1000words

where pictures make prose

The Promise of a Pink Moon

Pink MoonThe swollen sky was ribbiting out grit, stony purple patters against the thin, metal walls of the caravan.

Hazel closed her eyes, and pressed her face to the shabby suit hanging on the back of the closet door. She ran her fingers over the buttons, the lapels, taking deep breaths to ready herself.

A soft cough came from the bedroom, one that would soon grow, and gain, and fill the air like the baying, black waters that had swallowed their planet.

#

“The amazing paper skin girl!” Will read, uncrumpling the balled-up promo poster that had hit him on the shoulder. Hazel flushed –she’d been aiming for the bin- but he waved her ‘sorry’ away with an idle flick of his hand.

He reminded her of a fighter pilot from a romance novel; like someone who’d blow smoke in the face of the sun. He made her want to shield her eyes.

He smiled as he looked from her and back to the sepia photo he held in his hands. There, with her thick, spidery lashes and her Louise Brooks bob, a far cry from the wan-chewed-nail-wreck she’d become.

“So, you’re like a walking notepad?” he said, “You’re-”

“It doesn’t matter. I blew it,” Hazel said, thinking of the panel, of their stony faces as she etched a delicate lotus across her ribs with a hunting knife. Stupid to think that she’d stand a chance. “And what’s your trick?” She asked, tired of talking about herself; tired of herself.

“I hammer nails into my face,” he grinned. “I don’t have a specific talent. Hopefully being human will make me freak enough.”

He was right about that. They were the laughing stock of the cosmos; destroying their own planet and begging for quarter, now, in camps amidst the constellations.

“Well good luck,” she said as Will was called in, the words as empty as she felt. She’d lost her mother in the flood. Her sister. Everything. Luck was a brittle branch across a raging river, a tease, no help for the drowning.

But then the post arrived. An artist’s visa. A bunk on the circus steamer heading for Amaranth, the planet named after an undying flower.

And as she boarded – one amongst the buzzing dozens – she saw Will.

#

Hazel pulled her sword from its scabbard, and wrapped her fingers around the handle. On her knuckles were the words H.O.P.E and L.O.V.E; white welts on the pink of her skin, the letters plump as liquorice laces.

Will had engraved them into her hands a few days ago, using his nails. He’d been fit enough to sit up, then, and he’d tried to calm her as she raged on about how unfair it was.

“Of course it isn’t,” he’d said, grabbing her hands and making her promise as each letter took shape.

H-O-P-E.

L-O-V-E.

Both words the same.

#

“Tonight! Behold the marvels of the human anatomy! Her body a map, a canvas, a screen for the secrets of her soul!”

Hazel would raise her sword as the spotlight found her; use it to nick at her arms and her legs, her skin performing, blossoming, as soon as the blade touched it.

It didn’t hurt.

As careful as any calligrapher she’d etch her symbols, howls and whorls and primitive dots and dashes, then letters, words; the scratches of sound as humans clawed their way through history, transferred to the trunk of her being.

It didn’t hurt

The marks would have appeared with a nail file, let alone a sword, but Hazel knew about the thrill of the spectacle. She knew what the audience wanted as they sat crouched in the bleachers, their dim eyes fixed, their nacreous claws clacking and clapping together.

Will would massage her after each show, both of them squeezed into a tin bath around the back of the main tent, drinking smuggled hooch as the planet’s twin moons shone pink. The performance would make her memories bubble and blister, and Will would rub herb soap into her shoulders as she lanced them, keeping his mouth shut and his hands steady, even as he found the deep scars across her wrists; the ones that weren’t art. The ones that had hurt.

#

“One more time?” Will said, as Hazel knotted his tie and smoothed down her black dress. She helped him down the steps of the caravan, pausing at the bottom to loop the mask around her ears, over her mouth.

They’d known the risks about Amaranth before they’d arrived. Hostile environment. Adaptability. Storms. “A small percentage could be affected.”

It never occurred to Will to be careful. He thought the universe would change to fit him, even now, with his lungs full of ground-glass-dust that left him gasping for each and every breath.

