Short Story of the Month – ‘All Through the Night’ by Angela Graham

Our new short story of the month is ‘All Through the Night’ by Angela Graham from her debut short story collection A City Burning.

A man looks back to the night his marriage reached its tipping-point on a cliff-top in west Wales.

A city burns in a crisis − because the status quo has collapsed and change must come. Every value, relationship and belief is shaken and the future is uncertain.

In the twenty-six stories in A City Burning, set in Wales, Northern Ireland and Italy, children and adults face, in the flames of personal tragedy, moments of potential transformation. On the threshold of their futures each must make a choice: how to live in this new ‘now’. 

The story ‘All Through the Night’ was first published in the Irish journal Crannóg which nominated it for the prestigious Pushcart Prize in 2019. 

This is an excerpt, read the full story for FREE on the Seren website here.

All Through the Night

I look back now with a kind of dread, yet dread is about the future, about what’s going to happen, not what has already happened. So I dread…? The memory of pain.
          I never thought of myself as a man given to gestures. Imagination I do have, but I tend to keep it to myself.
          I remember the road: the little road under the starlight that summer. It was the year Mam and Dad sold the farm. I didn’t want it. They kept the farmhouse and the little bwthyn that had been the kernel of the homestead. You and I had used it for years already for holidays with the kids. They loved its thick walls and deep window-ledges.
          At Clogwyn Uchel, on the very edge of Wales, the roads are dark (some of them are tracks, really) and the stars sort of spread themselves out overhead, display themselves, with a careless glamour; or like something much more homely, like sugar spilt across a slate, but up there, up above. A sprinkling of sugar overhead. Very confusing if you thought about it too much. And higher into the sky – it’s hard to describe! – there’s a hazy cloud of them.  Growing up at Clogwyn Uchel and I never bothered to learn much about them. Anyway, the stars do what they do whether we notice them or not. They’re not waiting for our attention.
          On a clear night like that one they shed enough light to see your way and the chalky ground of the lane helps. It’s a glimmering path up to the bwthyn, reflecting light from far, far above. Sometimes it even seems to me as though a bit of the sky has dropped to earth because the little white stones are like a rough and tumble Milky Way between the hedges.
          You walked ahead of me, Mari. Blindly, I thought. Or like someone who’d been dazzled by something. Your feet took you.
          Your mind? Numbed.
          Probably. We all have to do so much guess-work about each other! What is she feeling?  What will she do next? What does she want?
          “Do you love him?” I called out. But you didn’t stop, or look back, or speak. I’m sure you heard me. You went on, into the little house.
          I couldn’t. I walked around it to where the sea suddenly presents itself. A shock! Always. Always that shiver at finding yourself on the edge of a cliff. Acres of water ahead in a dark mass. The endlessness of the sea. It doesn’t stop. It goes about its business, rushing and crushing, floating boats, flexing itself. That night it was shuddering.
          The stars. Some flung themselves down the sky. Mad bastards. Most looked on in a dignified way, blinking mildly at this recklessness.  And I thought of the song. Its beautiful tune.
          Holl amrantau’r sêr ddywedant
          Ar hyd y nos.

          Ar hyd y nos. All through the night.
          Nothing like the crappy English version.  Sickly-sweet, that.  And boring. “Soft the drowsy hours are creeping… visions of delight revealing… hill and vale in slumber steeping”. And the stars don’t get a look-in! Not a mention. You pointed that out to me. When you were learning Welsh. “How come…?” you asked. You were always asking that. “Why is the verb here? Why do I have to say…?” Whatever.
          And I’d say, “It just is, Mari. I don’t know why. Ask your teacher, cariad.  Gwyn knows all that stuff.”
          Yes, he did, didn’t he?

Finish reading ‘All Through the Night’ on the Seren website here.

A City Burning is available on the Seren website £9.99

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Short Story of the Month – ‘Circling the Night’ by Helen Gordon

Our new short story of the month is ‘Circling the Night’ by Helen Gordon.

“You look pretty,” Gemma says, accusatorially. “You’re going to pull tonight.”

For Leila and her friends a night at the fair is full of opportunities that only the heady world of teenage relationships, fancy dress and friendship can provide. 

Helen Gordon‘s short fiction has won the Cambrensis Short Story Competition, been shortlisted for the Real Writers Short Story Awards and longlisted for both the Bridport Prize and the Fish International Short Story Prize. Her non-fiction has been published in The Big Issue and The Church Times as well as in local lifestyle magazines. She currently lives in Shropshire, where she brings up her two boys and works as a freelance journalist.

This is an excerpt, read the full story for FREE on the Seren website here.

Circling the Night

Leila makes her father drop her by the bridge, where they can hear the muffled boom of the fairground shaking through the dusk.

“You look beautiful,” he tells her as she slides out of the car and fluffs her skirts back into a bell.

“Go!” she hisses. But he doesn’t. He watches her tug at the ringlets she’s spent the whole afternoon curling, fiddle with the silk daisies in their midst. And he’s still watching as she picks her way down the alley, turns the corner and lets the fairground take her.

It’s a scratchy excuse for a fairground; a few spidery rides cornered into the tiny car-park that can barely contain them. It’s a sideshow to the pub-spilled streets, thick with messy delight; a gathering-ground for teens too old for costume competitions but too young to squeeze up against heaving bars in the hope of getting a pint.

Leila’s shoes – her mother’s old tap shoes that she found crushed at the base of the dressing-up trunk – tap across the pitted tarmac towards the waltzer, where Gemma and Lizzie are waiting.

Gemma has added a short chequered tie to her school uniform, pulled a flimsy police hat firmly over her curls and rolled her skirt so short that the gusset of her fishnet tights is showing. She has a thick truncheon in one hand and a bottle of 20/20 in the other, and both of them look dangerous.

She puts the bottle down on the bottom step of the waltzer to take in the pink ribbons curling through the net of Leila’s skirt, the pinafore frills of her top, the improbable white of her tights.

“What the fuck are you? Little Bo Peep?”

“A clockwork doll” Leila says, turning to show the gold-sprayed cardboard key sticking sideways out of her back and then completing the circuit self-consciously, fingers splayed, just as she had for the camera at home.

“You look pretty,” Gemma says, accusatorily. “You’re going to pull tonight.”

It’s a promise and a threat, and Leila’s heart leaps and cramps, leaps and cramps until it merges with the disco beat pounding through her veins.

Lizzie, in a pink fur-trimmed cowboy hat and thigh-high leather boots that go no way towards closing the gap on her skirt, takes a deep swig of the 20/20 and thrusts the lurid green liquid in Leila’s direction. She’s got a psychedelic rock dummy strung round her neck and she sucks on it provocatively, her eyes fixed on the bare chest of the boy spinning the cars of the waltzer.

