Monitors came to life as instruments buzzed. There was a stirring from within the pods. The Monarchs massive solar brake panels expanded like unfolding wings around the ships bulbus hull as it came into orbit around the brilliant planet dubbed Lotis Blue. The lid of the cryo cocoon silently opened as Commander Kerner’s limbs unfolded from her core and slowly, carefully stretched out. It took a moment for her bearings to come and her sense of duty to return. With a shaking hand she pushed the button to open the view port and saw mankind’s new reality.
When his country called he left her. She placed it beneath the picture window, awaiting his return.
Magnificent in claret, rows of studs gleamed in golden sunlight.
For years she waited, longing for him to return.
She'd dress her legs in black silk stockings and high-heels that he loved.
She'd remember their hungry kisses His fingers found places only he ever knew. One blissful night of passion.
And, she waits
She shivered. Her body aches in the frigid dawn.
"Did he come?"
Wrinkled hands caress their once beautiful Chaise Lounge. Another casualty of war.
"Tonight... maybe tonight."
“So he never hit you,” repeated the policewoman to the other woman slumped in the interrogation room.
“No ma’m. Not with his fists. Those snakes he kept caged. Said he’d throw them at me if I misbehaved.”
“And the gun?” asked the officer.
“In the closet, unloaded. Said if I ran away, he’d track me down. Kill me. After he went to work, I broke open the drawer with the bullets. I never fired a gun before.”
“You’re both lucky. He’s barely nicked,” said the policewoman. “He never left a mark on you?”
“Not,” she sobbed, “so anyone could see.”
Perched on the edge of a cheap plastic balcony chair, Janis places her hands flat on top of her knees, points her elbows out, then leans far forward to look past her flower pots.
From her eighth-floor vantage, she scans balconies on the building directly opposite hers.
This is her favourite… okay, her only Sunday entertainment… inventing stories to match dramas within her view.
Then there’s some movement.
It’s a small young woman down on the third floor, struggling to pull her tangled oxygen tubing out to her balcony chair. Afternoon sun glints off her hairless skull.
No guesswork there.
Alan ambled along the street, hot, grubby, jeans torn after a major revamp of his warehouse. “Damned,” he muttered, “left my wallet.” He patted his pockets where a few coins jingled. “No Coca-Cola until I get home.”
A tattooed giant stepped in his way, body-odour wafting, knife waving. “Give me your wallet,” he snarled.
Alan looked at the man, nodded and pulled out his pockets. “Don’t have a wallet,” he murmured. Check my back pockets.” He turned around.
’S’that all you got?”
“For chrissake.” The mugger took a fiver out of his pocket. “Here you are, now b***er off.”
‘Why so upset, Lizzie? I’m not bothered about how many candles there are on my cake.’
‘But, Gran, there is no way you can blow all those out in one go. There are millions on there!’
Gran laughed. ‘There are millions of sprinkles, Lizzie dear. Shall we count the candles?’
‘I can’t do that many, Gran. I can only count to ten.’
Gran smiled and opened the nearest drawer.
‘Gran, why are you putting a plastic dinosaur on your cake?’
‘Well, Lizzie dear, I am only 67 but for some reason I’m feeling a lot older than that right now!’
I slip my arms around you, snuggle my nose into your hair and pepper the back of your head with soft kisses.
My body convulses with the power of your sobs. I tighten my arms around you, wishing I could squeeze your pain away.
I can’t. All I can do is hold you and hope it is a comfort to you.
I know you can’t, you won’t tell me why you hurt; as you don’t want me to hurt as you do.
I pull you closer, whisper, ‘I love you,’ and pray that one day I will sob with you.
My father grandly announced, “My firm is giving us a telephone!” “It is high time they did”, quipped my sister, Vas.The entire family was excited! We were getting our own telephone, no longer having to use our neighour's for two “Anna”’s. Around this time, our aunt from the village was visiting and my mother, proudly showed her its uses. “ You can call your friends and chat. Only three minutes are allowed though.” With gaping mouth, my religious aunt asked in wonder, “ So, can you call God?” My mother had not thought of that yet!
It was, like, a given that Big Beanie – something of a glutton and a player of the viola – could never avoid growing a double chin.
