White Tulips

White Tulips 

I’m half in love with the man who comes with the flowers. Every Wednesday afternoon he’s here, when the coffee cups are cleared and we’re waiting in limbo for five o’clock and the changeover and the evening folk. He wears grubby fleeces that my ma would sniff at, sometimes a baseball cap; but it’s okay, it’s turned the right way. He doesn’t speak much. Actually I was scared he was English or something, but then one day I took the tulips off him (they were white tulips, they lasted longer than a week so I took a few home when nobody was looking). When our hands brushed he looked up and said, all Glaswegian like, Will I just get the payment at the bar? like he’d not been here a million times before and like maybe he just wanted something to say. I looked back and smiled and I was still smiling when I realised I should reply and so said Aye.

It’s his last day today. I’m hiding in back of house because I don’t want to see him and be sad. J is texting me asking if I want to come over to his tonight cos he has a waterbed now and a new Xbox game, like I care about either of those things. Go on, speak to him. My manager’s taking glee in my discomfort as always but it’s only cos she loves me. Just ask him for his number. She brushes my hair through to make it shiny.

I’ve never asked a boy for his number in my life. Like, I’ve never needed to. It’s never occurred to me. Guys watch me like I’m something on the screen and they can’t draw their eyes away. Creeps are everywhere, you just have to pick the good ones. They’re always nice at first but then it’s boring. I never think of what comes next, just what’s on offer the now. All those WhatsApp notifications and the dirty pictures they send me—like a girl wants to look at a thing like that, mushrooming in darkness and ugliness. My manager calls it Ego.

There’s never enough time to sort through the messages, to sift out the good ones. I could have a man for every night of the week if I wanted. But who would?

I don’t even know his name. I used to have this daydream where we’d be walking around B&Q together—you know the outdoor garden bit—and every now and then he’d stop to tell me what things were called. He knew the names of all the flowers and shrubs and sometimes the trees. He’d say words like cascades and ovals and crescents, gesturing to the jungle of stuff around us. I didn’t care about the names but I liked that he wasn’t quiet or awkward like other boys and that he would just talk and talk so I could listen. We’d go for hot chocolates afterwards and maybe he’d meet my granny who would like him a lot cos he always says Thanks and Take Care. He’d bring her tulips, white ones, like the ones he gave me.

He’s leaving out the door now with the other girl from the florist whose fleece matches his. They’re carrying the boxes of last week’s flowers, with the shrivelled tips and the silver gravel and that weird green thing they call oasis. The bell for the kitchen is ringing but I wait till he’s all the way out the door.

Take Care, I whisper, hating myself.  I enter the kitchen and my manager pulls me aside.

Here.

What is it?

I flip open the card and there’s a clipart picture of Robert Burns roses in a vase. The name of the florist, an email, a number.

Never too late, she says, brushing past me with the confidence I want.

/ Maria Sledmere

(fff prompts: vase)

The Muse

He was fleeting. He flitted. He never stayed still. He would appear on the subway and in the shop, in glimpses and lingering looks and every time he wore a different face. Scarved in december, hunched into his own coat with eyes you hoped were haunted. He had fallen out with his mother, or his brother was poorly or maybe he had lost his job. There was wine in your flat to soothe his sorrow but he is fleeting and had disappeared into the crawling beam of a headlamp. You see him in flashes in a nightclub, orange hair turning to flame under the strobe light and you know he is passionate. He would be quick to anger and quick to forgive, because quickness is in his nature. And when April comes, he is new like the spring, bearded and brunette and as gentle as dawn as he cycles past your bedroom. An artist, maybe, framed within your window panes for a fateful second before the film burns and he is gone, curling into the wind like ash. It is a soft summer evening and he has soft summer eyes, his hair golden and competing with the sun. His sleeve brushes against a bush in bloom and a flower sighs to the ground. You follow behind him and pick it from the path and pose it against the picture frame on your book shelf. But he is fleeting and winter bursts upon the city once more and the flower shrivels into the polaroid.

Prompt: ‘Fleeting’

By Louise McCue.

