The Mathematics of Moonlight

Sometimes the stars are static particles on a map of vectors. Closing your eyes, the dark sweet smell of chemical pastilles fills the air you breathe, more fully inhabits your senses. There’s the crinkle of plastic, the slow emanation of sugar dust, of squishy gelatine fruits. A promise of comets, the bleed of ink through pixelated screens. The miasma of colours combines to several lines of tangled sound. A plasmid comes in circles, endlessly replicating. Once there was a boy who knew Jupiter, could point it out on a clear night’s sky, even with a headful of whisky.

The evening is beckoning. Sitting out by the river with the smokers; the water turns its swirling cola, the rain fizzes sadness saccharine into each deep cleft. A few drinks later, the sky will have cleared, the rain will have left. Its mist still clings to her hair. The moon is a sliver, thin as a curl of sebum scratched from her scalp. Across the sky, it drifts like an errant fingernail, floating atop someone’s bathwater. The sky is more beautiful when she is drunk; this is why he ploughs her with alcohol. She’s not there yet.

There’s a sombreness to the bedroom. Moonlight through the skylight makes her dizzy. The three of you sit with the radio on, its dull vibrations flickering beneath each surface: skin, wood, sheet, word, window. The limbs are creeping, seeking to melt the numbness that comes without heating. He offers little in the way of hospitality. The radio spits static about sport, a match he’s missing; that his dad is at, 500 miles away. She thinks of the distance to the moon and back. How far he is, shadowed in silence. The sound of the commentator grates her bones.

Soon the shivering will begin properly. She misses the packets of sweets, the cola-dark river, the clearness of gin. He spreads the map out on the bed, struggling to flatten the creases. If only we could preserve this in amber, someone says. A movement. The colours of Jupiter flash on the brain. Fingers trace the fault-lines of the city, demarcations of space and place, angles and ridges and emptiness. The central road that leads northwards, the old highway going westwards. Little symbols for houses and trees. Green shapes, edges that smooth the land serene. She sees his forehead still, its clustering rubies of acne. What of that suspension? The radio growls deep in her stomach, its own pale desire. Sailing By…she finds herself snagged on the shipping forecast, its mutterings reflecting distances and darknesses far away. There can only be now a crumpling of the map, the gesture, its replication meshing in lunar equations…

/ Maria Sledmere

(fff prompts: reverberations, photo of moon)

The Mint of Immortality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Maria Sledmere

(Flash Fiction February prompt: nowhere)

Upon the Granite Steps

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There are always people with backpacks, who enjoy running up and down flights of stairs. Their faces wobble like red jelly and their legs seem ready to snap from the movement and weight. You can see the bulging muscles, the eking curves of flesh. It would be fun to get one of them to sit still for long enough so that you could draw those muscles, the rather peculiar sculptures of those legs.

Lucas likes to come down to the steps sometimes, but not to run. He hasn’t run since college, when they made everyone do laps and tryouts for the football team, and he felt as awkward and gangly as an oversized pixie. No, Lucas just comes here to sit, to stretch his long limbs down the steps. He gets out a book maybe, but rarely does he read it. He likes being in Park Circus, surrounded by all the pretty houses and the vintage cars; he likes looking into the oval-shaped park in the middle, though it is always locked and closed to outsiders. Lucas tries to read, though the view is always so distracting.

From the top of these steps, you can see right out over the city. The Hydro, looking like a silver UFO, glittering in the chance appearance of sunlight. The SECC, like some ugly, metallic insect sent up from the Underworld. In the far distance, you see tiny windmills spinning invisible threads of energy. A handful of birds, bursting out of the skeletal trees. Lucas first came here in summer, when the trees were thick with leaves and you could hardly see anything past them, as if they were motherly, protective. Now, in winter, they are bare silhouettes. It would take hours and hours to draw their intricate, spindly branches.

Blue-grey clouds loom like plumes of industrial smoke. Lucas packs up his things. He has brought a sketchpad, and a few drops of rain have splashed onto the open page, blurring the ink. The skyline is a molten combination of black and blue, shallow water, spilt ink.

He thinks the clouds are like titans, the old gods who preceded the Olympians.

The rain comes down, thick and fast. It’s funny how sometimes rain can seem apocalyptic: it’s all in the pelting, diagonal motion. You could easily imagine those droplets as fireballs or bullets.

A random man comes round the corner, starts running up the stairs. He’s heaving the weight of a massive backpack, a grimace stuck to his face. Lucas, skinny in his jeans and impractical hoodie, watches with interest.

That is when the man slips. Face first, he collides with the concrete steps. Rain keeps pouring on top of him, its rushing filling the crushing space. He scrambles at the granite like a fallen child. Lucas, light as the wind, leaps down the steps to help the runner to his feet.

No man is a titan, he thinks, but maybe I can be Ariel.

