Aidan & Ariel

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The pair of them, born under Gemini in two different continents and yet here they were, together in a tent that was perched quite precariously on a mountainside out in the Cairngorms. The natural darkness of an evening made them sleep far earlier than they would’ve at home in their busy city lives. Ariel suffered perpetually from bouts of insomnia and the sound of the crickets humming kept her awake, even here in the stillness. She crawled out around midnight, leaving her sleeping bag in a shrunken ball, and decided upon a miniature hike up to the crags of their chosen mountain.

Only yesterday Aidan had said to her, By god you’re weird. He meant something about the way she crumbled her food into bits before she could eat it, or how she had to comb her hair 33 times each night, or how she wouldn’t stop singing that old Tim Buckley song, ‘Song to the Siren’ at all hours of the day. Ariel couldn’t help it; it was a damn fine tune and a treat to hear her voice in reverb, soaring out across the valley and shivering in the pines.

They had met at a business conference in Edinburgh only a year or so ago. Aidan worked for an old-fashioned company who made money from burning coal; Ariel for a startup who sold trendy mineral water at what Aidan considered an extortionate price. His whole brand was money to burn, while hers was clean and pure. They’d become good friends by ripping into the hypocrisies of their mutual employers while sneaking coffee breaks behind the corporate screens; after the interval for lunch, they sat next to each other and he’d scribbled funny notes on her ring-binder. When the day was over, they exchanged Outlook accounts and spent the next few months writing hundreds of urgent, enthusiastic emails to each other. They gushed about a mutual love for the wilderness, their craving for air and light and the shelter of mountains beneath sunset skies. Aidan quibbled with Ariel’s definition of the sublime. They argued about music: she was a ballad girl with a heart for folksongs and lost shanties passed down through her father’s radio; he liked fiery punk rock, the kind where the singer had to spit frequently onstage as if the words had congealed in his mouth.

Now they were here. By some miraculous alignment of mystical equations, they found themselves cooking pasta together on a cheap stove and taking long, leg-killing walks over burns and hillsides. The weather had at least been intermittently kind. Ariel and Aiden had gotten on so well, talking incessantly about their respective lives and admiring the scenery; but things had changed as of yesterday, when they visited the Wells of Dee. It was almost dark by the time they found the treasured landmark, neither of them being particularly adept with maps – in the city, you could just trust Google. All afternoon, they had traipsed for hours through boggy terrain, the land around them smelling of coldness and snow and pale sweet heather. It was summer, but they suspected that here it would always smell of snow. At the Wells, the dusk rose its lilac shroud around them as they stood before the river’s source, its outflow splashing off the mountainside in dramatic ripples of silver. There was a deep sense of mystery contained in that lake of water, an opaqueness of grey that would not give up its secret even as one broke the surface with a boot or a stick or a finger. Standing by the water, Aidan observed a change come over Ariel. She shook out her French plait, which had gathered considerable dishevelment from three days of hiking. She pulled off her socks and shoes and rolled up her oil-black leggings and waded into the pools. Come in, it’s lovely. He shook his head and just stood there, watching, an impenetrability suddenly coming between them.

In a sense, this was the zenith of her being before him. She was purely, utterly in her element. She splashed the freezing water on her face, arms flailing playfully. Later that evening, cooking her soup on the stove, he burnt the back of his hand quite badly.

She had felt for the burn in the dark of the tent. Its tender red tissue was swollen; it felt like touching the mulch of a distant planet. She unravelled her body and entered the night alone. The crags found her as if by instinct and soon she was sitting in her night slip and cardigan knit, bearing her body to the moon.

She knew that soon he would wake at the sound of a kestrel bursting from the forest, its firework snap following rumbles that shook the bristled tops of trees and spread like a spell across the mountains, like the promise of some imminent eruption. She knew that he would open his arms and there would be a gaping space where she was supposed to be. Then the igneous lump of his heart would incur its first melting. Until then, what else was there to do but study the constellations?

/ Maria Sledmere

(fff prompt: zenith)

 

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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)

Starlight Smoke

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Starlight Smoke

Six packs. He slips them neatly in his pockets, stubs a cigarette out on the concrete, orange tip entering a galaxy of gum and gravel. Stars are incongruous tonight, too much warmth in the air; there’s something about a star that suggests silvery shivers and winter. Pieces of ice, dead shards of light.

No less than ten minutes till the bus comes, but for whatever reason he lets it pass when it does, trundling by in hot dark smog.