Selfish, she’d called him, irresponsible. But she knew he was a chancer. He’d taken a risk on her; the strange sullen, girl who pulled away from him whenever he got too close. He’d coaxed her back into herself, reminded her that freedom – from worry, from self-protectiveness, from numbness – had consequences, but that it was worth it; that life was to be breathed in, lived, no matter what.

#

“You set me on fire, my paper girl,” Will said as she wheeled him into the empty marquee, trying to hold back the coughs that made his whole body buck.

“Yeah, yeah,” Hazel smiled, but it hurt her to see him looking so old, and weak.

“Well, some you win, some you lose,” Will joked, but Hazel could see that he was shaking.

“We won,” she said, understanding the inseparable pairing of joy and sorrow. One would die without the other. All or nothing, always. The odds Will liked best.

He smiled and pulled her forward; ran his finger across the skin over her heart; wrote her name there, and his. She kissed him on the lips, stood back as he bowed his head, waiting.

She raised her sword.

(Author: Nicola Belte. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: lrargerich. Image: Some Rights Reserved.)

Spire

Hire PurchaseThe cameras revealed nothing out of the ordinary that day.

When the offsite video feed was reviewed following the event there were no unaccounted for deliveries to either the lobby or the loading dock and no persons of note seen entering or leaving the building. No unusual seismic activity was recorded by the geologic monitoring facility in the area. The foundation and primary structural supports had been inspected only eight months prior and reported as having no significant abnormalities. It was as if the edifice had simply collapsed in on itself for reasons neither the building owners nor the government agency investigating the incident could explain.

Jenn was on the forty-seventh floor when it happened.

She had stayed late that evening to finish up some work during the hours when the office was empty and quiet. It had been overcast and gray when she left her apartment that morning and by the time she arrived at the building the wind had picked up and a light drizzle had begun to fall. The afternoon brought with it a sudden about-face in the weather with the sky transforming to a brilliant, cloudless blue that reflected the sun making it appear impossibly bright; now the enormous golden orb was slipping slowly below the horizon line leaving streaks of deep orange and purple in its wake.

She loved being alone in the building. Everyone was gone now except for a handful of custodial staff and it felt like the whole place was her own private castle turret, as if she were some modern-day Rapunzel. She would wait for it to get dark and then walk up to the giant glass panes that looked out at the city. The lights from the high-rises glowed over everything and she would stare out from those massive windows and squint her eyes, letting it all bleed together until her head began to feel fuzzy and it seemed like she could just float away into that glow and let it carry her off across the night sky.

No matter how many times she witnessed this scene it was always magical. There was something so indescribably wonderful about it that it made her feel giddy; it was the way Christmas morning had felt when she was a kid, that flutter in the stomach after just waking up. She had actually tried to have her schedule permanently changed to an evening shift, but her boss wouldn’t go for it, though he never seemed to object to her staying late as long as he didn’t have to pay her overtime.

It was a little past nine o’clock and Jenn had finished everything she needed to do for that day and had even started in on the outline for a future project, though she had stopped herself before she got too far so she would still have a reason to stay late tomorrow. The night sky was so clear that she could actually make out several constellations, which was normally difficult due to the persistent cloud of smog hanging above the city, not to mention all that light pollution that she adored so much.

She stared up at Orion the hunter, shifted her gaze over to the big and little dippers, and then looked out at the golden towers of light all around her. Jenn wondered how many people were looking back at her from their own floors high above the street where the cars and pedestrians moved along in miniature.

Somewhere outside she heard the wind gust past the side of the building in a barely audible whoosh that sounded almost like a sigh and suddenly she wished that she could stay there in that moment forever. Jenn slowly closed her eyes until the lights began to stretch and bend, melding together and streaking into one another. The feeling came over her then, that sense of serene calm like the first moments of sleep where reality starts to slip and dreams begin to invade and take over.

She let herself slump to a sitting position, her knees gently buckling as her back slid down against the glass. She rested the side of her face against the cool pane and continued to gaze out, her eyes narrowed down to slits now letting in only tiny glimmers of light.

The last thing she remembered before drifting off was the whisper of the wind as it sighed past the building again and vanished into the radiant glow from her beautiful spires of light.

(Author: Peter Emmett Naughton. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: Dirk Knight. Image: Some Rights Reserved.)

We Make Use of What We Have

CastleShe’s taken many soldiers down the line, but he is the first who can speak French so fluently.

