Friday, December 25, 2015

The King's Angel

I would have laughed but for the fact the man who spoke to me did so with such an air of authority. His words were English, but the accent unusual. Not the lilt of Irish or the drawl of Australian, something altogether different. 

The world seemed very still. I don’t mean things weren’t moving. The leaves on the trees on the other side of the tall grey stone wall rustled pleasingly. The man’s odd clothes moved with him. There seemed though, a space, a gap, where a sound ought to be. The air was crisp, his words distinct, birdsong soft and clear. It was as if some low buzzing ear worm had been removed from my ear, FM to digital. Crystal clear. 

Though I had no idea where I was or how I had got there, I was certain I was trespassing. I noticed a movement some way behind. A woman, hurrying across the lawn. She came to a stop some twelve feet behind the man. She regarded me with amusement. As I looked at her she bobbed down and up again. Her eyes expressed some urgency. Finally I understood. I curtsied, feeling immensely foolish, expecting at any moment some T.V. hypnotist would appear. ‘And you’re asleep’.

Sunk into my obeisance I stole a glance upwards. A crowd was beginning to gather. Two burly men approached. The grass I half knelt on was wet. The air fresh upon my face. This was no dream and these men carried weapons. Would I wake? The man held up a hand. The heavies halted.

My clothes were commented upon. A long, white summer dress. They called it a ‘shift’. It was almost agreed that I should be locked away until a father, husband or brother could be found. Though my father is alive, I knew they would never find him here. Then the man paused mid sentence. He remarked on the whiteness of my dress; unusual for a wandering woman. She looks like an angel. Fallen from heaven. 

Many months have passed now. The old world I remember seems more a dream now. I draw pictures of things the man thinks are absurd; trains, planes, cars. I miss my family. I miss tea. I miss freedom. But I am his angel and he paces, chewing his fingernails, pouring out fears and sins he would confess to no other. I am taken with him to war. I kneel silently next to him as he prays. His wife is dead, his son too. Two brothers. All gone. This is the last battle he will ever fight. His company want him to win, but as he steps out of the tent I know his only desire is to be with his wife and child.

Hours later I hear his death proclaimed. I close my eyes and am freed. 

by Audrey Miles

Friday, December 18, 2015

A Bridge Too Far


"Almost." Inspector Dalgaard looked along the bridge to where dawn would arrive. "How's your coffee?"

"Terrible. Yours?"

"Same. No budget for a new machine."

"Seems we have more than one common cause." Inspector Stendahl threw the cup over the side.

"I could have you done for littering."

"It was on the Swedish side."

"Might wash up in Denmark."

"Might. See where the current takes it. Call me if you find it." They looked at the body lying across the borderline. "At least it's in one piece."

"Anyone know you're here?"

"No. Got the message, came immediately."

"Lots of paperwork if we do this together."

"Lots." Stendahl pulled out a coin. "Call."


Stendahl tossed the coin high. A gust caught it, stealing it into the night.

"The sea," Dalgaard muttered. They lifted the body over the side.

"See where the current takes it."

"Call me if you find it."

First published as the winning story for the Flashbang Contest 2014.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Going off-road...

Greetings Aphraites!

I have just read the article below on the ever-wonderful website, Writer Unboxed. (If any of you are not familiar with this fabulous blog, check it out now.)

This piece, called The Off-Road Vehicle Mind vs. the Paved Story Plan, by Therese Walsh, really resonated with me. 

Do any of you feel the same way? Do you ever get bored of writing a story if you have it all plotted and planned out in advance? And what do you do if that happens?

Comments welcome below...

And may you all have a block-free writing season this Christmas!!

