Flash Fiction February Submissions

As you may or may not have noticed, it is no longer February. But never fear! GUCW’s favourite monthly challenge is not all over and done with just yet.

As we get to compiling our anthology we are still in need of flash fiction stories for many of our daily prompts. So if any of you still have some work in the pipeline you have until mid-April to submit your stories for the anthology.

As well of stories we would love submissions of your artwork to accompany any pieces or simply artwork to decorate the anthology. You can use the prompts on the flash fiction page for inspiration but there will be a general “kitsch” feel to the anthology (-think cheesy 90’s pop).

Submit your work to: gucreativewritingsociety@gmail.com

Find the prompts here: Flash Fiction February 2k17

Can’t wait to see what you come up with!



**Days/ Prompts that haven’t been written on yet:**

22/02/17

Non-binary, pride,

101009617

 

24/02/17

Inconceivable, Iridescent,

“You keep saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”- Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

 

27/02/17

Negligible,  Damask,  

“This world that we’re a-livin’ in, is mighty hard to beat; You git a thorn with every rose, but ain’t the roses sweet!”- Frank Lebby Stanton

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Pan.

The sunbeams poured down in their decant eminence on to the valley below. Swathes of diaphanous colours fell and flowed amidst each other. I was not afforded the luxury of the sunlight. I sat, only in shadow, playing delicately on my pipes to fuel the sensuality of the scene beneath me. The fingers were curious the caressed and pried. A hand brushed a leg, a thigh, a little too high for my liking… and I was taken.  My lips pursed ever tighter and my fingers pulsated with frenzy. Below the garments flew; perfect pastels strewn and blending in to sultry, sickening flesh. And all was beige and writhing, clawing. My senses were agitated. I played on, rousing their limbs. Ecstasy and terror echoed around me threatening to drown my pipes so I played louder. Their unfolding was desire but their pleasure was consumption. Roots were clawed from their bedding and soon the harpies pooled in crimson. And then they were quiet my music echoed hauntingly in the silence. Oh, such a revelry, such a feast. It was the greatest I had orchestrated to date, but not the only. There had been so many pale frames pierced at my hand. There would be another tomorrow night, and another and another gain. Their music would escalate, their sighs would be endless but it would never be enough.

 

Prompts: Beam, enough, (picture)

So we actually did some work….

We had our first meet up tonight for the new semester and it was a great success! Thanks to everyone for coming along. Despite being in the pub and frequently distracted by beer and chips we actually managed to kick-start this year of creative writing in a pretty productive way. We did a little exercise where each group member took turns writing a line to build up a little story. Here are some samples from our fresh new faces!

Last Night

When I woke up I really wished I didn’t go there last night.

What I saw was imprinted on my eyeballs, every time I closed my eyes it flashed on negative.

I tried blinking, rubbing my eyes, hitting my head, anything to rid myself of the memories.

Nothing worked so the only thing left to do, my last hope, was to go back there and relive that fateful moment.

Tentatively I lowered my feet to the carpet. Even the soft touch of the wool sent spikes of pain up my toes.

Ignoring the aches I hobbled to the wardrobe and slipped in to some new clothes.

Then I opened the door, made my way downstairs and stepped in to the cold, dark night.

The street was dark but the figure ahead was clear.

There, at the end of the road, illuminated by the dim orange dusk of the streetlights stood a tall man in a long coat.

He lifted the coat up and I ran towards him.

The Moss

Drizzle feeds the moss on the wall.

The moss keeps expanding, eventually covering the whole wall and part of the footpath.

Her dog gets covered too and he’s likely to die.

The little girl is very sad and attempt to hold back the tears as they take him to an expert.

The expert confirms that the moss is doing the dog no good and he only has days left to live.

She watches as he turns to stone; the tail that once thumped a rapid rhythm of joy when he saw her solidifies.

Then his ears and his tongue turn in to stone too.

Next to solidify is his heart, and the girl’s goes too- never again can she love another dog so much.

She returns to the wall where the moss grew.

The drizzle starts up again.

“That’s so meta…”

“I volunteer to write the first line of the story,” volunteered David, heroically.

The entire group looked at him in awe.

As waves upon the shore lie….

An unwritten sentence, now write, or wait, now write, or! Wait… now write!

Fergus is confused. So is Molly.

The rest of the class, however, appeared to proceed with complete confidence.

But David was brave and Fergus was confused so where was the point?

There was a long silence with everyone looking at David

And he scrawled on to the paper: “I volunteer to write the first line of the story,” volunteered David, heroically.

At Long Last: Results from Summer Short Story Competition

So it’s September, and although it isn’t quite cold yet, I think it’s safe to say we’re pretty much saying goodbye to summer.

However, silver linings. We now ~finally~ have the list of winners from our Summer Short Story Competition. All entries were of very high standard and the voting was close – so much so that we had to have two rounds of voting!

A reminder that our theme was CHAOS and the results were decided via anonymous public voting.

All winners will be immortalised in our Hall of Fame!

Here are the results:

1st Place: Maria Rose Sledmere with “The Many Moons of Jupiter”

Joint 2nd Place: Rachel Norris with “The Path” and Rachel Walker with “From Here to There”

Third Place: Maura Kenny with “Mind Diving” 

Congratulations to all!

Anticipation of a Sound

We’re coming for you at 7.

6:59pm

Ma leg’s been twitching for the last three oors. Baith eh them, but no at the same time. Just the wan, gawn up n doon like the wee dugs ye get fur yer dashboard. Am always tappin away tae, drummin oan the desk. Only four eh my fingers, my thumb makes too much noise. It’s like playin air guitar withoot movin yer airms.

Only a minute tae go so I need tae pick the next song quickly wit can I listen tae in a minute I don’t huv many wan minute songs this wan’s only two and a hauf that’ll dae they might be late. A wee pop tune, some’hin light, hud the heedbangin’ shite oan aw day. Gets me pumped up – if I’m walkin’ tae an exam, or gaun up a hill, or need tae have a wan tae wan chat, it’ll be yon Linkin Park or some’hin else wae a load ah screamin’ in it.

I widnae mind sa much if I kent sooner. I ken it’s joost Laura and Pete and I ken I see them aw the time, and it’d be fine if it was just wan eh thur hooses wae were gawn tae, but it’s Friday and the pub’s gonnae be foo eh aw the wallopers fae aw ooer the toon. It’s the worst night tae go oot, along wae Saturday, but any night really, it’s always the busiest place on any night, and I cannae really haunl that.

I’ve brushed ma hair aboot four times in the last oor noo, it keeps messin up cuz I’m pure sweatin. I widnae really mind if we wurnae gawn oot, Laura and Pete dinnae care if ma hair’s a mess, though their parents might, or their flatmates might, or they might even if they say they dinnae, so I’d probably be dain this anywiy. Aye.

I’m breathin awffy fast, no sure if I should pace my room or chew ma thumbnail while ma leg geez it laldi. Wit if somebody fae school’s there and they talk tae me. They’ll probably be pished, like “aw how ye dain it’s been ages! Wit ye dain these days?” and I’ll stumble ooer ma words, I’ll ask thaim wit their dain, and then I’ll ask them again cuz it’s ma go-to conversation hing, even though ah’ve already asked. Alwiys ask them wit their dain and how their dain. Efter that just hope it goes somewhere. Try slow doon and no rush through the sentence tae, it helps if it’s no jist wan long howyedainwityebeenuptae? Ah might no meet them anywiy, might just be the three eh us and just a load eh randomers.

