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Thursday, November 03, 2005

the end of it - poem

You’re insistent
and remain so,
as the wet suds of beer slide
down the sides of the glass

and, lingering like a thought
above our heads,
someone else’s cigarette smoke


till I can taste
the black-tar lining of their lungs.

I know, you say, but it’s
for the best –
and I can’t disagree.
I never do.

Which is why we’re here
at the end of it –
a shared life pooling
at our feet

and the death
breath of other people
blossoming in our lungs.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

there the lines cross - poem

There the lines cross and some form of horizon
but the distance ebbs and flows
as physics surely did not intend

this room swells and spins
with a blown-glass sharpness layered
over everything – focusing the detail
briefly as it whirls

will it ring if I strike it?
one crystal note of clarity?
or will it shatter into eye-reflecting fragments?

dazed on white Egyptian cotton –
or not – I can but wish –
as planes and virtues of what they say
reality is, meld with a flattened
one dimensional moment

some lag of time, in vision
from here to here – a dragging,
colours stretched in supple streaks
and objects now unleashed
from their moorings are free to exist
wherever they choose

the rules for everything
for words for thought for movement
have slipped a little
beyond the edge of memory
I can feel them pressing in
but can’t yet prize them out

leave them there then
furring up

nothing matters and neither do I
so I knock
with my thoughts upon the glass clear edge
and listen to it sing

Thursday, September 22, 2005

He is Conflict - a poem

He is conflict,
confusion stings his mouth,
angry words bruise and graze his skin
just as, all those years ago, R’s fists
did on Brighton beach. Seagulls,
a brass band and Punch and Judy.
The ice cream burning as it carved
a slow, smooth path down his arm;
Because you’ve not licked it fast enough,
R said, though your mouth’s
big enough to stop a bus

Not a fist, though.

Blood pink on the vanilla,
the distant summer of buckets and spades
where the days pinched him in
and he couldn’t help
flying those thoughts like a kite
streaming behind him

where they flap still,
slapping the face of anyone
who tries to get close,
slowing him
pulling him
dragging him
back to the time

where the lies are and sharp fingers
dig and scratch, and he no longer
remembers specifics of who is to blame

only the blood from his mouth,
salt against sweet,

the taste of his childhood
punched out,
red against white,
and the sun’s hard light on the sea

Friday, September 09, 2005

Confessions - a poem

Your lies mesh,
cat-cradled tongue caught up
and almost stilled

but wearied words,
nothinged with weight,
fall at our feet

to be kicked aside
or gathered into piles
as ammunition.

Ticks of time peel off
and crumble into bright white
flakes – marking our pathway


The fast relay of tightening
pain that pulses in a heart beat
fills your thoughts,
and mine,

till all attempts
to block it out
are lost.

Your fingers grasping,
the outward

over-riding effort
to reclaim
when sin calls out;

confessions barely noted,
mislaid, as through the walls
the voices leak
and footsteps echo,

cornered visions fragment
in the full-on glare of focus,
as if all knowledge could be
questioned in these few words.

The talismans,
stored and hoarded
later to be
dragged out – an evidence of deeds,
our crimes

whose surfaces vibrate -
ripples circle
circle out to missing edges,
shimmer in some presence yet to be


These bitter tokens, strewn about,
are scuffed by pairs and pairs
of trampling feet whose
echo spreads – a widening stain
of sound
that aches.

the hasty tang
tongues familiar teeth explored

a warmth, degrees unknown as yet
but measured,
understood and stored
a sigh within a sigh.

Bold frustrations
knocked about – tied up

broken in with fantasies
remarked upon
pulse between us
sounded out and later mocked.

All paths
lead here;

we cannot turn away.

Monday, August 22, 2005

a blackbird singing - a poem

To my untutored traffic-tuned ear

silence swims in the trees and all sounds cease.

The ripe void wraps itself around me

and I stand listening, silent, as the stained air

unfolds, filling emptiness with a floating

melody. A blackbird’s melancholy

liquid notes pour falling like a luxury.

Its voice, a vibrant instrument of virtue,

spills simply into the soft summer evening,

offering its honesty as a gift.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

A coward's silence - poem

Assuming another interrogation
I keep a coward’s silence.
He can’t wish to form
an affectionate bond,
to walk in its mountains as a free man.

Isolated in individual cells
an unreliable witness waits.
This hankering,
her laughter at his clumsy gifts –
the daughter’s crying out
for help – the rhythms always central

enough to realise
that every object will outlive

Traces uncovered,
a deal done.
I kept it for a week but he said no
no, it is not important now.

The last time I saw him,
some months before the end,
he told me we would lose.

He was not accusing.
He expected.

This knowledge he traded
for his life.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

when the days fray - poem

When the days fray,
and unravel into shapeless billowing things
that bloat and shrink as they will

when hours slip off their tracks,
un-cog a little,
run askew, gather minutes here,
discard them there

when clock-sharp boundaries,
previously marked with regimented beats,
now haze and fade

when actions, once habitual, ordered, fitting
into well-timed schedules,
now distend to vague expansions,
indefinitely infinite

when momentum is misplaced,
and focus loosened,
and you are drifting unremembered;

then anchor in, claw back that shape
but not until this fluctuating
fluid sense of time
imprints itself within you,

some echo of the infinite retained
as antidote
to future’s possible restraints.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The light beneath the bedroom door - poem

The blade of light that
stabbed beneath your bedroom door
the last few nights is there again. Let it slice
across your vision
a moment longer, then close your eyes
against it. Turn your back.
Curl into the empty space
beside you, the second pillow
blank, full. Turn your back,
let sleep come, your darkness.
But the light
beneath the door remains;
reminder of your daylight differences.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

butterflies don't live in here - poem

this is my bicycle
red and shiny
I got it when I was six.
this is my swing
under the big cool tree in our garden
daddy hung it on the branch there last summer.
this is my dolly
she sits on my bed in my room
in my room
my own room
there are too many here
I have to share
I've forgotten for how long now
they don’t tell us
don’t tell us when we’ll leave
my teacher doesn’t say
only asks us to draw pictures
always pictures
of home and now

but I don’t draw about now
the walls out there are too big
and I can’t imagine them enough
and the sick people too sick
maybe smell worse than the farm
and when the dead dog was under the hedge
there are the men who hit you
if you cry on the street when you’re hungry
and mummy and daddy…

no, I don’t want to draw about now
so I’m drawing a butterfly in our garden
our home garden
on the flowers that are there
with my swing and my bicycle and my dolly
who is happy but alone.
just my garden and the big smiling sun and the sky
wide wide blue
and my yellow butterfly
all outside the big walls
all safe because butterflies
don’t live in here
only us
with yellow stars
on our dirty clothes

Thursday, July 14, 2005

when you first heard - poem

and the room folds the air
into too-small pieces
dry, gasped on insubstantial moments
impossible to breathe
lungs fight
mind tilts and spins
on an axis unfamiliar
hands clutch the edges of things
holding them together




feelings spray out
colouring the too-thin air
with red and sound
the weighted drops splash down
congealing into rusted
staining pools
seeping shock to corners
pain permeating fabric
all the air sucked out
by grief

Hotel Room Tuesday - poem

January, steeled to dark, presses on the glass
immense and outside.
Curtains wilt against it,
damp fingers in,
its grey touch on her face his lips their
exhaled breath mists a sheen that surfaces
the flowered walls,
peels them back
and clings where skin meets skin,
the borrowed bedclothes rucked
winding round their limbs,
binding, with a permanence unmatched outside these walls,
this room,
this every Tuesday afternoon
routine that slides them on its rusted tracks
to what?