Sara x

Monday, December 7, 2015

To Kazantzakis

I visited your grave on Crete 
You said god pardons the singers 
but I think he has doubts about poets 

God sends streams of milk 
flowing down the mountain 

We whores of the imagination 
tell stories of weeping prophets 
and priests no one believes 

We create ideas of winged clouds 
filled with fiery kingdoms 
but angels lie, steal and cheat 
then break into tears 
when they lift their arms up to heaven 
and their hands fall off

by Mario Zecca

Image, "Heaven's Gate", by Mario Zecca

Friday, December 4, 2015

Coffee Connections

“Grande non-fat latte,” Simon yelled to no one in particular as he set the warm cup of coffee on the counter. 
Both Tammy O’Hara and Walter Pankins reached for it. “Oh,” Tammy said, “I’m sorry. I thought it was mine.”
“No, it’s a non-fat latte,” Walter replied.
“That’s what I ordered.” They both pulled back their hands and looked at Simon. He checked the cup.
What an idiot, Tammy thought. We know what it is; we just don’t know who it belongs to.
Walter stood taller.  I’m getting that coffee. If my therapist thinks I can’t stand up for myself, I’ll show her.
They both reached again, almost touched hands and withdrew.

Simon looked up; his hand still on the cup, sensing the door at the front of the store had opened. Please let it be Jill coming in for her shift. It wasn’t. He reached into his apron to check his phone for messages. Looking at the woman in front of him, he noted her long red hair, red lips, and a mole near her mouth. Almost as beautiful as Jill. Jill who would barely look at him, who talked constantly about her stupid boyfriend, who didn’t know enough to care.
 Walter checked his phone hoping the woman he’d pinged from had responded. He’d tried two dates before—both disasters. This one would be too but his therapist insisted he needed to keep trying—keep asserting himself. How hard is it to find a strong, smart woman who likes tennis and travel? Who might understand that a man doesn’t have to be a show off and great dresser but just be sensitive and appreciative and kind?
Tammy asked Simon “Is it mine? I’ve got a meeting.” She checked her watch and realized she’d be late for her 10 AM deposition. She’d worked on it all night thinking maybe Frank would call. He’s a cad and a loser. Why do I always go for the flashy promises and end up with a tin of nothing? Where have all the kind, silent ones gone?
As Simon placed a second coffee on the table, Tammy checked her phone again and didn’t look up as Walter swooped in to grab the first one.  Her friend Alice had texted her, “Have to skip tennus. C U nxt week.”
Ha. Won that one, Walter thought proudly, as he walked out the door. I can’t wait to tell my therapist how easy it was.
Simon turned back to the coffee machine and missed the second look Tammy gave his curly black hair and six foot frame before she walked away. 

by Holly Hazard

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Writing short and weaselling out weasel words

10 top writing tips from Without Bullshit.

Quite a general list but still well worthy of a perusal! (Peruse?)

Without Bullshit 10 top writing tips

Some good ones in here, including re-writing the passive voice. I'd also include getting rid of adverbs. 

Which top pieces of writing advice would you include? 
Post your comments below...

Friday, November 20, 2015

One day on the lake

Using the cool of the early morning before the sun rises to become its usual summer furnace, the two boys are preparing for their special day. They comb, they preen, they each shave twice, slyly checking each other over at the same time as they check themselves in the mirror. Each wants to do well yet the other’s success is integral to their own. Each needs the other to be cool, stylish and in control but not to the extent of outdoing the other.

Hopping and skipping down the steps they reach the boat where she is waiting. She’s casual, relaxed, looks as if she has no idea of the boys’ hopes and expectations. Is this an elaborate game? The boys aren’t sure, but the preparation they have put into this encounter is proof that they're prepared to endure a few knock-backs.

She walks to the bows of the clinker-built boat and spreads her towel on the deck. Sitting dangling her feet in the cool waters of the lake she half day-dreams, half watches the boys as they continue their preparations while casting half glances at her. They are desperate to look directly at her, to drink her in but they try to avoid catching her eye. Her loose fitting white cotton dress sets off her golden brown skin and natural sun-bleached hair perfectly. With no apparent effort, she commands the attention of these attractive young men.

The boys, sitting together in the stern of the boat, are almost ready. They strip off their tight fitting tee shirts and rub sun oil onto each other. This ritual demands care so that every inch is equally covered. By the time they have finished, the sun is higher in the sky and its heat is beginning to be felt.