The Bluebell Cliffs

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The woods are very calm and still.

We used to come here at dusk, taking the car out after work, driving along the coast road. There were days when I could so easily give up my worries to nature. I thought I was a forest child; I thought at heart, like you, I was something free and wild.

As you walk, the sea is on your right, the woods on your left. The light comes down in gold cascades, catching the gold green filter of the leaves, casting dapples dancing on the path before you. In some memory it is June and the bluebells are out. They spread across the forest floor, tipped with pink and gold, swaying in the haze of a mystical dream. It is so easy to retreat into the trees, their sleepy sigh of imminent twilight. I took a picture of you once, with the bluebells behind you, the branches around you and a handful of leaves in your hair. So beautiful I could have left you there.

We always sat, out of breath, on our favourite bench overlooking the ocean. You used to joke, “this is where I want my ashes scattered,” and god how I thought you were so morbid! There were stories you told me, about the faeries that lived in the forest, that kept watch over the ocean, guarding sailors and smugglers from a terrible fate on the rocks.

“The cliffs here are deceiving,” is what you told me. You grew up here; you knew this place like the inside of your own mind. I wanted to explore every turn of the path, every flower and whorl of wood. I never had the chance. I’m still trying.

I am bitter about the irony – the cliffs are deceiving. So you should have known their depth, their statuesque peril. You, who knew everything.

But not the cloak of nettles and the drop beyond.

And who knows what you were doing, that autumn evening with conkers shining on the ground and the last of summer fading with you, like the daylight giving way to cold, sweet stars?

I walk here now and the sea is on my left, the trees on my right. I could count all the steps, the traces of all the times we came here before. Still I smell the wild garlic, the salt breeze lifting and cooling my skin. I sit on our bench and look out to the ocean, and who knows where you are, faerie that you are, flying to distant islands, silent and thin?

–Maria Sledmere

(flash fiction February prompts: flower, desolate, “Of it’s own beauty is the mind diseased” – Lord Byron quote)

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)

cherry melancholia

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Photo by Manuela Hoffman

cherry melancholia
Maria Sledmere

rain on the lawn; the greenness
dark and deep. a handful of shells
clotted in the mud with the blossoms,
the pink ones
from the cherry tree.

she walks out slowly,
snow petals swirling round her,
silent.

in the garden she will lie
where the grass is softest. she will lie
staring at the glass sky,
a sleepful of memory.

just love, the garden will say,
just love.
she forgot the place where he kissed her once—
it wasn’t here

but she returns anyway,
the grass feels sweet underneath her,
the air tastes golden, the first taste
of crab apples in autumn. love
set her going in spring, a silk cut
from a willow tree.

smoke rises in the distance
to the smell of cherry pie.
once he kissed her eyes, her cheeks;
he told her she was cinnamon.

in the garden now she is older,
older as the trees are, ring after ring
in each year, each reel of string
that she unwinds.

they come to bind
the sweet peas with twine.
bitter berries,
summer wine.

she is older
and the pie in her mouth now
is cloying; she is older
and the leaves are dying,
falling with the raindrops, the poor branches.

The garden speaks
now she is older, the rings round her eyes—
old pools of light, cherry pie,
speaking
of melancholia.

(prompts: eloquent, garden)

Honey and Frost

Honey and Frost
Maria Sledmere

At night I listen to the voices: some
are soft like honey
poured in your ears; others
grasp and grate at you, the raw frosty ones –
full of knowledge beyond you.

The honey ones speak of things I like:
love and music and life.
Oh, she’s married now to that man in the film —

What a cracker of a —
Here’s the latest track from a band called —
You never get the ending because
you’re always listening for the next part.

I love it in the dark, 
the sounds at night;
they are what keeps me awake—
I don’t like to sleep or to dream.
I dream of the cold fingers, coming
out of the darkness all creamy and hungering,
covering the bedclothes with their prints.
They are like frost on my skin
and sometimes in the morning I think I can see their prints
though most likely they have melted.