He wanders all the way up the high street, cuts down two alleys, across the park and up to the close along near Tesco’s. Takes twice as long. Ash stains on the buttons where folk have stubbed out fags. He can feel the crinkle of their fingerprints as he pushes the buzzer for flat 6/3. There’s always a delay; he pictures her listening to music under the sheets with her legs swinging long in the air. Smell of burnt pizza and marijuana. Sweat. Such a walk up the stairs.

– Hey.

– Hey yourself.

They kiss so casual now. He’s perfected it on the stage of street corners; the quick nip before she twirls away.

The flat’s in total shadow. She hovers in the doorway like a moth, briefly attracted to the light in the hall, before ushering him in. This is the moment he’d like to melt his tongue in the heat of her throat, but they don’t do that anymore. The walls don’t bear their bodies like before. They’re fixed to the ground, a distance between them.

Some kind of lo-fi dub thrums from her room. The vibrations stir in his gut.

– Kitchen?

– Sure.

Whir of kettle steam. Dirt-rich grounds of coffee. He watches her fuss in the cupboards, looking for mugs. Pulls out Silk Cuts.

– Want one?

– I thought you were gonna quit.

– Six more. Packs that is. Jason bought them in duty-free, seemed a shame to waste.

– I wish you wouldn’t in here. The landlady…

He lights it anyway, then lights another one on the glow of the first. Passes it to her. Electric twitch as they brush fingertips. She takes the longer drag.

– Damn.

– It’s been some day.

– I’ll say.

He watches her float by the cooker. There’s a 27% chance she’ll cook rice and chilli if he sits tight long enough. The smoke swirls up in wispish clouds from her mouth as she fingers a bottle of wine in lieu of the forgotten coffee. In ten minutes, the lipstick will dry with a reddish stain and the soft skin will peel and crackle, plastic. She’s prettier that way, a bit of a bee-sting. Later, her hair will drape over the sheets, tobacco scent gleamed with grease. In the morning, by the window, she’ll comb out the aroma. The nicotine mist comes off her as he reads her aura. Under her nails, skin flakes and fridge crystals. Suddenly, he wants to kiss her.

Steam from the kettle. Shuffling of slippers; the flatmate practicing speeches next door.

– Can’t keep her grounded, that one.

– I’ll say.

Her mouth breathes out greyish vapours when she talks. Soon, he’s feeling his hand in her hair, its sticky rivulets. His vision slipping out of focus. Somehow she’s with him on the chair and the candlelight flickers. Tiny particles spill like glitter against the window. There’s a sign on the wine saying ‘Recipe for Lust’. Together, entwined like this, they can only combust.

/ Maria Sledmere

(FFF prompts: galaxy, cigarette)

 

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)

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)

Strawberries & Cream

Water cascades from the convergence point of the two lids, at the cusp, where the milky white of the sclera turns red and fleshy. The bottom lid puckers slightly, so to allow the liquid to flow in quicker succession. Where the cheekbone protrudes, the drops fall from the face and carelessly into the bowl below, each trickle making a dot in the cream and exposing the corpulent red of the strawberries beneath. The body’s water fuses with the cream, and dilutes it until the consistency wanes. But it does not matter, for her appetite is gone, and her menial portion teases voluptuousness. The stream ebbs now, blotted by a damp and crumpled tissue, which is subsequently tossed aside, to a pile of similar endeavors.

The man stares upward to the ceiling of his room, his fulfilled desire had transpired to sickness; a momentary slip through the fabric of sanity, his senses, for a minute, a separate entity. But they had came together again now, and the realisation tormented him, for he had forced the soul of another unto his, and had stained the inner walls of its cavity. He got up and opened a whiskey bottle, and drank until it dribbled from his mouth. The alcohol deluged him, and cleansed his defiled innards. He continued to drink until the bottle was finished, and not long after did it fall, from the released tension of his fingers.

by Marcus Bechelli
What were your prompts?: Waterfall, Strawberry

The Magpie and the Spider

- Micolo J. https://www.flickr.com/photos/robin1966
– Micolo J. https://www.flickr.com/photos/robin1966

Lucy had a secret. A secret she hadn’t told to her father or mother or even her best friends.

