Friday, August 26, 2016

Nice Girl

The girl - the other girl - is pushing the stripy pushchair along the pavement. Aldi carrier bags swing from both handles. She almost walks into me. The baby is playing with its feet. The eyes of the child in the pram are his eyes, green and bright. 

Those are the eyes that I once fell into, coiled together on that old sofa with the stuffing bleeding out, our hands exploring one another for the first time.

Their baby has snot snaking down towards its lips. They’re his lips, too. His warm lips on mine on that sweaty sofa, the teenage mingle of sweat and aftershave, stolen from his dad’s bathroom cabinet. 

I’ve replayed this scene a thousand times – bumping into him, or bumping into her, bumping into them both. Showing him I’m fine, I’m over it. I’ve done all right for myself, thanks. But the baby, this baby with his eyes and his lips has stalled me.

He was a big fish in our small home town, once. He reeled me in, threw his affection around for a while. Before unhooking me, letting me go. Now he’s just a minnow, pulling this other girl and baby along in his wake. 

The baby with his eyes, his lips.

I was just a nice girl, he said. She was more adventurous than me, he said. Now she looks like the stuffing’s been kicked out of her, like the stuffing on that sofa, where I first tasted lust and excitement. 

In her dead eyes I see my alternate life. The one that got away. Her adventures confined now to a snotty child and budget chicken korma.

When we meet on the pavement, him and the girl – the adventurous one – and their snotty child, the one with his eyes, his lips, I don’t say any of the things I thought I’d say. 

I don’t tell him what a success I am. I don’t say Remember me? I just smile. I just stand there and smile, politely. 

I’m the nice girl, remember?




Friday, August 12, 2016

Sarité

Sarité is dead again. Nearby, a mother kneels at the side of the road in loud lament for the shattered child in her arms. An old man leans in the doorframe of his soot-blacked house, watching me. Leaning is the best option after the landmine took his leg and his livelihood. Images surface when I’m not looking, in idle moments when I’m tempted to believe the world is a safe place again. But it never was.

I see Sarité again, turning to smile at me as she walks away, adjusting the child on her hip. “See you tomorrow,” I call out, but she doesn’t answer. Perhaps she knows that I will see her in an eternity of tomorrows, but not she me.

The moments fade, stealing my energy like a receding wave sucking sand off a beach, and I am left incredulous that life is mundane.

I move through each day, get on with my life like I’ve been told to. I get up, I do my job, I drive through endless stop-start traffic. A car backfires in the middle of Reading and I’m in Baghran again, running, stumbling from the Hazara marketplace as it explodes around me and all I can think is that I’ve dropped those beautiful pomegranates I’d bought. It jolts through my chest like an electric shock: I don’t see the marketplace, but I feel like I’m there again and it pulls the breath straight out of me. Someone hoots their horn at me, and I drive on down West Street, hands and feet still jarring.

Later there’s a film on. But a man pulls a gun and I spill my drink, Baghran intruding. Even sleep isn’t safe: I see Sarité’s face and what they did to her. The old man leans in his doorway and watches me. Awake in the dark, my heart slows back down, sweat turns to chill, but it’s always the hands and feet that take the longest to feel normal again.

And so comes tomorrow: I battle the traffic, panic in the Tesco crowds, meet a friend for coffee. My friend says goodbye, turns to smile at me as she walks away, and Sarité is dead again.



by Olivia Jackson

Monday, August 1, 2016

After Terror

There will be a pile of sand
flanked by 31 stones
where a sister died. She
was carrying coloring books
and boxes of crayons
in her backpack
when the bomb came,
her final breath a question,
not a goodbye. She
was carrying them for those
who died before
in similar blasts and fear.

Now there are lies,
speculation, calculations.
What'll happen when
it comes here.
A girl on the subway
cups her hands to alert
her mother she's hungry.
A boy plays with a toy
machine gun. In each I see
postures becoming
prayer, notes for us
who haven't yet fallen.


by Carl Boon

Friday, July 29, 2016

Handball

Ellie stared from the stands, dreaming of the goalkeeper. He was diving around, squelching the mud into his body. It wasn’t the first time she’d gone to watch him play; she knew there was something about him, something that entranced her.

A tap on her shoulder broke the spell; she'd forgotten that she wasn’t here alone. Ellie could tell Chrissy didn’t want to go watch a local football game in a soggy field; she’d been promised shopping and calamari.

“Which one is he anyway? The one you fancy.”

“I never said I fancied him; he’s just, he’s interesting.” Ellie pointed as discreetly as possible at the goalkeeper. “Him.”

Chrissy huffed. “He’s a six, a seven at best - what’s so interesting about him?”

“Just watch.”

They watched him in silence. He jumped and floundered; he wasn’t a good goalkeeper, and he was getting desperate. He was letting in goal after goal until one rebounded straight off him like a cannonball being fired.