Asked after their Usher Hall gig if he'd like a "wee something", he'd murmur, "Mmmm."
"What?" he'd be asked to explain. "Is it a large one rather?"
Beanie "mmmm"d more.
Nodded in a half-smile.
His instrument, the viola, occasionally the object of caricature – either being too big or too wee – often incurred in Beanie the desire to indulge somewhat in the bevvy.
In that, he was not alone in Scottish orchestral circles.
The sounds of gunfire woke me. I ran outside to see buildings on fire, smoke rising into air. Armed men roamed the streets, shooting people.
“Why?” I screamed at an armed man.
“The decision was unanimous,” he said, raised his rifle and shot a man in a green shirt. Then he shot a woman wearing a red hat.
Smoke billowed, fires raged, and people lay dead all around. “How can you do this?” I shouted.
“Don’t blame me. A jury of your peers found the people guilty of indifference.” Then he pointed his rifle at me and pulled the trigger.
“Thanks, Mrs. Jacobs, but we’ve already reserved a hotel room for the after-prom party.” My friends maintained their politeness.
“Girls, that’s exactly why I’m offering to have the after-prom party here - to save money!” Mom practically shimmered with glee.
“Mom,” I interjected as my friends glared through grimaced grins at me. “We’ll have already spent money on our hair and makeup, so we’d like to be able to show it off a little longer.”
Dressed in her Wonder Woman swimsuit and cape, Mom couldn’t understand why no one else but she wanted a hot tub full of Jello.
I recall our holidays together, not so many years ago.
Wandering through the fields, I pointed out barley, maize, sunflowers, maize and, especially, wheat. We both agreed that our flag looked just like a cloudless blue sky above never-ending wheat fields. We saw wild flowers, cornflowers and dandelions – more blue and yellow – and there were poppies everywhere. You loved those red poppy patches then; you wouldn’t like them any more.
I’d visit, but I don’t know where to find you in those same fields now. Perhaps I never will.
What parent wouldn’t give their life in exchange for their son’s?
The Army Warrant Officer did not put on his hat before stepping into the night, like soldiers always do. The unfastened back pockets of his Army uniform flap as he walks away. Rebel in disguise, I smirk.
Still without a head cover, he strides back inside the plywood air terminal an hour later flashing a smile and holding Styrofoam containers.
Has he been deployed too long to care about rules? He cared enough to feed midnight chow to twenty stranded strangers, including me.
So, what other rules does he break to hold onto himself here in Iraq?
Jake stands tall on his shadowed balcony and drinks a fired amber that scorches a trail to sit, stagnant, in fetid gut pools.
Below, the frost-thickened air is heavy with expectation; Children, like koala bears, slump sleepily on aching shoulders and gaggling groups gather beneath the piercing light of their smartphone cameras.
“Ten...nine...” Jake loosens his tie and raises his glass; xylophone chimes of ice hitting crystal. “...three...two...” Jake jumps.
Cheers morph into screams as Jake lies splayed and bloodied on damp concrete. Firework disco-lights dance frantically on his waxy skin; just as the quarterly stock market numbers roll in.
She’d let go, she said, as though finally giving in to what we knew had been months of begging, anger, and finally, an ultimatum, was a matter of allowing herself to fall. Now we needed gravity to be on our side. We checked her bike helmet, then placed our fingertips beneath her, all of us giddy on sisterhood and stolen vodka. "Lift her up, she’s as light as a feather," we intoned, kneeling on our circled sleeping bags. Rising slowly, we chanted, lifting her high before we let go. We’d have an answer by morning, stay with her all night.
We all held our breaths. Everyone knelt quietly. Huddled together, a finger over my mouth reminded them to stay quiet.
“Please not our door. Please not our door.”
The door handle jiggled.
“No no no. Not our door. Please go away.”
The door handle jiggled once more, then fell silent. Moments passed like hours.
“This must end. It has to end. Someone has to stop this.”
The announcement bell rang above us, shattering the silence.
ALL CLEAR. ALL CLEAR. THE LOCKDOWN HAS ENDED. ALL CLEAR.
“Alright, kids. Let’s go back to our desks. The drill is over.”
Sight. I stare at my silent baby, just two days old.