Leila drinks, breathes through the syrupy burn, and looks out across the night. The fairground’s already busy. Clumps of oddly dressed youths cluster together letting the disco beat thump them into a state of excitement. She scans them, endlessly, her heart twitching in hope and fear, but she can’t see Rhys Davis amongst them.

“Come on then, who d’ya fancy?” says Gemma, curving her back against the waltzer railings and puffing out her chest. “Oh don’t be a stuck up bitch. Come on.”

She thrusts the half-empty bottle into Leila’s face, watches her swig, then pushes it back until it re-connects with her lips.

“It’s not fucking cough mixture” she says, “Drink!”

“Right then,” she repeats, when Leila’s swallowed to her satisfaction “Tell us who you fancy.”

“I don’t-“

“Come on. It’s Rob Thomas isn’t it?”

“No-” she says far too quickly, because a year ago it had been, and the thought of Gemma knowing makes something delicate crunch inside her, like a ladybird under a boot.

“It is!”

“No, it’s not. It’s not. ”

Shame’s burning through the pink circles she’s painted so carefully onto her cheeks and Gemma’s watching it cat-like, her claws twitching in anticipation of the kill.

“Honestly. Not Rob Thomas. Someone else.”

Gemma eyes the bait coolly, waits for it to turn its pale belly towards her.

“Go on then…”

“It’s Rhys Davis,” breathes Leila and even the words have a music to them, a soft rustle of pleasure that whispers somewhere in the tissue of her skirt and lingers like a sigh, cooling the burning circles of her cheeks. Rhys Davis. Rhys Davis. Rhys Davis.

Gemma curls her lip in revulsion.

“What d‘you fancy that lanky dick for? He’s rank. Anyway he’s been getting off with my cousin.”

Gemma’s cousins are many and nameless and Leila knows better than to mess with the suggestion of one. She reaches instead for the booze and holds the fiery green liquid in her mouth until it dissolves the surface of her teeth, burns away the horror crawling at the base of her belly.

“Alright alchy!” says Gemma, snatching the bottle back and taking a long answering swig of her own. “It’s not just for you, you know.”

Leila hardly notices. Because there, at the far end of the car park, is the silhouette she’s been looking for all night, and a tight spiral of joy is corseting her lungs, making it difficult to breathe. Rhys Davis: in khaki shorts and a cork-dangled hat, with two white streaks of sunblock slanting each side of his perfectly crooked nose, is walking across the car park.

Finish reading ‘Circling the Night’ on the Seren website here.

Short Story of the Month – ‘Sugarcane for My Sweetheart’ by Maggie Harris

Our new Short Story of the Month is ‘Sugarcane for My Sweetheart’ by Maggie Harris which features in her short story collection Writing on Water.

Writing on Water Maggie HarrisMaggie Harris’ short story collection Writing on Water  is informed by the Caribbean, where she was born, and Britain where she has lived as an adult, and through them, the wider world. Issues of belonging and migration feature, but alongside these are growing interests in voice, narrative, gardening and botany, music and family. There are both UK and Caribbean voices in these tales, told by children, migrants, mothers, grandparents.

This is an excerpt, read the full story for FREE on the Seren website here.

Sugarcane for My Sweetheart

Maya is dreaming of kitchens. New kitchens. Not open to the air, wood-smoke kitchens; not kerosene stoves or coalpot kitchens. New kitchens. Kitchens of pine and oak and beech. Kitchens with solid wood doors and MDF shelves, kitchens with laminate and chrome, Mediterranean tiles, Victorian pulleys, cork and slate floors, quarry tiles.
In her dreams she enters those kitchens as she has taken to entering all those showrooms on lunchtime Sundays: with the slow excited steps of a traveller arriving. Eyes stray past customs, the loitering salesman, the swing doors past Immigration. Gleaming glass-fronted doors hold her gaze like shimmering tarmac. They draw her in like mirrors, framing the new arrival. Excitement is mixed with fear and longing, slowed by the shuffling progress of the queue.
Her kitchen measurements are clutched tight in her hands like a passport; over and over she checks them: the permit, the invitation letter, traveller’s cheques crisp and new in their plastic sleeve.
She has reason to feel afraid. On her return from the island the eyes of the officer had scalded Maya. They highlighted her like a spotlight, running her up and down as if they could see right through her. A chorus had risen from the queue like the tide, washing over her with a high Atlantic wave. In this dream her mother is by her side, her spirit hands even more frantic in death, fluttering a British passport that only Maya could see, tickets and boarding passes scattering on the desk like the plucked feathers of a broiling bird.
In her dream the showrooms stretch: long corridors of gleaming perfection. Miles and miles of shining flooring glide her on its conveyor belt, kitchen after kitchen smiling like models, preening their leaded light and bubble-glassed doors, their plaited cornices like wooden pigtails, their panels in Bermuda Blue, Nevada Blond, Pine Forest. Her dreams have kept up with fashion, solid pine and farmhouse oak that had once beamed their rustic Englishness, Middle England Agas nestling securely like the Cotswold Hills, no longer feature. Now chrome and beech and Shaker kitchens lure her, will her to run her fingers on their smooth fine grain, their granite and Corian worktops combining style and utilitarian twenty-first century designs.
The salesman disappears. Other dreamers have re-commissioned him; they sit in the conservatory-style office with their dream kitchen coming alive on a computer screen, Mr and Mrs Doggy nodding, car-window heads beaming. Their Cheshire smiles fill Maya’s vision and suddenly she is horizontal, being whisked along white corridors with ceilings of ceramic hobs, their halogen spotlights steaming her face like Granny’s Vicks. Perspiration is running down her cheeks, the small of her back. The steward has opened the aircraft door and Maya is descending. Heat washes over her like invisible rain. Tarmac ripples in the haze. The redcap boys run with their luggage trolleys. Water runs down her back. She is a dog in the shadows, turning over and over in the liquid heat, an insistent voice riding over the surf.
‘Maya! Maya!’
Denver is nuzzling his face into her neck. His hand rests on her hip. Her eyes flutter into a still-dark morning. She senses his body wakening. He is not yet, fully. In a minute he will be, and remember. He’ll turn away then, face his own wall, summon the energy to rise, get ready for work.
Beneath her the towel is damp and hard. Many washes in this limescaled water has wrung any softness out. She thinks of the towels in Uncle Danny’s bathroom, the white fleshy softness, her body cosseted, white tiles reflecting her face. There was no limescale back there. How she loved to hang the washing out then! Hook them on the line, watch them dance like kites in the wild wind, sing in a soft breeze. She had washed everything in sight, tea cloths, Uncle Danny’s clothes, her own. Just to smell them, feel them, watch them dry face up to the sun, unaccustomed in cold dank London.
The first thing they tell you when you return is to tek it easy, you back home now. So fill your eyes with the coconut trees, the endless beach, the boats turning out to sea. Lone fishermen pushed their bikes across the sand, their dogs nosing alongside. And the sky, the sky! That brilliant cobalt blue, stretching a panorama between memory and reality. Tourists didn’t make it this far. Here it was too rough to swim, the waves still angry at history, guarding the wrecks viciously. Their anger had moved from scuttles to schooners and jet skis, to slippery fishing boats with secret cargoes. And you try and take it easy. Borrow that inherent ambiance, live one day at a time. But soon you realise that what you’re doing is waiting. Waiting for time to stand still. Time has stood still for Maya in this particular place.
Waiting. Watching the shifting blues, the white haze, the fisherman becoming a dot. The clothes on the line have dried, her swimsuit a kitten at play, relishing this now-time, this brief sojourn before being folded into a drawer, nestling in the dark like a hyacinth bulb.

