Category Archives: Fiction

Recipe for the perfect man

Ingredients

2 eyes, twinkly

1 nose, Greek

1 smile, liberally applied

1 body, slightly aged but mostly in working order

1 large cup humour, self-effacing

Generous dash of intelligence

Handful of opinions, strong

Equal parts introversion and extraversion

12oz patience, crumbled

Endless kindness

 

Method

Combine physical ingredients into a pleasing shape and bake for 40-45 years. Sprinkle occasionally with salt and a pinch of hard-won wisdom.

Fold in the remaining ingredients until the mix is neither too sweet nor too sour. Taste frequently and with relish.

Prod regularly, testing stability of the patience and kindness.

Remove from heat, decorate and serve.

Consume immediately and repeatedly, until quite full.

 

 

 

 

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In the kitchen

‘You were always running away from home,’ he says. Clear as a bell, he conjures the image of seven-year-old you, your spare vests in a carrier bag, taking yourself as far as the bus stop before you were drawn home with the promise of a glass of Dandelion & Burdock and a Blue Riband.

Later, you would go further each time, and for longer.

Today you notice his difficulty walking, the drips of lukewarm coffee puddling around his trembling fingers as he hands you the cup, and you offer to clear up.

In the kitchen, a hole in the ceiling grabs your attention, an angry gaping mouth with crumbling plaster teeth. It was caused by a long-ago leak, and there will never be enough fivers in the old Birds custard tin to repair it.

You tip the remnants of the drink you didn’t want down the sink. Mellow Birds, sterilised milk, and two sugars, because he doesn’t remember that you haven’t taken sugar for over twenty years.

He has complained, again, that you have been too long gone. He lists all the others who never come.

Two blackened, shrivelled sausages wait under the grill for a sandwich that will never happen. You check that the gas is off and then tip them into the overflowing bin, trying not to look too closely. You know you will find there the scrapings of other uneaten meals, and half hidden beneath yesterday’s Daily Mirror, empty purple cans, the special brew that is both sickness and medicine.

‘What’s it like?’ he asks, when you get ready to leave, ‘The town you live now.’

It’s here, you remind him, home now is just a few streets away. He looks doubtful.

You’ll be back tomorrow, and by tomorrow, he won’t know that you were here today.

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When I Am Old

After Jenny Joseph’s Warning

 

When I am an old woman I shall walk barefoot

and drive a tiny convertible with the top down all year round.

I shall tell people exactly what I think of them, whether they want to know or not,

and eat all the carbs and have two desserts.

I shall stay up late and sleep all afternoon,

and take up smoking, fat joints and vanilla cigars.

I shall wear a bikini and not care a fig about my tummy,

and let dust settle and dishes pile up, even when there are visitors coming,

because I have spent all day reading.

 

You can sing in the supermarket and say no to things

and have cats you love like babies.

Or drink champagne at lunchtime

and rant about young people’s manners.

 

But now we must drive a sensible car

with room for the children, and drink plenty of water

and be polite to people at the school gates.

We must do the ironing and keep the noise down.

 

But maybe I ought to practise a little now?

So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised

when suddenly I am old, and start to walk barefoot.

 

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Before You

Before you the house was tidier

Before you I had time to fill

Before you I looked at kissing couples with rolling eyes

And wore my cynic’s coat with pride.

Before you I was OK and not quite myself.

Before you I got enough sleep

Except on nights I thrashed under sheets with strangers

And woke up sore and unlovable.

 

Now your shoes are in my hall

Now your head sleeps on my pillow

Now there’s more washing up

And not enough time to do All The Things.

Now I smile at love songs

And look at myself differently.

Now my eyes wear stars,

And sleep, and housework, can wait.

 

In time, best case scenario,

I’ll trip over the shoes

Sulk over the dishes

Tut at snores and stains and the unmade bed,

And try to remember when

The shoes the plates the songs the head

Were new and endearing, in the time

Just after the time before you.

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Rorschach

‘It looks like two bears dancing,’ I say eventually.

The shrink, who doesn’t like to be called that, has held up a whole series of these things before I decide to speak. Image after image, smudged across two pages, black symmetrical formless blots – or are they?

Wait, there’s a bat, a beating heart, my mother’s vagina, I don’t know what the hell it is he wants me to see and say. I decide the bears are safe and he strokes his chin, I swear he does, and says, ‘Interesting.’

The pages continue to turn and I don’t tell him that all I can think of is a piece of paper from another life, splodged with primary colour paint on one side, folded over and SPLAT – a butterfly appeared to a squeal of delight. A butterfly with two long antennae, red wings, two green eyes. A shimmer of yellow at its edges. I don’t tell him I think of chubby fingers dipped in blue, pads pressed onto the page to make dots on the wing, drops of sky.

He keeps asking for my answers but all I can see is a lump of coal, a black hole, an endless well, an abyss.

All I want to do is ask him: where has the colour gone?

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Splinters

We remember who we met

who was born

who died.

This is how we mark the years.

In the calendar are empty pages when

it seems nothing happened.

A year without a summer, no

menthol cigarettes and rose in pub gardens,

cardis wrapped round when the sun went down.

No picnics in meadows or bobbing with a buoy

in a green-blue lake. No flowers. No,

this was a year of broken glass.

Of splintered feet and hands, of

drinking alone. It was autumn all the time,

crisp and brittle. The bottle a friend in the storm.

We remember who we met

who was born

who died.

 

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Bride

 

The doors were supposed to be always open, so it’s funny that when I picture them now they are firmly closed. They were made of wood, I think, a heavy sort of wood I couldn’t name, several inches thick and standing many feet above head height. Our small hands couldn’t reach the black iron fittings; we would have to wait to be admitted.

I stood in the cold spring sunshine, my knees turning pink as they protruded between the white satin hem of my dress and the tops of my socks. I envied the other girls their longer, lacier, shop-bought confections. Kathryn Bartlett’s dress even had a train. My ringlets, painstakingly created with rags the night before, were held in place by a circle of white satin rosebuds and a small veil. I felt sorry for the boys, so plain in identical grey trousers and red ties, knowing that once the doors were opened no one would really look at them. Not compared to us girls. Like angels, my auntie had gasped.

Finally the doors creaked open and the organ began its refrain from way up in the gallery, making me feel for a spinning second that the music was coming from heaven itself. I squeezed my eyes shut for a moment and offered a prayer: please God our Father, Mary our Lady, and Jesus our Lord and the Holy Spirit and all the saints, let me make it up the aisle without tripping up and falling over.

I held Andrew Rafferty’s hand, because that was how we were to do it, two by two like Ark animals. But my palm itched to be free, and each passing step brought greater certainty, my brand new rosary bobbing against my heart, that once I reached the altar, I would at last be married to God.

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