The younger of the boys casually stands and pulls the starter cord for the outboard engine. Nothing. He pulls again. Still nothing. He fiddles with the choke, checks the fuel line and rather self-consciously reaches for the cord a third time. 
This effort is greeted with the same non-committal cough that the first two pulls achieved. He’s getting uncomfortable now, and his companion is not prepared to risk the same embarrassment. 

Smiling, the girl skips down the boat, takes the cord and lightly sets it to the first point of resistance. One sharp pull and the engine dutifully starts. She takes the boys’ place at the helm. 

“I thought the plan was for you to take me out.” She smiled as much as spoke the words.

They cruise off into the lake for the day, a day the boys have dreamt of for so long.

by T. W. Baker

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Big Magic...

Thanks to a recommendation from one of our Cafe Aphra contributors, I have just watched this amazing video interview between Elizabeth Gilbert and Marie Forleo, and I have to say I found it absolutely brilliant. 

The pacts and contracts we have to make with ourselves and our creativity; perfectionism as fear in high heels.... authenticity and originality... martyrdom and tricksterdom, and the many traps we lay ourselves and misconceptions we hold onto regarding our creative process. 

I have enjoyed hearing Elizabeth Gilbert speak about writing in the past before and on this occasion she has lived up to my every expectation. I can feel I will be buying her new book, Big Magic, and reading it for myself very soon!

So, Aphraites, this is my offering to you on this 'What We Do Wednesday'! Enjoy!!

Big Magic: Elizabeth Gilbert and Marie Forleo

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Visitor

Rex picked up the brush and began sweeping. In the past week he had aged fifteen years.

Helping out friends when you can is a no brainer of course. You don’t think ahead to the grief it may cause you. You just do it and that’s the end of it. Though he’d always enjoyed the solitary life, having someone stay (“for a coupla days, max”) had held the promise of fun and conversation, a few high jinx perhaps.

Yeah, no doubt about it, body and soul needed to be yanked out of the comfort zone now and again.

And yet, as he nursed flecks of tortilla crumbs across the floor it struck him how he’d never before felt so middle aged and so damned English. He mused that if Hollywood were to make a film of the last week of his life a trailer would show Hugh Grant trapped in an elevator with Sofia Vergara and most cinemagoers would grab the broad gist of events.

Latin emotions are strongly felt and expressed. Boy, aren’t they. English ones aren’t. Rex had often felt the latin way to be admirable, more so since moving to southern Spain. It just seemed so obviously a good thing to let those feelings out. Away with the reserve and stiff upper lip repression that gives the Brits stomach ulcers and cancers. Hmm, well.

As he took back sole ownership of his flat he looked around at the evidence of the previous week, still lying in situ like the artifacts of an archaeological dig: the empty, toppled, funny-smelling shampoo bottle in the shower; the frankly bizarre looking food left in the fridge; that dodgy stain on the kitchen floor from ‘the incident’ which was either blood (his) or vomit (hers). And there were lessons. There were always lessons.

He’d once read we are all individual slivers of a higher consciousness undergoing the human experience, each in our own unique way. Thus we have bodies. We have egos. We have passions and fears, tastes and oddities that mark each of us out as individuals; beautiful, wonderful, crazy individuals. If life was about anything then it was surely about celebrating those differences as much as about recognizing our commonality.

We could all learn from each other and we could all teach.

Rex resolved to do certain things more often; to vent a little, to shout, to curse, to throw things, to laugh and to cry (at the same time). He just needed to go and lie down for a bit first. Then he had to give the kitchen a good cleaning.

by Derek Dohren

Monday, November 2, 2015

Ugly Histories

Before the reign of light skinned beauty, before the war of pale and dark

East of the Nigerian Delta and resting low amongst the viscous swampland

A baby born in ochre dust, plum-pudding black, eyes full of coal fire

Unbound by western influence and their disorders of mind and body.

There she reigned from her first sticky steps to a long hunting stride

In the savannah, boiling from red light to dark, husky from the chase

Full from the kill, slick with the sweat of victory and animal shapes

Until a night, drenched by the blood moon, when men crept and stole

Leaving her land deprived, ships packed with a weeping cargo.

by Charlotte Stirling

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Remember, remember, the month of November...

