The Concrete Warrior

The Concrete Warrior

He peels the stripping from an incense stick, with such precision as to suggest it’s been his life’s goal to discover what was hidden by sawdust paste and sandalwood slivers. It turns out to be a mere bamboo reed, ancient tool of inscription. There’s a sense of the inevitable here. What good would it do to now lick the coating? It tastes of terrible regrets. His concentration lacks thrift; thrives on the excessive.

You could cure depression, he argued in last semester’s essay, by drinking from city rivers. The amount of oestrogen in the water was warping school after school of fish; contraceptives left the body in women’s piss and slowly diluted their chemicals through the current. Not to mention the lithium deposits, the Prozac mass surreptitiously making sediment of riverbeds, embedding its serenity in sand particles, gemstones, fish eggs. Pesticides were supposed to remove residues, but inevitably contributed to further contamination. He drinks freely from the river, drinks like he’s making a statement. Back at the tower block, the others survive on stolen Lucozade, but he maintains a healthy faith in l’eau naturelle.

His skin, they often said, has that uncanny glow. Like it’s been purified with butane, the acne blasted away. Unnatural. Not sleeping, he wrote screeds about the lovely truth to be found in raiding bins. No other method could reveal the secrets of our governing corporations. The titles were varied and strange:

Haunted Monopolies: How Our Supermarkets Invoke the Waning of History
Circuits of Trolleys: What Your Shopping Basket Says about Fertility and Self-Governance
Euro Trash Girl: How Nightclubs are Hotting Up the Biosphere
Junk Hook: Washing Up Culture on the Brink of Extinction
Alice’s Mirror: Looking Back on Our Selves through the Broken Glass of Suburban Play-parks 

Perhaps there wasn’t a quick logic to his method but the tutors seemed to like it. Scholarships promised like the neon lights of a Vegas strip, but he managed to resist the allure. He wanted to remain digging deep in the dirt; could never see himself imprisoned, shimmering, in the ivory tower, crowned with the laurels of knowledge. He knew his work was utter sludge, the bullshit pulled straight from the earth and recycled with choice and sensitive words.

Morphine pulses through his sleepy veins, night and day. He snaps the stick in his mouth. There’s a new immediacy to his presence of being. Stay in the moment, he scribbles, it’s the only way to resist the messianic pull of the past as it threatens to sandblast every particle of your purified being. Switch off your smartphone, before it’s too late. Toss that transient saccharine pleasure away. Crunch the coke can to cut your mouth.

When the riots broke out, many youths came past the tower block on their passage of looting. The sky crackled with ersatz thunder, which he concocted himself from the safety of an 8th floor window, occasionally dropping M&Ms on the crazed kids below. Some of them relinquished their grip on the stolen televisions, the screens of which smashed on the concrete. Others waved their fists with invisible placards, making wild proclamations about the vengeance of the earth. By sundown, everyone feasted on pizza, leaving the cardboard boxes to grease the streets. He waited until their cries died down then left the building to pick up the mess. Single-handedly, he cleaned his street. Not out of pride, or civil duty; but a robotic sense of necessity.

The incense wafts through the 8th floor window. He assembles his collection of needles. There’s an archive of noise he hasn’t yet tapped, an ecstatic whole that would affirm itself in the choir of angry shouts. He feels their riots at night, remembers the orgiastic disarray of society as something he once needed but now didn’t. The tower block seems to rise, its roof of concrete block threatening the fiery tips of the sun. Eventually, he knew this would all be molten. The sun would fall. He’d bite off each piece of the candy necklace, marking the end of another day. The sugar would mix with the heroin in his veins and he’d feel the calm come over him, wave after wave; the residue waste of the river washing up, swirling its gurgles in his seashell ears, threatening the spillage of sewage, the sludge-work of words, the colliding extravagance of year after year. The leftovers, the children. The silt of the earth, rising and winning.

/ Maria Sledmere

(FFF prompts: underwater photo, riot)

Intervals

This all must follow a pattern, don’t you know?

My eyes follow the Siberia of semibreves, stretching out across eighteen bars at least. I can tell they don’t trust me with this piece.

“Why’ve I only got the long notes?” I go straight to the conductor, holding back my French horn, cradling it defensively against my chest.

“Oh, it’s just the part we need you to play,” he says idly. I’m telling you though, it’s a pattern. First they start ignoring you, stop commenting on your pitch and tuning, your tonguing and rhythm. It’s nice for awhile, not getting the abuse, but soon you find yourself suspicious. The saxes and trumpets are getting hounded for their dodgy rendition of melodies while I’m sitting at the side, content and stupid. No, it’s not right. The pattern’s coming out.

“Do you even want me here at all?” I find myself asking, against my better judgment.

