Unforgettable by David Wiseman

Unforgettable

David Wiseman

She is not black. She is chocolate that slides from Bournville to Dairy Milk and back again according to the light and the heat and the particular swell of skin she shows you. She is pink, sumptuous pink, with a tongue that teases and licks from behind pearl-white teeth she’s stolen from the poster at my dentist. She is blue, luminescent blue, shimmering in her hair as it cascades round her shoulders, down her back, across my face.

She is not asleep, although she may dream behind closed eyes. Her arm grows heavy across my chest and the urge to move cannot be resisted for long. We are of the moment, without past and with future uncertain. Tomorrow is agreed, tomorrow is our horizon, until there is no tomorrow. Then we’ll slip into each other’s pasts, vivid at first, for one of us vivid and raw too. For the other the colour will fade faster, a faint after-image on the retina, quickly overwritten by the brightness of a new day, the thrills of the new lover.

She will not be forgotten in a year. She will be a painful reminder of what might have been or she’ll bring a smile and a pause to recall a blissful affair. She will still be Rosemary, silky smooth, bright eyed, with a mane of black hair.

She will not be forgotten at thirty when I walk past the house and remember which bedroom we shared and the salt taste of her sweat. The thought will shock me and I’ll wince when I realise I have the wrong house, they all look the same and really it was the next road along. She’ll still be Rosie, the beautiful girl who imagined strange worlds, and I’ll wonder if she did drugs and I hadn’t realised.

She will not be forgotten when I’m forty or fifty and have children of my own. I’ll look at them slyly and see how they stand, see how they smile and wonder what they’d be like if Rosie had born them.

She’ll not be forgotten when I’m sixty and seventy. I’ll talk to a friend I haven’t met yet and we’ll share past glories with an amber swirl in our cut-glass tumblers. It’ll take a moment to remember, were we lovers? Of course we were lovers, and what lovers we were, but the taste of her skin will elude me. Was she Roxie or Roz? I’ll settle for Roxie, more exotic to fit into a story, and by then who’ll care if it’s right or wrong?

She’ll be almost forgotten when I dream my last dreams. I’ll call her to me one last time – if anyone should hear they’ll think it’s the drugs or a spasm of pain. I’ll long for the kiss, the touch of her hand, but I’ll struggle for a name, any name, to put to her face.

About the author: David Wiseman lived in the UK until 2011 but is now a resident of British Columbia, Canada. He writes long and short fiction, is an occasional blogger, and enjoys maps, photography, travel and reading.

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Hospital Ward Flora by Emily Harrison

Hospital Ward Flora

Emily Harrison

The daffodils are wilting in the glass vase and Grandad is tied in tubes. Snaked up worse than before. Wilting too. His body rusting like a car soaked in salty water. He’s been on the ward for a year, since the fall. Breaking an arm and hip. Confined to a bed or occasionally a wheelchair. IV bag dripping away last speckles of now lacklustre life.

The flowers were our ‘thing’. No flowers this time. I’d started to get distracted by my own existence and stopped bringing bouquets to brighten his. I used to fetch them weekly. They gave us something to talk about that didn’t revolve around the probability of oncoming death.

“To the ground I must go,” Grandad would say.

“Maybe not so soon though,” I’d reply.

He’d been a gardener all his life. Mother nature was his first love. And his last. He knew all there was to know about the world of flora. Names, colours, where they grew, how they grew, how to tend to them. But it was always the meaning that he adored the most; what they symbolized. The first bunch I took, wrapped in a bow, were Peonies. Delicate, blush pink petals, thick chopped stems.

“Hints of power, romance and fortune,” he’d say.

“Expensive,” I’d say, teasing.

Tulips followed. Lush reds and sun yellows, a few dotted white. Thinner stems than the peony. Less support.

“Love, in all its forms,” he’d say, brushing his fingers across them.

“Because I love you,” I’d say, sickly sweet, as though I knew that’s what they meant.

Roses, posies, hyacinths and a potted plant came after that. Lilies, too.

“Peace,” he’d cough, meekly.

“Let’s hope,” I’d mumble.

Four months passed. Then came the daffodils. The final flower. The ones now drooping down under their own weight. Soggy tissue. When I gave him them – only a handful, he wrote down joy and happiness, on the back of a Tesco receipt. Throat too sore. I felt light headed and guilty.

Today, I have none to offer. And nothing to say. There’s a Doctor in the room, scribbling down numbers, responding to the ‘bleep’ machine. Mum’s here. Asking questions. Then it’s time to leave. I look into his milky eyes and wish I’d spoken through our language. Through earth, stems, petals and spectrums of natural light. He can’t speak anymore. Sliding to relapse. Suffering a stroke in his starched bed only last week.

Instead, he opens his bedside draw and hands me a tiny bouquet. Silk. With miniature baby blue heads and a polka dot yellow for the middle. Plastic leaves. Attached a note, ‘you can keep these for eternity,’ to the stem. I don’t ask him what they symbolise, for fear I would turn to tears. In the car home I Google them instead. How they look. That they seem to be wild. The search turns over four million results in less than a second, but it takes me a lifetime to recover.