Mind you, there wis that time that guy took ma glesses. He didnae mean any hairm, I just laughed et him as he was lookin pure daft an aw that, but efter I goat hame it made me feart tae go back ootside. Ye cannae really dae that, ken? I need thaim tae see. Cannae just take somebody’s vision fae them, they’re no a fashion accessory. Remember, if anybidy asks tae try yer glesses, ye say naw, unless it’s a pal who’s also specky in which case they just want tae compare blindness. That’s awright.

I hope it’s no too loud cuz it’s hard tae talk ooer the thumpin music. I trip ooer ma sentences at the best eh times so I don’t want tae huv tae shout, it just fucks them up even mare. Really unsocial, ken? Just sitting there wae a drink on ma phone tweeting about how I’d rather be at hame. It’s no very nice but I could just set up a tweet the noo for an hour’s time so it sends anywiy even if I’m no oan ma phone. Mibby I can slip away early if I say there’s some’hin oan at hauf eight I want tae watch. It’s only a ten minute walk, that’d gee us aboot an oor the gither, that’s plenty ah time oan a Friday night at the pub, we never dae all nighters anyway, we’ve never been the type.

Aye, I’ll just tell them ma chat show’s startin back, and it’s got that guy fae Mad Max oan it. I pure love him, they’ll un’erstaun. I’ve no missed an episode anywiy, it’s no like it’s oot the blue. They might work oot it’s no oan til efter ten, but I can jist say I was poppin tae the shoap first or huvin a bath or chattin tae my maw.

Aye, hauf eight I’ll be hame fur. Ma leg’s calmt doon a bit et the thoat eh that. Shouldnae be that busy by that time, maste folk’ll still be pre-drinkin. How bad kin it be? Just a few folk, aye. Awk I need tae brush ma hair again. Keeps stickin tae ma foreheed. I hate ma foreheed, there’s too much eh it, cannae draw any attention towards it wae a few hairs stuck there cuz I’m pure boilin. Dae I need mare deodorant? Already pit some oan but I’m just so hoat, worried I’m pure reekin. Wit’s the time? Still fifty nine? Fuck sake where ur they thoat they’d be here by noo. They said seven aye, but it’s no like them to keep iz waitin.

Huv I goat time fur a pee?

Maybe I’ve goat the wrang colours oan. No sure rid really goes wae green ootside eh December, gonnae feel like a fuckin Christmas tree. It’s April. Pete’ll be wearin aw black mind you, moody basturt, he doesnae really care but I care, don’t want folk tae look et me thinkin “bet their tree’s still up.” Don’t need ma gless handed tae me like “there ye go, Robin, tweet tweet.” I shoulda checked wit Laura was wearin. Wit if she’s got green and rid oan tae, they’ll hink it was aw planned, aw naw. Christ I cannae go oot like this, have I goat time tae change? Wit’d ye mean calm doon? You calm doon.

Awk I’m gonnae go pee again.

How could they no’ve told me this a week ago? They ken I cannae haunl last minute hings. I ken the day-of isnae last minute fur maste folk but is fur me, I hud ma night aw planned, and it didnae involve oors eh plannin tae go doon the road. Hud tae change my dinner, when I washed ma hair, when I goat dressed, how many songs I could play, when I put ma shoes oan…I wisnae planning oan puttin thaim oan the day but I need tae put them oan noo…such a fuckin mess. Woke up feelin dead fine, then ah goat the text “pub tonight? x” and I wanted tae say naw but it’s gettin tae the point if I say naw any mare they’re gonnae stoap invitin mae and I cannae be alane, that’d be even worse than aw the plannin. Naw the plannin is fine, it just coulda been avoided, ken? If they’d telt me a week ago then it wilda fit in wae every’hin else, coulda worked up tae it, it wid only ah been the last five minutes before I left the hoose that hud me shakin ma legs rather than hauf the fuckin day.

Ma room’s a state, mibbe I’ve goat enough time tae start geein it a tidy up, pit some books away or some’hin. I just dance roon them aw, ken, there’s enough space oan the flare fur ma feet but aye it needs tidied sometime and I should probably just dae it the noo, I cannae go before it’s finished, needs done right enough. Cannae believe it goat this bad, never lettin it get this bad again, that’s it, this is the last time. Stayin oan tap eh it noo.

Plenty ah time fur a pee again, just tae make sure, dinnae want tae be pure burstin oan the wiy.

I feel fuckin mental, but ah ken ahm no the only wan who does aw this stressin and preparation. Mind that time Sammy said she wiz late cuz she’d spilt some’hin oan her dress but ah ken that’s a load ah pish, she wiz dain aw this an awl. She telt me. She gets stuck tae her chair, cannae move, kens she wants tae go and brush her teeth or whatever, but she just cannae dae it. Panics. At least this wiy I’ll snap oot it when Pete and Laura get here, ahm no gonnae be mad in front eh them. I’ll just shout “comin” ooer the flush ah the toilet and they’ll be nane the wiser. I’m just no social, no a loat tae say, it’s definitely no that facin’ the ootdoors is like facin’ every’hin ye’ve ever said ye cannae dae in wan go, it’s definitely no that. It’s no like when ye walk intae P.E. wae yer muscle mass eh a crisp packet and specks the size eh the moon. It’s just nae chat. Nae chat is better than bein’ seen as a loony, ken?

Feelin’ pure knackered noo. Don’t even remember staunin’ up, but I’m lookin’ oot the windae aw the same, then ma other windae, then the first windae. Sweatin’. Fix ma hair. Sit doon ya daft bastard. Leg gaun like mad.

Doorbell.

I run tae the bathroom. At the sound eh the flush…every cunt be normal.

House-Partied

It isn’t the odour of burnt fabric that first strikes me as I stumble into consciousness- No, that distant stink is only a secondary sensation. The first thing I’m truly aware of is the fact that my guts feel like they’ve been packed into a small box and given a good kick. I make grogged motions towards standing, and then comes that horrible comprehension- Sight, sound, smell, touch and taste, all giving me an idea of what death feels like.

I open a curtain and immediately regret my existence. Without so much as a note of the bugle, the daylight gallops in and puts a lance through my skull. Good morning, Glasgow; Here I am, standing fresh as the morgue among many friends and many strangers, some slumped half-ghouled on the furniture, others flat on the carpet.

I lean out the window for a quick smoke- I’m just about able to weather the Sun’s steady assault on my brainpan. The streets below run with life: Actual, real people, to-and-fro-ing on the pavement like little beetles. Not so for me- My lot is to hang over them all like a ragged ghost, trying not to vomit. I flick my cigarette into the abyss and turn back to the corpses.

The tortured souls are stirring from alcoholic doom, making odd, otherworldy sounds. One shifts and falls from the couch with a grunt, a slack golem slipping into animation. I look down at her, and her up at me. I have no idea who she is. This face may have passed mines a dozen times last night, or not.

There’s that burnt smell again- Who knows how it happened, but half the sofa is scorched. Furthermore a pair of chairs are shattered, and there’s a viscous puddle stretched across the coffee table. The carpet feels… sticky.

The hallway fares poorly- Smells like a trench, with a similar ambience of despair and rot. Mercifully, the light fixture’s been tore out the ceiling, so I don’t  have to look at what might be lurking in the gloom. My foot knocks down a few open bottles of beer as I limp into the kitchen.

There’s a friend of mines sitting at the table. He shoots me a worried look, nods to the fridge and begins to shake his head. Tentative steps towards the handle. Do I open? I know this won’t be a good idea, but…

I was correct.

Shutting the fridge door hastily, I shudder down to the table. There’s a number of half-empty drinks from last night cluttered about.

“I need a drink.”

I swig the first cup my friend offers me and retch.

“Christ- The fuck is this?”

He shrugs.

