The Mathematics of Moonlight

Sometimes the stars are static particles on a map of vectors. Closing your eyes, the dark sweet smell of chemical pastilles fills the air you breathe, more fully inhabits your senses. There’s the crinkle of plastic, the slow emanation of sugar dust, of squishy gelatine fruits. A promise of comets, the bleed of ink through pixelated screens. The miasma of colours combines to several lines of tangled sound. A plasmid comes in circles, endlessly replicating. Once there was a boy who knew Jupiter, could point it out on a clear night’s sky, even with a headful of whisky.

The evening is beckoning. Sitting out by the river with the smokers; the water turns its swirling cola, the rain fizzes sadness saccharine into each deep cleft. A few drinks later, the sky will have cleared, the rain will have left. Its mist still clings to her hair. The moon is a sliver, thin as a curl of sebum scratched from her scalp. Across the sky, it drifts like an errant fingernail, floating atop someone’s bathwater. The sky is more beautiful when she is drunk; this is why he ploughs her with alcohol. She’s not there yet.

There’s a sombreness to the bedroom. Moonlight through the skylight makes her dizzy. The three of you sit with the radio on, its dull vibrations flickering beneath each surface: skin, wood, sheet, word, window. The limbs are creeping, seeking to melt the numbness that comes without heating. He offers little in the way of hospitality. The radio spits static about sport, a match he’s missing; that his dad is at, 500 miles away. She thinks of the distance to the moon and back. How far he is, shadowed in silence. The sound of the commentator grates her bones.

Soon the shivering will begin properly. She misses the packets of sweets, the cola-dark river, the clearness of gin. He spreads the map out on the bed, struggling to flatten the creases. If only we could preserve this in amber, someone says. A movement. The colours of Jupiter flash on the brain. Fingers trace the fault-lines of the city, demarcations of space and place, angles and ridges and emptiness. The central road that leads northwards, the old highway going westwards. Little symbols for houses and trees. Green shapes, edges that smooth the land serene. She sees his forehead still, its clustering rubies of acne. What of that suspension? The radio growls deep in her stomach, its own pale desire. Sailing By…she finds herself snagged on the shipping forecast, its mutterings reflecting distances and darknesses far away. There can only be now a crumpling of the map, the gesture, its replication meshing in lunar equations…

/ Maria Sledmere

(fff prompts: reverberations, photo of moon)

West Coast

West Coast

I paced the beach a lot as a teenager,
supposing it was a way of being lost,
going lost, finding my lostness
in the sound of the waves, seagulls
in the eaves of a sky cast black
by fire and onyx.

There were shells stuck in my skin,
bits of them sharp and ridged as glass. Adolescence.
Bottles of Bacardi and Glens
in remnants of lovelorn summers—
each one dug deeper as I walked
and I felt the call of the sea
like a summons. Come back to me

—the waves were strange consolation.
I loved
the loneliness of the sea, its sense of otherness,
of distant worlds, blue and green.

Salt spray
in the faces of children;
sand dunes
where we gathered for drinking and smoking,
wasting time
in the dry ice of shared menthols.

You dig your heels deep
by the shoreline, where your feet sink soft
through the mulch of watery sand,
sinking as if to drift down,
to ease yourself out of matter.

I paced the beach a lot on weekday evenings,
while cars passed behind me, while
normal people went home.
I learned to love
the gulls that croaked on the rocks,
crying cormorants, gannets
and black-feathered auks—
I always longed to spot an albatross,
imagining its body swooping
out of the sea fog
like an omen.

I thought I had forgotten these shores,
the way it felt to know nothing
of what would come; great drawings
dissolved in the tidal pull—come with us.
I thought this world was lost;
I thought
I had lost it all.

by Maria S.

(prompt: seagull photo)

Johnny Blues (in Spanish and English)

Johnny Blues
Abel Rios

Semáforo en verde, cruza, sonríe, ‘buenos días’, ‘buenas’, ‘hey’
servilletas, cubiertos, menús, vasos,
rumores, comandas, sopa y pescado del día,
café y cigarro, brisa, caja y cierre
otra vez.

Qué será de mí ahí fuera sin ti mi amor?
Qué será de mí sin el sol? Sin sur en la brújula
el vaso vacío y la puerta fría,
dime…

La sopa del día son lentejas
y el pescado lenguado.

***

Green light, cross, smile, good mornings, you all rights, heys,
napkins, cutlery, menus, glasses,
gossips, orders, soup & catch of the day,
coffee and cigarrette, breeze, cash and close
and again.

What will be there without you my lover?
What will be there without sun? With no south on this compass
the empty glass and the cold door,
tell me…

The soup is ham and lentil
and the catch is haddock.

