November 30th

And a very good morning to everyone. Your last Message is the first Message of the book because we don’t believe that endings are really endings, only the beginnings of other things. Messages and the Your Messages Project are proof of that.

A BIG thank you to everyone who has taken part this month. It’s a cliché but it’s true… we couldn’t have done it without you. Please keep checking the site for information between now and January, and in particular for the names of the selected writers on 15th December.

We hope to see as many of you as possible at The Poetry Café, Betterton Street, London on 31st January for the launch of Your Messages.

And please keep in touch.
Lynne & Sarah


One morning, in bed, he turns his naked back to you and you start to write.
Unthinking at first. You wet your finger, trace letters on his skin. ‘I l...’ Then your hand takes over. ‘...eft you,’ it continues.

‘Mmm...’ he murmurs. ‘Me too.’

You worry about this all day – me too what? So that night, when he’s late for the film you both want to see, you scream at him. ‘People are looking,’ he hisses and that’s when you start to run. But he catches you up, holds you tight by the arm until you calm down. ‘Where are you going?’ You’re not sure, maybe you just wanted to be the one to go. While you wait for the film to start, you read the review. The Loneliness of a Jilted Woman.

Somehow you stay, although you clutch at him so tightly he shows you the bruise later. ‘It’s in the shape of a heart,’ you say wonderingly and then he can’t stop looking at it in the mirror.

‘I’ve been marked,’ he crows and you’re OK just so long as he doesn’t show you his back. You don’t sleep because you need to make sure he doesn’t turn away. You try to understand what he’s saying when he makes those little noises that have never bothered you before. Then he takes a sudden intake of breath and you start to punch him. You can’t stop.

He wakes. ‘Jesus,’ he says, ‘it’s four fucking o’clock in the morning.’

You tell him how he wants to leave you. You’re crying so hard you can’t get the words out.

A month later, you pick up the phone. Hear the message you used to share, except now it’s just his name. ‘I left you first,’ you say. Silence echoes down the line.


  1. A little kinky.
    And you’re ruining everything.
    I thought you liked it.
    I do.
    Who’s kinky now?
    Just touch.

    He took her hand and guided it over the parquet floor. “It cost me a fortune,” he said.
    “Very nice.”
    “But can you feel them?”
    “The pock marks. Pock marks all over it.”
    “You know how that happened?”
    He glanced sideways at her stilettos on the floor.
    “But I thought you liked them.”
    “I do.”
    “And you always ask me to take off my clothes.”
    “I do?”
    She ran a hand over his clavicle. “You always say, take them off.”
    “I do,” he said.

    She’d come in the door and he’d tell her to take them off. She’d unbutton her blouse and slip out of her skirt and then, stark naked but for the stilettos, she’d come towards him and, and … well, who could say no? His parquet, though, was showing the strain.

    The parquet is suffering.
    The parquet?
    Your stilettos.
    She ran her fingers over the pock marks on the floor. “Is it a me or the parquet thing?”

    She didn’t come for a whole week. He rang. “I’m busy,” she said.
    “I miss you.”
    “And the parquet?”
    “I love you,” he said.
    “In stilettos?”
    “And the parquet?”
    “More pock marks, I guess.”

    He opened the door. “Take them off,” he said. “Your clothes, I mean.”
    Smiling, she placed two woolly thinglets into his hand and proceeded to undress.
    He slipped one of the thinglets over a finger, the other over a thumb. Naked, she lifted one stiletto-clad foot. “Slip it on,” she said.
    He smiled.
    “Now the other.”
    “I love you,” he said as his eyes ran approvingly over her body down to her felt-clad stiletto heels.
    “Condoms,” she said. “For the parquet.”

  2. Bernard is snoring again. The window is wide open because Sylvia is hot, not in the sexual sense but because she is menopausal and feels that even if she could demolish the fitted wardrobes and lower the entire side wall of the house like a flap, she would still be a hot middle-aged housewife with insomnia. She moves her legs around the bed trying to find a cold spot. Bernard has his back to her.

    She picks up her laptop from the floor at the bedside to check her email although she knows that her inbox will only contain offers of Viagra and penis extensions. The disappointment is familiar but somehow comforting. Unfortunately, the laptop is warming up and if her hands get any hotter, the eczema will start up again. She switches it off.

    Sylvia is trying to sleep and Bernard is still snoring. Sylvia wants to write but if she turns on the light then she’ll never get back to sleep. Bernard never worries about these things, light on or off, he doesn’t stir.

    On the floor is a notepad, somewhere on the bedside table is a pen. Sylvia leans down and gropes for the pad. She writes:

    The bed is silent
    My holding space
    Everyone safe, stopped
    I think alone
    And wait for dawn
    To see what’s new
    My wishful thinking
    Will come true.

    Bernard is predictably unimpressed by this little gem of literary wisdom and she vows not to show him any more of her writing, at least not until she is published.

    Bernard continues to ignore Sylvia, doesn’t notice her preoccupation with the scraps of paper littering the house. One Sunday, he gets up to an empty bed and it is only later he sees the note on the pillow: ‘I’ve won the lottery. Bye.’

  3. Merc - I've really enjoyed reading your messages over the last 30 days and this morning's was no exception -thank you!

  4. Everybody has their favourite memories of this year’s I’m A Messager, Get Me Out Of Here, but for many it was the moment when Oz Hardwick was caged underwater with a crocodile with only a retractable fountain pen (broad nib) and a moleskin notebook to defend himself. Hard too to forget was when nightvision cameras caught Merc banging Debbie’s 2B pencils on the rocks in camp to break the lead. Naughty, naughty!

    From the start of the marathon write-off, bookies were offering good odds on the celebrity acrobat twin sisters Kathryn and Cathy (their balancing act on a tower of 73 pencil sharpeners on day 23 is now the second highest viewed video on YouTube) and Migs and Diggles whose joint 300-word palindrome written upside down in mirror writing made the front page of The Guardian (‘A nut for a jar of tuna’). Canny punters also rated the chances of Reg Peplow while betting was suspended on Jamieson Wolf after it was revealed that a Far East syndicate had placed $50,000 on him to lose and been sending, as yet unreleased, text messages to Leatherdykeuk and Zinnia Cyclamen.

    Of course there was plenty of camaraderie too. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when Chris Hoskins lent his last ink cartridge to Rachel when she was one word short of the required 300 on the final day, leaving himself stranded on 287 until Colleen lent him her lipstick. And who would have guessed that Radhamani and Sharra would have finished the show friends after their debate over whether ‘seven-year-old’ counted as one or three words descended into a no-holds-barred mud wrestling frenzy with An Yu, Louise and Leigh looking on and making notes.

    All eyes now turn to 2008’s televised competition in which competitors must also learn to samba.

