November 25th

Good morning. Here's today's Message:


The pavement is sticky like uncooked dough; it lifts in strings under your soles. The sun is hot. The skin on your shoulders and knees is burning. That’s when your father pokes his head out of the door and shouts at you to come in but you can’t tell him about the pavement because you know he won’t believe you, he’ll think that you’re lying or you’ve done something wrong. You wave and watch him disappear down a dark hall, into a room with a tiny window at the other end. He sits at a table and carves his name into the wood.

Each time you have the dream you wake up frightened, then relieved when you remember where you are. You haven’t mentioned it to anyone since one of your boyfriends said that in Freudian terms the knife symbolised a penis.

Your mother once told you the women in your family were cursed with bad love. And you believed her because she was your mother. And because of your father.

When your mother calls and tells you he’s died she can’t stop crying. You say, ‘Mum, you haven’t seen him for fifteen years.’
‘It doesn’t matter,’ she says. ‘I always see him in you.’
After you hang up the phone you stare at yourself in the bathroom mirror, try and see him somewhere in your face. You can’t. And you’re glad.

You haven’t had the dream since he died. Or you’ve had the dream, but your feet aren’t stuck and your father doesn’t call you and it’s you walking down the dark hall into the small room. It’s you sitting at the table with the knife, but you don’t carve your name. You walk over to the other end of the room and look out of the tiny window.


  1. After his death, Sylvia’s mother said that he hadn’t always been like that; who knew what flying at high altitude over a number of years could do to a person? Sylvia’s mother cooked him bacon and egg every morning and delivered it to him in bed, brought him his dinners on a tray in front of the television even though there was a dining room. Sometimes he would complain that the chicken tasted fishy, that the steak was tough or the lamb undercooked. Sylvia never saw him make a cup of tea in her twenty-three years.

    She could picture him on the front lawn as they arrived back home in her mother’s car, his knees half bent, feet angled outwards, back tilted slightly forward, ruddy-faced with rage. In her mind he was shaking his fist too but that seemed a little over the top so maybe she had imagined this part. Her mother was later home from shopping that she had said she would be. His dinner was late. Her mother would rush in and cook, still in her coat whilst he alternated between raging at her and slamming doors. She would try to pacify him but it was hopeless. Sylvia’s mother said that it was because he was hungry. He pushed the dinner around his plate with his knife and fork and threw it to the floor.

    After his death, Sylvia was glad and told people so but she felt guilty because she had memories. She had memories of going to the airport with him and meeting his pilot friends, of him taking her up in a red auster, of just being with him. Corresponding memories of her mother for that time were absent, overshadowed by those of the later years. He hadn’t always been like that you know.

  2. Nobody had phones when I was a kid. You were shouted in for your tea and you had to be quick. There wasn`t much, what was there could be gobbled up, (or worse), before you got to the plate. My brothers spat in my sprouts, hating me for liking them. They licked the stork margarine off my bread then put it back on my plate. I hardly ate anything from our table, even if I was the first one there. Today is Sunday. Roast dinner day and I want to get to the table first.

    There is no sign of my brothers so I leg it towards our block. I start to climb the two flights of stone steps that lead to the first floor. A grey boy passes me, struggling to control an Alsatian dog. I didn`t notice it break free, I was too busy thinking about gravy, mint sauce; sprouts.
    Without warning it leaps up at me, gripping my upper arm firmly in its jaw, throwing a threatening growl at the young lad. Steam rises up from his crotch as yellow piss dribbles down the inside of one of his legs.

    "Get your dad." My voice sounds surprisingly calm. He doesn't move. Just looks down at the sunrise puddle he is standing in and cries. My voice is now a command: "Get your dad you dickhead." He runs from the block, knees bent, legs wide. I stare at the ceiling of the freshly painted block and hum: `I`d like to teach the world to sing...`

    He brings his big fat brother. And half the neighbourhood's kids. My brothers push to the front. "Bloody hell, she`s got an ally chewing on her arm. Get it off her you fat bastard!" He can`t. He walks off to fetch his dad.

