SLM meets Oasis – a tale of time travel, nonsense, and Gee Charlie Middleton, Kate Jones, Jamie Andrews and me, Kelly Fitzharris Coody

Part I : Time Travel in Manchester

“Okay, Gee, we’re here – let’s get going – it’s about to get dark. My mum’s house is just ’round that bend,” I said, hugging my coat tight, pointing in the direction of my childhood home.

Gee took in a good huff of air. Then she coughed. “It smells rather bad here; it’s smelly, innit?”

“You and smells! Just ignore it, Gee – you’ll get used to it. Ugh, always so posh.”

Gee swung her designer handbag around as if on cue. I scoffed as we walked on, crunching over leaves and moss.

We trudged to my mum’s house, the sun setting above the trees.

“You know…Gee…the original Gallagher house is somewhere around here, remember?” My eyes lit up as I asked the question.

“Ah, shush! We’re too busy for that nonsense. Let’s get on with it — I’m tired.”

“Okay, geez. Don’t be a grouch.”

“You’re the grouch.”

Before we knew it, we were standing on the front steps of my house. As we walked in, the warmth and the smell of dinner in the stove usurped us. “‘Ey, Mum! Be down in a sec!” I called as Gee raced me up the stairs and into my childhood room.

“Well, this is it!” I said.

“You’ve got a lot of Oasis posters in here.”

“What? Who didn’t when they were a pre-teen?”

“I’m just saying – I mean – you’ve got more than anyone I’ve ever met. And I consider myself an Oasis fan, too. It’s like you’ve got bloody Liam wallpaper!” she said, breaking into a hearty laugh.

“Oh, judge away, Gee!” I scoffed.

“What’s this?” asked Gee as she poked around the bedroom’s corners and crevices. “Oh my God – I can’t believe this piece of crap is still here!” she said, gesturing to a 1980s MAC laptop that weighed about as much as the two of us put together.

“It’s like an antique!” Gee giggled. She slowly lifted the top of the laptop – mostly because it was so damn heavy – and as she did so, a loud crack of thunder startled the both of us, eliciting shrieks and making us jump before giggling nervously.

We turned around to look out the windows.

“Aaaaaah!!!” we screamed in unison as we jumped into each other’s arms.

“What in the bloody hell are the two of you doing here?” I asked.

“Yeah! You almost gave me a bloody conniption,” agreed Gee.

There sat Kate Jones and Jamie Andrews, bouncing around on my quilted, childhood bed, looking quite befuddled themselves.

“We dunno,” Jamie said. “It’s your story, Kelly. I was bout to go grab a pint meself – you, Kate?”

“Eh, was walkin’ round – saw the storm and thought I’d see what the two of them were up to,” she replied, bouncing on the bed. “But I’m not sure why I’m here either, now that you mention it, Jamie. And bloody hell, Kelly, what’s with the posters?”

“See? It’s so bad!” Gee said.

I huffed and crossed my arms.

“Oh, well. Wanna go grab a pint instead?” Jamie asked Kate, bouncing on the bed in return.

“I just need a break from being so bloody serious all the time,” Kate said.

Jamie scratched his head. “I know what you mean, Kate — ” he laid back on the bed and let out a long sigh. “Quite comfy, ain’t it? Would be better with a pint.”

“Would be,” said Kate. “I’m just so tired of all this bloody feminism on Sick Lit Magazine. BO-RING!”

Jamie replied by making an exaggerated gagging noise.

“Oh, shut up, Jamie,” I said.

“You’ve got a tape player!” Kate squealed, bouncing off the bed and over to it on my shelf, pressing play.

‘Rocking Chair’ by Oasis started playing.

“I like this one,” Jamie said.

“So do I!” Gee agreed.

“It’s okay,” Kate said.

“I love it!” I squealed.

We all started singing along. “It’s hard enough being alone, sitting here by the phone, waiting for my memories to come and play. it’s hard enough sitting there, rockin in your rockin chair!!”

I turned around to notice Gee fiddling with the laptop.

“Gee! No! Not in this storm!” I yelled.

“Why not? Also, just curious, how the hell does this thing still work? It’s 2016.”

“Nevermind that! Wait, how the hell do you know how to operate a computer in MS-DOS mode? You’re the youngest out of all of us!”

“Don’t mind that, Kelly! So many questions!” Gee rolled her eyes at me.

Thunder crashed again, this time louder, outside the windows, making all four of us jump.

Jamie screamed.

“Jamie, you sound like a little girl,” Kate whispered.

“Why are we all hugging?” I asked, realizing we’d all clung to each other at the sound of the thunder.

“Dunno – nothin’ – didn’t scream like a girl. That was clearly Kelly,” Jamie said, clearing his throat and brushing off his shirt as he straightened his posture. “I’m fine. Not scared.”

Another clap of thunder.

Jamie squealed.

“Oh, shut up!” Jamie huffed at no one in particular.

“Ugh! Gee, what’ve you done?” I asked. The computer screen flashed off and on like mad.

“I swear I didn’t do anything! I haven’t touched it!”

A particularly long flash of lightning started…and continued…while Jamie and I screamed. Gee and Kate just looked at one another and shrugged.

“Whoa, what the fuck is goin on?” Kate asked, as the computer shook and gurgled. “How the hell does a computer gurgle?”

The room spun and shook, Jamie cursing the city of Manchester and my bedroom alike, while Gee clutched her Gucci bag with a death grip, while I frantically whispered, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home!!”

In another flash of lightning, the room and sky settled.

“Jamie’s hair looks terrible,” whispered Gee.

“Gee! Shush!”

“My God, so does yours, Kelly!” she said.

“Well, what about Kate, huh?” I asked.

“She  looks amazing. Just look at ‘er! Perfect!”

Jamie rubbed his head and groaned. Kate found her way back to the bed and asked, “Dear Lord, what happened?”

I looked out of the window.

“Guys…I think…I think we…”

“My phone won’t work!” Jamie whined.

“Mine either,” Gee said. “I’ve got like negative bars or something. Strange.”

I gasped. “Oh my God! Look at the bedroom!” I shouted.

“Hm, looks quite nice,” Kate said.

“No, don’t you see? All the Oasis posters! They’re…they’re….gone!”

“Thank God,” Gee said under her breath.

“‘Ya got a decorator in here, finally – thank bloody hell,” Jamie muttered.

“No, wankers! We’ve gone back in time!” I shouted. “Take a smell out the window, will you? I bet it’s a lot less rancid.”

All three went to the window and cracked it open before pulling it open all the way and taking in a nice, long breath of air.

They smiled and nodded to one another.

“Right that is.”

“She’s right.”

“Much less rancid. You’re right.”

“Look at the calendar on the wall!!” I screamed.

“It’s a Garfield calendar. Am I supposed to like it or something?” asked Gee, still clutching her Gucci bag.

“No! Look at the date!”

“Oh, bloody hell, it’s October 4th, 1990! It’s all Kelly’s fault!” Jamie yelled, arms flailing in the air.

“It’s not! Gee was the one messing with the computer!” I yelled back.

“Gee…!!” said Jamie.

“Wait, wait a second…” Gee said, “We can use this to our advantage! Don’t you see?”

“No!” we all grumbled in unison.

“Shit. It’s back to landlines and video stores and..and…” Jamie stuttered, his lips turning white.

“It’ll be okay,” Kate said to him. “Snap out of it Jamie!”

He wouldn’t stop mumbling, “Video stores…bloody video stores…no internet..we’re fucked, we’re so fucked…”

Gee slapped him across the face.

He was startled, then quickly grateful as he shook his head around. “Right, then,” he began, “So, where to?”

Gee said, “The original Gallagher house is only a few blocks from here.”

I lit up.

Jamie and Kate both groaned.

“We can go and meet Liam and Noel and mum Gallagher!” I squealed.

“Must we…?” countered Kate.

“Yes!” we all yelled back in reply.

“Yes, we’ve got to meet them before they become famous!” I agreed.

“Famous pricks,” Jamie said dryly.

“Oh, Jamie, come now!” chided Kate.

“Shit, shit! We look out of place – see? Everyone’s got bad hair and they’re all wearing flannel!” I whined, gesturing out the window to all of he people milling about on the streets.

“Hey, I’m wearing flannel!” Jamie said.

“And his hair is terrible,” Gee whispered again.

“Enough with the hair, Gee!” I grumbled.

“I heard that, too!” Jamie said. “My girlfriend is going to kill me!”

“Your girlfriend? I’m bloody married!” I shouted back.

“And I haven’t even been born yet,” said Gee. “Shit.”

“Wait, wait, wait! We’ve gone 26 years back in time and you’re telling me that our only plan is to go to the bloody Gallagher house?” Kate asked.

“Yeah. What? Why? What did you have in mind?” I asked.

“Bloody hell. Something better than that,” she scoffed.

We shrugged. “Shall we be off, then?”

*

At the Gallagher House 

*

“Gee, you knock on the door!” I said.

“No, I’m too nervous! You do it!”

“You!”

“No, you!”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” said Kate, elbowing her way in between us and rapping loudly on the front door. “There. Cripes.”

“I can hear my heartbeat in my ears,” Gee whispered.

“I know. My hands are so sweaty it’s, like, embarrassing,” I whispered back.

“Oh, my beautiful, bloody girlfriend,” Jamie moaned in the background.

We all sighed.

