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CWI October 2016 Winner

Friday, November 25th, 2016

From the Edge

Sue Morgan

Why am I here in the shadows? I stare
At ordinary people in an ordinary scene,
In an ordinary diner, under artificial glare.

A dame in a red dress sporting light auburn hair,
A guy in a derby looking awfully mean,
Why am I here in the shadows, to stare?

The nighthawk sits, seldom a word to share,
A barman in white being so terribly keen,
In an ordinary diner under artificial glare.

A diner designed to swallow all cares,
No ornamentation, bright surfaces clean,
So why am I here in the shadows, I stare?

Her shoulder dips, her fingers declare
That she’s sweet on him, or so it would seem
To this ordinary diner’s artificial glare.

It’s hard to make out they’re having an affair
Particularly now, they know they’ve been seen.
So, why should I care, in this shadow nightmare,
Some ordinary diner under artificial glare?

September 2016 Winner

Monday, October 17th, 2016

Dancing through Darkness

Kevin Doyle

In spite of everything, she still had the cigarette tip resting on the base of her lip with the ash hanging on. She stood over the sink straining the brassica vegetables, gazing out onto her long wide garden through the kitchen window. Her eyes narrowed at the flash of afternoon sun. The steam rose from the sink, causing her eyes to squint into the inhalation of odourless, boiling vapour. I was reminded of the swinging thurible entrenched with burning incense that will be used at her funeral, according to google, in less than twelve months. Her pencil case with tubes was stuck onto her midriff and to break the haunting pain amongst the family I asked my mother-in-law for a HB pencil.

The black Michael Jackson gloves always came out at some stage during chemotherapy to combat the numbing freeze that took hold of her hands and didn’t let go until the chemo poison left her body.

‘At least I’m not itchy and yellow anymore, I’m just turning into a skinny bitch, my dream figure.’

Despite her courageous humour, a black cloud covered my heart as I looked into her yellowing eyes and gaunt cheekbones. Was it only last year she celebrated her fiftieth birthday? I felt a sharp pain, a selfish pain that my year in Australia was cut short.

Three days from Sydney, the wife and I were feeling the effects of travelling via Southeast Asia. I was a former shadow of myself, my muscle mass built up over time from training in the gym all but gone, my physique now reminiscent of Fido Dido, the 7up man. I also had a pot belly owing to the undisciplined delightfully delicious carbohydrate choices I had made. Our aching legs and backs settled into the mattress that had to be made of rocks in central Bangkok, the receptionist’s voice ringing in my ears, ‘No window in room, insects come through, bite bite. Air conditioner broken. Apologies, buy fan. Wind on face.’ In a sweat daze, dehydrated or hungry, I couldn’t decide which side to lie on, my left ear was fully awake as I caught glimpses of the phone call between my wife and her mother. I rubbed her spinning headache away with my thumb, curling it around her forehead until she fully wept herself to sleep. The mother-in-law had got a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. This wasn’t the new beginning we had planned.

We both moved into my mother-in-law’s for four months before we eventually found our own place. She pulled me up on my lazy manly ways and didn’t think twice about letting me know it wasn’t ok to wipe the mirror with my grubby hands after a shower to see myself in the mirror shaving. Or, abandoning my boxers in the bathroom was unhygienic and it wasn’t ok either to leave my porridge bowl with the sticky oats on the side for someone else to clean. It just wasn’t correct she’d say, she wasn’t running a cleaning service. She was divorced ten years now, not used to the mess us men like to leave behind. But it wasn’t all about pointing out my true ape-like features. She could dance.

Sitting in our normal seats one night watching television, Dirty Dancing’s “Time of my Life” came on MTV. I could see her head move up and down to the beat.

‘Nobody leaves baby in the corner, get up out of that,’ I said.

After the first refusal, I brought my mother-in-law up to her feet and gently clasped her frail skinny hands in my palms. Her hair nearly all gone, I looked into her smile and I could see the young lady who would have owned the dance floor a year ago. Moving around the room, I spun her around and brought her into my zone again and we danced till the end of the song. My wife, her daughter, a couple of days shy of her twenty-eighth birthday, cried behind her iPad, continuing to search ‘health foods for cancer.’

Her Jack Russell grew into my greatest distraction during that time. I’m convinced that little creature evoked every good emotion inside everybody during the death sentence period. She couldn’t walk Daisy. Cancer had cemented her to the corner chair in the living room. Walking man’s greatest manipulators in the local park, her dog friends would come up and ask how she was. My subconscious mind would utter the terrifying word ‘dying’, the real world words conjured up something a little more productive. Daisy, the small little narcissist with a coat of snow, would poke her wet button nose up against my bedroom door and head butt her way into the room and expect to be walked straight away. I always caved into her self-important demands. She’d lead the way and by the time we got to the park her tongue would be hanging out to the left nearly touching the shoots of grass rising to meet it and when her beady eyes engaged with mine, I’d bend down on my knees and count down from three and let her off. She’d say hello in her own dog way to the birds, the oak trees and she’d witness a full sky instead of the walls and ceilings she had come far too accustomed to over the past few months. Just before we’d go back to the house, I’d run my fingers through her soft fur and reassure her, everything would be ok.

Visiting my mother-in-law a month after moving out of the house, she was found collapsed on the ground in her dressing grown with pegs in each hand and resting on the pile of clothes she was intending to hang out. The pain in her back and sides and around her whole body was spreading and she screamed for her daughter to get her to the doctor’s to stop the knifelike sensations. This was the moment I knew she would never step foot in her own home ever again.


The warm whoosh of anti-bacterial handwash and the smell of metal at the air-conditioned sliding doors front entrance to the hospital always, without fail, made me shudder. The patients in their pyjamas puffing on their cigarettes in the no smoking zone would make me snigger. Once I’d get further into the hospital the snigger would turn to grief and I always regretted my arrogant judgement when seeing what these patients had to go back into. Let them have their fun. She would hang around the canteen rather than be on the ward and have to face off with her new friends, the others on death row. In her wheelchair, the skeleton sight of life disappearing before my eyes, she would eat little bits of the nutritionally devalued food and sip on tea. The morphine had control of her now and was hiding the real agony of the situation. Family visited regularly, but she was getting tired of all the attention. Tired of cancer. Just plain tired.

When the phone call came, I was doing a sales call in a shopping centre one and a half hours away. My brother-in-law didn’t need to say much, ‘it’s time’ was enough. Running down the escalator, in flight mode, I jumped into my car and sped to the hospital. On the ward, I couldn’t see any colour in anyone’s face but clearly visible was the pure sorrow wrenched across each and every one of their hearts. My mother-in-law, the previous day, said she would let everyone know about a hospice. She must have decided she was doing this by her own rules. Close friends and extended family members went into her single room with tears clenched to their faces as they kept their head down and patted each other on the back and then got out of the discomfort zone, squeezing white tissues as a stress reliever-pleading for the elevator to hurry up. Walking into the room, her breathing reminded me of the first time I ever got winded on a football pitch. It’s a peculiar sound, the noise of death, loud and with a rhythm and rhyme to it, make no mistake about that. At one stage, she sat bolt upright and pleaded something under the influence of massive amounts of drugs, all she wanted was a hug from her daughter and son. The day crept into night and darkness fell on this November night. The family stayed with her for every moment, while the others, me included, stayed in another room full of uncomfortable chairs and a rotten silence. A nurse popped her head into the room I was in and let us know, ‘it’s time.’ The family opened up the doors. Their cheeks were blotched and swollen and there was raw red stinging bags under their eyes. It was over. I hugged my wife the way I squeeze a cut lemon, holding on tight for that last bit of citrus, its bitter taste lingering a long time after. I went into the room and held my mother-in-law’s lifeless hand. I bowed my head. Closed, my eyes. Remembering. Our dance.

August 2016 CWI Competition Winner

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

Goodbye Breeze

Anne Walsh Donnelly

I wasn’t going anywhere on my own. And I was sure that as soon as Peter heard what Mother was planning, he’d put a stop to it. We’d escape from her bellowing and Father’s bleating and I wouldn’t have a crick in my neck from looking at the dirty flagstones in the kitchen. There’d be no more of her towering over me, spitting and saying that scouring the floor was all I was good for now.
“You dirty scrubber…”

“I’ll never let anyone harm a hair on your head,” said Peter, the day he turned my world inside out, on a stack of hay in the lower field.
He was laughing and joking with me as he always was and the next thing I know we’re kissing and his tongue burned mine; in a good way. His hands swept over me and brushed away some of the bitterness that Mother had sown in my heart. I still can’t help wondering how it didn’t hurt that much. But I was consumed by the feel of a man losing himself in me. That and the smell of him mixed with the scent of the freshly mown hay. I never saw a sky as blue as I did that day, and the days after. Even the corrugated iron on his hayshed, where we’d often meet in winter, wasn’t as rusty as it normally would be. But colours are colours. They don’t ever change.

He couldn’t stay long after that first time nor did he ever.
“Herself will be looking for me,” he’d say as he’d wipe himself with a handful of hay or grass or sometimes even my underskirts.
I’d let him go because I knew the sooner he went, the sooner I’d see him again and the picture in my head would carry me through the cow-milking, calf-feeding, butter-churning, Mother’s bullish face and Father’s hollow-sheep eyes. Even when there was nothing to be cross about, she still gave out.

Peter didn’t talk about his wife much when he was with me but I asked him once, “Why did you marry her? She’s so old.”
He was always more likely to answer my questions in the few minutes before he’d pull up his trousers.
“I suppose I felt sorry for her when her husband died. And look at me now, a man with the biggest farm of land in these parts.”
“Only it’s not yours.”
“Maybe not but it’s a fair sight better than trying to farm the boggy scrap of land that my father left to myself and my brother. You could hardly feed one family off it, let alone two,” he said, rolling away from me.
“I’m sorry … I didn’t mean to upset you.”
He stood up, settled his shirt into his trousers and pulled his belt tight.
“It’s okay. Sure, I’ve a grand life now and meeting you has made it all the sweeter.”

As he bent to kiss me, I thought I might be able to prise him away from his wife if I gave him something that she couldn’t. We’d make a new life for ourselves somewhere else and I wouldn’t have to put up with Mother and her briary moods anymore.

A few months later I could feel my body change and it didn’t take Mother long to notice.
“For one that’s always been so scrawny you’re getting a bit fat lately,” she said, after breakfast one morning.
“It’s not from all the food I get here.”
Out of the corner of my eye I could see Father sneaking out the back door.
“When did you last bleed?”
I shrugged my shoulders and scooted out of the kitchen, a bucket of meal for the hens in my hands.

When I came downstairs in my Mass clothes the following Sunday, the crockery on the kitchen table jumped as she battered it with the broom.
“You’re not going anywhere near town looking like that. You’ve brought nothing but shame to this family.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time,” I said.
The broom fell out of her hands.
“Grandmother told me before she died. She wanted me to know that I had a brother or sister. Probably having a much better life than me.”
She flinched as Father’s Ford Anglia roared into life in the yard. I could see him through the kitchen window, shoulders hunched over the steering wheel, waiting.
“That was a long time ago. This kitchen better be tidy when we come home.”

