A Shoebox Full of Love Letters

By Rob McIvor

In the loft, separating her belongings from Richard’s, Jennifer discovered a shoebox. Its lid was held down by wraps of tape and bore, in her own youthful capitals, the word “CASSETTES”. 

She cut away the tape. Inside, plastic cases were crammed in two rows, long edges upwards. She skimmed the handwritten inserts: “Jen’s Mix”; “Best Love Songs Ever”; “Party Mix”; “Eric’s Jukebox”; “Punk and Funk” and several labelled simply “Mixture”.  Why did she keep these?  She and Richard hadn’t owned a cassette player for years.

Each insert bore a different handwriting; each a little love letter, a courtship ritual from an analogue age. Some were declarations of interest, like male birds building nests to impress prospective mates. Look at me, they shouted. See what good taste I have; imagine listening to this music with me.  Others came from later in a relationship, content informed by time spent together. I think you will like this, Jen, they said.  Occasionally, they were overtures to the end of an affair. Souvenirs. Remember how we used to love listening to this?

She prised several cases out and read the track lists, trying to recall their creators. On one, the titles were written entirely in capitals, the first letter of each word slightly larger than the others. “Nicholas,” she thought. Always so precise. Where others’ tapes might have thirty seconds of redundant silence at the end, Nick’s were always calibrated so that the final song ended exactly as the tape ran out.  

Anthony had studied military history and compiled his tapes as battles, each song aurally challenging its predecessor.  Gareth inserted esoteric jokes, like following “Norwegian Wood” with “Burning Down The House”. Eric prided himself on never wasting a second of tape and would skilfully edit songs together to remove as much silence as possible.    

Then there was Michael, who approached a tape as if it were one of his own compositions, the final reverberations of one piece seamlessly and harmoniously leading to the opening notes of the next. On his “Night Music” tape, the reflective opening B minor of The Great Gig in the Sky arrived, almost prophetically, at the end of Barber’s Adagio, as though the two composers had somehow collaborated across the decades to create a soundtrack for his life; one that he could share with the woman who would love him for the rest of his days. Would Jennifer have married him? She had known the answer to that question even as she pledged fidelity to Richard.  He had courted her with meals, the theatre and rustic hotels, but had never shared with her the songs that defined him. Had there ever been music in his heart?

Voices downstairs plucked her back to the present. The estate agent was showing another couple around, deftly parrying questions about why the owners were selling. She re-sealed the shoebox and placed it with her share of the photograph albums. 

As soon as she had her own place, she would buy herself a cassette player.


Author bio: Rob McIvor lives in Blackheath, London, with his family and two attention-seeking cats. He is currently dreading the prospect of editing the next draft of an over-ambitious first novel and dreaming of cycling in the mountains once again.

On The Tideline, A Piano

By Sam Payne

A baby grand, lopsided in the damp sand. Its ebony frame swollen and dulled by brine with a sheen of sea-salt settling like winter frost. Barnacles on the pedal box, limpets in lines up the lyre post and seaweed looping the legs and tangling around the castors. 

Weeks before, we’d been woken by helicopters on the horizon, their lights searching the swell. There were more survivors than everyone had hoped, huddled in lifeboats or winched from the water in a funnel of light.

Ever since, the sea has been nudging their belongings gently to the shore. Purses, watches, ball gowns and suits. Hairbrushes with strands of hair still curled around the bristles. Suitcases wedged in the driftwood, lids rising up and flapping in the wind like baby gulls waiting to be fed. 

It was a game for us, joining the adults after school and helping with the collecting and the sorting. Until one day when we ran down the jetty and Beatrice, the landlady of The Mariners, who could silence drunk fishermen with just one look, sent us scuttling away. 

Chemicals, she said, but she was lying. We hid and peered over the rusty roof of a coal bunker close to the beachfront and watched as the men from the city lifted the body. They’d covered it with a blanket but an arm fell and we saw swollen, purple fingers trailing in the sand, as if that body didn’t want to leave.

We stayed away from the beach after that, lingering around the village listening to gossip. The body, they said, belonged to the captain. Some insisted he went down dancing a waltz on the bow. 

Now, the piano has called us back and we stand with sand in the gaps between our toes, running our fingers over the keys. Hoping for sound. But all we hear is the low roar of the sea, reminding us of what it gives and what it can take away. 


Author bio: Sam Payne is a writer living in Devon. Her work has appeared in Spelk, Reflex and Popshot Quarterly. Her twitter account is @skpaynewriting

Shapes of Sound

By Poppy Lyle

I can see music. Drums are a valley of jumping frogs. When birds sing, showers of firecrackers spray from their beaks.

When they told me I was losing my hearing, I went to my room and stayed there. I laid and listened. My parents tried to make me leave, but I would not. I was too busy listening. Every day my sister would come after school and kneel by my bed. She was the only one who understood.