Unspoken thoughts mock
locked in separate same-thinking minds
makes them cling
with fingers
printing flesh and this last memory of touch
to heart - mementoes for those mundane moments
stretched between the days of being
the days of not
and others there.

And January presses in

reminds them.

Valentine's Dinner In - poem

she lays the knife and fork
where he’d want them
the tablecloth his mother gave them as a wedding gift
the best plates.

the wine is chilling
a good one – a few quid off,
she forgets the name
she’d like a glass, a sip or two, to steady her
and concentrate her thoughts on making this
a special night.

she’s made his favourite
all afternoon yesterday planning it
all morning today preparing for it
preparing to leave the house
the shops only down the road
make-up knowledgeably applied
so no one can tell.

she’d like a glass of wine
ages since she’s had any
delicate against her tongue
softening in and blurring
hard edges
instead the vodka’s doing that
the alcoholic burning numbs her tongue against
the lemon, grapefruit zesty notes the label promises
wine isn’t enough now

the rose
the only one remaining of the six
takes centre place
he bought them
for her
a gesture of something
the day after, the day after
Sunday dinner
this time the gravy was too thick
he’d said
the stain of it, still dark
ingrained into the kitchen wall
despite the bleach
the bruises, yellow
this time

the door slams and he is home
the vodka downed and glass thrown in the sink
she waits
he stands there gently smiling
chocolates, a teddy bear
held out like rare things prized gifts
despite the fact they both know
they were on special at the garage

he tells her she is beautiful
and then
his fingers vice her throat
the fingerprints –
the individual lines and whorls –
themselves onto her skin
she feels them, ridged and grazing
his mouth bruises onto hers
I want you
the words rough, serrated
her ear
she nods

has to
and glances at the clock on the wall behind his head
there’s time enough; the dinner won’t be spoiled
this time
and if she does this
maybe they’ll taste the wine
the lemon tang of it
filling her mouth and
he’ll say he loves her
if she lets him do this – enjoys it.
but she has to.
better this –
his hands penetrating and unbuttoning –
than punching.

he loves her
the words tangle in her hair
sighed out
as he holds her
pressing her against the wall
he loves her
she knows that, doesn’t she?
yes, she says,
she does

sand and tide - poem

And it creeps up like a wave in a tide when watched from the shore,
there and back
and there
and back
till it's at your feet and you're
sinking. Sand. Can't lift, toes
the feeling's soft; invites you
in, accepts you
but it's not to be accepted;
don't. Too late, you've been
pulled in and held
by the grip of it
the yield,
edged in and cooled
till it's all you can do to remember
the being free,
the air.
And you're in
sucked down
and down
and ankle
knee, whole
It has you.
You're trapped
and it's much too late.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

periphery - poem

Peopled with the ghosts of the living,

his days take on a shape he cannot own.

He cannot print himself upon them,

is drifting on the currents stirred by others.

His heart is not the centre,

his words float on peripheries,

his will; moulded by unseen hands

whose fingers deftly tune those thoughts

to frequencies he cannot pitch. He wears

his disengagement


beneath his skin,

behind his eyes,

flattened deep,

within his skull;

a single membrane permanently stitched,

fixed, blood-fuelled, beating.

Pays for it with glass-clear gestures,

a camouflage that emptily refracts

those lives he doesn't understand.


the nothing

he no longer feels

to even less

into sleep - poem

Fall away into sleep
Fall away down the steep-sided ease of it,
Leave and retreat this
Too bright glare of things said,
Things felt.
Silent and seamlessly slip beneath
The comforting weight,
The pressured relief,
Let it close in and hold you,
Let all the lies and jagged thoughts
That barb and tear the brain
Release them
Slide into the dark space between days,
The silent void
And rest.
Rest where the dreams can’t touch you
And the light fades
And the moments pause suspended.
Fall away into the deepest part of it
And heal.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Embarkation -flash short story

This was it, he was heading off to something, and he didn’t even know how to think of it. So far it was just France. If he quantified it simply, like that, he could hold it more easily in his mind. Anything more, anything involving the training, the uniform, the other men - cigarettes clamped in their lips - if he thought of those things, he felt his mind beginning to unmesh.The ship was there looming darkly beside the quay, the steel weight of it almost tangible from where he stood. Laughter spilled out from the nearest group of men, but he couldn’t feel it, the levity out of place.

Next to him stood another man, dark haired and silent like himself. Their eyes met briefly and a shared flash of something sparked between them. Stephen looked away. The recognition of his thoughts, his own fear reflected there, was too much. ‘Never bin on a boat before.’

Stephen swallowed, then turned towards the voice - it was the same man.

‘Fust time. Aye, nowt to it I suppose. Just hope I don’t get sick.’ And he smiled a tight smile.

Stephen, not quite meeting the other’s gaze, said, ‘I grew up near the sea.’ The dark haired man nodded, as if this was explanation enough, and then held out his packet of Capstans. Hesitating slightly, Stephen leaned forwards and took one, placing it in his mouth. The other lit a match and held it quickly to both their cigarettes. Stephen noticed the hand, large and calloused with a gold band on the third finger, was shaking slightly. He nodded his thanks, and blew out a steady stream of smoke.

‘Stephen,’ he said.

‘David,’ said the other. ‘Lansdowne. Like I said, fust time for this,’ and he jerked his head towards the ship.

‘It won’t take that long, I don’t think,’ said Stephen, ‘And it’s a calm night, shouldn’t be too bad.’

David nodded, but Stephen could see the unease remained. For a moment they stood silently, concentrating on their cigarettes, each locked in private thoughts.‘Christmas they’re saying,’ said David, suddenly, grinding out his cigarette butt with his toe. Stephen shrugged; he hadn’t thought much about how long this whole thing would last.‘Dunno if I believe them, mind. I don’t reckon it’ll get sorted that quick.’