I was mulching mangels for the pigs when they arrived back from Mass.
“Fr. Murphy will make the arrangements,” said Mother.
“We can’t send her to a … a mother-and-baby home,” said Father, as he took off his good coat and hung it on the back of the kitchen door. Mother twisted the gloves in her hands so tight I wanted to grab them from her.
“We don’t have much choice,” she said.
“Maybe the lad that did this will marry her.”
“He’s probably already married.”
“I’m not going to one of those places,” I said and ran out the back door before Mother could stop me.
Over the fields, I belted. I hunted through every shed in Peter’s yard but couldn’t find him. Then his wife came out of the house with a face on her that would sour the freshest of milk.
“Where’s Peter?” I asked.
Her eyes widened and face reddened as she stared at my swollen stomach.
“Be off with you now and don’t come back.”
“I’ll give him what you can’t,” I said and stared into her sparrow hawk eyes.
Then I left her standing at her half-closed door and thought there’d be no turning back now. She’d kick Peter off her farm for carrying on with a young one like me. So I waited for him to come get me. Monday passed and Tuesday.

The front door boomed on Wednesday and I started to gather up my bits and pieces. Only it wasn’t Peter.
“There’s a place available in a home on the north-side of Dublin. Take her tomorrow,” Fr. Murphy told Father.
Mother thanked him in the voice she reserved for Mass.
“I’ll help her pack,” said Father when the priest left.

“Oh, child, please tell me who did this to you?” he said, as he stood watching me put the few bits I had in the little suitcase Grandmother gave to Mother when she left home.
The way he asked nearly pulled Peter’s name out of my mouth and I came close to telling him that I was hoping we’d get the boat to Holyhead and start a new life in London or maybe get on a big ship to New York or somewhere else where nobody knew us. But I kept my mouth shut.
After I had everything in the suitcase, he sat on my bed, dragging his fingers across his forehead. I took hold of them and fingered the cracks that Mother and his wretched farm had put there.
“Do I have to go to the home?”
“I wish you didn’t, but …”
The kitchen door slammed and his hand stiffened as Mother roared up the stairs.
“It’s time the cattle were milked.”
We looked at each other and couldn’t even cry for fear of what she might do if she saw us blabbering. He stood up, clasped the little case shut and dropped it at my bedroom door.
“Can I go say bye to Breeze before I go?”
“You want to say goodbye to the bloody donkey.”
His voice nearly cut me in two. I’d never heard him use a swear word before. Indeed he had a path worn from his forehead to chest and out to his two shoulders from blessing himself every time Mother cursed. I started to sniffle.
“Go out the front door so she won’t see you but don’t be too long.”

Peter was turning hay in the corner field. As I watched him, I wondered if our baby was a boy, would he have the same big hands and mousy hair that Peter had. Then his sheepdog barked. He turned and dropped the pitchfork.
“They’re sending me away.”
“Oh, you poor creature.”
He ran to me and wrapped his arms around my trembling body and I nearly squeezed the breath out of him.
“Don’t let them do this to me.”
“There’s nothing I can do.”
I dragged his hand to my stomach.
“I want to keep our baby.”
He let it rest there for a minute. Something stirred.
“Let’s leave this place,” I said.
“But this is the only life I know.”
I clutched his fingers until they turned white.
“We could make a new life.”
“If I leave here all the hard work I’ve done will be for nothing.”
He broke away from me, picked up the pitchfork and skewered a lump of hay. I grabbed the fork from his hand and threw it on the ground.
“So this farm is more important than your baby and me.”
Behind him a big dirty cloud invaded my blue sky.
“Mother was sent to one of those homes when she was my age … never the same again …,” I said.
He turned and paced the ground between the rows of mown hay.
“I can’t go back to being poor again,” he said
The first drop of rain hit my head.
“I won’t come back.”
He wiped his eyes with the sleeve of his shirt and picked up the pitchfork. Then the rain started to pelt down on top of us.
“I’ll never get this hay saved now.”
So I left him in his field, with his half-turned wet hay. And I hoped it would rise up and strangle him to death, a long slow one; though something told me his wife would do that anyway.

The next day Mother stoked the raging fire and sent sparks all over the hearth. She didn’t even turn to say goodbye. The Ford Anglia stuttered when Father started it and then lurched over every pothole on the gravel road to town. I looked out at the hay yet to be saved, to take my mind off my churning insides. As the grey buildings of the town rose to meet us, Father’s shoulder bumped against mine and I bit my lip to stop myself from crying. We were early for the train so we waited in the car. He rummaged around the inside pocket of his coat and handed me a bulging brown envelope.
“I sold Breeze this morning. Peter gave me a good price for him. There’s enough there to get a ticket to Holyhead and a bit more to keep you going until you get a job.”
“Thanks. She’ll go mad when she finds out.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time,” he said, as he stared out the windscreen.
“Why do you put up with her?”
He turned towards me.
“It’s the only life I know.”
Then I reached over and clung to him until we could hear the roar of the train as it thundered into the station. After he deposited me in the front carriage, with a kiss on my forehead, I watched him walk down the platform and it struck me that he had the same broad shoulders and long back that Peter had. Only Father’s shoulders were a lot lower and his back all crooked and I thought that by the time Peter was Father’s age, he’d probably be just as stooped.

July 2016 Winner

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

Halloween Cider

Kevin Doyle

I am hidden in the silent dark behind fresh smelling peppermint leafy bushes on an ice shattering cold Halloween night. The air tastes crisp and the painful cold of the night sticks pins through my black jacket making my teeth clatter and my cool body shiver. The fireworks shooting in the distance mix together the loud colours red and orange and explode in the sky, the bright colours disappearing very quickly as the night returns to its quiet dark self. The smoke left behind I can imagine smells like Grandma’s fire when she throws in the extra coal and makes the room insufferably hot. We could do with Grandma’s warmth right about now. I can see the last of the children being brought around by their proud parents in the estate and they will be full with different flavoured sweets tonight, the witches and ghosts as well.

Looking down at our Tesco bag for life full with eighteen cans of cider, the three of us open up our first can. My friends Tom and David accompany me on this night. I have been anticipating the clink and gush and the lingering apple smell all week, dreaming about this moment mostly during Mr Walsh’s double Geography on Wednesday afternoon. The reality is the alcohol smells like bleach and tastes like Mam’s fairy liquid lemon. I gulp another swig out of mine. I’m sorry but I have to wince at the light red coloured unpleasant sensation of poison. The other two are acting like they are supping on a can of fizzy pop. I know they are feeling my pain but are hiding it better. Finishing our first can, the little liquid metal froth scum at the end of the tin cylinder is flicked onto the moist grass that I will be playing on tomorrow in my under-14 league game. We all squeeze our first can together, crushing them and make a manly grunt sound. I’m already on the phone and Rock ‘n’ Roll Kid plays out with us all humming the words to ourselves. It may be ancient and I wasn’t even born when it was sung at Eurovision 1994 but it gets the hairs standing up on the back of my neck. The can is having its desired effect. I get a text. I don’t believe it. Sarah, the hottest girl in the school next to us is joining us with her two mates. Time for another tin.

Earlier before meeting in the dark bushes, after my shower, I sprinted to my room to make sure nobody in my family saw all that hairy brown fluff growing under my armpits, which is so embarrassing. I tried to shave it off with my sister’s leg razor, but I made it uneven, raw red and unnecessary pimples developed straight after the insane shave. Drying myself in my room, my chin was sore as I dabbed the towel on it. I looked in the mirror and it was full of little spots, some witch like with green goo visible just in time for Halloween and the others with rice pudding texture deep under my skin impossible to burst. My voice is irritating me these days as well. I sound like a broken musical instrument, properly a saxophone. I want to talk to Dad about all these issues but he’s never in the house, ever. He plays golf a lot with his friend Olivia, who looks like a porn star by the way. I overheard Granny say she shouldn’t be hanging around with married men. She must be a few years younger than Dad as well. I’m surprised Mam allows him to hang with her, considering I am starting to know what men think about daily.

We are apes that have no control, I’m convinced of it. Where’s the evidence? My physical body for one. And two, my pecker. I remember when I used to use it just to pee. There’s never a perfect time to tell Mam about how I feel. She hides her glass of Budweiser behind the toaster when Dad isn’t in the house. She thinks I can’t see it. I never say anything to her because I know it makes her feel enlightened. Maybe I should suggest that the three of them could do things together? Maybe Mam could take up golf? Maybe.

Sarah has arrived and she doesn’t look anything like the stunner I see on my way to school. Her eyes are rolling into the back of her head and the violent smell of vodka off her is deplorable, even vile. Her mascara is smudged and is running down her cheek like the aftermath of mud hitting a window on a rainy day. She is swaying from side to side, her legs just about holding her up. Her words do not make any sense. Put me in central Beijing now and we are at the same level of understanding. It’s a scientific fact, according to my sister, one girl in a group always cries on a night out when drink is involved. I officially don’t fancy Sarah anymore.

The alcohol is really soaking into my blood now and pumping through my apple veins. I’m very vocal and confident now expressing my opinions about people who annoy me in school and general blasphemy splutters from my vocal chords and everything is becoming double. I’ve hidden my feelings about Dad but they are rising to the surface. The picture I’ve hidden in my subconscious has come out of its hiding place and this new character controlled by alcohol is alive inside, unfortunately outside as well. The picture of me peeking out my living room behind my curtain, the cloth hurting my eyelids as I look through the white greasy fabric and see Dad kiss Olivia full on the lips for only a few seconds as they sit in her BMW car, just up from the house, won’t disappear. He swings the golf clubs around his back like nothing has happened and puts on his family act as he enters through the door. The smell of fear always stenches out the house when we hear the crunch of the key in the lock and Mam, my sister and I become shook still, hoping we don’t say anything out of turn to annoy him. I can hear Mam fling her beer into the sink, running the tap at the top level to let the addiction evidence flow down the sink and finally open up the third drawer in the kitchen to pop her Polo mints into her mouth and crunch the sugar minted glucose syrup circles to hide the smell of her escape.

I don’t like the way Tom is edging with Sarah. She is completely not in control of herself or her surroundings. I see him leading her off away from the group around the corner and I know he is taking advantage of her because she has a naggin of vodka already on board, maybe more. My mother warned me about him before. She said his natural dark skin, perfect combed hair and charm is initially appealing but underneath the mask lies a self-obsessed person and is someone who would step on a lot of toes to get to the top. How Mam can say this about a fourteen year old? I don’t know. That said, with Mam’s sentiments ringing through my ears, I shout at him to come back to the group but he keeps walking. The best thing to do with five and a half cans on me is to crack the last one off Tom’s head, he can’t ignore me then. That’s exactly what I do.