Finish reading ‘Sugarcane for My Sweetheart’ on the Seren website here.

Writing on Water is available on the Seren website: £8.99

Short Story Extract – ‘The Tribe’ by Jaki McCarrick

This extract is from Jaki McCarrick’s short story ‘The Tribe’ which is featured in her Edge Hill-shortlisted collection, The Scattering.

The main character’s rationale is unnerving and extreme – yet may hold some resonance with the situation we find ourselves in at the moment.

Jaki will be joining us for a special Q&A as part of the Seren Stay-at-Home Series tomorrow night at 6:30pm where she will be discussing her fiction and plays which include the award-winning Belfast Girls. Tickets are only £5 and are available here*.

 

A stranger from another time trespasses in an ancient landscape, where a primitive tribe live their modest lives. He has a dark yet necessary mission – but will he manage to complete it?

 

The Tribe

The American Dream has run out of gas.The car has stopped.
It no longer supplies the world with its images, its dreams, its
fantasies. It’s over. It supplies the world with its nightmares
now: the Kennedy assassination,Watergate,Vietnam. J.G. BALLARD

The images that came up on the screen were of a cold, forested environment. Beside me the lake was iced over and wide as a sea. There were trees all around frozen ponds and up and down mountainsides. I wondered if there was human life here at all. Nothing stirred outside, except for the unmistakable shape of an owl flying across the almost-full moon. I wrapped up in my boots and Gore-Tex and kept my gun close. Into a compartment of my backpack I placed another, more lethal gun and clasped the bag to my front. I secured my mask and hood then exited the POD (shorthand for the small machine that had brought me here, with its state-of-the-art Personal Odyssey Drive® system).
Outside, it was freezing. I’d never known cold like it. Not even on the coldest days in New York. In fact, it was not like any cold I’d ever experienced on the earth, anywhere (including the Northwest Territories where I had prepared for this trip).Yet it was so clean, so newly clean. I could distinctly smell pine, and the ice had a fragrant quality, close to mint. I knew that the tundra that covered the earth at this time had beneath it a multitude of flowers and plants, and it was as if the air now was full of the possibility of them. The season, of course, was spring.
​        I had begun to ascend the mountain when I saw what appeared to be a light. At first I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. (I wasn’t hungry but I was tired and had considered returning to the POD, though it would have been dawn before I got there.) I thought perhaps the moon reflected off the snow, but the light was orange. Within a few steps I saw that a fire burned just beyond a redwood copse. (The snow on the trees’ laden branches made the copse seem like some outlandish installation, like those I’d seen years before in galleries in the Village.) My first instinct was to rush towards it. It had to signify human life – no animal as far as we knew had learned how to make fire. But what kind of beings had made this one? And what would they make of me? If they were the beings we sought, that I had hoped to find here, then could they speak? (We had presumed, perhaps conservatively, that I might encounter at best a protolanguage, and not, at this point, actual lexical structure.) I suddenly became afraid of what I might find, though I could feel the gun against my thigh, and it felt warm, as all security is warm, and that I was so quick to think of the weapons I’d brought with me gave me quite a jolt.
​        I gathered myself and tried to remember my purpose here. I checked that the vial was where I had packed it. It was. Cold and deadly as the modernity that had made it.

*

I saw them sitting around the fire, their backs against a circle of high stones. Some of their young ran from caves and were followed by females who evidently disapproved of them out in the cold air. I could smell something roasting on the fire and saw within the flames a long slim-headed beast. Suddenly, the group rose to their feet.They began to make sounds out of the back of their throats which reverberated throughout the hills. The sounds seemed to pass from being to being in a perfect choreography of polyrhythms; it was quite like what I’d heard of Flamenco music. They were covered from head to toe in taupe, grey and dark-red furs, which looked to be the pelts of rabbits, some kind of arctic-like fox, and bears. The group sang its song to the fire, to the beast roasting on the spit, and to the moon and icy expanse – and though I could not understand a word (in so far as their song was composed of words), I felt, somehow, that this was a song of praise, perhaps, even, of welcoming the spring.
​        After a while, one of the older males loosened the beast from the two thin poles it hung from and set it down on a long flat slab. He cut furiously into it with a hand-axe made of what seemed in the moonlight to be quartz or river-flint. He made many piles of meat, and only when he gestured did the group gather around the slab to eat. They were talking. The sound was unmistakable: laughter, grunts, jesting, the aural characteristics of human engagement, all the sounds that one might hear in any modern crowd. These hominids were clearly enjoying their food. It was then I realised that other than the energy biscuits and apples in my backpack, I’d no further supplies until I returned to the POD. The POD itself had enough food for a few more days of my explorations here; the rest held in reserve for the journey home (if I would, indeed, return). I slowly unclasped the pack and squatted down beside it. I was so hungry I devoured two of the three biscuits and washed them down with a small bottle of chemical-tasting water.
​        Within a few minutes I could hear a commotion. I stood up and saw a fight break out between two males, between them, a young female clinging tightly to a rock.The smaller of the two males was eventually trounced by the other and stole off like a honey badger into the woods. The tall, rangier male brought the female towards two older females who laughed as they walked her back to the caves. Quickly, the peace returned. After the meal, the taller male quenched the fire and moved the stragglers along. There was something civilised and quite authoritative, I thought, about this creature hanging back to tidy up the remains of his tribe’s revels.
​        As I would need daylight in order to proceed with my task, I decided to remain where I was. Below me nothing stirred except three or four brindled dogs that looked like small wolves gathering in the centre of the valley to finish off the meat.There seemed also to be a constant rumbling sound, which I supposed was a distant ice storm (perhaps signifying some kind of metamorphic activity in the region). It was as I found an over-leaning bank of earth, under which I planned to sleep, that I heard the other sound. It was terrible and gurgling and instantly recognisable. I looked down and saw that the tall authoritative tribe-member stood in the empty valley below, a pole pierced through his chest, pinning him to the white earth. The others began to emerge from their caves and the sides of the valley. The young female and the group she had been with ran to him. They screamed and cried and pulled the pole from the tall male, at which he dropped to the ground. I heard a sound, if not an actual word, repeated again and again by one of the older females. ‘Orvey! Orvey! Orvey!’ she seemed to cry, as she continually tried to wake him. And I knew, somewhere in the depths of my being, that the sound – for how could I call it a word when I was yet to be convinced that this tribe was in possession of what could feasibly be called language? – meant: child.