(prompts: disillusion, lover)

Purple

There was a cloying scent of incense and tobacco. A luxurious scent, yes, but stale and choking. Everything in the room was the height of luxury: expensive damask wallpaper with stately floral blooms in deep powder purple and violet velour. Crisp satin sheets on the bed; crumpling and folding like tulip petals, a slippery, coarse texture, whispering at every touch from grasping hands and sliding ankles.

On the dresser a mound of discarded jewellery. Amethyst and garnet sparkling dark. A platter of ripe fruit sat upon a low table; plums, grapes, clusters of purple berries with a gossamer veil of downy white on the surface, the gleaming flesh peeking coyly from beneath in the play of candlelight. The fruit was becoming too ripe, almost. Oversweet and oversoft, too giving. No crispness, no tartness or bite. Too easy.

She handed me a glass of wine so dark it was black in its depths, with a damson light within its heart that morphed and shifted like a low-burning flame.

She pulled the lilac lace further down her wrist, covered the nebula of burst veins, like smeared fingerprints in purple ink.

by Rachel Norris

The Bad Sister

She washed up along the riverbank just as the sun was setting. Amber light flooded the forest and the water of the stream was like molten bronze, the white spray, as it tumbled over rocks and fallen branches, rendered in brilliant gold.

Her body moved remarkably elegantly, twisting and turning as if she were in the throes of a fitful sleep, nothing more. Weeds and dead leaves were tangled in her golden hair, and her skin was grey-white. Her eyes, glassy, staring up at the heavens, seeing far, far beyond the sunset and the sky streaked carnation red with black clouds…out there, beyond where no one on this earth could see even in dreams and visions…

Though there was a lone figure, following her slow progress, hidden by the trees, waiting for a chance, a passing group of hunters found her first. A group of green lads from the town, trussed up in leathers, with their prey strapped to their backs, and strapping smiles on their ruddy cheeks, at first they had thought themselves lucky; they had stumbled on a maid, bathing in the stream – it was not such a rare sight, on a midsummer evening, after a scorched day such as this. It was only when a crow came to settle on her shoulder, and worry at her open eyes, that the boys grew alarmed.

After much deliberation amongst themselves, it was decided that they ought to bring her to the nearest village, and the sheriff there could deal with the matter properly. The two oldest, largest boys carried her between them. Though they were still a little addled with ale, a very sober silence came upon them during this walk. No one uttered more than a sigh, or a shudder as the evening chill descended on the woods.

It was midnight by the time they arrived. The sheriff was roused, and soon after a crowd emerged, and the empty market square was lit by many hands carrying candles, lanterns, torches. The girl’s pale body was surrounded by a flickering glow, and a low murmur of anguished voices.

“She’s not from here.” An old spinster said, making the sign of the cross. Relief was in her voice.
“Perhaps she was washing clothes in the river and slipped?” Another offered.
“She looks well bred, perhaps she was a noble girl, a runaway…”
“Running away from her marriage, perhaps?”
“Or a terrible crime! Perhaps she killed her child!”
“Now, now, let’s not condemn her – she might have been murdered.”
“Oh, God forbid! Drowned! The poor creature…”
“But how shall we find out who she belongs to?”
“Enough!” The sheriff boomed. “Go back to your beds, the lot of you. This will be dealt with – she’ll be gone by tomorrow and given a Christian burial. If her family can be found, that’ll be a blessing. But regardless, she’ll not be left out to rot in this heat, so you can all sleep with a clear conscience.”

The crowd grudgingly dispersed, save for a lone figure, who had slipped into the village on the tail of the group of hunters. She was hooded, but beneath, a braid of corn-yellow hair was hidden. The sheriff would not leave the body unattended, she knew. There was no chance of getting back the necklace now, the one containing the lock of jet black hair – her lover’s hair. No doubt the river water had washed it of all its wonderful scent…

She shed a quiet tear, not for her dead twin, nor even for the lost locket, but for the fact that her own life was over now. For, if all went to plan, it would be ‘her’ that they buried tomorrow. While ‘she’ would return to ‘her’ loyal husband, in tears, to tell the news of the bad sister’s death…

(prompts: evidence, underwater, amber)

by Rachel Norris

…Is This San Francisco?

 …Is This San Francisco?

From here the city is just like a picture, gleaming with lavish speckles of neon. I can already imagine the bustling people, the bright billboards adorned with shiny bodies, musical words, colours that lose themselves in phantasmagorical blur. I stand and I wonder. I lean my hands on cold smooth metal. I feel myself haunted by a holographic image of dazzling streets. Little instances, pale retreats. All dreams have been poured into this city. Entire imaginations swallowed whole. It is a beautiful, voracious city. Just cross the bridge and there it is: welcoming, yet also strange; queer, somehow. The words slide lovingly off my tongue as I say them to the night: this city, beautiful and strange.

