Liminal Preparations

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There are cracks where the light breaks down and all the darkness left is nougat for shadow. I devour all I have; which is just this small room, a cabin that sways all night and day. When the sad hours come I fold into a question mark, hoping for nothing but sleep. The sea will rock me to sleep. This is less being than breathing.

As the hours pass, the honey crystallises in the jar on the window. I am always in water and yet the memories are hard and congealed. A lump of obsidian brought back from disaster. Black glass, hardened felsic lava. It’s smooth and slick enough to lick, a sliver of very dark chocolate. Bittersweet howl of the elements.

Sunshine feeds me nothing. The moonlight on the decking is lovely. My skin is like frosting, covered in crystals, white and shining. Gulls come in from the west on the thrust of the wind and we hear in our sleep their shouting. I live in the thin space, the evening whisky, the wafer of salty obsidian. I dream of a firth where the seaweed clogs the gorge of the sea and all is a dark, gelatinous, bottle green. You could float and not drown and the world would have you like that, microbial.

These hexagons dripping with golden honey, these desolate soundscapes of gun-coloured grey. If I close my eyes, close my eyes…If I am adrift like this for long, the mariner I’m sure will come for me. He knows these waves, these tides, like I know my childhood streets. He is still in his own way alive; still fighting for that acrid day, the old promise of solid concrete. Until then, I must blow this skin into glass, glow molten for a dawn that may not arrive.

/Maria Sledmere



You would have given anything to trade these white walls for the impossible depths of the forest. Sometimes, when time refused its submission to the laws of physics, you applied your third eye to the blankness, trying to conjure the trees and the passages of mosses and curious flowers. The child who found comfort in the smells of peat and fern, the pollen of trees.

“Water?” The voice at the door. Sometimes, reflections shifted along the metal grate and you mistook them for rats. There was a reason for the nibble marks at the corner of your bed sheet.

Back in the summer of your most significant year, you spent all your days in the forest. She taught you it all: how to use moss to squeeze out drinking water, how to make garlands from branches of ivy, how to select edible mushrooms, to pick special berries which made you sick for days in a wild coma. Nobody cared where either of you were. The first time with the berries you had tangled yourselves in a fall of leaves and lay there for what felt like a week. The changes from dawn to dusk, twilight to midnight, startled your heightened senses. Dark lashes upon gold would gorge your eyeballs. She found you endlessly hilarious in a way nobody has since. Her limbs around you like tree roots, securing. She was three years older; she knew everything. She would talk about the early days when the country was ravished by conflicts. It was a fairy tale, a terrible fiction cloaked in the dust of her accent, its gravel, its distance. Impossible to predict that such a thing could happen again.

“Water?” The door banged open, a bowl was set down. A shadow turned and left.

Sometimes in dreams you’re under a waterfall. The deepest grove in the forest. The sun from above refracts and sparkles in the downward surge, which you see from beneath as a converging spiral of quartz-bright light. When you wake the white of the walls is blinding. The water tastes metallic. The bruise round your eyes never heals; its permanence is the nightshade power of poisoned safflower, a strong red tint that blurs your vision. He comes in the morning to beat it again, beating the sight out of you. You focus on the white, on the waterfall, the shimmering distance of the forest.

Your ribs have been cracked. Your spine twisted like a thread of rope pulled tight in a coil, each knot clicking out of place, screech after scratch. The searing quality of this pain you have channelled back into the white. The edges shiver. Your skull has been cracked against the cistern. He holds your hair in a fist, calls it torture. You have no answers. You are only white.

There is a hollow inside you. A child inside you. She is cold and quivers in the bowers of pines, her skin scored raw by the coarsest hide. She listens for the girl who would tell her the secrets. She has not been broken; she lives in the hollow like the seed of an oak tree, her breathing remembering a dream of eternity.

One thing he cannot crack.

She taught her how to tie a necklace from dark elastications of pitch and sap. The little acorn pendant hidden in the crest of her neck, a bead between two chest bones. How she relished those chest bones, the unbroken curves, the bead of the acorn, impeccably shelled. The child inside her, cold, quivering, alone?