“Oh, it’s not a case of wanting, darling, it’s needing. We absolutely need you to blast out those long clean notes for us.”

“Oh for f—”

“Now now, go do your warm up.” I hate the way he shuts you down like that. I haven’t eaten since breakfast and I feel nauseous; the thought of blowing lungfuls of warm air into that piece of metal doesn’t exactly appeal right now. Everyone around me is getting boisterous, laughing and kidding around, knocking sheets off their music stands, the trombonists playing loud and silly glissandos.

I have a theory that they start like this, then kick you out. When you start to feel like the one sane person, silent and still amongst the hurricane, that’s when you know it’s time to leave. No need for dead weight in a band like this, as he’d say. Everyone must communicate, must work together. The rests and breaks mean something too. It’s probably bullshit.

“You know, it’s a shame you’re standing around doing nothing, cos that French horn looks so damn pretty against your skin when it’s played.” Oh god. I turn, trying to source the location of this sudden bout of shitty banter. Melanie. The flute player, the little elfin embodiment of musical perfection. She once did an impromptu solo from the balcony of Kings Theatre, during a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I heard she lured a guy into bed with renditions of the ‘In Dreams’ melody from Lord of the Rings. I also heard the guy cried afterwards. You can fill in the blanks there.

Talk about blanks. Just look at this bloody part! It’s literally all rests and semibreves, not even a cheeky quaver or two to liven things up a bit.

“What d’you want me to do?” I retort to Melanie, who’s now standing over me, eyeing my sheet music. “I mean, it’s not like a lot of practice is needed or anything. Think I can nail those silences easy enough.”

“Oh, I see.” She brushes her pinkie finger over the staves. “Gosh, he really hates you.”

“Right?”

“Wanna take some time out?” I look at her in earnest.

“I think I’ve got enough time out in this, don’t you think?”

“I meant—”

“Oh I know, come on then.” She leads me down a corridor or two until we’re outside, standing on a wet and windy street. There’s nobody about, it being Thursday evening, long after the closing hour for late night shopping. Musicians work at ungodly times.

To my surprise, she draws a fat joint from her pocket, rolling it round her fingers as if pondering whether or not to light it.

“Oh Melanie,” I say, grinning. She lights it and I watch her cheeks compress to little dimpled hollows as she sucks in the first draw. We pass it round and don’t talk.

“He’s a bastard anyway,” she says, after a pause.

“He means well. Talented guy.”

“I don’t know.” I’m thinking about how interesting her mouth is, the faint pink stain on the end of the spliff. How is it possible for her to play so well when she fills her lungs with this shit? The weed swirls round my empty stomach.

She must’ve heard it rumbling.

“I’ve got an orange,” she says, drawing one out from another pocket. I swear she must’ve been a pilgrim in a past life. Carries her life around with her, as if waiting to arrive somewhere.

I watch her dainty fingers peel the orange. As her nails claw into its skin, a sharp sweet smell lifts my senses. My head is swimming. I can hear every scrape and pull as she pares away the rind. Takes the first piece and pushes it between my lips. Nothing ever tasted so good.

So nothing happened. So we stood around outside the practice hall, finishing the spliff, sharing the orange. I watched her lick the juice from her lips as she watched the passing traffic. The lamplights stretched out into the distance, down the road towards the shop buildings, whose windows were closed up for the night, the bright city sinking into its disappearance. After a while, I felt better. We went back inside. We played through the song, and I guess it went well.

I’m getting better at intervals.

by Maria Sledmere

(Flash fiction February prompts: orange, theory, picture of sheet music).

The Mint of Immortality

The coin he handed her was completely unfamiliar. It was six-pointed, like a star of David; thin as a needle and of a bright, glittering silver. She flipped it over and saw that on the other side too was a spiral. No symbols of monarchy, no stamps of nation or empire. No date of minting, no hint of history; no indication of worth or belonging. Just a neat little spiral, the kind of idle doodle that Lucy would have done herself, waiting for the kettle to boil, or for her mother to stop ranting over the phone.

She hadn’t realised she’d ventured out so far. Could she be beyond the border even? The change of currency indicated a passing beyond, but she wasn’t sure what actually constituted beyond. For so long, the limits of this city were shifting and nebulous. There were no fences or walls; no great highways, very few roadsigns. You left with intentions to drive south, but ended up stuck on a roundabout, bound eastwards, endlessly, back into town.

“And what can I buy with this coin?” Lucy wondered. The boy behind the counter stared at her as if willing her to leave. All she wanted was a few more moments to linger among the mesmerising aisles of neon energy drinks, of chocolate bars and tacky magazines. She wanted to absorb the hum of the refrigerator, the nervous click of the boy tapping his shoe against the laminated floor.