Today is the 1st of November and for many people the beginning of what is now a well established institution in the worldwide writing community... NaNoWri month!

November has been 'National Novel Writing Month' for several years now and has produced spectacular results for many writers in need of an extra push to just get that baggy first draft finished.

Here at Cafe Aphra, we offer our own take on NaNoWriMo via the Cafe Aphra November Challenge... (drum roll, please!)

Essentially, this is the same idea but we just prefer to offer people a bit more flexibility in terms of setting their own writing goals, whether total word count, daily word count or something else entirely. Writing a novel is a highly personal experience and 50,000 words in 30 days in not necessarily be the right challenge for everyone. 

We still think NaNoWriMo is a fabulous idea, however, and a really admirable institution - so we would encourage all our readers who are currently struggling to make the progress they would like on their current writing project to get involved!

Would you like to sign up to the full 50,000 words in a month via the NaNoWriMo page? If so, GOOD LUCK from all of us here and let us know how it goes - keep us posted via the comments box or via email! If not, perhaps you would like to have a think about what your own personal writing goal could be for this month and share it with us? 

We will enjoy hearing from you about how things are going on your own November Challenge and cheering you along the way!

Friday, October 23, 2015

All that is left

Emma loved bookstores. The intoxicating smell reminded her of the library in her late parents’ house: the sweet scent of all things lost. She liked to brush her fingertips over the sharp edges of books showcased on spotless shelves, seeking forgotten particles of dust. She could hear the hidden letters whispering to her, like the voices of men who had long since passed away.

On the last Friday of every month, there was a reading at the nearest store. Emma always made sure she got a seat at the front. She loathed sitting in the middle of the crowd, surrounded by the voluminous bodies of strangers pressing against her frail frame. 

This particular Friday there was an author who was dear to her. She had been his devotee since she was young. A love from years past had introduced her to him - now every page seemed to take her back in time. 
In agony, she pushed through the faceless masses streaming towards her on her way to the store. They were shoving her, knocking into her with their massive purses. 

By choosing a seat in the first row, she could opt out of the vivid conversations taking place behind her, lost in her thoughts until she heard nothing but a uniform hum. In anticipation of the reading, she folded her arms tightly around herself as she stared at the desk where the author would be seated. She wasn't even aware of the people beside her, though they were drawing uncomfortably close. 

Anxiously, she bit off flakes of dry skin from her lips. Determined, she fought down the nausea rising from her empty stomach. As the author read excerpts from the novel, the image before Emma's eyes gradually started to lose its focus until the person standing before her had melted into a shapeless blob. Mesmerized, she leaned forward, her brittle spine creaking under the sudden shift. The words consumed her, reviving her hollow shell. The withered skin on her face blushed with new life. Her veins filled with love and laughter, melodrama and murder. 

By the time the presentation was over, Emma was oblivious of her pain.

As the applause faded, she was the first at the buffet, hoping nobody would notice how her bony fingers trembled as she stuffed her moth-eaten purse with precious hors d’oeuvres.

