June Cruelty

Held to the brink, the mouth gapes its film of saliva. There is no more than the gossamer gorge of all those Skittles, crackling up between the teeth. We let go of his neck to see what would happen next. We watched as he scaled the red brick walls. Shouts from a football match. The air aglow with cut grass, laughter, nesting birds. The coming summer.

He got stuck and they watched him for hours from the safety of concrete. They came back after class had finished; no teacher noticed his absence. He was shaking now; it was visible even though he kept his hands stuffed in his pockets. People were crying, Chicken, Chicken, but maybe it wasn’t a game anymore. I told ‘Manda I was going for a walk and she shrugged. She wants in with Liam and won’t leave his side.

Scaling the circumference of a field, the image of that mouth wouldn’t get out my mind. All those teeth! Who knew wee Neil had all those teeth! Pecking like that at the sweets! The stickiness dripping down his chin and all the rainbow colours spilling out, coagulating on the playground. I thought he was going to choke.

The shouts got louder, even though I was now two fields away from the school. Stepped in fucking cow pat. Stopped at a burn to wash my shoes, the patent ones with the gold heart buckle, my favourites. The highness of the shouting modulates, like the tracks we had to listen to in Music Theory to understand what they called octaves and  pitch shifts. Maybe you could say it was a scream. I glanced in the water and saw among the rocks and silt the slow spread of a jellyish blood. A sheep’s? The breeze blew and I opened my mouth for a yawn the shape of a semibreve. There was silence then, a pause.

/ Maria Sledmere

(fff prompts: iridescence, inconceivable)

A Hidden Spirit

IMG_1894.JPG

The children were always making wild claims for the magic of the garden.

“Look, we found fairies!” they gasp, brandishing handfuls of glitter that bounce of the sparks in their eyes. Feigning amusement at such games is one aspect of parenthood I don’t think I’ll ever perfect.

“I wish you wouldn’t come in with muddy boots on,” I hear myself echoing my mother, her voice querulous and knackered, coming from long ago; a dusk-lit kitchen, the smell of shepherd’s pie.

“But Daddy, fairies!”

Samantha is tugging on Tim’s arm so hard it’s difficult to tell if he’s enthusiastic or just wincing. I concede to the whole performance and find myself led up the path to the back of the garden, noting the places where serious weeding needs to be done. When was the last time I ventured in this far? Ever since Emma left there seemed no point to mowing the lawn; the children love the grass when it’s long. Sometimes, washing the dishes at the window I’ll watch them, pushing each other and laughing. Tim’ll come in like clockwork, ten minutes later, eyes streaming with hay-fever.

“Right kids what is it I’m supposed to be seeing?”

“Fairies, you big oaf.”

“Fairies, huh? What do fairies look like then?” Wearily, I crouch to their level, the old knees stiff from last night’s squash match (Michael swamped me with that backhand of his).

This time, Tim pipes up. “Lights. They’re lights.” It’s dusk and the garden is full of shadows. When they were tiny, I used to take them up here, hand in hand with the torch. We’d have a fire and tell ghost stories till Emma called us inside, pronouncing it too chilly to just sit. She wouldn’t even try the fire.

“What kind of lights?” It’s cold enough now. Summer almost over, the promise of autumn frost, school uniforms to iron…

“You have to take a picture.”

“Come on, Daddy’s getting tired now.” I straighten up.

“No really. You take a picture and then the photo shows them up. They’re ever so tiny.” Samantha with her matter-of-fact tone, a hallmark of Emma’s.

Tim scrambles up the ash tree and whips a polaroid camera out of the birdhouse. I marvel at the way he leaps down and lands like a cat on both feet.

“Where’d you get that?” They exchange a glance which I take as suspicious, significant.

“You have to be very still,” Samantha warns me. Obediently I stand there in the dusk, straining my eyes to see. Beyond the garden fence, beyond the slope and the rooftops and chimneys, Emma and I are up at the top of Kildoon Hill, a blanket stretched before us, her face bathed in violet starlight. Or maybe it was the town that was bathed, the way the bluish dusk mixed with all the flickers of those amber streetlamps. We’re eating sugared strawberries, because it’s summer and everything’s ahead of us.

“Daddy! You’re not paying attention!” Samantha snaps.

