November 12th

Another Monday, and another Message. Looking forward to reading your responses to:


She kisses her lover again and again, starting at her feet, the oyster pink of her toenails, the arch of her foot, the curve of her heel. She holds her calf in both hands and brushes her lips along the hard ridge of her fibula, from ankle to knee. She loves her knees, their polished smoothness, the ivory scar on one where she fell walking down the hill from the University seven years ago. She didn’t know her then, but she knows the story of how a road sweeping lorry was edging towards her, its brushes spinning close to the kerb, and how the driver had stopped at the sight of a woman looking helplessly around, pressing a hand to her knee apparently unable to stem the flow of blood.

‘Are you alright, love?’ he called from the cab. Then he got out clutching a green plastic First Aid box. ‘Lean back against the wall,’ he told her. ‘And put your foot up here.’ He patted his thigh.

She imagines him kneeling before her, wiping the blood away.

‘You haven’t got Aids have you?’ he asked, smiling up at her, but he didn’t wait for a reply. He cleaned the wound, taped an antiseptic dressing around it, asked her if she’d be okay, and then he was gone.

Her lover jokes about her road-sweeping ‘Prince Charming’ and still feels bad that she never thanked him properly, didn’t try and get in touch with the local council to tell them how he had rescued her.

She digs the tip of her thumbnail into the centre of the scar. Her lover doesn’t respond. She imagines the man’s hands holding the knee, the nerves in the torn flesh already dying. She kisses the scar again and again.

‘You’re all better now,’ she whispers.


  1. He donned a brown pair of trousers, a white shirt and a green wool jacket. He glanced in the large gold-sculpted mirror and pulled the brim of his felt hat deep into his face. He left through a back door and slipped out into the streets of Vienna.

    He walked through back alleys and for the first time in his life he felt free. Down by the market there was a baker. Through the window he saw her. She was the one. Had to be. He entered and asked for some bread. She pushed a large brown loaf towards him, but averted her eyes. He offered a note. She had no change.
    ‘What’s all this?” said her father.
    “It’s an advance,” he said and then added: “For all the loaves I’m still going to buy.”
    She smiled. Warm rouge crept over her cheeks. Her eyes were bright as she nodded a “Thank you”. Her father said nothing.

    Her flushed smile stayed with him and kept his heart light as he sat on the bench outside the bakery. He waited and watched. Then she came out. He walked with her through the back streets. The next day they walked by the banks of the Danube. The one after, he kissed her.

    State business took him to Budapest, but his heart stayed in Vienna. When he came back after a month, he found the bakery boarded up. The whole family’s gone, they told him. Where to, they didn’t know, they said. But he noticed how they averted their eyes. How they would not linger. He felt so alone.

    He found her dead in the hospice. He sat by her bed, held her white hand and sobbed. The nun shook her head and looked away. It wasn’t Mayerling. That was yet to come.

  2. After you died, I found your secret. Nobody knew it was there, despite us looking after you for the last two years of your life. We never had any reason to look in your wardrobe.

    I was clearing out the house, ready to put it on sale. My sister had already been through it on the day before the funeral, attaching yellow post-it notes to the pieces of furniture that she wanted. By that read ‘worth the most at auction.’ She’d been married twelve years by then. Why else would she have wanted a walnut dining table and four chairs when she had a husband and three kids and an oak six-seater at home?

    Your wardrobe was the last thing I sorted through. It was touching, some of the things you kept. Photographs of mum; of me and my sisters; of your grandkids – they were a given, but there was a photograph of a girl I didn’t recognise. She was about my age or slightly younger and the photo was recent, judging by the number-plate of the car in the background. She was smiling and pointing to a bandaged knee, the mascara streaks of tears plain on lightly-powdered cheeks.

    There was no indication of who she was but for the placement of the photo on its own shelf in the wardrobe. There was a wad of stiffened gauze, light brown stains indicating dried blood and the end of a roll of surgical tape. What had you done to this girl? Had you knocked her over, patched her up and kept the evidence in case she sued? Or had you, a fifty-seven year old widower, fallen in love with a stranger at the side of the road?

    I dropped the whole lot into the rubbish. No more cans of worms, Dad.

  3. Every morning before breakfast they walked out from the holiday cottage along the coast path and through a wood above the sea, to the headland. The mobile phone walk, Annie privately called it. For Joe to get a signal, for texts to fly back and forth. The cottage was electronically dead, although it had a TV, a microwave, a dishwasher, all modern conveniences. But no signal. This mattered to Joe. He’d become it seemed dependent on this new strange form of communication. Now he hardly ever spoke. She wondered if he realised.

    High above the glittering sea, Annie watched gulls wheel and cormorants dive. The Mewstone, a rocky island in the mouth of the bay, was used for army exercises. Yachts entering and leaving the cove, Old Cellars, kept to a safe path, marked by yellow buoys. Joe sat tapping on a bench – miles away, she thought. He’s busy, or he loves someone. A distant love, a love of distance. Presumably though, she has a body.

    On the last day, the sea was rough. Waves buffeted, currents tugged at her. This is better than making love, she thought. She was getting cold. Best not stay in too long. Then she noticed Joe, waving from the rocks and signalling to her. Without her glasses Annie could only see a blur of flesh, but she made for the usual getting-out place, in deep water, sheltered by the rocks. Joe was there, holding out a hand, warning her to be careful His leg was dripping blood, gouged and scored. “The sea just picked me up and threw me...”

    Back at the cottage, he sat shivering and gulping hot sugared tea, while Annie raided the first-aid box. “You’ll be OK, it’s only shallow wounds. Quite a bruise here, though.” She kissed it. He flinched.

  4. Intensive care.

    The doctor said ‘A test, just to be sure…’
    Back for the result , ‘I want you to see this friend of mine, a specialist, just to be sure…’

    And then--

    Where am I? Don’t want to open my eyes yet. Why am I here? Why am I……….?
    Why am I here? Hospital; doctors; injection; nothing. Nothing………

    Where am I? Where? Am I? I must be. Is anyone there? Am I alone? Perhaps I am dead. No, can’t be, because.. Because of what…….?