‘Hard to say,’ said Stephen and he looked away, trying not to connect too much with this man. If he didn’t talk about it, the war, he felt he could delay it somehow.

‘Me wife’s not happy about me going though,‘David said, ‘she wanted me to stop behind, wait a bit longer, like. But I wouldn’t have it.’ He grinned suddenly, properly. ‘So, here I am.’

Stephen ground out his own cigarette, but then with nothing to occupy his hands, felt himself at a loss, unprotected against this other man’s talk.He forced himself to speak,

‘Not married yet, myself.’ And felt the picture of Rosie heavy in his tunic pocket, but didn’t want her involved in this.

‘I’ve a kiddie as well.’

‘Oh? How old?’

‘A little lad, William. Only four though, so doesn’t really know what’s going on.’

Stephen needed to ask, ‘Why did you sign up?’

David shrugged, ‘Had to, I didn’t want owt to happen to him, so …’He shrugged and bit his lip. ‘I’ve a picture here somewhere, if you want to see it. Lovely lad he is, he’s got his mother’s blue eyes,’ and he fumbled in his breast pocket for the photograph. But at that same moment an order to embark shot over their heads. David paused, fingers over the pocket fastening. Then dropped his hand, ‘Next time, perhaps.’

‘Yes, I’d like to see,’ said Stephen then bent to pick up his pack, but David held out his hand. ‘Good luck, like, you know, for France.’ Stephen straightened and took the other man’s hand, gripping it firmly.

‘You, too,’ he said, and meant it. ‘I’ll look out for you on the ship. Make sure you’re not,’ he smiled, ‘too ill.’

David smiled. ‘Like you said, it won’t be long.’

Stephen picked up his bag, ‘Best get going, that’s my lot boarding now.’

‘Aye, I’ll hang on here for a bit.’

‘Thanks for the cigarette, I’ll owe you one.’

‘I’ll hold you to that,’ and Stephen saw the same fear return in the other man’s eyes, so shouldering his pack, turned quickly and headed off towards the ship.

He didn’t look back.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Unusual Combination - story

Martin and Isabel are in the kitchen. Isabel stands on a chair to reach the kitchen top, but still has to stretch just a little. She has a tartan apron wrapped high under her armpits to keep some of the flour off. Martin, too, is wearing an apron. The pinafore kind, yellow flowers, with a big pocket in the front for what, he doesn’t know. He watches as the little girl stirs the mixture with careful seriousness, the wooden spoon gripped in her perfect hand. It won’t be long now till she’s old enough for infant school; September’s just around the corner, and Martin feels a sudden knot in his stomach at the thought of her leaving. Of course, it’ll mean an end to the problems he’s been dealing with, the childcare, the dependency on the understanding nature of his boss. He’ll be able to go back to work, properly, like a … The word ‘man’ springs into place at the end of that sentence, but he pushes it away. It isn’t what he means. Isn’t what he wants to mean.
He stares at the cake mixture, watching as the loose flour on the top puffs over the edge of the bowl.

‘That’s right, Izzy,’ he says, because he has to, ‘keep mixing. We don’t want it all lumpy, do we?’
‘No, that’d yukky. Lumpy cake,’ she says and chuckles to herself. ‘Will I make cake at school, Daddy? Or is it just writing and things?’

He takes in a deep breath, as if giving the idea great consideration, but in truth has no idea. Did he make cake at school? He can barely remember the actual routine of it all, just the… No, he doesn’t want to think about that now.

‘I expect you will be able to make things like cake, Izzy. I’m sure of it. You’ll be able to do all sorts of things; painting, colouring, projects, music, all the things you love.’

She stops stirring for a moment and considers this. ‘I hope so,’ she says, I don’t think I’ll like doing writing all day.’ Then continues with her stirring, but Martin is beginning to feel apprehensive. He was sure she was looking forward to school. They’d talked about it -- even been to visit. That had been a minor victory for him, getting the time off work to take her. Just one afternoon when he’d had to be with her, not the nanny, him. Fulfilling his role as father and parent, and he’d had to battle to get it. ‘It looks wonderful, Izzy,’ he says, so he doesn’t have to remember, ‘Just like…’ and he almost says it; ‘like Mum used to make,’ but manages to not.
‘Like what, Daddy?’

Martin gropes for an idea. Who makes cakes that she knows? Good cakes? He closes his eyes, trying to picture all the cakes he’s ever known. There must be someone. Then it comes to him. His mother. Granny. Granny makes cakes. He opens his eyes.
‘Just like Granny’s.’

The little girl grins, pleased with herself.

Why is it always so hard? he thinks. And a flash of doubt sweeps through him; doubt at his own ability to continue. He’s fooling himself that he’ll be able to maintain this role. No, these roles. There are too many and he sometimes feels that there isn’t enough of himself to fulfil them all. Not properly. Not well enough for her, for Isabel.

‘Daddy,’ and he turns to look at her – her cheek smeared with flour, ‘when I go to school will I be able to come home and see you at lunchtime? I don’t think I want to stay there all day.’
He forces himself to smile, ‘I’m sorry, love, but you’ll have to have your lunch there. With the other children. I’ll make you sandwiches if you like, and you can have a Kit Kat. We’ll get a nice box, you can choose any one you like.’

She frowns. ‘Well, I like Kit Kats, but I don’t think I want to stay there by myself. Can’t I come back? Just for a little bit?’

‘You won’t be by yourself, silly,’ he says, in his jolly voice, trying to suppress the apprehension he feels for her, ‘all your new friends will be there.’ Be positive, that’s it, be positive and she won’t notice. But he has to turn away. His fingers grip the edge of the kitchen counter so hard it hurts.

‘I spect, they will. I wonder who they’ll be?’ she says, and for a moment is excited by this prospect - this potential for new friends is infinite.

But Martin can’t shake the fear that it will be horrible for her. He remembers his first day, or rather, doesn’t remember exactly, as it’s something he’s tried to block from his mind. They’d just moved house, and he was not only starting a new school but beginning again in a new area, knowing no one. The first few days were spent wandering alone around the playground, watching as the other kids got on with their complicated games. He was a shy child, he knew that, and perhaps had been a little odd. Kids pick that sort of thing up. Immediately. You have the wrong shoes and you’re an outcast; a different accent and you’re the central figure of fun for the class. Eventually, he’d dealt with it, made a few friends – not the cool kids, but at least he’d had someone to hang around with. He hadn’t looked like the sad lonely kid anymore. He frowns. Is Isabel like that? He looks at her auburn hair, bits of it escaping from the band he’s tied it up with, and knows she is like her mother. Exactly like Maria and Maria isn’t shy. Far from it. How they’d stayed together as long as they had was something he could never quite grasp. The clichés of chalk and cheese, opposites attract, all the usual things, came to mind. His friends had said the same at the wedding. Been surprised that this vibrant, creative woman with pre-Raphaelite hair (she’d even had to explain that reference) had decided to settle down with him. And for the first few years it had been wonderful, they’d balanced each other out, achieved things together he’d never imagined. Isabel, for one. But, deep down, he’d always known it wouldn’t last. Maria was too – well, different. Unusual. She was one of those women for whom motherhood was not a given. She’d loved Isabel; of course she had – does still. But, being a mother just wasn’t her. So she’d left. Gone off to travel the world, and you couldn’t take a slightly insecure husband and tiny baby with you to do that.

