Friday, 13 June 2014

The city burned, fire lighting up the night sky.

There is petrol, of course. We need that. It makes perfect sense that we have filled jugs and buckets, and even old jam jars, with that.

There are also half-empty squirting tins of lighter fluid, which still smell faintly of barbecues from the summer before last. These have been brought out from the backs of under-sink cupboards. They were kept in amongst the shoe polish and the old feather dusters that nobody could bring themselves to throw away. We might as well have.

We'll never use that lighter fluid for any other purpose now. There were no barbecues last summer. No picnics: planned or impromptu. So out the old tins come. With them, we bring the bottles of White Spirit. Not as good as turps or meths, but we all have plenty of it. In our time, we were good homeowners. We kept our paintbrushes clean in between annual touch-ups of both the interior and exterior walls of our houses.

Not last year though. Last year was when the insects came. They travelled into town in one thick black cloud. Where they came in from is a question that nobody seems able to answer. They started down in the bad part of town. We didn't care too much about them then, besides the change it made on the nightly news. It was nice to get a break from hospital superbugs and the dubious qualities of overworked teachers. We are, for the most part, educated people, and we enjoyed the opportunity to learn about something new.

But then they started to move.

When they got to the river, those of us on this side of it felt confident that they would not cross the water. We had no reason for this certainty. Nothing had been able to stop them up until that point. But for some reason, we were absolutely sure that the river would keep us safe.

It didn't.

We didn't leave our houses aside from essential trips from the front door to the government trucks and back. Stay in your houses, they told us. We'll keep you well supplied with resources. Those weren't their exact words. We only got the gist of what they were saying through their loud-speakers and protective suits.

Beneath those words though, we knew what they meant: you are contaminated, keep back. Nobody knows exactly what the insects do to people, but it certainly isn't pretty. We are already a town that has forgone mirrors.

Now we are a town that is taking back control of our lives. We have stockpiled our flammable liquids. Drained every engine we have and raided every high-shelf. The wind is just right tonight. One match is all it will take.

Nobody knows what the insects will do, but tonight the fire will light up the sky. One way or another, a black cloud will roll out from our land and we will be free.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Playing with Fire

The wax melted down between us, and your fingers tugged and played at the edges of the candle. Your eyes had been on me at the start of the meal, but after miss-steps on both sides into topics we had meant to avoid, my gaze turned down to my plate and yours became fixed on the flame. You played with softened pieces of wax between your fingers, and every time you shaped it into something beautiful I thought that you would extend it in an open palm towards me. Instead, you squashed and broke your small statues, and then looked confused about the mess you’d made.

My feet twitched under the table, and I exaggerated the movement in the hope that I could connect with your leg. I felt sure that some small touch between us would be all it would take to get the evening back on course. For a while, I laid my hand immobile in the centre of the table, waiting for you to take it, and when you didn’t I felt as foolish as a schoolgirl, and I hated you again.

My anger at you was contained in a box of fireworks concealed in my torso, and the fuses had become delicate and slight, whittled down to almost nothing by the many injuries we had inflicted upon one another. A touch from you at the wrong moment, or even a slip of the tongue could set one off. Then heat and light burned inside me, and I was blind to your attempts to earn forgiveness.

That night, I wanted for the fireworks to be gone, for the box to have emptied from all the useless bad feelings between us. But you played with the candle and did not reach out a hand to mine, and then later you asked me in such a painfully tired voice what it was that I wanted from you. A Catherine Wheel turned slowly, with a dull burn that seemed as though it would last forever.