She knew a magpie that came to see her almost everyday. She had a special connection with this magpie. She would feed it scraps of bread or handfuls of seeds, and in return, every now and then, it would bring her little treasures. Sometimes it was just a paperclip or a pin, but Lucy’s magpie had also brought her marbles, tacky rhinestone bracelets, a plastic heart charm, a set of silver keys, a heavy metal screw, chain necklaces and once a solid gold wedding band. Such a magical time it had been when the magpie brought her that wedding band; he had dropped it in their hiding place behind the garden shed, where it glinted happily amidst the filth and compost. Scraping away the crumbling mud, Lucy had tried on the ring. It was beautiful and heavy, though somewhat too big for any of her fingers. She had not stowed it away in her special drawer along with all the other gifted trinkets, but rather wore it on a rope of string around her neck, hidden beneath her t-shirt. A few days later, she had heard her parents talking about an advertisement for a missing ring in the local newspaper, but Lucy had not said a word. The ring was hers and while she wore it she felt safe; she knew she had the luck of a magpie’s love.

The magpie had been coming to see Lucy for years. At first she thought it was just chance that this bird decided to reward her efforts at sneaking food from the kitchen, but she had entered into a psychic relationship with the creature. She swore to herself that she could read its thoughts. Really, the magpie wanted the same things as her. A secret, special friend. The magpie never came to the garden in a pair, unlike the other birds. He was always alone.

Even in these winter mornings, Lucy would get up early to wait in the garden for the magpie. She would leave piles of crushed-up crisps or cereal out on the tree stump at the back of the garden. A little chaffinch danced on the branches of her mother’s apple tree, tentatively shuffling its wings as if deciding whether or not to fly. Nasty, pecking blackbirds would often swarm upon the lawn, digging their sharp beaks in the dewy soil for worms. With the wedding band thumping against her chest, Lucy had to chase them away so that they would not eat her magpie’ s breakfast. For the magpie was truly her soulmate, and she would not let other birds pillage her precious offerings.

One evening Lucy was returning to her room from brushing her teeth when she saw on the wall above her bed a massive spider. It was obviously a remnant of the winter spiders, who occupied her parents’ house from September to March to find shelter from the cold. It was late at night – too late to wake her parents – and Lucy could not go to bed with such a thing in the room. It was a horrid blot upon the perfect cream of her bedroom walls; a blot that unfortunately was often moving. She watched with disgust as it extended its creeping legs, wiggling the black mark of its body. Sometimes, the legs lifted and bent and lifted again as if they were pincers. Lucy was really starting to feel quite sick.

It was too high up to catch in a jar, and there was no use throwing something at it because it would only fall straight down and bury itself in Lucy’s bed.

So she clambered onto her windowsill and pulled open the heavy window. The night smelt fresh and cool, almost like a summer night, though those were still far away. There were the usual suburban sounds, the glow of other windows; but nothing more, nothing more at all. Underneath her nightie Lucy stroked the ring for comfort, beginning to sing her favourite song. Her voice left the house slowly, the haunting melody travelling through the night like a fly struggling through thick black molasses. There was a thin moon watching her. It was the only thing in the universe that knew that Lucy was calling, calling out for her magpie familiar.

And it came. It landed on the dark grass and looked up at her with its flashing amber eye.

“There’s a spider in my room. A nasty wicked spider. You must kill it for me, Mr. Magpie.”

The bird screeched with its habitual rattling cackle. It tilted its head just so.

“Please Mr. Magpie,” Lucy called out. She held her arms out to the dark night and with this beckoning the magpie suddenly swooped up and flew right past her into her bedroom. Squawking loudly, it flapped about with an air of mania until Lucy switched the light on. She pointed to the slowly-moving spider on the wall.

“There,” she whispered. The magpie seemed reluctant at first. It turned its head to gaze at Lucy. And how could any human being fathom what that strange bird was thinking; what lay behind the opaque brilliance of those amber eyes? But Lucy knew; Lucy knew her magpie would do whatever she asked. She watched as it raised its wings and soared into the wall, clutching the spider in its gnarled claws and crushing it into a tangled ball. Lucy watched with a kind of horrified delight as the magpie shrieked triumphantly, before swooping through the window again and out into the darkness, bearing the spider with it. Trying to stifle her laughter, she slammed down the window and admired the lovely canvas of her clean wall. Not a trace of death; not a trace of the spider. She climbed into bed and slept like a baby, oblivious to the distant rumbles of a gathering storm. In fact, only once did she drift from her slumber, seeing her window lit up with fiery lightning; but quickly she fell back to sleep again.