/ Maria Sledmere

(fff prompt: acorn)

Starlight Smoke


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)


The Middle-Aged Marijuana Smoker

middle age marijuana smoker

The only colour in her apartment was the red cushions, scattered like poppy blushes across the white sofa. The walls were not quite white, more of a wheyish shade of grey. She had an aluminium fridge, grey kitchen surfaces with a faint metallic sparkle, a bed frame made of steel. Everything was sharp and clean; all objects reflected a futuristic sheen.

Five years she had lived here. She had moved once she got the promotion to senior partner at the law firm. B… had carved out her pristine habitat from the initial slum of antique junk, scrubbed the dirt from the walls, installed the latest in laundry technology so as to ensure the flawless condition of her garments. Hired the finest interior designers to select her metals, spent hours perfecting the colour scheme. In this world of gleaming mirrors, B… felt pure. She could live this fantastic, unfussy existence. She very rarely cooked or even ate in her apartment; food introduced colour and smell and roughness of texture – all of which were dirty. There was, indeed, only one dirty thing which polluted her apartment.

The estate agent said she’d have to watch that. The ashtray.

It was made of finely cut crystal, and it never occupied the same place consistently. The ashtray was the one thing from the original apartment that B… had kept. She’d found it underneath the Ikea coffee table which the previous owners had left. Of course, B… would have gotten rid of it – along with the grandfather clock and the vintage cutlery – but she had a problem. She smoked a lot of cannabis, and quite frankly needed somewhere to tap the ashes.

That was her connection to the outside world. She would open a window and light a freshly-rolled spliff (not once did she spill tobacco on her carpet) and let the city air mingle with the sweet-smelling smoke. The warm haze would swathe her brain and so she would lie back against her red cushions and close her eyes and think of nothing. It was beautiful, the nothingness of everything; the haze coming over her, warm and red.

It was like the dancing of bees, spreading their wax and making combs of honey. B… could see all those hollows of nectar form in her brain, gooey and sweet, like forgetting. The more stoned she got, the more she would fall through those sticky catacombs.

Recently, she had been smoking a lot more because of her troubles. She had lost her job. She was struggling to sell her apartment. The agent said she was asking too high a price for it, so she lowered her offer; then they said nobody was interested because the lower price cheapened it. She was reminded of the early negotiations she had with her dealer, the one who drifted in and out of prison, but never failed to deliver when she made her fortnightly pilgrimage to his dingy bedsit.

The problem was, she’d recently lost a case. A very important case. It had cost her law firm millions, and now she was close to bankrupt. She liked the law because it was clear cut, appearing to her in clean strings of logic and declarations; but this case had dissolved all that certainty. She found herself swamped in micro-clauses and tangles of dissonant opinions. She would start to binge eat late at night, leaving chocolate wrappers like beached purple fish on the perfect surface of her kitchen.

She smoked more weed, lost more money.

She tried to clean up her life again.

One day, the agent brought round three hopeful tenants. B… met them at the door in a snow-white bathrobe. They appeared to be students, but since students had money too she let them trudge round the rooms, inspecting everything and making jibes to each other.

“Maybe she has OCD,” one of them whispered, thinking B… was out of earshot.

“I think I can smell weed,” another giggled.

After the tour, they signed the lease agreement straightaway and B… closed the door behind them in mild triumph. She took off her white slippers and started to run a bath. She had a good fat blunt waiting for her in the secret ashtray.

She was just taking off her bathrobe when she noticed the mark on the floor of her hallway. It was a dirty scuff mark, vermillion red, from something stuck to someone’s shoe. As if a minuscule creature had been crushed into her carpet. Just like a student to do a thing like that, bringing insects into the house.

The thing was though, B… didn’t seem to care. She shrugged and didn’t even bother trying to clean it. What use was a clean world now? In fact, it was nice to see something tainted. Cathartic, even.

Naked, she sank into her steaming bath. She lit up her spliff and took a long, hot drag from the smouldering embers, letting the smoke spread round the room, the ash curl and flake into the water. It wasn’t long before she was drifting off, the familiar hum and buzz filling her ears again, the terms of contract unravelling before her, melting into the bubbles. She was free.

— Maria Sledmere

(flash fiction february prompts: minimal, sold, daze)