by B.E. Seidl

Based on the 101word story The Remains, first published at

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Apprentice Journalists

 A man was arrested for having sex with his bicycle. It was in all the papers from The Financial Times to the London Evening Standard. 
‘How did he do it?’ I asked my husband.
‘How should I know?’
‘You’re the man.’
‘This could only happen in your country, kiddo,’ he said. ‘Everyone here’s eccentric.’
My husband is American.
Only one week later a man was caught having sex with his garden table, the kind with a hole in the middle for a parasol.
‘More painful than fun,’ my husband said, holding his crotch.
We are apprentice journalists, my husband and I. We met at Southbank University, which has the worst record for out-of-work graduates. We think that’s why they took us. Good students didn’t apply. If you can’t be clever, be cunning. That’s what I say.
‘Have you worked out what these stories have in common?’ I looked at him slyly.
‘Sex,’ he said.
‘And gardens. Each of these guys was in his garden. Alone.’
‘Alone but for an audience. Both gardens were opposite primary schools.’
‘In lower class areas.’
‘Lots of drinking, unemployment.’
‘Wives out doing cleaning jobs or catering in schools.’
‘Scope for research?’ my husband asked.
It was his idea to rent a van and paint a logo: Pete’s Repairs. Hidden in our van, we staked out gardens in front of primary schools.
‘If we can find a story,’ he said, ‘it could lead to great things.’
Six months we spent observing.
Meanwhile someone exposed himself on Big Brother and we wrote the story. A c’leb interrupted Hamlet with a major fart and stood up for a round of applause - we wrote that one too. A politician was caught bonking a male model in a public toilet in Kensington. We churned out just enough silly stories to pay our bills and when we didn’t have a true one, we made one up. No one cares if these stories are true as long as they are entertaining.
Six months in that van but still no big story. No fame. No contracts. No riches.
I looked at my husband with criminal intent. ‘We’re going to set this up.’
We convinced IKEA we were doing a fashion shoot. They loaned us deckchairs, a wrought-iron bench; a string hammock and a barbecue. We hired would-be porn actors and took photos – never, never when children would see, of course.
It worked a dream. We became famous and rich. Well, we could afford restaurants and holidays if we flew Ryanair to Majorca without hold luggage. And then one day the actors didn’t turn up and we decided to photograph ourselves.
‘It was a stupid decision,’ my husband said, when the police arrived.
‘It truly was,’ I said when we were condemned in court.
But it wasn’t. Our sentences were suspended because we had been careful not to do anything where the public would see. And both the Mail and the Sun offered us contracts.

 By Joy Manné

Monday, October 5, 2015

I will bring you red apples

I will bring you concord grapes,
for you like the color of them

I will cut the meat for you,
in razor thin slices

the nurses tell me
to let you feed yourself
to gain your strength

but you and I know
your arms become more flaccid each passing night,
and no amount of measured movement,
will make that right

I will make the soft cloth wet,
caress the dirt away, for they scrub you
like canvas, painted all wrong
I will brush your hair,
a hundred strokes
as you did

I will read you stories
of children at play

I will bring apples
for your wooden bowl,
to help us remember red, round things,
beginnings, in a world before this room
of endless ending 

by Jim Cunningham

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Interview with Afia Nkrumah, writer and filmmaker

Cafe Aphra contributor, Afia Nkrumah, is a theatre director who moved into making films a few years ago. She recently got a break when her short film, Shadow Man, was selected for funding by Film London. Here she tells us about her experiences...

Cafe Aphra: Hi Afia, I know you've been involved in film for quite a long time, but what made you want to write screenplays in the first place, rather than novels or short stories? (Or anything else!)

Afia: I come from an oral story telling background and I worked as a theatre director, so scripts are a more natural way of telling stories for me than the novel or perhaps more 'literary' forms of writing. I also love working with actors and screenplays facilitate that.

Cafe Aphra: Where did the idea for Shadow Man come from?

Afia: Last year after seeing the "go home" vans driving around parts of London asking migrants to leave the UK or be deported, I was so incensed that I sat down to write my response and a script of Shadow Man emerged. At the time of writing the script, I had no idea that the question of what should happen to migrants already in Europe would become such a looming issue for all of us. 

Cafe Aphra: I know you've also worked on documentaries in the past. Why did you decide to write and direct a piece of fiction about the migrant crisis, rather than a documentary? Doesn't the subject matter lend itself more to documentaries?

Afia: There have been countless documentaries and news reports about migration and the majority of them either cast migrants as helpless victims or as aggressors trying to break into our home. I wanted to say something different, give a different perspective of migrants which was neither of these two perspectives and to bring some humour and another cultural perspective to the subject. If I had made a documentary, it would have been very difficult to introduce humour as I did, for example through the character of Uncle Albert, the protagonist's ghostly uncle, and his African proverbs. 

Cafe Aphra: It's terribly expensive to make a film, even a short one, as we all know - where did you find the funding for this project?

Afia: The funding came from Film London, the screen agency for London who choose five emerging filmmakers each year to make a film under a production scheme called London Calling Plus. The competition is very stiff - as you can imagine - and involves two rounds of interviews with a panel and a presentation.