                I’ll wait for the car to arrive. A limousine, especially ordered for me. Yes, to make sure I got there, to keep me quiet and happy. I’ll wait here with my thoughts lost in the artificial stars, the luminescent ambience of light pollution, the quiet roar of passing cars. I’m just a fragment on the highway; they left me behind a fragment on the highway. I’ll do what my therapist said and count to ten, embrace the calm. Shivering as the breeze comes off the beach. I’ll see the buildings, the water glittering; I’ll be so near, I’ll be here. Here. Here.

                The limousine pulls up at the side of the highway where I’m standing. It’s all white and garish and the windows are darkened. The driver steps out, a greasy man in a slick suit. He opens the door for me, wordlessly smiling. I imagine the million cameras flashing as I step inside anxiously, longing for the old stasis.

                There’s leather seats and a mini-bar. The driver leans in and unlocks it with a silver key.
“Champagne, madam?” he says with his nasally accent. Small consolation. I nod and he draws out a cold bottle coated in water droplets. Gripping the bottle with one hand, he suavely uncorks it with the other. I relish the sound, its terrific release. That sweet fizzy smell that escapes, that burst of electric air. He indicates to a cabinet of glasses I hadn’t noticed underneath the seat. I take one out, this thin-stemmed precarious thing, and hold it up for him while he pours. It trickles out, delicious as liquid crystal, molten gold. He puts the bottle back, gets into the driver’s seat. Bewildered as we weave into the traffic, I drink.

                 We pass over the bridge slowly and I gorge on the view of the city. The buildings swell in panoramic ecstasy, their lights playing upon my eyes, bouncing between my retina and the dark window glass. Gold and silver. I watch them swirl and bleed into the water below, as if God had smeared the sea with a double illusion. In the limousine all is quiet, my brain bubbles with the champagne but then is still. There’s a stack of magazines that I begin to open. As the traffic slackens, I graze the pages, devouring the gloss of the photographs. Wanting everything. Stroking the delicate, irrelevant letters. Absorbing the intricate absences of things and text. I flow in and out of reality, gazing back at the dramatic skyline. They left me, left me in fragments. These pictures and words and images and holograms, these lights and sheens of colour, specks of sound; I consume them all. Strange, the way they merge together. They will fulfil me. It feels queer, maybe – but not really – like a fantasy. And somehow, now, I feel free

               … (just before the brakes screech and we smash into blackness).

by Maria Sledmere

prompts: longing, hologram, excitement, cityscape

Segments

A blot of ink, a cough blurted over coffee. Beads of tarrish black gleam on a white page. No sunlight, not for days. The woman that owns the house thinks I’m crazy, coming in every two hours trying to feed me. Hot buttered muffins and crumpets. Flung out the window for the cats to pick at.

I keep a kettle in the room and drink only coffee. I use my shirt sleeve to blot the ink spill, grateful for the containing safety of my margins. I blow upon the paper. I hold it to the window to catch the soft breeze. Later, I will shut the window and close the curtains. I can hear the wheels of the milk van trundle on the cobbles, the commuters clacking to work in well-polished brogues, wielding unnecessary umbrellas.

The numbers unfold before me, aligning and realigning in perfect exactitude, moving in tweaks of nerves and synapses. It’s as if they anticipate me, as if each figure waits in a state of becoming; in the ever-near sense of the next line, the next scrawl added to an equation. The mistakes aren’t a frustration. I allow their implications to form for me, like geometric shapes that can be lifted and refitted into a new pattern. I fill up page after page, while downstairs the woman hums and clatters, sends food-smells up through the floorboards.

This kind of work doesn’t make you hungry. It’s a kind of permanent suspension, a voracious anticipation that propels fulfilment. For every knock on the door, I grunt at the distraction, sink back into the pool of numbers. A cycle, an eddy of sums shifting through infinities of figures.

You can go back, but once again you will be swept up in the forward logic, the oceanic pull of rationality that comes in waves.

Amber streetlight now glows through the closed curtains, as if waiting for me. I hear the murmurs and the swish of furs, the little clicks of heels. The kettle whistles from the grate, its steam rising thin and twisting from the charcoal smoke of the flames.

The problems continue to open for me, slowly, like a flower blossoming for a patient god.

Thumbing my notebook I flick through previous leaves, fingertips tracing pages filled with equations. Occasionally I pick out particulars, circling them with confident ink. They raise themselves from the paper, luminesce in the air, blend together. I follow them through an axis of logic, of physical pattern. My soul seeps into the beauty of these hieroglyphics, as they melt from meaning and back into atoms. It is a sign of tiredness.

