Friday, January 29, 2016

Chromium-Plated Dreams

Raymond had been the cook in Denny’s Diner for 10 years. He knew the regulars, and what they ordered. He started preparing Vince’s two eggs, sunny side up, two rashers of bacon and side of hash browns a few minutes before he normally got there, so it was ready for him when he sat down at the table by the door. This wasn’t just about customer service, more to make sure that the orders didn’t stack up. Because of this, and the fact that most of their customers were regulars, Ray never got too busy, which suited him just fine.

He’d returned from Afghanistan minus his left foot, replaced by a Government issue prosthetic number, which had given him a shuffling gait that he’d now got used to. The owner of Denny’s, a hard-bitten woman called Joanne, had given him the job partly, he thought, out of pity. He was never away from the place, because the job came with a room and shower out back, and because he had nowhere else to go. At nights he got to sleep with the help of half a pint of Ballantines. 

He had his dreams though. In most of them, he was on the other side of the hatch, in the diner, but the cracked plastic seats had been replaced with red leather, and each table had a little jukebox. The ketchup bottles, salt, pepper and sugar shakers gleamed. Well-dressed families filled the place with conversation and laughter. The clothes and the hairstyles were straight out of the 50s, which hinted where the dreams came from: a mythical time when things were better, and Uncle Sam could give any country he chose a licking without breaking sweat. 

Today, however, he was in the kitchen, frying bacon and eggs for two state troopers who were drinking coffee and flirting with Denise, the waitress who shared his life from 7 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon. Their order slid onto plates and placed in the hatch, he awarded himself a break. He took a coffee out the back door, to his his chair, positioned where it got the sun. While he smoked a roll-up he recalled last night’s dream. This time he had been the boss, watching a young man in a singlet vest and apron frying eggs in the kitchen. This was the first time that he had dreamed about someone else doing his job, and it made him slightly uneasy. Was he the young man? He moved round the kitchen without limping. Was it himself, pre-Afghanistan? Or was it a sign he might be on his way out?

Denise’s call brought him back to earth. Four orders for scrambled eggs, two with bacon. He pinched the end of his roll-up with nicotine stained fingers, and limped back inside, his chromium plated dreams dissolving in the steam of his kitchen.

by Ross Burton

Friday, January 15, 2016

Folding at the Bridge Club

Isobel’s mother had played bridge every afternoon of the week except Tuesdays, which she devoted to her husband when he retired. He did not play, despite having heard a hundred times her mantra: “no-one should go into Old Age without being able to play bridge”. He played golf or pottered in his shed.

So, when Isobel and her husband Mark retired and downsized to a new town in the Cotswolds, history seemed to be repeating itself. Mark joined the large local bridge club to do the only thing that he and his mother-in-law had ever agreed on.

Isobel had been a bridge orphan and now she had become a bridge widow. She didn’t play golf like her father or do gardening. The downsizing had been traumatic. However, she knew that she must make a life for herself, so she did her best to settle into the small house which was to be home until senility, arthritis or incontinence dispatched her to the Sunset Eventide Care Home.

Deep down she had always realized that Mark would have liked her to partner him at the bridge table, so she asked him to find a competent and sympathetic teacher, someone who taught even virgin players. To her surprise she learnt quickly, more to the credit of the teacher than any innate ability.

Armed with some knowledge and a pile of crib sheets she arrived at the large elegant Georgian house that was “the Club”. Top of the house was the “advanced group”, mainly made up of GCHQ employees who played rapidly and in total silence. The new players were downstairs in what the others called The Nursery.

Isobel looked around the crowded room and was shocked at the company. It was beige - they all wore beige and looked so old. She was embarassed by her purple smock. Suddenly all her enthusiasm for the game evaporated. Waiting for everything to begin she was already bored and began looking at her crib sheets. Words like conventions and ACOL seemed to make no sense and she knew this was a big mistake.

There was one man who fascinated her though, because he wasn’t beige and the end of his little finger was missing and tattoos peeped out from under his sleeves. He looked Japanese. He joined her at the coffee break and they struck up conversation. He asked her if she had been to Japan. She said she hadn’t but had always been fascinated by the word “origami”, which frequently came up in the crosswords to which she and Mark were addicted. 

At the next bridge night, Mr Japanese handed her a beautiful purple box. Inside was a perfect paper crane and a formal invitation to his house where he and his wife would explain about origami. She accepted with indecent haste and the following Tuesday found herself eating sushi and having her first practical origami lesson. And once the missing finger joint and tattoos were explained, it was goodbye bridge club. 

by Annie Murchie

Monday, January 4, 2016


Not that I don't want to walk the streets with you.

But when I sit on a suspended turtle shell
hanged from risen arms and don't think it's magic
is the issue. It should be magic.

We walked through spider webs.
Middle-school basketballers howled
like playing wolves behind us.

A rock split and whizzed past us like a meteor:
hurled through space and time
to find us here

and still barely missed.

Thousands of light years
on the pin of a needle.
Striking sandy bits of gravel.
Clanging like dropped silverware.

The fridge is packed with eggs inside.
Vodka lives frozen but still fills glasses
topped with orange juice. They swirl
and marry happily and end
in a bathroom, anyway.

As if chocolate swirls in ice cream
didn't represent the arms of the galaxy.
Comets made of custard and fairy
dust move in high speeds and
travel in circles smaller than us.

I know at great range
there is someone else I will barely miss.

by James Croal Jackson

Friday, January 1, 2016

An Accidental Meeting

 June Swain was cycling when she heard the choking scream of the Spitfire as it lost height. She watched the plane slash into the woods on the hill, snapping the conifers like twigs. Then her bicycle hit the verge and she found herself in the ditch.

June worked as a land girl and she shared supper most evenings with Farmer Ogg and his wife Janet.

The farmer said quietly: “The pilot must be dead, poor sod.” But his wife said she’d heard he’d been taken to Warham Hospital. June couldn’t help wondering about this unknown man.

A week later, on her day off, she took a train and found the hospital. The receptionist asked her who she was visiting.

“The man who crashed in the woods.”

“Him? He needs a visit. You’re the first.”

In the corner of the ward a man seemed to dangle over a bed. Two legs and an arm, encased in plaster, hung from pulleys. He turned his head and June saw a stitched-up scar which ran from the corner of his mouth north to his cheekbone, in an absurd and permanent smile.

She thought he looked like a string puppet tangled at the bottom of a toy box, and she’d like to untangle him. She wondered if he could speak.

“Hello,” he said, puzzled. “You lost, love?” It was a voice from somewhere in the north.


“I wasn’t lost any more,” the old lady, June Swain, was telling the care assistant. “He may have crashed into my life and knocked me off my bike, but he found me, all right. And he never let me go. Seventy years ago.”

by David Jay