“Studied it in university,” he smiles, accent gratingly perfect. “Along with Latin and literature, and I graduated at the top of my class.”

She doesn’t even bother to try out her English with him.

They sneak through the forest in a winding way, like two deer keenly aware that hunters could be behind any gnarled tree. As a child she would pretend that there were elves and monsters in the woods, bent on kidnapping her until her father beat them back. Now there are worse things, she knows, worse things that have snatched her father away and she is helpless to claim him back. She is helpless, but she can have some measure of revenge when she takes soldiers down the line.

She’s taken gruff men, rough men, and scared men to the castle, an old thing crumbling like stale cake left out much too long. Its walls are ancient and ugly, but they shelter from the wind and eyes. She used to think it was haunted, when she was young. Oh, but she would trade anything to believe in ghosts again!

“We’ll have to wait until Paul returns at first light. He can take you across the border into Spain.”

“Excellent,” he nods, adjusting his bloated pack. “I could do with a rest!”

She cocks her head to the side, curls bouncing with the movement. “You may miss the next boat at this rate.”

“There’ll be another. Besides, ha ha,” he says, grin sheepish, “it’s my fault we’ve dallied.”

“Yes,” she mutters, “it is.”

When they finally set up their provisions beside a stone wall, they each—to the other’s surprise—produce flask from jacket pocket. His has brandy, he says with a tone of pride, the very same he’d left England with. Hers is barely full with the dredges of a Bordeaux found, she explains, in an abandoned barn during her last trip down the line. The bottle neck had been broken and jagged, but miraculously upright. It had only taken cheesecloth to strain the glass shards away.

“Say, that was a good idea!”

“We make use of what we have, don’t we?”

They clink their flasks together.

“If you leave the parachute here, I can destroy it.” She eyes the cumbersome pack on the ground. “I’ll make sure the Boche don’t find it.”

“I’ll keep it, thank you.” He gives her another sheepish grin. “My daughter wants it.”

“She is in the habit of jumping from planes as well?”

“Not at all! She’ll make a wedding dress, she tells me.”

Her eyebrows lift. “That’s… very clever.”

“Gets it from her mother, I assure you.”

“This castle,” she says, looking about their shelter, “was a present as well. A father gave it to his daughter on her wedding day.”

“Oh, is that so? A fine gift.”

“But I think a parachute is much more practical, these days.”

“Ha ha, indeed it is!” He nods to the tarnished ring on her left hand. “And what did your father give you?”

Her smile falters. “Nothing. He’s buried somewhere in Charleroi, we think.”

“Ah. I see.” He clears his throat, lifts his flask. “Cheers, then, to your father.”

“To your daughter,” she sighs, raising her meager wine. “May she have a lovely gown.”

He takes a long drag, wipes away a brandy droplet with the back of his arm. “We make use of what we have.”

“Yes, we do.”

(Author: Kris Weldon. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: Natalie Bowers. Image: Some Rights Reserved.)

A Sense of Proportion

BrickMy boy has no sense of proportion. More of the same, I think, as I watch him assemble another monument of giant Duplo blocks dwarfing the huddle of minifigures on a knobbly town green. I feel for them, the Lego people. Why always giant structures and parade grounds and triumphal arches? Why do Sam’s worlds look like they’re designed by Albert Speer? Why is he such a tool?

I raise this with Netta when she’s back from work and she says I have too much time on my hands. I can tell from her sigh that the conversation’s over, so don’t push it; she’s been feeding and clothing us long enough now that we both know where I stand. I cook, wash up, then watch the boy for signs of megalomania as she plays with him. Then we sleep.

In the morning, I’m flicking through the index of one of our manuals on operating the modern boy. Dr. Skvorecky (mid-70s purple cover, beard) tells me I have to understand the boy’s coming from an animal place. I should imagine that he can imagine only dominance and subjection. I try this, rolling the words to see if they roll anywhere towards helpful, while Sam hammers on the MDF of the side table with the Big Noise toy hammer that makes a big noise when you hammer. He keeps hammering until I pacify him with Lego and stretch out on the sofabed to watch him build.