I’m a big fan of MMA so I get into their fighters’ stance. Fists clenched, leading with the left and the right tucked behind. My left foot in charge but my secret is my unknown right, hidden ready to be unleashed at the right time. I charge towards Tom and he catches me solid on my jaw straight away, blood getting spat out and some getting swallowed down my throat. I check my teeth and they are all there, thank goodness. I go for another right hook. I think I’m swinging like a professional but I’d say I look more like a drunk thirteen and a half year old with anger issues who hasn’t thrown a punch or kick since the womb. Tom has me in a headlock now and is squeezing me very tight with one arm and smashing me with the other, my nose in particular getting a right thumping. I hit the floor and lay pretend dead. How the night went like this, I’ll never know? I was just defending a girl who was about to go to the unknown. I can feel bile coming up to the top of my throat and I puke up Mam’s roast dinner and poisoned apples. David is the only person left in the group and he pats my back and reassures me everything is ok and to let it all out.

As I’m walking home alone in the frozen silence, I’m thinking I’m going to get in so much trouble when I get home. My sister is out for the night but Mam and Dad are going to kill me. I’m going to be grounded forever when they see the state that I am in and considering I have a match tomorrow as well, boy they are going to be pissed off. On my way back to my house, I get a text off Tom apologising for the fight and I write back to him it’s ok. Looking at my house, Dad’s car is not there. The house is fully locked up but the alarm isn’t on. As I peek through the window beside the front door, I notice the living room light is on. Mam is still up. After three attempts, I finally open my front door and lock it gently behind me. I walk up the hall, knowing my life will change now when I get caught with my face looking like a boxer in round 12 and the smell of alcohol off me will be detected by the poor cover up of chewing gum. I open the hall door and Mam is sitting at the kitchen table on a chair, her forehead flat on the table, two arms collapsed in front of her. Three bottles of wine are in the bin. I take my mother in my arms and she is like a rag doll. She reminds me of a baby, her head bouncing back and forth without control. I leave her on her bed, fully clothed. Her dignity, still intact. I kiss her on her cheek and I retire to my bedroom. I tuck into my bed holding my face. I hear the pounding of rain on the gutter outside my room and the lightning flash is seen in the distance and the bang of thunder’s rumble is on the way. I pray to God my game is called off tomorrow.

June 2016 Competition Winner

Friday, July 29th, 2016

Presents for the Children

Eleanor Kerr

The last part of the Wendy house that he made for his daughter’s birthday was the ladder, with left over wood that was loitering in the dusty loft of his work shed. He had so many girls that it seemed to be always one of their birthdays. He waved at a couple of them playing in the sandpit near the house and they ran inside, giggling. Once the idle discarded planks were startled into regimented lengths by his saw, he started twisting each solid rung between the side rails and roughly nailing them into their permanent position. His few other bespoke designs for the children looked on and cheered him from their seats among the cigarette butts in the shed’s shelving. He thudded the hammer down and stretched.

A prominent zebra wood mandolin for his son displayed itself brightly on a window ledge. He had made it to the soundtrack of the son’s drumming which irritated him from the upstairs window of the house as it always did, a feeling which he tried to bury under enforced joviality, creating a mirage of familial similarity in his mind. However sometimes he felt the boy deliberately didn’t try hard enough to maintain this illusion, and so he was made to endure the knowledge of the disconnect between them. He knew that he stayed in his room drumming and barely came outside specifically to punish him, unlike the girl, who was often around. His big hands dropped the bundle of remaining ladder rungs clattering onto the ledge as he examined the spirit level. These were soon disturbed by the boy’s cat, which sprung onto them from outside and crouched, suspiciously sniffing and twitching its ears and tail. A podgy wad of tabby fur squished over the grain of the wood as its soft chin rubbed against the freshly sanded edges. Sawdust scattered the floor. With his free hand he angrily pushed it away and it retreated to the other end of the ledge. Pausing, he ran his fist along the smooth resilient length of the next rung, knocking on it compulsively, and then glanced outside while rotating it in his hands.

The soon to be birthday girl sat absorbed by her pointed feet stretching out of her orange dress, facing away from the house, on the pinewood swing. As the swing was at the far end of the garden, it was her escape from that ramshackle cacophony of siblings that otherwise consumed her. The siblings, discourteous as ever, nevertheless noisily spilled out of the house back across the garden onto the undulating surface of the sandpit, threatening her retreat, and his own.

Once the ladder had endured an ultimate brutal sanding down, he hoisted its now emaciated frame outside to join the other constituents of the Wendy house, swearing as he almost tripped over some cans and bottles by the bins. This proved too much for the cat’s sensibilities (its ideology was one of intolerance for anything contradicting its policy that large objects should remain still at all times), and it indignantly skulked off and weaved away through next door’s flowerpots. As he passed, the orange dress caught his eye, flaring out and she swung. She ignored him despite his cheerful wink, sulkily scuffing her shoes in the dirt. It was disconcerting. Perhaps she sensed the great void of difference between them too? Perhaps she too thought him inadequate. His new ladder’s hooks caught on the bar inside the Wendy house and he went outside to breathe air free from the overwhelming smell of fresh paint, and to tell her that it was almost ready. She raised her eyebrows at him and pursed her lips into a fleeting smile, working on swivelling the swing around so that the ropes twisted together. He watched her gain speed as she unspun her way back to the swing’s original state of unravelled propriety.

In a way he dreaded the completion of these projects, which at least interspersed his dreary daily monotony with some hammering or sanding. But what about when it was completed and his daily life unravelled again into rage and hopelessness? At least he had these children. He went and got a can of beer and sat by his shed as the evening grew darker, watching them playing in the sandpit by the backdoor. Julie came outside when one of them started crying and reprimanded them for not playing nicely enough. She took the crier inside, frowning over at him and his beer can before disappearing into the house’s innards. She had been especially off with him lately, speaking only in taut sentences, eyeing him suspiciously and judgmentally. With a surge of anger he threw down the can and got up to go inside.

The photos of his children as babies stared accusingly at him in his empty kitchen. His girlfriend had put them up everywhere after the social services had taken each of them away, and they did nothing to help the biting resentment that gnawed at him. As he paced around the kitchen, kicking beer cans out of his way with every few steps, he could hear the next door children laughing through the wall.

It started to rain, and the Wendy house dripped and creaked by the low fence at the end of the garden. The girl in the orange dress eyed it over the top of the fence, its ramshackle façade covered in sticking out nails, and she shivered as she ran up the garden to her backdoor. She could see Aunt Julie illuminated in the brightly lit kitchen, watching her come up the garden from the window. But she could not see anything in the dark kitchen belonging to the man next door.

April 2016 Winner

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016



These thirties shouldn’t be mine yet.
I used to wait for them like I waited for
Christmas morning.

Then, a few years ago, I started to notice
Santa’s skeins of white hair, his rugose forehead,
that his reindeer would have to drop him

off right by the chimney so he didn’t have
far to walk, just like we do with my fragile

Age seemed painful, impossible –
to get and to live with, but Christmas started
to crawl up quicker every year.

This last one – I almost missed it.
I have been executing these extraordinary
disciplines of eating, bathing, breathing,

apparently at Godspeed – how else would I have
gotten here so fast, broken so soon
my pinky-promise to myself that,

as I eagerly grew up, I would never get old?
That I would always crawl
in the car head first not slide in sideways;

always cannonball into the pool
not slip in slowly like you see moms
doing at the edges; always chew gum

and always tremble with bright eyes through each day
between December 1st and the morning where
all you’ve ever wanted was waiting for you

under a sagging fan of pine? The last year I tried
to keep this tinsel-tinged holiday spirit
until my birthday at the end of February was my 29th.

Thirties, from this close to it, seems less
like a pile of gifts under a bright tree
and more like a jaw ache (no Wrigley’s for me)

or a square of maybe gorgeous
but very cold water: I’ve missed
the chance to slide in inch by inch.

March 2016 Competition Winner

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016


Colette Coen

It was months since the funeral, and the grass and weeds had taken full advantage of a wet spring. As she drank her morning coffee Cynthia gazed out into the garden. The once manicured lawn now sported dandelions and wild red poppies spread through the beds. Martin had devoted half of his life to it, pruning roses and clipping hedges until a coping stone, broken hip and pneumonia cut him down.
She knew that the neighbours looked on the garden as a sign of her mourning, as if she was too depressed to leave the house and pick up his tools. The young man next door had even offered to help, but she refused and handed him whisky instead of a spade. She had no desire, she told him, to carry on Martin’s futile battle against nature.
She did clear out his shed though, opening the door as if it were the entrance to Aladdin’s cave. But there was no porn, no whisky bottles, no sign of any peccadilloes whatsoever that might have explained its mysterious hold over him. An ordinary garden shed with rakes and trowels and weed killer. An ordinary garden shed which had become more attractive to him than her.
He had found her one May Day morning, face down on the lawn, washing in the dew. He used to understand her ritual, now he muttered ‘Drunk’ under his breath and stepped over her. She spat out the grass, added droplets of salt water to the ground and felt hate for him for the first time. She could not be shaped like a privet hedge, or trained like clematis, so she had been discarded like a dug up annual. Thrown on the compost heap and left to rot, emitting heat and stink as she did.
In July her son visited again from Manchester and spent his entire weekend putting things right. As a child he had created mud patches as he practised his dribbling skills up and down the grass. Now he powered up the lawn mower for the first cut of the season; pulled out the weeds and wildflowers with no thought to their usefulness. And with outward respectability restored, he returned south to his own suburban idyll.
Within a fortnight the weeds had sprouted again, and Cynthia laughed until she cried. The garden had increasingly become a barrier between them. Even on good days when she wanted to enjoy the fruits of his labour, sit with a G&T and a book; throw the odd compliment about his dahlias; he seemed to resent the intrusion. He would Latinate the flower names in response to any query and snap off any attempt at conversation.
There was a time when they gardened together; pouring over library books; making joint decisions in the garden centre; agreeing on a new theme. He used to cut the floribunda for her and for days the house would be rejoice in their colour. But he hated watching the cut flowers die, so he dug out the roses and replaced them with potatoes. Then he pulled up the hydrangeas with their watery hues and replaced them with pebbles, hostas and hardy shrubs. But the worst thing that he did, on the last day they gardened together, was to pull out the swing set and take it to the dump. ‘Robbie’s too old for swings now,’ he reasoned, but she screamed at him as he drove away: ‘We’re not finished with them yet. I’m not finished with them.’
When night frosts were forecast, and her feet remained cold, he would rush out to the garden and lay newspapers and blankets over his precious shrubs. Then he would tramp his mud into her kitchen and soil her sink with his blackened hands.
Even when they were parted by the walls of the house he could irritate her. The gentle snipping and purr of the lawn mower, that had been the sound of their early years, gave way to strimmers and cutters and blowers, all plugged in and turbo charged. There was no peace to be had for miles around, but jukeboxes and bingo callers could drown out the noise.
Autumn came and the leaves lay where they fell and turned to slippery brown mush. Mice settled down for winter in the compost bin, and the vegetables rotted in the ground. She kept herself indoors plumping cushions and dusting ornaments, but also began to search more frantically around the house for evidence that Martin was ever there. It was always her domain, but she had never appreciated how little impact Martin had made, or maybe how little impact she had let him make. She began to question if she had excluded him from the house, in the same way that he shut her out from the garden. Maybe he stopped bringing her flowers when she complained one time too many that the petals made too much of a mess when they shed; or that the smell of the flowers was overpowering the Glade. Maybe she made the house too claustrophobic for him, with all her nick-nacks and needlepoint. Maybe the way she had watched him from the backdoor felt as though she was blocking the way in.
At dawn on the shortest day Cynthia scattered Martin’s ashes on the frost-covered grass, keeping him a thaw away from his beloved soil. She raised a glass to him, then threw back the whisky that she had used to fertilise her life, now realising how it had shrivelled her at the very root.
Next spring she would collect seeds of wildflowers and plant forget-me-nots and bushes that would give berries. She would put up boxes, baths and sugar-soaked sponges and would watch patiently for the bees and the butterflies and the birds to come. They would fly, flutter, sing and pollinate and with new life resplendent, she would move on.