  5. I have put up with it for as long as I can, but the strain is getting to me.
    I can’t get a good night’s sleep because she keeps waking me up. ‘To check that you are still breathing’ she says.
    If we are going anywhere she asks me to choose between two outfits, disagrees with what I suggest and appears wearing a third. She says she will never wear the second again because I obviously don’t like it.
    When I tell her I met one of our friends who has just come back from a trip to New York she asks me ‘Who with? Why? Where did they stay? What was the weather like? Who looked after their children? How did they travel? Did they buy anything interesting? I tell her they said that they had just come back from a trip to New York. Just that. Nothing more. None of my business to ask the other stuff-intrusive, rude. Then I have to listen to her end of the conversation for 45 minutes, complete with ‘He’s hopeless. Never remembers conversations.’
    When I am on the phone, however, she keeps talking to me and telling me what I should be saying. It doesn’t matter if it is about what we want the plumber to do or if I am trying to book a flight—one moment of silent listening provokes a string of questions and comments so I can’t copy down a list of numbers and dates and times. If I tell the person at the other end that ‘I can’t complete the call but I will pass it to someone who can’, or if I just explain to her ‘Shut up,’ she stomps off in a sulk.
    I am ‘always cross’ with her. I ‘never listen.’ ‘Don’t love…’
    Self-fulfilling prophesy.

  6. What now?

    Our lives came together without much warning.
    You were hell bent on making money.
    I was anxiously trying to make everybody's lives better.
    By the time the summer days shortened and the leaves had to be swept off the court before we could play, our whole beings seemed to have become completely entwined.

    I've loved French films with subtitles ever since I used them to learn the language, so you came to the cinema club with me, though I was never really sure that you wanted to. But you could still remember the story lines months later.
    You were into stock car and banger racing. Difficult to miss the pile of worn out tyres and wrecked gear boxes in the back garden.
    But I got used to the noise and the smell and began to look forward to Sunday afternoons.

    One Friday night I wrote "I love you" on your back with my finger. You turned over and wrote "I have sex, you fuck, we make love", all over my front, and then did it.

    Maybe the bike ride across Afghanistan was a turning point.
    I really did want to go but you said I would never get time off work.
    Then when I did, you found you couldn't.
    Or the quilting exhibition at the NEC.
    I couldn't believe you wanted to spend three days there, not until I cancelled and you still went.

    Looking back, that time when I threw up all over you at Melanie's wedding, feels like a seminal moment.
    I wasn't putting myself on to you like you said.
    I wanted no part of the gurgling mass of bucks fizz and quiche.
    Or did you puke over me?
    Whose friend was Melanie anyway?

    Where now?

    This is where you end
    and I begin.

  7. When your heart turns inside out from love, it’s like riding a high wind. The air swooshes past your ears, and you know that your touch is good and light and sure. You begin to believe in your own capacity for love, and to know that the love will be enough to see you through, all of you.

    When your heart turns inside out from fear, it’s like tunneling in the earth. You want to become a mole, to hide yourself from all that crashes and bashes up above you. Your love, once a bright and shiny thing, is useless to you because you can’t see it. All it does is drives you forward, tunneling to nothing.

    When your heart turns to ice, it makes a shadow of love. Love flits shamefully into the crevices and corners like a thief. Love becomes ashamed of its bold statements, its rash promises and childish optimism, and feels it needs to hide away. Ice makes love grow up and become too cool for its own good.

    Light a small match in your heart to melt the ice. Let that fire warm love again so that it takes its body back, becomes fully-formed and healthy again. Bring love in from the shadows, bring it up from under the ground, rehabilitate love. Let it convalesce on warm benches in the sunshine, let it unwind slowly like a new fern, and let it trail its opalescence in your life once more.

    Let love shine. Let love live. Grab on its coat-tails and let it take you for a spin. Feel the wind in your hair again. Don’t fear being alone. Don’t fear anything. Just take the hand that love holds out to you, grasp it firmly and allow yourself, at last, to be free.


  8. Can't believe this is the end: can't we just keep going until we get to the end of the 300? (And then start again with some of our own, perhaps?) It's been great fun, wonderful to read other people's entries and feel humbled, inspired, amazed that there are so many other people out there who are equally obsessed with writing. Well done to Alex for celebrating the process: wish I'd thought of that (and feel honoured to have made the cut into his list of "regulars"). See some of you in January, I hope - and down to the day's serious business now...


  9. The panic attacks have died down since that night. Your sanity has returned. Took a few weeks and sleepless nights, an attempted overdose of Prozacs, bouts of depression, another near fatal overdose, moments of madness, eventual recognition and acknowledgement then acceptance you left, he didn’t.

    You trace your steps back to that day.

    In a panic you ring Sam.
    She can’t help nor Mike nor his mum.
    Only natural your mind starts playing games.
    You imagine the worse case scenario unfolding before your eyes: an unidentifiable body found under the bridge.
    You shudder.
    Inconsolable, you reach for a g & t as you search frantically for another number to ring only to be thrown deeper into the turbulence you’ve grown accustomed to.
    He returns reeking of urine and drinks as he slumps on the parquet, leaving a trail of muddy footprints and vomit. His back is towards you.
    You’re dazed. You undress him, unable to see anything but those words. You read them again and with each move you edge closer to the door.
    You heave him onto the bed, cover up the words with a clean vest, clean up the rest of the mess.
    You close the bedroom door behind you. The front door is next.

    You wonder where to go from there.

    Your mother’s. She’s at home and will be on duty in an hour but it can wait she says. She’s more concerned about you. She listens calmly. She nods as you reel off a list of how good you’ve been to him. Yet he’s never satisfied, always complaining about the food, the house, sex, your attitude, the lack of money, your clothes. You moan, he doesn’t give much but he expects miracles from you. Your mother brings you closer and weeps, ‘Poor sweet Kate, rest now’.


  10. I wrote my first love’s name in code in the back of my rough book. He came to find me at break, saying there was something I needed to see in the classroom. Ten children were gathered round my desk, giggling over something. My book. They’d written his name beneath the coded symbols. He looked at me and I had no idea what he thought.

    “It’s not him,” I said. “You were meant to think that, but it’s not. The real code’s much more private: you won’t be able to break it.”

    They looked unconvinced, but I’d raised enough uncertainty to head them off. I was a swot, after all; the kind of person who’d invent a double-layered code.

    He was still standing there after the others drifted away.

    “Will you tell me his name?” he asked.

    “I might. Later.” I frowned at him. “I’ve never told anyone. I met him when I went to stay with my cousins.”

    He looked very solemn.

    “His name’s a bit like yours,” I conceded.

    When no one was looking, I changed a couple of the symbols and showed him that the name in my book couldn’t be his.

    A few weeks later we had to make posters about ourselves. A self-portrait and some writing: our hobbies, favourite colours, the names of our brothers and sisters and pets.

    “Boyfriends and girldfriends, too, if you like,” said the teacher, with a twinkle.

    Some of them looked at me and giggled.

    “We know who HER boyfriend is, Miss. She wrote his name in her book.”

    He was sitting on the next table. “It wasn’t my name,” he said. “She told me who it was.”

    When I looked across a few minutes later to smile a “thank you”, I caught sight of my name on his poster.

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  12. Hi Lynne!

