By Rik Brown
The air crackles with a palpable tension. She feels like she could conceivably clasp the tension and fashion it into a shape. Her thoughts meander loosely to the many shapes she was capable of crafting. Always so fond of the octagon. She could make a herd of eight sided shapes. Line them up. Her very own flocktagon. Flock. Funny word that. She turns it over and over in her mind like a linguistic pancake. How she loved pancakes. Though she actually only loved the first three. Then she merely liked the fourth and fifth. She usually regretted the sixth and rarely if ever went to the seventh. Though seven was her lucky number. She had seven fish. She tried to name them after the Dwarves but had got all her stories confused, resulting in Happy, Bashful, Frodo, Dopey, Sinbad, Hawkeye and Hotlips. Was it going to be hot today? It had felt more tropical of late. Tropical fruit juice always disappointed her. The name promised so much and never delivered. Should she change her name? Bernadette was nice enough but did it suit her? She secretly thought of herself as more of a Francene. Paris was the capital of France. Plaster of Paris. Plaster Cast. Casting aspersions. She goes to the dictionary and looks up ‘Aspersions’. She’d bought that Dictionary at a garage sale last July. The inscription in the front cover read “Dear Llewellyn, Get a Word up Ya, love Jules and Michelle”
By David Stewart
She said he spent all his time on the computer and they never did anything new. The break up was so bad their friends still described it in hushed tones. The public screaming matches at a restaurant. The final day when he took to her wardrobe with scissors and she burnt his football memorabilia in the backyard. She moved out screaming up at the window with him shouting abuse from what used to be their bedroom. And then both got to work.
He sat down at his computer. He assembled every photograph he’d ever taken of her and put them in a folder on his desktop. He deleted all the ones in which she was posing and looked attractive and found only the worst examples, the most embarrassing shots taken when she was caught unawares, the “oh you have to delete that one” photos and the ones from their holiday when a drunken night had led to some flashing escapades in the hotel corridor. He knew the things she hated about herself, her nose which she always said was too big, the mole beneath her left breast, the fact that her pubic hair grew wild and unruly if she didn’t wax. With the latest version of photoshop, which he purchased especially, he sat down and went to work. Soon he had five shots he was pleased with. In every one he’d made her nose slightly larger, not grotesquely “that’s obviously shopped” larger but still slightly augmented. The mole was doubled in size in the flashing shots and he’d painstakingly replaced her neatly trimmed pubic area with a large bushy expanse of black hair. The blue eyes that first attracted him lost their brilliance. He reduced her breast size slightly and expanded her waist and hips. He put them on the internet posted as “My ex girlfriend.” They were viewed by four people and immediately swamped by a barrage of sexier, meaner or more amusing photographs.
She wrote a short paragraph about the time she caught him masturbating to the presenter on a children’s television program, photocopied it 10,000 times and threw them from a hot-air balloon she’d booked a ride on.
His story was the joke item on TV news bulletins all over the world. He became a viral video, an internet meme and an international joke. She became the toast of the celebrity party circuit.
By Jason Geary
My left arm is tingling. Is that a sign of impending heart attack? Or is it the right arm that means heart attack? It’s definitely tingling though. Isn’t this the time I should call an ambulance? That’s what the ads say. Just in case. No. That’s stupid. It’s just pins and needles? I’ll give it a shake. That’ll fix it. There. Shit. Now it’s worse. It’s probably just because the blood is flowing, more blood, more tingles. I’ll massage it. Strange, I can’t feel it when I touch it. Press harder. It’s dead to the touch. Fuck. Don’t panic. I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about. Get to the phone just in case. Where is it? Kitchen bench next to the coffee machine. What? No. Where are my legs? Move damn you. Shit. I’m pretty sure that hitting the ground that hard should have hurt more. It’s dusty down here. There’s my other shoe under the couch. Get up idiot. Get up. Now there’s pain. In my chest – Horrible constricting pain. It is a heart attack. I’m fucked now. Wow. I never quite thought it’d be that easy to resign myself to death. The cat comes to me and lies down next to my convulsing hand. It’s not scratch time. I want to yell at it to go away but the words don’t come. Only a series of short gargles. I can feel my eyes. From the inside-out building with pressure. In quick succession they pop. Plunging me into darkness. Then the pressure subsides. I still cannot see. I don’t dare to move. It’s comforting to hear the cat purring nearby. Though I’m sure now the convulsing has ceased, it’ll only be a matter of time before she deserts me too.
By David Stewart
Your majesty, my congratulations on completing your tenth year as our sovereign.
Thankyou trusted adviser. Is it going well do you think?
Very well indeed sire.
Majesty now that you’ve reigned for a decade tradition decrees it’s time to give you a the.
Give me the what?
No majesty, not the. A The.
You’re making no sense.
A The, meaning a The suffix. As in Richard the Lionheart.
Oh I see. A The. Right. Well do you think I could have The Great?
It’s been taken your majesty. By Alexander the Great.
Yes but he was a long time ago and he was a Roman so people aren’t going to get us confused.
What about The Really Good? Or the Really, really good?
It’s not very snappy.
What’s another word for Great?
Well we had a chat about this at the Trusted Advisers Annual cricket match and we were thinking more along the lines of The Adequate.
There were some who thought The Barely Adequate but those of us who’ve seen you juggle talked them up to Adequate.
It’s hardly going to leap out of the history books is it?
It’s better than The Bit Crap, which we were all for giving your father until he bought us speedboats.
What about The Learned? I’ve always wanted to be thought of as Learned.