Grandad’s final flower. Forget me nots.

 

About the author: A young writer from North Yorkshire, Emily has recently discovered that she actually likes creative writing, despite everything she may have previously said. She can also be found on Twitter @emily__harrison, and apologises in advance for her tweets.

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People Math by Sally K. Lehman

People Math

The People magazines are old ones. Last week’s edition which didn’t sell and have to be trashed or recycled or sent to places where George Clooney’s most recent breakup hasn’t been heard about yet. Maybe Utah.

I step forward.

1 person + full bags = 1 step closer to the cash register

Grocery store mathematics.

A woman in jeans and sweatshirt lifts the pile of old People and I smile. Bob always tells me not to smile at strangers. It’s not that he’s wrong; it’s just what I do.

“I have to restock today,” the woman says to me.

“Quite a few left,” I say.

I take a step forward. Long lines at Safeway this afternoon.

“I’m not supposed to be here,” she says.

“Oh?” It must be the raised eyebrows. I can’t trust my eyebrows not to give me away.

Conversation + 2 eyebrows up = Interest

Human reaction math.

“My father is dying up in Bremerton and he’s asking for me.” She hugs George Clooney’s face to her chest. “But no one would fill in for me.”

“I’m so sorry,” I say.

If he was here, Bob would look away now.

I think about those moments when my sisters and I first knew Mom would die, how we stood, how we followed her with our eyes as she moved. I remember the grimace on her face each time, the grind of her teeth.

5 adult daughters + 1 terminal diagnosis = frustration

Mom is dying math.

The woman collecting the magazines says, “All I can hope for is enough time to drive up before Dad’s gone.”

I step forward again. She moves with me. Lines do not wait for human tragedy. I shift the red basket from my right hand to my left.”Do you have many more stores to do today?”

“No,” she says, “this is the last. But I’m worried about getting there before dark.”

I nod. We all know the fairy tales. Dark is when bad things happen. I look to the glass doors and the afternoon light.

19 months + 10 days = barely past the first year

Mom died math.

“It’s still pretty early,” I say. I step forward.

“I’m just scared,” she says. She takes more People from the next checkout stand. More George Clooney to her chest.

We look, two-eyes-to-two-eyes, and I see that soul-deep fear. I’ve known that fear. I’ve lived what she’s living. My hand comes up, lands on her forearm.

5 fingers + 1 forearm = Comfort

People math.

This is where Bob would understand.

“Don’t worry,” I say. “I’m sure you’ll make it.”

We smile the meek half smiles of people who lose parents but have to continue on with life.

“Thank you,” she says. And her eyes slightly shine when she turns away.

And I step forward.

 

About the author: Sally K Lehman is the author of the novel In The Fat, which was published through Black Bomb Books in 2015. She currently attends Wilkes University in the Maslow Family Graduate Creative Writing Program. Her work can be found in The Coachella Review, Lunch Ticket, and several other literary magazines. She lives in the Portland, Oregon area of the USA.

If you’ve enjoyed her story, please let her know in the comments below!

 

Sally Lehman

This Time See White by Mary Thompson

This Time See White

by Mary Thompson

Simpering doctors bring medication and soda. ‘A little of what you fancy won’t hurt.’ And stand there gaping with dazzling smiles as tiresome tang sputters off tongue.

Close eyes, see yellow. Lope along sandy, Cornish beaches with rucksack and family. Stop for snack at hut on Porthminster. What was it called? Continue to end and plunk down on red and black patterned rug with hole in middle. Why didn’t we fix it? And lie there all afternoon till sun has set and we’re as golden as lions. On way home, go for fish and chips with lashings of vinegar. Grace opts for haddock. As always. Why did we split? While Duke and Daisy argue over last remaining sausage.

Have the cod, please, one of you. For God’s sake.’

Silly things.

 

Cram suitcases into Mini Clubman.

Are we there yet?

Break down on motorway. Fist through windscreen. Tears.

Sorry,’ I never say.

 

Loath to recall the bad. Must remember the good. That’s what the book says. As if a book can tell you such things.

Brownie camera captures sweet smiles. Remove glasses and gaze into lens. Sunflowers, runner beans, mint; windbreaks, cloudy skies, sea; Slow-blinking, tiger-like cats. Love.

 

What a sunset,’ says nurse.

Open eyes slightly and burnished beam slinks through blinds. Beautiful. One tremory hand lifts glass for drink and water sloshes over side.

 

Gentle thrum on door and Daisy enters in periwinkle jumper with Joshua in squally rage.

‘What’s wrong, son?’

Puts bundle of boy in my arms.

‘He knows I’m sad, Dad. He feels it.’

Nod and close eyes.

This time see white.

 

About the author: Mary Thompson’s stories have been long-listed and shortlisted in several publications and competitions including Flash 500, Fish Short Memoir Competition, Writing Magazine and Kishboo magazine. She has also taken a number of flash fiction workshops run by Kathy Fish and Meg Pokrass. Follow her on Twitter @MaryRuth69

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The Black of the Words, and the White by Jason Jackson

The Black of the Words, and the White

by Jason Jackson

In the accident, James broke himself in so many places that when he came round three days later he was encased from the neck down in a full body cast.