*

This is an extract, read the full story on the Seren website

*All ticket holders for the Seren Stay-at-Home Series get an exclusive 30% discount code to use on the Seren website. Get your tickets here.

Short Story of the Month – ‘Scream, Scream’ by Glenda Beagan

Our new Short Story of the Month is ‘Scream, Scream’ by Glenda Beagan which features in The Green Bridge: Stories from Wales.

The Green Bridge is an entertaining anthology of classic stories from twentieth century Wales. From Dylan Thomas to Ifan Pughe, the familiar to the revived, from the rural west of Caradoc Evans to the industrial south of Gwyn Thomas, the politics of Emyr Humphreys to the relationships of Dorothy Edwards, all Wales and all human life is here.

 

This is an excerpt, read the full story for FREE on the Seren website here.

Scream, Scream

It is quiet on the ward. There are only three bed patients. Nurse

Sandra looks at her watch. It is so still. There is the faint hum of a

mechanical mower on lawns far away, that is all. No birds are singing.

Mrs Jessop is snoring quietly. She’s had a bad night. It is on the

report.

Linda is about to make her move. Nurse Sandra senses it. She

smooths her apron, flicks through a magazine with studied

carelessness watching sideways through her hair as Linda shifts her

slow carcase off the bed. Even now as those bare arms emerge Nurse

Sandra has to steel herself. She looks up, clenched. Sioned, the

anorexic girl in the top bed is semaphoring wildly. Linda begins.

“Is my heart still beating?”

“Yes, Linda.” Nurse Sandra sighs, tries to smile. How well she

knows this never ending litany.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“Can you hear it?”

“Not from here I can’t, no.”

“Come and listen.”

“Again, Linda?”

“Yes. I think it’s stopped.”

“No luv, silly. Course it hasn’t stopped. You wouldn’t be sitting

up talking to me if it had stopped, would you?”

“No.”

“There you are then.”

Now the familiar pause.

“Is my baby dead?”

This was the bit she dreaded. Day after day, hour after hour, the

same question. And still she dreaded it.

“It’s a long time ago now, Linda.”

“How long?”

“Two years.”

“I killed my baby didn’t I?”

“No, you didn’t kill your baby. You know you didn’t.”

“Heroin killed my baby.”

“Yes.”

“Not me.”

“No.”

“But I did really. I know I did.”

Nurse Sandra gulps. Linda never wants platitudes. Sometimes

she’ll accept them. Mostly she won’t.

Nurse Sandra still finds she winces inside at the sight of those

arms: the half healed scars she’d cleaned of pus months before are

still lurid among the tattoos, the roses, crowns and mermaids, the

names JIMMY and MOTHER, the waste, the pointlessness. Linda is

dying, her liver, which is all of twenty three years old, is ready to

pack up on her. She has respiratory problems. Her legs are hideously

ulcerated. She has come here to die because there is nowhere else for

her to go.

“Have you got a fag?”

“I don’t smoke, Linda.”

“Mrs Jessop smokes.”

“Mrs Jessop is asleep.”

“When she wakes up?”

“You can ask her when she wakes up.”

“Will she give me a fag?”

“She usually does, doesn’t she?”

“She always does.”

A giggle. The ghost of a giggle.

“She always gives me a fag to make me go away.”

Linda is not averse to exploiting the unnerving effect she has on

people, and Mrs Jessop is easily unnerved. So is Sioned. Linda

changes tack. She knows the answer before she asks the question but

she wants a reaction. She wants to see those dark eyes close, that pale

skull shake its negative.

“You don’t smoke, do you Sioned?”

Sioned is pretending not to be here. She does it well. She is now

so thin she hardly makes a ripple under the blankets. She is

disappearing. Tonic insulin seems not to have had the desired effect.

She is seventeen, always tiny, admittedly, but now she weighs just

four stone.

Mrs Jessop sputters into consciousness. Stretches, yawns, sits bolt

upright.

“Oh.”

“Good morning Mrs Jessop. For this relief much thanks.”

Nurse Sandra walks up to the bed.

“How are we this morning?”

Mrs Jessop can’t remember how she is. Bleary still from night

sedation, she blinks, owl-like, registers Linda’s looming presence and

makes an instinctive move for her handbag, proffering the packet.

Linda beams.

“Ta, Mrs Jessop. You’re alright, you are. You’ll be going home

soon.”

She slouches off to the top of the ward again.

“If you’re going to smoke you go to the sitting room, Linda.”

“Aw, just this once, Sandra.”

“Sitting room.”

“Can I go in the wheelchair, then?”

“You know I can’t push you. I can’t leave the ward.”

“There’s only Mrs Jessop and Sioned, Sandra. Nothing’s going to

happen while you push me that little way. It’s not far.”

“If you want to smoke you go to the sitting room and if you want

to go to the sitting room you have to walk.”

“You’re a tight bitch, Sandra.”

“Yeah, I’m a real hard case.”

“Can I have a light, Mrs Jessop?”

“Not on the ward, Linda.”

“I wasn’t talking to you. I was talking to Mrs Jessop.”

There is an edge in Linda’s voice but she no longer has the energy

to put that edge into action. Nurse Sandra gives her a look. Now it’s

a battle of wills and Sandra will win because she has the will to win

and Linda has not. The girl’s efforts have already exhausted her. She

wants her cigarette but she does not want to haul herself down the

corridor to smoke it. In the end the cigarette wins. It always does.

She starts to move down the ward again, painfully slowly for Sandra’s

benefit, holding on to the beds.

“Can I borrow your lighter, Mrs Jessop?”

“Get a light from someone down there.”

“There won’t be anyone down there. They’ve gone to OT.”

“Get a light from Sister Annie, then.”

“Where?”

“In the office.”

“Is that where she is?”

“Yes.”

“Are you sure? Is she on her own?”

“It’s not time for the doctors to make their round yet, Linda if

that’s what you’re worried about.”

“Is Dr Patel on today?”

“I don’t know.”