“OK OK I am now. I’m watching.” After a nod from his sister, Tim creeps forward. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be looking at. There’s a swarm of midges clustering around the nettles, whose ominous stalks are taller than Tim himself. Tim lunges forward at once and takes a snap. The flash floats briefly in the air, like a white glowstick spilt underwater, slowly melting away into nothing. The darkness rearranges. Jackdaws rustle in the leaves above us.

Excitedly, Tim shuffles over to me and holds out the polaroid while the picture develops.

“We saw something about this in a book,” Samantha explains, “how cameras can capture a hidden spirit. Who knew we had fairies right here, in our garden? It’s a remarkable discovery.”

The picture pulls out fully. Tim hands it to me and watches, nose dripping eagerly, while I examine it. There’s the sinuous shapes of the shrubbery, the black slant of the shed. Most of the image, however, is taken up by a cloud of tiny lights, pulsing in my shaky vision like silver orbs, millioning gleefully. I’m not sure if it disappoints me that the children are enraptured by a throng of glowing midges, caught momentarily as fairies in their camera flash. I think about what Emma would say, anxious about the questionable origins of the camera itself, about Samantha’s magpie-eye for shiny things out of reach in shops. Isn’t there a film about this, two girls faking photos of fairies in their garden? What are they trying to prove?

“Well?” The kids are impatient. I’m impatient too, waiting for my own reaction. Samantha rolls her eyes.

“Look, if you’re worried about the camera, it’s just a present from Mum.”

“Oh.” The force of this blow is surprising. I glance over at the midges, still humming away beside us, indifferent to the available flesh of our faces. Tim’s expression was devastating.

“You don’t care,” he whimpered. I tuck the polaroid photo in the breast-pocket of my shirt.

“Aw kids, of course I do.” I draw him towards me, folding him tight the way I’ve seen him hugging the neighbour’s dog, craving that sense of what I’d forgotten. His hair smells of grass and it needs a wash. Samantha looks bemused at our clumsy embrace. She’s pretending to play with the camera now, but I catch her eye without meaning to. There’s a spark there, a flash of something I know is mine. We both smile and I think she half believes me.

Maybe that’s the magic of the garden.

/ Maria Sledmere

(fff prompts: exposure, <photo>)

Forest

Forest

The trees are knotted
in the spot where the bluebells grow
in June.

Gnarling, their roots twist
into strange, exotic shapes—
Spirals and triangles, spikes
like barbed wire.

We used to sit here
as children. We knew the notch,
the dark hard eye,
the tender part which you cut
to get the sap out.

Everything here is a cycle;
there is no flow of time,
no regress or
degeneration.

In summer the frost fades
to forget-me-nots;
through the canopy, long
into the evening, light lingers
in splinters and sparkles.

So I return;
the trees seem to whistle.
You hear their singing, its softness
like pining. Walk with me.

The greenness changes with the seasons.
Now I look upon it,
these tufts of grass, these oak leaves
glow with yellow fire—
chocolate, chestnut, cinnabar.

I look upon the colour, my fingers
scratching the eye. Its hardness
comes apart like ice.

I stare into that black spot,
the cavernous passage laden with frost,
the eye like a moon.

In the copper of twilight I see you again:
grass in your hair,
bluebells in June.

by Maria S.

(Prompts: green-man.jpg, passage, degeneration)

The Viscosity of Thought

Photo by Tom Hodgkinson: https://www.flickr.com/photos/hodgers/
Photo by Tom Hodgkinson: https://www.flickr.com/photos/hodgers/

“I want you to try something new today.” The therapist let the statement hang in the air, chewing his pencil in thought. Jemima sighed. She had not slept for seven nights, and the grey office walls did not soothe with their neutrality but rather reminded her of the inside of her eyelids. Old, swollen, shell-like.

“Well, will you?” She wished she could eat his enthusiasm; chew it and spit it out like rotten food. But Jemima hadn’t the energy to do so. Blinking slowly, she murmured her vague acquiescence.
“Great!” The therapist pulled open his desk drawer and fumbled around before carefully placing a sheet of paper on the wooden surface between them.
“I want you to tell me what you see,” he said. “Be spontaneous; be truthful. Be crazy, if that’s what comes to you.” Jemima raised her eyebrows.
“Unfortunate word choice,” she muttered.
“I – I’m sorry. I didn’t mean –”
“No, you meant quirky and creative and honest!”
“Anyway,” the therapist ignored her sarcasm with an urgent glance to the clock, “just have a look.”