— Maria Sledmere

(Flash fiction February prompts: Titan, diversity)

Azure and the Revelations

They christened her Azure, because like the deep blue of the sea her little blue eyes were a wealth of hope and happiness. She was raised in humble circumstances, with the lovely nourishing of nature – of rivers and fells and forests for company – and with the firm instructions of her mother. But when Azure turned thirteen, her mother died quite suddenly of a nervous condition that the doctor would not explain.

Azure had no sense of what to do with herself. Without her mother’s guidance, she did not know who or what she was and how. Her father was no help, and retreated into his books. A nursemaid from the village fed her after school and helped her with her homework, but other than that, Azure was a lonely thing, adrift in a world uncertain.

She found friendliness in the valleys and hills around her father’s cottage. While he withdrew to private study, Azure played in the wide green world that was suddenly open to her without her mother’s restrictions. She would hang upside down from a yew tree, listening to the linnet singing. She would dangle her feet in the clear mountain streams, where the water rushes past with the coldness of ice. She would take off on a Sunday afternoon and climb the summit of some new peak, finding solace by a lake where she watched little fish circling in stream after stream. In a rainstorm Azure would find shelter under the bowers of her favourite trees, nestling in with the flowers and ferns and leaves. She learned which berries to eat, which mushrooms to pick and where the faeries lived.

When she thought of her mother, Azure would not weep anymore; she would fly down some mountainside until the thoughts rushed from her head and she was more alive than ever she could be.

But Azure’s name bore a prophecy, and the world would not stay her own forever. When she was fifteen the war broke out and all the city children were being sent to live in the country. Azure offered to train as a nurse but her father would not allow it, and even when he was drafted and she had only her grandma to answer to, she was still forbidden. They insisted that she get an education. It’s what your mother would have wanted. Still, she had little time for books or figures; all Azure wanted to do was feel the dew on her skin and the pleasant caress of the wind. Whenever she sat with her homework, idle at her father’s desk, she felt unfaithful to nature.

To make matters worse, the city children were leaps and bounds ahead of her. They knew long division and the capital cities of Europe; they could recite Shakespeare by heart and list monarchs and dates from history. In class with them, Azure felt nothing but the awareness of her failure.

One day, however, it was snowing and the school was closed. All the children had turned up in their hats and scarves and now were lost and shivering in the desolate playground. It was hours before the adults would come to pick them up. It was Azure that had the Revelation.

“You think you know everything,” she told them, “but there are things you haven’t seen.” She took the troupe of children across the village and out into the fields. The snow was falling thick and slow around them, blinking bits of ice in their eyes. Their cheeks grew rosy as they chased after their leader, who knew the contours of the ground like the back of her hand. They danced across great puddles of ice, raced down hillsides, linked arms and sang an elegy to a dying eagle. They buried its beautiful body with snow. The war and the cold were forgotten as the children crouched in the forest and listened to the stirring crickets, the squirrels rustling in the undergrowth. The animals always knew how to take shelter.

It was a sad thought to know it was soon home-time. Home, but not really home. Together, they followed Azure across the white plains of farmland back to the village.

At the school, the parents were full of rage. They wanted someone – some dirty country scoundrel – to blame. But when they saw the happiness on the children’s faces, all was forgiven. They took their children’s hands, and as they looked up to the bright blue sky, they too saw the new world that they already lived in.

(Prompts: azure blue, fidelity, prophecy)

by Maria Rose Sledmere

Sea Jewel

There is an ocean out there, she hums and shushes through the little inlets that ripple the islands. She breathes in and out of this archipelago, soft in her flowing salt skin. Birds weep in their longing; with each sweep of wing they cry for her beauty.

Yet this beauty is not perfect, for its eternity elevates it to something more than perception, than physicality. The ocean’s perpetual presence is a kind of madness. Where she meets the sky in a glowing line, the ocean abandons herself to the abyss of imagination – an ether of human images, ideas sprinkled with adored curiosity. We know only the line where the sun rises, scintillating its topaz light across the waves. A flickering line, a slip between presence and absence. Where clouds gather, spread and drift in spilt pastel shades.

In this lagoon I am the ocean’s child. I float in a pool of aquamarine blue, safe and submerged in a comfort that is almost amniotic.

I feel the desire of return in this rhythm, this pulsing of waves. Old waves strayed from their mother, finding an ending in this lagoon. A pool of perfect enclosure. They lap the sands, drop glittering silt on the sun-warmed land. Soon the moon will bring them back to the horizon, so they may begin their journey again.

Laying on my back with the water around me, under me, pouring inside and out of me. Here it is calmer than death; a blue-white birth, a first hour on earth. Above I watch the birds, their wings sailing gracefully against the sun. I love, I love.

by Maria Sledmere

prompts: ocean image, enamoured, wings