“My beautiful, Norwegian girlfriend!” he sobbed.

“SSh!” Gee yelled.

“Just a moment!” a voice called to us from inside the house.

“Mum Gallagher!” Gee and I said in unison. We squealed.

Then, she opened the door. I wiped sweat from my forehead with my sleeve.

“‘ello there. What can I do for ‘ya?” she asked.

“Noel!” yelled Gee. “Noel!”

I cleared my throat and stepped in front of Gee. “Sorry, she’s um, she’s, well, you know – anyhow we’re here to see Noel.”

“Well, then, come on in! Noel! Guests!” she called.

“Liam!” Gee yelled.

“Shut up!” I said softly, poking her in the side with my elbow.

Liam mumbled in our direction.

“What the fuck did he say?” Kate asked.

“Yeah, he needs subtitles,” quipped Jamie.

Noel trotted down the stairs, a vision in jeans and red Adidas sneakers. Gee gasped.

“Will this bloke need subtitles too?” Jamie whispered.

“Sh!” Gee chided.

“We are in Manchester, guys,” I said.

They nodded in agreement to one another, saying, “Ah, yeah, right.”

“Who the fuck are these lot?” Noel asked, breezing past us.

“Just for the record, I don’t want to be here!” Jamie shouted, raising his hand from the back of the group.

“I, too, am against this!” said Kate.

“You – the really short one – ginger – what’s your deal? And your gorgeous friend?” asked Noel.

“Ginger? That’s all I get?” I asked.

“We’re here to warn you!” Gee said.

“Warn me? Sod off,” Noel said.

At that exact moment, Gee’s iPhone began buzzing before her ringtone went berserk.

“I thought your phone wasn’t working!” I yelled through gritted teeth.

“Fuck, it is now!” she whisper-yelled back at me through equally gritted teeth.

“Phone? What’s about a phone?” Liam asked from his place at the kitchen table.

“Nothing! Nothing at all! That’s just, um, Gee’s…umm….umm…pocket Atari!” I shouted.

Liam shrugged. “Pocket Atari – must be rich, you lot. How many quid did it set you back? Quite a few, I reckon.”

He and Noel laughed.

We laughed back nervously.

When Mum Gallagher had completely left the room and we knew she was out of earshot, Gee started talking to Noel. She grabbed him by both shoulders.

“Noel – you’re going to write a song called Wonderwall. Ya gotta like add more guitar stuff in it so it’s harder to play. I get so sick of hearing it when I’m at University. And Liam, you’re going to do some crystal meth. I think. It turns out fine, though.”

Jamie and Kate rolled their eyes.

“We’re from the future!” I whisper-screamed, hands cupped around my mouth. “From 2016! And there’s this app called Twitter – and — ” I was cut off by Noel.

“What the fuck is an app?” he asked.

“She’s telling the truth!” Gee interjected.

“Your first album, Definitely Maybe, is going to come out in 1994; and track six is called Supersonic. Okay, I’d be chuffed if you’d change that dog’s name from Elsa to Stella to avoid making me look stupid on Twitter. Please.”

Noel and Liam just looked at each other, dumbfounded. Incredulous.

“Yes, in 2016,” Gee said.

“Chuffed, eh?” asked Noel. “You sound like an American.”

“Nevermind that!” Gee cried. “You have to listen to us! So, Liam, you’re going to hit your brother here with a chair – or, is it the other way around? – no matter, you’re going to be beating the shit out of each other a lot. But it’s worth it! So worth it!”

They looked at one another and shrugged again.

“Don’t listen to the critics about Be Here Now!” I yelled. “It’s a damn good record!”

“Her accent sounds fake,” said Liam to Noel, “Right? If you’re really from the future, prove it.”

Gee pulled out her iPhone. Or pocket Atari. Whatever.

It began to blink just like the old laptop in my room had…then we heard the thunder.

“Quick! You’ve got to come with us!” Gee shouted.

“Where?” they asked in unison.

“Back to the future, boys!” I said, as the house rumbled and shook around us.

Kate asked, “Oh, is that why they end up looking so young in the future?!”

Jamie only shrugged.

TO BE CONTINUED….

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***

This wacky story came from a string of tweets  between myself (Kelly) and Gee Charlie Middleton on Twitter this morning. I thought it would only be fitting if I used some SLM contributors as characters. Stay tuned for more! **Life is tough – we all see a lot of dark, bad things and have a lot of dark, bad days – writing something nonsensical and hilarious helps me to reset my brain and hopefully yours, too.**

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What’s Old is New Again – Or Something Like that… – Kelly Fitzharris Coody, Editor in Chief

New Teachers, Classes, Students, Routines – New Look?  

I’ll go with New Beginnings.

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I say that what’s old is new again because, as a natural redhead, I’ve been dyeing my hair blonde off-and-on since I turned 18.

And…uh…so, that’s been a long time. A friend from high school commented on my “new” color saying, “Oh my God! This is how I remember you!”

The truth is that I went to dye my hair blonde, like I’ve been doing every six weeks, for two years now, with the SAME HAIR DYE I’ve always used – except they changed up their formula.

After the timer went off and I sauntered back into my bathroom, I looked in the mirror and screamed. I expected light blonde – Instead, I was greeted by bright neon yellow hair with bright neon orange and pink stripes.

So, I did what any normal person would do.

I PANICKED! I FREAKED THE HELL OUT!

I scrambled around my bathroom, emptying every cabinet, looking for a hair dye that was darker than what I’d just put on my head for a stupid forty minutes. I found an “Old Faithful” that I used to use back in high school when my hair got to looking dull in the winter months – L’Oreal’s Reddish Blonde. I crossed my fingers and said, “I don’t care if this turns out purple. It’s better than this disaster.”

I’ve had a rough few weeks, as most of you know, but what you may not be aware of is the fact that the Sick Lit Magazine staff has changed once again – it’s back to being a staff of two, myself and Melissa. 

The bottom line is that we value, treasure and cherish our contributors. Our regular contributors are the pillars of this publication – and I cannot corroborate hypocrisy when someone is representing SLM. They may have a different editorial eye or style / aesthetic standards than Melissa or me, but they signed up to be on THIS team. They signed up to be a part of THIS literary magazine. And this literary magazine comes with a culture, a kinship, and an extraordinarily supportive team of writers who come together every month and make this thing happen.

Someone once approached me about SLM and called us “the literary equivalent of the island of misfit toys.”

My reply? “I’m glad that you woke up today with us on your mind. We must have struck a chord somewhere within you. Thanks.”

By the way, who set this standard of “literary excellence” that is supposedly out there? Literary excellence is reading something and having a reaction to it – an emotional reaction.

Not using words like pedantic, incipient, or eutaxy – or describing something as chartreuse or vermilion (I mean, I do like *colorful* adjectives, haha) – but in all honesty, picking someone’s work apart one sentence at a time and describing exactly what’s wrong with all of it is soul-crushing. It’s enough to make people stop writing and stop reading.

Melissa and I tend to think we have a habit of “accepting too much” – but our system isn’t broken. It doesn’t need to be fixed or to fit in with the standards of other literary magazines.  The fact that we love so much of your work is what makes us love working here. We’re enthusiastic and over-eager when it comes to cutting edge writing.

We want you to know how much you are valued here – and how much you do for our literary movement.

By the way, to those of you who expressed concern about my mother, she is doing better. She went to see a GI specialist the next day, who helped her with some long term solutions and also corroborated the fact that Harris Methodist Southwest’s Emergency Room staff is lazy and inept – and that they have sent people to her office before who still had a bowel obstruction. They actually let these people leave the hospital in that condition.

But I digress – she and I thank you so much for your kind words and encouragement, as well as your outrage on our behalf. It meant the world to us and we want you to know how special you guys are and how much you truly mean to me. And Melissa. And my mom.

Peace and Love, 

Cheers,

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PS: Keep writing!!

Kelly Fitzharris Coody

Best Before – by LISE COLAS

 Best Before

 

Gary yawned and blinked, he would have liked a bit of a stretch too, but then he remembered he was a cake in a box, so that would not be possible.  At least he could see through his cellophane, which was some relief. A swoop had taken place while he was asleep and a shelf raider had finally cleared away Victoria Sponge. Not before time too, judging by that date of hers. Why she’d been plonked on top of him in the first place, he couldn’t fathom. Not even the same brand and she had weighed a ton, threatening to permanently warp his front top.

Halloo Carrot Boy!’ Uh, it was his fellow shelfie, the annoying pink Battenberg.

‘Hi  Pinkie. How’s things?’

‘Ooh, you are such a tease, calling me Pinkie, you make me blush even more pink–’

‘Uh–well, I don’t want to unsettle your crumbs, mate–I know it’s a tough life being the only one–’

‘Don’t worry, Carrot Boy–I like being the one, makes me feel special. We own brands must stick together, eh? We do our best to look good no matter what. We’re not deluded into thinking we have better chance at shelf life because we are a McVitie or a Mister Kipling–’

Uh, he was off again. The carrot cake didn’t need to be told that the big name brands on the shelf above were a snooty bunch. Special? Hmm. Yes, he knew he was special in a weird way.

Own brand, premium range, hand-baked somewhere in the West Midlands and his name was actually Gary, not Carrot-Boy or Cakey, whatever. He didn’t really know why he knew all this, either. Made his cream cheese almost curdle just thinking about it.