“There! Did you see it?” Ellie tugged at Chrissy’s sleeve.

“Yeah, he saved a goal - very interesting Ellie.”

“Didn’t you see how?”

“No.”

“Were you even watching?”

Chrissy crossed her arms. She just didn’t get it. It was only football.

They watched the striker from the other team tear down the pitch. It seemed like he already had it in the bag but when the striker booted the ball towards the goalkeeper, he saved it again. This time Chrissy saw it.

“What was that?”

“You saw it too, right?” Ellie’s excitement bubbled up inside her.

“I know the goalkeeper is allowed to use his hands, but this is something else.”

The ball flew towards the goalkeeper again. It looked like he deflected it with his chest, though Ellie and Chrissy saw it again for themselves; an arm, a fist, shoot from the goalkeeper’s chest, punching the ball away.

“How are we the only ones who can see this?” Chrissy whispered.

“I don’t know, but he doesn’t know how to control it properly yet,” Ellie looked at Chrissy.

“You were right to bring me here. Do you think he knows what he is?”

Ellie’s eyes flashed red.

“I don’t think he does.”

“Your eyes, Ellie - careful.”

Ellie’s eyes turned blue once more. “Sorry, I guess he’s not the only one.”

Chrissy laughed. “We’ll talk to him, but I want lunch first, and that shopping trip you promised.” The thought of calamari made her stomach claw at her skin. “You know where he lives, right?”

“Of course.”





Friday, July 15, 2016

A Penny For Your Thoughts

‘A penny for them,’ Agnes says, just as she had some thirty-plus years ago when out on their first date. She’s said it many times in between too. It became their thing.

And whenever she said it, Jimmy’s thoughts returned to the icy winter night of big city bright lights – to the Italian restaurant – to the night he tried a little too hard – to the night he got himself into a tongue-tied tizzy that caused the wrong words to come out in the wrong order.

Jimmy had retreated to the sanctity of his shell, sure only of one thing: that he’d blown his chance. He felt marooned sitting there, alone amongst a hubbub of happiness.

So they ate in silence. 

It was Agnes who broke the spell.

‘A penny for them,’ she said, ‘for your thoughts.’

To anyone else he would have replied with a little white lie: ‘Oh, it’s nothing… really… I’m fine… just a little tired.’ 

Her voice was gentle, soft, and calming, so he told her the truth.

Agnes listened, and her eyes smiled at him. She let him finish; then told him she understood – not literally of course – but she would try to understand. She told him not to be so hard on himself, that he was doing a great job, that she still liked him, that she liked him even more now.

Agnes would use the phrase again and again over the years, whenever she sensed the moment when Jimmy’s mind-stuff needed lancing.

And this little game led on to others. Like the one where Agnes would make him sing a song for his supper. A few bars of Neil Diamond would soon have them dancing around the kitchen ballroom style, laughing and knocking into cupboards and not caring a jot; and when they ate, the food tasted scrummier than ever.

Or the times she would be making coffee and say, ‘Not yet, not before a poem,’ and Jimmy would select at random something from the only paperback of poetry he ever owned, and recite it in full-on Olde English – Lawrence Olivier style – even though it happened to be a discarded anthology of Canadian verse he’d found on the tube. It always made Agnes laugh, which made Jimmy laugh, and coffee never tasted sweeter.

But tonight, like almost every night for the last year now, Jimmy’s words don’t flow so easily; most times they don’t come at all. He just sits at the table.

‘A penny for them…’ Agnes repeats, softer, quieter this time… a whisper in his ear.

Nothing.

‘How about a song?’ she asks, ‘We’ve got a nice piece of fish tonight,’ and starts to hum the intro to Sweet Caroline.

Jimmy stares into space, his eyes glazed and lost, he doesn’t respond. He doesn’t respond to the mention of fish, not to the strange woman that he sees dancing around the room, and not to the ragged book of poetry that lies unopened on the table. 



Monday, July 4, 2016

In Kowloon

In my mind there is a bed,
starched and white and you lie
there, stirruped. I can’t
look. Standing at the window

my eyes fumble for a view,
and fake a movie cityscape:
the glamour of a highrise
Hong Kong skyline, non-specific

urban sprawl; hanzi hurled
across the fishstink of a market-
place in alien humidity.
They have sapped your strength,

tapped you with their needles,
drugged you blind in this
British military hospital.
The pain is a balloon; you

let it go, watch it bump across
the tide-washed sands of
Perranporth, puddled huge
with sky, float over the black

rocks at Gwithian, the littoral
of home, hang at the limit
of a cliff edge, where the thrift
cling on for dear life to their

babies bonneted in pink.
It is September; those lanes -
bordered with a cross of hedge
and granite bank - are beaded

red with bryony; sand between
your toes, walk down them now
and knock. It is tea-time
at Trevalga and they wait

to hear the answer: boy or cheel?