Slowly, Jemima pulled the paper towards her and held it up so the dim windowless light could shine through the whiteness. It was a black gelatinous mass of indefinable shapes; the kind of thing you’d stumble across at a surrealist art exhibition. She was sick of the old man thrusting his avant-garde tricks upon her.

“It looks like… a vagina.” She said bluntly, thinking she knew how to please him.
“Come on, don’t be so obvious – you can do better than that!” Jemima huffed and squinted again at the picture. There was something peculiar about the internal pattern of the outlining lines, something about the way they curved around each other in weird intersections. A hazy sense of familiarity seemed to hover around the gaping middle shades.

She dug her fingernails deep into the soft wood because she was feeling everything slip away; the particles were splitting and the room was coming undone. A gasp provided the sufficient portal through the trauma. She heard the old man speak to her, but only as a swimmer gurgles through fathoms of water, his sound swallowed by the churning current. The walls were closing in…

Silt stuck between her toes and in the clammy air she sniffed the iodine stink of seaweed… Gulls whooping above her in endless, trailing circles. Chunks of wood eating into her nails; almost like flesh they tenderised under her touch.
“Mum!” she shrieked. She loved the sound of her childish voice. The shrillness of sweet innocence. And why would her mother not reply? The beach rang clear with its silence. Just the gulls and their cry, cry, cry. She began running, running out of nothing. She wanted to make it to the rocks. She leapt over slimy detritus, shattered glass, dead crabs, clusters of washed-up jewels and driftwood.

It was night now and a howling came from the end of the bay.
“Mother, I’ve been stung!”
She thought she saw a ship coming deep from the waves; a ghost ship which glowed with the midnight moon. A blue, curious glow from a curious moon. Jemima was a child, alone under the midnight moon. She closed her eyes and all of it glittered; all glittered in fragments of distant pictures.

She looked at her feet where the beached jellyfish still lay. It was a piece of molten mousseline glass, coloured inside with claret and lilac ringlets, the fine membranes strung from the centre like spider-silk. The white light would dance upon the crystal shell, and Jemima could just about make out her reflection in its shimmered surface. In this image Jemima saw her body distorted and bloated. So venomously with a stick she would poke it; piercing a stake through this picture of mockery. But then it became a wobbly, oozing thing: splayed and ugly as a laboratory experiment. Her leg throbbed with the sting and as she glanced at the shredded jelly meat she felt the becoming of her monstrousness.

The wood splintered thinly through the membrane of her fingertips. Something slammed upon the ocean. She looked up and saw the ship collapse through the water in hoary flakes of ash. The waves kept breathing, soft and sullen.

“Jemima!” He was shaking her arms, shaking her as if to send shots of voltage down her nerves.
“What is it you see?” Not bothering to conceal his frustration, the therapist gestured angrily to the picture that lay in front of them. Jemima pulled her nails out of the desk and seized the paper. Without a glance at its contents, she crumpled it into a ball, feeling her heart fall with the weight of lead.

“I miss myself before,” she said.

(Prompts: Rorschach blot, haunted, glitter)

by Maria Rose Sledmere

Of Agony and Ambience

The carnival was alive with all the coruscations of otherworldly sounds and playful particles of light. A dreamer from another world might be at home here in the terrible pleasures of fiddle litanies, fortune tellers and candy floss spun like the silk of some fantastic spider. Dancers whirled and threw about their lovely muscles upon the stage while children laughed and sang and played. All was a picturesque festival and the village and its people seemed at their happiest.

But happy to those immune to the allure of the magic booth. The sign outside was written in Old English lettering, embossed with gold leaf, and it said that the enchanter inside could read people’s auras. The children were forbidden from entering the booth: to know one’s aura was considered bad luck, and indeed a responsibility too great to be shouldered by the young. Typically, the only people who sought the knowledge of the aura-reader were those faced by some personal crisis: illness, a death in the family, a forbidden or forlorn love, a secret and implacable desire, or perhaps problems with coaxing the harvest to ripe.

They had expected the aura-reader to be some gnarled old woman, possibly wearing a witch’s hat, but certainly with a cat draped on one shoulder and a shimmering shawl of sorts on the other. They had certainly not expected the fresh-faced young man who sat up crossed-legged looking at a dream-catcher on the ceiling, a string of pearls around his neck.