Gary knew he’d have to be consumed one day, that was the whole point, it was called Apotheosis. Ah, the day of selection, when a customer would pick you up and put you inside their wire crate, swinging from side to side, making you queasy and your corners a bit dented if you didn’t watch out. He’d learnt as far back as cake factory, that way beyond this land of shelf life and blessed aisles, there was a weirdly different world, where the customer is a person, but he didn’t like to ponder too deeply about it. The all important thing was achieving lift off,  via the altar of confirmation and passing through the red eye, to be bagged up with others and hauled away somewhere–hopefully not in the same bag as the frozen peas or it would make your cardboard all soggy. Out into that mysterious world, destined to be masticated inside some lucky person’s cake-hole.

The best Apotheosis you could hope for was to be consumed by a family of four, at least it was quick. That’s what poor old Ginger Loaf had told Gary on the day he arrived. Poor Ginger, he’d remained on the lower shelf perilously near his deadline and eventually the raiders had come for him and he’d ended up in the bins round the back, being pecked at by seagulls. That was the trouble with being a Value plastic-wrap. At least Gary had his box and his trusty shield of cellophane and the added consolation he’d be reduced for quick sale.

‘Ach, Carrot Boy–you and me are one of a kind–not like the others. That stupid bunch of primrose yellow idiots, look at them! They are my tribe but they won’t speak to me. Just because I’m pink! But I don’t care, they are just a dumb bunch of squares!’ Here the Battenberg tipped his corners towards his alternatively coloured brethren, stacked eight-deep.

Hmm, being the only pink one left had gone to his head, mused Gary. Must be down to all those emulsifiers and the high sugar content. Could be dangerous being the only shelfie of your kind–made you a target for the raiders. There were four other premium own brand carrot cakes besides himself, with exactly the same best before, but none of them had said a word since delivery day. Perhaps the Battenberg was right after all. Not all cakes were made the same. After all, he was ‘hand-finished’ and that must make a difference–something must have happened on the production line. Something a bit odd, it couldn’t just be down to the pasteurised free range whole egg, surely.

‘Yeah, Pinkie it’s you and me against the world,’ said Gary, at the same time wondering why in crumb-nation he’d said this.

It had been a day of low activity. The damn custs rolling or swinging their wire crates didn’t seem to be in a cake mood and the aisle was practically deserted. At times like this Gary wished that the pink Battenberg would be less of a drama queen and just shut up so he could doze for a while.

He was fond of a nap, gave him time to settle his crumbs and ponder for a bit. She’d arrived on the third day of his shelf life. Placed next to him, shortly after poor Ginger’s departure. Red Velvet, she was called. A new range in the same premium brand, with cream cheese frosting, but kind of all over. She was like him in other ways too, she could talk and no doubt feel stuff. After lights out at ten thirty and the last of the shelf raiders had departed, they had the place to themselves.

Shelfies always made the most of those precious hours. He didn’t really know what went on elsewhere, but the cake aisle that ran all the way to biscuits could be relied on to be entertaining. The Eccles cakes told funny stories while the water biscuits cracked jokes and the Swiss rolls held a competition between them to find the one who could jump off the shelf and roll the furthest. The butterfly cupcakes played charades with the shortbread, while the blueberry muffins just goofed around.

‘Hi I’m Gary,’ he whispered. He was confident her real name would be Rachel or Valerie or similar, but she just whispered back, ‘Call me Red.’ Then she commenced to fill him in on her unique ingredients in a husky voice and he listened, enchanted. Her cocoa mass, her colouring (cochineal) the fat content of her frosting. Oh, how he wanted to press his rich nubbly crumbs up against her luscious sponge. He almost wished there was no cardboard separating them, just the skimpy plastic wrap of the Value range.

‘And when I’m selected. I want it to be a couple–lovers. Sharing me. Relishing every morsel, licking every last blob of frosting from each other’s lips. You know what I mean Gary?’ she murmured.

‘Um, yeah, I know what you mean,’ he replied. For a second his cellophane misted over, but it soon cleared again.

The following day, she was gone. Taken away mid-afternoon. A pair of customers came and snatched her up, yes two of them together. At least it looked as if she’d been granted her wish.

‘Ooh, Red Velvet, sounds lovely,’ said the female.

‘Uh, weird name for a cake,’ said the male, peering at the label.

‘It’s soooo romantic and also kind of hot, she replied, ‘I adore those red sprinkles.’

‘Uh, is it chocolate under all that um–cheesy stuff?’

‘I’m not sure–shall we find out?’

‘Oh, ok.’ Red was placed in the crate.

‘Hey, what’s the heavy sigh for?’

‘Sigh? I didn’t sigh–’

‘Funny, I just thought–oh, forget it–’

That was tough, Red saying goodbye to him. Gary retreated inside himself after that, almost willing himself to be part of the same dumb batch as the other carrot cakes.

‘Ha! This is it, Carrot Boy, it’s bye-bye time. Toodle-loo!’ Gary blinked through his cellophane. The pink Battenberg had been pounced on by some old cust wearing a matching pink plastic rain hat. Well, at least he seemed happy about it.

‘Bye Louis, all the best,’ he shouted out. Yeah, Louis that was his name.

The Battenburg hovered high above him, held in the huge claw and it seemed he couldn’t contain himself. ‘Oooh mother–please put me down before I get vertigoooo!’ he shrieked.

Gary girded his inner crumbs, willing them not to sink.  According to Ginger, the older female customers had a habit of keeping your remains in a nasty dark tin until all your bits went hard.

He was still holding out for the family of four. Not long now, hopefully. His ‘Best Before’ threshold was approaching fast. Damn–and his cellophane needed a wipe. When Red Velvet left, he’d got a bit overwrought and he’d smeared some of his frosting across it, mixed with cinnamon dust and it had spoiled his look big time. Looks were everything when you were left behind on the shelf.

Most of the others were gone now. Just two carrot cakes left. It was between him and the last of the carrot shelfies in a pristine box, the smug bastard.

Oh no. Another old female swooping down–was it pension day or something? ‘Sufferin’ iced buns, I can’t look,’ he groaned. From inside his box, Gary felt that seismic shift. Oh no, he’d been picked and he was the one with the topping smear. Why didn’t she choose the cleaner box? Dammit! Stupid old bat must be half-blind. He was being lifted into a crate, luckily a rolling one which guaranteed a smooth ride. Soon he’d be passed through the red eye. Oh well, at least he’d been selected.

Hang on. The old ‘un had stopped making steps for some reason. Something was up. Gary found himself in mid air again and set down somewhere else. Placed next to something that was not compact and had no wrapping to speak of, covered in a very dense layer of soft icing that seemed to move. Very different from anything he’d seen before and it was staring back at him with malevolence. Oh, this was the pits.

‘Hey!’ He felt like shouting after the old bat. He’d been abandoned, the worst possible outcome. Oh the humiliation–not even in a confectionery or home baking aisle, the cosy aroma of almond paste was distinctly absent. It then dawned on him where he was–the toy domain, aisle number nine, the back of beyond. He’d been dumped. No apotheosis for him, he’d just sit here and go stale alongside the inedibles. Then the raiders would come and dump him in the bins at the back. What a bloody waste.

‘What’s this next to the teddies, Mummy?–’ It was one of those small customers, her arms reaching out to pick him up. He slid as if drunk, to one side of his box, as she held him at an awkward angle.

‘I’m not buying you any toys, poppet,’ said the mummy.

‘No, look it’s a cake, Mummy and it’s got a smile on its face!’ The poppet held him up so the mummy could see.

‘That’s not a smile, that’s just a messy mark on the packaging, put it back. Let those teddies have it–’

‘Aww, but I like it–it’s a happy cake. It’ll be sad if I put it back–it’s all on its own.’

‘Let me see,’ the mummy took hold of him, checking the date and the seal on the side flap. ‘Uh, I guess it’s ok, as no-one’s opened it–’ The mummy appeared to be talking to herself, ‘–and carrot cake is nutritious, I suppose.’

He was on the descent again, which was a good sign. Uh, he hated being passed around like this, it made him queasy. He felt his under-cardboard touch wire. The mummy had placed him in the rolling crate. ‘Yesss!’ He felt like punching the air, at the same time wondering why in crumb-nation he would want to do this.

The poppet clapped her hands in delight. ‘The cake’s so happy now it’s coming home with us!’

‘Yes, how nice of Mummy to invite it. Now, let’s take a look at the white socks for school.’

Phew! He’d been processed at last and was finally on course. He’d heard of cakes being abandoned at the altar, but he’d been  beeped through the red eye without a hitch and he was now ensconced in a bold print linen shopper, cheek by jowl with several ready meals and a bunch of broccoli. Not quite a family of four, by the looks of it, but he was pleased all the same. He’d finally arrived, so to speak. Things like wondering why his name was Gary no longer mattered somehow, it would be all smoothed out once his Apotheosis got under way.

Shortly before the raiders came to get Ginger, the little loaf had told him not to believe the new heresy about Apotheosis being a euphemism for a non-metaphysical process called peristalsis–it was all lies. Apotheosis was real and glorious. Anyway, Gary now had his trip through the cake-hole to look forward to. He was sure it would be an adventure and he had everything to be proud of. After all, he’d made it ‘Best Before’.