I look down at the swill I just let gloop down my throat. It has the colour and consistency of hot bitumen. Is this supposed to be a cocktail? My best guess is coke and melted tire, but I’ve only ever been a diletante when it comes to this sort of thing.

“Yikes, gimme something else. That’s fit for consumption.”

A glass of what I pray is just beer ends up in my hand.

It tastes better, a lot better. Infact-

I made it to the toilet (only just) and fell to my knees before the Goddess. My offering this morning is a shrill deluge, spat violently over some porcelain mouth. I made sure to flush a few times for good measure.

I’m not sure the shower railing is supposed to be lying on the floor like that. The curtain is draped over the edges of the bath, and seems to be- no, is blanketing something that happens to be snoring loudly. I feel a bit like Howard Carter as I pull back the veil.

No fallen Ozymandias sprawls the bath- Just another blootered stranger, dozing peacefully beside someone’s houseplant. The evil that resides somewhere in my chest cavity is telling me that it would be a great idea to turn on the shower and run for it, but I figure I’d feel bad for the plant. I slip out the door as quietly as I can and leave the couple to their business.

By now a sense of morbid curiosity is steering me down the dark expanse of the hall. I cannot turn back- Some terrible force is compelling me.

Given over to the sway of fiendish powers, my hand grips the handle of an unknown door without hesitation-

Oh God, what the hell is this- There’s this ghastly slimy stuff gunked all over the handle, and I just touched it-

For some reason, I went in anyway.

Clingfilm everywhere. The drawers, the shelves, the desk, the bed, the bedside table… All wrapped in clingfilm. Individual pens and books, too.

There’s even- I must be hallucinating- An entire cooked chicken (also wrapped) in here, just laid out on the floor like a cellophane mummy. No, it’s real- I’m able to put my hand down and touch it.

But as I do so, I hear growling from somewhere nearby. Could it be… Nah, I’m pretty sure that charred bird is very, very dead by now.

Still though… I don’t want to take any chances. I’m turning to go when something clamps my ankle and gives a vigourous tug.

I look down and worry for my bowels. There’s a hand protruding from under the bed, and it has my foot in its eager grip.

Okay. I’ve had more than enough of this for one day-

I would be lying to you, dear reader, if I told you that I didn’t scream and perhaps cry at least a little before shaking myself free. I didn’t bother looking back as I went bowling down the hallway, even when something decidedly cat-like yelped underfoot.

Tumbling out the door, I recognise the girl that fell off the couch, idling on the landing.

She glanced up from her phone.

“Some party, wasn’t it?”

We share a mutual grimace.

“Thank Christ it wasn’t my flat.”

I said goodbye and good to meet you, then hobbled down the stairs. Only two things mattered now: Breakfast and a long shower.

The Path

I drag my feet through silt and sand. The water is ice cold, my skin has no heat left, no warmth from within. My blood has stopped flowing. Stopped dead. The shredded nightdress, weighed down with seawater, hangs from my shoulders, where the grey skin is torn and crumpled. My hair, much of it torn out in chunks from my scalp, hangs down my back and sticks to my face.

I know that I’m dead. I have to be. I came into contact with the rudder of a ship, I drowned, I was dragged for miles by the riptides.

The light is soft and blue, like the hour or so before dawn. I find myself walking along a beach. I can’t feel any pain, though I think my arm is broken. I can feel no sensations whatsoever. I cannot even feel the sand under my feet as I walk, and I leave no footprints. I don’t know this place. The island is dark and shapeless. There are no signs of houses, no boats, no harbour. Just dark hills and a solitary path. So I follow the path.

I don’t know where I’m going. I don’t know what purpose a dead person could have. I think I am being led by nothing more than an instinct to move my limbs. I don’t even know if I could change my course if I tried. I don’t try. I just walk. Around me the fields of grass and reeds are moved by a swirling wind, the sound is muted and the sounds of the sea around are whisper soft. I feel scared, and yet I don’t understand what could be worse than dying. My greatest fear has happened: what is there left to be afraid of? And yet I am wondering, where is this place, and what is at the end of this path? I don’t understand how to think of this future, when I had thought my future had come to an end.

I realise that this must be the afterlife, but it makes me angry. If there is a life after death, it should be a destination, not another journey. Not another lonely walk through half-darkness, without purpose, propelled forward by the passage of time snapping at my heels. Where are the gates, where is the door, when will the clouds open? Or, where is the peace, and the dark and silence. Where is the end? And where are the rest of the dead? I’m not the only one. I’m not the only one.

The path goes on, the hills never change. The wind whistles and the sea whispers. The dawn never breaks, the sun never rises. Time is not passing. But still, my footsteps are carrying her somewhere, and now I see a convergence of paths. Ahead is a crossroads linking several other paths, they seem infinite. The landscape has no horizon, but the sky hangs above and the land stretches out below, and there are a hundred paths that meet in one great circle at the epicentre. I am terrified, even more afraid than I was when I saw my own death staring my in the face as I jumped from the bridge and plummeted into the cold, cold sea. I’m scared, but I keep walking. I walk toward the circle.

Now I see them. Now I see the other dead. They move slowly, and I can see that there is one traveller for every path. They all walk in the same manner, as though dragged down by some unseen weight. Some of them look alike – dressed the same, or wearing their hair the same, or they are of similar ages. Some are dressed in a white nightgown, white satin with a lace trim. It is the same gown I was wearing when I drowned. The one that is now clinging to me in tatters.

I turn to the nearest traveller as our paths grow closer. I am looking into my own face, I see my own eyes grow wide with fear, like a reflection. She, the other me, is just as pale and just as dead as I am but her skin is clear and tight, her hair, though wet, it smooth and intact. She has no wounds on her body but four small incisions. Two on the wrists, two further up, just below the crease of the elbow. There is no blood, but the white nightgown she wears – not satin, just cotton – is stained pink and red. She’s not a perfect reflection. She’s too young. She’s only seventeen or eighteen. But those are my eyes gazing back in numb confusion from her face. My face. I try to open my mouth to speak, to ask the question, but the words will not leave my throat, and the younger me turns away.

I look to the other side and see an old woman, limping along her path. She is tall and slim, but bent, and her limbs look twisted, it looks like one of her legs is broken. A large wound on her head has left her downy grey hair matted with dark blood, and her face is bruised. The old woman won’t turn to look at me, but I see something familiar in the woman’s profile. Something in the nose and the chin, it reminds me of my mother. But it isn’t my mother – she’s too tall, and her features are too angular. I’m glad that it’s not her. As she walks, a ring glints on her finger. No – two rings. I look down at my own hand. My own hand is unrecognisable, the skin blue, bloated and lacerated. But my wedding and engagement rings are still intact and in place. A gold band and a diamond that gleams in the half light. The same jewel glints on the hand of the old woman.

I begin to understand that all the walkers of all the paths are myself. We are not all alike, but it is the same body and the same soul, the same look in the eyes, a look of quiet pleading. I know the look, and I know what it means. It is the look that comes when I ask ‘what’s left for me’ and the answer won’t come. And so I plead with my reflection in the mirror, I ask myself to be kind, not to push me onwards despite the nothing that I face. I ask for it all to stop, and something changes in the face in the mirror. She nods back at me, she is determined. She begins to make a plan. Six years ago, she takes a pair of scissors and she cuts into the plastic part of a safety razor. At first, she just wants to see if it is possible, but now she knows. She knows she can remove the tiny little blades, and that they don’t hurt much, but that they’re sharp enough. She runs a hot bath.

Forty years from now, she has just climbed to the top of the stairs. It was hard, and took her longer than it ever had before. Her limbs ache. She doesn’t want to go to bed. She’s afraid of her dreams, and she’s even more afraid of the moment when she wakes up, forgets what her life is, and then, slowly, remembers. She stands at the top of the stairs. She doesn’t want to go to bed. She turns around, and lets go of the bannister. She closes her eyes.