More coffee, and the sounds of drunks spilling out of pubs. Those days at the university, sodden days of mildewed books and dank libraries; but ah, the ale in the evenings! The kind small barmaid with her look of curious pity. How strange, that one cannot forget the peculiar emerald of her eyes, the arch of her eyebrows a pleasing violation of my rectilinear vision. I saw almost everything else in boxes and parallels, blank space and straight lines. And how strange, that I never really spoke to her, and yet she knew me entirely. Ale on week-days, whisky on Friday. I knew the way she used to watch how I changed when I drank with my peers and professors. Our hands touched, brushed, as I handed over change. She disappeared into the shadows, polishing glasses and crushing mint for cocktails. Queer, how now I cannot recall her face, nor her hair. Only those jewel-eyes, those brows, the lingering scent of mint.

The ale in the evenings. Soothing. But numbers too have their pleasant effect, their mollifying smile of symbol and clarity. As good as any narcotic depressant. Now I’m slurping my supper from a tin of peaches. I like the combination of circle and straightness, and the ruptured disorder of the jagged edges. The fruit slices are syrupy, plastic, sliding off the taste of metallic.

There’s the muffled thrum of music from the pub across the road. Drips of juice trickle onto the desk, leave sticky marks on my notebook. This is why it’s easier not to eat; to be fleshless.

I’m closer now, closer than ever. I taste the equation on my tongue before it comes to me. As I write, I consume its ravishing sweetness. The drunks are sniggering outside, smashing glasses like they were fireworks. My hands move fast, etching out figures, graphs, shapes and lines. I feel the points arrange themselves, a constellation, a diamond cut of sharp numbers, sparkling to perfection. The problem bursts from me, through me, a sequence of eloquent letters on the page. And I look up to the dark, all-encompassing ceiling.

Tears spill on the paper, and mingle with the still-drying ink. In my ecstasy I remember her name.

by Maria Sledmere

prompts: physics, sublime, tinned food

A Shot in Negative

The cigarette sizzles out as you stub it into the ashtray. It’s a perfect array of geometric shapes, diamonds and triangles cut into glass, facets catching the living room light. An object from the past: someone bought it for us on our wedding day. Was it then a piece of the future, with its prayer emblazoned on the bottom: Made in America…?

And it’s like that time when we were teenagers, hiding inside from the rain, too hungover to speak. Only, everything’s glossy now, or glossier at least; there’s the panelled mirrors, the teacups, the black metallic fridge, the magazines. The cabs we catch into town, the bars we go to drink. No more house parties, or guzzling cider in the hay shed of your best friend’s farm. As you sit on our plush couch, watching me steadily, clutching a clumsily-mixed martini, I feel the same as I did when I was eighteen. It’s just for a moment: that brief fracture of reality where something glows within me and with every second I’m consuming every multicoloured memory.

We’re waiting to go out. I’m at my vanity table, with the tools of my art scattered around me. Chalk sticks, shadows, blemish-concealers, creams, mascara, pencils, palettes of every colour. I finish each curl of my lashes with indulgent flourish. The last pleasures of middle age. You speak static as I comb my hair, pulling mother-of-pearl teeth through silvering, thinning locks. You’re never impatient; you let time wallow in you as you wallow in it. As I complete my appearance, I sip from a large glass of Pinot Grigio, relishing the smack of dry wine on my lips.

I pick up a cigarette, tainting it with a cherry-coated kiss. As I inhale, I sense the riddles. There you are with your iPhone.

“A nice photo, love, for Facebook,” you say, nudging your face into the shot, fiddling with a nostalgic black and white filter. You make sure the camera knows the logo on your tshirt. As the simulated shutter sound clicks, I blow out my smoke. Our faces cloud permanently with these greyish wisps. As we lock up the flat and head out, I’m already anticipating your every remark.

Arm in arm walking, later on, down the high street, under the insistent blistering of neon, the cries of buskers haunting in repeat. You in your River Island suit, me awkward in heels; I with the artificially-widened eyes. The endless proliferation of signs. This is just another moment.

With every drink, we’re closer to what went before. At a shiny bar I await my Black Tartan, while you are in the toilet, maybe fucking her or doing lines. I’ll go outside, ten minutes later, and vomit over the pavement. Wait a moment. I’ll tap a fag off some homeless person, and we’ll stand in the rain sucking in smoke, thinking there won’t be many more of these moments. Thinking maybe this is it, all of it, and you’re just another bloke.

by Maria Sledmere

prompts: marriage, regret, cocktails