    This is such a brilliant idea of yours and Sarah's. Just fantastic.

    I've enjoyed reading the other responses and especially Alex's today. I can only think of my poem 'That Lipstick' which gave him the idea to mention my lipstick - (hahah!) in today's prose response.

    (I can only say I'm honoured, thank you Alex!)

    My very best regards to you Lynne and Sarah and of course to everyone,


  13. You’d been burgled, you were certain of it. Slowly it became clear that only her possessions had been taken.
    When the realisation dawned, it became clearer. You stood inside the wardrobe so that you could smell her presence.
    You listened to the ansa-phone messages over and over so that you could hear her voice.
    You waited and waited. You were waiting still, for six years you were waiting.

    I read the poem you wrote over cold coffee, cigarettes and half breaths, half waiting for the secrets we blink to give themselves up. I sat next to you, half breathing, half seeing, half believing those half remembered moments.
    And when they sang the song we wrote, you shook my hand as if we were
    acquainted in some way.

    I waited for you; I watched other lives encroaching on our history
    I watched from an unbridgeable distance. I threw you my life raft
    but still you blundered onwards, as if waiting for some translation.

    Time runs on like a half breath, a half spark, and like the songs you played me
    that were so beautiful, they all got lost in the wreckage.

    So I read your poem today, the one that made me cry
    The one you wrote when I was seeing, believing, breathing, and waiting, and still,
    like it was only yesterday.

    I wrote my Last One for You.

    Grief took it’s time. But dreams were not as kind

    I heard your voice. The unshakable unstoppable words you spoke on repeat replay

    I saw the words you wrote like magenta dripping from your pen

    And like a landscape that’s paralysed I wonder why the inner beauty you saw
    was lost on you when the spirit, the essence, was absolute,
    but impervious to the physical.

    That was my last one for you.

    Chris Hoskins

  14. There was to be a wedding. All in the forest were giddy with excitement, scurrying; preparing. Sotsky and Delicta were to be married. We gathered around their beautifully kept grave at noon, to remove the trinkets. Tonight, on the stroke of midnight they would be free. Their names had been carved in gold on their gravestone, both had been exceptional warriors, but, in accordance with the laws of the Forest, their twenty year contract had expired. So too did their breath-for twenty more years.

    If they were to be freed, a sacrifice must be made to the Gods of the Forest. This time, one of the Royal Family would be chosen. Nine members of the Family were attending and, on the stroke of midnight would be ordered to undress. The chosen one would be distinguished by a glowing star that would appear on their right shoulder. They were free to choose a resting partner.

    In our History Records only one had ever been foolish enough to resist. It is recorded that Objephia, on refusing the Gods, immediately shrivelled into a twisted, antiquated being, deprived of the gift of sight. She is said to sill exist deep inside the Forest. Her mother, (who would have been her resting partner), suffered the same terrible fate. She did not survive. She withered into a small pile of dust that was carried away by the Wind. All had read of such happenings, but no creature has seen it happen. Although there is much excitement because of the wedding, it would perhaps be much more relevant if the chosen one refused. To witness our History and tell our stories firsthand? Priceless.

    On the stroke of midnight a glowing star appeared on Conventia`s back. She was unafraid. She chose Kompani, her beautiful sister, who immediately refused.

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  16. Friday night - again. He's been down 'The Kings Arms' followed by 'The Red Dragon.' His breath stinks like an open sewer. He's collapsed onto the bed and promptly fallen asleep. His snoring could waken the dead. And she's not dead - yet. Although at times like this, she wishes she was. At least she'd be promised a good night's sleep! That's Stan-the-man for you. He's snoring like there's no tomorrow. It's at the decibel of Concorde. She knows who SHE'D like to de-commission.

    At least Concorde was prettier and SHE brought in a decent wage. Old Stan-the-man does bugger all, in bed or out of it.

    She gives an almighty sigh befitting a West End play. Jesus Christ, she'd even cuddle up to that funny looking chap, Andrew Lloyd whatsiname.

    She glances over at Stan. Stan-the-man. He's nothing but a mound of boring boredom. She's bored. She's not over the sexual hill yet and wants a bit of action now and again. Even if the month's NOT got an R in it ... on his birthday? ... on her birthday? in a leap year? She gives up.

    She wonders for the umpteenth time why she puts up with it. The kids are off their hands now. There's nothing stopping her ... stopping her what? She's not quite sure. She's still up for it. Now THERE'S a sensitive phrase in Stan's vocabulary ... up for it.

    She'll make plans. But she'll need to get some sleep first. Reaches over to her bedside table, it's a veritable mini-library. 'The Big Sleep' glossily stares her in the face. She's seduced. She's nodded off. She's now deep in the velvet arms of REM. (When awake she'd laughingly call it her Rest Eludes Me stage).

    Not any more. The stage is set. Her case is packed.

    Louise Laurie

  17. In the beginning it was just lines and doodles, a casual digit traced down the lines of her body, following the ridge of her ribs and across the smooth skin of the stomach. His abstract strokes of affection drew exploratory maps of her pale territory, its borders shifting and rewritten. But as time went on, his moistened finger gained purpose, delineating deliberate arabesques and knotwork, fluting her spine, illuminating her shoulders. Buds began to plump and burst amongst lush new leaves, and sensuous, extravagant blossoms bloomed perfect upon her breast.

    Birds and beasts soon followed, weaving through the vinescroll which coiled her arms and circled her wrists. Stalking and prancing, peeping through scrolls and roses, peacocks preened and panthers prowled. Swallows soared and serpents spiralled, protective at her slender thigh. Around her calves crept apes and owls, before burgeoning nature bowed to marvellous mutation, to blemya and basilisk, the mind’s mad fancies at her ankles and delicate instep.

    And in between he wrote words. Words in lost languages, with letters locked in precise patterns, rising up her neck and covering her face: 'wa bið þam sceal of langoþe leofes abidan'. Meanings grew deeper than his careful touch, deeper than tongue, deeper than line and curve. His fingers formed complex lexicons of meanings beyond expression, their restless signs evolving to icons, to mathematical formulae and to musical notation, singing the canon of desire and fulfilment, desire and fulfilment.

    He pauses, his work almost complete, and draws back to take in her naked perfection, where she lies, eyes closed, milk-white and breathing gently. It is not long before dawn, and her form catches the last moonlight, pure, clear and tattooed with invisible fire. He licks the tip of her insomniac finger and reaches towards her across time.

    This is what he writes:

  18. Help! I'm out of ink & these crocodiles are beginning to look hungry...

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  20. Charlotte
    I thought what you wrote was truly beautiful and it lifted my heart.

  21. Ta for the good words, Kathryn, but do tell Alex it's not true. I promise I didn't break Debbie's pencils. Never trust sight. wys is not always wyg.

  22. I remember a darkened room, closed curtains, a sliver of sodium vapour light slicing through the gap between the curtain edge and the wall. Half a dozen candles lit around the room and a tight beam spotlight screwed to the top bar of the four poster bed.