“Look at all that white,” said Elizabeth, smoothing her hand along the plaster, but James didn’t answer. It was all he could do to blink.

The next day, Elizabeth brought a pen, and soon enough, with the sun coming through the slits in the blinds, the only sound was James’s sleep-breath and the scratch of Elizabeth’s pen.

She wrote first about driving through snow, listening to Joe Cocker on the radio singing about a letter, and then a man’s hand turning the dial. This led her onto a thought she’d had of how some forms of rage could only be contemplated in fragments. And then: a bag, left on a foreign train-platform and only remembered after two stops, how that moment of remembering would engender a decision to either sensibly get off and go back, or accept the will of the universe and continue on regardless.

This was all left-leg, and as she read her work back to herself she heard a strong voice in her head which was nothing like her own. The sound of quickening breaths interrupted her, and when she looked up she saw James blinking rapidly. She smiled, and when she looked down again at her words she became aware, suddenly, how much more white she still had to fill.

Over the next week, she would write on the chest-plate of ceiling fans in holiday hotel rooms, how their lopsided gyrations might lead the husband to demand an upgrade even though his wife admired the low-rent glamour of the creak and the whirr. She would write on an arm about a dream of a cheap false-eyelash, half pulled-away from its lid, how a woman might leave it like that as she climbed into bed with her dream-lover, and how the dream-lover might tear it off with his teeth. She would also write, moving towards the groin, of a cloud that really had looked like a castle, despite dismissive protestations, and a wave that had broken over a woman’s feet, leaving an orange starfish clinging to an ankle and a distant man, oblivious, with a camera and a rock. She’d write here also of a freshly-split avocado, its stone-cavity filled with black olives, left ostentatiously in the middle of an otherwise cleaned plate on a table set for two, and also of unworn yellow lingerie balled up in anger and thrown into a wicker bedroom bin.

And still, there was the black of the words, and the white of the cast, but Elizabeth was becoming increasingly unaware of any difference between the two, and as she wrote she forgot more and more to listen out for James’ breathing, which in any case had become quieter now, and soft, and slowing.

About the author: Jason Jackson writes short fiction and poetry. He also takes photographs. In a busy life, he hopes to get better at all three. Find links to Jason’s work at jjfiction.wordpress.com  and Jason tweets @jj_fiction

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Aut Dormi, Aut Lacte by Christina Dalcher

Aut Dormi, Aut Lacte

by Christina Dalcher

The archaeologist’s trowel scrapes and her brow sweats under an autumn sun as she dislodges pieces of a child that wasn’t. Segregating phalanges no bigger around than a fat needle, she reassembles tiny hands next to the mother’s pelvic girdle. It is smooth, unpitted by the trauma of birth, bleached by centuries. When she’s finished, nine partial fingers, one for each month, lie in the dust of this house that is not a house anymore.

Five miles to her east is a volcano that nurses scheduled fire.

Her own hands, bones still hidden by flesh, absently move to her stomach. She keeps her palms flat, then curls them as a newborn might do slumbering in a womb, or a young woman grasping for air while ash the color of snow rains down around her, or an archaeologist stretched on a sterile paper cloth listening to a doctor’s tired voice instead of a miniature heartbeat.

Sometimes, she thinks of nature, how rife it is with ticking clocks.The archaeologist finds her finest brush and sets to work on the crib’s frame. She sweeps dirt from each curved runner, wondering if someone had painted the crib, wondering if the mother that wasn’t might have sat by it at night, rocking an invisible infant to sleep with song. Practicing. Women do that sort of thing.

The earth shivers and she thinks of the vulcanologist who was once a husband but never a father, and of the warnings he sent, telling of disturbed rumblings inside the mountain to the east. He is both skilled and lousy at timing natural events, and today the archaeologist decides to ignore him. This is a thing she should have done in several prior situations that were less deadly, but more soul-killing.

When evening falls (it will fall tonight, hard and fast and forever) and Vesuvius starts to growl with the strain of advanced labor, the archaeologist crouches in the dark, humming a Roman lullaby. She prefers Aut dormi, aut lacte to Either sleep, or suckle because there is less pain in the age and foreignness of Latin. Still, other collections of sounds grind their way through her like a trowel through ancient soil: barren, sterile, unfruitful in the past, possible IVF candidate today. The color of the words has changed over centuries, but they’re all shades of the same blank hue.

Before the archaeologist is buried with the mother who wasn’t a mother, the baby who wasn’t a baby, and the peace of absolute stillness, she watches the muscles in her own hands flex with every movement of the unused crib. It is white like old bones, and it still rocks after all this time.

 

About the author: Christina Dalcher is a theoretical linguist from the Land of Styron and Barbecue, where she writes, teaches, and channels Shirley Jackson. Recognitions include The Bath Flash Award’s Short List; nominations for The Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net and Best Small Fictions; and Mslexia’s Novel Competition Long List. Find her work in Split Lip Magazine, Whiskey Paper, and New South Journal, among others. Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary Agency represents Christina’s novels. www.christinadalcher.com  and you can find her on Twitter: @CVDalcher.

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