In the morning, Lucy awoke to mellow sheets of sunlight pouring through her window, and the sound of her mother knocking on the door.
“Come in.”
Her mother entered and handed Lucy a glass of milk.
“What was all that commotion in here last night?” she asked, her voice tinged with a hint of dread.
“Oh, what commotion? It must’ve been the storm,” Lucy said innocently. She drank the milk hungrily and wiped the traces of it from her lips.

Once she was dressed, Lucy headed into the garden to put the washing out for her mother. The storm had left behind a perfect day, with fair blue skies and the twinkle of birdsong and blush of hopeful crocuses. Spring would be coming soon. In her bare feet, Lucy stepped across the grass, which gleamed lushly with beads of rain and felt soft against her skin. The sun was warm on her cheeks as she pegged up the damp scraps of washing.

When she had finished, however, she noticed a scorched patch of grass and something dark at the back of the garden, by the shed. Perhaps the ground had been struck by lightning in last night’s storm. But as she crept closer, Lucy’s heart seized up like a frightened animal. Just there, lying on the grass beside the burnt patch, was her magpie. For the first time she noticed the fine jewelled beauty of its feathers: the blue, green and burnished red that gleamed in the sun like powdered sapphires. The glossiness of its black and white body, the marble jewel of its knowing eye. With shaking fingers, Lucy lifted back its wings, and alas it did not respond to her touch. She was certain it was dead; but that was all she knew. A bead of a tear escaped her shining eyes. Kneeling down, not caring now that the neighbours might see her, she took off the necklace with the wedding-band. Carefully, she placed it beside the magpie, and turned it gently over to face the sky. As she did so, a tiny spider crawled out from underneath its body, scarpering out over the scorched soil.

And there was nothing or nobody to hear Lucy’s frightened cry.

Prompts: spider, treasure

by Maria Rose Sledmere

Little Lamb

Little Lamb who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?

(William Blake, ‘The Lamb’).

A cloudless morning with the glint of spring and smell of distant woodsmoke. Graham was shifting hay for the horse, the strain in his back wrenching every time he bent and lifted the pitchfork. The horse kicked and snorted in the stable opposite, impatiently awaiting her new abode. Jasmine was a haughty one, a retired racehorse whose bulging muscle helped drag the old carts over the field when the trailer broke down – which, these days, it often did. Every now and then, Graham stopped his work to give Jasmine a Polo mint and a hearty pat on the flank.

“Makes me sad to see you upset,” he cooed to her, “I’ll be finished soon.” Jasmine sniffed.

This was the last spring that Graham would spend on the farm. He was fifty five years old and had lived there all his life. The thought of leaving pained him more than the crick in his spine.

The task was to clean up the land and the barns and sort everything before summer. The architect kept ‘popping round’ to inspect the grounds and survey the house, but aside from dishing out cups of tea, Graham and his family did their best to ignore him. It was unbearable to be reminded of what was soon to happen.

Graham’s wife, Marjorie, had pulled down all the old junk from the loft. There were books with mouldy pages, miniature soldiers, a typewriter they had sold for twenty pounds in a local jumble sale. One of the few things they had kept was a toy lamb. Its label was frayed and it had lost some of its fluff, but was still soft and awfully sweet, with bright little marble eyes. Marjorie had hand-washed it in the sink, gently scrubbing the attic’s must and muck from its fur. Watching her in the kitchen through the twinkling dust particles, Graham felt he had never loved his wife more. Thirty two years and nothing came between them.

Graham decided to give the lamb to his grandchild, Ella. She needed something to remind her of her roots. When his son Andrew had told him he was going for a job in the city, Graham had tried not to show his disappointment.

“It’ll be a good life, Dad,” Andrew had said as they looked out over the wheat fields, “with good pay and security. Times are changing.”

Yes, times were changing. There was no denying that now.

There was the ever-plunging price of dairy; the endless inspections; the cost of upgrading machinery. People leaving the village because rural life simply wasn’t feasible these days.

Once, Graham had held visions of his daughter inheriting Jasmine, galloping across the fields with her glossy copper hair streaming behind her like reeds underwater. There would be homemade jam and Sunday breakfasts, early mornings of pearly dawn, showing his children how to milk and lamb and clean the cows. But his son was a lawyer, and his daughter had died, years ago now. Her ashes were scattered out in the hills, where the wind-turbines went on endlessly spinning. Soon, when they were forced to leave all they had ever known, there would be nothing left of her memory.