Three days ago, she has just got married. She’s on her honeymoon. She isn’t truly happy, but she has her place in the world now. She has her purpose. She waits in the hotel room, she waits for her husband to return, but he doesn’t come back. He doesn’t answer the phone. He’s packed up all his things. He’s left her a pile of money on the dresser, and a note that says ‘I’m sorry’. She walks along the motorway all night. She sees the sea, she sees the outline of the huge bridge through the fog. She walks along the edge of the road, finds her way to the middle of the bridge, climbs up the huge metal beams along the side, climbs over the wire fencing, stands balanced on the very edge, holding on. The sea looks cold, but she’s already cold. She’s been walking all night in just her satin nightdress. She lets go.

But there is one thing I don’t understand. Why do I wake up again? Why do I emerge from the water, why do I come here and why must I meet myself, a hundred more of me, a hundred deaths, and none of them at peace? I reach the centre of the circle. I am surrounded by myself, and they are all looking at me with those eyes that ask for it all to end. I want to be off this island, I want to get away from all the eyes watching me, from all the sadness, from all the wasted lives. I wanted death to be peaceful, to be an ending, but here I find only more fear, I see even less purpose, even less sense to existence. But there is no peace, just chaos, a void, and I haven’t returned here for I never belonged here. And it isn’t an ending because there will always be a path that I never took. Some of the paths lead to the same place, they lead here. But I wonder if there if there are others, paths that lead away from this place. I turn around, and look behind me. It is the first time I have ever turned back, looked over my shoulder. I can see the horizon. I can see the sand, and I can see where the water meets the sky, and where, in between, the sun is beginning to rise.

I run, back along the path. Hands grasp at me from all sides, voices cry out, they beg me not to return there, they beg me not to leave them. But this isn’t the place for me, or for any of them. They have to see that. They have to see that none of us belong here.

I reach the sea, and I swim. I swim and I see the sun rise. I go under.  The water feels cold, it threatens to fill my lungs, but I am only underwater for a few moments. I am kicking my legs, I am feeling the blood rush to my limbs, life fighting in my veins. I emerge again, into fresh sunlight. I can still see the bridge, there above, looming. A boat is coming toward me, the driver blasts his horn. I swim sharply away as the boat turns, and comes to a halt. Hands pull me out of the water. I’m alive.

From Here to There

Vest, petticoat, stockings, handkerchiefs, slip, blouse, cardigan, comb, wellington boots, towel, soap, facecloth, toothbrush, shoes, plimsolls.  Mackintosh, yes of course.  Gas masks, gas masks, we mustn’t forget gas masks.  Something to eat – I’ll make up some sandwiches for them – my darlings, would you like an apple to eat?  I’ll pack away some biscuits too, they said the train journey would only last an hour and a half but goodness knows if the train will even be on time, I’ve heard they’re evacuating thousands of children today, the trains will surely be congested.  And  we don’t even know where they’ll be… Should we pack something warm for them- oh my goodness, I nearly forgot, Maisie, she can’t sleep without Maisie!  I can’t think if I’ve forgotten anything, I’ve added everything on the list but it’s all practical, everything, they don’t know our children- Frances, would you like to take a book or two?  Your choice, darling, whatever you wish.  It’ll most likely be a farmer’s house you’re living in and I imagine they won’t have much time for libraries… Should I pack a toy or two, Peter will be dreadfully bored if he’s left to himself- but then- but then he’ll be in the country, won’t he, and it’ll be the novelty of a new family and a new life-

She burst out into loud, ragged sobs; gasping with shuddering breath.  Sentences that were broken and stilted came from behind her hands and rivulets of salty tears quivered on her neck.  Her husband grasped her arm wearily, his face tired and his jaw unshaven; and her mother instinctually bustled the children into the kitchen, her scarlet lips pinched.

She cried for a minute or so, her eyes swollen and red, her sandy hair glued to her wet cheek.  But then she wiped her eyes hastily on her sleeve, because she was aware that her time was limited.  A noise that was almost a whimper came out: ‘It won’t be for long, will it?  Surely it cannot be for long?’

‘I only wish I knew.’

‘I could bear it if only I knew it would be for a short time.’

There was a pause they could not articulate.

A whisper, a plea: ‘Can’t we just- not take them?  Will they notice?  We can’t be the only ones.’

‘If the government advises evacuation to be the safest procedure then we must trust them.  They know the risks.’  It was a mechanical response, spoken grimly.  She caught the flicker of distress as it passed across his face.

‘But in the last war-‘

‘It’s different now.  We need only look at recent events to understand that.’

She nodded; gulped; suppressed her sense of impending desolation and smiled, a smile that was all teeth and no eyes and all pain. She turned to the mirror, meticulously efficient in removing the tell-tales stains of weepingthe blotchy smears, the puffed eyes.  Her hair was, as always, impeccably coiffed, its yellow waves expertly moulded, hat placed adroitly on top; her lipstick a becoming smudge of red; her peacock blue suit newly made to adorn her slim, graceful figure; her gloves a supple ivory leather.  Her husband, usually so polished, looked meagre next to his polished wife; somehow smaller, quieter.  Julia Williams – smart, successful literary editor from a smart, successful literary family – was nothing if not assiduous.

There were three children: Frances, Peter, little Elly.  In the kitchen, Frances helped her grandmother to smear thick, colourful jam on bread, to wash the shiny red apples and plump strawberries.  She tried to ignore the wriggling thought that there would be plenty of strawberries in the place where they were going, plenty of glossy blackberries and hairy raspberries and tiny blueberries with their inky dark juice, ripe and willing to be plucked.  She fed Elly an oozing slice of apple crumble when her grandmother wasn’t looking, although she didn’t think Grandmother would mind.  Not now.  Not in the circumstances.

Their mother called and, so docile in this new era of bewildering change, they dutifully filed after their grandmother into the sitting room – a beloved room in a beloved house.  The armchairs were podgy and welcoming, the mantelpiece littered with photographs of family jaunts to Cornwall and Wales.  A fringed lamp, decorated with chinoiserie, stood slightly askew, a testament to the boisterous nature of Peter.  The bookcases were stuffed: long-winded poems and exhilarating adventure stories jostled with eloquent novels and brightly coloured travel guides, documenting lands far away from the bustle and smoke of London.  Now their suitcases, battered and worn and impossibly small, were sitting on the tough old rug, and Frances felt a sudden heaviness at the notion that she might not see the pretty blue-and-white vase or the pale yellow wallpaper in ever such a long time.

They checked the suitcases again and again, fretting over their paltry items.  Elly clutched her threadbare doll, its hair newly brushed.   Peter looked bored, dragging his feet impatiently.  He complained loudly; Frances noticed her father’s face growing increasingly crumpled.  She tried to be pleasant, chattering away as they were bundled into the car, her mother swivelling round in the front seat to smile at them brightly.  Julia reached forward to tuck a loose chestnut strand of Elly’s hair behind her ear; Elly grinned in response, a lopsided smile that showed off her missing teeth.

They drove to the school, trundling along past endless rows of houses just like theirs, the gardens trimmed and manicured, the façades neat and orderly.

‘You wouldn’t even think there was a war on, to look at the streets!’ Julia tried to be blasé.  Frances noted dense bags of sand dumped next to lampposts and a gaggle of small boys, shouting gleefully as they kicked a gas-mask box along the street.  She decided not to mention such details.