-End-

***

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Lise Colas lives on the south coast of England and writes poetry and short fiction. She has a BA (Hons) in Fine Art and used to work in the archive of Punch magazine. She generally prefers lemon drizzle cake and feels a bit guilty about that. Check out her poetry blog at:lisecolas.wordpress.com

I Like This One – by ROB TRUE

I Like This One

 

I like this one.  Feeds me the same old shit out of a can every day, but at least I eat regular.  He lies down a lot.  That’s what I like about him.  I’ve seen him heating powder up in a spoon, with water.  He draws it into a plastic tube, through a pin, ties his arm with a belt, smacks it a couple of times with his fingers and carefully pierces it with the pin.  After that his face slackens and he slumps back.  This is when he lies down.  My favourite thing is to climb up and sit on his chest.  So warm and tranquil.  Once I know he’s drifting, I settle down all stretched out, with my face close to his.

 

Sometimes, when he comes round a bit, he strokes me for ages, just the two of us, lying there together, me purring and him breathing slowly.  His hand, massive and firm, gently gliding from head to tail.  Ecstasy.  In that state, he behaves a lot like me.  Staring into nothing and dozing off now and again.

 

We’ve got a lot in common.

 

I hate it when he has to go out.  I always know when it’s going to happen.  That machine with the quiet voice makes a horrible repeating bleep, shattering our harmony, until he picks it up and says, “Hello.”  Then I can hear a tiny voice talking and he always says, “Meet me at the same place, ring when you get there.”  I watch him measure out small amounts of the same powder he puts in the spoon.  

He carefully puts it in the centre of a little square of plastic torn from a carrier bag, brings the corners together above it and twists them to make a bulb with the powder in it.  He heats the twist with a flame ‘til it melts a bit.  Sometimes he makes a few of these capsules, if the quiet talking machine bleeps and speaks with him more than once.   I watch him put on his hat and coat and feel sad that he’s going.

 

When he returns, I know it won’t be long before he performs his ritual with the spoon, belt and pin again, so I can snuggle up with him another time.  It happens several times a day.  We lie like that for hours and hours of peace and I feel like I become a part of him, as though I melt into his chest, rising and falling slow and shallow.  I watch his face turn pale, lips a bluish grey and his breathing seems to slow to nothing sometimes and I wonder what would happen if it stopped?

***

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Rob True was born in London; he left school with no qualifications, got lost in an abyss and spent a decade on another planet. He returned to earth just in time for the new millennium and married a beautiful, strange girl. She taught him how to use paragraphs and punctuation and his writing has been a bit better ever since.

 

Reality.

We aren’t a cookie cutter publication.

We will never be.

And, why?

Life isn’t like that and neither are human beings.

The fact that I don’t put each author, publication or artist in a box has limited SLM’s visibility on certain lists / forums; it’s limited our ability to be seen.

Their denial of our artistry gets me defensive and has me asking myself the question: “What makes a real literary magazine?”

So…what, exactly, is it, that makes us not real—according to their standards?

Instead of being a cookie cutter, a stencil, an outdated textbook or a detailed instruction manual, we chose to be the Rubik’s Cube.

Rubik's_cube.svg

Not being strictly managed, formatted and dated to death, we, instead, chose to be the puzzle. We don’t abide by any type of owner’s manual for a specific reason: Life does not come with an instruction manual. Life is, instead, a puzzle that we work to solve each day.

We strongly, passionately believe that instead of being taught what to think, we should be teaching each other how to think, and also be taught how to think. Only then will we discover the capabilities of our own individual cognitive abilities. Only then will we be enabled to find answers to the larger questions that seem to evade us.

We test the waters in a different way and push societal norms—we expand our minds.

Let’s re-learn together. Let’s re-learn how to think. It’s another step toward shattering the mold. Another step toward “unplugging ourselves from the Matrix.”

I don’t believe that Catch-22 was written with a target audience in mind or with a projected number of sales. Joseph Heller probably didn’t write using a strict outline, either; I’m only guessing at these things, guys. But I want us to start over. Wipe the slate clean and let the words flow from our fingertips.

Just for kicks, I’ll list below why newpages.com won’t list us:

  1. We feature writing from the editors occasionally (What the hell?)
  2. Every piece of writing and art isn’t properly dated or formatted (Because art doesn’t have a proper format!)
  3. We don’t have a regular or stated publication cycle (UGH)
  4. Apparently there’s not a clear editorial process for submissions? (There is…)
  5. Apparently we haven’t archived our previous issues? (We have…)
  6. We don’t have a masthead? Or transparency of editors and our contact info? (I’m sorry, but what the hell? I’m as transparent as you can get!)
  7. Editors’ work can’t be frequently included (Again, unfair)

 

 

I believe I just *might* be the most transparent person within a five-mile radius.

I am an open book; I’m here for you whenever. I’m here for you even if you just want to send me an email to check in and say hi or ask me a question or need advice. I keep in touch with our writers and I love that. It’s what makes this such a fun and unique place to be. If we had an office, it would be full of coffee, books and hammocks, beach chairs and open windows. There would be an endless supply of notebooks and pens that write well. I picture a large industrial loft-type space with an open layout, where we have pillows on the floor and a record player. [Damn—now I really want an office.]

I can’t be the change that I wish to see on the literary landscape by “going with the flow” or by “following all the rules” superimposed on us by other publications who take it upon themselves to deem who is worthy of being listed and who’s unworthy of being listed.

The older I get, the more I begin to truly understand and appreciate the world around me; and see what’s right with it but also what’s wrong with it. As humans, we aren’t built for spending 12-hour days in a cube in front of a computer.

I recently read an article that explained the epidemic of depression, self-destructive behaviors and substance abuse so perfectly and succinctly that I had the first AHA! Moment I’d had in a long, long time. It chalked it up to three things being unavailable to us who live in the U.S.: Kindness, freedom and rest.

I’ll just let you marinate in that information for a bit.

And, by the way, happy Friday, guys. All of you do such amazing work and we appreciate each and every one of you and your submissions.

Just as a reminder: our new e-mail address for submissions is: sicklitsubmissions@gmail.com

I won’t slap your knuckles with a ruler if you send something to the old one 😉 , but please try and get used to sending to the new one.

Peace and Love,

Cheers,

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Kelly Fitzharris Coody

Editor-in-Chief

*Featured image courtesy of Toby Penney*

 

 

 

 

The Music of Our Youth – by GENE FARMER

The Music of Our Youth

by

Gene Farmer

 

Evan first encountered the man in the Panama hat nearly one month ago. Their last meeting may have been today; it’s hard to say for certain. On that first occasion he’d been standing out the back of the research centre taking a smoke break, one he knew there was barely time for. His batch of lab samples was in the spectrometer – on schedule for once – and he really ought to have been closely monitoring the automated electrospray process. But his need for a cigarette was absolute. Besides, how many times had he run this process without a single glitch? Fuck it, have a sneaky fag, he told himself.

Taking cover in the narrow passage between the two giant bin sheds – a universally acknowledged hidey hole for those in thrall to nicotine – Evan lit up and sucked down the smoke, his brain immediately basking in the dopey glow of his first few drags. He pulled a copy of Mojo from his back pocket, plugged in his earphones and hit play. But, immediately sensing another presence in the alleyway, he removed the earphones and turned to see a man sporting cream linens and a matching Panama hat. Without introduction, the man addressed him.

“I expect you want to tell that Solanas where to stick his fucking pen and clipboard, don’t you?” he said. “But I wouldn’t recommend it, even though it would be a good thing if you stood your ground once in a while. I don’t like to see people being pushed around.”

“Er . . . right,” said Evan. “You made me jump there. Anyway, thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”

“I’m Evan” he said offering a cigarette. “And you’re . . ?”

“Warner” he replied, accepting the cigarette and a light.

“Warner. Okay. Do you have a first name?” asked Evan.

“Just think of me as Warner.”

“Right,” said Evan. And they fell silent for a while, concentrating on their smoking, Evan fidgeting a piece of loose brick with his trainer.

“Are you a decent sort, Evan?” said the man, grinning.

“Well, yeah, I guess so,” replied Evan.

“Good. So that’s my advice, anyway, stand your ground once in a while.”

Evan nodded vaguely while considering this advice. He leaned around the corner to stub his cigarette out against the low brick wall. “It’s just not that easy with Solanas . . .” he said, turning back to continue the conversation. But the man in the hat had gone. Not knowing what to make of the exchange Evan shrugged and went back to the lab. He returned to the unrewarding routine of batches and formulae, to the collation and evaluation of results and findings, to his quotas and quality targets.

How strange it seemed to Evan that a dozen or so years ago this very grindstone was the scene of his first, happy days in work. He found it hard to credit that he’d once had good times here, had made good friends. Jackman, Satch, Rosey, Quill, Dougie; an insuperable gang of inseparable friends. Life was a joyful blur of football and pubs, video games and banter, an incessant cycle of pow-wows, get-togethers, gatherings and sessions – each in the name of youthful abandon, a reaffirmation that they could, and always would, revel in their callow freedom.

Except that’s not how it turned out. This notion, which he returned to every day, consumed him because he couldn’t understand how it had crept up, casting him adrift from a never to be recovered heyday, his prime. Where were those fellow graduates nows? Evan felt these days as though he beheld the good times through the wrong end of an ever-lengthening telescope, each memory dwindling to a dust mote, and then to nothing. Everyone else had disappeared along the way. Apart from Solanas. Adam Solanas: workshop despot, lab bully, petty scourge of the research wing. The Spanish Inquisitor. Adam Sore-Anus. Now it was just Evan, Solanas, and an ever waning number of charisma-free itinerant worker bees.