    Thirsty. Very thirsty indeed. Dry throat. Sand. Dust. Is anyone there? Am I talking? Or just thinking I am talking? Alone, alone, dark unless I open my eyes. Don’t want to……..

    I can hear! Humming noise. Voice. Talking. Talking to who? Me? Why talking to me? Can’t understand. Can’t be bothered to understand. Tired……

    Hello? Hello? Me? Water. Drink water..please. Thirst….Ahh! Hand holding mine. Warm. Afraid I am going to cry. Heavy. Heavy body, arms legs, head, eyes………

    I will open my eyes. I will. Now. Bright window. Shut them, quick. Too bright. Dark shapes, too dark. Not open again yet. Humming noise. People moving around. I am floating above… Above what……?

    No! Don’t do that! Agony. Stopped, thank God. Sweat running down neck. Tense all over. Don’t let it start again. Please. Please. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Relax now…………….

    Someone talking to me? That’s my name. I know it is. What shall I say?
    Who’s using my name. Perhaps I can see someone if I open my eyes. Careful of the brightness. It’s a woman. Face upside down. Looking at me. ‘Hello’. How long……….? Am I alright……? Where am I………?
    I am afraid I am going to cry. She kissed my sweaty forehead! I can sleep now……


  5. He panicked in her hands, she could feel his frantic heartbeat against her fingers, his feathers on her skin. She opened her hands a crack, a black eye peeped out at her.
    ‘You’ll be ok now’ she whispered, closing her hands around him again.
    Instead of her usual route home, jumping over broken steps and the cracks in the pavement, she placed each foot down slowly.

    She lined a box with newspaper, carefully shredding some to make a nest in the corner. After washing his injured wing in salt water she left him to sleep for the night.

    Now every morning, before eating breakfast, she hunted for pale and wriggling worms. As she held them in the palm of her hand she imagined his sharp beak tearing into them, swallowing the fleshiness, and she smiled.

    His injured wing soon healed, the feathers grew back and he happily flapped around the room. All through the winter, he sat on the arm of her chair, pecking at titbits from her fingers and chirping at the TV.

    The days began to lengthen and the nights die away; he was filled with a new energy flying round and round her chair at high speed, stopping only to stare out of the window. She understood what he was saying.
    ‘It’s not safe out there,’ she told him ‘you need to stay here with me.’
    She replaced his old box with a shiny cage.

    But he didn’t listen. Didn’t understand the dangers of cat’s claws, and didn’t understand the dangers of windows. One morning he flew straight at the double-glazing, as if trying to pierce his way through. With predictable results.

    She laid him in a box, covered him with tissue and kept him by her bed.
    ‘No one can hurt you now’ she told him.

  6. What's in a kiss? At least one pair of lips and one other body part. But so much more than that. Sometimes lips meet a cheek, crinkled with age and smelling of cologne, or silken and new with a hint of baby powder. Other times lips meet hair: stubbly chin hair, crisp crinkly body hair, smooth head hair. Lips can meet the back of a hand, or the blarney stone, or a foot, or a bishop's ring. And sometimes lips meet other lips.

    Some mouth kisses are for mothers who can't resist the enticing pout of their newborn babe, but most of them are for lovers. Lips meet lips in greeting and parting, in good morning and good night, in apology, seduction and just because they can. Lips touch at first like paper, dry, soft, slow, nose smelling breath from nose, and in that kiss there are hands, too, touching, stroking, arms holding, bodies moving closer, clothes in between. And there are thoughts in that kiss. Is this going somewhere? It looks like rain, maybe I should get the washing in, mmm, maybe not. Do I want to? Does she want to? Ooh, that feels good. Kylie, no, don't think of Kylie, that's too exciting for this bit. I love you.

    That kiss grows into a series of busy, tasting, sucking, smacking kisses. Tongues get involved, and other body parts also offer juicy kissing contributions. Those kisses can go on for a while before they conclude.

    There are mouth kisses afterwards, too. Kisses of appreciation, of gratitude, of weary fulfilment. Loving, friendly kisses. Warm kisses with the buttered-toast scent of supine bodies, yet still with an edge of possibility; kisses to remind self or other that this is not the end, there will be a next time, maybe even soon.

  7. Eleanor stood in front of the mirror; it was splotted with stray squirts of perfume and she rubbed at the marks with a sock plucked from the floor. She took off her T-shirt and unhooked her bra. Her breasts swung downwards; twin heavy globes, the palest part of her, topped with wine-dark nipples. She stared at her breasts; the right one looked different now, already foreign; she covered it with a folded arm, fist to chin, imagining it gone.
    She turned and looked at Mary, a small heap on their bed. She loved the way Mary held herself, with a languid, masculine confidence – the kind that Eleanor had always craved for herself. Eleanor’s own body didn’t seem to fit her, or she didn’t seem to fit it. Her skin lumbered around her bones and organs – holding them up and in, of course – but the whole didn’t co-operate with itself. This inherent bigness leaked into her life like blood; she felt bloated in tight spaces and held her body away from other people, especially men.
    Mary yawned and Eleanor looked into her mouth, at the horseshoe of filled teeth; at her uvula dangling obscenely. She shivered and smiled – the word uvula reminded her of vulva, and all the pulsating pinkness contained there.
    She sat and gathered Mary to her, breathing in her bed smell. Eleanor loved that Mary was as tall as her, if not as curvy: Mary was a boy to her woman. It suited, she thought – they matched. Eleanor kissed Mary, sliding her tongue under her top lip, licking over her teeth and gums. They kept their eyes on each other’s but, before she closed hers, Eleanor saw a glance of worry in Mary’s face. They kissed deeper, pressing skin and tangling legs, easing into the heat of routine.

  8. Every time he drives past the spot he remembers.
    Usually once a fortnight, but twice weekly in November when the leaf-fall clogs the drains.
    People don't take much notice, except in the Autumn, when he's really needed.

    That day, when he'd done his knight in shining armour bit. She had noticed him.
    He was glad that he'd been on the first aid course. Never needed it himself. Until that day.