  3. I never saw my father after he died. Each night I waited for him to visit me in dreams, just as I had always known him, never hurrying anywhere; to see him smile, hear his voice, joking gently with me.

    My mother called me far too late when he was dying; the curtains were already closed round his hospital bed; too late to say good-bye and thank him for all that love. After his funeral, I couldn’t bear to think of him lying in that horrid box deep in the ground, especially when it rained.

    Much later I missed the sound of his slow footsteps down the hall to the front door, the warmth of his welcome, so unlike Mother’s, indifferent, matter of fact. Once she barely greeted me, opened the door, leaving me to follow her into the kitchen. Only as she aged and our roles reversed, did I feel she cared for me.

    I have few mementos of my father but so many memories to treasure. His stories, the cigarette smoke that was part of him. Watching him lather his face, the steady strokes of the razor, the feel and smell of his newly shaved skin I have a photo of him, aged twenty just out of college, before his hair had turned white, before he returned from the horrors of the trenches, with his hand crippled during the Battle of the Somme.

    I still wonder why my dreams are never touched by him, why they are peopled by faces I don’t recognise yet are so real.

    But it is not my father I miss now, but someone closer, irreplaceable, whose return I await in my nightly dreams, who always ensured that he walked on the outside of the pavement at my side, his warm hand holding mine.

  4. My father had been ill for a long time. Motor Neuron Disease, they said. And glaucoma. And diabetes. They took him into hospital for respite care. My sister was grateful for the break although she still drove to see him twice a day. I argued with him about it because he didn’t want to go. “Over my dead body,” he’d shouted and I’d shouted back: “No, over Susan’s.”

    That was the last conversation I had with him. When I phoned the hospital on the Thursday night they said he was ‘poorly but comfortable.’ That was at six. At a quarter to seven my sister phoned me and told me he was dead. I was relieved. I was upset as well but the overall feeling was one of quiet acceptance. He’d been ill for so long that my sister, who lived next door to him, was on the verge of a collapse and his passing would simplify her life. There’d be a problem with the house but nothing that couldn’t be sorted with a little patience and understanding. “Do you want me to tell Elizabeth or not?” I said.

    “I will.” I could hear the hardening of her voice as she said it. Our sister had been absent from our father’s life for the past two years, despite living half the distance away that I did. She’d visited once a year for half an hour, standing at the doorway in case he’d threatened to be sick or light a cigarette in her presence. She hated him with a passion reserved for cockroaches and headlice and I never knew why.

    She came back to the house after the funeral. She spent an hour walking round it, taping yellow labels to everything she wanted. It’s funny that everything she wanted was an antique.

  5. Mesmerised, your face turned to the left as a droplet rolled onto the seat.

    He was never there during those moments you needed a strong hand to hold you, like when you fell down the molehill and grazed your kneecaps. Your tears went unnoticed as you cried out in vain for him, calling him to come. No one else but him. He was never there to taste the soft snowflakes that crisp November morning nor when you won the 30m free style race. You’d known what it was like to make excuses for him when your friends asked if he was attending the Parents’ Evening. That and the increasing distance between you and him as you made that leap from growing painfully up to becoming someone who understood the pains of relationships.

    Then those dreams kept recurring until you realised you were similar to him; that you didn’t let anyone close enough in case you’d face the hurt all over again. You’d make some excuses about not wanting to commit because you were afraid you wouldn’t be there for them when they needed you most. Something, you said, held you back.

    ‘Look further into your childhood, past your first kiss. What did you feel?’

    You laid there muttering feelings of being indescribably happy as you remembered Paul asking you to dance at the Christmas party. You uttered feeling excited all over again as you danced. You sighed. She continued,

    ‘Did you withdraw into yourself then?’

    You shook your head vehemently. You weren’t inhibited. Being that close to someone made you happy though you longed to be closer to him; to hear him say he loved you.

    Your hands clutched the arms of the reclining seat as your face contorted into a grimace and you remembered being 10. You cried uncontrollably.