Evan reflected on these random, pitiless inequities. He became gripped by a familiar, thick coil of regret, its coarse yarn chafing at his mood. And now he forgot about Warner, yielding to his workload and to a tired, lonely helplessness. He toiled wordlessly, grinding out the hours, the minutes until – long after everyone else had left – he was finished for the day. Only then could he welcome the long drive home, a brief purgatorial interlude before the next wave of demands.

Evan’s opinion of this slow, stop-start commute, skirting London’s congested, dirty rim was neither conventional nor fashionable. Not for him the stock conversational piece about too many cars on the road, a lack of investment in the traffic network or public transport infrastructure. No, here was solitude, a refuge from all his assailants, in a space of his own. For forty, maybe fifty, minutes he was alone with his thoughts and his music. He started the car, tuned into Nothing But 90s! FM and pulled out of the car park, relishing a blissful catatonia in the knowledge that, soon enough, he’d be home and the respite would be over.

One week later Warner reappeared. And he continued to turn-up most work days while Evan was taking a smoke. They would talk vaguely, in the way men gathered by chance always do, of work and life, skirting around any true nub of the matter, trading generalities. Evan would have liked to find out more about his new acquaintance. Which department did he work in? Where did he live? Did he have family? But Warner would always seem to steer the conversation along paths permitting no such intimacy, would step in to fill any pause with a decisive word or an intriguing thought. In this way any possibility they might become intimates was snuffed out.

In the third week after they’d first met he bumped into Warner in a café. Evan had needed to run some chores in town during his lunch hour, cramming in a visit to the post office, the bank and a couple of hardware stores to track down the right washer for a leaky tap at home. It was not an especially hot day, but he’d been in a rush – the last thing he wanted was to get back to work late, have Solanas on his back for something else – and now he was out of breath and hot, the wick of his garments heavy with a moisture that cleaved them to his skin.  He was, though, ahead of schedule and there was just enough time for some lunch in town. Evan decided that a toasted panini and a proper cup of coffee would make a welcome change from the usual soggy cheese and tomato sandwich and the scorchingly hot, caffeinated cups of bitterness served from the machine at the research centre.

The café was busy: professional looking people tapped away at laptops; younger adults in outsized headphones were locked-in and swaying to some irresistible groove; kids, opposing thumbs working in unison, drummed at devices, defeating deadly adversaries; there was one lady reading a book. The scene was overlaid with a musical backtrack which, through the shrill blasts of spouting steam, Evan vaguely recognised as something contemporary and, while it was not unpleasant, it left him feeling slightly disappointed.

Sitting in their midst, doing nothing more than drinking a cup of tea, was Warner. On seeing Evan, he tipped his Panama and, with a curt smile, indicated the empty seat at his table. Evan ordered and paid for his lunch and returned to the table with his drink.

“Coffee man, eh?” said Warner, removing his hat and arching an eyebrow. “I had you down – rather hopefully – as a tea man. Still, not really my business I suppose.”

“No . . . well . . . of course. It’s just that I don’t really get the chance to ever just sit down and have a coffee,” said Evan. “Could do with the kick, to be honest, keep me going. Bloody knackered.”

“Busy then?”

“Yeah, you could say that. Christ! When aren’t we these days? Wasn’t always like this though, was it?”

“Probably not, no,” said Warner. “Though I don’t have that problem, myself.”

“You don’t?” said Evan, blurting a shocked guffaw. “Lucky you! You’ll have to share your secret.”

“There’s no luck involved. And it’s no secret either.”

“Really? Wish I could bloody work it out, I really do,” said Evan. A waiter brought over his toasted sandwich. He had on him a look of inquisitive concern, but did not ask Evan any question, just said he hoped Evan enjoyed his meal and went back to the counter.

“And what makes you think you can’t? Work it out, that is,” continued Warner.

“Well,” said Evan, pausing to consider, “it’s all so bloody complex these days, isn’t it? So many things to do. Obligations. Things were just better in the past. More simple, straightforward.”

“Really? Or are you just being nostalgic?” said Warner. Before Evan had a chance to answer, he added: “I fucking hate nostalgia. It’s dangerous shit, is what it is.”

“Whoa! Dangerous shit? . . . What do you mean? Why?”

“Look, there may be a little truth in what you say, some things were better in the old days. And I can’t deny there’s more bullshit around today. But lots of things were worse too. You just need to be more selective these days, less acquiescent.”

“I still don’t follow.”

“Take control of the things that matter,” replied Warner. “But you’ll need to work that one out, fella. Look, if you ask me, it’s a big mistake to go about thinking you were born in a goldmine and that you’ve ended up at the coalface. Were you born in a goldmine? Probably not. Are you at the coalface? Who the fuck isn’t?”

Evan sat, thinking for a moment. “Yeah, you’re onto something there. So, my current situation . . . what did you call it? The coalface? Where I’m at right now, how did I get here?”

“But that’s not really what matters. Wouldn’t you be much better off looking where you’re going?”

“But don’t you need to look back at the mistakes you’ve made to know where you went wrong, to help you take the right turns going forward?”

“Sure, there’s nothing wrong with what you’re saying there,” said Warner. He leaned forward with his elbow on the table, and fixed Evan with his eye. “But is that really what you’re doing?”

“God! If I had a time machine and, and I could just go back . . . well . . . I’d do things differently, I tell you.”

“Now there’s a dog-eared old Sci-Fi trope,” said Warner, frowning.

“Oh, come on! If you could just go back and do things differently, not make the mistakes you made, it’d have to be better, wouldn’t it?”

“Maybe. But let’s say you could do it; let’s say you could go back to a former self, knowing what you know today,” he said. “What makes you think you still wouldn’t fuck things up?”

Evan thought for a moment, and was about to reply when Warner cut him off: “Look, before you answer that, have a think about it. I need to go now.” He put on his panama hat and, making to leave, paused and said “Take heed, Evan, nostalgia’s a trap. Now I’ll have to say goodbye to you.”

Evan watched him leave, and then sat a while longer in the café and finished his lunch while pondering Warner’s parting lines. They all felt a bit cryptic, though Evan sensed a finality, a certain specificity, to Warner’s spiel that seemed odd, troubling. What, he wondered, did he mean? Evan checked his watch. Shit, he thought, I’m going to be late!

Evan scurried back to the lab and slipped in unnoticed. He knuckled down, intent on recovering the lost time. But he couldn’t do it. And he never would. Each attempt to hasten his progress brought errors, inefficiencies, breakages. Each mistake was a multiplier, adding orders of magnitude to his daily tenure, piling up the misery. He was snared and his struggling only made things worse. Deluged, Evan forgot all about Warner, and his message – if there ever was one – remained encrypted.

A week passed since the café encounter and Warner had not since been seen. It was Saturday and Evan was at work, doing overtime. He was, as usual, under the cosh, feeling the pressure, as he stared at the sample batches, then back to their exacting specifications, each one to be finished before he could leave for the day. Solanas appeared with his clip board.

“So . . . Evan. RO-TH_151015_00-92 to -99 . . . we’re on schedule with those, are we?”

“They’ll be done by close of play.”

“Midday?”

“Bit later, actually. I just had to rerun a synthesis cycle on -93 and -94, so I’m a bit behind. Maybe 12:30? One-ish?”

“Right. But you’re not leaving till you’ve finished them, are you?”

“No, Adam, I won’t be going till they’re done.”

“Good, good,” he said, pausing, then adding: “You know, Evan, if you ever applied yourself, gave your work its due diligence, you’d do a better job. And I can’t help but think you’d make things easier for yourself. Get on a bit at work. Who knows, in life, even?”

Being told what to do in the work place is one thing, but advice about how to live his life – from Solanas of all people – irked Evan, and he now stood tense, anger welling, set against anything else his supervisor had to say. I’ll show you and your shiity little job, he thought.

“Look, I know we’ve never seen eye to eye,” said Solanas, “but I take no pleasure in seeing you struggle. You’re in a redundancy pool, for God’s sake. You should remember that.” Solanas shook his head and, leaving, he added “If it’s not too late.”

What does he mean, thought Evan, if it’s not too late? Christ, he can’t be serious. He can’t mean I’m for the chop. Jesus! He felt his anger deflate and, in its place, a gnawing worry had taken over. He returned to his work, though his heart was no longer in it, even less so than usual. He could not think straight, was making mistakes.

It had gone past two o’clock by the time Evan finished for the day. As he removed his lab coat, slumping into the staff room sofa, massaging his temples, trying to expel the stress, to de-pressurize, he remembered that he was supposed to take his eldest boy to a party this afternoon. He knew he had no chance of making it home on time but, frantic, still he rushed from the building to his car. Leaving the car park Evan found the barrier down and he realised he’d left his security pass in the building, in his lab coat. He buzzed the intercom for Security. He waited for a minute, without response, so he buzzed again, maybe a dozen times or more. He was beginning to think that he’d need to park up again and go back to get his pass – even though he was sure that the guard had been sitting there all the while, just letting him buzz – when the intercom crackled into life.

“Ello?”