    You were moaning softly, already half-asleep from the massage and my fingers circling across your back, tracing labyrinthine patterns over your skin. The cold wash of alcohol revived you briefly, swabbing away all trace of germs and bacteria; the acrid emptiness of the scent filling your nose and mouth until you could taste it as a physical thing.

    The chink of a bottle and hiss of flame as the scalpel is sterilised and then your back arches as I inflict the first bright thread of burning pain. A downward stroke of the scalpel – no longer than a half an inch but it feels three feet long – followed by two slow curves. A pause for breath then I begin anew. Another vertical stroke but this time followed by three horizontal ones akin to the tines of a burning pitchfork. Another pause, another stroke, over and over again.

    Again and again the fire of cutting continues until a few minutes later – was it only minutes for it seems that hours have passed – I begin the next cut under the first. By now you have drifted off. The pain no longer taunts you but enriches, folding you in the warmth of my passion, exemplified by the point of surgical steel held like a pen between my fingers.

    My second litany ends and I check that you wish to continue. You nod and mutely smile. Another twelve lines to go:

    Being your slave what should I do but tend
    Upon the hours, and times of your desire?

  23. She had been marked.

    Looking down at her left hand, she felt a flash of pain. On her palm there was now a black shape. It was a small black mark in the shape of an eye.

    She rubbed her fingers over the spot and felt no gouge. Instead, the skin was healed and soft. But the tattoo was there, plain as day, blinking at her. As if it had always been waiting to appear at a moment she least expected.

    She pulled her hand closer to her so that she could see it in the moonlight. They eye looked as if it glowed, black and ominous, on her palm. She stroked it with her thumb and felt something hum through her, like the voices that she had heard in the darkness of her nightmares.

    The whispering increased and Poppy watched as a soft, black mist started to rise from her skin. The mist obscured her view and Poppy could see nothing in front of her except blackness. She felt a blinding flash of pain, hot and white and the mist cleared.

    She found herself in a glade and could hear the whisper of bird wings. Looking up, she saw thousands of crows in the branches of an ancient willow tree. They looked like moving shadow.

    When one of them flew down to her she was not afraid. It cawed at her, but, strangely, she heard words within the noise. “You are one of us now.” It said.

    “One of what?” Poppy said.

    “A Crow.” The bird said. “Look at yourself.”

    Poppy looked down and saw not hands and legs but wings black and shiny as satin and feet with sharp black talons.

    “What am I?” She whispered.

    The Crow regarded her sagely. “You are one of us.” It said.

    Jamieson Wolf

  24. It had always been an orchard as long as she could remember, full of Cox, Worcester Permain and Golden Delicious, flowering and fruiting at different times, leaving scarcely any part of the year when the trees weren’t covered with leaves, blossom or apples. Before, when he used to be eager to get back from town, when a missed train was a cause for anguish, they would take late evening walks together down the green aisles, talking about their day apart, then return to shut the door on the dog fox calls and the wind in the valley.

    But one December the trees were uprooted and shredded into chippings in the space of an afternoon. The next week the farmer ploughed the remaining grassy carpet strips, reducing the surface to a frozen brown choppy sea of earth. It lay fallow for months.

    Until that day when she walked past with the dog. A group of men were pounding stakes into the ground, not ten feet apart in rows as before, but much closer together in diagonal, star-like groups. “New methods,” said the farmer. “Gives you larger crops. You’ve got to try the new ways.”

    That weekend, he didn’t come back from town at all: an important meeting, a missed connection. “Why not come up here for once, country mouse,” he offered. She thought: new methods, new ways, maybe I should. They met, as they had that first time, at the Zoo by his favourite enclosure of gorillas, the alpha male with his troop of females. One of them started to groom the massive silver back and he laughed. “There are two more than before. He’s extended his harem since we were here last.”

    She took two steps back to try and get a better view – then just carried on walking instead.

  25. I've already left my message for today so this one is for Lynne and Sarah and everyone else...

    This has been such a wonderful journey through the written word, through emotion, feeling and genres.

    I never thought that three hundred words could be so moving, so incredible, so powerful.

    We should all be proud of what we've done this month. This was WAY better than taking part in Nanowrimo, hands down!

    Thanks to Lynne and Sarah and to all of you whose messages I have read every day.

    What are we going to do with our time now?

    Write some more messages I guess. LOL


  26. Whenever he draws his rounded, short fingernails across the surface of her smooth skin, they leave behind red pressure lines which fade away gradually over the following few hours.

    She had first discovered that her skin was unusual during a stay in hospital. Her favourite doctor had become quite excited on seeing the red mark left by the stethoscope pressed into her back. He told her that this was a rare condition…she can no longer remember the medical terminology…and he had rushed off to fetch a Polaroid camera.

    The doctor wanted to use pictures of her skin as a case study for medical students. She readily agreed. Fame at last and after all, no one would be able to recognise her from the photos. But she wondered what marks the doctor had left with the blunt end of his pen. She fantasised that perhaps he would write ‘I love you’ or draw a star. Nobody ever needed to know who had written the words and perhaps he secretly felt the same way as she did. But of course he didn’t. When he finally showed her the photos of her back, she was astonished to see a game of noughts and crosses, the grid partially completed. Her romantic fantasies were shattered.

    That was a long time ago. Now, of course, it is her real-life lover who presses his fingers into her flesh and leaves fingerprint marks on her body during sex. Her lover who leaves secret messages imprinted in her skin where only she can see them, words of love on her upper arms or thighs, which she sneaks off to look at in the privacy of the office toilets.

    But today he too is writing on her back. She can’t figure out the shape of the letters spelling: THE END.

  27. Silence has no words, no sounds. Unspoken words are thoughts, but thoughts are not always words. Some people think in pictures. And in a thoughtless silence there is still feeling, the body's thoughts, the unthought known.

    We're not good at silence in the 21st century. A pneumatic drill rattles in the roadworks on the corner. A car alarm cries wolf. The wind whooshes past my ears unnoticed, for they are plugged with iPod headphones, music in my ears to shut out all the other sounds. Even our food is noisy: crisps crunch, drinks fizz, bubble and squeak is named for its sound.

    Can you imagine how quiet the world used to be, before traffic and computers and mechanical devices were invented and became widely used? The wind used to carry sounds then. I have heard tell of people living on the American prairies who could hear loud noises over long distances, tens of miles in some cases. If they heard faint screams on the wind, they would know a disaster had occurred a long way away in a certain direction. And sure enough that disaster – a building on fire, perhaps, or a lynching – would be reported in the next issue of the newspaper, or the one after that.

    At night, in those days, the default position of the world would have been silence. Not the hum from the main road, the gurgles from the central heating system, the raucous laughter of a home-going drunk. Just pure soft rich silence, with an occasional sound made by a person, an animal, or the weather. And that is what there will be, at the end of November 2007, on the Messages blog. Or, strictly speaking, after 8 am GMT on December 1st. No more comments of three-hundred-word chatter. This blog will become silent.