So she hadn’t. She wrote of course, to Isabel. Sent her marvellous things from fabulous places, and Isabel loved it. Her Mummy faraway like in a fairytale. But he can’t quite come to terms with the fact that they’ve been left. Abandoned. Men were supposed to do that, if anyone was going to. At least in his experience. But he isn’t going to leave. He knows he couldn’t – ever. He tucks a strand of Izzy’s hair behind her ear. So this is where he’s ended up. Standing in his very-unfitted kitchen in a pinny, making cakes with a young child who’s about to leave him, too, in a way.

‘Is it mixed right, Daddy? Can we put it in the oven now?’ He jolts back out of his reverie and puts on his bright face - nods. He tries to focus on the now, the cake. ‘Nearly, love. Don’t you want to put some fruit in it? Raisins and things?’

She stares hard at the mixture as if waiting for the answer from the cake itself.
‘Well,’ she says, in her grown up voice, a recent development, ‘I think I’d like to put something in. Something new. Can we put sweeties in? And jelly tots? Pretty colours so it’ll be nice. Raisins are too brown, like rabbit poo,’ and her eyes go wide as she realises what she’s said. She bites her lip and he knows she’s waiting for his reaction - testing him out. He waits for a moment, keeping his face straight, before answering.

‘They do,’ he says, echoing her seriousness, ‘they look exactly like rabbit poo, so jelly tots it is then. What about cherries?’

She nods, giggling; ‘I like cherries.’ And he smiles as he watches her struggle off the chair to get the sweets. Smiles at the thought of the unusual combination, but is secretly pleased with her creativity. It might even be nice, who knows? She’s bright. And gregarious, got her mother’s confidence and will make friends in no time. He’s sure of it. And he’ll go back to work and be absorbed into the routine of it, the normality of nine to five. Things will be easier. Maria will keep sending the gifts from her travels. She may in time come back - it’s possible. But he’s not going to fool himself, or Isabel, that she will. But they’ll be all right, Isabel and him.
Just the two of them.

An unusual combination

Convalescence in England - short story

‘Thank you.’ He pauses as if this is not all he wishes to say. ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know your name.’

‘Eileen,’ says the nurse, her voice young and strong. ‘And you’re Robert. Am I right?’

The man smiles, ‘Yes, that’s it. But please call me Robbie.’ He stumbles a little over the rough ground.

‘Sorry, Robbie. I ought to be more careful. I don’t want you tumbling down the slope.’
Robbie smiles again, but a little more uncertainly. The bandages over his eyes obstructing his vision. This is awkward for him, but he says, ‘I don’t want to be back in bed with a broken leg as well, do I?’ And forces a jolly laugh. ‘I’ll be here for ever at this rate. These bandages will be gone but I’ll have my leg strapped up.’

Eileen laughs, too, but he can’t see if she means it.

She guides him down the steps of the slope, ‘It’s slippery on the grass – the steps are better.’
He hears voices of other men. Laughter. Taut whispers.

‘Would you like to walk around the gardens, or sit here on the bank?’ she asks. ‘The sun’s out.’ He feels her bend suddenly, pulling gently at his arm.

‘What are you doing?’ This unannounced movement unnerves him, but he tries to keep it out of his voice. Eileen straightens.

‘Just feeling if it’s dry. And it is.’

Robbie allows himself a smile, ‘Well, in that case, I’ll have to sit here on the grass, won’t I? Will you join me?’

He hears her laugh a little, and she guides him to the ground. Stretching out his legs, he breathes the fresh air - his first in he doesn’t know how long.

‘Is-is it a large garden, Eileen?’ he falters a little at the intimacy of her first name.
‘Well, there are some beautiful trees. To your left there’s a huge one, bent over, it’s almost like an arch.’

He nods. ‘I can hear it. The leaves, I mean. Like the sea.’
‘Yes, that’s right.’

They sit silently for a moment, then Eileen says, ‘Robbie.’

He turns his face towards her.

‘I’m sorry, but I have to go back.’

A moment of panic twists in his stomach. ‘Of course,’ he whispers.

‘I’ll be back very soon, but Sister will be awfully angry with me if I stay out too long.’ Her voice sounds bright, but he knows she isn’t smiling. Reaching out with his left hand, he feels for hers, it’s warm and reassuringly soft - surprising. ‘Don’t worry about me. I’ll be perfectly all right.’

‘I know,’ she says, her voice low. ‘I’ll only be twenty minutes or so. Is there anything you want me to bring out?’

‘A cold drink, lemonade, perhaps. If you have it.’ Then regrets this, it shows his age, a mere nineteen, and he’s certain she is much older.

‘Of course,’ she says, ‘and you’re quite sure…’

‘Don’t worry about me, Eileen. Thank you. I’ve been through much worse than this.’ Much worse.

‘Well, then,’ she says, and he hears the rustle of her starched skirts as she stands, the brief touch of her hand on his shoulder. ‘Right. Back to work.’

The grass shushes as she walks up the slope to the hospital.

So, Robbie, this is it. Alone and blind. At least till the bandages come off. That’s what keeps him going, the thought of light and colour again, this garden. The memory of his injury has been wiped away – he knows only that he woke up in a ship on the way to Blighty, sea-sick and blind. The memories after that are a blur of voices and unsettling movement until he arrived here – at this hospital with its large garden. Or so he’s been told.

He breathes the air, and is shocked by its purity. No cordite, smoke or blood. Just flowers, and, of course, cigarette smoke - there are at least two men close by, their voices cheery.

Instinctively he reaches for his own packet, and pulls them out of his pocket along with the matches. Takes one out, then stops. How will he light it? He can’t see the flame or the end of the cigarette - it’s hopeless. The men nearby might have a light, but they’re talking and suddenly, out here in the darkness without Eileen, he can’t imagine conversing with anyone. He pushes the packet back into his pocket.

A blackbird is singing somewhere to his right. It sounds high up; he imagines it perched on the top branch of a tree, the notes spilling like liquid to the ground. Just like his mother’s garden in Somerset. One particular blackbird always sings from the post on the front gate. His mother. She was going to come as soon as she’d heard. Her letter had been read to him, but he’d dictated one back saying to wait. The bandages must be off first. He wants to see his visitors properly; he doesn’t want their handholding and sympathy.