“Yeah, Hi! Can you lift the barrier, please?”

“You haven’t got your security card?”

“Of course I haven’t! Would I be buzzing if I had it?”

“Sure. Where is it, then?”

“I forgot it. You gave me a temp card this morning, remember?”

“Name?”

“Evan Critchley.”

“One minute, please.”

Evan waited. One minute became two, then three . . . four, then five. Evan understood that the security guard knew who he was, had no reason not to just raise the barrier. So why didn’t he? Was there red tape to be processed? Had Evan done something to upset this man? No, Evan thinks, the security guard is keeping me here because he can. A knot of anger rose in his chest, compelling him to give the guard a mouthful but, as he reached out to press the button, the intercom sputtered once more into life.

“Thank you Mr.Critchley,” said the guard as the barrier rose. “Have a nice weekend.”

Evan grunted and drove off, turning on the radio. But this time he barely registered the music, Nothing But 90s making little impression. He switched stations to Sensational 70s Radio, but could still take no solace from it. Maybe Solanas is right, he thought, maybe things could be better. But why do things keep fucking up for me? At work. Christ, at home even. If I lose this job I’m shafted, he thought. It’s not fair!

He raced home, scrambled to the front door, unlocked and opened it. He waited for the onslaught, the clamoring son, the irate wife, the mad dash to get everything together for the party – perhaps they’ll only be thirty minutes late, he thought. But there was no onslaught. Apart from the distant ticking of the kitchen clock there was only silence, and Evan wondered if – hoped – he’d avoided the barrage, at least until later. Perhaps, he imagined, Juliette knew he’d be late and had taken Thomas to the party with the baby in tow too. He felt a slight relief, relaxed a little, decided to make a cup of tea. He went into the kitchen where Juliette, sitting silently at the island unit, catches him by surprise, holding his gaze with an implacable, glacial hatred. She sighed theatrically.

“Where’s Thomas?” asked Evan.

“What do you care? If you were so concerned where he was, you’d have been home on time to take him to the party. Like you promised?” said Juliette.

“I’m so sorry,” started Evan, before he was cut short by Juliette’s raised hand.

“You’re sorry, Evan?” she said, her brow deeply trenched. “Are you? Well I’m sorry too. This is the last straw. Mum had to come round and take Thomas to the party. Lucy’s asleep at the moment, but I’m going to get her and take her round to Georgie’s. When we get back I expect you to be out of the house. I don’t want you back.”

Evan stood, speechless. He was overcome by a gelid weakness that left him shaky and immobilized. He watched Juliette leave, his heart pumping furiously, blood rampaging through his temples, stomach tightening uncontrollably, his bowels twitching, loosening. After a while, he went to the fridge, took out a can of beer, opened it and gulped it down in one long draught. He took two more beers, downing another on the spot then, propelling a defiant belch into the silence of the kitchen, he slumped to the floor. Hollow, he tried to make sense of what had happened, to figure out whether the punishment matched the indiscretion. He poured over the events and Juliette’s reaction, and could make no conclusive sense of it. He drank the third beer and fell asleep.

He awoke, briefly unsure where he was, and checked the time. It was past six o’clock. He gathered his thoughts and remembered what had happened, feeling hope capsize and descend to the well of his stomach. Juliette would be back soon with the kids and he didn’t want to be here for that. He needed to think. He took another beer from the fridge and sat, considering his predicament. But far from feeling resentful, or confused, Evan felt a dawning sense of relief, a giddy contentment, even. The worst was over. He finished the beer, took the last can from the fridge, fetched his keys and cigarettes from the sideboard in the hall, pocketed a pack of sweets that Juliette must have dropped on the floor (Fruit Pastilles, which had been a favorite as a child) and left the house.

Evan strode along the tree lined avenue where he lived and into the park. He used to come here with his parents as a boy. How old was he then? Five? Six or seven? He remembered feeding the swans and the ducks, kicking a plastic ball around. He recalled picnics of liver sausage sandwich and sweaty processed cheese slices. The park seemed so much bigger back then, a whole county with its own rolling hills, towering banks and vast lakes circumnavigated by wandering tribes.

Now, like everything else, he regarded this world without wonder, an absence of awe, knowing every nook and cranny to the point of contempt. He understood the science behind the flora and fauna, the discipline of landscaping, the placement of structures, monuments and horticultural features for their desired aesthetic, behavioral and ecological outcomes. But Evan found that today, in spite of this familiarity, he was connected with the magical place of his childhood, as though he were feeling the same sun on his skin, smelling the flowers, feeling the gentle warmth of the breeze for the first time since he was a child. He tuned in to details he’d long since ignored: to the harmonious drone of insects, the inquisitive quacking of ducks, to murmuring radios and the susurrant rumour of scattered conversations. Each sound was woven intricately into what it meant to be in this place, at this time, to belong.

He strolled around the pond’s perimeter then cut through clusters of picnickers, past parents with toddlers, secretive youths, across an expanse of grass towards the Italian Garden. Here he found a bench backing onto a red brick wall, sat down and cracked open the beer. A low evening sunlight soaked Evan and his surroundings with an amber warmth. He swigged the drink, bathing in the moment, taking in the kaleidoscope of flowers, the fleshy, spiky plants, the swishing, rustling grasses, the aroma of lavender, rose and cut lawn.

But most of all, he wallowed in the sun, gave himself over to the experience of doing nothing. He thought that this might be a Zen moment, but wasn’t sure what one was. As each nerve relaxed, as his knotted muscles unwound, Evan lay poaching in the day’s last warmth and the alcohol’s effects. A bliss closed in around him, took control, relaying a soft focus cine loop of childhood scenes played out in these very grounds.

Evan was pulled deeper into himself by this reverie, towards the warm memory of a former self and, just before he was finally lulled to sleep, he thought he saw what looked like a man in a cream Panama hat crossing the park in his direction. But Warner – if it was him – faded from view as Evan dozed off.

In Evan’s version of events, his next recollection is that he had just finished feeding the ducks and was walking back home. He was so absorbed in the act of kicking a knot of soft wood as he went, reenacting a move from The Big Match, a fancy bit of trickery by Stan Bowles or some such long haired footballing maverick, that he did not at first notice the girl walking beside him, nor that she was talking to him.

“Evan? Hello? Earth calling Evan?” she said. And Evan felt happy to be interrupted because this was Michelle Revilla, emanating a force which attracted Evan in a way that he did not understand. Although he does not like girls, he is often consumed by thoughts of Michelle, thoughts that he does not understand, that swell in his breast like the radiating heat of a hot coal. He’d often pictured them running away, living together, doing simple grown up things like shopping and cooking. Kissing. Secret thoughts that he dared not share with anyone, that he felt a small shame for having.

“Michelle, hello,” he said. “What are you doing here?”

“It’s a park,” she replied, not unfriendly, dipping her shoulder into his arm. “It’s for walking in. I’m just taking a walk. Actually, I’m on my way over to my Grandma’s. Wanna stroll with me?”

“Yeah, sure.” This is the best thing ever, thought Evan. At the same time, though, he felt under pressure: he didn’t want to blow this chance with Michelle, but he had no idea what to say, no real experience of talking to girls. What should you say to them? What did they like? He remembered the sweets in his pocket. “Fruit Pastille?” he said, offering the opened pack. Michelle smiled – a smile that, in itself, marks the greatest possible reward for Evan – and took one.

“Ooh, blackcurrant! My favourite.”

They walked on, Evan in rapt silence while Michelle talked about her Grandma, her house, and how she’s going there today because her mum and dad are both working this afternoon. Evan was not really listening. He was consumed by the thought that this could be his lucky day. They arrived at a bench, the same bench that Evan would be sitting on so many years later, but now it’s a glossy green, the paint so fresh and thickly laid that it’s soft to the touch.

“I don’t have to be at Gran’s for another ten minutes,” said Michelle. “Do you want to sit here for a bit?” Evan wondered what they could do, just sitting here on the park bench, what he could possibly have to say to Michelle Revilla. It filled him with dread, a panic, but still he couldn’t understand why there was nothing in the world he would rather be doing.

“Yes. Let’s,” he says.

They sat, swinging their legs, looking across the park, and every time Evan, speechless, turned to look at Michelle, she was looking straight back at him, smiling. He wanted this to last forever, was dreading the moment when it would end, and he felt powerless to prevent it. He realized that he loved her, and knew that if he didn’t take his chance now, he would never have it again. And somehow he knew he would regret it for the rest of his life, that there would be no turning back, no return to this blissful state, this Eden.

He stared ahead, frozen, noticing with some relief that Warner was still walking in his direction, now closer. Except there was something different, it was no longer a Panama hat that he wore, but a flat white cloth cap. And, closer still, he saw that the drooping moustache was gone, that Warner was younger, the cut of his suit different, and the shiny black loafers were now two-tone spats. But Warner would help, Evan was sure of that. He’d give him the advice he needed. With his approach came a swell of music, a saccharine falsetto building to a crescendo over a mantra of repeating bop-shoo-wadi-wadi vocal harmonies. The man in the white cloth cap stopped in front of them, swaying his arms and hips, dipping his knees in time to the four-four signature. Evan turned to Michelle, wondering if she can see what he sees, but she was still just smiling at him.

Turning back to this new, younger Warner, Evan asked “What do I do now?”