February 2016 Winner

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016


Jane Salmons

The takotsubo bides its time
hunkers down on the ocean floor;
stone ventricle waiting
magenta mouth gaping,
a cardiac apex promising love.

An octopus sculls by,
cephalopod eyes
searching for solace
in the murky grey;
eight arms trembling,
suction cups tasting
the cinnamon sweetness of
earthy red clay.

Inside the takotsubo,
it’s safe and warm.
The octopus rests
her soft boneless mass;
three hearts thumping
blue blood pumping.
a haven, a harbour,
a home from home.

In the blink of an eye
her photophores flash;
the sea chameleon’s skin
turns pink
in synch
with the terracotta trap
within whose walls
the creature will die.

Creative Writing Ink February 2016 Winner

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016

Over my dead body

Daniel Roy Connelly

In death                       my hair is ruled back with a loving brush, lines
are lifted miraculously from my face which wears a look of lightness in
repose, neither of which I boast simultaneously floating the road to my
next-and-final stop

nonetheless                 set fair with a dandy clip and sprig in my lapel
I’m dropping in to catch the general feel of things; busier than I thought.
Thanks, son, for changing me into Ozwald Boateng’s 1999 deep-

now                             take the two coins away, let me assist with a
waft, watch my eyelids spring asunder, their focus intent on the beamed
ceiling, no trace of movement in the mouth – was that thunder? – repeat
the coins, the kids’ll love it

btw                              if this is someone’s idea of final rest, think again.
Dad’s soul went south, long overdue an eternity of forced creative
labour under careful distant watch.

Is that an erection        in my trousers? Is that why half the town’s
turned up to say farewell one final time to my as-yet-it-seems-not-
completely-passed-over corpse? I must say it looks fine.

Of vital importance       the dead remains: taxiderm me (sand from
Leigh-on-Sea), have me stand in perpetuity in one of Rome’s busier
piazzas, shrouded in Boateng, tourists’ll swear I never-as-much-as-
twitched and leave an abundance of straight-to-trust-fund coins which
will find their way to you,

There                           top end of the coffin, liking very much my
barefoot chic, scrubbing another tear away with your sleeve. I try to
touch your face, son, but I am no longer made of anything. I have only
come because you believe in me still like I told you to that day twelve
years ago when you asked me what you’ll do when I am gone.

Here’s the answer        and I’ll be on my way:
take from this final supine view everything you want to smirk at for the
rest of your life, work it on to the grandchildren: the joke-shop eyes, the
absurd couture, the surprise in the trousers, the fact your financial future
is furled, secured (albeit with many trips to the piazza’s bank), the fact
the empty purple moleskine prank the lid slides over is currently lost in
song all the way to the underworld. That’s what you can do now I am

Creative Writing Ink January 2016 Winner

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

Throwing Moves

Marion Clarke

Down at the youth club a single mirror ball sends flashes of silver shards around the almost empty dancefloor. I blink when I am blinded for a second and upon opening my eyes, find tiny stars dancing in front of me. I feel dizzy and the Bee Gees explain that this is Night Fever. I gasp and try to capture the moment, thinking that this experience, on this particular evening at the disco in my hometown will stay with me forever. I must therefore remember every detail.

fairy tale
a single drop of blood
on the snowdrop

Four girls are curled together in the centre of the roller-skate-scuffed floor. Through the soles of my feet I feel them making the floorboards bounce in time to the throb of a bass speaker at the side of the stage. They huddle, giggling, then shuffle apart as one girl gets braver and dares to dance her best disco moves, looking over her shoulder every now and then. As usual, the guys are slouched against the peeling walls, trying to look sullen and interesting. They do not dance with any of them…nor with any of us.

We leave, two hours later, with hairdos fallen and our forbidden lipstick long gone, its cherry-flavoured stains erased by Club Orange sipped from thick-rimmed bottles.

We swear to each other that we will never return to that particular ballroom of romance – but secretly we know we will.

sunset on the lough
a periwinkle chiffon
of twilight

December 2015 Winner

Friday, January 22nd, 2016

By Cheryl A. Van Beek

Cloud pillows sleep
in sparkling mounds
as we fly through layered blankets
blue and white
like snowfall at twilight.

Babies’ cries,
all voices on the plane,
in the jet’s breath
whispering strands cottony white.

My chattering thoughts rush,
headfirst into the hush
to dream and crystalize.

Sunlight etches snow stars
in scratches on the windows.
Wind runs its fingers through clouds.
Wisps drift like flakes
sifting from a branch.

Wonder if anyone is looking up
at our snowy boot tracks
on blue blankets,
following the white contrail
we stream behind us.

Creative Writing Ink November 2015 Winner

Friday, December 4th, 2015

Colette Coen
Glasgow University and Faber Academy graduate, Colette Coen just published her first novel All the Places I’ve Ever Been, and two collections of her short stories are available as ebooks – The Chocolate Refuge and Five a Day. She won the Waterstones Crime in the City competition in 2013 and was shortlisted for the Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award. She has been a librarian and literacy lecturer, but now works in a supermarket to allow time and head-space for writing. She loves Muriel Spark, Margaret Atwood and INXS. She lives in Glasgow with her husband and three kids. Follow her blog for regular posts of new fiction, including those inspired by Creative Writing Ink prompts.

La Belle Maison

In five minutes her visitor will arrive, and Sandra will leave this place for good, but for the moment she soaks up memories for her long journey.

‘Hello, and welcome to my beautiful home.’ It was more than seven years since Sandra had stood at her front door welcoming her guests.
‘So that’s beautiful, as in…needs demolished and …?’ Craig said as he and Julie took in the view. Sandra wondered if they sensed as they drove through the labyrinth of quiet streets that this one was different. Not another money-spinning project, but a desirable property in a quiet residential area. Still, she had prepared for their gentle mockery.
‘God, Sandra. I’ve not seen Artex this thick since 1975.’
‘That’s brutal, Craig’, Julie said as she gave her husband a hard shove. ‘I’m sure you’ll work your magic on it in no time, and it’ll be, well, habitable.’
‘I just never thought I’d see you guys way out here. I don’t think I could survive so far from civilisation. All you need now is to name it – La Belle Maison,’ he said with a flourish.
‘Charming,’ Julie said, rolling her eyes. ‘There’s a lot to be said for gardens and good schools. Now shut up and let Sandra show off the rest of her palace.’
‘This is the lounge,’ Sandra said proudly gesturing around the cool, north-facing front room.
What her friends couldn’t see, as they raised their eyebrows at the mustard coloured wood-chip and the two-bar fire, and what she always could see, was the potential. They saw bricks and mortar, and tasteless decoration; she saw a new life stretching before them.
‘In five years this place will be perfect, it just need a bit of TLC.’
‘And a sledge hammer.’
‘Well, yes, and a sledge hammer.’ She joined in their laughter, but she was genuinely happy with thoughts of joiners and plasterers about the place, all taking Martin’s plans and making them real. Then she’d have free rein on the décor, and soon they would have the house they’d been working up to for years. The last house: their home.

While Lucy napped, she had painted with bravado; no more pandering to the resale market. In a bold statement of her intent to stay, she even forked out for hand-printed wallpaper for the lounge.
She could see the feature wall now, from her vantage point in the hall: the large retro print holding its own against the 40’ plasma.
‘The lounge, where I lounge,’ she thought. ‘Ha, bloody ha.’ She had imagined a peaceful room when she had chosen Inky Pool and Gentle Gold. It would be the perfect place to read in the afternoon, letting Classic FM gently infuse her soul. But it had quickly turned into a mini office for all the administration that went with children – the school consent forms to be returned promptly; the six month check-ups for teeth; the annual ones for eyes. Drop-offs, pick-ups, play dates with raucous children filled the time between washing loads. Her days slipped away. The only time she got to lounge was late at night when everyone was in bed. She would lie there for hours, watching celebrity gossip programmes, imagining a life like theirs, until the final drops of energy had seeped into the Ikea couch, and she could drift off to sleep.

Her vision blurs as she stares at the carefully arranged vases on the mantle, and a tear rolls down her cheek as she remembers how they shook with the banging door.
‘All I want is half an hour. Is that so much to ask for? Half a bloody hour!’
Jack was already half way up the stairs before her tirade stopped. She punched herself hard on the leg. ‘Shit’. She was stupid to even try. She knew, knows, that there would never any chance of peace until the kids were dealt with, but dealing with the kids was a task with no end. She took a deep breath and went to the foot of the stairs. ‘I’m sorry, Jack. Come down love. What is it?’ She felt his sulk travel through his door, down the stairs and into her guilty heart. Before she could pull herself back, she trudged up, and tapped gently on his door. ‘Can I come in?’
‘No, Mum, I just want half an hour then you can come in.’
She closed her eyes; tried not to explode. He had a point, the wee shit. ‘Please, Jack, I’m sorry. Let me come in.’
‘Don’t be so stupid, woman, it’s your house,’ a voice shouted, ‘of course you can go into his bedroom. And Jack,’ Martin said as he flung open the door, ‘do your own homework.’
‘Yes, Dad.’
‘Now will you all shut up – I’m trying to finish a proposal here.’
Sandra stood looking between her son and the slammed office door. ‘Do you need help?’ she asked quietly.
‘No, it’s ok Mum. I’m sorry.’ They exchanged a look that meant everything and nothing. The door next to Jack’s opened and Lucy thrust a My Little Pony into her hand.
‘Pleat her hair Mummy.’
‘Bath first.’
Sandra popped Lucy in the bath, and after her hair was washed, she retreated from the humidity, to sit on the toilet lid and pleat the Pony’s hair.
‘What does it say, Mummy?’ Lucy demanded, pointing at her cipher written in sponge letters.
‘No Mummy, it says Lucy.’
‘No Lucy, it doesn’t. That last letter there, no the other last letter, that’s an ‘l’, it starts your name, Lucy.’ Neither of them cared much. Lucy preferred the patterns she made to anything her mother told her was a real word. Sandra momentarily thought about googling ‘dyslexia’, but her mind was pulled to her kitchen bin, where it couldn’t quite focus on the test stick hidden at the bottom.
‘Wrap me up like a baby, Mummy.’
‘I want my Dora the Explorer nightie, Mummy.’
‘I want you to pleat my hair now.’