Sunday, 17 January 2010


He rolled over as if in getaway and I lunged after him, pinning his leg with the weight of my thigh. My body tingling with the afterglow of his teasing hands, I tickled him in triumph&in speed. The fast arches of my fingers pressed their tips flat into his skin til they clashed with his ribs,
with both flailing elbows.
His gritted, gasping teeth: “ me!”
He moaned, his mouth wide, thrashing his head from side to side. He kicked at me, his hips rising helplessly like the sea as he fought for balance.
A gasp as if in pleasure. I threw words into the space. “Oh....yeah?” I too was breathless. Light, teasing, focused, it almost hurt.
I shifted my weight down on his torso, seized his wrist and felt him respond by clasping mine.
He was trying to pull me down. The dead weight of my pulse sped thick and foggy to his grip.
...These upper hands, they were struggling. I withdrew them, a stubborn and sudden backing off. I stumbled slightly as I crawled off his body to sit at a safe distance.
“Fine, fine,” I murmured. As if I had stopped in victory; that this was me relenting.
I smiled to myself, smiled at him. Sweet, teasing,
but exhausted. My eyes felt like pinpricks.
Still on my knees, I turned to face him, tucking my ankles under me and letting my hands fall to my lap.
He closed his eyes. Where he had sat up, he lay back down. His breathing slowed, he lay flat and still.
I took my eyes off his face and looked at my hands. I held one before the light. Its colour, the pinkish shade of dawn, was fading back to white.
I glanced at Aaron. Still he had his eyes shut.
On the sleeve of my jumper was a loose thread. I brought it to my mouth and pressed it to a tooth, pulling it free.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

An experiment without a title

We walk through the trees. There is no forest, just the dense cluster of trees around us and hints of muffled birdsong far away. These trees hate us for the noise we make - the cracking of their discarded branches underfoot and our heavy, awful breathing. They hate our breathing most of all - they loathe those sorts of things - our punctuated in-and-out natures. Breathing and eating are awful to them.
The trees make their dislike of us clear. They throw up roots to lasso our tired feet, and they flick at our poor, cold flesh with the fine ends of their branches. They throw down leaves ahead of us to disguise the way, and when we occasionally find a path, they tip themselves down onto it and make us clamber over their fallen trunks.
We are lost again, and when one of our party drops a tissue accidentally from his pocket, I quickly dash to pick it up. I hope that the trees will notice this and will leave us an easy path out of this forest. But all they see is the dropping of the tissue, and out of anger at our litterbugging they twist and pull at the earth until they have run a rocky stream straight across our path.
We walk through it and accept the wetness of our feet. I make faces that show the trees how very little we like having wet feet. Later, if necessary, I will remove my shoes and socks in order to display the painful pruning of my soles to them.
We walk through the trees. The others do not notice the ways in which the trees show that they hate us. The others are careless in their treatment of the trees - they climb and swing on branches to "keep the spirits up", and I begin to side with the trees.
I dawdle behind our group - let them get several feet ahead of me but never out of their sight, or else they would stop and wait for me. I keep a careful eye on the trees and try to make my steps as quiet as possible. I believe that it is possible that I can begin to breathe both in and out at the same time.
Suddenly a holly bush snags my top and stops me short. I take that as a sign, and as soon as I am free I run off sideways into the forest, leaving my friends to their fate. I run so quickly that I create a wave of movement amongst the dropped leaves on the forest floor. With a final push of energy, I create a wave that is big enough for me to ride upon it. The trees blur past, faster and faster, as the leaves and twigs rush through the forest and carry me far far away.
In the distance I can hear the screams of my friends. They call my name - wanting my help and protection against the trees, but I am no longer one of them. I am part of the forest - travelling through the trees, not around them. I am inside of every tree and leaf that there is and ever has been. I hate the people and their noise, and I join the other trees in crowding around them. We encircle the people - weaving our branches together to create a wall that traps their soft, weak bodies. They scratch at us and try to climb onto and over us, but they are not fast enough. We blind them with flurries of dropped leaves and flick at them with the fine ends of our branches. Finally we tip our heavy trunks over - ripping and tearing at the earth beneath us to do it. We land heavily on their hot sweating bodies and finally we silence them.
They cool beneath us for hours. When night falls, we straighten and leave them for the beetles. Later, the bacteria which will break down their bodies until the parts are small enough for us to suck up through our roots. We will grow taller and stronger from the nourishment they provide.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Prompt: 'This is what's under my bed'

(Not for grown-ups, just sillyness on a tired evening.)