When finally she closed the door behind her, he breathed a sigh of relief.

The world outside was ablaze with sunset. A strange wound of a sunset, where the sky haemorrhaged pools of red which flowered out like ink among a sea of flaming pink. The red light dripped down the glass buildings and cast its fiery shimmer on the roads.

It seemed self-evident to her then that the coin could buy her infinity. Clueless, she kept walking, following the sunset. It would be lovely, she thought, to step right on into that sunset. It glowered and spasmed before her like a terrible womb, and even as she walked, she knew she was returning to the origin. There was something about the air of dusk then, its sweet, ominous musk.

The coin would buy her infinitude. You just had to be born again. Lucy opened the carton of milk which she had bought from the shop with the flickering sign, and slowly began to drink it, a white rim forming round her lips, like a halo. Her skin began to purify, tautening, smoothing, glowing. The years were being rolled flat as she drank and drank. The sky burned above her, earnest in its wanting. She took the coin from her pocket and placed it on her tongue, as if it were a tab of acid. A shadow passed over the sun and so she swallowed.

Needles tingled all through her veins, growing in pain as if each vein, each capillary, were a stem of thorns being torn right through her flesh, all through her body. She was a rose, starved of monoxide, wilting, withering…so sensitive to the flames of pain. The sun would burn her, eat her dead or alive, and so she would be beautiful.

The next morning, someone found a strange coin on the pavement, stamped with the face of a girl who was beautiful.

— Maria Sledmere

(Flash Fiction February prompt: nowhere)

Untitled

I met him exactly one month after I had an abortion, and in hindsight I think it was too soon.

“The best way to get over someone is to get under someone else!” My flatmates cackle like parrots when they give out life advice, but in this case the parrots were right, and it takes him less than a week to trap me and drown me in his glacier eyes.

All thoughts of unborn things and hospital needles disappear, and are replaced by a man with beautiful straight teeth and an expression I find difficult to read. I have never had a boyfriend, and it turns out they are quite intoxicating.

I spend three months drunk in my infatuation. He is sweet, he is popular, his charisma is all-consuming; I have no time to think of what happened before. There are days where he is suddenly not himself, but his smiles and kisses don’t take long to return and I push my doubts into a box I locked up a long time ago.

Those three months were sweet.

When I find out he’s been cheating on me, I am standing underneath a road sign which reads “LA BELLE PLACE”. There has never been a less beautiful road in a less French area. London is grey, London is ugly, London is the city where all the worst things in my life have happened to me. I try not to cry until I’m at home, but my lost baby and my lost love and my habit of driving people so far away from me and into the arms of a blonde slut catch me and I weep at Acton Town, two stops before mine.

We end up together, by the way. I know you’re disappointed in me. But let me tell you how I got there first, and then you may judge.

Unhappiness is a weed that grows and festers. If it is not cut from the root, it never disappears. While I am without him, I pick my depression apart, layer by layer as if it is part of my skin. I tear off him, I tear off the image of his face streaked with tears when I left him. I tear off the glow I feel when he smiles at me. The image of our first meeting, when I felt a ray of light in my stomach. The darkness that came before. The terror from a tiny positive sign and scheduled trips to the hospital. The uncertainty of a missed period. The one night stand with an old friend. The boredom I felt before it all, before anything happened to me, before I was a woman.

I tear until there is nothing left.

Two months later, when I return to LA BELLE PLACE, he is waiting for me there. He cries over coffee, and confesses his own demons. He is a blubbering mess, and howls like a wild animal. People stare. I am strong and silent. He buys me flowers, and cowers like a dog.

Satisfaction makes my belly feel full and LA BELLE PLACE looks wonderful in the summer. I allow myself to love him, and my world is green and gorgeous. I had no pride left anyway.

London is the most beautiful city on Earth.

— L.R.

(Flash Fiction Prompts: return, satisfaction, photograph of street sign ‘La Belle Place’)

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

Sentry Duty

The constant bombardment at least made it easier to keep awake during sentry duty. Rocket attacks, and from who- Government or rebels? It was hard to be sure sometimes, especially amid the chaos of a city under siege. A few days before, one of them had come down in a busy street, right on top of a bus. The authorities were still having trouble identifying the bodies.

Ilya was careful. He didn’t go out on the streets unless he had to, and in the meantime he stayed put, reading, smoking, gambling and sleeping. Tonight, however, he was out, watching for enemy movement on the outskirts of town.

It was a boring job, mostly. Listening to shells being traded overhead for a few hours, then back to the city for a drink and a bed, thank God. For all its dangers, at least combat in the field had fear and excitement to get the blood moving.

The dugout shuddered.