The school was full, its red-brick exterior bulging with mothers and children, suitcases and bags, people trying to be brave.  The gleaming black gates were crowded with incomers, the playground engulfed with queues and confusion, everything chaotic and disorderly.  The headmistress distractedly shoved her glasses further up her nose, barking out names and numbers.  There was a flurry, everywhere you looked.  Mothers, anxious lines etching their faces, shepherded their children across the grounds; boys and girls of all descriptions, glum and wailing and beaming, pigtails and scrubbed faces and pinched noses.  The noise was tumultuous, Frances thought, savouring the unfamiliar word.  She saw her favourite teacher, gentle Miss Johns, nearly trip over a lost suitcase

They were directed to a queue; the children saw their friends, and the parents tried not to talk.  Elly was oblivious, hugging her doll.  The older children milled around, wary; wondering aloud where they would stay and what the people would be like.  A continuous rumble of conversation, and the feeling, whether explicitly expressed or tacitly experienced, that surely, just surely, this could not last very long.  Julia fussed over her children, smoothing down their coats, kissing them on their pale foreheads.  There were a few husbands, in stylish suits, nodding to each other in their taciturn way.  One boy waddled, swathed in all his clothes, dragging his case behind him.

Elly cried when they had to leave.  She didn’t understand why – Julia grew frantic as she tried to explain, as she choked on her own inadequacy.  ‘It’s dangerous here, darling- but we’ll come to visit as soon as we know where you are and remember, we will think about you every day- I will miss you all so much…’

‘I’ll write straight away, Mother,’ Frances promised solemnly.  The sound of hysterical sobs pierced the muffled noise, a girl repeatedly protesting that she had not been naughty, she had not done anything wrong and so why were they sending her away?  Peter scuffed his shoes against the ground, for once yielding to his mother’s bustling.  One more kiss, and they were gone.

Snippets of a heated argument could be heard as they walked away – a mother loudly shrieking, refusing to part with her children.  ‘Let’s keep them home, please, please, please-‘  Her husband was pleading desperately, his voice cracking.  One child dragged her feet petulantly, refusing to move further.  Whispers everywhere of where they would end up and what would happen.  Turbulent emotion and continual strain and raised voices and sheer commotion, perpetual and palpable.  They walked fast, gulping tears and striding onwards.

They sat in the car for a few minutes, Julia and Arthur holding each other.

*

It was a station that they had traversed many times before – there had been second-class train journeys across the country, transporting them to frolics in the frothy blue waves, and languid picnics in the country; sweets purchased at the newsagents round the corner and cheap paperbacks from the station.  The vertiginous roof dwarfed the endless trains, painted a dull brown with grubby smudged windows and doors that jammed.  Vague wisps of smoke hung in the air as the platforms below were crowded with people, Frances clutching the hands of her brother and sister as they navigated the mass, continuously craning for the familiar sight of Miss Johns’ distinctive hat.  They reached the train, struggling.  They were told to wait.  She saw a woman, her belly big and round, and porters that ambled and a man, sleek in his official military uniform, and children aimlessly swinging pillowcases, their belongings clattering inside.  ‘East End,’ a schoolfriend hissed disdainfully, and proceeded to loudly point out the lice apparently hopping about on their heads.  A sea of people, jostling and sobbing and wondering.  Peter began to fiddle with his name tag, worrying away at the rope.  She scolded him unnecessarily.

‘I hope I get billeted in a manor house, Mother doesn’t want me to end up in some provincial village because she says it’ll taint my manners.’

‘I don’t mind, as long as they’re kind and don’t shout…’

‘I’ll be happy enough if they don’t get on at me to study arithmetic all day long!’

‘Or make me eat cabbage…’

‘Will we have school there?’

‘Of course we will, that’s why the teachers are coming with us too.’

‘Oh blast it, I rather thought we would get to run about fields all day!’

Frances asked quietly: ‘They will let brothers and sisters stay together, won’t they?’

Miss Johns smiled thinly, placing her hand carefully on Frances’ shoulder.  ‘I think so, my dear, but in any case I won’t let you get separated.  Mothers have enough worrying to do without their children staying in different houses.’

‘Do you know where we’re going?’

‘I’m afraid I don’t.  There were rumours about Somerset…’

The train left at about one o’clock.  Frances stared hard out of the windows, attempting to absorb every atom of the city she was leaving.  She saw only a generic city landscape, but she pictured to herself the smart houses, the glamorous theatres with her glitzy, gaudy lights, the palatial museums teeming with priceless artefacts, an entire city steeped in history.  She was wedged between Peter and Elly, oddly comforted by their warmth.  The rows of dismal houses and coal-black factories, shrouded in smoke, gave way to fresh countryside, glowing with an autumnal burnish.  Plumes of leaden smoke emanated from the train, streaming across the skyline, dissipating into the verdant fields and gurgling streams of southern England.  Frances glimpsed cottages, crowned with bluebells and violets, and grazing cows meandering in the pale sunlight.  One girl, who had never escaped the confines of the city, was visibly open-mouthed at the sheer expanse of green and yellow, a patchwork pattern hemmed in by leafy hedges.

The train grew uncomfortable after a time; the children grew hungry.  The teachers were alternately soothing and irritable as two hours stretched into three.  Elly fell asleep, her snuffled breathing rhythmic and hushed.  Frances continued to read, flicking the pages absently as she heard Miss Campbell explain softly about her fiancé who had just signed up.  She sounded fearful; she mentioned that her uncle had died in the last war, stabbed to death by a German.

They were glad to leave the train, when the time came.  The journey had been cramped, everyone packed in such close quarters.  The station was small, and the locals startled by the profusion of children that spilled out.  They swarmed like bees, filling every inch of the landscape until all you could see was the wan sky and the pale sliver of moon hat had emerged before its time.  Rustic, Frances would have called it.  A brick chimney perched on top of a slanted roof, pearly smoke billowing and two gentlemen sat in the waiting-room beneath a complex map of the country, knobbly canes in their aged hands.  The evacuees (for such as they now were) were greeted by a bespectacled woman, owlish and snappy, armed with an exhaustive list.

Elly yawned, tight little fists rubbing her eyes.

‘I can’t understand her accent,’ Peter said stoutly.

‘I know, it’s difficult to pick out the words.’

The village hall was draughty and spacious, decorated with lawn furniture and an outdated banner that announced the village flower show in pastel lettering.  They stood, unobtrusively, in the corner, watching as the Thomson twins, ruddy and strong, were chosen first.  Little Sarah Edgware, her tufty blonde hair an angelic halo, was selected by a discerning couple with a cherub-faced daughter; and Hannah Walton, the oldest at thirteen, was led away with a triumphant air to the house of a gentleman-farmer.  They watched as the youngest, adorable and pliant, were preferred, and the poorer, with their shabby clothing, were shunned.

‘Will we ever get chosen?’ Frances asked, panicked.

A matronly woman, enveloped in a hesitant air, approached.  She eyed them judiciously, taking in their fastidiously ironed clothes and delicately brushed hair.

‘My mother is a literary editor, and my father is a lawyer,’ Frances offered.

The woman was surprisingly polite.  ‘My father was a lawyer too.  I did always want three children…’ she said wistfully, glancing briefly at her husband.

‘We’ll be very clean, and we’ll help with whatever we can.’ Frances said.

The woman laughed, a merry, warming laugh.  ‘I’m sure you will.  My name is Mrs Nicholson.  Would you like to come home with us?’

Elly nodded keenly, and they followed the woman across the hall, their heels clicking loudly.  The path outside was cluttered with violently coloured flowers and haphazard weeds, startlingly vivid.  As she glanced back, Frances saw the forlorn faces of those left, frightened and timid.  Some were shy, darting back from the gaze of strangers, and others suggested themselves as investments, eager children who would assist the household with anything possible.  The prospective foster parents circled the children, assessing them shrewdly.  What would happen to those who were left?  Frances didn’t know, and remembered to ask for her new address.  She would write home as soon as she could.