    He'd joked a bit, like he always did. But not too far. When he told her to lift her leg he'd grinned but made a show of only looking in the right place.
    He almost said, "What a beautiful bleedin' knee", but thought better of it.
    She looked like such a nice girl. You never know.

    Taking off his dirty working gloves, he'd remembered the sanction from the course against handling wounds unprotected. So he made a crack about having Aids and regretted it immediately. The look on her face.

    She had perked up as he dressed the wound. Pretty professional, even if he said so himself. He almost said something like, "You can settle up with me later," but bit his tongue and packed up his kit.

    He didn't expect to hear from her again, but half hoped that he might. The council had a policy of rewarding employees for that sort of thing and every little helps.
    He wondered if he might come across her on his travels. He'd like that. They were about the same age. But no chance really. He guessed that she was very different from him.

    Although it was ages ago, he always looks out for her on that hill, even though he knows she must have moved on.
    He thinks about her often with that nasty wound.
    And wonders if it still hurts.

  9. The house is silent, apprehensive, aware of the danger unable to warn her. It is an old house, with a past of which she is unaware. The innocent cannot hear its whispers.

    The slight noise is enough to penetrate her dreamless sleep. She hears the Grandfather clock strike one. It is pitch dark and she switches on the light and listens. She pushes the tousled blonde hair from her eyes and slips on her dressing gown, young, vulnerable. Bare-footed she starts down the stairs. He meets her half-way, a finger on his lips.

    ‘No screaming, we don’t want any interference do we?’ he whispers. She is petrified, turned to stone. She searches for her voice, which emerges as a faint whisper. ‘my husband’s upstairs, he’ll kill you.’ But he’s away, one of his rare absences, due back in three weeks; rang her last night, gentle Tom, who wouldn’t hurt a fly anyway. The man smells the lie.

    ‘I’m not into rape, don’t worry love’, he whispers. He takes a long length of cord from his deep pocket, ties her hands tightly behind her back and binds her small icy feet together. Then he carries her back upstairs tucks her up neatly in the double bed. He looks at the pretty mouth, reluctantly decides to play safe and gags her with a chiffon scarf he sees lying on the bedroom chair.

    He collects what he wants from the bedroom, small saleable valuables he’s learnt to recognise so easily, good pieces of silver. Not a bad haul. Pity about the girl. He leaves the way he had come, past master at such entries and exits now.

    The house is shrouded now in whispers, his, hers. The leaves rustle outside echoing them. Her silent prayers are endless unspoken whispers pleading to be heard.

  10. Her scars are hidden except to nakedness or clinical examination. Even to the professional eye, they look like just one scar, but are in fact three separate ones skilfully laid on top of one another. You will have guessed that these were no accident although each one’s existence was never premeditated and each of the three tell a different memory. There are four definitions in her dictionary; a permanent mark on the skin after the healing of a wound, a mark left at the point of separation and a mark left by damage.

    The first corresponds to an affair - an exit affair she’s heard it called on Oprah – an unguided missile which launched her into sexual orbit, an intense reversal of her previously mundane life. The pain of the passion was only equalled by the pain of a ruptured ecptopic pregnancy, an embryo developing where it shouldn’t have been after she had been where she shouldn’t have been. These things never last.

    The second was an act of sacrifice; for a child who would not have survived the journey down the birth canal and this tiny being was ripped from her abdomen ten weeks early to be put on display in the neonatal unit which bore no resemblance to his previous residence. It seems that he trashed the place before he left or that those who came to break up the party used a little too much force because they had to come back again a year later to repair the damage. That would be the last party she would have.

    She’s concerned. The last definition is a steep craggy outcrop of a mountain or cliff. Does that refer to the overhang on her stomach? she asks me. Vanity doesn’t even come into it. Trust me, I’m a doctor.

  11. Tattoos

    Even afterwards it is hard to be sure who begins, or how. Certainly, there is not a patch of skin left untouched, so that one would think he knew all about her and she about him.

    He strokes her scars gently at first; his fingers rubbing Simon's Gothic curves, the italicised corners of Ryan's initials, the twining pattern of leaves and flowers now losing their petals. He kisses her butterfly sun and moon, lets his fingers, words and tongue flow smoothly, sleekly across her scented orange blossom branch and graceful outstretched angel wings.

    She caresses his contours too; exploring his ecstasy and anguish. She licks the colours of different tattoos: magenta, black, cobalt, cyan, crimson – the fragmented pigments of his past life.

    For both of them the edges have blurred now, pictures words and phrases run into one another. Loser! It was only a kiss! It didn't mean anything!

    They try on new sounds, sketch out new designs together: birds flying free, then their thatched cottage in the country, even a stork with blue ribbon. Words are etched with care though now, or so they think: You know me, darling. No lies never, always the truth. I won't make promises I can't keep.

    Against their silky soft flesh, one tattoo still stands out stark and clear. It shouts: This is me ― love me as I am. But they never stop to read it; they miss each other's patterns of pain and need, simply pick absent-mindedly at the bloody scabs of old shapes and those faded marks that the laser has failed to remove completely.

    He continues. She continues. Their uncut, unstained skin gleams white as the moon against fresh sheets, while words scratch their skin like needles and their fingers move like ink, retracing the scars of old tattoos.

    Sarah James

  12. All things have their music.

    The alarm had sung its harsh song, monotone, shrill and insistent, as the lorry reversed around the corner. On the kerbside, the brushes had beat a flurry of edgy percussion, dramatically syncopated against the bass rhythmic throb of the engine.

    And in this wild orchestral cacophony, she had danced. She had danced like madness in the Dervish whirl of shock, euphoric with pain and nausea, disembodied and spinning. Her eyes had disowned her blood, its incongruous beauty transfixing her curiosity with its distant, scarlet song. She had bowed, low and graceful.