Sandra watches herself walk back down the stairs, and wonders whether even with all her resolve, she still has the strength to leave them.
She rotates slowly and looks into the dining room. The table is bare, the sideboard thick with dust. There was a time when it would be laid according to the latest trend with runners or chargers, ready at a moment’s notice to host the next dinner party, but her appetite has long gone.

Despite the place cards, Martin had ended up sitting opposite Amelia. Throughout the meal Sandra watched as his gaze flicked between her eyes and her erect nipples obviously worried that either should suddenly give their attention to someone else. ‘That fancy woman’, Sandra’s mother would have called her, and it was how Sandra thought of her. Always ‘that fancy woman’, never ‘his fancy woman’, in case thinking it would make it more real. And fancy she was, certainly fancier than Sandra could be bothered to be: what with monthly haircuts, weekly manicures and the best colourist in town. Amelia peppered her conversation with comments on grooming, as if they were essential, like the weekly shop. But no matter how casual the remarks sounded, there was always a nod to the gallery – maybe if Sandra cared more, then Martin wouldn’t have been so easy to steal.
‘Where do you get your botox done?’ Sandra had asked at the last ever dinner party, as she placed Jamie’s Linguine with pancetta, olive oil, chilli, clams and white wine before Amelia.
‘Darling,’ said Martin, trying to keep his voice in check, ‘that’s hardly polite conversation, is it?’
‘You don’t understand, Martin,’ she said mirroring his condescension, ‘botox is as normal as hair colour or make-up these days, isn’t it Amelia? Nothing to be ashamed about.’
Amelia spluttered, and finally had the good grace to look embarrassed at eating her food; drinking her wine; fucking her husband.
‘Maybe you should try some of it then, Sandra, if it’s so normal,’ Martin muttered.
‘Now, now Martin, Sandra’s looking beautiful tonight,’ Julie said as she kicked Sandra under the table and gave her a behave! look. Sandra wasn’t sure that she had the right to do that after she had reneged on their tacit agreement to move out here and finally start their business together. They had had plans, Sandra thought, plans she was relying on, but Julie now seemed content with her promotion and private schools for her son.
‘How are the drawings for the conservatory coming on, Martin?’ Julie asked. It had always been her duty to distract Martin when he got tetchy and she still knew the tricks. She listened with a fixed smile, nodding and gasping at appropriate times as he enthused about Pilkington K and Argon filled units. She knew that Sandra didn’t share his enthusiasm and would hate her for bringing it up, but it was difficult enough to engage Martin without avoiding all the taboos.
‘Can you imagine anything more twee than a conservatory?’ Sandra said, draining her glass. ‘It’s bad enough that he’s got me in a semi in the sticks, without another bloody room to keep tidy. What do you think Craig: could my life be any more of a stereotype?’
A couple of years ago Craig would have gone into a whole routine about the signs and symptoms of suburbanitis, but maybe he gauged that it would no longer raise a laugh. He played safe instead with outrageous tales from A & E, and gradually everyone relaxed.

‘It’s all in your head, you stupid woman.’ Martin had raged later when the guests were gone, ‘I’m not having an affair. When on earth would I have the time for an affair?’
‘So it’s just the time you’re lacking, not the inclination,’ she barked back. He did have the time; of course he had the time, thought Sandra, While I’m hanging about waiting for my life to happen, he’s got the time.

He was missing again last night. She was in her Magnet kitchen, shutting out the constant dialogue in her head with the noise of the running tap and the chopping knife. ‘Will you sit still and eat your dinner?’ It was the fourth time that night Sandra has said it, and maybe the hundredth time that month.
‘I don’t like carrots, mummy.’ Lucy whined.
‘You liked them last week.’
‘Yes, but round last week they were, and now they’re little sticks, and they’re hurting my mouth.’
‘Oh for God’s sake, just eat the damn things, and Jack if you don’t put that DS down, it’s going in the bin.’

I tried, I really tried, she thinks, as she waits for her friend to arrive, No one can say I didn’t try.

She had taken her own plate to the bin, emptying the remnants that had hardly registered on her taste buds. She hated Martin as the knife scraped across the plate. Hated him for not being there to support her on this battlefield; but also hated the fact that if he was here, he would only criticise.
‘Why can’t you get those kids to eat? It’s fairly fundamental, isn’t it? Mother feeds children. My God, Sandra, can you not even do that?’
‘I need you here at teatime. I spend so long cooking and when they won’t eat, it really gets to me. Please Martin, help.’
‘Just give them fish fingers and beans then. It never did me any harm.’
‘Jack won’t eat beans.’
‘Then he goes to bed hungry.’

They’ll be fine, she thinks as she begins to lose consciousness, better off even. There’s a timetable and a To Do list on the American style fridge to keep them right and a freezer full of food. At last Sandra feels that she has accomplished something.
The bell rings, and although Sandra is in no position to answer it, the door swings open. Her visitor is tall, handsome, swathed in black, and with his scythe, he cuts her down.

October 2015 Competition Winner

Monday, November 16th, 2015

Emmie Readman


The stony weight of your words

you found whilst scouring the shore-

their worth you’re only just learning,

turning each one of them over,

heeding their shape and their hue

until, hesitantly content, you contemplate

daring to throw them into waves

-dreading the ripples, the

oscillating of a surface you wanted

to keep smooth, letting currents move

beneath, undetected.


In the strength of a turning tide

you consider anonymous depths,

wide-eyed and smiling at the new found

breadth of reach- the distance those

stony words, once weighted, can travel.

You stand at the strand line,

your sigh echoing the surf which

beckons your feet-

your arm lifts, your hand poised

to write ripples.

You throw.

A Reflection – September 2015 Winner

Friday, October 23rd, 2015

A Reflection

M T Ingoldby

The older I become, the more I notice a tendency in myself to spin undue romance from the most ordinary memories. I’m sure this is commonplace: The brain’s faithful attempt to turn one’s past into personal mythology, drama into melodrama, and mistakes into meaningful lessons. And not only my childhood, which is the same haze of blissful inconsequence as described by my friends. Later and more serious events take on the scale of legends; some to be laughed at like the errors of old kings, others as bleak as the nightmares of childhood. One memory in particular – sadly mundane on the surface – has since acquired the aspect of a truly chilling horror story with inexplicable elements that time has done little to reconcile and much, I expect, to exaggerate. I hope now that time will dissolve the bias of a younger woman’s heart, and that writing will force a framework of sense onto what remains the most bizarre and painful episode of my life. I owe it to myself to succeed where my subconscious has failed in drawing meaning from my one encounter with the supernatural.

He came into my life preceded by a waft of cigarette smoke and a low, husky murmur:
“Excuse me. Is anyone sitting here, please?”
A bit of a cliche, I knew at the time, but in those days I was keenly attuned to pre-set romances of any kind. And there he stood; tall, not altogether handsome, and gentle in a fumbling, uncertain sort of way. I looked at him and thought, ‘God – he’s one of me!’
As he sat down to my obliging gesture I felt a spark of our potential crackle the air like static, and spent the following hour trying hard not to extinguish it. He talked and I listened – hapless money troubles mostly – then I talked and he listened and nodded and I kept going until every festering thought found life in fresh ears. I talked about my painting, my dreams of being an artist, even describing some of my work to his obvious interest. I talked about my sister – we weren’t speaking back then – and he laughed delightedly at my cruellest depictions of our childhood. He liked listening, not least because talking made him nervous, and I’m sure he too was aware of the delicate atmosphere about us, as fragile as silence, that thickened with every minute that passed without anxious incident. The wine certainly helped. We were like two clouds meeting and melding by an accident of weather.
In an hour or two we were both tipsy, and one of us – me, I’m fairly sure – invited him back to my flat. The taxi ride was swift; we kissed all the way from outside the bar to my bedroom door and what followed, common decency and the effect of alcohol upon memory prevent me from detailing here.
I do not wish to give the impression that I was in the habit of soliciting this kind of encounter so soon after meeting someone. But I didn’t feel cheapened, nor that a demeaning precedent had been set. It was simply an uncomplicated continuation of what had begun at the bar and within a fortnight it was as though he had never slept anywhere else.
Mark Portaz wasn’t like other men. For some, you have to drop hints with such a clang that you wince to recall them. But Mark was quick on the uptake: As if he really knew me, which was a welcome shock especially when I hadn’t felt a man’s gaze in over a year. I suppose I was in something of a nosedive, and Mark levelled me out.
He didn’t mind sharing my poky third-floor flat, which even in its best days could be said to have seen better days. The growing number of dents in the flaky plaster we covered with tasteful pictures and photographs of us grinning like teenagers next to unimpressive local landmarks. Our shared clumsiness – especially after a bottle of red in front of our book-sized TV – meant we decorated with insight rather than taste, but if home is where the hat is hung and heart resides, it gave us a glorious sense of belonging.
But soon an insidious falseness crept into our familiarity.

It wasn’t lipstick on his collar, or a strange scent on his clothes, or even dubious late-night commitments explained in suspicious detail. It wasn’t anything so specific, but there were clues. There usually are. Something veiled by those over-inflated compliments, like:
“I think this is actually the best painting I’ve ever seen.”
“I’m so lucky, babe. You’re one in a million, I swear. .”
“You look so damn sexy in that chair.”
And soon enough I found this text on his phone: ‘Sounds great!!! See you tonite 😉 xox’
No, I shouldn’t have looked. Marriage is built on trust, they say. But we weren’t married. We were together five months. I don’t know what made me think of that. Well, I do of course, but even after all these years it pains me to confess it.
But the worst thing, worse than the certainty that something pure is irrevocably soured, was the name of the contact saved into the phone: Sadie Baschurch. My name.
Like a punch to the gut I felt instantly sickened and weak. I felt an unjustifiable respect for all those husbands who through decency strive to separate their mistresses from their lives completely. This was a kind of betrayal I’d never heard about, let alone expected. But, poor insecure creature that I was, I bottled it and let it ferment into silent spite. The explanation should come of his own accord – prompting it would only be further humiliation. Maybe – though I wasn’t at this moment inclined to be charitable – maybe it is a simple misunderstanding: Crossed wires, something to laugh about in a few years when securely attached by family and mortgage. Whoever this imposter was, Mark was more than happy with the real thing. I had proof of this. Meanwhile I would outwardly pretend nothing had changed, and shadow them later to their glamorous rendezvous like a vengeful ghost.