What can Follow Death, but Chaos

Chaos isn’t found in death. Death releases us from the eternal chaos of our mortal coil. Little to do or think about, other than debate the quality of the soil one is interred in or converse with the worms. No, chaos is left for the living in the wake of death. With its dark cloak, Death may cover lands swiftly. It’s the living, the great unfortunates of the earth, who are left to trail behind it, picking up the pieces as if Death was a child, throwing all its toys out the pram. We are left as some morbid magpie, garbed in black and white, holding these remains, treasures of an icy nature rather than the gleam of the magpie’s hoard.

Papers piled up like corpses on the battlefield, on the desk facing the open French doors; the scent of wisteria sweet yet heavy in the air as these thoughts passed through Emily Murray’s head. For so refined and socially elevated a lady, her hair stuck out at odd ends like a ruffled bird. Her clothes were scarce, neglecting wearing any most days, and her pearls at odd angles, the noose of a fool. Emily had fallen from her high seat, just as her father had fallen from the top of the stairs.

Wrapped around her body, not un-shroud like, Emily’s robe felt close to her skin as even the mental mention of her father’s passing twisted her stomach.

‘Why do they even call it a passing? Where on earth are they passing to?’ Emily thought before realising she had answered her own musings. The earth, that’s exactly where they pass to. And the smell of wisteria became her father’s aftershave.

‘Enough’, she affirmed to herself. ‘I have years to muse and mourn’. Stubbing out her cigarette, Emily turned to the papers. It’d been three days of labour to sort the documents of death, and only a mole hill’s worth of a mountain had been seen to. The whole process thus far had been chaotic. As soon as one set had been done, Sara would uncover another box, squeezed between heirlooms and baby clothes in the attic, throwing Emily’s order out of balance.

Some were fairly new, a light covering of dust obscuring the scrawling script of a label. Others were years old, hidden under dunes of dirt. Emily was reminded of the tales her uncle would come back with from his digs, the discovery of some relic, buried in its own grave. She was less careful with these artefacts, mostly old bills rather than priceless gold. How long would it take for these to become valuable, she thought. 10 years? 100 years? Uncle Artie had shown her old tablets, etched tallies, a dead culture billing, he had joked. But it had transcended beyond what it was in the material, an anchor of the past, a history that lives in echoes and whispers, but fog horned by academia.

The final box was brushed off and Emily considered her father’s- her late father’s- legacy. How many years ’til his name became a valuable object like the latrine seat of William the Conqueror? First, it’ll be a memorial service, an anniversary plaque, a hospital wing, a portrait in the Professor’s Hall. Until, one day, his name will be half mentioned on a tour of the university. Such chaotic existential thoughts made her shudder, body to name to nothing, when she felt a metallic coolness.

It was a tin, a commemorative tin, the bust of George VI marked out. This was new to Emily who had spent years trying to get permission to clean out the attic, her father always refusing: ‘an attic is supposed to be messy as a garden is supposed to be dirty’, he’d pontificate. Every now and again, she’d rummage around, the bills on the top of this box appealed to some memory but this tin…

Inside was a stack of letters, bound by a scarlet ribbon, knotted tightly like a corset. It didn’t take long for Emily to divine the pile as love letters, a typical feminine hand, curved and looped, crossed each page. But it wasn’t a type that she recognised. Her mother’s- her late mother’s- was always slightly diagonal. Many an empty afternoon was spent watching balls of refused ‘thank you’ notes thrown across the room because of this typographical fault, sending her mother into a near fit.

The first letter seemed to be the most recent correspondence of this secret woman, perhaps life that Emily’s father had kept at the bottom of a box for nearly thirty years. ’24th September 1988′, she read aloud. There was no shaking tear choking voice, no hereditary curiosity, just facts, another bill, another academic book just to check a date. ‘Dearest Connor’, Emily already hated this woman, this female shade of ink and paper, with her faux Austen voice, and her siren demeanour.

‘No, there’s no point getting emotional, what help would that do?’ Each word Emily spoke shed light until there was no more shadow. The secret had been unearthed, a profane reliquary containing now flesh and blood, not words. Every letter was slightly reflective, like the mirrors you view yourself in when at the fair; sometimes you’re smaller, sometimes taller, thinner, or larger.

‘I love you’, ‘Why are you so far’, ‘They keep coming between us’, and the pinnacle of every affair correspondence, ‘When will we be together?’

Having read five in quick succession, Emily stopped, she couldn’t read anymore. No tears had been shed for her father’s death, the chaos stormed around her had preoccupied head and heart, but now this, these letters, she wept for. This was the real loss, the man and father she had known lay in ribbons. What the obituary had created and cemented, augmenting all goodness, as obituaries tend to do, the letters had torn apart and built over the remains like a church over a pagan temple: decimated and deconsecrated and desecrated. All had been thrown into chaos, a flurry of doubt and deception. And as is the prerogative of chaos, as is destroyed so is created. What stood now in her father’s place was a figure Emily did not recognise, a dark man the colour of ink and dressed in lettered paper. A husband who thought of another woman when he kissed his wife; a professor who claimed academic seminar but meant lecherous rendezvous.

All of this enveloped Emily’s mind, her tears quickly run their course. And she was alone. Matthew was on a plane homeward bound. She had no sibling to pull down to view the remains of what her father had been.

The letters were still in her hands. She didn’t know what to do with them. The fire before her was tempting. Burn the letters to ash, join her father in mutual cremation, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. But for some reason, a divine yet sadistic hand would not allow her to do so. She could throw them in the rubbish bin. Inevitably, she pondered, it would keep her up ‘til the early morning when the same driving force would force her to wipe away leftovers to salvage them.

It’d been hours since Emily had finished with the boxes, she was too entranced by the letters to notice time slipping past her. The more she thought about it, the further her father fell into disgrace, the memory of him tarred and feathered like a war time coward. It wasn’t anger that she felt, she couldn’t rouse herself to the heat under her collar and the clenched whitening fists that accompanied her rare moments of fury. It would be wrong to be angry now; her rage usually lasted a couple days, whatever the irritation, and she wouldn’t be seen as such in church. She couldn’t do much now, her mind couldn’t focus on sorting, her mind was too chaotic. Wiping her dusted hands on herself, Emily fell into bed, the clean feel of the sheets was a welcome relief. A few deep breaths with her eyes closed to clear her mind and her consciousness melted away, studded with the day’s revelations.

It wasn’t long before Emily began to dream, everything she’d found today filtered down, resting on her mind like dark silt on the river bed. She dreamt of her father like all those recently bereaved. He stood, arms outstretched, her mother coming to embrace him. As they hugged, locked tight, Emily fell at peace. Previously, Emily had been removed from religion, too many rules and too many contradictions to move her soul as religion should. But nigh on two years as a mythology and folklore professor, some myth had rubbed off of on her. Wherever she was dreaming of, it wasn’t Heaven, but some otherworldly afterlife or Elysium. Her dream parents drew away and Emily saw it was only her father there, the woman someone other. She stood a head shy of her father, dark hair mildly greying stroked by her father’s hand. Rested on her waist and held her close was her father’s other hand. It was the woman from the letters, the other woman he’d loved. Her name escaped Emily, it had blurred in her mind like ink in the wake of spilled water, the word hardly visible, its essence drained away.