“Welcome,” he murmured as a way of greeting. The villages were to come in two at a time, and leave their donations in a small pot by the tent’s entrance. The soft clink of silver in the pot chimed with the twinkle of metal slivers clicking together on the ends of the dream-catcher. Carefully, a couple took their place upon the rug in front of the aura-reader. They were not married, but in fact brother and sister.

“What is it you seek?” The boy’s voice had the uncanny bristle of a man much older. Yet as he spoke, no wrinkles betrayed his age, nor were there frown-lines to ripple his forehead. His face was as smooth as the skin of a ripe apple.

“Well, we came here because you can read auras,” the man said nervously.

“That I can do.”

“Y-yes.” The smell of incense wafted up from a corner of the boot, filling their heads with the dreamy airiness of distant promises.

“But why do you wish me to read your aura?”

“It sounds exciting,” the woman piped in, pulling back a strand of her ashen hair.

“Perhaps it is.” The boy closed his eyes and hummed gently, the sound seeming to illuminate his translucent skin. The man fidgeted and the woman stared at the boy’s long butterfly lashes and wished she’d been blessed with such an asset.

They waited a good hour or so for the boy to speak again. Time was a wispy thing; a silk-sliver dangling upon the streams his dream-catcher. The boy seemed caught in a trance and it would be a sin to wake him. When he opened his eyes, he stared first at the man and then the woman. He sighed deeply. He closed his eyes, then opened them to look one by one at the couple again, his gaze meeting theirs’ in ephemeral recognition.

“One of you will die a most horrific death,” he said after a pause. They waited with bated breath for him to continue.

“I see it in the after-image. Black: little snivelling swirls of it. It catches at your eyes and ears and makes a fool of your lovely soul. Soon you’ll be deep in the ground, cold.” His slow, emphatic tone savoured every word he spoke.

“But which one of us are you referring to?” the man asked with some desperation. Ignoring this inquest, the boy spoke again. It was just then that the couple noticed the shining bead of light emanating from the centre of his forehead. They tried to ignore it, looking up at the dream catcher as his words filled the tight space.

“The other has a most wonderful aura…such a rich, potent red… you are alive with carnal desires, so urgent and so lusty that I would love myself to reach out and touch you…but it would break the spell. You will live long and powerful and have many children, it is certain. Your body gives spark to the vivacity of your spiritual flesh.” He beamed, but his gaze was directed at the space between the man and the woman: the dark velvet of the curtain behind them.

“So one of us will live pleasantly whilst the other shall die?”

“It is perhaps so, as the colours tell me.”

They looked at each other and sorrow filled their souls as they thought of how the sibling bond between them was bound to inevitably burst. The thought of this sadness kindled a flame of rage and frustration, and it was all they could do to prevent themselves ripping at the boy’s throat; for how dare he cast such wicked slander upon their family? How could it be fair that one should live while the other perish in a most unpleasant death? It seemed a knowledge beyond all reason.

And so mania sizzled through their veins as they crawled from the tent, and once again faced the bright darkness, the fairy lights and lively music, the people and their bodies bumping and dancing and spinning.

“We must lose ourselves,” the man said. “It is the only way.” The sister swore to him that she agreed and so they took themselves off into the woods, stopping by at a seedy-looking stall to pick up the necessary paraphernalia. The needle would be sharp and sweet, as such things are destined always to be.

When they were found, dead, the next day, their bodies were swollen with staggering amounts of morphine. Black pocks marked their skin and already hoards of ants and maggots had begun feasting upon the cloth of their bodies. When the boy was called upon to witness them, he buried his head in his hands in a strained display of emotion.

“What a gorgeous aura – such passion and anguish! – and did they not know that an aura is but transience?”

So under the cherry glacé of a summer’s dawn the boy wept until all the sins crawled out of his soul like impatient worms; until he was a crumple upon the undergrowth, his aura black as a midnight sky or the ore of darkest coal. The ooze and cloud came out of every pore until his body joined his soul – so shrivelled and sad and old.

(Prompts: manic, paraphernalia, booth)

by Maria Rose Sledmere

Who is Barry?