    And as she bowed, a stranger came; angel-winged by amber lights, dark skinned and fire-eyed. ‘May I?’ he asked, and took her slim, white hand, joining her in her wide arc of dancing. He held her close, as the sustained crescendo of noise carried them higher and higher; far above the lorry in the tiny street, above the main roads and parks, above the river and the hills beyond, until colours blurred and all was music, light and dancing.

    Suddenly, he swung her low, Valentino-like, into silence. Reclining in the narrow street, she was aware of nothing but the warm, kind eyes until the panicked staccato of her heart filled her ears and, one by one, sounds returned: the engine, the brushes, the alarm.

    He took her fingers and placed them firmly on the neatly-folded dressing to her knee. It was all a long time ago. She feels that hand, relinquishing control of the pain to her, reclining once again and closing her eyes. In a moment, she will open them and look down at her lover, bowing low over her, tracing the lines of her long legs, reading the notation of the years scored upon her smooth skin.

    And they will both sing.

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  15. reply message for 12 Nov (28)

    As he carefully manoeuvred the bend at the bottom of the hill, his heart just about stopped. He gently pulled on the brake of old Henry, trusted road-sweeper and drew level - almost - with a tousled auburn head of curls. There appeared to be a delicate, butterfly movement of her hands around the knee area.

    'Are you alright love?' he called from his cab. She lifted hazelnut eyes towards him. In the seconds it took to grab the First Aid kit, his heart was pumping fit to burst, his mind was all over the place and a vein in his neck started to make its presence felt. Christ, if anyone needed First Aid, it was him.

    His eyes seemed to swallow in every tiny detail. He felt like a sponge soaking up water. He saw her smart textbooks and important-looking papers strewn all over the pavement. He could see that she wasn't badly hurt. Just a bit of a knock. Nothing a bit of TLC couldn't cope with and perhaps the odd joke. He really wanted to ask her what she was studying up at that fancy university. Was she studying law, he wondered, just like Nicola. His angel. His smart and intelligent angel. His daughter who was murdered at this very spot on the bend two years ago by a hit and run driver. Pity the law hadn't been able to find and deal with that cowardly piece of shit. Where was Henry then?

    As he dabbed at her knee he couldn't help thinking. Was this some sort of message? Was SHE some sort of message? Was the message waiting to be read, if he was willing to lift his eyes and read it? Could he dare to move on, get out of first gear instead of labouring?

    Louise Laurie

  16. She ran over the gravel as quickly as she could, aiming for the other wall, little chubby legs not moving quite fast enough to escape the bigger boy, who saw her duck by. He caught up with her in two easy strides and tagged her from behind.

    “You’re it.” His voice triumphant.

    She felt the injustice of it, a long limbed beanpole chasing the easy target, hmpf, she’d get him back. She watched as the neighbourhood children run back to the starting point, chanting the rhyme, waiting for the scrabbled run and tag dodging.

    “40-40” They all roared as they sprang forward. She launched herself in beanpoles direction, her brain working faster than her Clarks school shoe clad feet, making her slip on loose stones and tumble to the ground with a thud. The burning sensation suddenly slapped her knees hard and she wailed as only 5 year old can, “Waaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh…”

    Mike heard the kids chanting, their games always so loud. He had turned the darts up until he heard the screams and upon seeing the little girl from number ten on the gravel, crying giant devastated tears that chased one another down her face, he’d opened his front door, to step onto the road and scoop her up. He carried her into his house, sat her on his kitchen table and produced a first aid kit from under the sink, using it to gently clean her knees with wipes and apply plasters to the bleeding.

    With thumb in mouth, she had silently stared at him with wide wondering eyes. Danny moved cautiously closer to the table, ready to claim his sister back.

    “She’ll be okay now.” Mike lifted her to the floor and Danny tightly grabbed her hand and tugged her out with a shy and hurried, “Thanks, mister.”

  17. At school she had been one of the in-crowd, the girls who congregated in the town centre on a Saturday afternoon, trying out make-up and drooling over the latest stock in Miss Selfridge. Never short of male admirers, they partied hard and made their first conquests early.

    Her father used to call her ‘Princess’, just like Dirty Den in Eastenders, and she tried hard to live up to his expectations. She pampered herself, disguising her true ability and developing an adorable helplessness. Just in time, she realised that there was actually more to life and left school with surprisingly good exam results.

    She enjoyed everything about university. Ever a princess, the alpha male students loved her cuteness, even as she was out drinking pints with them. She radiated in the constant attention. She remembers falling once while walking drunkenly down the hill, and how a sexy road sweeper had stopped his lorry and patched up her knee with a dressing. She hadn’t asked his name, something which she regretted later, as she would have liked to have thanked him in the way she knew best.

    Later she went on to work as a secretary at a large merchant bank in the City. The men there worked and played hard. They were used to getting their own way and she no longer felt like a princess. Checking her running mascara in the ladies room one day, she glanced at the woman standing next to her, sharp suited yet emanating genuine warmth. The electricity crackled as their eyes locked and the trader’s hand brushed away her tears. She was lost in that brief moment of kindness.

    They have to remain a closely-guarded secret. But her lover likes to kiss the faded scar on her knee and whisper softly ‘You’re all better now.’

  18. I have decided to avoid chocolate after gaining an extraordinary reputation for this coming season. People are already planning where to hide their goodies this year. It has proven to be a unifying factor in the family. Divided by barriers surrounding the remote control, united in ambitious ideas for their stash. I admit I had found it entertaining in the past to routinely dip into a deep variety of sweetness. Now I find it pathetically disappointing. Becoming the beautiful villian of the family is not pretty.
    One of them, male, is eyeing up the garage. Another desperately tries to interview each of the four females to discover who has the best hiding place. All will end in disappointment. Like a baker`s bread without yeast. You see I won`t be around. I won`t see them shaking the boxes under the tree to check I haven`t gobbled up their treasures. I fly to Thailand in two days for the operations. They will not recognise me. They will shun me. And my reflection will glare back at me remembering somebody I used to betray. I will join the bearer`s of scars, stretching themselves wide across my belly spilling into corners. An angelic background to tuck into flight tights.
    I have been empied out for so long. Searching in the wrong places finding things I don`t need. Like when you finally get an idea and you can`t find a pen. You look behind the couch and see a torn rubber band that looks like a worm and you gasp. And there`s a deflated yellow balloon from your son`s birthday last month. And you think I must clean behind there. But you don`t. You are scanning the magazines in slow motion searching for a magic cure to whatever it is you think has dried up.