“Ukrop bastards, that one was close…”

An hour passed. Shells began falling nearby, not as close as earlier, but only a few blocks down from their position.

Ilya looked up from his book and listened.

An impact, then another, and another, and another…

“What the hell are they trying to hit?”

“Just be thankful it isn’t-”

It was as if the sun had come rushing back for a few more moments of day. The world seethed in shades of red as fire rose, unfurling in the sky.

“Ilya! Look at this! Ilya! Holy shit!”

“I see it, Andrei… Jesus Christ…”

The flame began to crumble, and the brief day crept back into shadow.

“We’ll feel it in a second, grab onto something…”

The ground heaved and the dugout buckled, caught in the shock-wave. Then the sound of thousands of hammers striking as one, bounding along on the heels of the blast.

Minutes passed- The noise of other shells landing in other places.

“Andrei, are we dead?”

“God, I feel as if I’ve been hit by a train…”

“Ugh, what the fuck was that?”

“I don’t know, munitions, petrol station, maybe?”

“Wait a minute, the chemical works are down that way…”

“Well shit, they picked one hell of a target.”

“Somehow I don’t think I like fireworks anymore.”

“Fuck, me neither.”

The next morning, the two sentries limped back to town, half-deaf and half-dead. Ilya was just happy to see his bed again.

(Prompts: chemical plant photo, sentry)

by Paul Inglis

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

Golder’s Green

Home to the ashes of Enid Blyton, Doris Lessing and Charles Rennie Mackintosh. A shabby grandeur adorns the forest canopy, the winding trails of graves, the cuts of light casting gold on the ground. There’s a peculiar magic to the lush peridot leaves that flourish with life amidst so much death. You suppose that here perhaps death has its own tangibility. How easy to disappear, to sink into the soil and join the rest of them. The trees speak to you with their distinct whisper that only you can hear; they have heard centuries of voices speak to them, hushed and yearning, from beyond the grave.  You feel now all those voices echo hollow, rising up through the sweet earth beneath your feet.

“James!” she screamed, her voice a shrill cry through the dappled light. Startled birds scattered from the clearing that she stood in. She clung to the key hung around her neck and tried to stay calm. All that returned to her was the echo of her own shout, her own shout that you can still hear, even now.

She tried to look, tried to look for hours. She wandered down many a forgotten path, overgrown with nettles that gnarled at her bare legs with vicious rashes. She kept calling, calling your name. She lifted up bramble branches and stumbled over headstones, great slabs of granite and crumbling rocks from long ago. Gothic designs and Celtic knots, chunks of greenish mould eating into what was once precious stone. The falls were painful more from shame than anything else. She found herself lying behind some humble tomb, the thorns of rotting roses piercing her thighs as she kept trying to call out your name, her voice growing hoarser and hoarser until it was hardly a whisper. If only she were less solid, then you could have watched her.

You know that this place holds the remains of Sigmund Freud?

You know that there is a certain grave which, when lifted, holds only a void?

You know that this is sacred soil; that serene strains of magic seep through the top moss and the undergrowth? You might walk through it now and you will notice the fungus thriving in the damp tree bark, the robins twittering cheerily from the tallest memorial, unaware that their song is lost in the deep presence of death. Nature here is a darkness that you cannot touch.

But it touches her, it touches her harshly. She feels it in the lashes and rashes and purple bruises that mark her legs, in the rain that now pours from the sky and coldly scolds her flushed cheeks. The place where now the woodlice and squirrels will eat her key, until the winter takes it with layers of frost. She feels the dead mocking her; for if they are one thing it is not lost.

She is wrong of course. For you will never be settled as they are; you will never return home as you forever wander the forest. And she will call for you, but still you will not hear her cry.

Prompts: graveyard photo, lost, key

by Maria Rose Sledmere

…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

Crossing Over

I stand here.  The wood feels so solid beneath my feet.  It’s undeniable, and yet, and yet I feel like I could be drowning in the water below, swept away on its wings whilst suffocating.  I gaze up at the stars, wishing they would speak to me, would shine just that little bit more brightly when one of my thoughts is voicing its argument.  One of my two thoughts. Forward, or back.  Straight, or turn.  Save, or suffer.

This is just a bridge.  There is one side, or the other, and yet I feel that this structure is as fathomless as the flowing body of water it shadows.  I take a step forward, two back, and then a pace.  I look up at the stars and down through the cracks at the water.  Both shining, glittering, but not guiding.  Ahead lies the certainty of an old future; behind the realisation of a new past.  Which light is the true beam of hope? I am locked in the darkness between them, standing on the bridge, the river of my decision flowing and ebbing, but not allowing me to cross.  Not yet.

by Sarah McLean
What were your prompts?: city skyline at night with a bridge.