The throbbing in his head that has been there since he woke is increasing, but he can’t go back inside. Not just yet. The wards frighten him. Of course, in the day time it isn’t too bad – bearable at least, but the nights. He pulls at the blades of grass beside him, ripping them from the earth. The only sights left to him now are of Belgium. June at Messines Ridge, near Ypres – ‘Wipers’ to the Tommies, to him. Behind these bandages the scenes replay themselves endlessly and there is nothing he can do to stop them. He wills himself to hear the blackbird again, the leaves whispering on the tree, but all he can hear is the crump of shells and the piercing whistle of bullets. A black panic overtakes him - he can’t breathe. His hands fly up to the bandages. They have to come off - he needs to see. See the sky and the garden and the people around him. Know it’s safe. The unknown, unknowable space forces itself in – threatening to crush him. It’s all he can do to stop himself crying out. Bringing his knees up, he clasps them to his chest and begins rocking, trying to steady his breathing.

‘You all right, son?’ An older man.

Robbie nods, and tries to unclench his fingers. There’s a crack, the man’s knee as he crouches down, and a grunt of pain. Robbie smells the cigarette smoke on the man’s clothes.
‘D’you want me to fetch a nurse?’ says the man, his breath warm in Robbie’s face. Robbie shakes his head quickly, the pain intensifying.

‘It’s just,’ he hears the crack in his own voice, ‘just these bandages. Difficult. Once they’re off it’ll be perfectly all right. It’s awkward.’

The hand squeezes his shoulder, ‘Aye, I know, son. You just stay put, and I’ll fetch a nurse.’
Robbie hears the man straightening up, a sharp intake of breath. Pain somewhere. He bites his lip to stop himself clutching hold of the man, grabbing him, begging not to be left alone. The low voice so like his father’s. The garden is vast and he cannot conceive of its edges. He swallows. ‘A nurse. I-I think it would be best. Too much fresh air, you know…’ he trails off, then hears the man’s uneven tread as he moves up the bank.

Alone again, Robbie’s mind fills with the black dancing figures of his friends as they leap up from their graves.

The blackbird. Listen to the blackbird. It’s still there, its sweet notes cascading. Listen to the tree, the breeze playing lightly through the leaves making them dance, swish like waves. He can see it but it’s an effort to hold the images in place, keep them pressed up against the walls of his mind. Forcing the nightmarish visions back where he can no longer relive them. Sweat breaks out at his hairline with the effort.

‘Robbie,’ a voice made sharp with urgency. ‘Robbie, I’m terribly sorry.’


‘Sister wouldn’t let me come. But I sneaked out without her seeing.’

Her reassuring hand squeezes beneath his elbow, guiding him to his feet.
‘Oh, and I forgot your lemonade. Never mind. We’ll get you some when we’re back inside. You’ll be more comfortable in bed. It’s getting cooler out here and I’m sure the breeze is picking up.’
Her honey voice drips into his troubled mind, soothing its way across the jagged edges of his darkness.

‘The bandages,’ he croaks. ‘I couldn’t …’

‘I know, Robbie. Perhaps it was too soon to come outside. The garden’s a big place when … Yes, better inside, I think.’

Better inside.

He can touch the walls from his bed, knows the limits.

‘You’ll enjoy it much more later,’ she’s saying, ‘It’ll not be long, and there’s plenty of Summer left.’

He nods, but doesn’t know if she sees.

Soon, when the bandages come off, it will be all right.

The garden will be waiting and he will see.

to the airport - short story

‘Doors closing.’ Bi..bi..bi..bi…beep.
Emma jumped in, just making it through the closing doors. She held onto central pole, trying not to look like she’d had to run for the train, and so drawing attention to herself. It didn’t really matter though, because people always stared at her in this country, whatever she did. It was the blond hair and very fair skin that did it. Many of the women here wanted fair skin; they often looked at her jealously and the ones she knew at work had asked her how she got her skin so white. It wasn’t anything she actually did, she’d explained. And no, she didn’t use any of those whitening, lightening products she’d been shocked to find in the chemists when she arrived. Basically bleach masquerading as a skin refining elixir. It made a change for people not to find her strange for not wanting to go in the sun.

She didn’t tell them about the endless times at school when she’d been teased for being too white. People would make a joke of it, standing next to her to make their tan look better. It wasn’t trendy then to be pale. Her friends would spend all their summers lying on the beach while she sat, fully clothed, under an umbrella. They’d pay for it later, she told herself, when they’ve got hide like leather and deep, sun-etched wrinkles. It was only recently that this made her feel better.

Luke loved the sun though. He always had a gorgeous tan.

She found a space on the orange, plastic seat running the length of each carriage. A bum-sized indentation indicated the space you were to take. Her spine dug into the back of the hard seat forcing her to either sit up really straight, or slouch. She opted for the straight back. She could feel her shirt sticking damply to her back despite the air-conditioning. It was these seats. The plastic. Whoever designed them had obviously never actually sat on them. She fidgeted to unstick herself and get some air flowing around her thighs and back.

She looked around. It wasn’t too busy, for a change. Old people sleeping, young mothers with all the requisite baby paraphernalia trying to keep baby interested without drawing too much attention to themselves, and strange-looking people; (why were there always strange looking people on public transport, she wondered) but then it wasn’t rush-hour. God, she really hated that. Hurrying to the MRT station with hundreds of others in the ever-present humidity, just about bearable in the mornings, but enough to leave you damp and uncomfortable under your suit, wondering what damage has been done to the make-up you’d so carefully applied twenty minutes before. Crowded into the air-conditioned hell of the MRT. Kept at a temperature that’s comfortable for the five minutes it takes to cool down to something like normal temperature but freezing if you have to stay there for any length of time. MRT; mass rapid transport, and at that time in the morning it was mass. Mobile phones ringing every two seconds with their irritating tinny tunes. Nowhere to sit. She often felt that she wouldn’t be able to get out in time due to the immovable weight of the other passengers, missing her stop and being late for work. Imagine trying to explain that.

‘Sorry I’m late, I couldn’t get off the train. There were too many people.’

Still, she thought trying to be positive, it wasn’t too bad now, and she’d got a seat. And it was still much better that the Tube. At least it was new and modern and clean, very clean, and you didn’t feel that the whole system was going to collapse in on you one day.

She mustn’t be too jaded yet, she thought. It’s Singapore. The exotic, tropical Far East. After all, she’d only been here two months and had been on her own the whole time. Things often feel worse when you’re on your own. But Luke was coming. Was perhaps already here, she realised. She looked at her watch: 10.47. No, he wasn’t here yet. Probably still somewhere over Malaysia. She smiled to herself as the odd image of Luke 38000 feet in the air came into her mind. The man opposite looked at her and smiled very slightly.