They turned away from Emily, walking away from her. She felt nothing but the ache of unsuccessful movement, her futility the boiling point of her interwoven wrath and grief. A light woke her; Matthew stood in the doorway of their bedroom. Seeing Emily, he sighed, with relief she knew, relieved that she was finally crying. His arms were warm and comforting, something solid to anchor herself. They fell asleep like that, Matthew’s free hand stroking Emily’s hair, soothing her. Their own dialogue in movements and shifts of bodies.

‘Don’t worry I’m here for you,’ said Matthew’s hand as it squeezed her shoulder.

‘Thank you,’ was felt from Emily’s kiss on his hand, soft with lips and wet with tears.

Emily slept dreamless for the remainder of the night, her crying a long awaited exorcism of pain. The shower purged her of what was left of it. Despite her weeping being over, a tick next to a list of conventions her mother would’ve truly passed, Emily was haunted by a reality born from loss and harshly rewarded curiosity and the fragility of all that surrounded her. Not the crystal glasses her parents had presented her as a wedding gift or the mirror the held her reflection as she brushed her teeth. It was the fragility of life, of marriage that occupied her mind.

From the corner of her eye, she watched Matthew shave. Too much pressure in the wrong place, a murderous or suicidal intent, and blood would pour from his open throat. Emily reached for her vitamins; a wrong prescription, a bad reaction and she would join her husband in the earth. All in a matter of seconds and she would be the same as her father, her existence reduced to an urn of ashes and piles of paper to be sorted through. But no child would find clandestine correspondence tucked away; the university building in her name would stand, no chance of crumbling under a tarnished reputation.

‘Here, let me.’ Matthew finished her zip and placed his hands on Emily’s shoulders, watching her in the mirror. ‘Are you okay?’

She nodded. Her feelings were cluttered and chaotic like her dressing table. The sparkle of a diamond full of grief stood out; tears emptied like overturned perfume, and the rest frustratingly knotted like her grandmother’s pearls.

‘When we get back, remind me to phone the bank to check the money has been transferred to the funeral home.’

‘Are you sure you want to do that today Em? I’m sure you can wait…’

‘No! It has to be today! I want it done today!’ Stupid fucking clasp, she thought, slamming the bracelet down. Her reflection was drawn to Matthew’s hand rummaging in his pocket and depositing the contents in the bin. Receipts, she could see, from seedy motels? Emily deluded herself with marital cracks.

The bell rang.

‘That’ll be Pauline.’

‘I’ll get it and meet you downstairs.’ Matthew laid a kiss on her forehead and went to attend to Emily’s cousin.

On the edge of the bed, Emily sat, giving herself a final meditative minute before facing the ensuing madness of the funeral. Retrieving her diary, she did a once over of the day: church, flowers paid for, extra cutlery for the caterers, clean towels for overnight guests. All was in order, yet the mere sight of the stack of letters was enough to throw her off. They felt the same in her hand as the others had, the folders, the papers, the lecture notes, yet it dragged deep on her heart. What she was to do with the letters still eluded her, wanting to do anything but keep them. But it would sting, to lose another bit of her father.

With the cars arriving, thinking herself in a rush, the letters were jammed into her inside pocket, joining the others and mystified by her actions. The hearse rolled away. To herself she secretly smiled, wearing the letters as a badge of bizarre honour, binding her and her father in a voiceless covenant, breached not by death,

No comfort was found in the cold stone church. White lilies decorated the place, even on the already sealed coffin, prepared for its fiery end.

‘Who put flowers on the coffin?’ Emily tugged on Matthew’s sleeve to pull him into earshot. ‘We said no flowers on the coffin. Who…’

The acoustics of the church answered Emily as a cacophony of wailing. Edna strode down the aisle like some tardy banshee, to lay her head upon the coffin.

‘Why? Why?’

Such spectacle drew all away from their grieving, looking up from tissues, becoming ardent spectators instead of mourners.

‘For Pete’s sake,’ Emily heard Pauline race from behind, trying to be discreet which was difficult at the best of times in a church; even more so when one’s mother decides her brother’s funeral is the appropriate time for her primadonna audition.

‘Come away Mum. Come on, let’s find you a seat.’ Pauline mouthed a silent apology to Emily as she escorted her mother from her stage.

‘Always a flair for the theatrics.’ Matt spoke in her ear. ‘Remember that Christmas your dad burned the turkey and she locked herself in the bathroom for hours?’

She remembered and she wanted to laugh, but it wasn’t the time or the place.

The service began and Emily took her seat. Her father’s letters crumbled against her breast and she felt them on her skin. She saw Matt’s open hand rest on his thigh, awaiting her need to clutch something living in this place of death. Instead, she held the wooden railing before her, her knuckles whitening.

Hypnotised by her own memories, Emily was woken by the returned wailing of her aunt, wailing in response to the call of the priest. Emily moved further away from her grief. Since he had died, she had been lost in a chaotic mass of emotions, her own sadness a teardrop in her heart. Even now, a temple hallowed by the idea of death, and consecrated by tears and holy water, Emily’s grief would not show itself. Each wave was anger towards her aunt, taking the lion’s share of tears.

‘May God be with you.’

‘And also with…’

‘Ahhhhh,’ Edna cried.

It was almost an hour before Emily left the church, her hand ached from shaking, her jaw tense from frowning. Still she was far from her grief. Each kiss she received held the taste of a love letter’s stamp that made her cringe in silent disgust. The returning hearse was quieter than the church, each passenger absorbed in their own reflections. Edna, without so grand a stage, was resigned to the odd silent sniffle. Through streets they passed, Emily watching the world continue. Every grey haired man was followed by her gaze until they fell from view. Seeing a resemblance of her father’s face out of the window began to draw Emily to her mourning.

The house was crammed with the morning’s congregation, many wanting to repeat their condolences. Emily made sure her glass was never empty, the vodka and ice tart in her mouth. The more she drank, the more her vision swam. Following her seventh glass, Emily had the good nature to excuse herself to bed, before she pinned every older woman to the wall to scream, ‘did you fuck my father?’

With only one shoe off, Emily fell face first into her pillow. She neither dreamt nor felt as she slumbered.

It was morning when she woke, but still dark, the dying fire giving the room a warm glow. She sat before it, looking deep into its flames. Soon her cheeks were wet. She desperately wanted to blame the pricking light and heat of the fire; as the tears ran, she could no longer deny it. Her sleep had sailed her to her grief, through all the chaos. Emily had found her buoy, clung to it like a new born, desiring it and protecting it. Her whole body sobbed.

The letters were withdrawn from her pocket, slightly dog-eared, but still the same. Nothing could change that, just as nothing could bring her father back to explain himself. She wanted it all gone, having no desire to reread them, to berate his spectre and flog his memory. She would not induce any more chaos, not out of empathy but her own selfish desire for release. Release from the letters that held back Emily’s grieving: how could she mourn for such a man?

She threw the letters into the fire, instantly catching alight. Burnt and gone, her father could be mourned and missed and honoured like all fathers. Her tears were sad yet welcome. The letters were ash and so was her father.

The Fun We Had

It was the best of times, it was the worse of times. When I finally made my escape from the communications department at Buchannan house and became one of the first females to ‘train’ as a driver. Once i had completed my training and had passed out and gained the relevant seniority, I was sent where all green hands (Technically known as ‘mugs’) were invariably sent. Glasgow Central Electric Depot. Grand as that name sounds it was actually a grubby messroom and scheduling clerk’s office up a flight of stairs ajacent to platform one. strange to think now that in them days, we were regarded as a bunch of cowboys! (And of course, female drivers were an accident waiting to happen, wern’t they.)

Central worked the cathcart circle and out to Motherwell as well as the cathcart circle. In those days, the ‘Trans-clyde’ lines, AKA the Glasgow central Railway was still light years in the future and were no more than a derelict set of tunnels haunted by the ghosts of the past. Similarly the Ayr lines were still operated by ancient (To our eyes) Diesel units which were always late and invariably breaking down. The other lines we worked were the coast lines to Gourock and Wemyss Bay.