The raspy voices know all about my dreams of fingers,
but they never let on. They talk about news
and politics to pass the time;
Their words fill the walls like rime.
You can scrape the white crusts off the walls,
feel the cold in the nerves of your fingers.
I had never heard voices like these before;
it was like my dreams had morphed
the voices on the radio.

I have an old purple radio: my Mum
calls it a retro one. It’s purple like a nightshade.
The aerial glints silver
and if you wave it around, the sound will change.
I can warp the voices, stop the words
before they make sense. Make them noise.

All day the songs from the nighttime fill my head.
They are mixed up with the honey voices,
sweetly swaying like my body
tossing around the bed. I write down
what I hear and the notes don’t make sense.
They are nothing but black pinpricks
which escape like moths, taking flight
from the white sheet of my page.

You could not play the same song again that way;
not like you can on the radio.

I think one day I will stop dreaming altogether;
a day without toast and tea, a day without weather.

There will be moths in my room,
caught up, stickily, in the frost. I will pick them out
like dead flowers. They will crush
to dust in my fingers.
The nighttime will come
in silence.

(Prompts: moths, purple, retro)

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

Tiptoe through the Tulips

‘My mum loves tulips.’ Derek said.
‘They’re crocuses.’ Janis said as she slowly walked alongside of her companion.
‘Oh, what the difference?’
‘Tulips are tall and … well they’re just different.’
‘Which do you prefer?’
‘Well … to be perfectly honest Derek, I’ve never given it all that much thought.’
Derek was being the perfect gentleman. So often he had asked Janis Olsen to come for a walk, so often she had refused. Now she had condescended to escort him on this early spring afternoon. As they passed the primary school. the children were singing.
‘We plough the fields and scatter, the good seed on the land …’
‘It will be lent soon.’ Derek said softly.
‘What?’ Janis looked at him, puzzled.
‘Hearing the children sing that hymn reminds us that the Lenten season is almost upon us. What are you giving up?’
‘Giving up, Derek?’ I’m not giving anything up.’
‘Oh … ‘ Janis wasn’t sure if that was disappointment or disapproval.
‘Do you ever think about when you will get married and start a family?’ Derek asked, a dreamy look on his face.
‘Wistful thinking Derek.’ Janis though but she only said. ‘In short, no.’
‘You should.’
‘I’m married to the job.’ She said. As if on cue, the afternoon ‘Air’ rolled past. J.C. was in charge and she sounded the horn to draw Janis’s attention. Janis waved and J.C. waved back.
‘Why don’t you give the trains up, Janis.’ Derek sighed. ‘People will think that you’re … one of … them.’ Janis stopped. She turned to face Derek.
‘One of … WHAT, Derek?’
‘A … a … GAY woman.’
‘A Gay woman? What ARE you talking about Derek?’
‘You know, they’re all the same. L-L-LESBIANS!’
‘Better than being a hasbian like some of your friends Derek.’
‘That’s not nice, Janis.’ Derek protested.
‘You know Derek, I could say that I’m enjoying this walk and this little tete’a tete but that would be deceitful … no, it would be downright lies! The truth is Derek, I’d much rather be on that engine with J.C. Evans, not wandering about with you like a fart in a trance. Sorry Derek, I’m not sure what your motivations were in asking me for a walk today. So, I’ll take my leave of you, good day!’
Derek stood and watched the receding figure stride across the machair.
‘Women,’ he sighed. ‘I’ll never understand them!’

Prompts: wistful, deceit, crocus photo
by Jane Jones

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

The Step-mother’s Flower

“My darlings!” He cried swooping the three young girls in to his arms. His little flowers were sprouting up fast. Annabelle was yet a fledging and Rosy was beginning to bloom but Elsa’s petals had been long since opened. The two younger girls could remain quietly oblivious believing that their step-mother was the warm loving haven they had been promised. But as Elsa, pale, stared wistfully in to her father’s eyes she could not conceal from him her own lies that served to drown the deceit of her step-mother. Elsa was a precious flower. A flower who had been prematurely plucked.

What were your prompts?: tulips, wistful, deceit

by Hayley Rutherford