Barry was the most famous homeless man in the whole city. He even had his own Facebook page, though it would be some miracle if Barry even knew what the Internet was. The kids liked to follow him as he ambled around town carrying nothing but a plastic bag and the beaten-up ukulele that he’d grown famous for playing. Nobody ever found out what it was that was in that plastic bag. There were rumours, of course: the deeds to some long-lost property, a rotting pile of fruit, stolen designer jeans, a dead cat, high-grade crack, a divorce certificate. But anyone that asked poor old Barry what was in his bag got a tirade of jumbled words thrown back at him and sometimes a vigorous handshake, but never what you might call an explanation.

The best Barry-sighting hotspots were some corner on North Bridge, outside a Starbucks on Queen Street and a lonesome bench on the outskirts of the Meadows. You could hear his pensive strumming as you strolled nearby, and then as you approached there was Barry himself, wearing the green parka, ripped denim flares and the Nike trainers that, as some have observed, smelled curiously of pondweed. Humbly occupying such spots, Barry would entertain the locals and reap rich rewards from eager tourists who chucked whole banknotes in his Burger King cup. You could hear him crooning ‘Wonderwall’ and the Stereophonics’ ‘Have a Nice Day’ over his out-of-time ukulele accompaniment. He played the same songs and if somebody gave him a request, he tended to repeatedly growl the name of the tune over a repeated strum of minor chords rather than actually try to play it.

To many, Barry was an ‘Edinburgh Legend’.  Many university students volunteered for the local soup kitchen specifically in the hope of getting an opportunity to bestow upon Barry a handful of biscuits in person. They wanted him to learn their names so they could tell all their friends that Barry knew them. School children would post sightings of him up on his Facebook page, noting that he was spotted near the Stockbridge market, buying a can or two from an offie or even trailing into the Jobcentre. Very rarely would any of them work up the courage to actually talk to Barry. They preferred to indulge in in-depth online discussions about the state of Barry’s hair, what was in his bag this week, what tunes he had been playing.

The sad thing was that it took a while for people to notice that Barry had disappeared. He was not part of their lives, really; he was just an element of the city’s mise en scene – the atmosphere that they took for granted. There were plenty of other buskers, beggars and street performers to take his place. But eventually, the comments started flooding in on Barry’s Facebook walls, as people began speculating about where he was and what had happened. Was he in jail? Reunited with his long-lost son? Applying for X Factor? The questions multiplied and the answers blurred into lost causes and imagined chances.

He even made the local news. The paper ran a half-page article on ‘Kids Praise Unsung Homeless Hero’, whereby school children from an assortment of inner-city schools garbled on about how much they loved Barry, as if he were nothing but a cartoon character who had finally won the rights to a Hollywood movie. Nobody made any real effort to find out what had happened to old Barry. Eventually, he dwindled out of the conversation as people began to get excited about the Fringe, and then Halloween and Christmas. Nobody on the Facebook page paid a single thought to how Barry was managing, out there in the streets during one of the coldest winters of the last decade. Eventually, people stopped posting on his wall and the Facebook page was taken down; not out of respect, but because it wasn’t getting enough daily hits.

A few years passed and the city remained as sparkling and alive as it always had. The kids grew older and forgot about him.

It was only when I was returning there the other week, visiting my Gran who lives in Brunsfield, that I saw the message scrawled on the wall: ‘Who is Barry?’. Something about that message really got to me; because you know what, nobody knows Barry, nobody knows him at all.

(Prompts: ‘who is barry’ graffiti, denim)

by Maria Rose Sledmere

Bittersweet

Remember the day we went for pancakes, on that place on Byres Road? One of our long afternoons, those drops in the ocean that ripple out towards the edge of the world. I’m here at Granny’s thinking about it, like I always do. But today it feels different; sharper, somehow.

You know, Granny is sick; she won’t say it but I know she is. Whenever I’m round her house she always asks about you, and I haven’t the heart to tell her. I’m watching her knit by the fire right now, and we’re listening to the dulcet tones of a Radio 4 presenter talk about some conflict abroad.

“You know, you should have some more biscuits,” is all she says, “you’re getting thin as a rake!”

I remember it so clearly, sitting across from you as you poured syrup over your pancake, watching it ooze over the mushed banana and sprinkled cinnamon. You took so long to eat it, neatly cutting the tiniest forkfuls. There was no reason why it shouldn’t have been the perfect day. We even agreed to split the bill. After the food we walked along the river, all dappled by the afternoon sun, the green water dripping in the bridges we passed under. I liked the way our voices echoed in that close darkness; the way that down here where the Kelvin flows alongside bracken and trees you could be anywhere, anywhere but the city.

