbow lives in Tokyo. His novel Balzac of the Badlands is published in October 2009. He has another two books due for publication in 2010.

10/1/09

Stuart Evers

Those Things We Do

No matter what kind of weather, Gloria and I spent our weekends walking the parks and green spaces of our adoptive city. Though I’d lived in the capital for over a decade, these places were as new to me as they were to her. What we found were places of neglected, stunted beauty; havens where we could hold hands, kiss on graffiti-scored benches, and watch as children and parents flew kites or kicked balls. Though we liked the colours and heat-soaked movements when the weather was good, we liked it best when it rained and we could huddle under a large umbrella. This is real weather, Gloria would say, god’s own weather.

As the smell of pork buns perfumed our poky, wood-chipped bedsit, Gloria would trace a slender finger over the pages of her London road atlas. When she reached a name she liked, she would read it out loud: Theydon Bois, Perivale, Golders Green, Swiss Cottage, Rayners Lane. On her lips, each underground station or London borough sounded every bit as exotic as the names on her wall map of Hong Kong: Pok Fu Lam, Ho Man Tin, Kowloon Bay.

We’d been living together for about six months and her enthusiasm for exploring the city showed no sign of waning. That weekend we’d decided to head eastwards and were walking through Victoria Park. The rain fell intermittently and it was cool in the wind, but Gloria’s happiness was undimmed; she saw no reason not to exult in her surroundings. As we walked, I saw everything through her dilated eyes: her sense of wonder in the fallen leaves, the mulch she kicked with her baseball boots, the flowers she stole from overgrown beds, the blistered paint she peeled from park railings. When she did those things, I felt as if I was actually doing them too: like I could actually become her.

I was thinking about that when Gloria suddenly stopped on the cinder path we were following.

“You always do that,” she said.

“What?”

“You know,” – she made a sudden movement with her hand – “that. Like a soldier.”

“Salute?” I said. She nodded. Ahead of us was a single magpie, a swoosh of blue just below its wing.

“Oh that?” I said. “Oh that’s nothing, really. Just a superstition.”

“Superstition?”

“You know, for luck. Like that thing you do before we make love.”

“What thing?”

“You know,” I said.



On the bus home I was quiet, my thoughts chased by the lone magpie with the blue swatch below its wing. It had been my first wife who’d told me about the salute, the warding off of misfortune and calamity; my first wife who looked for bad omens in everything. The day she left, she told me I was born under a bad sign; and by then I’d begun to believe it.

That night, in bed, Gloria asked me again about the magpie.

“I don’t know why they’re bad luck,” I said, “they just are. There’s a rhyme. One for sorrow, two for joy, something like that.” Gloria put a hand on my chest.

“But if you salute the magpie, it’s okay? No bad luck?”

“Yes,” I said. “Supposedly.”

“Good,” she said. “From now on, I’ll always salute them. I promise.”

Gloria smiled, then kissed me. I turned away and closed my eyes. The room was damp and smelled of soiled clothes and dishrags. Downstairs someone slammed the door, and outside a car misfired. I stayed like that for a while, then got up and sat on the easy chair. I could see out of the window, the trees, the pavement, the rubbish collecting in the gutter. I picked up the bottle of whisky and drank some and continued to look out of the window.

I thought back to a dismal Sunday afternoon. My then-wife and I sat drinking Prosecco on the roof terrace of our three bedroom house, a black and white bird perched on the guard rail. The magpie looking back at us, its black eyes observing us without fear. And then my wife – still my wife back then, still the wife who was in love with me, still the wife possessed of a fervent belief in me – saluting the bird. And then me doing the same. And then the thick flap of its blue-black wings as it flew away. Then just the two of us, alone, admiring an empty view. And then me kissing my wife, the woman I loved, and making a promise; a promise that I would always salute those birds, and forever ward off bad luck and trouble.


Stuart Evers writes about books for a variety of publications in the UK, including the Guardian, the Independent, the New Statesman and Time Out. His fiction has appeared in Litro, The Book Club Boutique Magazine and Scarecrow. He is currently completing his new collection, Ten Short Stories About Smoking, and blogs.