I have night-time glasses. There is a pair that I wear in the day, but at night, I take those ones off and put them down carefully by my bed. Then I close my eyes tightly and pull the bed covers up over my head. I have to feel around in the darkness, but I always find my night-time glasses somewhere beneath the quilt. They are bendy, so I don't have to be careful with them. My night-time glasses always match my pyjamas and they are made of a very light material that is soft on my skin.
Once I have found my night-time glasses and put them onto my face, I can open my eyes. The space under the quilt isn't dark with my glasses on. There is light coming through the cracks around a door that opens into my matress.
I never knock on the door, but I open it slowly, because it leads to the world under my bed, and I never know what will be in there.
Sometimes my sister is there, but she goes to bed before me, and she is always a long way into the world under the bed by the time I arrive. She holds hands with an octopus and licks an ice-lolly even in the middle of Winter.
Sometimes the door in my bed opens onto the middle of a forest, and I can only explore around the nearest trees because otherwise I would get lost.
It's never night-time underneath my bed, so all the people there look tired all the time. Sometimes they are too tired to play games and we curl up in a big ball of people on the grass and get warm in the sun. But often, it's snowing, and they will play on sledges and make snowmen and throw snowballs with me.
The people under the bed love practical jokes most of all. Every chair in the world under the bed has a whoopee cushion on it, and there is plastic dog-poo hidden in all of the food. People are always offering me sweets there, but I can never take them because they turn my mouth bright blue. All of the ink disappears there, so I can never write anything down. All of the toilet bowls are covered in cling film, and all of the fruit is made of wax.
The world under my bed is full of tricks and games. I come home tired in the morning and spend all day thinking of new jokes to play on the people there........................

Sunday, 3 January 2010

(I will try harder this year)

This is the prompt: "Write about eating with your hands"

We walked up the mountain. It was fun most of the way to the top, then we hit the white peak of snow and hidden ice. Even our thick-soled boots slipped. At first we were able to make jokes of it, but after a few minutes we could manage nothing more than to keep our legs beneath us. The snow had melted and refrozen into slick rivers that we worked our way over by clinging to sharp protruding rocks and each others' red, numb fingers.
The sun was still high in the blue sky and we could feel the sun in the air, but even that was somehow chilled and painful to our wind-chapped cheeks.
At the top there was a little turret of soldered girders with a plaque beneath it. We didnt read the sign, but used its low wall as a break from the wind. We sat and shivered in clothes soaked with cooling sweat, we wished for thermoses and hip-flasks, but only had icy bottled water to pass from hand to hand.
Out of your bag you pulled small parcels of brown waxed paper which we struggled to unwrap. Inside were sandwiches - your surprise, overshadowed by the difficult climb. I bit into the cheap, white, supermarket bread and felt the sweetness of the jam inside cut through my teeth.
I couldn't feel my fingers, but I could hold my sandwich well enough in their loose grip. You offered an apple to me and a weak smile to go with it. I shook my head at the thought of cold sticky juice trickling down my chin and licking ice across my face.
We took our time gathering our things back up once we were done - we were always careful to leave places as we had found them, I had even seen you once take away the litter left by other people at a pretty spot we had visited that Summer.
Then we headed back down the mountain, making careful links with our arms when our cold hands could find no place to cling to.
At the bottom, you kissed me unexpectedly. I tasted the sugary fruit of the jam sandwiches freshly on your tongue.
We returned to the car and sat inside it for a few minutes with the engine on so that your hands could warm a little before you drove us home.

Monday, 26 October 2009

He shushed me, waving my mouth shut while he crossed the kitchen and moved me aside to reach for a can, so of course i slammed my cup down and when i heard it crack, that little china chip dinting the sideboard, i said loudly over it, "it doesn't fucking MATTER" mostly to keep the echo from resounding and seeing his pitying eyes when he passed by once again. And there's a fury which is only about the present tense because sometimes you don't want to SEE the exact playout - watch him peel his dirty socks off stuck with grit and grime so i can feel the heat and moisture of his warm yellow feet from three feet away. I touch the roof of my mouth with my tongue and say, in my head, John, if i don't know what i want, it doesn't mean i don't want it.

He watches football, twenty minutes, a big grin on his face, the murmered cheering and thucking boot of the ball soaring through our little living room against the clink of my teaspoon stirring coffee. I think: mechanical invisibility. When we were younger we'd go out dancing, which is to say we'd get all heeled up and end up on our knees in the kitchen at 10 o clock, crooning alice cooper and clinging to each other, drunk on cheap red wine that tasted coarse and of cork, vinegary spices and hot breath, smeared lipstick and stale churches. We'd change tack just like that so I do it with a shrug. I tap the spoon on the rim, hum some bars and then break out a high pitch in a faint whisper; ain't that juuurrst like a woman. He places a palm on my thigh, a firm request with a murmured smile, vacant and sticky and pretty. You want some ice cream i ask. And he says yes please.