  28. Can I just add my thanks to Sarah and Lynne for organising this. It has been inspiring and so much fun. I have really enjoyed reading everybody's messages and I wouldn't like to have to make choices between them!

  29. They stand apart, two men, each nervous for a different reason, from a different perspective, but stemming from the same cause at the same time.

    He, dressed in the robe of his office, book in hand, waiting, eyes already manifesting his apprehension, his sense of déjà vu, as he faces his congregation, each member dressed for the occasion, happily anticipating the moment that will never come.

    The father, already half-fearing, feeling the tightening grip of a child’s hand on his arm, a young woman standing unknowingly on the brink of her private abyss.

    The verger, summoned by the vicar’s slight inclination of the head, quietly leaves his place in a side aisle, passes into the vestry. The palpable nervous silence continues, long enough for him to make phone calls to the bridegroom’s lodgings and the local hospital. He returns to the church, whispers to the vicar, who sighs inwardly. Turning to his congregation, he speaks briefly, with empathy; lays a comforting hand on the shoulders of the bride and her father, escorting them through the vestry, seeing them into the father’s car. She is numb, unaware of the vicar’s final benediction.

    Even as her morning joy crumbles, converting the song in her heart into one heavy discord, she cannot accept the truth, that her wholehearted faith in the love of one man could be rejected with such cruelty. She is unaware at this moment that she will vow to herself never to trust a man again, will let her youth slip by, embittered, wasted, childless.

    Her father, hearing her bedroom door close, still grieving for the loss of his wife, sets about the lonely task of cancellations. His life too is shattered, his silent prayers unanswered during those thirty minutes, waiting for hurried footsteps up the aisle, the circumstantial miracle.

  30. Alex, you star! I of all people should know to celebrate rather than mourn... but I'm sad this is over, it's been quite a journey. Thanks to everyone who has written lovely words for me to read, I'm sure I'll be coming back to dip into them from time to time. And thanks, most of all, to Lynne and Sarah who set this whole thing up. Jamieson, I couldn't agree more, it's way better than NaNoWriMo!

    Writing a comment that isn't 300 words long feels delightfully wicked. Take care, all.

  31. At first, the time you spend with your notebook and pen seems special. You pour words onto the paper, spreading them around, caressing sentences into some sort of order. You believe that it can last forever.

    But holiday romances are as fragile as candy-floss and melt in the glare of everyday routine. Your notebook cries out to be fed and watered, whilst your family’s bellies rumble louder, drowning the notebook’s pleas. You give in. You tell your notebook that you’ll be back later, that you’ll brew some amazing plotlines while you’re feeding the family. But you don’t go back. You tell yourself that it’s just for tonight.

    The next day it’s harder to pick up your pen. Your notebook’s pages reproach you; their blankness begging to be filled. You dredge up some half-baked ideas. Yesterday’s creations gone stale. You look at what you’ve written with distaste, vowing it will be better tomorrow; that you’ll keep your daily assignations.

    But the next day and the next and the next your family eats your time. You can feel your ideas congealing and decaying. Your notebook gathers dust as you sink under; turning a deaf ear to the whispering, and ignoring the itching in your pen finger.

    Late one night, the whispering gets too loud for you to sleep, and the itching is driving you crazy. You sneak out of bed and scribble a sentence on the back of a shopping list.

    You steal time back from your routine; ten minutes before work in the car park, twenty minutes locked in the bathroom one evening. The affair gathers speed. Your notebook swallows it all; gathers strength and holds your hands so tight you can’t let go.

    You introduce your children to the art of cooking, and let dust gather anywhere but your notebook.
    P.S. I'd like to say a big thanks to Lynne and Sarah for such an inspiring project - I'm really going to miss it.
    And also to everyone else who's posted, it's been great reading everone's work.

  32. We write our names at the edge of the waves with sticks. The top of his wobbly ‘J’ is gone before the ‘K’ is done and he leaps away and starts again. He perseveres in the glistening mud, trailing up and slashing down the shape of an ‘A’ followed by the carefree curl of a ‘C’ and finally another ‘K’. His name stares up at us as naked and as flawless as the day he was first placed on my breast, before the stealthy waves pounce and steal it away.

    Never mind I say. I can feel fine grains of sand in his hair. Did you know that your dreams will come true if the sea or wind snatches your name away? He believes everything I say.

    Standing on the tips of his toes and pressing his body into the unsteadying great gusts that charge up and down the beach he yells ‘J-A-A-A-C-K’. He is so small and so fierce it’s all I can do to stop myself scooping him up in a blurred tangle of arms and legs and never letting go. Then he shouts ‘COME BACK D-A-D’ with all his might, fists clenched, arms straight at his sides, eyes shut tight.

    I turn away before he can see and hurl ‘COME BACK, C-O-M-E B-A-C-K, I L-O-V-E Y-O-U’ into the buffeting blasts though I know that this wish can never come true. I don’t think he’s heard above the roar of sea and the wild, whistling wind but then I hear ‘I LOVE YOU M-O-M’ soaring past me into the sky. My heart trips and I watch his small, serious face looking up at mine. I see you looking at me, and just like that, I know that Jack and I are going to be fine.

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  34. In the freshness of early morning, when you don’t get sleep, when the Goddess of MUSE is alert,
    Supreme reigning in your heart, when others are snoring much to your chagrin, while you hear
    the melody of the chirping of the birds flapping their wings out of their nests, while you inwardly
    Sing “Bliss is in this dawn to be alive,” your quill starts; writing, wiping away those bruises of your
    Wounded heart, which cannot digest the atrocities perpetrated on you by those hardcore villains
    Smiling and smiling. I start with a Message of Thanksgiving to Lynne and Sarah.
    “My Ending is not the Ending,
    The Beginning of a New Beckoning,
    In the beam of Beckoning,
    A fresh Awakening,
    Flowering of a New reckoning,
    In which there is no minus,
    Only plus and plus ,
    The Message of perpetual Love,
    In endless continuum
    Not to be contracted any,
    The Message of Writing ,
    Shaped in a perfect box of,
    ‘Happy’ locked by the
    Key of unbreakable Bond.”

    My mind suddenly jumps to a recent scene in a novel the hard-hearted mother leaves the Family. Nothing is more gruesome than leaving one another, mothers leaving the children ,the husband leaving the family and so on and so forth whatever may be the justifiable reason.
    We leave the family, we leave affections, do we leave our ego? our pride? a general question.
    In family bickering leaving one another rents the family into two. During examinations when the
    Results are out, for fear of being reprimanded or critsized,the failed children leave their families
    and go away The next day news papers, in bold captions ,missing columns say, “my son, please
    return, your mother is in bed, we won’t bother you about the results any more.”
    We wish to come back sure!

  35. A.A. Gill’s review of the ‘Loneliness of a Jilted Man,’ shoots it to the top of the best-read books of 2007. He doesn’t like the title but praises the book’s content and that’s fine by me. He forecasts a great film, stakes his reputation on it. He particularly likes the emotion threaded through it; the dark depression of the man who has been chucked for indulging in a series of affairs, the way he neglects himself, becomes a shadow. The broken woman, her heart in so many pieces, a jigsaw that will never fit together again. The way in which he obliterates his unhappiness by drifting into the drug scene; her coping mechanism, so much stronger than his.