“She’s on holiday,” says Mrs Jessop.

“Is she? How do you know?”

“She told me.”

Linda looks sulky. She likes to think she has a special relationship

with Dr Patel, that she is her confidante. To compensate for not

having received this piece of information she makes an extravagant

balletic swoop towards Mrs Jessop, hands moulded into a parodic

impression of an Indian dancer’s.

“She’s promised me one of her old saris, Dr Patel has. She said I

could have one. She likes me.”

“You’ve been pestering her again, haven’t you?” Nurse Sandra

cuts in, wishing Linda would really get off the ward and go for her

smoke. Linda glowers.

“I like Dr Patel. She’s alright.”

In a moment of rare humour Mrs Jessop chuckles to herself.

“She’ll be going home soon.”

Nurse Sandra smiles. “She’s got a long way to go.”

Just then the scream.

A vehicle must have drawn up, but they didn’t hear it. The front

doors have opened and the scream has come in, has forced itself in,

breaking through their innocuous recitative. This is the aria, a full

blooded aria.

Continue reading ‘Scream, Scream’ on the Seren website here.

 

Short Story of the Month – ‘Jumping Off’ by Sarah Evans

Our new short story of the month is ‘Jumping Off’ by Sarah Evans.

Emma, a female wildlife photographer, is filming a family of barnacle geese. As the fluffy chicks take their first steps into the world, the cliff-edge of uncertainty lies before them. But what lies ahead in her own life, and is it worth the risk?

Sarah Evans has had many short stories published in anthologies, literary journals and online. She has been shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize and been awarded prizes by, amongst others: Words and Women, Stratford Literary Festival and the Bridport Prize. Her work is also included in several Unthology volumes, Best New Writing and Shooter magazine.

 

Jumping Off

This is an extract. Read the full story for free on the Seren website.

Emma trained her binoculars on the ledge set high into the cliff-side. The grey was flecked by mustard-coloured lichen, the monotony broken by twigs poking out from a sprawling nest. It was one heck of a hike.

‘You OK with it?’ Chris asked, eyes creased with concern; clearly she looked as crap as she felt.

‘Sure.’ It was her turn, she had sod-else to do and no way was she playing on feminine weakness.

‘Best route starts just behind that outcrop.’

She strapped her camera across her back and listened with impatience – unfair, he was being helpful – as nausea rose; if she was about to puke, she didn’t need an audience.

‘I’ll be fine.’ Only one way up.

It felt good, stretching thigh muscles and easing into the climb, following the path that meandered round the side of the sheer face. Breathing in the frozen nothing helped to settle the rebellion in her gut. A boulder barred her way and she sought hand and footholds to scramble up. Her foot slipped as she heard the penetrating rise and fall of a wolf-whistle. What the hell…? She twisted her head to peer down. Simon’s long-nosed lens was pointed her way – on her stuck-out arse no doubt – and his arm was waving mockingly.

Damn it! How could she have been so mind-blowingly stupid.

She reached the top of the rock and paused to sip water, swallowing all that idiocy down. Now was not the time to dwell on her current disaster.

Eventually, she reached the stone-strewn top, hauling herself up into the blast of wind. She was heaving for oxygen, muscle-sore and sweat-drenched as she bent into the gale and stumbled towards the cliff-face. Getting closer, she crouched onto all fours. Closer still and she was crawling on her stomach like a lizard.

Her hands grasped the edge, rocks crumbling under her grip. Cautiously she eased herself forward until she could see the line of the drop. The nest was below and to the right. She unstrapped her camera, securing it in a hollow, the lens providing a magnified view. Sticks and moss stuck out from beneath the black-white body of the female goose. No sign either of eggs, or of the male, though he would be out there, somewhere, faithfully performing his duty, finding food – somehow – amidst the desolate landscape. The nest-site was optimal in terms of avoiding predators; in every other respect the choice seemed downright irresponsible.

Just as she had been. She clenched her hands, inhaling the scent of sour clothes. Six weeks ago, she’d spruced herself up for the TV awards ceremony. She’d mingled with the bubbling crowds and answered questions about her job. How exciting, people gushed. All that visiting far flung places and capturing spectacular sequences on film.

The reality was months away from home in the most inconveniently remote locations. No sanitation, shelter or communication. Always too hot or frozen solid, too dry or dripping with deluge, crawling with insect life or harbouring predators. But the worst of it was the mind-numbing tedium. Wildlife neither appeared nor performed on demand.

Small rocks spiked her breasts, thighs and belly; her neck was stiff from craning. Come on goose! Budge! She couldn’t leave without an update. The barnacle goose stood, unsteady on her spindly legs, and waddled to the edge of the nest. Two eggs lay there. Dirt-yellow. And starting to crack.

Continue reading ‘Jumping Off’  for free here

Short Story | ‘Transit of Moira’ – Maria Donovan

With the 50th anniversary of the moon landings taking place this week, we thought it pertinent that we share some moon-themed writing from our authors. ‘Transit of Moira’ comes from Maria Donovan’s collection of short stories Pumping Up Napoleon.

In Pumping Up Napoleon, Maria Donovan takes us on a bizarre, funny and often touching tour of death and laughter, love and space travel. Her light, humorous touch allows darker strands to surface repeatedly – dislocated, lonely lives, out of sync with their surroundings are set alongside human oddity and tenderness. These understated, well-crafted stories constantly surprise and engage, producing a fine, enjoyable and thought-provoking collection.

 

Transit of Moira

At ten-past-midnight by the Tokyo clock, Gavin started floating down the service corridor. Most of the passengers were Japanese and would be strapped to their bunks by now; the only people he expected to be awake were a contingent from the West Country of England, playing endless games of gin rummy in the recreation pod. It seemed like a safe time to go clean the glass in the Bubble Observatory.

He was therefore intensely annoyed to catch sight of a pair of beige open-toed sandals of the kind old ladies wear – the ones with the patterns of little holes punched in the leather – floating ahead of him, kicking a little up and down as if their owner thought she was swimming. Further up were light-brown nylons, the flapping edges of a petticoat and an orange-and-yellow flower-print dress – an ensemble Gavin mentally labelled ‘hideous’. She wasn’t supposed to be in here. This corridor was for crew only. She wasn’t even suitably dressed for zero gravity! Gavin didn’t say anything as he hauled past her, just turned and glared.

She was a silver-haired old lady with a determined but contented look on her face and all she did was nod and smile at him, which annoyed Gavin even more. When he got to the Bubble Observatory, well ahead of her, he thought about bolting the door behind him, but it was against regulations. Suppose she couldn’t manage to get back the way she’d come? He couldn’t really leave her floating there all night, like some over-fed, expiring goldfish.