  19. It was so easy.

    We went straight from school, dressed in our grey uniforms – we found that we could pick up more clients, make more money if we didn’t bother too much. Not like the others; the pros who tarted themselves up to the nines and threatened us if we stood anywhere near their pitch. We were whisked away far quicker than those hardened to the game.

    The money piled in, wads of it; we were on a roll. But Angie became scared. She’d been threatened with a broken bottle, just managing to get away but not before he’d thrust it into her wrist and turned it so that it left a jagged edge of flesh spitting blood over the cuff of her school blouse. She lost her nerve, became depressed, returned to pilfering from local stores. Her wound became a scar, a thin line snaking around her wrist, easily hidden by a bracelet or watch. No big deal! But the fear remained and we drifted apart.

    I never looked back. School was a bore so I left, slept under the arches in Charing Cross dreaming of the time I would buy a luxury flat and entertain gentlemen in comfort. But I was mixing with dodgy characters, lost my self-respect, screamed inside with loneliness. Drink helped, drugs even more, so I worked throughout each night to meet these demands.

    I often think of Angie. The scar that changed her life. I heard that she had become a solicitor representing the likes of me. I wanted to laugh but it caught in my throat and became a sob. So Angie had made good. I never saw her again, she wouldn’t have recognised me anyway. I hardly recognise myself as I look in the mirror. Bloodshot eyes, scabs and so many scars.

  20. “You’re so patient with me,” he used to say. As if I could be anything else. I wanted to soak in anything he uttered. It didn’t matter how long he searched for words, or what mistranslations streamed from his beautiful mouth.

    “Tell me about your tattoo,” he said, one afternoon in the bath.

    “What do you mean?”

    “When did you get it? I want one but they scare me.”

    I’d thought about getting one for a long time. I’d done a piercing, left nipple (or was it right?), but it had closed over long ago.

    I wanted some kind of mark. A logo. Something that reminded me of who I wanted to be, who I could become. I spent months going in and out of parlors, rifling through books, trying to discover just what symbol or glyph or cluster of ink would tell my tale.

    One day I knew.

    But then I thought, no, that’s just stupid. I talked myself out of it countless times. You’re too old. It’s too gay. Such a cliche.

    “But here it is,” he licked my shoulder. “What does it mean?”

    “You really don’t know?”

    He swore he didn’t.

    Patience, I told him. It’s the Chinese symbol for patience. I got it when I couldn’t take a single minute more of an annoying houseguest one weekend. It was either lose my temper with a dithering old woman (may she rest in peace) or get a needle repeatedly jabbed into my flesh.

    So now I’m scarred, branded with this mark of patience.

    “I love that historia.”

    And he loved me, for a few months more. But then he moved on, not patient enough to see if we could create something indelible.

    Someday, if I wait, he will come back. At least that’s what my shoulder says.

    bob [at] bobzyeruncle [dot] com

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  22. Danger! Danger! Fear! We hold on tight, knuckles white, wind whipping giddily against us.

    ‘I can fly!’ you shout.

    I laugh as fear rises up into my throat and my stomach flips over. The ground thumps beneath me, and I gasp at the thought of falling. I can’t let you go without me, so I follow you.

    Faster and faster we go. The sun flashes in and out of my eyes, sweat drowns out my tears. The smile is forced on my face as you whoop with delight.

    There is no need for effort as we fly along the grey runway. Muscles slack, bones turned to water in the thrill of speed. Horror of what is to come doesn’t stop me.

    ‘Keep up’, you shout. ‘I’m not waiting for you!’

    I open my mouth to reply, but air rushes in so fast that words cannot be forced out. You wouldn’t listen anyway. You are cruel in your abandonment.

    I catch glimpses of hedges as we shoot past. Amazing detail captured in time despite my inability to stop and stare. Freeze frames preserved forever in my brain.

    Speed cannot deafen me but it distorts beyond meaning. Breathing hurts, hardly feels necessary, fills my lungs with unwanted air.

    You are far ahead now. You won the racketing race by throwing yourself down over your handlebars. All I can see is your back. A streak of sweat stands out on your shirt, still blood-spattered from last time.

    I catch my breath and brace myself. The last few moments are the worst. Fear, apprehension, relief, fatalism. The noise roars, the fear of pain dies.

    You are already there, twisted on the floor as I fly into you. Metal crashes and bruises.

    You smile through the tears and the blood. ‘I can fly!’ you shout.

  23. They are not sure when she began to cut herself but she has scars all over her body. At first glance, you think she is wearing a multitude of bracelets; then you look closer and see the red rings you mistook for jewellery are really scars, angry lines that mar her skin and make her look like a savage Amazon.

    “You like them?” she asks. “I did these one Christmas when I was alone.” She sighs. “I think of them as my Christmas Crosses.”

    Someone asks her why she calls the scars crosses.

    “Because they are my cross to bear.” She says. Her voice is soft and floats towards you and you think of breathing it in, of basking in her beautiful voice.

    “I don’t like cutting myself, you know.” This shocks everyone in the room. “But it’s like the scars are underneath my skin and I have to let them out.”

    She readjusts herself and tucks her legs underneath. You can see angry red lines on her feet and ankles. She rubs the scars that run along the palms of her hands.

    “These ones are my life lines.” She says, showing her palms to you. “These ones were easy. I just had to follow the lines that were already there. Life is blood so shouldn’t my life lines bleed?”

    She laughs then and the sound is foreign to you, bizarre. “I did those last Christmas.” She said. “I bleed every Christmas whether I like it or not.”

    She holds out her hands again and you can see the blood pouring from the palms of her hands where nails would have been if she had been nailed to a cross.

    You can see blood dripping from her feet onto the floor and you wonder if she is the second coming.