You were working yourself up to something, I could see it in your face.

I wonder now if I was worried; before it happened, I mean. Sometimes, sure, there were things you did that I couldn’t make sense of. A way that you used your silences. It was as if you wanted to erase yourself when I spoke to you, but it wasn’t like this all the time. We were great in the starry nights back home where we could walk around the village and sit on benches in the graveyard pretending we were old folks, nattering all sorts of nonsense and talking of war and ghost stories.

We were great, too, in the rare days out in the city; days like this. I swear.

You waited till dark to do it. It must have been a comfort to you. We were in Botanic Gardens, and all the children had been driven home, the dogs gone, the air itself seeming a stranger. I didn’t recognise such quietness in the city; even the busy road outside was oddly depleted. You were still talking to me when the man was driving about in his van trying to get people to leave so he could lock the gates. I don’t know why you did it but you held my hand the whole way through, telling me what I suppose I should have already knew.

But I didn’t and I didn’t want to and I still don’t.

You got the clockwork orange to take you back to the station and I watched you descend the escalator as if I wouldn’t see you again, not ever. I sat at the bar in The Curler’s Rest and drank whisky for the first time, not noticing the way it scalded my throat. I slept in a hostel that night in a room with a bunch of teenagers discussing their sex lives; when I woke up my pillow was sodden with tears and I felt purged and hollow as a weather-beaten dream.

I suppose you remember that day differently.

Granny always said you were lovely, and I wish that loveliness would stop haunting me.

“Johnny, would you like me to make you some pancakes?” she asks. She is a darling, the only person in the world that would remember that it’s Shrove Tuesday.

Together by the fireside we sit and eat. I bite through the crunch of sugared lemon, feel the slipperiness on my tongue. Bittersweet.

(Prompts: pancake, sun, knitting)

by Maria Rose Sledmere

Dear Sweetheart

You think: maybe this is it. The moon shines through the skylight and you sigh and rip up the page; the page made painfully white by the unwanted brightness. All the words that had only moments ago bubbled up in your chest now sink down again, forming a rock in your stomach. Another day now wasted.

What is it about these cool autumn nights that drive you to the silence of the attic? It is the children, who exhaust you with their endless longing. You love them really, but your love is a kind of virus, something that spreads and eats away inside of you; that mutates and morphs into a hard and enduring endlessness. You can rely on it, its certain dwelling. Sometimes you forget about it, but it will come back to you when you are not expecting it. That drawing on the wall: the crayon is fading but the shape is the same. Seeing yourself in your son’s image; you never thought it would turn everything inside out the way it has.

No, it is something more than the virus that drives you here. As you climb the ladder with your wearied limbs, you feel the thread again; you feel the thread pick up and you can visualise it, clear as the dark clot of leaves in the bottom of a teapot, clear as your first day at school and the image of his face. You are at work stacking shelves and suddenly you feel it all unravelling, as if you were having a panic attack or going into labour. You see the threads spiral out from the coiled knot, loosening and flailing like snakes. It leaves an empty feeling for days.

A summer evening of long ago; it happens on you by chance, as it always does. You click the keys of your typewriter, eking out words like it might kill you. You rely on the words to make things solid again: you need the feel of their tangibility. Crisp scent of grass and starlight in the air; he leans his head on my lap, he tells me about the time his cat died when he was five. You bite your lip. Everything seems fickle and silly against the cleanness of the page. It is a shame to spoil the whiteness. We bought strawberries; we whispered our thoughts about the future. He would buy a camper-van and travel America, and I would go with him after my degree. We would end up clever intellectuals on a lovely salary, then we would be free. Was it even true? Even once? The letters flash back at you and seem hollow and false. You light a cigarette and painstakingly stab a smouldering hole through every word. The smoke fills your lungs and you are calm. But still the thread unravels, and still you cannot weave it tight again.

The sound of crying downstairs. It will be your little girl. You do not go to her, though she is still a baby. You feed a new page into the machine.