The music played on in the background but Warner brought the microphone down to his side, stopped singing. He planted his feet at shoulder width, pointed to Evan, and said “Sonny, take my advice: if you love Michelle, don’t think twice.” He winked, then took up the microphone and began to wail his ode to lovers, before retreating back across the park to where he came from.

Evan now felt fortified, certain. He was surer than ever that he and Michelle were destined for one another. He knew that this was the time to make the right choice, to reset his life, a chance to redeem himself, to be happy.

He turned back to Michelle, who still smiles beatifically, and declared: “Michelle, I should have told you this before. I love you!”

“Well I love you too Evan Critchly,” she replied.

“And I want to be with you forever,” said Evan.

“I . . . wow!”

They sat for a moment, eyes locked, and Evan felt an exhilaration driving him on. He leant in and started to kiss Michelle. She stiffened. But Evan was sure, and pressed on. It must be that she’d never kissed anyone before, he thought. Well, nor had Evan, and that wasn’t going to stop him. This was the path to happiness. He pressed on, wrapping her in his arms, holding her. He’d never let her go. But now she was crying. Tears of joy, thinks Evan, and he started to cry too.

He was holding her tightly, rocking back and forth to the rhythm of their sobbing, when his reverie was broken by angry shouting. His shoulder was jerked, and he was wrenched back to the here and now by a shower of painful blows. There was a young girl, whom he had never seen before, being led to the safety and comfort of a relieved looking mother, while the men who had apprehended him kept him restrained, calling him the vilest names, until the police arrived.

Evan found himself handcuffed and led to the awaiting police car, unable to make sense of what had just happened. He turned to take one last look back to the bench and saw only an abandoned cream panama hat.

***

face13092001

Gene Farmer lives in East Anglia, in the UK, with his wife and children. He is an IT Consultant and puts aside a microscopic amount of his spare time for short story writing. His stories have previously appeared here in SickLit Magazine, and in flashfictionmagazine.com and are said to be ideal for insomniacs.

The Bus – by KATE JONES

The Bus

 

I stand among the groups of middle-aged parents lining the pavement beside the bus that contains their beloved offspring.  Excited faces scattered with acne and over-zealous make-up press against glass, or turn away, sharp haircuts bobbing as they talk fast and laugh with friends.

I pick out your window.  You sit politely, neatly, long curls hanging round your shoulders.  Your father’s nose side-on to my view.  You do that thing you do with your glasses, where you push them up your face with the back of your hand.  I have never seen anyone else do this, apart from my mother.

I tell myself that you are not leaving forever.  You are not my mother.  You are just going off to adventures, and experiences.  You will come back.  Yet, my insides feel the same way as they did when I lost her.

Your long lashes loll like fronds as you bend down to retrieve a paperback from your holdall.  I wonder if you have packed the bunny that has sat on your bed since I brought you home from the hospital, the yellow blanket wrapped tightly around you.  My grasp onto your perfect form even tighter.

Your friend taps you on the shoulder and you stretch your arms to hug her.  She bounces down beside you.  Your face is hidden from me now as you turn to talk to her.

Other parents are milling around in groups, talking to one another, shouting to their offspring if they have their this, their that.  I don’t shout messages to you.  I just watch, this last, lingering, private moment.

The engine starts, rumbling loudly and spitting out cancerous fumes from its large exhaust.  You face back toward the front and pop a red sweet into your mouth, making your cheek plump.  A faint cheer goes up from inside the bus, and some of the still malingering parents’ cheer, too.

You turn your head at last.  Look surprised that I am still standing there, alone and apart from the crowd.

And you smile.  Genuine, happy, relaxed.  You raise your slender arm to wave.

I raise mine too, mechanically, try to smile back as honestly as I can.

And then the bus pulls away from the curb and you turn back to your friend.  You have already dropped your hand.  You are already miles away.

And though I tell myself you will return, you are not gone forever, I walk back towards my car knowing that my home will be quiet, and things will be as I left them.  I know that there will be no smell of body spray clogging the bathroom; no dirty underwear on the floor; nobody playing loud pop-songs into the night.

And I know that the world – my world – has shifted slightly, into the unknown.

Kate Jones©

 ***

KATEJONES

***Kate is a freelance writer based in the UK who writes articles, including regular contributions to online women’s magazine Skirt Collective, as well as publishing life writing and poetry both in print and online.  She has a passion for flash fiction and short stories, and is usually found lurking around coffee shops, writing and listening to other people’s conversations. Jones has also become a regular contributor to Sick Lit Magazine, and is a 2016 nominee for the Pushcart Prize through Sick Lit Magazine.***

She blogs at www.writerinresidenceblog.wordpress.com.

Find Kate on Twitter at:  https://twitter.com/katejonespp

*Photography courtesy of Brian Michael Barbeito*

Father’s Guitar – by KATE JONES

 

Father’s Guitar

 

His guitar stands resplendent,

Statuesque.  His muse – ethereal,

awaiting him to place it into its tomb-like case.

He strokes it with long, practised fingers,

caressing the taut strings.

I watch as he takes the instrument into his arms,

gently placing it into the case lined with purple velvet,

as one would place a newborn,

holding the back of the spine until last.

Clicking silver clasps shut, he leaves.

I crawl from my hiding place,

lying myself down on the cheap carpet beside it.

I am the same length exactly

as my rival.

I move close, closer still –

and, like osmosis,

try to absorb a piece of his affection.

Kate Jones ©

***

KATEJONES

***Kate is a freelance writer based in the UK who writes articles, including regular contributions to online women’s magazine Skirt Collective, as well as publishing life writing and poetry both in print and online.  She has a passion for flash fiction and short stories, and is usually found lurking around coffee shops, writing and listening to other people’s conversations. Jones has also become a regular contributor to Sick Lit Magazine, and is a 2016 nominee for the Pushcart Prize through Sick Lit Magazine.***

She blogs at www.writerinresidenceblog.wordpress.com.

Find Kate on Twitter at:  https://twitter.com/katejonespp

The Fear – by SARAH COTTINGHAM

The Fear

 

I don’t own a fridge. Amelia’s fridge is a Smeg, seriously shiny and effortless to open. There’s a montage of photos on the side: babies with varying amounts of hair, their eyes following me around the room. There is also a calendar – not the Hollyoaks Hunks Amelia had up in our university halls, but the M&S simply food calendar: this month, artistically shot oranges.

 

“Have you been to see Ottelie yet?” Amelia asks. “She’s absolutely adorable – that photo does not do her justice. You should go while you have time. Karen can’t make it today –they’re visiting Steve’s parents.”

 

“No, not yet.” I finger a solid spot on my chin pushing it in until it feels like a bruise.

 

Amelia is balancing the baby she’s packed into a pale blue onesie in one arm and attempting to fill the silver kettle with the other. I wonder what would happen if she dropped him on the work surface. It’s granite or fake granite and could crack a head like an egg.

 

She dangles him in front of her and puffs her lips out to mimic his.

 

“Agoooo. Can you say agooo? Agoo?”

 

The baby makes a noise in no way similar and is met by a wall of kisses. I don’t believe in praising people for things they haven’t done correctly.

 

“Here, take Jax for a minute while I take out the ciabatta – just let him sit on your lap and hold his head, ok.”

 

Amelia airlifts the bundle into my arms. Jax sits patiently on my lap, his wide blue eyes staring out of the window into the garden. The grass needs cutting but I can see the effort she’s made with the borders. The dead rose bush has gone and a few green shrubs and a sunflower have appeared. I’ll tell her she’s done wonders with such as small space. She has a gardener called Tess. Amelia told me this woman is amazing – just had twins and already back to landscaping, of course her husband’s had to drop down to part-time and men don’t always like that.

 

My phone beeps persistently in my bag but I can’t reach it with this sack of joy on me. He must have smelled my scent laced with last night’s vodka because he begins to judder and cry, so I make a bit more effort, swinging him over my shoulder and jigging him up and down until I begin to feel queasy.

 

The ciabatta smells as if it’s burning, but Amelia’s fixated on the wall-hung flat screen,

 

“I love this programme! They match people based on what they like to eat, which almost never works but it’s so entertaining.” Amelia turns to me, wide eyed,  “Hey! You should apply to be on it Charl – what have you got to lose?”

 

The baby has slipped down to my chest and is rooting around my breasts with his mouth. For a second I wonder what it might be like to breast feed a baby, have it latched onto you with leach-like dependency, liquid love oozing into its mouth.

 

“I’ve actually got a date next week. A guy I’ve been messaging,” I reach for my phone.

 

“Really? Yes of course you did mention – David or Daniel? No, David was the Headhunter and Daniel was doing a PhD -”

 

“His name’s Mikolaj – he’s from Poland.” The baby is shaking his head from side to side attempting to burrow into my breastbone.

 

“Oh my god he’s so hungry look at him! Come here Jacky! Mummy’s sorry – she was putting her guests’ food before yours and that is not the way it should be… not the way it should be…” she holds him up in the air, staring into his eyes, twisting his body with each syllable.

 

The doorbell rings. “Get that will you Charl.”

 

On the doorstep are three young mums and buggies stuffed with bald heads, fat legs and tiny hands. I maneuver myself around the side table and behind the door to make space for the head of the procession, more chariot than buggy, containing a puffy pink marshmallow child in a net dress. I recognise the mum, all blonde-highlights, from the pub last summer when I thought I was meeting a heavily pregnant Amelia for lunch, but was actually meeting Amelia and Anthea for baby briefing. She leans in and bumps cheeks with me, depositing a residue of orange.