    I focus on the Premiere. I hear the cheers as I walk through heaving crowds dressed from top to toe in Amanda Wakely. And naturally I’m on the arm of Timothy Spall. Yes, he’s the one with the dismal countenance, the hangdog expression who is finding life without her intolerable. Perfect! She is Brenda Blethyn whose eyes and nose stream with little prompting. The wife who tells him: ‘you want to leave,’ and he does and it’s all over.

    But it’s not like that at all. Gill’s his usual derisory, sarcastic self. He does get one thing right; it is based on fact. By writing of those times when he failed to come home, abused me when he did, threw a cut glass vase and gouged a lump out of my cheek, I imagined I’d be free. But I’m not.

    He wanted to stay. I gave him the push and he left in tears. Now I’m the one who cannot stop weeping, wish I could retract my words but it’s all over. My coping mechanism is defunct. I reach for the pills.

  36. For a whole year they pass eachother every week at the swimming pool. Her daughter is in the Intermediate class that starts at seven, his son is advanced and begins his class at eight.
    He is not an outstandingly handsome man; to her all the dads look the same and she has trouble differentiating between them. She never notices his presence at all until the point where they brush against eachother in the narrow corridor. Each time, a shiver runs deep inside her. By the time she registers who has caused this reaction, he has passed through the swing doors into the boys changing room.
    Her daughter moves up to the advanced class. Sitting in the spectators gallery she looks around for the man but cannot spot him in the sea of dads. Maybe it is the dad sitting next to her? He looks similar; short greying hair, sweatshirt and jeans. But then it could equally well be the dad sitting beside him. She tries brushing her arm against the line of mens’ backs as she passes, until she reaches the one who sends a jolt into her.
    In the bath that night she rubs coarse salt into her arms until the skin is pink. In bed she asks her husband to stroke her arms. Dutifully, he obliges. She feels nothing. She tries stroking his arms, asking him how it feels. “Nice,” he replies as he rolls away. “Goodnight.”
    She lies awake watching the numbers move on the clock, stroking her skin, feeling nothing. She strokes her husband’s naked back, gently at first, then with more force until her fingernails break the skin. When he wakes she pretends to be asleep.
    The next morning she tells her husband he must be the one to take their daughter to swimming lessons.


  37. Will you always love me? Or will you stop some day and leave me. This fear takes possession of my days and nights. I lean over in the dark and listen to you breathe. A smile crosses your lips and I worry that I might not be it’s inspiration. In the morning I mention that late night smile and you say you don’t know why you were smiling. Are you lying?
    I look in your eyes to see if you love me but I can’t quite read them and your kiss seems a bit distracted as you head out the door. When I call you midmorning, you’ve no time to talk and I wonder if maybe you don’t want to talk to me.
    I call to see if you’d like to have lunch but you mention a lunch appointment. I imagine your lunch appointment and she is tall and blonde and she makes you laugh. I hate her and am certain I’ve lost you to her.
    You call mid-afternoon but I am pouting and you don’t know why, so you get off the line as quickly as possible. No I love you there. You call back a few minutes later and I smile thinking you’ve called me back to tell me so but you are only calling to remind me that you’re going out with the guys from the office and won’t be home until late. Love you too is what you say before you hang up.
    By the time you arrive home I’m hysterical, neurotic and insane. You’re confused, no comprehension of why I would think such things. Of course you love me. You smile and kiss my swollen face.
    “Baby, I love you. I will always love you. Believe me,” you whisper to my heart pulling me close.

  38. Just wanted to say thank you to Sarah & Lynne and to all of you who have enriched my life by writing such great responses each day.

    I think I'm going to need therapy. What the hell am I going to do in the morning? What do normal people do?

  39. Jet propelled raindrops implode against the window; their violent expulsion from the unseen, thrashing storm clouds guarantee obliteration upon impact. Despite my muted, numbed senses, the violent cacophony outside provides welcome distraction from the nerve shredding, heart stopping screech emanating from my alarm clock.

    Beside me in the 4AM darkness, my wife tosses, huffs and puffs, ultimately remaining asleep. I truly believe it would take a multiple megaton detonation to arouse her from the joyously deep REM sleep that remains her blessing. Redundant of the usual obligatory snooze button, my alarm continues its jarring wail.

    My blurry, staggered movements leaving the bed result in my knee forcefully, unintentionally connecting with an unseen bedside cabinet. I do my best to mute the torrent of choice words I so desperately wish to yell out as loud as humanly possible by biting my wrist. My wife remains blissfully unaware, but my alarm maintains its life sapping pulse.

    Lurching from the bedroom, the urge to relieve my swollen bladder temporarily takes over as number one priority status. During the microseconds of silvery relief, unhealthy looking yellow fluid courses from my weary body at a pace easily matching the watery violence noisily descending beyond. Usual feelings of resentment and self pity kick in. Contemplation during more rational moments of thought has so far failed to cultivate an alternative state of mind. My alarm beats its wearisome tattoo, whilst the soul destroying fatigue bites harder with every passing second.

    Why is it always me? How can she just lie there and sleep through this every single night? How have I exclusively programmed myself for this on a nightly basis?

    Scooping up the usual bowl, I march into my alarm clock’s room. She is incandescent with anguish driven rage. “Want my potty!”

    Blissfully, peace is immediately restored.

  40. I too want to add my thanks to Sarah and Lynne ... this has been sooo fun!!! I was a little scared at first ... I truly enjoyed reading everyone's submissions all month. I will be wondering what to do tomorrow.

  41. Sorry - I am the anonymous contributor above. Typical of me to get it wrong on the last submission!

    Thanks to you all for the past thirty days, its been an honour and an inspiration!

  42. Just adding my voice - thanks all for a great time, and thanks to Lynne and Sarah for getting this going. It's been moving and fun and I hope my writing muscles don't get all flabby from withdrawal. Best wishes,

  43. Thank you so much, Lynne and Sarah for your project which has inspired so many to conjure up fresh images each day.

    Reading the contributions of others for the last thirty days has been awesome.

    We shall all miss it, tremendously. Love to all, Migs

  44. This comment has been removed by the author.

  45. He stopped writing. He wanted to finish the experiment and reveal himself at last. He had made a bet that he wouldn't be able to publish the kind of stories he wrote if he used a woman's pseudonym. He was startled by his success. Women believed he was a sensitive and caring female author who revealed the insensitivity and chauvinism of men so well they wanted to nominate him for a feminist writing award.

    Inspired by George Eliot, he took the pseudonym Georgia Eliasson. This time he'd make his protagonist--different than the earlier ones. Then he wouldn't have to receive the award because it would be stripped of him. He continued to write.

    "I left you first," you say. Silence echoes down the line, but then he picks up the phone.

    "How've you been?"

    You look at the clock, four in the morning precisely. You've awaken him at the perfectly symbolic time.