Cafe Aphra: Tell us a bit about the process of making the film, what were the ups and downs?

Afia: Pre-production (so getting the cast, crew and locations together and preparing for a film) is always frantic. You are often at the mercy of other people's availability and you have to make the budget stretch as far as possible. There is a roof top chase sequence in my film and persuading house owners and the council to allow us to have a stunt team and a camera crew run around and jump off their roofs safely was very challenging! 

The film is set at night and shooting during the summer meant we had much shorter nights than we would have liked. Having said that, the shoot was an amazing experience with a crew of thirty-seven people from countries as varied as Argentina, Italy, Sierre Leone and Romania. Our cast was also very diverse and ranged from a Bafta-nominated actress to local Tottenham residents such as an eighty-year-old man who had always wanted to act but had never had the courage to go for it.

 Shadow Man also had complex sound and music requirements and so the post-production sound was very demanding and took a few months to get right. I worked with Bath Spa University Sound department and their graduating students, who did a very good job.

Cafe Aphra: How has the film been received by audiences and critics, and how easy was it to get the film accepted at festivals around the world?

Afia: Short films are rarely reviewed - our version of reviews is getting selected into film festivals. Since completion, Shadow Man has been accepted and screened by six film festivals: in New York, San Francisco, Austria, South Africa and in January 2016 it will be shown in Dhaka, Bangledesh. 

At this point, the film has been nominated for one award and has won one award, but the audiences' reactions have been the best thing. I attended the screening of the film at the Century Shorts Film Festival in London this summer and it was amazing to see the audience laughing all the way through the film and clapping spontaneously at the end. That felt fantastic. Given that Shadow Man's subject matter centres around the issue of 'economic migrants', this was really great to see. I hear the film also went down well in South Africa. 

Cafe Aphra: What have you learnt - both as a writer and as a film director - from the making of Shadow Man?

Afia: The lesson I've learnt as a writer is that story is the most important component of a script. The structure of the story didn't really change from the first draft to the shooting draft, however the details within the story changed from draft to draft. For example, the protagonist Okokobioko has to persuade Tracey his neighbour to let him into her house in the middle of the night. How he went about it in the earlier draft was not believable, and I had to find better way of doing it. Also, it wasn't clear from earlier drafts that Uncle Albert was a ghost. I decided to let the character speak purely in proverbs as a way of making that difference clearer. 

Experiencing my film in countries where English is not the primary language has made me think about how I can make my future scripts less language dependent and more visual. If the audience doesn't speak the language and the film doesn't have subtitles, will they still understand what is going on in each scene? How can I make sure that an audience in, let's say, Ouagadougou gets as much out of my film as an audience in Surrey? That is my next challenge as a writer.

One of the main reasons why I got this project funded was because I decided as a director to shoot it as a film noir as a way of intensifying the story and to give the film a specific look. As a director it is not enough merely to film a script, you also have to have an idea that will clarify the story and give the film a visual resonance. The challenges I found in acquiring the right locations and with the way I like to tell stories with a camera, have made me realise that as a director I would prefer to shoot interior scenes in a studio environment, rather than on location. I would not have known that about my process had I not made this film.

Cafe Aphra: Has Shadow Man influenced what you will do in the future? And what are your hopes for the film?

Afia: I have had one offer to buy the film, but I'm keeping my options open while the film is in its festival run over the next six months. What is more important to me, is to connect the film to BAME audiences. There is a nonsense belief in the film industry that stories about black lives don't have an audience or can't make money, because films are available primarily from large cinema chains and cable subscription services. 

I have always believed that films should be shown where the audience is, especially in the BAME community. Even though I am not religious myself, churches play a central role in black lives and so I decided to do a church tour with Shadow Man and it has been surprisingly easy to organise. Shadow Man starts its local community and church tour at the start of October at Trinity Zion church in Tottenham. This is also a unique opportunity for me as a filmmaker to meet and engage with the audience of my future work.