When Sam starts to explain his approach to architecture, I’m surprised. He’s not, in general, a great explainer. I’m just building what I feel, Dad, he says. I start to reply, but he holds up a hand. Look, he says. In empathising with the Lego people, rather than me, vis-à-vis the monumentalism of my work, you’re really projecting your fears about the scale of your presence relative to mine in this household. It’s like Skvorecky says. It’s ok that you feel threatened, but you’ve got to let me stretch out before you rein me in. And didn’t you say you thought Karl-Marx-Allee was pretty cool that time? He’s wordier than usual. That and the fact I have to angle my head back 10 degrees to look him in the eye is what makes me pretty sure I’m dreaming. I take it on the chin, in the dream. You’ve got me, I say. I did say that about Karl-Marx-Allee that time, so maybe it’s down to me.

Sam’s pterodactyl scream wakes me up. He’s agitating to go to the park, but doesn’t need to be quite so insistent. I’m restless, it’s not raining, and the laundry will keep, so once we’re both properly dressed I drag him up the hill on his scooter to the private playground in front of the newbuilds. Thirty seconds after we get there, I’m in danger of losing my voice. SAM! I shout as he does that thing where he hangs back off the roundabout and touches one foot down every time he goes past me. SAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAM! Why does he do this kind of thing? I worry that I’ve encouraged him with some look or word. I don’t remember doing that, but it’s possible. Maybe I was distracted. What I do know is that I don’t want to have to tell Netta about his puppy fat greasing the innards of the roundabout, so, next time round, I apply some drag, and feel the eyes of the playground on us as I wrestle him over to one of the benches. When his glasses fall off, I put them back on so he can see what he’s scowling at. He’s on edge. I try to divert some of his misplaced energy into a new activity, but can’t stop him from scrambling over a bigger but fragile-looking kid as he announces he’s going straight to the top of the mini cargo net. It’s ugly.

“You really should stop him doing that”. A woman’s voice. Tall, proper overcoat, same face as the kid, stretched out. “It’s not right”.

“He didn’t mean anything”

“That’s not the point.”

“No,” I say.

“So, what will you do about it?”

“I don’t think I’ll be doing any…”

“I see.”

I feel a flood of love and protectiveness towards my boy. Some anger, too, tightening up round my heart. I deal with it by lecturing. I pretend to be Skvorecky, working on the beetle-brow and the precise form of words, which I almost get right. I mention the animal place. The transgressive act. She looks at me. “You’ve got to keep a sense of proportion,” I say. I know it’s a weak ending.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Means no real harm done. Don’t sweat the small stuff.”

She mentions that there’s a combination lock going on the gate, and I say “Well, whatever” while trying not to clench too hard around Sam’s undersized fingers.

We leave it at that.

Back home we hit the freezer for ice cream sodas and work together on a medium-size monument, a cenotaph or a regenerative sculpture in a former mining town. I emphasise human scale, Lego-human scale, but I’m not sure he quite gets it. On reflection, I’m not sure he gets the idea of scale at all. Maybe I’ve been reading too much into it. I tell him I sometimes worry about him, but I don’t mean anything by it. I’m just worried, and want things to turn out right. I tell him, too, that I love him.

We work on the monument on and off until Netta gets back, and then we stop.

(Author: Tom Ryan. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: Natalie Bowers. Image: Some Rights Reserved.)

Morning Swim

Morning SwimBetsy shrugged off her flannel robe and dropped into the icy grey water of the Hampstead Heath pond. The cold hit every nerve-ending, burning her skin, and chasing the air out of her lungs. She relished the pain; a daily ritual that reminded her she was alive, that she could still feel. She adjusted her goggles and set off into the thick mist, a few quick kicks of breaststroke to get her blood flowing. She couldn’t see the steps at the far end. It was even more desolate than normal. Somehow it seemed fitting.

Her alarm had woken her at 5:30. She’d dressed quickly, crept across the landing past Albert’s room, and down the stairs. She’d fed the demanding cat, put the kettle on and prepared Albert’s breakfast. One egg, 30 seconds past soft-boiled; two slices of thick white toast, buttered to the edges and cut into triangles; one cup of tea, two sugars, strong and not too milky. 5:58 and not a minute later, time enough for him to put the radio on, ready for the headlines at the beginning of the Today programme.

