In What With Who?

There he stands, words so simple and clever.
Failed smart shark or pretty pathetic pig
declaring ‘we’re all in this together’.

Powerless people protect each other;
the phrase’s first impression. The big
community, words so simple and clever.

She’s poor, pays rent, a roof for her daughter.
Expectations of a tree on a twig.
Helpless but ‘we’re all in this together’.

She takes trips to the benefits centre –
condemned for taking drops from an oil rig.
They’re twisted, words so simple and clever.

She voted for him, thought he’d deliver
for her family, but now money digs
debt deeper. ‘We’re all in this together’.

His number is ten; a tiny tower,
his life lovely. Lying lion or sick pig?
There he stands, so simple and clever,
declaring ‘we’re all in this together’.

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Nothing To Say

Every Friday night, I see a couple come into the local restaurant. By the hairs growing on their moles and their wrinkles, I’d say they’re in their early sixties. The man always wears a grey suit with a coffee stain on the left side and the woman wears the same dress that she has worn every Friday night for the last month. He has a grey, wiry beard and she has glasses on a chain, resting on the very tip of her nose. The man pulls the chair away from the table for his wife to sit down. Then he sits down and, when they are both sat down, they sit in silence.

The man drums his fingers on the table to a basic rhythm. I always think about how I’d hate to tap my fingers on a table for as long as he does; they would begin to ache. He continues because he does not mind his fingers aching or becoming numb. It is much preferred to the numbing silence he is terrified of hearing. He continues drumming until his wife glares at him and then he stops immediately. A few minutes later, he opens his mouth but no words make their way past his crooked teeth. He closes his mouth again and runs a hand through his dyed, black hair.

Seeing her take off her wedding ring and aimlessly roll it between her hands, the man begins to play with the candle holstered in the table, hovering his hand above it. Lowering his palm just enough to feel the heat, he asks whether he has told he how pretty she looks in that dress. A few minutes later, she sighs and nods her head and her jowls flap. Nervously, he asks if it is new. A few minutes later, she shakes her head and her jowls wobble.

He sees that she is bored, as she traces her finger around the lipstick stain left on her wine glass. She is bored and this makes him nervous. A few minutes later, he asks what she thinks she’ll order.

“Everything here tastes bitter,” she sighs.

The only sounds now are the reluctant clang of knives and forks on plates and his loud chewing. Without another word uttered, they finish their meal, pay and leave. I’ll see them again next Friday.

Receptionist

Mary was hypnotised by boredom; she looked at how the second hand traced its way around the clock at the other end of the empty reception room. A flicker from a nearby oil lamp drew her attention and she began to slowly flicker between the stone floor, Mr Pease’s office door, the open front door, the window near it (giving a view of the street) and finally to her desk. Her out-tray full, Mary picked up her Emma Goldman article and began to reread it.

After a few minutes, a noise crept through the open door. Mary looked outside the window. A group of women on the street were shouting. Two pushed flyers onto people walking past and another waved a placard. Before Mary could read it, a car pulled up outside the building, blocking her view from the window. She saw a man leave it, shout over the top of the car, cross the road and waddle into the building.

He looked to his left and frowned at the clock. He looked to his right and frowned at Mary, before walking towards her.

“Tell me,” the man’s voice was as gruff as a battered cliff-edge, “is Jack in?” Mary found herself inches from the man’s pointed finger and wondered how a nail could have such a potent odour.

“Sorry?”

“Jack? Is Jack in?”

“Do you mean Mr Pease?” Her eyes worked their way from his gnarled hands, to his tweed suit, to his unruly collar, to his disapproving face. She thought it was a strange face; it looked like a sheep desperate to be a wolf.

The man snorted. “He’s invited me. Check your papers.” He moved his finger away from Mary’s face and went to place it on the appointments book, before the Goldman article, sitting next to the book on the desk, caught his eye. “Oh bloody hell, not you as well? Those women outside are bad enough.”

Mary looked him in the eye. She stayed silent.

“Check your appointment book. I should be marked as ‘Horace Vachell’.”

Mary stayed silent.

“Useless. I’m going in. Hold this for me.” He took off his coat and held it out to her.

Mary stood up, took her bag from under her desk, tucked the article away and made her way to the front door. She had a flyer to pick up.