And so, when Mark kissed me goodbye with apparent reluctance on Wednesday night, bound, I remember him saying, for drinks with an old friend who would bore me rigid with tales from back in the day, I was already worked into an eager frenzy of discovery, fuelled by imaginings of bold recriminations and scene-stealing accusations, part Joan of Arc, part soap opera. Proving my suspicions would ally their strength with mine: Right then my doubt was a greater threat to my well-being than my presumed rival. And I had no other plans – sadly, I hadn’t seen my own friends in months.
I pulled on a mountainous overcoat which both disguised my appearance and fit my romantic image of a hard-boiled detective. I followed him on foot from a furtive distance, though with his head lowered and engrossed in private thoughts I could have caught his heel and he wouldn’t have turned.
I began to suspect where he was headed, and it was with grim satisfaction that the harsh candle-light and red tables of Paula’s Bistro grew towards us like a lurid mirage. I had come this way before with Mark and remembered suggesting we head there one evening, but we never did and it hadn’t come up since. If he’d been keen, he’d have said. Or did he log it, my suggestion, for future use with a better fit? I sidestepped into a doorway sliced with shadow and watched him stride through the entrance, turn and approach with a smile someone whose legs uncrossed in greeting while the rest of her was obscured by a pillar. Her tights were black, her shoes were fun, colourful flats. Mark’s face flushed with the heat inside. He jumped his chair closer for what soon became the most interesting and entertaining conversation of his life. I’d never seen so many emotions animate his face in one sitting. His eyes glowed with an eager tenderness.
I fused with the darkness of the doorway. Several times I considered crossing the street and bursting through the door like a demon, spitting curses. My foot even cleared the shadow. But the longer I waited the more my confidence ebbed away, and confrontation seemed not just impossible, but unjustifiable. Here I was skulking in the dark like a criminal, and there they were, inside, faces lit by that spark of connection and enjoyment shared. Before long the whole restaurant seems complicit in their affair, and my lonely resentment was their enemy; cold and only capable of causing pain. All I could hear were the clatters of cutlery and laughing police sirens on the lookout for malicious loiterers. Frustrated, I decided to circle the block and when I arrived back both chairs sat empty. I ruled at last to go inside and see if any information could at least be gained from the waiters.

The staff were disconcertingly blonde and surly to a man, and left me on threshold long enough to substantially weaken my resolve before I was acknowledged.
“Ah,” he said when he reached me, then turned smartly and disappeared again. He returned with a folded receipt – only then did he meet my eye. I saw myself as he did: Dressed in dirty black but for my shoes, in a shapeless overcoat, shivering after two hours outside on a cloudless night. “£37.88,” he recited.
“No, I’m not hungry. I wanted to ask about the table by the window. Did the-”
“Yes.” He was unmoved, uninterested, and made a great show of rereading the receipt. “£37.88.”
“No, but do you know the names of who was sitting there?”
Like a tired parent indulging an infant’s games, he grudgingly informed me: “Booking under the name Portaz for eight-thirty. You are Mrs Portaz?”
“I- Yes.” Possessiveness giving voice to presumption.
Now his stern manner made sense. Mark and his mistress had fled laughing into the night, leaving me (unwittingly – perhaps) to foot the bill.
“Oh… I see.” I replied. I was suddenly gripped by the character of a noble victim; stiff and stoically sensible. The weary martyr extracted my credit card from a battered purse and fed it into the proffered slot. The machine beeped, satisfied, and I was forgotten again. Sloping off unobserved, I retraced my path to the flat in slow steps, all the time deeply immersed in a vat of silent victimhood.

To my surprise when I trudged through the front door Mark was sitting there waiting, smiling at me like a physical assault. As well as scaring the strength out of me, it meant I had no time to prepare a course of action and a few choice remarks in the safety of an empty room, as I had intended.
“Where have you been?” he asked brightly, before I could remove my ugly disguise. He smiled with the warmth of the restaurant. I coughed out a laugh in response.
“Me? Where have you been?”
“Just sitting here.” He grinned at me.
“All this time?”
“Since getting back.” His arms now became wings over the backrest.
“Right,” I said, deliberating on a suitable spot to deposit the coat, and postponing eye-contact for which I hadn’t the courage. “How was it?”
“Good, yeah. I had a good time.” He folded his hands behind his head contentedly. “Did you?”
I dumped the coat. “Fine,” I said curtly. I still didn’t face him. “I need a cup of tea. Do you want tea?”
Diving into the kitchen I flicked on the kettle. He followed after a second and stared at me, leaning on the doorframe. “Well?” he prompted.
“Really. No.” I quietly replied, sweeping crumbs off the counter. Not an answer as such, but an expression of the sudden defensiveness that armoured me then like spikes on a blowfish.
He sighed violently. “Oh, not this damn…” He swung around for an audience to share his exasperation. “What? Just tell me.”
I couldn’t say anything. I was drying the sink with kitchen towel.
“For god’s sake. Can’t you even get properly angry? Why can’t you even…” – he mimed thrusting something large through a small gap – “…push back ever?”
“Push what back?” I was being facetious, but it was easier than forming a point which he wouldn’t hear anyway.
“Just say. What are you so damn scared of? Where’s that- Where’s that passion that you… Sometimes I see it. Then I think, ‘is she just putting it on to be cute?’”
I didn’t say anything, just wiped with renewed vigour.
God’s sake, Sadie!” Without warning he sunk his fist into the soft flesh of the plaster, leaving another dent for me to cover. He blew flakes from his knuckles like gun-smoke. The momentum of his violence carried to his voice:
“Like this loan. You don’t say no, you say you don’t have it yet and walk off, then I come home and there’s another damn photo in a gold frame like, where did that come from?” His hand became caught in a loose loop of curtain thread: There was a horribly comic struggle – “Fuck sake!” – and the curtain was torn away on ragged strings, exposing the dark glare of the warped glass and our own shadowy reflections. I could hear nothing but blood.
“I know, Mark,” I managed.
“Oh you know? What? What do you bloody know?”
Details choked me. “About her.”
“About…” He blasted a breath between his teeth. “Oh. Jesus, I get it.”
“I know she’s-”
“No. Don’t pin this on me. You did this, Sadie.”
His reflection grabbed the coat from the chair and charged from the flat, re-appearing outside as a dim figure hurrying away through flashes of shrinking fluorescent cones.
A minute slithered by. Dull ticking sounds rose to my ears from somewhere close; and the endless breath of traffic from the distant road. I stood there, frozen. The woman in the window stared back through blackened hair: A heavy, pathetic figure with trembling shoulders and weak, half-buckled knees.
Suddenly and violently I was again gripped by a second, overwhelming strength: A role that had lain dormant in instinct until then swept over and quite without thinking my hand reached for something heavy and in a single, swift motion launched it at the glass. It exploded frame to frame in a shower of lethal fragments. I remember it in excruciating slowness, like the disintegration of an ice floe in summer currents; each second faithfully suspended for future scrutiny. Shards of all sizes fell with a crystal clatter onto the patio. And there, where the glass had been…
…yes, memory tends to edit and embellish with a preference for the camp. Ghosts may be interpreted as mere manifestations of a guilty conscience, or of intense feelings undisclosed in life; and yet they are ghosts nonetheless. Memory often reveals a subtle truth to us in other ways when facts alone will not suffice. All I know is what I remember seeing…
…there, where the glass had been, my reflection remained, floating above the road. But she was not me, for she tilted her head into the streetlight and grinned with such open cruelty that I almost recoiled. She balanced on empty air with terrible grace, in defiance of all known laws and limitless in capability. A pitiless wave of contempt broke over me. She threw back her head and laughed in silent scorn, fixed me once more with glinting black eyes and, apparently of her own free will and not a conscious resurgence of reality, she vanished. I knew then I would not see her again.
Then a cold, extinguishing wind rushed through the empty window and followed me upstairs to bed.

Shortly thereafter I met Gregory, and we soon resigned ourselves to each other’s company for a good long while – three children, a nice house in the Midlands, cheerful comfort in cold winters and temperate summers. I have my own small studio where I paint ripe fields and reed-cloaked streams from memory. One I particularly like – I’m looking at it now. A stretch of river runs into the foreground, twisting and drawing the eye upstream to a near-flat horizon, save for the silhouette of a lightning-struck tree and the suggestion of storm clouds in the distance, top-right. It is painted hurriedly and with no great skill, but what makes it unique among the frames hanging on my wall is that I have not been able to find that spot, nor even that fast-flowing river ever since.

Creative Writing Ink August 2015 Winner

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

Mercy for Night-Birds
(Or, A Dove’s Nightmare)

M T Ingoldby

The crowd comes on at a relentless diagonal and she is sluiced into the gutter like rain. Her face is like sodden and crumpled handwriting. She is mute though whether by choice or misfortune is unknown, even to her. The tail-feathers of her cloak droop into the ripples and darken and she does not notice, for in time they always dry out.
She waits an age for the stream of people to slacken and darts between drips into the bakery. It is empty but for the beautiful smell of newborn bread which conceals her own damp fumes. The baker in his ghosted frock smacks flour from his gloves like visible sound and without a word of acknowledgement offers her fresh rolls from a warm tray. She waits: He holds one out over the counter. Frowning then feeling she returns it to the man: It is too nice. The baker has run through this routine too often to be anything but non-plussed as he brings her another; grey-crusted, stale. She sniffs and nods and bears it out into the street and towards the park, gripped hard in brittle fingers.
In the park is a bench beneath a crone-bent willow. The pigeons already gathered around grow louder and swell at her approach. In this spot she sits and begins to crush life from the stone: Crumbs fall to her lap. Heads cock, impatient flutters disrupt the mass. Then she scatters the powder in a jagged swing, and the squawking deafens. She watches them feast; scaling each other with sharp red claws all clamouring for their share. Some affect disinterest then circle back to the fray, flinging broad their wings and jabbing, frenzied, mad with savage greed.
Then just as swiftly they disperse, in fits and flaps. Crumbs remain but the orgy is over, and she can walk again. With brushes of her cloak she loosely gathers the feathers they have left behind and pokes the white tips through the cloak’s fabric and breaks their bones to secure them.
Lord, what a beautiful cloak! How many delicate hues crest and shimmer with the wind’s merest caress! Storm-shades undulate across its surface and shaken flare like light from creased foil, seething and broiling then vanished once more into shadow. It hides her shape: The skin beneath is hollow and taut with bone. She has not eaten in almost two weeks and under the prickling cloak her skin is pecked raw. Yet she is glad. The pigeons though numerous are weak, and only when she is feather-light will they be able to lift her in a rough cloud and carry her off to those high, unseen place where pigeons congregate at night. Until then, so subtly is the cloak woven that while night’s wing soars between concrete horizons she may crouch in a corner of the pavement seamless as shadows and remain furled and unnoticed til daybreak.
At dawn she moves. The sun gapes through torn traces of cloud that frustrate the eye like unerased chalk. The light is like liquid: A warm, currentless sea which buoys her above the drab shape stumbling beneath in a deep daze.
Here again is the bakery. Above, the sun looms and makes vivid the face of the shop like a falling mourner’s veil. Dough is unloaded on pallets from a van of blinding white and stacked up by the door. The baker himself bears them inside five at a time, his ungloved hands full of grip. He whistles harmonies to the rich hum of his ovens. Today is a good day, and the dough sings.
Swaying like dreaming reeds she follows him in, feeding the heavy cloak in which she hangs like a bell’s clapper through the open door. Her own form is numb to her. The baker smiles kindly and presents her at once with a roll from his oven. She returns it; but today the baker refuses, insistent – smiling, thrusting; this is yours: Take it. The boulder drops into her frail hand. Her gaze is unsure but how tightly she grips it and already the baker has engaged fresh customers. He will ignore her until she is gone.
All down the street the roll drags at her: She lists to one side like a bird with a broken wing. The kingdom of the park waits with iron gates thrown inwards to welcome her, and seeing her the birds convene from every tree like an explosion in reverse.
The sun has cleared the roofs and the last clouds scatter. As she sits the cooing crescendos but she will not listen. The hot smell of the bread intoxicates…
She bites.
Her dry teeth crumble the dough fruit to dust. It is tough and sweet. The pigeons bounce and flare, outraged. Their right to bread is Law, sanctified by ceremony. Beaks begin to pierce her cloak, stab at her ankles. Some thrash to the seat beside her, talons raking her lap. The holy idol is false: A liar.
As one they swarm up the slope of their own forgotten feathers in a unified frenzy not diffuse amongst them but directed to some external purposed. They dive at her hair, become caught and scrabble viciously. Beady, jutting eyes rise to her throat, finding purchase in the skin of her empty breasts. The rising surge lifts her skyward, but their hooks and mass tether her and the first to ascend thrusts its head inside her mouth and pecks at the white soot on her tongue. Claws tear at her lips and cheeks to widen her smile so that more may force their way in and soon they pour down her throat and fill her skin. The loose cloak swells with her body like a writhing sack of rats until she abruptly bursts, erupting grey and white and red feathers reeling in shrill rainbows of gore. They soar outwards, dive and disappear leaving nothing but a grey shroud whose ragged wounds lie empty. The white hole of the sun burns away every feather before they touch the ground.