  6. ‘Nappy bag, spare trousers, snacks, drinks, toys, purse … purse, where did I put my purse? What was I wearing yesterday? Same jeans I’m wearing today. It must be in the nappy bag. Jed, are you ready? We need to leave in three minutes. Oh, Jed, what are you doing with the peanut butter? No, leave it, Oscar can have it for his lunch, we haven’t got time to fill his bowl up anyway. You don’t need to tidy up right now, Jed, you need to get your shoes on. No, they’re not too small for you. What? Well, why didn’t you tell me they hurt your toes before? I’ll look at them later. Come on, you want to go to the Science Museum don’t you? No? But you said it was your favourite place on the planet last time. Come on, Jack and his mummy will be waiting, I have to get Becca into her buggy and, oh no, her nappy needs changing again. Jed, I’m going to start counting, by the time I reach ten I want you to have your shoes on. One, two, three …. They’re right there. By the door. Four, five … Yes, that’s a good idea, you’d better go to the loo. Be quick! Oh no, no, don’t answer the telephone, we’ll leave it to ring. Yes, I know it’s a bit naughty but we haven’t got time, we should be on the bus by now. No, it won’t be Daddy, Daddy knows we’re going out this morning. Jed, no, don’t pick … alright give it to me, who is it? Hello? Yes, Diana speaking. Yes, I am the daughter of Isaac Greenbaum. No, I haven’t seen him for fifteen years. I don’t know anything about his circumstances. He’s dead? Oh, my God!’

  7. The message went out. Reunion! Knives in their lives. Come one and all. So they came from all times and places, some flying through the air and landing pointedly in the trunk of the oak tree, others clattering through the door, others still, just plopping into the grass.

    First one to speak was the penknife her father gave her when she flew up from Brownies. “She whittled boughs with me to make arrows to protect her from the brown snake. She flicked me shut and hung me on her Guide belt.”
    “What about me?” said the flick-knife. “I´m longer than thumb to little finger. My point can find your heart. He got caught at the border and said he just had me for protection, used me to clean his nails, peel the skin from potatoes. They didn’t buy it. Confiscated me, let him go, though.”
    “He was in love,” said the Solingen bread knife. “And I was a gift. But I slipped and cut into her finger. Three stitches. She´s ignored me ever since. He sometimes winks.”
    “We just try and hang in there,” said the three plastic knives in chorus. “Keep a low profile. She forgets we´re fragile.”
    “Fragile/smajile,” said the cheese knife with the Emmentaler holes in its stainless-steel blade. “Now it´s a matter of design, darling.”
    Victorinox concurred, blowing on his toothpick attachment. “But they don’t take us along anymore.”
    “We tried,” said the hot-pink Swiss army knife. “But perhaps it’s better like that. Have you seen the riff-raff at the airport? In those plastic boxes? Exposed for all to see?”
    “They could put us in their checked baggage,” said the Finnish hunting knife sulkily from inside its sheath.
    “Er-hem,” said the oil stone. “You´re all much better off at home with me. Let’s sharpen up now.”

  8. CND summer

    It was one of those summers where you were always outdoors: knee deep in the river or half way up a tree or throwing stones at the windows of the mill, hearing the smash, a shatter of glass falling and the flap of pigeons abandoning their roosts. It was always you and Sam roaming the streets and fields together. Your knees were scabbed and scraped, legs raw with nettle bumps or bramble scratches. Sam was from the CND camp halfway up the hill. She wasn’t a gypsy or anything like that. Her mum had a hippy hangover from the seventies. She moved into a caravan along with some other hippies. They rigged up water drums to collect water and a generator that hummed and rumbled all day and night. Some people hated them. They said the camp was a mess, with its piles of wood and old furniture for the fire, tyres for the kids to play in and their compost pile. You thought it was beautiful. Stray cats hung around. There was always music and people laughing and a huge CND sign mowed into the grass so it could be seen from the town. One night some local lads came and set fire to the wood pile and the fire brigade came to put out the flames. Sam’s mum was spitting with anger, she said they all could have died, nobody would have cared. You thought she was right in a way. Most people didn’t care. Your parents said they should have been thrown off months ago, it was their own fault, and you must never go anywhere near those people. You went up there that morning and helped build a barbed wire fence round the camp with a handwritten sign that said KEEP OUT OR ELSE.