 

The other two women I know of only from brief glances at a watsapp group on Amelia’s phone called ‘Hypno-Mums’. Amelia described Christina to me as ‘Greek’ and ‘submissive’ and the other, Hannah, as ‘dull’ but with ‘a very rich husband’. Their more modest vehicles follow, containing identical looking human potatoes, one in yellow, one in blue.  I tag along behind – my hip bruised from the door handle.

 

I’m soon stuck behind a traffic jam of buggies and mums with baby bags bigger than travellers’ rucksacks. I find myself yelling over the siren screams of the girl potato,

 

“Everyone into the kitchen on your left!” As if we are reacting to a bomb alert.

 

I’ve done my bit and so I watch as the mothers build a familiar world around their children. Christina has installed a carrycot, decorated with various dangling plastic animals and deposited her child inside. The little girl who won’t stop screaming now has a dummy and is lying in what appears to be a pink dinghy on the floor. Andrea’s paunchy marshmallow has been installed in a highchair at the table, barely visible beneath layers of netting too voluminous to fit under the tray. I stand in the corner of the room fingering my phone in my pocket, hoping I don’t accidentally step on the dinghy and listening to conversations on topics I hadn’t ever considered.

 

“… Andy and I thought it was the chicken pox at first, so we took her to A&E, but the doctor said it was baby acne – acne! Well, I told him I’ve never even had a spot and Andy’s skin is perfect, so where the hell has she got it from?” The other mother’s nod along gravely – clearly there is no God.

 

As skinny wrists weave around the ciabatta towards the Kettle Chips, conversation moves to the frequency of nappy changes and I get my phone out, adopting the role of baby photographer until Amelia insists on taking one of me with a baby. I glance from carrycot to highchair to floor, trying to decide which baby might be least missed if dropped; eventually I opt for the female potato. Hannah says nothing, but stands within catching distance whilst Amelia takes photos of the stranger with the baby in front of a blank cream wall, like some sort of kidnap mug shot. She begins cooing at the screen and prodding at it with her thumb until her face creases with disdain –

 

“Umm Charlotte, I don’t know if you’re aware, but some guy just messaged you calling you a slut!”

 

Amelia holds the phone at arms length as if it’s ready to blow. The other ladies exchange looks and the girl potato starts to cry. I snatch the phone, deposit the girl with her mother and take refuge in the toilet.

 

I sit on the lid, and prod at the screen. The final message from Mikolaj reads “U dirty fucking slut!” I circle my spot with a fingernail, considering what to reply. He’s probably only joking, either that or his English isn’t that good. A few years from now I’ll be sitting in our kitchen, covering our baby’s ears while Anthea regales the other mums with the ‘slut’ story. They’ll laugh and nod along.

 

I scroll up and read the previous messages– numerous requests for photos of my ‘tits’. I wonder how much it would cost to fly his parents over to Britain for the wedding – unless they already live here? I imagine trying on wedding dresses with Amelia, Karen and Anthea. I’ll burst into tears because his old Polish grandma would love to see me in this dress, but she’s just not up to the flight. They’ll sigh and tell me it will still be a beautiful day – ‘Don’t forget you can always send photos!” Amelia will say.

 

I lift up my top to my chin, pull down the cups of my bra and focus the camera on my breasts. They don’t look as full as I like them to, but I send it anyway.

****

sarah

***Sarah Cottingham retired from teaching English at 27 and lives in London. She writes, tutors and bins all the red pens she can find. She has a 1st in law and a post-grad qualification in teaching Shakespeare, but no cause to use either. A bunch of her short stories, flash fiction and blog posts cohabit contently at www.shortstorynation.com and she tweets @ShortStoryNatn.   ***

Raw and Mouldy – by TEIGE MADDISON

 

 

Daytime sadness frowns you scorning,

never finding solace in a good man’s fibres;

They’re rare things, raw and in apprehension of their side

and the otherside that holds you up in its breaths and heartbeats

but strangles you down;

fungal python, which you it deciphers,

churning your chunks cos you forgot nan’s coconut milk

and she shouts her demonic vitriol

in vain attempt to scare off the mould…

but its casing thickens, captures your eyes

so you see the world through its green lens trying to kill you.

It succeeds in murdering hope with

gunshots from your mac and iphone,

scraping your last bones for mould and stardust,

laughing mimicry of niggy tardust

IT REPEATS, repeats

REPEATS  a point that is not proven, you are not who you are showing.

But woven as silk to your soft cushion,

slipping from your comfort and love,

in essence your soul, your magik,

your repetition, to try ay and crack it, your flailing arms

that shout I AM HERE.


 

Sawn off they hear your cracking,

crunching ball sack,

your shaking eyes,

rolling on the floor to die,

your torture is blind,

blind to photos of kids,

to the tea mug sitting in the corner of the room

armless and the tea bag has been used

and thrown in the bin,

where it thinks you should have been,

where you think you should have been,

cuddling the with the lover who holds you trim,

Facebook messenger fLashINg,

SHE’S HERE DUDE OVER FUCKING HERE ON THE OTHERSIDE OF THE WORLD,

with a bloke who’s got tattoos and a husk voice

whom she met at zone festival;

fucked on ecstasy or LSD,

it doesn’t matter because love hurts in all its forms,

warm and gooey.

There’s always one hidden prick to burst your bubble,

the only one you’ve ever had,

and it hurts like a moth flying into the lightbulb, it’s fucking sad

that you’re a pest to her and to you

now there is not mushroom for love,

but still you want the one person who swipes you off her skin.

Always going back,

going back,

Always going back on the same old tack of

dead flowers and awful poetry

that laughs in your cathartic face,

another meaning to doing the one thing you truly love,

but as a poet and student,

person and thinker,

there’s not much difference between she who gave you head

and your headmaster,

cos Fergus lived up to his name, he was a living stone

and as aforementioned,

leaders in stone don’t do as they preach,

cherishing each young person in their care.


 

And I know no difference between this and

The Dark Shadow that drinks my wine and writes my poetry.

He severs ties with me and myself, stupid jokes

and an easy face,

he bludgeons my smiles into frowns that

have become my crown

my blood is the wine he drinks,

his hands trap me in my treasure chest,

in bed, in which all I want to do is

escape into my dreams,

but my dreams are made of heroin and salt,

so every night I die, nailed to a mast

in the past that is the present.

that pill, that vodka,

clear lies that still haunt us,

circled in smoke,

brewed by fear,

And tear after tear after tear after tear is

beckoning me to join mum and dad,

the very perpetrators,

the dark spear that boiled the kettle

and poured me these cups of fear.

A tired, drastic waterboarding

making me believe the grass is not greener on the otherside,

but we don’t even have a lawn, let alone money for a mower.


 

I keep on wanting to return into depression,

it’s the only home where I have always been made to feel comfortable,

where I can keep my shoes on and lie on the couch,

have a wank in the mirror,

admiring how fat you’ve made me,

we wallow in my uncomfortable body.

He pristines me, his work of art,

with donuts and chips off the old block,

THIS is who I am and who you have made me want to be.

I am a Greek god, a sculpture,

but in a society that draws its perception of health

from capitalist propriety.

Ironically I am the one who is mouldy.


 

You’re the sum of the five people you hang with most,

and if it’s just me and the red-horned flame thrower,

then maybe I am just depression,

at least that’s you and he want me to believe.

O, the beauty of social oppression.


***
12246859_964674793571665_392903772856766184_n
***Teigerr (Real name: just Teige, pronounced like tiger without the R) came about very simply, from an ardent hunt to find a form of expression. His style is simple but powerful; Teigerr believes words should be allowed to be brusk, brutal and honest. Conjoining a troubled childhood and adolescence, Teigerr believes in self-expression as a key cathartic tool. Writing, he says, comes from a place deep in our bodies and minds: the ingredients of which are emotions, some we know and some we don’t until ink is pouring on the page. Words bring out a different, intriguing and challenging side of Teigerr, one whom he adores for its honesty and belief that the topics he writes on, are ones that people are often afraid to talk of themselves. Teigerr has been writing poetry for the past three years, so is relatively new to the game. Originally from South West London (posh boy yeah I know right?-WELL NOT REALLY!) he spent 7 years at boarding school in Hampshire,  escaping the taxing toils of a dysfunctional household. He has always loved to read, and turned to writing after an English A-level project allowed him to write his own poem-based on Simon Armitage’s ‘Out of The Blue’-and critique his own work in essay form. The power of poetry never left and has since grown into a love of all things bookish. He turned to spoken word after writing an angry poem about his mother, realising the poem shouted to be performed. Since then he has become a big part of the poetry and spoken word scene in Falmouth, where he studies Creative Writing. Teigerr has had work published in their magazine ‘With’, whilst his short story ‘Here Lies Fuscia’ will be published in ‘Talent Implied’-Griffith University’s annual anthology where he has just spent a semester abroad, on Australia’s sun laden Gold Coast. Teigerr is expanding his repertoire of literary forms and hopes to write and publish novels, short stories, plays and poetry (spoken word too) in the future. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram on @TeigerrThePoet.***
*photography credit goes to BRIAN MICHAEL BARBEITO. Huge thanks again, Brian!*