Creative Writing Ink June 2015 Winner

Thursday, July 30th, 2015

A Spin Out On The Bay

Ann Brehony

Joe felt the first limp dribbles of light filter through his faded curtains like a low, torch beam bending through thick fog. The season was on the turn and the dawns were getting later. Another good night’s sleep was a blessing and with diminishing days he was spared the summer chore of filling a twelve-hour yawning gap of daylight. Monday. Late October. He could cling to the driftwood of his routine; keep himself from going under by repeating the same tasks in the same order. He lifted his stiff joints from the lumpy bed. Rose to face the dull day ahead. Time for tea. Joe filled his lime-scaled kettle from the coughing tap in the kitchen then plugged it into the damaged socket on the wall and waited for the rising bubbles to announce their readiness.

His favourite cup, the one with the blue stripe, chipped around the rim, sat waiting on the kitchen counter. Two tea bags, he liked his tea strong, two sugars and a good dash of cold milk. Let it settle and then sip slowly while the tang of the tannins cleared his misty head. Monday. No changes planned to the routine today. No rush, there was time for toast. Joe stood guard by the grill; the bread could turn from gold to charcoal in a blink if you took your eye off it. A good skelp of butter and the last of the bargain jam. He liked the comforting crunch of the crispy crusts. Time to get dressed.

He’d often spent long spells alone but had seldom endured this dull ache of loneliness. Born in 1946, Joseph Ryan desperate to escape the confines of small-town Ireland broke his mother’s heart when he ran off to become an officer in the merchant navy. A jovial rogue in his youth, but cheap Aldi vodka had long since dulled the glint in his eye. In his opinion he had pretty much made a hames of his life, he’d heeded things that weren’t worth the effort and had lacked the confidence to put the effort into things that needed heeding. He could see that now but what use was it to him at his stage, things had gone too far, the frailty of age and the curse of a life badly-lived cut the words off in his throat. The impotence of age was a pure fright, what was the point of it all? The years spent living, the lessons learnt and for what?

Joe drained his tea and then readied himself for his morning stroll around the pier. He liked to keep a connection with the sea, check on the boats, and chat with the fishermen. Sometimes they’d take him out for a jaunt around the bay. He often helped lift the lobster pots, the roll of the keel and the pull of the rope made him feel safe. He had never managed to feel this same sense of security on dry land. Land was too static for Joe. He missed the swell of the ocean beneath his feet. He needed that comforting rise and fall to make sense of his thoughts, it was as if the water lulled him into consciousness. The smell of the salt and sting of the spray filled his pores with plans and his heart with possibilities that he could never realise on terra firma.

Joe made his way down the quiet street towards the pier, his round shoulders and bandy legs rocking from side to side as he walked, as if he was trying to balance himself on a listing ship. It was a classic sailor’s walk. The trip to the pier was the highlight of his day and he tried to make it last, to savour every scent and sensation. The gulls circled the quay wall, their racking cackle settled Joe’s soul. During his years at sea the appearance of the gulls signalled the imminent rise of the port along the horizon. Their greedy squawks reminded Joe of the anticipation of land after weeks spent at sea. As soon as these harbingers of the harbour were sighted dipping and swooping along the bow, his shipmates would competitively brag of their planned exploits around the port. Itching to descend the gangplank to reintegrate into the world. But the pleasure of shore was always short-lived and usually costly. Wages drank or gambled, often with fines for late return to the ship or a bailout from some clink after a barroom brawl. When he would finally roll back down the quayside his body could relax in peaceful resignation. Shore leave was once again bookended by a descent into the Hades of the harbour and a rise back up the gangplank to the salvation of the sea.

Joe missed the rhythm of dry weeks at sea followed by the flood on shore; he liked having his rations planned with pleasures measured in times of scarcity. Land with all its excesses was too much for a man who couldn’t deny himself in the face of plenty. Not for him the smug comforts of self-regulation, Joe needed his indulgences to be controlled by outside forces. He missed the rigidity and regimental rule of a purser doling out his rations in daily doses. This struggle with plenty was a shock to Joe. When his time ashore had a deadline he just spent money till it ran out, now with days stretching out in front of him like a vast ocean without horizon, he felt more lost than if he had been adrift in the doldrums without a compass. Life on land moved independently without the need to constantly tinker with the engine, check gauges or flush pumps with the repetition of four-hour watches. It would not bend to the tides. It would not run aground if you fell asleep at the wheel. All the jeopardy and danger came from inside his head while the force of the elements was kept at bay by concrete and stasis.

He continued to fight against a creeping resignation. It’s not that he was afraid of death and there was no kidding himself because at his age, he was already in the departure lounge. He just wanted to postpone it. He wanted one last chance to make good his wasted life or to see if he was capable of living like a normal person. Routine meant structure, a scaffold to hold up his days. Monday was set aside for recycling with a trip to the bottle bank at the top of the pier. On Tuesdays he did his laundry. Wednesdays he’d sometimes get the bus into town, he’d often have an appointment with the GP or the chiropodist or he’d just walk around until he could respectably have a pint down at the docks with some of the old crew. There were very few of them left now, salty old sea dogs don’t age well on land. Thursday was pension day, when he would stock up on provisions, according to the list that Colette from Age Action helped him make. Experienced in the art of eating on a restricted budget, she made him meal plans with shopping lists. It was hard not to eat it all in one blowout or just to substitute food for a stock of vodka. Friday was library day; Joe was an avid reader, it was a necessary skill to fill the long, quiet hours at sea. He had a taste for thrillers and was currently re-reading a whole slew of Le Carré’s. The weekends were hardest. He fought the loneliness in a grim stand off that lasted from Saturday morning to Sunday tea with Colette. Winter weekends were the worst. He felt the loneliness filling up, like a worm eating him from the inside out.

Rolling along the quay wall, he dragged his light wheelie shopping trolley behind him as the empties clinked their goodbyes on their final journey to the bottle bank. Frank took an almost puritanical pride in the fact that today’s cache contained more empty food jars than booze bottles. It had been a good week. He’d kept the drinking in check despite another lonely weekend. This was progress. He stopped alongside the large, ugly recycling containers, their primary colours taking on the moralistic air of symbols of respectable, responsible living. As if by reducing, reusing and recycling he could somehow find redemption.

Joe sorted his stock and deposited a clear, empty jam jar, into the large white plastic bank. He wasn’t sure he’d get that jam again, one of those bargain versions, lots of little pips that got stuck in his teeth. Still he was glad he’d tried it because at least, now he knew. He followed this with an empty beetroot jar, two bargain-brand pasta sauces and a small jar of expensive mayonnaise: his one food extravagance. He’d tried the own-brand versions but they just didn’t have that creamy texture that he loved. With every jar he made a mental note of possible improvements to his shopping list, which momentarily made him feel good about himself. This fleeting moment was dashed by the appearance of an empty bottle of cheap vodka. He quickly slipped it down the white chute as if trying to conceal a sin. He moved on to the tins and cans, fighting back his guilt as he deposited a crushed six-pack of Dutch Gold. But he regained his self-worth with two empty tins of tomatoes followed by three small tins of tuna in brine. It was the same every Monday, a refuse analysis that served as the ledger of his week. It was important not to get too depressed by a bad recycling stash, he told himself regularly. It was just as dangerous to lose the run of yourself with a good one though. Joe was working hard at pacing himself, but this late in life it was a tough task. He wasn’t sure he was cut out for land life.

He brushed the dust off his hands and wedged the trolley in behind the bottle bank. Head up, he turned to walk the pier unencumbered by the trappings of age and poverty. This was his domain, he knew every stone, every rope and float. He kept a check of what boats were moored what ones were out. The pleasure craft held little fascination for him. He was more interested in the working boats, the trawlers and the small summer ferries that took tourists out to the islands. He spotted Josie cleaning the deck of his lobster boat.

‘Howya, Josie, not a bad old day all the same apart from the grey doom of it, at least there’s no wind. Are you going out later?’ He shouted hand cupped around his mouth to amplify his greeting.

‘Howya Joe, ‘tis thank God, sure we’re blessed so far with the month no big winds yet,’ Josie called back. ‘If there’s no big wind tonight I’m thinking of lifting the last of the pots tomorrow if you want to join me, I’ll be leaving with the tide around noon.’

‘Sound job, Josie, I’d love a spin alright – need some brine in my bloodstream,’ he joked. ‘I’ll see you then and I’ll bring the flask of tea this time it’s my shout!’

The excitement was rising in Joe’s stomach. He hadn’t expected to land an offer so late in the season. A trip like that would set him up for the dark weeks ahead. He moved closer to the boat to pass a few extra pleasantries with Josie before continuing on his patrol of the pier.

His stroll finished in Maureen’s Café on the Harbour Road. His usual lunch, vegetable soup and a ham sandwich, was punctuated with nods and waves to the other equally regimented regulars. He kept an eye on the weather rolling in; for a seaman, the fear of wind is hard to shake, another worry to add to his day. With the paper and a second cup of tea he could stretch the lunch till nearly three o’clock then back to the pier for a final check and pick up the wheelie trolley. He’d take the long way home, stop off in Centra for some firelighters and maybe have a chat about football with Micko. He’d knock another hour out of that at least and then he could read for a while before dinner. Monday, always a grilled pork chop, Batchelor’s beans (not that Aldi shite) and two spuds. He liked Monday’s dinner; the sauce on the beans could soften even the toughest chop and if the spuds weren’t floury it would help soak up the wax. The week had started well, a fair recycling stash, no big winds and now a spin out on the bay to take the sting out of Tuesday. Joe turned off the telly just after the nine-o-clock news. The damp air was beginning to claw at his legs. He’d go to bed now rather than waste another two briquettes. He settled in under the duvet.