    "Perfect. Free at last."

    "I'm glad you called."

    You're suspicious. "Why?"

    "You're right...You did leave me first. You left me when you found fault in everything I did. No matter what I did, it was wrong. We'd passed the carnal stage and were finding out about each other as human beings. I thought we were a couple, but you didn't. I was wrong. You were right. You left four months earlier, it was a mental decision though we still had sex. I was late to the movie yes. You never asked me why I was late. Your dad was hit crossing the street. Pronounced dead on arrival. He was drunk again asking for money. You told me you hated him. The degradation. You said I was just like him. But I'm not. Never have been. I've always been me. Not your projection of me."

    He mailed the manuscript.

  46. Hi everyone,

    Though I came to this late, I've really enjoyed reading everyone's writing. Many thanks to Lynne and Sarah for this!


  47. Oh my gosh! The 30th of Nov has arrived . . . what am I going to do for the rest of my life?!

    Thanks Lynne and Sarah and everyone who took part for such a brilliant project and for so many wonderful messages!

    Happy writing


  48. Three hundred thanks to you all for your lovely comments. We have enjoyed it very much ourselves - and just wish we could put every entry that's appeared on this website in the book as that would really reflect what's happened here this November, and creation of our own little 300-word world! Has anyone else noticed how the comments have just kept on getting even better as the month progressed? Maybe we could do it again next year, eh? And, as Alex says, that does give you eleven months to learn how to dance...

  49. Next year sounds great, Lynne and Sarah!

    It will give Alex another chance to include everyone in 300 words again.

  50. Kensington, America. March 18th 1832

    Dear Father and Mother

    I am sorry for the lateness of this letter. Our passage was longer than expected since we were 18 days in the Irish Channel because of contrary winds and had difficulty reaching the Delaware River.

    By the time we arrived, an early winter had set in and the river was frozen up so we couldn’t get nearer to Philadelphia than 120 miles. We were held up at Lewis Town Roads where many other ships were in the same situation. There we stayed for a week, but were driven out to sea again by winds and tides for 3 days and 2 nights, exposed to the extreme weather and drifting ice.

    Robert met us at Lewis Town Roads with much trouble and was glad to find the children well, though he feared for them in the cold.

    We tried to land in the ship’s boat on the 22nd December through rough seas. We managed well until we were within a quarter of a mile of the shore, and then we could go no further for the ice. The weather was severe and we were more like lumps of ice ourselves than living beings, and the boat was now half-full of water. Mr. Steele, the first mate, thought our situation doubtful, but the men managed to reach a Brig that was quite near. The sailors on board were all frost-bitten, but we got aboard. We were given dry clothes and a good supper. The following day we landed at Lewis Town, and reached Philadelphia on 26th December.

    We have settled here well enough, but Robert has taken cold and cannot rid his chest of it since over two months. Myself and the children are healthy and I will write again before long …

  51. Just posted the last one.
    Thanks to Lynne and Sarah for the chance to be disciplined about writing! And to be able to read the writing of other people on a regular basis. I shall miss it.

    love to all


  52. The first night you needed to find a sbitennik, or perhaps you just wanted to Google the word: I did the same (a metal teakettle fitted with a heater pipe and legs, similar to a samovar).

    The next you sent someone a hamper of smoked eels and venison from Forest & Black: you declined the gift wrap service. Then you checked out the flights from Toronto to Vancouver.

    On Saturday you contacted your tailor’s (Charm Suits, Hong Kong) and then you looked for accommodation there. A dress code emergency of some kind: a frayed cuff or a torn sleeve?

    That night at dinner I got to wondering if you were the man with the white hair at the end table: the one in the linen jacket with the shiny elbows who took off his glasses to eat his soup, placing them in a precise parallel with his dessert spoon.

    The day before yesterday your username was not in its box above mine and the blank white square had not been filled by another. I missed you. I turned the page to see if you were overleaf.

    You were not.

    You were not signed up to any of the workstations. I checked. Repeatedly. It seems that you have left me, User Z7DJPV2Y.

    I imagine you standing, bored and vacant, a cut-out pattern pinned to a tailor’s dummy, or heading out on the night shuttle, sipping Russian tea under wide Canadian skies.

    I press ‘enter’; trace the history of your online searches. When I touch the screen I can almost feel you breathing. I search for reasons for your leaving, previous user. I shrink back into my files and folders. Each day I am less and less without you. I hover over your last entry; then with my cursor I delete you.

  53. That’s how it was with you. You either had to be first at everything, or you had to have the last word.

    Like that time we were separated by hundreds of miles and spent our evenings talking on the phone. You insisted on staying on the line until you’d heard the click as I disconnected my end.

    And there were times when we’d be in hot debate about some issue of the day, and even when the discussion was clearly over and done, you always had to qualify your point of view just one last time.

    Or when we were waiting to get into a film it incensed you if someone moved up ahead of you in the queue, but at the end of the film you would hang back saying you wanted to stay for the credits, when really it was because you wanted to be the last one to leave the building.

    Then one day we got into a conversation about death and who’d want to be the first to go and which one of us should be the one left behind to grieve. You said it should be you. That made me angry and I began to wonder if actually you’d rather be alone, whether you believed you’d be better off without me.

    What was it that made you not want to be somewhere in the middle of things, going along with everyone else? Was it because you thought it would make you seem ordinary?

    In the beginning there was you and me. In the end there was you - and there was me. You ended up without me. I ended up in the middle of things with someone else, being ordinary and not caring if I was first in line or last out of the building.

  54. I just wanted to add my thanks to all the others. I've had a ball and have been surprised how I've managed to pull something out of somewhere even on the days when I would usually have just given up and taken the day off from writing. I've loved reading the messages of others and getting to recognise their different voices. So thanks Lynne and Sarah for making it all happen.

    I wonder how many of us will switch on our computers tomorrow just to check you haven't left us another message.

  55. 'You are such an ungrateful bastard,' she shouted across the table, 'I don't know why I bother sometimes.'

    Matt frowned as he chewed the last mouthful of his dinner.

    'What's your problem now?' he snapped back, revealing mulched up steak.

    'I slave in the kitchen for hours for you and don't get so much as a thank you,' she slammed the table.

    'I hadn't even finished it.' He placed his knife and fork at twelve o'clock.

    'Well you have now.'

    'THANK YOU. Happy now?'

    She paused and narrowed her eyes.

    The unpredictability of silence in an argument, such joy.

    Then she picked up his plate and with a 'hi-yaa' Miss Piggy would have been proud of, hurled it at the wall. Broken into two jagged pieces it clattered to the floor. More silence as the peppercorn sauce slid down the wall. They looked at two carrot coins that had stuck fast, two eyes staring back at them. She knew he would find it funny too, they could laugh about it later.

    This was what they did: they rowed. She loved it, they both did. It's what made them tick.

    'It's not like you need more food, you lard-arse bastard.' Bringing up his weight always got him; he'd never be someone who could eat as much as he wanted.