    Jamieson Wolf

  24. Slipped away, passed on, gone – all words we use to describe death. Soft gentle words like the night that slips in on little cat feet – death comes and breath is gone, soul is gone, life is gone and we are left, alone bereft and wishing for one more moment, one more hour, one more day.
    Watching you suffer I am glad that you no longer are in pain but I miss you. I long for the sparkle in your eyes and the melody of your laughter. I miss the rhythm of your breathing that brought peace to my heart when I would awaken from my nightmares. Just listening to it would begin to bring a calm that would lull me back to sleep.
    Selfishly I will miss you for what you were to me. Companion and friend, keeper of my secrets, lover of my soul, my co-conspirator in the game of practical jokes amongst our friends.
    I can’t imagine laughing without you, I can’t imagine living without you, I can’t imagine a moment without you here. For even in the moments you were not with me I was storing them up to tell you about them. As you got sicker and weaker, I became ever more vigilant in the moments we were apart to catch the details so that you would be able to share them with me in the retelling.
    Who will I tell all the inconsequential and little things of my life to? You know I’m not much of a cat person and a dog would certainly starve to death waiting for me to feed it. You were the one who was good with those things. Whose birthday’s next? Where are we supposed to be next Tuesday? Oh wait we … we … slipped away, passed on, gone

  25. Once upon a time there was a great prince among the angels and he was called Lucifer. He was a son of God and one of his father’s favourites although he was a strange, even sinister, figure. Unlike all the other citizens of heaven he was dark with a pointed head, pointed ears and slanting eyes and eyebrows. He had long thin arms and legs, a lean muscular torso, and wings! Black wings more like bats’ wings than angels’ feathery ones. He had everything going for him in heaven. He had many privileges, but he wasn’t satisfied to be a servant of God. He began to think God wasn’t fit to rule the whole of heaven and earth and he, Lucifer, could do a great deal better. He took to lurking about in corners, scowling and glowering at God’s easy assumption that everything he thought, said and did was perfect. He began to go absent without leave from heaven and fly about on his bats’ wings over all the earth, across the continents and islands, above cities, towns and villages, looking for an opportunity. An opportunity for what? To subvert God’s commands. Out of perverseness. To spite God. God, being all-knowing, knew what Lucifer was doing, and being God, he didn’t need to have proof. So once when all the hosts of heaven were gathered together, God spoke to Lucifer and taxed him with his treason. Lucifer didn’t make any excuses, believing his rebellion was justified and God was wrong. God cast him out of heaven, free to rule over all the devils and demons, free to wander about bringing grief to men. But in his heart Lucifer always felt the wounds of separation and on occasion his scars ached unbearably as he trawled the skies between heaven and hell.

  26. It is this silence that is hardest to bear, when they first met, it was just a minor injury, one among a life of little cuts. But this was different, her lover had slowly died, not actually, just bodily, and not even a blemish to show what was going on inside her body. They said they would live together for all time, but time changes everything and soon it would be over. The love, so intense, one last moment of intimacy, to examine every inch of a lovers body, to take one last drink from this oh so perfect shell.

    She moved gently towards her lovers eyes, the only part of her that reacted to anything, she made love with those eyes, to those eyes. Friends came and went along with years. And now, ironically, it was her body that was failing. She couldn't do the work to look after her lover as she had promised.

    They would be separate for the first time since they came together. She felt the same need now she felt when first seeing her lover, and the pain, the pleasure was just as intense. She looked at her lovers body, smooth skin, dark hair dusting her skin, what would it be like, being alone in the morning.

    They would live separately, each life unrecorded by the other. She put the thought away, for later, now she gave herself to her lover. She spent the time as close as possible, trying to reach inside the skin of the other, to take in as much as possible. Each quiet breath, each scent, noted, put away for the dark nights, the stormy nights when there would be no one to hold close. But now this moment would last a lifetime, they had each others deep, deep eyes.

    Jim Barron

  27. It’s hard at first, removing my clothes in front of so many people. Stripped down, bearing my imperfect body to anticipating eyes. I tell myself it’s just eyes, nothing more, no touching, it’ll be fine. It’s only a body after all and it’ll be worth it for the money.

    Adopt the position. Strike a pose. Give them what they want. Think about something else. Focus out - but not too much.

    As I kneel in front of them, tilting slightly forward, I am chronically aware of the hanging folds of stretched flesh where there was once a smooth, potted belly. I’d have been proud to show it to the world back then. Tracing the veins down the inner side of my arm my eyes stop at my hands and note how they have become roughened, marked and lined. Not lovers hands. Once, but not now.

    I ponder how the familiar curve of my breasts must appear to these young men. Are they thinking ‘old hag - saggy tits’. I try not to think.

    At the end, after I have finished, they drift away in one and twos. I dress and walk back out. The few who remain are packing up to go home. One young man smiles and says “You were good - you know how to hold a pose. See you next week”.

    I move from place to place to see what they have made of me. Each of them has interpreted me in their own way, and yet all have found something in me. It’s beautiful what they’ve seen, what they’ve managed to capture in just a few bold sweeps with the charcoal. One sketch holds my attention longer than the others. At the bottom, written in pencil, is the date and the words ‘Life drawing – model kneeling.’

  28. That was the first time her lover remembered clearly about a fall. It had happened again, and then again, a long time between each fall, but enough to become aware of clumsiness.

    They had met exactly five years ago today, and she supposed it was the very thing that caused the heartache now, that had been the actual catalyst. She had been catapulted down a set of concrete stairs leading from one of the teaching blocks, by a thrusting hand pushing hard right in the middle of her back.

    She had come up fighting and furious, but instead of finding a ‘stupid idiot mucking about and not looking where they were going’, she found her lover, hanging on to the handrail but only momentarily, then slipping gracelessly onto the remaining step and plunged forward at her feet.

    It was slow motion, like a spectator she merely watched the process unfold in front of her, but startled into action by the profane expletives spitting from her, soon to be lover’s, mouth, she had kneeled down and looked into those deeply troubled but beautiful blues.