Gavin rose to the top of the Bubble and began wiping the glass with his specially-impregnated rags; gone were the days when he could dream of space travel scented by leather seats and mood perfume. As usual, the glass was covered in finger marks and, as usual, Gavin wondered why people couldn’t just hold on to the handles that were put there for the purpose. How many more times would he have to wipe the breath and snot and sweat of the world’s most boring passengers off this glass before he could retire? He could count the days, but unfortunately there were still three-thousand-and-twenty-four to go (Gavin was younger than he looked). By then, as he well knew, if he spent all his time in weightlessness, his wasted body would be useless back on Earth. He’d be condemned to spend the rest of his years in space or on the Moon, breathing canned air. But what did it matter? Wherever he went, he was sure to end up surrounded by scuffed plastic.

Earth; people always said the same things about it: ‘It’s so beautiful; it’s so blue; it looks just like a marble’. When he looked down at it, he always reminded himself that, though it did look peaceful from up here, really it was as busy as hell and full of tortures. You knew that once you stepped off the ferry you’d be put in line, processed, stamped, herded, sent here and there, told where you could stop and where you couldn’t. He was glad to be up here, on the out-trip, going lunar.

‘I always said I’d see the Moon before I die.’ The voice at Gavin’s elbow startled him.

She bobbed gently, using, he noted at once, the appropriate handles. This ought to have soothed him, but the fact that she was smiling, evidently quite at peace with herself and the Universe, irritated Gavin so much he broke the company code and retorted: ‘It’s not all it’s cracked up to be, you know.’

‘No?’ she said. ‘It looks good from here.’

They were long past the Neutral Point and accelerating towards the Moon, though you couldn’t tell how fast the ship was going. Behind them the Earth had dwindled to a bright blue disk; the lunar sphere hung before them, pockmarked, shadowed and mysteriously empty, apart from the sprinkle of red and white lights on the Sea of Tranquillity. Stubbornly, Gavin persisted. ‘Neil Armstrong’s footprint,’ he said. ‘I ask you. How does anybody know for sure that’s Neil Armstrong’s footprint?’

‘Have you seen it?’ said the old lady. ‘I’m Moira, by the way.’

Gavin didn’t give his name and he even put his hand over his name badge, as if he were putting hand on heart. He said, ‘I’ve never seen it and I don’t want to. You might as well look at my footprint in the dust.’

‘You’re probably right,’ said Moira. ‘Or mine. Perhaps I’d like to see mine.’

‘The Moon is full of footprints. It’s not like you think it’s going to be.’

‘How do you know what I think?’ said Moira, her head on one side as if she really did have a mild interest in his answer.

‘You’ll see. It’s all canned music and souvenirs. You can’t just wander about. They make you see things whether you want to or not.’

‘Is that so bad?’ said Moira. ‘It is for some people,’ muttered Gavin sulkily. ‘Anyway, I got cleaning to do. And,’ he added as a clincher, ‘I’m not supposed to talk to you passengers.’

Without asking, she took a cloth from his pack and began making circular motions on the glass. ‘Look at that,’ said Moira. ‘My face among the stars.’ When she said it, Gavin looked at his own reflection, something he usually avoided doing as much as possible. He was wearing the expression of a man with a bitter taste in his mouth.

Moira didn’t speak again for some time. She rubbed at the glass with her borrowed cloth and looked at the lights in the dark. ‘Have you ever seen a shooting star?’ she said.

Gavin couldn’t resist scoffing: ‘Not up here,’ he said. ‘And not down there.’ He pointed at the Moon. ‘No atmosphere!’ In the weak lunar orbit things either disappeared off into space or kept going round and round, eventually falling onto the surface, where they stayed, because no one would go and pick them up.

He remembered his first trip, leaving home, when it had all seemed like a big adventure, as well as something to do until a better job came along. How he’d loved to see those bright streaks of burning rubbish flare and fizzle out as they tried to touch the Earth. But now, he knew it was just another kind of pollution. Soon the rest of the Solar System would be polluted too, and eventually the Galaxy and then the Universe…

A flash of diamond-bright sparks flew past the window, ice crystals catching the light of the sun. ‘Oh!’ exclaimed Moira. ‘How lovely!’

‘Urine,’ said Gavin. ‘It’s the voiding hour.’

‘Isn’t it marvellous,’ said Moira, shaking her head, ‘how even your own waste products can look wonderful in space?’

Gavin couldn’t bear it; he gritted his teeth and rubbed harder, as if he might rub out the stars, while Moira made dreamy circles with her cloth. ‘I’ve always wanted to be an astronaut,’ she said.

‘It’s nothing special,’ said Gavin. ‘These days everyone’s an astronaut.’

 

Moira was in the Observatory often after that, or bouncing off the walls of the service corridor, poking into spaces no passenger should know about. Though Gavin saw her, he always hid until she’d gone away. So he couldn’t tell the Captain anything much about her when she went missing.

They had docked in the orbit of the Moon by then, and the passengers had all disembarked. Moira’s absence wasn’t noticed until the whole contingent went through immigration and the numbers didn’t add up. A search was made of the area, all the restrooms were checked, and every cupboard in the transit shuttle was opened. There was no sign of Moira.

Gavin and the rest of the ferry crew were put on alert and ordered to check every locked and unlocked space on board the ship and every item of inventory for clues. Then Gavin was summoned to the Captain’s quarters. ‘You were seen talking to her in the Observatory,’ he said. ‘We have it on visual. What were you talking about?’

‘Nothing much,’ said Gavin.

‘What we’re after,’ said the Captain, ‘is some clue as to her state of mind. We’re not trying to apportion blame.’

Not yet, thought Gavin. Blame will surely follow.

‘How did she seem to you?’ said the Captain. Gavin tried to remember. She had smiled a lot – and she said she wanted to see the Moon before she died.

‘Captain!’ A voice in the air interrupted Gavin’s thoughts before he uttered them. ‘One of our space suits is missing.’

At first no one believed an old lady like that would know how to operate an airlock or even want to try. The space suit was fitted with a standard locator device, but it had been turned off. There was a whisper among the crew that murder had been done, and some of them looked sideways at Gavin. He didn’t mind: it would encourage them to leave him alone.

Then the visuals for that area were checked again and the whole crew saw Moira standing in the airlock and waving goodbye. She even blew a kiss as she stepped out backwards into space.

 

That night, with a full set of new passengers safely on board, the story was officially put to rest. It seemed Moira had no relatives on Earth to inform and so the Captain would be spared the difficulty of writing any letters of regret.

Half-past-one by the Tokyo clock. The ferry left the Moon’s orbit and Gavin went back to polishing the Bubble Observatory. It was quiet; just how he liked it. But the smell of the cleaning rags caught the back of his throat. Angrily, he rubbed harder.