Touch: A nail on the softest pink hand scratches her face. She doesn’t cry but I kiss her anyway. I can’t stop.
Smell: The scent of me still on her matted black hair.
Taste: She mooches for milk. I haven’t slept in 49 hours. Or is it 50?
Sound: Come on in Mrs Martin. Your baby has failed her new born hearing screening test. Could be wax from her traumatic birth. No need to panic.
Sixth sense: I stare at my silent baby, just two days old. I know.
No one ever told me how old you have to be to share your first intimate kiss.
Sam was a little startled when my open mouth locked onto his.
It was so deliciously perfect, my lips started to tingle with pleasure.
A few kids stopped kicking their ball around and started jeering.
Sam swore at me, pushed me backwards and returned the favour.
With his fist.
It was so deliciously perfectly placed, my lips continued to tingle.
No one ever told me whether my first intimate kiss should be with a boy or a girl.
I was propped up on an adjustable hospital bed meeting a visitor I had never met before. He said the doctor had told him I was a writer and wondered if I might find the time for a short piece. I asked what about. Your life, he went on. It doesn’t have to be a long rambling account, saying what you think it all means. It was only then I spotted his clerical collar. He elaborated that it could be something I might read out, to a congregation say. Or maybe something that could be read out in my absence.
“I used to be a dancer” she said as she stood all wobbling knees holding on to the back of her chair. “But now I’m….”
Each time I visit it’s like all that sweetness of honey is still in the jar with a lid too tight to open. What will fail her next?
Ballet shoes have given way to pull-on velcroed slippers. A tutu would hardly hide a nappy.
“Would you care to join me” I offer the remains of her muscle memory. I stand, bow and offer the crook of my arm and we shuffle together toward shrinking tomorrows.
Leroy Scruggs wants to tear at his face. Not here, he can’t, in the theatre foyer, greeting adoring fans.
“Loved your performance. So real. The Elvis for all wannabe pretenders.”
After twenty-seven years of smoky taverns, dodgy managers and “Jailhouse Rock” he craves to shuck his crusted makeup, fake sideburns and black wig. Banish this raspy-voiced overweight imitator. Welcome a new Elvis. With soul.
What then? Rediscover his Alabama farmboy roots. Croon his childhood happiness.
A mascaraed matron enthuses: “My grandson, Rufus. Wonderful rubber-legs dancer. Sings like the King. A promising tribute artist.”
Smiling, Leroy hums gentle phrases of “Memories.”
Together we were a song – she was the music, and I the words. When she died, my life became tuneless. Soon, strange things happened:
Thrice, elderly women stopped me on the streets and asked to be fed. I fed them.
A man approached me and requested a contribution. He said he’d lost his job and his family was starving. I obliged.
An octogenarian sought my help crossing a street. I did my bit.
None of these people was a beggar.
How was all this connected with my loved one’s death? Search me, but it happened only then, and never again.
In my part of Scotland, a cigarette end is a doubt.
Language is a wonderful thing. Stushie is a row, stramash a fight.
If any of these are wrong, then sorry. It’s all this writer’s fault.
I’m originally English and have picked things up over the years, filtered them through a dubious memory.
Cattle are coos.
Meeting three lines of coos, with five in the first line, seven in the second, five in the third line, you say, Hi Coo.
Language is everything we can make it.
Including plain silly.
It’s Tuesday morning so business is slow. Danny sweeps up the meagre white threads of hair left by his last customer. The glass door darkens: it’s a walk-in customer - large, tattooed, wearing jeans and a sleeveless vest. Danny smiles and leads him to the basin. Conversation is sparse. He notices the man has half of his left ear missing but doesn’t like to mention it.
Finally, he completes the requested number one cut. The man grunts, then leaves. There is no mention of payment. Shaking, Danny locks the shop door and goes to make himself a cup of coffee.
“Why?” Robert asks.
“Because Father says we are too young. He doesn’t understand.”
Although it is midday, it seems to Robert that his world has been suddenly plunged into darkness.
The word hangs in the air—dangling like the pearl on a woman’s earring in a painting by Vermeer.
“I love you. And when the war is over—if it ever ends; and when I return—if I ever return; we will be old enough, and your father will no longer be able to keep us apart. Will you wait for me?”
“I will wait for you forever.”