    'I might be overweight but at least I'm not a nutcase.' Ooh, ouch. That was a low blow to strike with her family's history of mental illness.

    The best thing about the arguments wasn't the making up; it was the battle itself. They hunted for each others' blood.

    'Do you know what? he asked, pushing back his chair.

    'What fat boy?'

    'I've had enough.'

    'What to eat? With those man boobs I'd say so.'

    'No, of this. I'm going to the pub.'

  56. Every year, around the holidays (or my birthday, or when he's drinking), he gives me a call. Just to see how I am. To tell me he's been thinking about me. About us. He lets me know he's finally happy, and hopes I am too. Yeah, he still loves me (always and forever, just not like we wanted back in the day) and wishes we could get together and catch up.

    I'm his addiction.

    Our souls had mated. Our destinies had brought us together on an island that neither of us had grown up on. Unsure of how long we might have together, we needed to make every moment count.

    The lies that addicts tell each other.

    He was going to break up with his boyfriend, but it was complicated. Some day. Soon.

    The lies that addicts tell their loved ones.

    And powerless me … I believed him. For two years running.

    The lies that addicts tell themselves.

    He chose security over romance, which was understandable according to my "friends." The same ones who promised it's better to be the mistress than the wife. Easy for them to say, they all were coupled (sometimes thrupled) off.

    Yeah, I still miss him. No, I cannot be his friend. Maybe I'm stubborn, afraid I'll re-shatter if we meet up again. Unlike him, I can't just light up every now and again to be social. One little puff, and I'm back in the game.

    Besides, after all this time he's second-hand smoke, and that's just as deadly. Why risk the heart dis-ease?

    Still … I'm feeling itchy, beginning to jones for his call. Perhaps just a text? One little chat will satisfy the craving, right?

    I know. I know. Time for an Assholes Anonymous meeting.

  57. The first time someone left her, she was very small.

    ‘I went back to work when you were three-weeks old,’ her mother explained. ‘My career was terribly important to me.’

    Her first nanny left when she was twenty-two-months. ‘Marion is leaving to start a family,’ her mother explained. ‘She wants her own children.’

    She was five when her parents divorced. ‘Daddy doesn’t want to live with us anymore,’ her mother explained. ‘He’s happier on his own.’

    The separation from her second nanny, when she was nearly seven, devastated her. ‘Jenny has met a very nice man,’ her mother explained. ‘She’s going to be married.’

    When she was eight-and-a-half, her best friend moved away. ‘Her father’s got a better job,’ her mother explained. ‘It’ll be so much nicer for them.’

    Her third nanny left when she was eleven, and disappeared to the other side of the world. ‘She’s going back to New Zealand,’ her mother explained. ‘She doesn’t like it here.’

    When she was eighteen, her second best-friend, Mandy, moved to Hollywood in search of stardom. ‘She’s got ambitions,’ her mother explained. ‘There’s nothing for her in England.’

    Her first boyfriend left when she was twenty-two. ‘He found someone else,’ her mother explained. ‘A lively girl. Pretty too.’

    Then she met and married a lovely man. They had a baby.

    And when that baby was three weeks old, she wept over him, wondering how her mother could have walked away from such a tiny child. A child whom she wanted nothing more than to love. A child who, it was obvious to her, needed so badly not to be left.

    A week later, her mother died. This time there was no explanation to accompany the departure, and this time she wasn’t really bothered.


  58. We're the most honest with ourselves
    in those hazy, fleeting moments,
    right as sleep slips inside our skulls
    and flips off the light switch.

    We index our fuck-ups of the day:
    getting the giggles at a funeral,
    giving someone our "honest opinion,"
    forgetting to pick up the kids.
    Then we blend them into dreams.

    We're falling we're naked we're kissing
    our parents who look like our enemies
    on a plane under the sea over Bermuda
    I'm blue you're pink we're being chased
    by gorillas who look like politicians who forgot
    their homework on the first day of heaven

    Outside us, our bedrooms are ripe
    museums, heavy with clues and braided
    with shadows, families and friends frozen
    in photo frames, on display
    for the chat show audiences
    trapped inside our TV sets.
    The night ghosts eat the to-do lists
    tucked into our pillowcases, but
    we've kept carbon copies in our consciences.
    Get groceries, do cardio, pay alimony,
    avoid clichés, find a minute to listen
    to silence.
    Never enough hours in a day...

    Beneath the coils of our mattresses,
    we bury our embarrassments
    then let the bed bugs feast.
    Our pride is restored by dawn.
    Our snores are just apologies
    played backwards. Our drool
    is just extra perfection leaking out.
    We toss and turn because we don't know
    what side we're on. We dream
    because it's the only way out.

    Our alarm clocks always flinch
    before their morning slaps.
    Sometimes we don't recognize
    the person next to us.
    Sometimes the person next to us
    wants breakfast and all we have
    is beer. Warm beer.

    Our dreams hollow out quickly
    and we cling to scattered images.
    Teeth black cloud small room flying
    tiger angel twin kills twin

    Our mouths taste like we French-kissed
    a toilet bowl. The price of oil on our faces
    has rocketed up to $100 a barrel. Our mirrors
    flipped themselves over so they're facing the walls.
    And that's fine with us. We don't like honesty
    first thing in the morning.

    Bill Trüb

  59. Oh yes, please, please please please, please x another 284, could we do it again next year?

  60. Mere hours after the inoculation, I broke out in red spots and itched all over. I begged my husband to scratch my back, but he refused.

    “I’m on fire,” I cried, raking my back with the long-handled spatula from the barbeque grill.

    But no. He’d just cut his nails. Gives him the heebie jeebies to scratch with freshly cut nails. It’s a weird sensitivity of his. Twenty years of marriage, and I’ve yet to explore the intricacies of his navel. The sensation makes him nauseous.

    A nauseating, blinding headache woke me in the night, the kind that makes you hold your head in your hands and writhe in pain.

    “Maybe I’m having a stroke,” I whispered, nudging him awake. “Maybe I should go to the emergency room.”

    “It’s just that flu shot. Take some pills.” And he was out, dead asleep.

    I took three pills, opening the capsules and swallowing the powder straight, hoping it would work more quickly. I was dead asleep for hours, but when I woke up my nose was completely blocked. A large knife lodged in the crook of my left sinus, right where the brow begins, above the tear duct. Fucking, screaming agony.

    So I drove myself to the hospital. On the web, when you google “headache,” it says go to emergency if you have “the worst headache you’ve ever had.”

    “Here we go again,” said my husband before I drove away. At least he kissed me goodbye this time.

    The hospital nurse said I’d suffered a reaction to the nasal flu vaccine. Three live viruses squirted directly up my nose. I had been so excited. No flu for me this year! No needles, either! Turns out the immune systems of kids are primed for this sort of thing. Mine’s old and worn out.

  61. Lynne and Sarah - next year sounds great!
    And Wendy - I did check back today 'just in case' :)

  62. I hope you do another round next year. I've enjoyed reading all the stories, the prompts and the responses Each has such a distinct flavor and style. May you book sales astonish you.

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