“Here you go love,” she’d said to her husband as she’d elbowed open the door of his bedroom, and carried in the tray. Albert had sat up and turned on his bedside lamp.

“Toast’s bit dark. You fiddled with settings on th’ toaster?”

When would he realise that those would be the last words he ever said to her?

She’d picked up her carpetbag, unusually heavy this morning. Seventy-two years and her worldly possessions had been reduced to the amount she could carry. She’d stepped over the threshold, closed the door gently behind her, and hadn’t looked back.

Her body was beginning to forget the cold as she took the last three strokes to the far end of the pond. She turned neatly, pushed off hard from the side, glided as far as she could before pulling her arms once more through the still water. In the summer months it was often crowded, even at this time, but on a damp October morning, she was virtually guaranteed to have the pond to herself.

The lengths floated by, one after the other; the rhythm easy this morning, each stroke one closer to freedom. She had thought she would feel more than this. Guilt? Sorrow? Grief at the loss of fifty years of marriage? But there was none of those, only the slightly-green water on her skin and the cool misty air in her lungs.

The question was: what next? Where were she and her carpetbag going? She had only thought as far as packing, and the pond. She had wondered briefly about going to stay with her sister Mabel, but that would be the first place he would look. She couldn’t face his pity, or him accusing her of ‘having a moment’.

“Stop being silly Betsy, just come home, why don’t ya?” She wouldn’t put herself through that. Or him for that matter. She wanted to leave both of their dignities intact.

His sister Elsie was out of the question, they’d never been particularly close, and she couldn’t just turn up on her doorstep having walked out on her marriage.

No. It had to be a place all of her own, for the first time in her life. Somewhere busy, with lots of other people around. A flat above a shop perhaps. She could help out in the mornings, earn a bit of pin money to top up the pension she’d just started drawing. It wouldn’t be easy, but she’d get by. She’d never led a fancy life, and wasn’t expecting to now she was in her later years. She’d been putting a little aside for months, hidden in a sock in the knife drawer. Ten pounds here, a fiver there, change from the shopping when she thought Albert wouldn’t notice. She had felt desperately guilty at first; it was effectively stealing, but Betsy had tried to rationalise it as back-pay for the years of house-keeping.

Albert had never wanted her to work; she’d given up her secretarial job soon after they got engaged. They’d both assumed that there would be babies for her to look after, but they never came. By the time they’d resigned themselves to being childless, it seemed too late for her to rekindle her career. Her job had been fifty years of getting dinner on the table and keeping the house spotless.

Betsy’s lungs were starting to ache, and her legs stiffening up with the effort. She glanced up at the clock; she’d been in the water fifty-two minutes. Another five and she would have time to get changed to catch the number 173 towards the West End. Or she could swim another ten and catch the 326 in the opposite direction. Which was it going to be? Where would she start her new life?

(Author: Kate Muggleton. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: Jenny Downing. Image: Some Rights Reserved.)

How to Cross the Street Without Dying

Chalk OutlinesHer hightops hopscotch between outstretched arms and legs, trying not to let dirty soles touch faded white limbs. Chalk outlines of neighborhood boys that fell in motion. White stains on pavement, like a pictorial teaching kids how to cross a street. On her way home from school, they are upside down, like krumpers on heads, legs waving goodbye.

A reporter stands on the corner and speaks into a camera about robbing youth. The neighborhood’s abuzz with the news of crimes that happen after dark. Old ladies scuttle onto flaking porches and tsk tsk when they see her walk by. Poppop says, He fell first. She’s not sure if he means that he’s the first chalk outline on her way to school, or, if she’s next.

She’s got no one to ask. She only has Poppop’s word for it and the empty top bunk for the last four nights. The other two are names that flit about the older kids’ conversations, the ones that skid off when they see Marco’s little sister coming. She matches the echoed names to a freckled-bridge nose crinkled at an off-color joke, and, the other, just the phrase, Tell your little sister to fuck off, under dark shades and flip-backed cap.

Everybody repeats, He fell into the wrong crowd. Wrong crowd. Wrong crowd. Like it was a choice on a multiple-answer test. Like Marco should have turned his pencil over to erase the darkened bubble, picked again.