It was getting towards twilight now, and Graham had set off to bring the animals in. The sky was darkening with amethyst clouds as the crescent moon revealed herself, tired and wan. He too had never felt so weary. The collie dog was on her best behaviour and soon the sheep were under shelter, but he was having some trouble with the cows. He stood upon the hill shouting as if he were calling to the elements themselves. He shook and howled; he knew he was losing it. Droplets of rain began to fall on his face, mingling with his tears. Growing ever more violent, the crying sky splashed down on the soil and filled the holes in his boots.

Finally the cows were inside and Graham was trudging back towards the farmhouse, soaked to the skin. Just then, he saw a familiar car pull up in the drive. It was his son’s immaculate BMW, now apparently streaked with a line of mud. Graham heard the doors slam shut and the sound of voices. It was Ella, singing! Even with the cold rain dripping down his neck, the simple melody filled him with warmth. He rushed inside to join them.

“Bloody bushes caught the side of my car, you need to get them cut back Dad.” It was the first thing Andrew said to him. This time, however, Graham ignored his whiny voice.

“What’s the point when we’re leaving so soon?” He sighed.

They all sat down for Marjorie’s best steak pie, but when she looked at her plate, Ella protested that she’d become a vegetarian. Surprised but with a smile, Marjorie rustled up some pasta and ruffled the girl’s ginger hair as she served it to her.

“It’s just wrong to hurt animals,” Ella explained as she tucked into her dinner. And as Graham lifted a forkful of pie to his lips, he paused. He thought of the sorrow of market day, the poor beasts he’d had to sell because they were getting next to nothing for their milk. He thought of the chickens killed for their dinners, and the people that came in trailers to take away the lambs.

“You know, that reminds me of something.” Decisively, he put down his knife and fork and pushed away his plate. He left the room and Andrew and Marjorie exchanged confused glances, though nothing would keep them from their food.

A few moments later, Graham returned with the cuddly lamb. Something Ella had said struck a chord in his memory.

“I’ve got a little present for you,” he knelt by his granddaughter’s chair as he handed it to her, “I think you should have it, more than anyone else in the world.” Ella looked at him with shining eyes as she took the lamb and pressed its softness to her pink cheeks.

“Oh she’s lovely!”

“Lovely indeed,” Graham agreed. The toy had, of course, belonged to his own daughter. It was the missing piece; the only thing they could take away when they had to leave. And in Ella’s hands, Graham knew she would live on in the sweet innocence that had so suddenly been stolen from her.

Jasmine, now, would only live on as long as her legs weren’t lame, and the other animals would probably be taken away. The land might be tainted with steel and concrete. But at least Graham could leave behind the cruelties he now recognised. He could pass on the tiny piece of spirit that would never leave these hills. The spirit of sunlight and sadness, freedom and laughter; the spirit of his daughter.

(Prompts: rain, pitchfork)

by Maria Rose Sledmere

Pancakes

The gentle bubbling hiss as the smooth, satin batter slipped into the pan was a satisfying sound. I scattered some blueberries on top as the bottom began to cook and turn golden brown and spongey…these weren’t those thin pancakes like we used to flip onto the ceiling as kids on shrove Tuesday, the kind you have with lemon and sugar or jam and cream. These are fat, juicy, sexy American-style pancakes, the kind you stack with butter and smother in syrup.

He doesn’t need to know that I spent all of Thursday night practising how to make them without them being burnt on the outside and raw eggy goo on the inside. This morning at least they’re turning out perfectly and I’ve already got a sizeable stack building up on a plate beside the cooker. I’m hoping the smell and the soft sounds of the radio and the sizzle of batter will wake him, and he’ll come through, in his boxers, hair tousled, rubbing sleep from his eyes, and plonk himself down at the kitchen table, watching my backside peep at him from beneath his crumpled white shirt as I cook him the best breakfast of his life.

As it is though, I hear no sounds of movement as I’m spooning butter and syrup, and if I wait any longer they’ll get cold. I put the tray on the plate along with a coffee and a glass of fresh, squeezed orange juice, and suppress a smile as I sneak into the bedroom.

My face falls a little as I find him, wide awake, on his phone texting away.

‘Honey, I’ve made breakfast.’ I say tentatively. He glances up at me for a brief moment, barely registering my presence.

‘Oh, sweet. Yeah just put it on the side, I’m having a conversation.’

Rachel Norris
What were your prompts?: Pancakes, Sun

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