It does rather go against your earlier claim that Alexander was a Roman. To say nothing of that speech you gave last week claiming cats grew on trees.
Yes that didn’t go down well.
Another suggestion we had was: The Oldest Not Dead Offspring Of His Father.
Well that’s not catchy at all.
It does abbreviate to TONDOOHF, which has rather a ring I think.
What about The Strong?
You cry if you have a rash.
You executed someone for giggling at your tree-cat speech.
In your reign so far we’ve lost three provinces to barbarians, two castles to bandits and your summer palace to a group of squatters.
Do you know what that means?
No… Tell me, do you have a sports car to drive to your speedboat?
No, your majesty as it happens I do not.
Would you and the rest of the First Advisors XI care for one each?
That would be very generous your majesty.
The Generous. Yes I like that very much.
By Virginia Ewing
I fill Mark’s cup with more Shiraz, Julian pushes the bottle away from his, splash, purple stain bleeds on his cuff, swears at me, storms from the table. You know I prefer the Pinot, he says, throws his shirt on top of the dishes in the sink. Mark smiles at me behind his glass, his lips distorted, more like a frown, tragedy clown, candlelight brightens his eyes. Can you do the dishes now? Julian says, sitting down in an old work shirt, I begin to say, Mark’s still drinking- he slams his fist on the table, candles jump, one blows out, Mark says, Fucking Hell – I don’t believe you, grabs his coat and leaves, I follow him down the driveway, bare feet, freezing on the cement in July, I call to him, he stops, half in shadow on the kerb, bluey white street light, he looks like an angel, Don’t worry about him he’s just like that I say. Leave him. I pause. I can’t, his lips touch mine, I cry, I can’t. I go inside.
By Jason Geary
This was the first moment.
He was surprised by the vibrancy of their smiles. Each smile distinct in the way it communicated the obvious joy of having their arms wrapped around each other. This was the first moment he can recall where he realized just how glad he was that they’d stopped him and asked him to take their picture.
Then he asked the obvious question, something he chided himself for the very moment the words passes his lips. “Are the three of you sisters?” Two of the three smiled brighter as they said “Yes.” The other rolled her eyes, not in a dismissive way, in a way that suggested she’d heard that question too many times this week. The subtly of her reaction was not lost on him. “I’m sorry, you must get that a lot.” She softened a little embarrassed he’d noticed her momentary lapse. “No, it’s okay.” She offered. He shifted his eyes to the screen of their camera. “Bunch up.” He said. The sisters pushed together close, almost completely masking the picturesque Italian building in the background. He held the camera at arm’s length, trying to get the framing just right.
This was the second moment.
Within the tiny boarders of the camera screen sat an image of perfect happiness. He pushed the button and captured it for them in pixels for prosperity. “Got it.” He said and handed the camera back. The sisters put their heads together to look at the screen. Snug.
This was the third moment.
In dumbfounded awe he looked at them looking at themselves. Absorbed by the unqualified warmth of their faces as they saw the moment he’d captured. He blinked; though this time he made a conscious effort to hold his lids shut for a moment longer. Behind his eyelids he was trying to record that moment, submit it memory, that perfect unguarded moment of warmth he’d been privileged to be a part of. A voice forced his eyes open. “Thank you.” They said, with polite smiles again. “No problem. Have a nice day.” He replied and he walked on his way. He didn’t look back. He just closed his eyes. And there, already fading into the shadows of memory was the image of a faultless trio he hoped he’d be able to carry for the rest of the day.
By Caitlin Curtis
I’ve heard the story so many times, in so many places, in so many different sized groups. 22 years later the details barely matter.
He fought off 5 muggers, 6 muggers, they pulled a knife and then they pulled a gun. He needed to defend that poor boy, that poor blind boy, deaf-blind boy. He was on his way home from soccer practice, track practice, football, badminton, chess practice. On his way home for his mother’s birthday dinner, that’s when he saw them, heard them. A gang of muggers, a whole lot of them, pushing around a young teenage boy. Yelling at a child. Threatening a man. Wanting his money, wanting his new Discman, demanding his nice leather jacket. Arty couldn’t let that happen. His father and boy scouts and army movies had raised him better than that. He ran over, biked over to the commotion as fast as he could and threw himself in front of the victim. He fought them one by one. He created a distraction so they became confused and left. He called the police and let justice take care of things. He just spoke to them wisely and the muggers learned the error of their ways. Sometimes he was beaten to a pulp and he spent 2 weeks or 5 weeks recovering in a hospital. Sometimes he helped the smaller boy walk home to his grateful parents, and sometimes he took the smaller boy home for his own mother’s roast beef, lasagne, lobster. He was a hero that day. Not that he would say it that way, not exactly.
He might say that the smaller boy found a new friend that day, that he learned the value of asserting one’s self, that he learned to take a punch to the ribs. I’ve come to think that all versions of this story are true. In the first few years, as the details scattered I was sceptical of my husband’s ability to remember truth, or favour it to more honourable versions of the tale. I know now that the story is true because 22 years later I have seen Arty slow the car for ducklings to cross. He will hold up traffic. He will be honked at. He will smile and hold my hand as we watch the ducklings totter across the road. Arty is a good man, either way.
By Peter Newling
Felix didn’t expect
The sexual harassment claim.
In his police statement
He blamed the qwerty keyboard,
And the fact that the N and the B
Are next to each other.
Felix’s email to Maria in HR
Was innocent enough.
It was meant to say
“I have a great idea to improve staff morale.
Come to my office at 5.
I’ll give you a full run down”
But it didn’t.