Every time they cross over, her friend, Cherrie, says don’t look down, like they’re walking a tightrope. She places feet carefully, never looks up. Her gaze retraces the three boys, searching for any detail in the scribble to determine how she’s related. She reads the dead, deciphers their lesson on how to cross the street without dying.

(Author: Kim Drew Wright. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: el Buho nº30. Image: Some Rights Reserved.)

The Riverkeeper

RushesThe man lay in the long grass and watched the seal nose up the river, bolder on each new tide. It searched out the deep pools where the salmon quivered to rid the sea lice from their flanks. The fish felt him there and surged upstream. On past the fishermen and the lures that fluttered through the water stained by black peat hills. A week of shrugs and empty handshakes and the man knew what had to be done. The row boat was shouldered into the darkness. The lamp held low over the water. Behind it, an anchor raised in a hand shaking with hate.

 

(Author: Mark Eccleston. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: Julian Povey. Image: Some Rights Reserved.)

Perfect Parts

RedAs I crept up the stairs to his room, I reminded myself of all the ways I would be better off without him. I wouldn’t have to watch five episodes of Game of Thrones in one night. I wouldn’t have to sleep on his air mattress and wake up with a stiff back. I could start eating healthier, instead of tacos and pizza for every meal. But when I pushed open his door and saw him sitting at his computer watching some pointless video on YouTube, all those thoughts evaporated.

“Why?” I said, starting to cry.

He turned around in the orange chair he’d had since freshman year of college. The plastic seat was torn, creating these thin cracks that reminded me of fake smiles.

“Sam,” he said and looked down in his lap. “I thought I explained this on the phone.”

“Is there someone else?”

He went to speak but all that came out was air.

“Who is it?” I said.

He shook his head. “It’s no one. I hung out with her a few times, but that’s not why. I just need this.”

I stopped crying. My insides dissolved.

“What?”

“Sam, please. Don’t make this harder than it needs to be.”

“What’s her name?”

He turned to his computer and shut the screen. “Her name is Abby. But I swear this is not the reason. It was one—”

“I want my red hat back.”

He turned back around. “What?”

“I left it here and I want it back.” I couldn’t think of anything else to say, but imagined this Abby making herself comfortable in his room, watching Game of Thrones, sleeping on the air mattress, eyeing my hat that still hung on the hook behind his door and taking the liberties of calling it her own.

That red hat. There was surely no one else in the world who had one like it. I found it in a thrift shop with Ryan. We dug through a pile of hats until both our hands grabbed the red one, laughing. Ryan nodded and sat the hat on my head. “I figured you’d go for this one. Looks great on you.” I wore it to his apartment the week after and purposely left it hanging there, making it look like a prize he’d won, instead of something that was mine.

It would be a reminder—with the hat missing—that he would never find anyone like me. When he woke up in his bed sheets alone, he would notice the naked white door and feel the sudden urge to find where I was and beg for me back.

He stood from the chair with a blank look on his face, but was afraid to come closer.

“It’s right there.” He pointed to the hook.

I took the hat down, spun the brim in my hands like a disk and waited for him to change his mind. He folded his arms and looked around the room.

“I’m leaving now,” I said, but Ryan only nodded and watched me walk out the door.

I walked through the Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park and felt like there was absolutely nothing inside to hold me down to earth. When I thought of Ryan missing me, my bright blue eyes, the way I laughed at all of his jokes, my red hat, my chest felt electric. It will happen, I told myself. There is no one like me, no one better than me.

When I looked over by the water, red was the first thing I saw. Dark hair streamed out from under the hat the girl wore. She was sitting on the stone wall, looking down into the water. The hat sat on her head like a buoy and she wore red pants that matched perfectly. I walked a little closer, trying to capture the seamless outfit coordination. Why hadn’t I thought of that? When she turned and saw me holding the same hat, I tucked it under my arm. She reached up and adjusted the hat so her forehead could feel the wind that swept through the park and ignored the strange way my vision stuck to her.

My bones ached. Hot blood rushed to my cheeks. I pictured the girl throwing her red hat in the water and watching it sink into the darkness. If it floated, she would watch it move away slowly, looking like a basket filled with memories. I could throw mine in too, and watch the red cotton become darker in the cool water. I would have to find another way to be remembered.

(Author: Sarah Walker. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: alexcoitus. Image: Some Rights Reserved.)