Shadow Man on Facebook 
Bombax Media on Twitter

Friday, September 25, 2015

One Rainy Night, Midweek

Josie offered him a lift to the station so he could drink if he wanted to. Just before he got out, she yanked his tie sideways, downward, then more or less straightened it. 

“Perfect,” she said.  “Go get her, tiger!”

Did it go well?

They’d recognised each other, from their online photos, remembered each other’s names correctly.  Stephanie, Steph, either was fine with her.  She hadn’t been late. They’d both found the right clock to meet under.  From there, it wasn’t far to a bar, running, where he’d helped her off with her jacket and bought drinks.

“I’m absolutely soaked!” she said with an embarrassed laugh, shaking her head so her red hair flew out in a fan of water droplets.  He wiped his face with the end of his tie.
“Sorry, sorry!”
He waved off her apologies and noticed that her blouse was wet, perhaps too obviously: she slid her jacket off the back of her chair and back onto herself, muttering about it being colder than she’d realised. 
“I could kill this,” he said, reaching for his beer.  Froth slopped off the top and slid down the side of the glass to pool on the table.  He looked around their surroundings, the copper finishes, brown faux-leathers, beefy wallpaper, smoked glass lamp holders.
“Have you ever been on a blind date before?” he asked, suddenly.
“Once.  No, twice!  The first didn’t turn up.” 
“Maybe they did, but didn’t like what they saw,” he said, instantly regretting it when he saw her face, but not in time to stop his mouth running on with a quiet “and went home.” 
They sat in silence for a moment.
“The fool,” he added.
The bar wasn’t busy, a few office workers, the barmaid reading a phone that lit her face blue. 

Eventually he said, “You’re a school teacher, right?  Tell me about your day.”
She did, and he nodded and made noises, but he hoped he wouldn’t have to answer questions about any of it later.  He may have been opening and closing his legs without thinking because at one point, while she was still talking, she reached under the table with a slightly curious look and accidentally touched his knee.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, colouring deeply from the opening of her blouse upwards.
He laughed, it wasn’t that funny, and said “Don’t worry!” placing his own hand on the knee she had closest to him.  “See!”  She was wearing a skirt, and he felt her skin against his palm.  His hand still there, he touched around the bone with his fingertips. 

“And you think that’s where it went wrong?” Josie asked.

He’d called her on his way back.  He hadn’t wanted to interrupt her evening, but she’d said she was free now.

“I think so,” he mumbled, running his thumb around the rim of his cup.  She looked at him, and shook her head.  “Oh, my useless husband,” she sighed.  “We’ll get you having an affair yet!”

by Nick Black 

Friday, September 11, 2015

Incident at the Cafe Josephina

Two men tumble in from nowhere and crash onto the pavement, the distance of a thrown match from my al fresco table. Waiter arrives, setting down hot chocolate ordered thirty minutes ago, hardly acknowledging  brawl, as though it might be a cabaret performance. But my heart races like I’ve been ambushed in a paint-ball combat game. In Europe I’d heard Buenos Aires was a city with stories unfolding on every street corner. Surely not this; not on so balmy a Sunday evening in upmarket Recoleta? 

Bigger of the two men is wearing a well cut suit, jacket half come off in the fracas. Other man - no more than a boy now I see him clearly - is gripped in a headlock. His dirtied and oversized T-shirt emphasizes spindle arms, skin chargrilled by the sun. He twitches silently, in the manner of freshly caught prey, but otherwise puts up no further resistance. For brief seconds his gaze meets mine. His eyes have a woebegone stare; all hope given up, they say. Neither of the two men speak. Scene from an old silent slapstick movie, freeze framed. 

Hard edge of plastic seat digs into the backs of my thighs when I turn for reference to the other Cafe customers: A group of facially stretched porteñas – Chanel suited – cutting into enormous steaks; old man feeding cake to a ridiculously small dog. Other side, girl with red nail varnish smoking a cheroot returns nervously to pages of fashion magazine in her lap.  My waiter returns with a china plate layered with squares of dark chocolate in gold foil wraps, and the bill. I pick it up. Examine it. Service not included.               

by Bren Gosling