Oh God, he thought I was smiling at him. Once you’ve made eye-contact that’s it, you find your eyes drawn to them the whole trip, especially if they were good-looking like this one was. He could be a model. He had a lovely smile. She looked away quickly up at the route map and counted seven more stations until Changi Airport and Luke.

Bi..bi..bi..bi…beep. ‘Next stop Kallang’ said the well-spoken, disembodied voice of the announcer. Recorded. There were some interesting names here, a change from the ones she was used to in London. She especially liked Sembawang and Paya Lebar, not that she’d been to either of those places, but she found it amusing the way the female voice intoned the names… sensual, yet dispassionate. ‘Paya Lebar’

The train moved off and she felt a rush of air which smelt musty; recycled but cold. She didn’t feel quite as sticky now. Still half an hour or so to go, so she’d probably start getting cold soon; air-conditioning. She opened her handbag and rummaged inside then realised, bugger, she’d forgotten to bring her book. Well, she probably wouldn’t be able to concentrate on it much anyway. Not with Luke coming. Her stomach twisted a little. She hadn’t seen him for five months. Not since she’d left him at Heathrow. That had been horrible. Their first real time apart after two years. She’d tried not to cry, and had managed, until she’d seen another couple in what looked like the same situation, tears flooding down both their faces. That had started her off. Luke had been calm, saying encouraging things like ‘It’s only a few of months. It’ll fly by.’ But then had stood by passport control right until she walked behind the screens, even though he said he wouldn’t.

What would it be like here, together. Her job had provided her with a flat, in a gorgeous condominium. It was huge. Marble floors, hotel-style en suite bathroom. She’d never have been able to live in anything like that in London. It was about three times the size of her poky-little flat in Balham, which was en suite if you ignored the slight diversion though the kitchen. No, this place was like a palace in comparison, and Luke was going to live there with her. It would be like one of those adverts on TV. Young, professional couple wake up in airy, stylish bedroom. Prepare tropical breakfast in shiny kitchen. She stared out of the window opposite contemplating this, until she realised the model man was looking at her again.
He did have a nice smile…

They’d decided not to move in together London. He shared his flat with his mate, Dan, and didn’t want to let him down by moving out, and hers was too small for her, let alone the both of them . Plus, they’d felt it was better to be independent and have somewhere to go that was their own. But now, here in Singapore, they were going to live together. A professional expat couple living the magazine lifestyle. But…
That word had been creeping into her thoughts recently. A little niggling doubt. Was it really sensible to live together for the first time in a foreign country? Her friends, Karen and Andrea, at work had brought this subject up at lunch the other day.

‘How do you know you’ll get on? And what’ll you do if you don’t? It’s a long way back to the UK,’ Karen had said.

Andrea had told them about her neighbour, an Australian woman who had come out to join her International banking husband, who knew for sure that he was cheating on her. Apparently lots of men did it here. Off on their little business trips to Bangkok or whatever, a few beers and then picking up some pretty little Thai girl with amazing hair and no cellulite at all. ‘It’s always in the papers,’ Andrea had said. ‘And go to any expat bar here and you’ll see Mercedes driving, 50 something’s all with stunning Asian women half their size and age. I feel like a bloody heifer compared to them. You just can’t compete because they’re all too gorgeous and exotic. No, there’s something about being out here, having a bit of cash and being different that seems to do something to their brains.’

‘Dicks more like,’ said Karen, and they’d all laughed.

But in the light of Luke’s imminent arrival she now considered this more seriously. What if he went off with a beautiful Singaporean girl? She looked at her own face in the window opposite, reflective like a mirror in the train tunnel. Her face stared palely back. She was like the negative image of the young woman sitting next to her who had long, blue-black hair, just like out of a shampoo advert. Thick and shiny. Her skin was smooth and a warm cappuccino colour. She, on the other hand, was cold-pale, her skin had a bluey undertone, and was distastefully shiny because of the humidity. Her hair was blonde, normally a good thing, but it was a coarse, wiry nest, he’d always said it was too short. Which would he most want to run his fingers through? Silk or straw? Oh God. Will he still fancy me when he gets here? I should have tried to exercise more, I should have gone to the gym at the condo. Is my face fatter?

She stopped looking at her reflection.

Instead she looked down. Much worse. Her stomach was bulging over the top of her skirt she had big, fat ankles. All these women here are so slim, with perfect, trim waists and obviously no cellulite. He’ll not be able to stop looking at them.

She tried to think of him, but couldn’t see his face at all. Five months and she couldn’t remember him. What if he’s met someone on the plane? she thought. Thirteen hours is a long time when you’re sitting next to one person, you’re bound to get talking, especially if she’s attractive. That was one of the things she always liked about him, she thought, he was great at talking to anyone, really friendly and always knew exactly what to say. You never had to worry about him embarrassing you, not like some of the men she’d been out with. No, Luke had always been perfectly charming; all her girlfriends had said so. ‘You’re so lucky. You can take him anywhere. My boyfriend, however!’ Then followed the horror stories of all the things men were capable of in a variety of social situations provoking cries of ‘Oh my God. What a nightmare!’
She was convinced now. He’d met someone on the plane, and wouldn’t be moving in with her. It was all a horrible mistake. What had she been thinking? She should have stayed in London where they’d been perfectly happy and had seen each other all the time and had had lovely picnics in the park and trips to the country. Singapore. It was too bloody hot here and there were hardly any parks and definitely no countryside and lots of beautiful women wearing tiny clothes that showed off their flawless bodies that were never blued with cold. Luke would love it.
‘Next stop, Changi airport.’

In the arrivals hall, a tall, tanned man was waiting for his bags. Flustered, his hair in chaotic spikes from the plane, shirt creased, he was clutching a clear plastic bag. Duty free: his girlfriend’s favourite perfume, a bottle of gin and three cans of Tiger Classic. He turned and, through the large window, saw a pale, blonde woman looking wildly around. Waving, he blew her a kiss through the glass.

She laughed.

Ten thousand steps - short story

Chloe looked out of the window and saw that, for once, it wasn’t raining. This is it, she thought, there’s no excuse now. I have to go. The box with the pedometer inside lurked on the kitchen table. Kate had brought it round saying she needed to get out and do something, had seen this thing on TV where you had to walk ten thousand steps a day. ‘That’s all. It’s not many, really, when you think about it. It’ll be so good for you, Chloe,’ and she scrutinised Chloe’s face in that way people did now, watching for the signs Chloe tried to conceal. ‘Fresh air, exercise – all those things that’ll really help you. You know?’

Ten thousand steps sounded like a bloody marathon. How long would it take? Hours, surely, but Kate had said, no, it was an entirely reasonable distance and she should go out instead of watching daytime television all day, every day.