I listened to the wind in the trees and slowly I began to realise that it glimmered. Then my sister told me about her first kiss. When her low grainy voice described the feeling of his wet tongue, I saw pawprints in the sand. I told her and she used her savings to buy the best speakers she could afford, and we laid in my small room with sounds surrounding us. Madonna was a thousand silver curtains all around me, moving gently in the breeze. Nina was a rich stew that had simmered for days. Guns N’ Roses were an army of naked men, running in wild circles, willies flapping.

One day, she said: ‘Come with me. There’s something you must hear.’ 

I went with her and we sat on top of a white cliff. My hearing was fading but if I concentrated, my head was a conch. The waves crashed and the seagulls plotted to grab our sandwiches, calling to each other in so many different voices. 

After that, all I did was leave my room. My parents started wishing that I would stay. But the sounds were going, and I needed to see them all before they went.

We saw Springsteen in the park for my birthday. I drank a warm beer; it was frothy on the top of my lip and it made me dizzy. My sister and her boyfriend with the wet tongue said: ‘He’s so old’. They only liked the beer. But I listened to the stories in his songs. I knew I’d still have them, even when his voice was gone. I’d have the stories as well as the huge human heart I saw beating whenever I listened to him. Swollen with intent, thumping so hard.

‘This is a temporary solution,’ the doctor said, as she fitted noisy plastic into my ears. I took them out. I was creating a permanent solution.

The sounds faded in and out. Then one day they were gone. I went back to my room. Through my tears I saw the sounds of my sister. 

‘Is my voice weird now?’ I asked.

She shook her head. Then she put on the Prince CD. She turned the dial all the way up, and I could feel it, very faintly, between my ribs.

She wrote me a note: ‘What does Purple Rain look like?’

I raised my eyebrows in a way that said: ‘I should have thought that is obvious?’ 

We laughed. I saw an ocean of rounded bellies, rising and falling.


Author bio: Poppy Lyle is a tall single mother who grew up in London, but has recently moved to Brighton. She works for the Mayor of London, fixing air pollution.

A SERIOUS THREAT TO LIFE

By Denny Jace

My name is Louise. Lauren

I’m from Brighton. Birmingham

I’m single. I’m married. I miss him….

When they told me about the Osman letter, I imagined a folded dogeared piece of paper, gratitude scrawled in a bic biro. Then I visualized crisp A4 manila, reassuring me in bold Calibri. I got neither. Instead they sent me away.

Isolation and loneliness have become physical starvation; I cower in the corners of this unfamiliar house; fear follows me, the chairs don’t fit my body; it smells of old tobacco and bleach. It’s bland, wiped clean, like me.

Witness protection…. or punishment?


Author bio: Denny Jace has been writing since June 2019. She writes Flash Fiction and Short Stories and is building up to her first novel. She lives in Shropshire with her husband and two (grown up) children. Most of her days are spent reading her stories to Maude and Stanley, her two faithful dogs.

Her stories have been highly commended, Winner of Retreat West Micro Flash Fiction 2020, runner up in Lightbox Originals and published in Ellipsis Zine, Capsule Stories and Cabinet of Heed.

Twitter: @dennyjace

LONGITUDINAL

By Jordan Harrison-Twist

When rub the skin with tarmac, leave on you bone-shaped pictures, you say, blowing hard to reach the bloodflakes, each unique. You reach, stretch, fail to blot the wound.

Smashing gavills, the wind says, Parallel lines don’t ever meet, prevails on.

Alone, I peel off the plaster’s back.

If opposites meet in contranyms, you say, so can we. And shout inflammablesanctionfast.

Dust. And left.

Just over seven octaves apart we are, as you big stride a low arpeggio, Satie. Count distantly in.

Plead with the wind to bend the Earth, and that we become, you and I, longitudinal. 


Author bio: Jordan Harrison-Twist is a writer and editor based in Manchester, UK. His essays have appeared in 3:AM Magazine, The Double Negative, iiii Magazine, and Corridor8. He has been twice longlisted in Retreat West’s micro fiction competition, and once longlisted in the Reflex Press flash fiction competition. His story, Plethora, will appear in an anthology published by Comma Press later this year.

Flesh and Blood

By Lyndsay Croal

His cheeks are like mango flesh, soft and spongy. Fragile. When I hold him in my arms, I know I’ll never let him go. That I’d peel my own skin away to keep him safe. 

I think of when I first met his father, a tropical summer day, a cold lassi in hand as the sun seeded the white sand beach with its warmth. 

‘This spot taken?’ he had asked with his sugar-sweet smile. 

I felt something in the pit of my stomach then, like the weight of a stone being lifted away. A single moment, ripe for the taking.


Lyndsey is a Scottish writer living in Edinburgh. She received a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award for 2020 and is working on her debut SFF novel. She enjoys writing speculative short fiction, and has been published in a number of magazines and anthologies. Find her on Twitter as @writerlynds or via her website www.lyndseycroal.co.uk.