    “What happened?” She asked softly and the girl, the lovely girl stopped cursing and looked straight at her, suddenly silent and still. They had gazed into each other’s eyes for a long moment, and she said, “I think I am ill”.

    Their love for each other grew faster than their knowledge of MS, was not affected or diminished by it; on the contrary the disease nurtured the caring between them.

    And today was their anniversary, and the oyster pink nail polish on those useless feet spoke of the love between them. Leaning over her supine lover, she kissed that lovely mouth, drew slightly back and they shared once again that long, profound look of recognition.


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  30. Leung Zhou Wei stands by the road, resting. The thick fog is hot, cloying, normal.

    He flaps his arms, trying to make a bit of breeze between his clinging clothes and skin. Sweat trickles between his shoulder blades, down his chest, around his groin.

    A buzz alerts him to an approaching motorbike. He takes a proper hold of his broom and begins to sweep at imaginary rubbish in the gutter. Imaginary, because there is no rubbish here. This is his stretch. He works hard, and keeps his job; but he must not be seen to loiter.

    The bike appears briefly from the fog. Husband, wife, sandwiched child. No matter. Country people. They would not have reported him. But you never know.

    Out of the gloom looms a black people-carrier. A taxi? Wei isn’t sure. It has no plates.

    It stops, and a side door slides open. A woman staggers out towards him. Her nose is bleeding. She gabbles. He doesn’t understand. She isn’t speaking his language. She is white-faced, blonde-haired. Her skin is perfect. She is an angel. He steps forward to help.

    Two Caucasian men jump out, hands stretched towards him. They are not friendly hands. They are not inviting. They push the air, warning him away.

    Wei doesn’t understand. He wants to help the woman. The driver is here now, with a box of medical supplies. Wei can only watch, while they dab at her blood. One of the men is talking to her, gesturing, emphatic. She nods, and gets back into the car. She seems content.

    Through the darkened window Wei sees a hand - her hand - pressed against the glass. Fingers outstretched. Whether it is a wave, or a cry for help, he does not know. He turns back to sweeping, just in case.


  31. She sat caressing her lover’s leg, imbibing her plaintive thoughts.

    On her legs, she continued writing her feelings of pain in her book of scribbles, poetry and prose,

    ‘As you lay here in my arms I sense your hurt,
    memories of that unscrupulous fall
    gathers my thoughts and I cry each night
    as your scars deepen into nightmares
    of dreams untold, where you re-live that moment
    when you fell and grew piteous
    as your scars deepen into permanent mounds
    memories, indecipherable, memories, indescribable
    only you can see my scars as they reveal themselves’

    She wrote and wrote, expressing her understanding of her lover’s pain and from her heart she drew the pain her lover felt in falling deeper and deeper into that world where she often went and which was dark and dreary.

    Sometimes her lover would cry out in pain and it was as if her scars refused to heal. She felt bedraggled during these outbursts and would summon the help of a Greater Being to help her through those moments of dementia as the scars aged but the hurt was still fresh in her mind.

    Those moments recurred when the weather was cold. She was affected by what is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and her physical scars were permanent reminders of how she felt inside when the weather was bad.

    She continued writing,

    ‘through the mist of the Tempest, in the fog of my Monstrosity
    as I lay bare open to your pain and take to my bed
    the heart wrenching desire to be free of the memories
    that day you fell and broke something in me that can’t be unbroken’

    She laid her pen by her lover’s leg and let her book fall between the knees where she laid her head to rest in contentment.


  32. It was an ancient house, typically old, with high vaulted roofs supported by pillars in the
    hall and the centre of the veranda or the open space exposed to the skies, had on all four
    Sides on top, small, very small rooms like nest fo r birds. During construction of the house itself
    My grandmother took special care to provide provisions for the birds like sparrows, parrots and she reared a cow and a pet cat. Every plank and timber, every pillar, every beam strong, breath a note of whisper, love, a rejuvenation and solace to the inmates, especially to the dumb ones.
    Oh! One can write pages and volumes to narrate about her love , personal attention to these dumb creatures. How often she would feed the cat with milk and the cat would meticulously come and sit with all expectations and “mew, mew” for which she would give balls of rice or in a bowl of milk.
    But for me the cat was a threat for how often I was an eye witness to the ghastly sight of sparrows being scared and even strangled . The growling cat would chase the sparrows and catch hold of their r spongy neck. Blood oozing around.
    Our at most love and care in the subsequent days would only be to chase away the sparrows
    and parrots back to their coves , the moment we spot the cat coming , hiding and slow to pounce.
    One day the parrot which flew without our knowledge came back, with a parrot cry of “help! help!”
    Some urchins must have pelted stones, the neck bleeding the feathered dishevelled, still active in pain.
    My first reaction was to pour kisses of love mixed with pity on my helpless princess on my lap,
    then to bandage.

  33. Nineteen’s heart leapt as Anna passed by the veranda where he sat working. The tailor kept his head bent, fed the cloth through the machine evenly and pumped the foot pedal rhythmically so that she would not notice him watching her slow progress down the street. Her withered leg left a trail of smooth arcs in the red dust behind her. They reminded Nineteen of a sequence of beautiful crescent moons.

    She carried a crutch fashioned from the same hardwood that the villagers used to pound cassava roots. Nineteen thought it made her distinctive but he could tell that the crutch and her bad leg made Anna self-conscious. Ever since she lost the use of her leg she had seemed sadder than a weeping bird. People told her she was lucky to be alive but this made no difference.

    The villagers said the snake bit her because her father, a fisherman, killed one of the giant coconut crabs on Rolas Island. Legend has it that anyone who kills one of these crabs will be haunted by the crab’s spirit. Anna’s snakebite was not the only bad thing to happen to Cheia’s family since he had killed the crab, but Nineteen hoped that his intentions would change the family’s luck and give them reason to celebrate.

    He examined the seam he had just finished, deftly, despite his missing index finger - that was why he was called Nineteen. The bright fabric was soft and cool. Nineteen understood what it was to want to hide a flaw. The villagers would think the dress’s full length extravagant and impractical but he didn’t care – all that mattered was that when she wore it, Anna would be able to hold her head high and feel like a queen. Their love was meant to be.