Then his heart lurched as a star-shaped object crossed the face of the Moon. He knew at once what it must be: Moira in her white suit, spreading her arms and legs to the Sun.

Pressing his fingers to the glass, Gavin saw himself – a ghastly open-mouthed reflection superimposed on the face of the receding Moon – and it scared him. But what made him truly uneasy was the suspicion that, if he had been able to get up close, he would have seen that Moira was still smiling.

 

Pumping Up Napoleon is available on the Seren website: £6.99

 

Maria Donovan is a native of Dorset and has strong connections with Wales and Holland. Past career choices include training as a nurse in the Netherlands, busking with music and fire around Europe and nine years as a lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Glamorgan. Her fiction is often offbeat, exploring uneasy relationships, mind and body: ‛My Own CVA’ was a prizewinner in a competition run by The Lancet; and ‘My Cousin’s Breasts’ was shortlisted for the Fish Short Story Prize. Her flash fiction story ‘Chess’ won the Dorset Award in the Bridport Prize 2015.

Maria’s debut novel The Chicken Soup Murder  was published in 2017 and was shortlisted for the Rubery Book Award, fiction category.

The Chicken Soup Murder is available on the Seren website: £9.99

 

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Short Story of the Month | ‘Hands’ by Rebecca Ruth Gould

Our new short story of the month is ‘Hands’ by Rebecca Ruth Gould.

 

‘What struck her most about him were his hands. They were long and lanky, like his body. Even more remarkable than their shape was the way he used them.’

 

Rebecca Ruth Gould’s work has appeared in NimrodKenyon ReviewTin HouseHudson ReviewWaxwingWasafiri, and Poetry Wales. She is the author of Writers and Rebels (Yale University Press, 2016) and translator of After Tomorrow the Days Disappear: Ghazals and Other Poems of Hasan Sijzi of Delhi (Northwestern University Press, 2016) and The Death of Bagrat Zakharych and other Stories by Vazha-Pshavela (Paper & Ink, 2019). A Pushcart Prize nominee, she was a finalist for the Luminaire Award for Best Poetry in 2017. She lives in Bristol and teaches at the University of Birmingham.

 

Hands

 

This is an extract. Read the full story for free on the Seren website.

 

What struck her most about him were his hands. They were long and lanky, like his body. Even more remarkable than their shape was the way he used them. When they first met, he shook her hands boldly and directly, as if it were a perfectly normal thing to do and not a violation of the law in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Taken aback, she forgot to respond. Her hand hung limply in his palm, until he dislodged it.

Just the day prior, she had read about a poet who had been arrested after returning from abroad, for shaking a woman’s hand. She wanted to warn him: You shouldn’t do that. You might end up in jail for shaking my hands. But he must know what he was doing, she reasoned, and who was she to tell him how to behave in his own country?

His hands didn’t fit anywhere, not in his pockets, or at his sides. They dangled oddly from his arms, like an expert swimmer more at home in a lake than on dry land. The lines on his palms were long, stretching from his wrist to his index fingers. If a fortune-teller—like the one she had just consulted with in Hafez’s tomb in Shiraz—had been asked to read his palms she would have predicted for him a long life, a fulfilling marriage and many children. His hands were like an autonomous body. She imagined them keeping her warm at night, soothing the aches in her back, providing a resting ground for her lips, caressing her hips.

Before they said goodbye that magical night in Tehran, she asked him why he decided to shake her hand. Without answer he waxed lyrical, in a different direction. “I dream of working wonders with my hands,” he said, “I want to become a perfumist. I want to make magic potions and aphrodisiacs based on ancient Iranian traditions.” Although it was not an answer, it opens a new mysterious horizon onto his soul. She wanted to know more.

Continue reading ‘Hands’  for free here

Short Story of the Month | ‘The Purging’ by Drew Martyn

Our new Short Story of the Month is ‘The Purging’ by Drew Martyn.

 

‘One cloud and a couple of vapour trails lazed against a heat-paled blue sky and a warm afternoon slid slowly into evening; I was aware of none of it. I was seventeen and cool, she was sixteen and hot: that’s all you can see at that age.’

In the lazy days of summer, two teenagers are forced to grow up quickly as they are thrown into the real world by events beyond their control.

 

Drew and his family live in Wales where he enjoys writing, football, music and real ales. He’s had dark fiction published in a number of print anthologies including Horror Library volume 5 and Fortune: Lost and Found as well as online and in magazines including Isotropic Fiction and Dark Tales. In Heroic Fantasy Quarterly (May 2017) he toyed with sword and sorcery prose-poetry. In the past he’s also contributed articles and conducted interviews for a UK soccer website. If asked about inspiration, he’d witter on forever about Ray Bradbury, William Trevor and especially Georges Perec, so probably best not to…

 

The Purging

This is an extract. Read the full short story for free on the Seren website.

One cloud and a couple of vapour trails lazed against a heat-paled blue sky and a warm afternoon slid slowly into evening; I was aware of none of it. I was seventeen and cool, she was sixteen and hot: that’s all you can see at that age.

Her name was Alison. She had a body to turn heads and a face to turn hearts, and I swallowed hard and said something inane at the first smile she gave me. It was summer holidays, no school, time for fun. Time for growing up into the real world – and I had a lot of growing up to do and not much time to do it in.

She took me home to meet her family.

I’d heard a few things about them, mostly from Alison. That was ok: listen to her stories and her family were okay. But I heard rumours too. And then someone told someone else who told someone who told me… and those rumours I didn’t like one bit.

But, anyway, we were here, walking onto her estate. The people we passed looked surprisingly ok. Normal. They didn’t have two heads, or bite the heads off kittens or carry machetes or grenades. They didn’t snarl or even growl as we walked past. Most of them didn’t even frown.

It was a typical housing estate: a warren of streets, narrow alleys and short cuts, cars half-off half-on the pavement, some tidy front gardens, a few of them anyway, some just rubbish tips for the couldn’t care less brigade.

“My house is just up here,” Alison said as we turned a corner. I slowed the pace.

“It’s ok,” she reassured me, laughing. “Honest.”

We passed a few bedraggled houses, the ubiquitous mattress in one of the front gardens, a rusty pram in another. And then, for no apparent reason, the houses suddenly looked cleaner, more looked-after. It took me a few yards to realise it was because they didn’t have flaking paint on the doors and windows. And the cars were parked properly. And the lawns were mowed. Lawns? I realised these houses here had the first grass and flowers in front of them that I’d seen on the estate.

“Mine,” said Alison, opening a wrought iron gate. It squeaked a bit as we walked through. I suppose it had to give some sort of nod to the neighbourhood. Or a warning to those inside the house.