So now Chloe clipped the pedometer onto the waistband of her jeans – Kate had already programmed it all for her so it would know how big each step was, or something like that, Chloe hadn’t been paying attention – and tried to feel enthusiastic.

But where to go? Was it better to have an objective? A purpose? Or should you just walk aimlessly until the required number of steps had been notched up?

Chloe stood in the hallway, the brief moment of activity cancelled out by her indecision. She couldn’t walk to the shops, that was without question. Too many people – perhaps even her mum, or at least Mum’s cohorts. Nosy old cows prowling around the shopping centre ready to report back to her mother the moment she went into Woolworth’s. No, she couldn’t go there. It had to be somewhere quiet – where she would be unlikely to meet anyone. If there was one thing, of many, that she couldn’t face right now was conversing politely with dog-walking strangers. Or mothers with toddlers and prams. So that was the park out then. She took in a deep breath. There was only one place she could go, where she hadn’t been since…

She leaned against the wall, the wallpaper smooth beneath her fingertips. It would have to be the woods and fields that lay just behind her estate. There were several footpaths crossing the farmland there, open countryside below which a woodland clung – sprouting out of the side of a steep hill. On the other side lay the sea. She knew it was a good few miles and if she made it to the top of the hill at least, that would be several thousand steps. Probably. Jake would have known these things. He had a head for numbers and distances and stuff like that. He'd’ve known exactly how far you’d need to walk.

She opened the hall cupboard, pushing aside the pile of boxes she’d shoved in there, to get to the coats at the back. She grabbed the nearest one, a heavy waterproof, professional looking – muted reds and greens with a famous logo on the front. Pausing just for a moment, she slung it on – at least it would keep the wind out.
Outside, the rain was still holding off, but the wind was strong – late Autumnal gales that ripped the apples from the trees and bounced conkers down for kids to collect. She zipped up the coat, its heavy-duty fastenings guaranteed to be weatherproof, or something, she couldn’t quite remember, and took the first of her ten thousand steps.

In the woodland, the trees were swinging in the wind – their remaining leaves flapping dryly. An earthy smell of mulched leaves rose up damply, reminding her of the compost heap Jake had insisted on constructing in the garden, onto which he’d enthusiastically tipped everything vaguely organic. It was probably perfect now, not having been disturbed since…
But, taking a deep breath, she forced herself not to think of that, and pressed on up the crumbling path through the woods, arms swinging, concentrating on the trees as she passed. Onwards and upwards, as her mother would say.

Then, without being aware of it, she’d made it – right to the top of the hill – the highest point, and from here she could see the sea. Shafts of light punched through the clouds – gleaming metallic on the water. The wind was picking up again, so, after staring at the sea for a moment, she turned and headed back down the narrow path that cut between the newly turned earth of the fields. It was almost impossible to walk in a straight line, the sea-driven gale buffeting into her, pushing her maliciously as she picked her way down the rutted path. For God’s sake, this is ridiculous, she thought – trying desperately to hold onto the ends of the coat which flapped about her. The toggles on the hood whipped into her face, the strings much too long, stinging. In the next field cows stood and stared like pensioners as she battled down the path barely able to stay upright. It’s all right for you, she wanted to shout, you’re big and heavy and haven’t got a coat two sizes too big flapping about like a bloody sail. But that would have been childish – shouting at cows. Even for her. So she glared at them, stumbling her way down the hill. She shouldn’t have worn this coat. It had been Jake’s and was obviously much too big. He wasn’t exactly a huge man, but his height was deceptive – clothes of his she always thought would fit swamped her. The sleeves dangling over her fingertips as if she were a child. But she hadn’t been able to throw it away – couldn’t even take it to the charity shop where it would have been useful. Instead, she’d kept it. It had been his.

She glanced down at the pedometer again. Four thousand two hundred steps – not bad. Almost halfway. And she did feel a little better being out in the fresh air – things didn’t seem to mean so much out here – at least that’s what she tried to tell herself. She attempted to smooth down her hair, but it was useless – the wind had knotted it into uncombable tangles. Her nose was running too, she must look a sight. I thought it was supposed to be romantic walking in the countryside? she thought. It’s what you’re supposed to do at weekends – stroll smugly along with your lover in matching wellingtons with a dog. A spaniel or Labrador preferably – one of the friendly breeds. Jake had wanted a Labrador, something soppy, that would bound along happily beside them. But they’d never quite got round to getting one.

Rounding the hedgerow and the remains of a dry stone wall, Chloe reached the edge of the wood. Some sort of bird crashed out though the branches, but she had no idea what it was. Perhaps she should buy a book – bird watching or nature observation or whatever. She could even go to a class – there must be a night class in that sort of thing, recognising birds and flowers – and her mother would approve, so would Kate. She could hear them now, urging her to go and ‘meet someone.’ They’re the best places for women your age, her mother would say, all sorts of professional men sign up for adult education classes these days. Kate had joined a French class and was always at the pub afterwards. Said she had a great time – loads of good-looking men chatting her up. Perhaps she should go – get out of the house – have a meaningful conversation with someone other than herself – or the telly. But she knew she wouldn’t, or at least if she signed up, would never make it to more than the first class. She couldn’t bear the thought of all those new faces, all those new people wanting to know her, asking questions – and her not telling them about Jake. It would be like a betrayal, not telling them, but you couldn’t, could you? People don’t want to know that sort of thing straight off – it makes them uncomfortable. No, she wouldn’t join a class.

She stared above her at the scratched-on canopy of branches, and vague memories of a school nature trip crept into her mind. It was in infant school, a trip to the local nature reserve. Each pair of children had been given the task of identifying one sort of tree – the teacher had prepared notes and a guide with the relevant information – and, clipboard clutched in hand, Chloe and partner had stumbled about looking for an ash tree. For some reason, she could still remember the picture she’d been given – the little black buds neatly arranged on the silvery branch. Even now, she’d be able to recognise an ash tree. How ridiculous was that? To be able to tell an ash tree from a beech thirty years on? Why was her brain filled with these random threads of memories – memories taking up space that could have been more usefully employed; reminding her, for example, of things like, when to pay bills, her mother’s birthday, overdue library books. These functional, sensible, items were pushed out in favour of how to identify random flora and fauna – not even important flora and fauna. And terrible things. Well, one terrible thing. She stopped on the path, dizzily swaying with the trees, unable to take another step. The painful memory of Jake filling her head, the terrible image that wouldn’t move aside for everyday memories. That’s why she couldn’t go out. Her mother – Kate – didn’t see that, they were always trying to force her into activities to make her forget. This bloody pedometer for a start. But she couldn’t. If she stayed at home she could concentrate on the television, watch other people’s misery and not think of her own. Then the nausea started again, the sickness that unfurled itself within her at the thought of what had happened to him – and she’d tried, really tried, not to think about it, but it was always there. Lurking at the edges of her mind until it became too much to push back, and it flooded in, paralysing her. And now, under these trees she felt herself falling again into the blackness – tears had appeared on her cheeks of which she had no memory, and Jake’s death was there. Fresh, raw, clawing. She pulled the edges of his coat around her, clutching at the comfort that it had once touched him – been worn by him – fighting the urge to sink onto the path and curl up there amongst the leaf mould and brambles. But before she could, a rustling in the trees behind forced her to turn and she saw a fluffy mongrel come trotting out. Close behind it was a ruddy-cheeked man, swinging the dog’s lead cheerfully in his hand. He paused for a moment, the ‘good afternoon’ stilled on his lips as he stared at her, frowning, concerned. ‘You all right, love?’ he said.