  34. She’s always loved pink. Not those garish pinks you can get away with as radical chic – shocking pink, hot pink, kinky pink – but the sweet, pale, soft pinks. Oyster pink, baby pink, candy floss tea rose powder pink. She has bottles and bottles of nail varnish, shimmer and glitter and gloss, all pink. She has cushions piled on her bed, pashminas draped in her wardrobe, towels piled in the linen cupboard, lampshades and candles and curtains and throws. Pink, the lot of them. Her house is a rose-tinted haven.

    But she’s not a pink person, not in the cuddly, whimsy, girly sense. Not in the least. She’s about as pink as a Rottweiler, if you ask her colleagues. Not in the soft liberal, consensus politics sense either: there’s no blurring of the edges, no beating about the bush, no fuzzy compromises for her.

    Maybe if she was a man people would get it: a bit of Mummy under the sharp suit, perhaps; a touch of femininity to show he could do it all, all ways. But she’s not. She’s all woman, hard woman, clad in pretty pink.

    You love that about her from the beginning. She reminds you of a sunset over the sea, a cocktail in a tall glass rimmed with salt, a whole wonderful rampant herbaceous border at the end of summer. You can’t take your eyes off her, and you know from that little smile that she’s noticed. Your cheeks flush pink, and hers darken a shade to match.

    You know what it’s about. She’s wearing her heart on her sleeve – and not just her heart, either. There’s pink, luscious pink, waiting to be discovered under her pastel blouse, inside her rose-rimmed mouth, between her delicately painted toes. With her, what you see is what you get.

  35. Bloodless cuts - an observation of gut wrenching frugality.

    Press to the recess of your mind what I assume may be unsettling images forming as a result of your reading so far. (Great – only eight words written and you’re already feeling a little queasy). I’m curious though – where is the cut, and how did it get there? What kind of tricks does your mind conjure as a result? Oh, the possibilities are endless!

    Consider though, for a moment - if I may be so bold - the following snapshots:

    77% of reported “road rage” incidents carry witness statements bearing the terminology ‘he/she cut me up’.

    To a professional snooker player, over or undercutting a ball could be the difference between championship crowning glory or first of the losers status – not to mention a couple of hundred thousand in prize money.

    For any large, commercial organisation, the initiative of cost cutting always begins and ends with the soul destroying, brutal act of “role restructuring” – i.e. sackings. Tragically, such philosophies are equally relevant within service sectors we take for granted; what happens when our supply of doctors and nurses exhausts due to ongoing staff cuts?

    No one has really ever explained whether ‘cutting it fine’ as an observation of timekeeping indicates ‘just in time’, or ‘nearly late’.

    Cutting shopping bills in half with reputable supermarkets is to be encouraged, however, only employ legitimate use of scissors.

    Don’t be tempted by advertising sharks offering you the promised land of cutting household bills in two by signing up to their particular lie. Small print kills.

    I’d rather have a bad haircut than a bad cut anywhere else. Any day.

    A bad cut of cloth is a precursor to judgement of your appearance.

    Everyday cuts are varied, unique and random.

    Misplaced trust bleeds you dry.

  36. She was in the shower. Her husband was back late because he'd gone for a drink after football.

    She'd put some potatoes onto boil thinking he'd be back soon. He liked his potatoes soft. She thought she'd wash her hair while she was waiting for them to cook.

    She still had conditioner in her hair when the kitchen exploded.

    It was a two up two down with not much between. Solid smoke coming out of the windows almost straight away, neighbours said. Brickwork blackening, crippling the house from the inside out and worrying the neighbours on either side.

    People came out to watch from their porches, arms folded but it's OK because the emergency services are on their way and does anyone know if there's anyone in there? They'll be grey by now. They shake their heads.

    Firemen later said there was nothing left of the kitchen.

    The explosion blew out the back door and the kitchen window.

    Which allowed the man from number 54 to get into the house. He later said he didn't have time to think and being sure he'd seen a light on when he'd walked the dog past an hour ago he wouldn't have been able to live with himself. He pulled her out, skin still smoldering. He suffered severe burns to his hands and forearms but she came off worse.

    Still conscious when he rescued her, damp hair smoking and serious burns to her face, arms and legs she had no idea what had happened.

    At that moment, shock numbing the pain she looked up at the man that had saved her life, choking on lung fulls of smoke against the filthy night sky, and all she could think was that the man at number 54 had just seen her naked.

    Caty Selby

  37. I knew I'd pushed her too far. I'd been too forceful, too eager to please. Time wouldn't allow for it though, two days later and she’d be returning home to Vancouver, her family and friends, home comforts. Her life.

    I could see in her face that trawling through London had taken it's toll on her knees, scarred and aching thanks to two separate skiing accidents coincidentally on the same day 3 years apart.

    We sat motionless on the couch, neither of us paying attention to yet more mundane early Saturday night reality TV. She lay her legs across my lap and my hand moved instinctively to her ankle my thumb starting to slowly circle around her heel, somehow this time it wasn’t a precursor to love making, the discomforted eched on her face and the guilt I felt for wanting to show her the “smog” had put paid to that.

    “How do they feel?” I whispered

    “Ah, you know Niki” She didn’t have to say anymore, the stories of prolotherapy had been enough. (Prolotherapy uses a dextrose (sugar water) solution, which is injected into the ligament or tendon where it attaches to the bone)

    I withdrew my hand from her jeans and without a word, pulled at her buttons and slowly removed them so to cause as minimal discomfort as possible.

    I slid off the couch, her legs either side of my shoulders. I reached for the massage oil, warmed it between my hands and firmly yet affectionately applied it to both her knees.

    Her knees creaked as I worked the lotion into them, my thumbs deliberalty applying the warmth into the scars, her breathing becoming broken as I tenderly worked her ruined knees.

    I glanced up at her face, now reinvigorated with her natural beauty.

    “How do they feel?” I whispered

    “Much better, so much better Niki”


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