In August you got ill. The typewriter echoes round the room, sounding loud and somehow alien, as if another person were typing it. You feel as if the moon could hear you, and the effect is uncomfortable, a conscious voyeurism. They took you to hospital and for months we could not speak; nobody would let me see you. I clung to alcoholic nights by the river with friends, the daydreams charred from the dull glow of so many winter fires. I let anyone kiss me, anything to take me away from you and your memory. You feel something rise up inside of you: the image clarifies. You hear it stronger despite the loudening sound of your daughter’s wailing cry. We only met once again; you probably don’t remember. A cold day in December, the streets powdered with snow, Christmas shoppers clogging the space between us. But I stopped and called for you. You talked of the weather and your mother and you did not look in my eye. You are addressing him directly now, imagining the glitter of his green irises gazing back at the text as you fire it out upon the paper. Electricity simmers through you, shuddering to the pulse of the typebars clicking upon the ribbon. I have thought about it for so long – that awful vacant day. I think about you now, where you are and what you are doing. All the letdowns, the disappointments. I gather up all the gossip I can, try to lace the threads together; you see, no matter what happens I still feel connected to you. I have two beautiful children and I wish they could meet you. I cannot explain it, but I know that if you wrote to me I would travel anywhere in the world to get to you. It streams out of you now and you are not thinking about what you are writing. When you are finished you release the paper from the machine and you do not read over it because it is no longer anything to do with this moment, this cataclysmic silence. The moon disappears behind thick sooty cloud. Now you are truly alone.

You lay the letter on the desk and take up your pen to sign the bottom. It has been so long that your signature seems odd and impersonal. You hover over it, hesitant.

The fountain pen bursts and its ink sprays out across the page. There is a fold in time when all sense slips away. But still you see the words underneath, enduring like the love you feel for your children. Enduring like the memories of that enchanted journey, the future promise of each sparkling place. You close your eyes and look again at the paper, and every speckle of ink reminds you of the freckles on his face.

(Prompts: journey, soulmate, ink)

by Maria Rose Sledmere

This Skin

The sickness that I feel is very specific. It’s linked to the way I don’t want to wake up, though every fibre of life is tugging me away from this dream. There’s a certain way that I’ll remember the words you say to me, how they flourish and expand in the quickening air. For you cannot breathe in these spaces, not for too long. The dust and the dryness will flake the layers off of you, will leave you clean and unlovely as a littered shell. This place holds our pleasures, the memory of our perishing. You would do well to clear things, you would do well to forget them.

Is it your hands I see, pressed up against the glass? You would think that, having known you this long, I would have memorised exactly the motif of your fingerprints. The glossy whorls and swirls and the lifeline, fractured in the middle by uncanny premonitions. But I do not know your palms from a strangers; at least, I did not then. You are lost and longing to get in; you feel the warmth of this room where they have locked me up for eternity. It is a peculiar irony that in this attic, you are the ghost excluded, liquid and flimsy; and I impossibly solid, the mortal body within.

I close my eyes to the perilous sound of gushing water, the black streams around me, pulling and pulling; I feel my body tugged and twisted by the current, and the river bears me up as a mother births her child. Monstrous and unbecoming, evolving in its loss of power and being. The pain is the same; the breathless theft of consciousness. The hum and rush of everything happening. As I awake, I am on the stony ground, convulsing like a beached fish. You have pulled me out of the water and your arms are strong, white and goosefleshed, still quivering. I look up, dazed, into your eyes. I see the emerald green: the soul of a forgotten child. All time is quiet, the very leaves on the trees around us flutter in the breeze, mesmerised. I would let you kiss me, in the silver and chill of the river; I would let you kiss me, in this skin, dappled with hours of playful daylight.

I would let you kiss me. How strange to whisper it now.

(Prompts: attic window photo, longing, mesmerise)

by Maria Rose Sledmere

Garden of my Childhood

A small lawn, three flowerbeds and a pebbled terrace which offered space for two chairs and a little table. The adults considered it a tiny garden, merely worth the effort of investing time in it, but for my sister and me it was an endless source of adventure, games and fun. Picnics with our dolls, huts made of branches and leaves, snowman competitions and Lego safaris between the crocuses – we never ran out of ideas.
One day I felt too old Playmobile pirate ships in puddles, for snail races and hide-and-seek in an area that only offered two hiding places anyhow. My sister sulked and cried. She called it deceit. I called it growing up.
Today, I sometimes look back wistfully. My sister and I never got along as well as we did in our childhood. Puberty can be cruel.

What were your prompts?: crocus photo, deceit, wistful

by Rut Neuschäfer