In them days trains still had guards who opened and shut the doors, took care of platform duties and told you when to start by ringing two bells.All you did was watch the signals and stop the train in the correct spot. Seemed simple enough. The controls of a ‘Blue train’ (AM3 or 303 units) were simple enough Controller which included a dead mans handle, which had four ‘notches’ (Shunt, series, parrallel full field, parrallel weak field.) A forward, reverse and ‘off’ switch. and an air brake. (Mind thae brakes hen, they’re awfully fierce.’) A row of buttons for various things (Pan up pand down and one that I never did find out what it was) A big cromium plated button right in the middle of the desk, the AWS cancell button. On the panel was from left. AWS visual indicator, speedo Ammeter, Air pressure gauge indicationg pressures in the pipe and in the reservoir.) simples!

‘After the initial nerves were conquered I settled down to the job. As a ‘mug’ I got all the minging turns that the old timers didn’t want. One of the worse being saturday duties when there were big fit’ba games on at Hampden. It was on one such occasion that I thought my time had come!

‘They say that when Rangers play Celtic, and ‘Auld firm’ match, absenteeism triples among the transport staff in Glasgow. (Especially if its on the telly) Anyway, one day I was on 14man spare and right away was dispatched to the circle. No alarm bells rung in my mind.I was still too naive to realise what was going on.

‘Platform six.’ the clerk told me as I was signing for the road. ‘Due aff in five.’

Off I went to platform six and found a train packed to the gunnels with Rangers supporters. There were two flute bands (With full percussion) and at least one accordion band, all in full flow. The gentle strains of ‘The Sash my father wore.’ were coming out of the coaches at full pelt.

‘Get it to FUCK!’ the platform chargehand said grimly as I came up to the cab and unlocked the door.

‘But I’ve still to prep… ‘I began

‘GET IT TO FUCK NOW!’ The man, usually the most mild of manner, said.’

‘RIGHT!’ I said, getting in and placing my key for the master controller into the socket beside the brake handle. Turning it, the AWS horn squaked as I threw the brake handle over and depressed the reset button. The ‘Sunflower’ pattern came up in the visual indicator.’ I restored the brake and watched the air build up in the pipe. Quick check and I looked out to see the chargehand plead with the guard to get the hell out of here before anything happened.

‘In those days, the 303’s had not yet been rebuilt and there was no access between the drivers cab and the train. There WAS three large windows which gave passengers a magnificent view forward.Blinds were fitted to prevent glare at night. Most drivers pulled the

blind behind the seat down anyway but someone had pulled all three blinds down today. I decided to leave them like that. Then two bells from the guard, two in reply, check the platform starter and away we go.

The train was a special and non stopping until Kings Park Off we went at a spanking rate, coasting through the stations to the musical accompaniment from the train. By Queens Park, they were on to ‘Derry’s Walls’ having already murdered the ‘Orange and Blue’ and ‘Dolly’s Braes’ THEN… it happened. ‘BANG’ the purple ‘Line’ indicator goes out. We’re just into cathcart junction. ‘OH HELP!’ Frantically press ‘Pan up’ nothing! By now the musicians, those without drums, started using the windows behind the chair as a makeshift drum. Buzz from the guard.

‘Whats up?’

‘Lost line.!’

‘Have ye tried tae reset it?’

‘Naw! Why wid I dae that? OF COURSE I’ve tried tae reset it.’

‘Whit happened?’

‘NOTHING!’

By now the loveable louts in the train are getting restless and feet are being stamped the train is begaining to rock alarmingly.

‘If we don’t get moving soon this team will wreck the bloody train’

‘Shouldn’t we protect the train?’ I ask innocently.

‘You are SPOOFING ME!’ We don’t have time! and where we’re sitting, we don’t have enough detonators anyway! We need assistance. Rule 55, you better find a phone.’

Down I get and look for a signal. I have them memorised but out of the cab abd standing on the ballast everything looks different. I walk along in the direction of travel to the Catcart east Junction starter,

‘Please God, make the phone work!’ I silently pray. My prayers are answered.

‘Train number 2X35 satnding at bsignal numberG… ‘I begin

‘WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?’ The Controller screams.

‘Er… whe’ve broken down.’

‘WHERE?’

‘Cathcart East junction.’

‘Are you on the junction?

‘Yes.’

‘AAAGH! FOR FUCK’S SAKE! WHY ME!’

‘We’ve lost line power.’ I explain.

‘Have you protected your train?’

‘Guard’s doing it now.’ I lie. ‘He suggested that it would be better to report in and get assistance.’

‘AND WHERE THE FUCK AM I SUPPOSED TO GET ASSISTANCE?’

‘Not my department.’ I say, getting just a little pissed off by the mans attitude. Not to say his language. So I put three detonators down the regulation ten yards apart and head back to thge train where things are getting desparate. But, being Rangers supporters, the Pope was getting the blame.

‘Eventually a diesel loco came along, heralded by the bangs of the detonators. I wave my red flag as if the revolution has broken out. I know the driver, I’d been his ‘assistant’ for a while. Nonchalantly, his current mate gets down and the buffer up having first dropped the buckey coupling to expose the drawhook and extended the buffers. Ten minutes and we’re away.’

I expected the shit to hit the fan big time over this one but nobody seems to care. Just another saturday on the magic roundabout although the Teddy Bear supporters missed most of the first half of the game and if I recall they got cuffed into the bargain.

It was another football match that gave me a scare some years later by which time I’d transferred to Gourock. Scotland were playing a totally meaningless international against a hill in Italy. a game that was, according to the national coach ‘Always going to be a difficult match.’

I was on a late shift Gourock, my last turn, The train was not crowded but there was a contingent of the ‘Tartan Army’ Kilted tartan scarfed. but compared to the old firm yobs who were prone to sundry naughtiness, the were relatively peaceable.

All went well until we were leaving Port Glasgow. AS i mpassed the starter signal, it became apparent that someone had pulled the communication chord. The train was grinding to a halt on the viaduct. I took over and stopped the train.

‘SHIT!’ I got my hand lamp and opened the door. In the dark I could see nothing. One false step and it was a twenty foot drop to Balflour Street below. gingerly, i got down nonto the ballast and looked along the train. The flag on the first coach indicated that it was there that the cord had been pulled. I opened the doors with the valve at the side. Inside all was silent.

‘Who pulled the cord?’ I demanded in my best authoritarian voice. Silence.

‘Who pulled the cord?’ I demanded again. Still silence from the kilties. AS i was speaking Gordon the Greek, the guard was coming along the train to see what was the matter.

‘GORDON! Phone the polis!’ I said. As I did a faint voice came from the interior of the coach.

‘Eh… it wis me by the way.’ one of the kilties says.

‘What did you pull it for?’ I snapped.

‘Er… mah scarf was round it and  ah pulled the scarf and accidentally pulled the chord as well.’

‘Well don’t hang your scarf on it, thats not what its for!’ I rebuked and closed the door.

Then we had the job of resetting the alarm which in those days had to be done manually. Eventually we proceeded on our merry little way. At each station, the kilties slipped away into the mirk. there wwere only a few left by the time I reached Gourock where my dad was waiting to drive me home, concerned at the late arrival of the train.

‘Eventually, I left the Electrics and went to Eastfield and the diesels on the West highland line. but I’l,l never forget the fun we had on the sparkies. I once asked a controller ‘Are ye winning?’ He replied. ‘Ye canny win on this job hen, the best ye can hope for is tae force a draw… ‘