That thought both scared me and made me realise I was being a snob. Ew no; one didn’t tolerate unoiled hinges where I came from, certainly not.

I can be a prat sometimes, I reminded myself.

On the other hand this house even had coaching lamps, shiny and polished, each side of the front door. Nice. Bit over the top, common maybe, but nice.

I can be judgemental, too. Goes with being a prat.

Shit, she was opening the front door! I hung back but she grabbed my hand and pulled me along like some toy dog. A waft of soap and Brut hit me as we walked in. I was about to meet the family.

 

This is what I knew of them:

Da had a reputation that could scratch diamonds, and fists to match. This town was his town.

Ma loved her own. For everyone else there were razors and bullets, mostly wielded by her tongue. Mostly (apparently).

Big brother Paul took one look at me and said: “Get her pregnant and you marry her, or you’ll never see her again.” This wasn’t a threat, this was a vision.

I didn’t listen. I didn’t care. After all, I reasoned, what’s sight worth, when love itself is blind? Oh yeah, I’m a romantic. Bit of a poet, me.

In other words, an all round total prat.

 

Inside, her house gave no indication of being anything special. It looked sort of nice. Tidy, like. No dead bodies. No suitcases full of money. And definitely no guns.

“Hi Da,” said Alison.

Da stood in front of a large sideboard mirror shaving with a cutthroat razor, a bowl of soap suds in front of him, his white vest splashed grey with soapy water, his braces hanging to his knees.  A radio in an upstairs room spoke loudly of last year’s moon landing and something about The Beatles disbanding.

As soon as I appeared, Da turned into a statue, the razor blade slicing my reflection, only his eyes moving, following me.

“You Mike?”

“Yessir.”

Even if I wasn’t, I’d have had to say “Yessir” to that voice.

“Don’t call me ‘Sir’. Don’t call nobody ‘Sir’. When you’re with my girl, other people call you ‘Sir’. Understand?”

I almost said “Yessir.” Instead, I said “So they should.”

It was the right thing to say. He chuckled and carried on shaving.

“Thanks Daddy!” Alison said, grinning.

Mam called out “Alison” and Alison led me into the kitchen. Mam wiped her hands on a tea-towel and threw it onto the sink before turning around to face us.

She looked at me for a second, then “Why don’t you sit down, love?” in a way that said, quietly and gently, “Sit down or I’ll rip your throat out.”

So I sat down.

She looked me up and down. Like Alison, she had big blue eyes, but Mam’s were a mother’s eyes, an assessor’s eyes, looking for weapons and chinks in armour.

I looked at Alison.

Mam leaned forward. That meant “Stop looking at her. Look at me, good boy!”

She said “Still in school, love?”

I nearly lied, saying I had a job, maybe that would go down better. Mothers liked that sort of thing: mature young man and all that.

What came out was “Yes, I am.”

Mam’s eyes smiled then and she nodded. “It’s good you didn’t lie to me,” she whispered. I felt like she could see into my soul, and I blushed. Not cool.

Continue reading ‘The Purging’ for free here

Short Story of the Month | ‘A Legend of Flight’, Kate Kelly

Our new Short Story of the Month is ‘A Legend of Flight’ by Kate Kelly.

The night you didn’t answer.

I tried to call but each time your phone rang for a while, then went to voicemail. I didn’t leave a message. I’d already texted you twice…’

A group of bored teens spend the summer smoking, drinking and laughing, gathered around a statue in their dump of a town. Their fun ends when they realise this lifestyle has consequences. 

 

Kate Kelly is a marine scientist by day and a writer by night, with short stories published in a number of magazines and anthologies. Her first novel, Red Rock, a Cli-Fi adventure for young adults, was published in 2013. A collection of her short stories, The Scribbling Sea Serpent, is also available. Kate and her family live in Dorset and when she is not writing she can be found wandering the remoter stretches of the South West Coast Path. You can find out more about Kate’s writing at https://scribblingseaserpent.blogspot.co.uk

 

A Legend of Flight

The night you didn’t answer.

I tried to call but each time your phone rang for a while, then went to voicemail. I didn’t leave a message. I’d already texted you twice.

“Is he coming?” one of the others asked. Meg, the Goth girl, face bristling with piercings. “Did he score?”

Of course you did. You’d never let us down before.

The tall boy was scratching. He looked strung out. Face acne pock marked. Jeans torn. He lolled on the raised bed by the side of the road – crushing the dry feeble flowers, worn thin and summer-scorched.

We met as we always did, as the night grew humid and the dusk gathered round. There wasn’t much else for us to do in this dump of a town, so we came together, desultory, drifting, to wash up by the monument they had built on the edge of the High Street; the only thing this town had to be proud of.

It was simply a landmark to me. Somewhere to meet. Until I met you.

It was a plane, made of brass.

Did you know that this town is the home of powered flight? You told me as we sat together that first night. I didn’t know. The plane was part of the fabric of the town, the way the shop fronts, or the parking bays were. I never thought that it might be here for a reason. You made me look at it in a different way.

In 1848, you said. They built an aeroplane – they built it in a disused lace factory. An aeroplane powered by steam.

I laughed – That’s just crazy.

But you pointed to the statue we were sitting beside, the long tail and weirdly ribbed wings, like some freaky prehistoric bird. This is it, you told me. The first steam plane. Kind of crazy steampunk.

I looked at the statue and thought about nutty nineteenth century inventors building their flying contraption in amongst the cobwebs and lace, dreaming of flight. Maybe something meaningful had once happened here.

Maybe.

Sally had brought me along that night. This is where all the cool kids hang out, she said. But it was you who told me about the plane.

We were all bored. We were always bored. There wasn’t a cinema in this town and the youth club was full of little kids. We were fifteen, bigger than youth clubs, ping pong and orange juice. And yet not big enough to join the older kids in one of the town pubs, dated décor and loud live music on a Saturday night.

We watched the people come and go, and listened to the throb of the music in the dark. We didn’t dare try to go in. They all knew us.

Sally often stole cigarettes off her mum and would pull them out of her jacket pocket with pride. Sometimes they were slightly crushed and we’d straighten them out and pass them around, each trying to inhale as much as we could before passing them on. At first I coughed, but after a while I got used to it. Then I knew I was one of the cool crowd.

There was a shop opposite where we used to sit, gathered around that plane. Sometimes a fat girl from the year above us worked there. We would pull faces at her when she wasn’t looking and laugh and laugh. She wasn’t one of us. She wasn’t one of the cool kids. The tall boy handed round some menthol cigarettes. I don’t know where he got them from but they were foul.

We smoked them anyway.

 

Continue reading ‘The Walk’ for free here.