The Child

Lucy looked at the crib, the baby shoes John had bought and her flat stomach. Turning to her husband, she smiled softly. What did John mean ‘was she sure’? She had been sure for so long that she could not remember doubt. A nod. Slowly, he took out his phone and uttered the words she had longed to hear. “I’ll pay for next day delivery.”

The milkman was whistling by the door when the app confirmed the parcel had been dispatched. Lucy’s excitement had become insomnia. She waited by the door all night and morning until the knock finally came. Lucy latched onto the handle and flung it open to see a stork standing, clipboard on wing, next to a cardboard box. It was brown, marked with small holes, labelled delicate and this side up. The stork was unsurprising but the size of the box concerned Lucy. It was larger than her and she thought that peculiar for such a small order. Nonetheless, the stork insisted on signing the clipboard before flying away.

After thirty minutes of struggling to get the package through the front door, Lucy and John opened it. There was something wrong with their baby. He was wrinkled, had a head of grey hair, wore tortoise-shelled glasses and was only an inch smaller than John. The old man grinned. He assured his parents that he was delighted to meet them and, not registering their shock, asked if they had a garden. He loved gardening. Apparently. Lucy needed to send an email. The old man asked whether anyone had seen where he had put his reading glasses.

Walking past the study that evening, Lucy heard whimpering. She walked in and saw the old man sitting at her computer, staring through tears at the email she had left open. The one from Stork-r, the Stork delivery app. The one that thanked her for writing to them. The one that confirmed they had accidentally delivered ‘faulty stock’ and were prepared to replace it with a baby, free of charge.

“Mum,” the old man croaked through tears, “I found my glasses.” Silence. “There’s a trifle in the kitchen.” Silence. “I thought I’d come through and tell you. I didn’t mean to read that.” Silence. “Are you going to send me away?”

Lucy posted on Facebook: for sale: baby shoes, never worn.

 

  • A re-imagining of Hemmingway’s ‘For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn’

The Border

The dust hugged them. The storm whipped it up in their eyes – dust was where they were headed. The storm flossed it through one ear and out the other – dust was their playlist. There were three of them. They had names but that did not matter. They had genders but that did not matter. They were young but that did not help them.

               Their parents were not there to hug them anymore. The oldest had a soulmate but she was gone too. Death was all that was left for them down south so they headed north. It was pointless; they were killed at the border.

 

Cotton Wool

Burning cotton wool cries;
a trapped spider
begging to be released.
One last look at the lamb
before it melts into nothing.
Meanwhile, a brittle halloumi mark
refuses to move, intensely
scrubs when the moist sink baths.
For love, she chooses to chew
the wiry meat that stopped being leaves
yesterday.
the guilt;
shiny ice burns
becoming wool.

Gnarled Kneecaps

Love lies in gnarled
kneecaps starting to sleep
and causes cautious fingers to
wobble.
Nothing else demands dry
throats to dance
(tap, clack, tap),
letting the lonely liver
sing to silent
company.
It seduces sober eyes
into chirping for dainty
lungs. Love refreshes the heart;
a new radiator warming an old building.

Awkward Assumptions

An awkward silence swiftly swallows the joyful night.
A beer becomes awkward as I sigh,
when the group reveals she is coming soon and an awkward
awful chill leaves me laminated and useless. An awkward
finger fiddles on the table anticipating her arrival.
Her awkward smile a silent smack, turns her back and starts socialising.
An awkwardness award awarded to me for awkwardly sitting silently,
while her harpy’s beak causes a
cacophony by mingling with everyone else effortlessly.
An awkwardness which I wanted to wipe by
saying: “Sorry, it was long ago and what we said we didn’t mean, so
– and this is awkward –
can we let that go and start clean?” But how awkward
would that have been?
And my mouth is dry. And I cannot speak. So instead I awkwardly
sit silently; pretend to listen to the conversation she
dominates. I remember how our car broke down on our amazing
race, how we ran out of petrol and only insults remained.
I’m awkwardly snapped back to reality as
she jovially asks me a question.
It’s just small talk, but the table we’re sat around waits and listens
for an answer. So, accompanied by an awkward little laugh,
like a lifeless hyena, I answer. This might be a nice night after all.

Nostalgia

Life lives in chapters and
my wet thumb has flicked
back a few pages.

I’m sat in Peter, the crimson car my
friend would drive me home from
college. Before uni. Before

Being away. Before being
home for Christmas.
I’m being brought back to

the S Club CD we would
rock out to each day.
It’s like my new bed in my new city

never existed.