The wind and rain lashing against the single glaze of his old windows woke him at around four. Out in the bay pots full of lobsters rose slowly on the swell. The wind-whipped waves crashed onto battened hatches of moored boats. Joe turned in his safe, stable bed while a single, salty tear slowly slid down the rugged cove of his cheek.

Atlantis Short Story Contest

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

This year’s Atlantis Short Story Contest is now open until November 30th, 2015.

Submit stories max 2,500 words. Any theme or genre.

Cash prizes total $450 and the top 15 writers will receive in-depth feedback. Every participant will receive a brief comment and evaluation table.

Entry fee: starts from $10 (depends on level of feedback wanted when the story does not place).

More here.

Creative Writing Ink May 2015 Winner

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015


‘Flowers,’ was the first thing he said when he had entered the room. Stupid really.

He held them up, lamely, to show her. She didn’t look.

‘They’re nothing fancy.’ Clashing pink and yellow hyacinths to be precise. But that was the point, he wanted to say. ‘From the Esso.’ He chanced a look at her. ‘Thought that might piss you off. Make you laugh.’

Rose said nothing.

‘I’ll just…’ He set them down at her bedside and glanced around. ‘Weather’s nice, isn’t it?’


‘Well, I mean, better than last week. Remember all those storms we –?’ He stopped himself.

Of course she remembered.

He cleared his throat. ‘I just mean, well, it’s… nice, isn’t it? You know, come October you don’t expect to see the sun anymore. Nice to … see it again.’ He gave a short laugh. ‘W-what’s happened to England, am I right?’ But he silenced himself quickly. Too jovial. He needed to stop sounding like some failed comedian.

‘I like the weather in this country,’ said Rose, unexpectedly.

‘You always have, though I can never understand why.’

She was smiling, too, but it didn’t quite reach her eyes, which remained nothing but stormy. ‘It’s just always there, changing, sure, but always there, wouldn’t you say?’

Lawrence licked his lips, dry as baked tarmac.

‘Rose… I…’

‘But I’ve always preferred the rain.’ She spoke louder, as though he too was outside, with the sun. ‘It’s more England, more… us. It’s not like the borrowed time of the sun, which just – just seems to disappear as we start to rely on it.’

Lawrence looked at her; a small frame tucked beneath clinical sheets, living to the beepbeepbeep of her bedside. Though she glared resolutely ahead, he couldn’t help but smile a little. She had always been stubborn.

Ignoring the visitor’s chair, he sat on the floor, cross-legged like a child.

‘Look, I know you don’t like me right now. I know you’re angry, and worst of all I know you have a right to be.’ He said the words quietly, as though he didn’t want her to even hear them. ‘But I’m sorry, Rose. Really sorry. You have to know that.’

She turned to him and he saw the fire still blazing across the side of her face. Lawrence saw a tear collect, then burst. It screamed down her cheek until silenced in the heat of her burns.

‘Tell it to Ben.’


The sun had stopped lashing down when he left the hospital. It rested instead atop the nearby buildings, trickling down to warm the concrete that carved the city. This was one of those rare moments of pause Lawrence’s father had always spoken of.

More out of habit than anything, he reached in his pocket and pulled out his last cigarette, rolling it between finger and thumb without really looking at it. He had been saving it for one-hundred and sixty-six days. But what for, he didn’t really know. A time like this, probably.

He struck down on the lighter three times – always three times – and took a long drag. The almost forgotten sensation wiped his entire body, so that muscles he didn’t even know he had unravelled around him. When he exhaled, he opened his eyes to see the smoke fall and then rise, as though picking itself up, drifting so close to his skin he felt coated in it.

He dropped the cigarette suddenly, as though it had surprised him. It hit the pavement and scattered sparks that died instantly. He stamped on it, harder than was necessary.

Breathing fast, he turned and kicked a dustbin nearby. He regretted it immediately, cursing the pain in his foot.

What had he expected? That a quick smile, an old joke and a stumbled ‘sorry’ was enough? He tried to think this sarcastically, but was unsuccessful, even to himself, and sank onto the steps. He had thought it was enough.

‘Excuse me, boy, but you can’t sit here.’ The voice came from behind him, cool and crisp with the weariness of someone just starting a long shift. ‘Patients come out here for fresh air, smokers are not welcome.’

‘But I’m not a smoker.’ He said automatically.

The woman looked, pointedly, from Lawrence to the abandoned cigarette, still glowing on the pavement. ‘Of course not. But if you have no business at the hospital then I must ask you to move on, or I shall have to call security.’

He got to his feet, and heard the door slide closed behind her. He knew she was right – he had no business there anymore – but it didn’t stop his anger. As he walked past, he noticed a small dent in the side of the bin. He chuckled to himself.

He took a few steps away from the hospital, but hesitated. Without really knowing why, he bent down and picked up the flattened stub of the cigarette. It was still warm; a beating heart in the cold autumn air. It was Ben who had gotten him to give up smoking in the first place. Ironic, really.

He put it back in his coat pocket, and felt it fall to its place between the old Christmas-cracker yoyo and the ripped ticket to see Tottenham. He had always carried them with him, for as long as he could remember. ‘Random crap’, the others had called it. He supposed it was, really.

The sun sank slowly, lower and lower, until soon it was rendered obsolete by the thousand artificial suns that spiderwebbed across London’s streets each night. Blocking out the stars.

Lawrence was still thinking about the same things – always the same things, these days. But as he looked around, he saw that his feet had taken him to old haunts. He had arrived at a park from long ago, only about three blocks from his own house. He didn’t dare call it ‘home’, especially not to himself.

The park was old, and not in the charming, classical way like art or fine wine, but in an outdated, run-down way that was frankly overrated in nostalgia. But he walked through it anyway. You know, for old times’ sake.

He wondered if they had ever bothered to repair the shattered swing, or if his trainer was still astray in the river. He didn’t look. He didn’t want to find out.

He noticed a small bicycle half concealed in a bush nearby. It had a bike-lock trailing from its back wheel, cut so roughly it would rattle when ridden. He pulled it out of the furrowed branches. It was a girl’s bike – that much was obvious. It wasn’t pink or Barbie, but green camouflage, with a male seat and every inch suffocated in a mish-mash of stickers; from animals to flowers to those little supermarket stickers you found on bananas.

It was the kind of bike that someone stubbornly too small would ride anyway, the kind of girl who would ride downhill with the brakes on. It reminded him of another bike he had known.

On the back was the largest sticker of all, white with typed black print; ‘Property of Nancy Whitman’. The address beneath was just three blocks away. Lawrence untangled the chain from the back wheel and, without really thinking about it, he got on the bike. It was comically too small for him, but no one was around to see.

He experimented with a couple of laps of the park. The brakes were squeaky and pulled the bike to the left. Really, it would have been easier to push it. But it seemed important to ride the bike to its home. A worthwhile distraction.

He cycled towards the streets; busy with footstep-less silence and forgotten wanderings. The bike gave the faint tick-tick-tick of a half-formed clock as Lawrence raced it over cracked pavements and through dark alleyways.

When he was only a street away from Nancy Whitman’s house, he stopped. This was a place he knew, but a place he had avoided for a long time. He looked across the street to the house opposite. Though it was long past midnight, the curtains of the front room remained wide open. Scratching onto his very tip-toe, he peeked over the fence, peering into the screen-like window to see the two people sat inside. The man had his arm around his wife, and they were looking down at something.

Lawrence moved to the gate, resting his hand on the. But he knew he would not go inside; Ben’s hockey stick was still flung across the wall and his running shoes still arranged in artistic disarray. Glancing at the window again, Lawrence could see that the man was crying. They were silent, almost hushed tears, as though he didn’t want to make a scene. Ben’s mother looked beyond such displays of grief. She said something to her husband and they both laughed, but it was a sad laugh. Lawrence didn’t bother wondering why they hadn’t tidied Ben’s things away; he liked that they hadn’t.

He wanted to go in, to say something – to say sorry. So much had been promised in that word, in those five letters.

It was all so quiet. There was no anger, no resistance. Just quiet. He had no right to this moment of theirs, no place in their grief.

He rode on.

He was beginning to understand why Rose didn’t like the sun as much – it was overrated. The night’s darkness was only cracked by nearby lamps, sputtering in and out of life, so that Lawrence could only see a step or two in front. He liked it that way.

Nancy Whitman’s house looked just like the rest, but oddly bare. He walked up the path, pausing a moment by the front door. He realised the lateness of the hour, as well as his position as a teenage boy with a stolen girl’s bike. It probably wouldn’t make the best impression. But he needed to see this through to the end.

He propped the bike neatly against the frame of the door and rang the doorbell, before turning and walking away. Pausing around the corner, he waited. He heard the soft click of a door latch and the sigh of warm, indoor air. He chanced a look. A man stood in the doorway with Nancy Whitman standing behind him, holding the sleeve of her father’s pyjamas rather than his hand.

‘My bike!’ she ran out and, of all things, hugged it.

Lawrence walked away, and as he did so, he heard a cry of ‘Thank you Mr Bike-Finder!’ in the night air. He told himself he had imagined it.

At the end of the road he paused. He looked down the street that led to Ben’s house, and further to his own. His fingers were in his pockets, rolling over and over the burnt cigarette. The cold night air had long extinguished its warmth, but he liked to think he could feel it still beating between his fingers.

He felt something brush his shoulder, like a small breath. He looked up, and smiled. It was a smile just for himself.

He turned and walked back towards the hospital.

Rain was falling.

Creative Writing Ink April 2015 Winner

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015

Ad patres

Roisin Browne

Take a pair of hazel eyes
Melting moss and amber chips
Shine them in the sunlight.

Take a wiry smile
Crooked on the knobbled tooth
And glean across horizons wide.

Take determined gentle beats
And pulse them wild
On salty tides.

Take limbed branches,
of arms,
and legs,
and hands
and feet,
Grow them into feathered beams
And gather.

Buffet, soar, glide
through Elysian grasses
Feather tip –
To salt rimmed eyes

on the edge of silence


Creative Writing Ink March 2015 Winner

Thursday, April 16th, 2015

Snow Globe

Sheila Jacob

‘Look, look’ I call to you,
come and look through the window.’

You’re there in seconds,
help me pull back
the bedroom curtain.

It’s snowing

a cloud-fall of crystals
meshing together,

their own weight,

feathering brick walls,
blossoming on kerbsides,
embroidering wheelie bins
with bridal lace.

We clasp hands,
watch open-mouthed.

One shake of the sky
and we’re outside looking in,

our breath misting the glass.