The Algorithm

The AlgorithmI look back at her. Andy’s girl: hollow and satisfying both at once.

She’s in my bed and I’m sat in the metal chair, industrial looking thing, cheap and uncomfortable as hell. The seat is still cold so I find a way to warm up; it’s either her or this so I pack it up tightly, light it up and inhale with dull pleasure.

I exhale. “You should leave,” I tell her.

“It’s still early,” she says.

“Ready to get caught?”

“Not really,” she yawns.

“Telling you to go, does this mean I’m a shit?”

“Yeah, it means you’re a shit.”

“Honest?”

“Maybe.”

“You should go before time can mess this up.”

“You’re blaming time for your crap?”

“I blame time for it all.”

She can’t see it, how time can get inside my gut and churn away. Time can force me to analyse her, analyse us. I can hear it now, come on, this won’t hurt Denny, just let me tidy up your life, I’m doing it for you. Fuck off time.

“Let me stay here forever, Denny,” she laughs, one of those nasal laughs, satisfying but borderline neurotic.

“Stay for careless mornings and dirty evenings?” I ask.

“Be fun wouldn’t it?”

“I suppose.”

“Should I go?” she asks.

“Is it worth staying?”

She doesn’t say anything. She’s lost interest already.

Now the questions appear: what are you doing, Denny boy? Have you got a plan? What about Andy? You little shit.

I won’t let them tame me. I won’t allow myself to fall into that trap: the filthy claw of shame.

She’s too detached for Andy. He’s not chasing her enough, busy trading her for something he wants more: wealth and class, the usual suspects, shit she doesn’t care about.

That’s the lesson I’ve learned about Andy’s girl: If I want more of her, I need to want everything else less.

Andy has a game-plan. It’s all right when you have a game-plan but it’s not all right when you have nothing. It doesn’t consume me though, the nothingness, I don’t obsess over it.

Not like Andy, he needs to know it’s all secure: the future. That it’s waiting for him, and his girl, if he’s lucky. If I’m not.

I don’t let myself think about it. I have a sequence, an algorithm, for when shit spins out of control. When I lose myself. I don’t worry because the sequence will be there to put me back together. Help me understand my head. Keep it sane.

The trouble only comes when I’m with her, she’s messing with it. She’s got her own algorithm and it’s starting to run deeper, roam deeper, through my veins, between the stretches of muscle, over the meat of the organs.

And I’m not ready. Not ready for it all.

“Oy, Denny,” stop hogging the joint.

She’s interested again. I turn back, toward her, to remind myself of her face.

She’s pale, almost blends in with the white of the room. The look on her is endearing, shows me what I don’t want to know. She’s no longer just Andy’s girl.

I pass her the roll-up. “This your breakfast?”

“No shame in that.” She winks, takes a blow and holds out her bony hand to pass it back.

“Keep it.”

She shrugs. “If it’s my germs you’re afraid of, it’s too late.” She lays back on to the duvet, disappearing into herself.

“Yeah. Too late.”

(Author: Preeti Vadgama. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: Varvara. Image: Some Rights Reserved.)

#flashcomp winner: Above and Beyond

566812e1449e9d9ff2805050be6a29b9Hand over bloodied hand we scale the cliffs above the city. We are not alone in our search for clean air; the cliffs swarm with life like maggots on meat.

Scuffles break out when climbers cross paths. Those with higher ground stomp on fingers that threatened their footing. A woman, her baby strapped to her chest, loses her grip on loose shale and dislodges three more as she falls.

I crest the plateau and pull my body up on deadened arms. I look over the edge and see you below, catching your breath and shaking life into your limbs.

“Don’t look around,” my voice is muffled by the enclosing fog. “Eyes on me.”

The fog envelops the slower climbers. Eyes bulge, hands claw at throats, bodies fall to earth. Behind me a human cairn has formed as people clamber upwards for a few more precious feet. You hold your hand out for me to grasp and I begin to pull you up. Before your feet are on solid ground I release your hand and you fall back, an outline of your body lingers briefly in the fog. I am not brave enough to follow so I await my end alone.

(Author: David Borrowdale. Story: All Rights Reseved. Photographer: alexcoitus. Some Rights Reserved. CC BY-NC 2.0.)