She forced herself to smile, ‘Yes, fine. It’s a lovely day, isn’t it? Shame about the wind though. Does terrible things to one’s eyes.’ And she grinned, she hoped, in a healthy outdoors way, blinking the tears back.

The man nodded, he wasn’t much older than her, and returned the smile, but she could see in his eyes that he wasn’t convinced. ‘On your own, are you?’

‘Yes. I, erm – ‘ she didn’t really know what to say. I had a husband, but he died after a particularly drawn out and painful illness, so now I have to walk on my own. Hardly. No, she decided, a lie would be better in the circumstances, ‘I had a-a dog, but it died recently and I haven’t quite found the right one to replace it, you see. So…’
‘Oh dear. What a shame,’ he said, ‘Bess here is knocking on a bit, but she seems to be doing all right, for her age.’

She looked at the dog.

‘She’ll be eleven soon.’

Oh, please stop talking to me, Chloe thought, please.
‘That’s old for this sort of dog, but we’ll see…’ and he smiled at it as if it were some particularly pleasing child.


But then Jake had only been thirty-seven – young for a man, so age didn’t really come into it, but you couldn’t say that to a stranger in the woods.
Dogs yes, husbands no.

‘Well…’ she said.

‘Yes, come along then, Bess,’ the man said, then ‘I might see you again, here. If you find the right sort of dog.’

‘Yes, perhaps,‘ she said, ‘Bye.’

‘Good luck,’ and he smiled warmly at her.

She returned the smile, but with little of the warmth his had contained, and turned to go. Why were people so bloody friendly and helpful? These dog-walkers were the worst. Always being cheery and saying hello and good morning and talking about the weather.

That’s it, Chloe, she said to herself, you’ve got to get home. He was just trying to be nice. It’s what good, healthy people do. To refocus her thoughts she took another look at the pedometer. Eight thousand five hundred and twenty steps. Despite herself, a tiny flicker of achievement glimmered and she managed to force herself on – counting each step in her head as she went, filling her thoughts with the numbers. Not far to go now. Just keep thinking of the steps and nothing else – nothing else at all.

She reached her front door having amassed the grand total of nine thousand one hundred and five steps. ‘I tried,’ she said, out loud, as she let herself in, and did feel something – a glow of having completed a task beyond getting out of bed every morning. She carefully removed his coat and hung it back up in the cupboard, tucking it back behind the boxes. Perhaps walking ten thousand steps wasn’t impossible, she thought. She’d even survived a conversation with someone – someone she’d never met before. And maybe, if it wasn’t raining tomorrow, she could go again. Just to see if she could do it. Perhaps walking a little further over the hill, down to the beach. Jake had always liked it there – he even went swimming in the summer, and she smiled a little at the thought of him splashing about in the sea.

Yes, she thought, I think I could do it. Ten thousand steps tomorrow, maybe even the next day, and perhaps at the weekend she’d go and buy herself a proper coat. Maybe even have a little look at the dog rescue place – see if there were any Labradors. Perhaps Kate was right and ten thousand steps weren’t as difficult as she’d imagined. Yes, tomorrow, she’d go again. She would. It was a start.

Enough - flash fiction


He did not want to look at the man on his left. He didn’t. A young lad he was. Said he was nineteen but…well, he’d seen enough of them to know.
He didn’t want to look but the sound made him. Shrieks like that he’d never heard before – least not coming from a lad like that.
‘It’s all right, son, ‘ he said, and touched the boy on the arm, tried to still the twitching jerks of it. A whistling screech above started the convulsions off again; worse this time. ‘It’s gone right over, lad,’ he said. ‘Won’t hurt you there. You’re all right there. ‘ A lie. But you had to lie.
‘What we going to do with him, Harry?’ asked his mate, Robbo. ‘We can’t just let him sit there quaking like that. T’aint good for the others,‘ and with a jerk of his head he indicated the grey-faced lads beside him. Staring.
Harry knew this. Had seen it before. It only took one to fall apart, and the fear of God would spread through the rest of them so’s none could stop it. ‘It’s all right, Robbo. I’ll sort him.’ The stripes on his arm made him say that. But he would’ve anyway. The lad was too far-gone; he’d had enough. Too many nights holed up here in a funk hole with the Jack Johnson’s steaming overhead like trains. He’d had enough. They all had, of course, had had enough of sitting in the dark, waiting. But this lad – shouldn’t be here at all, thought Harry. Probably only fifteen - if that. Should be at home with his Mum and Dad having his supper.
He took the boy by the arm. ‘Come on, Stevens, son. Come with me.’
Stevens’ eyes bulged large and his lips twisted into spasm. He’s not hearing me, thought Harry. Another whistling shriek above – renting the air, then the force of it as it hit; a shower of earth pattering over them, clanging off their tin-hats. ‘Oh, ‘ breathed the boy, and curled his arms about him – small. ‘Stevens,’ said Harry, ‘Stevens, ‘ he shouted in the lad’s ear. ‘Get up. Get up and come with me. You’ll be all right with me.’
And twitching though his limbs were, a glint of recognition at the words showed in his eyes and he stood – as far

the fragility of them - poem

Allowing for her
Allowing for her love to be
With him, for him, of him
He questions it – turns it about in his mind,
His heart – inspects it – a delicate shell of glass
Coiled spiraling brittle in and in on itself
The simplest pressure shattering it to pin-thin
Fragments needling in to wound unseen
The wholeness of it – its weight posed on that brink of something
Surprises him.
She offered it and placed it between them, balanced
Resting on the too-thin glass
On either side the void, the depths of losing
Losing each other and loving lost
A silent drop too deep to hear the
Echoed ring of contact
He sees her
Thinks he sees her
Doesn’t know.
Distorted, blurred by fingerprints of touch
Upon the glass of them
The weight of almost-loss and love
Begins to crack the pane of feeling
Resting on their edges
But centre holds – the spider web of fractures not yet there
And through the window of his life he sees,
Before it shatters, everything they are