    Annie Clarkson

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  10. The day my father died, my brother and I walked across the beach to the café on the edge of the sea. We didn’t speak. The only sound was the ocean lashing against boulders, the crack of pebbles under our feet.

    We sat by a tiny window. I traced the letter M in its steamy surface; my brother cut an M into the oilcloth covering the table, using a blunt knife. We both laughed.
    ‘Great minds,’ he began but didn’t finish.

    He cupped his hands around a hot coffee; I spooned off the chocolate topping of my cappuccino. We both shivered.

    The woman on the next table’s voice drilled into us when we craved silence.
    ‘That Mr Morgan, she said. ‘He was a tyrant.’
    I didn’t want to hear the rest; my brother dug deeper into the oilcloth slashing at it, marking it permanently.
    ‘A real tyrant,’ she continued. ‘That poor wife of his and those children. No wonder they left home as soon as they could.’

    I leant over towards her. She smelt like a wet dog, her clothes still damp from the mist.
    ‘You’re speaking about my father,’ I said. ‘You shouldn’t speak ill of the dead.’
    She made no apology, just formed her thin lips into an ‘Oh.’ She left soon afterwards, pushing her husband in front of her like a shield.

    I looked at my brother. His eyes darted from side to side in panic, his lips were misshapen, his fine features contorted with anger. His fear was bubbling to the surface.

    ‘Best to speak about it,’ I said. ‘Spill it out.’ He shook his head, tears flicked from his eyes, but he remained silent.

    ‘Are you afraid you’ll be like him,’ I persisted. This time he nodded.
    ‘Me too,’ I said. ‘It’s my greatest fear.’

  11. I was dreaming on most nights that a dark person stood at the foot of my bed. I wanted more than anything to shout and send them away, but I couldn’t. I knew that if I could shout, it would leave my room, but my voice would not come.

    I told my friend, and he said: ‘Wait here.’ He came back to the pub with a small lump of orange stone like a piece of pale rock sugar. ‘This is citrine. Put it by your bed.’

    That night I dreamed that a door in my house opened up revealing a hidden room full of wonderful things I wish I owned.

    My father said to me: ‘Such terrible dreams I’ve been having. I’m trying to catch a train and they never stop, or I’m on a train, but I’ve left my briefcase on the platform. Then the train doesn’t stop at any station.’

    I tell him ‘This is citrine. Put it by your bed.’

    That night my father dreamed about flying red, green, yellow, blue and white prayer flags on the roof and all the neighbours came to admire the noise they made in the wind.

    My brother said to my father: ‘I had a dream about my ropes falling apart in my hands and I couldn’t go up and I couldn’t go down. And then I let go of the rock, but instead of landing, I just kept on falling and falling, and I never hit the ground, but I imagined it over and over again.’

    My father tells him ‘This is citrine. Put it by your bed.’

    That night my brother dreamed about standing on a pinnacle of yellow rock looking down on the backs of eagles and at forest that went out to the horizon in all directions

  12. I think I loved him, but I can't remember.
    You've probably already assumed that he died when I was small, but he didn't. He died when I was thirty-eight.
    So now you're maybe thinking that he was one of those absent fathers, the kind who take off when the kids are young. But he wasn't one of those either.
    My father could have been the perfect father. He was kind, even-tempered. He loved his garden. He liked to go fishing. He was reliable on the bacon front too. He was proud to say he didn't drink. My mother, when extolling his virtues, would add that he didn't go after other women. Why he didn't I'm not sure, except that was part of what would have made him the perfect father. People liked my dad, stopped to talk to him in the street and afterwards went away smiling.
    Mum was the one who didn't like him. Nothing was ever quite right, quite good enough. True, he earned peanuts, but it's love that keeps us alive isn't it? Or is it hate?
    After I turned eleven, she wouldn't let us speak to each other, go anywhere together. I didn't know why. Suddenly we were a divided family. Him on one side, Mum and me on the other. Except I didn't want to be on Mum's side. If I had to choose. His side was lighter, gentler. His rules were plain to see and didn't keep changing. To please him, you sat up straight and did your homework when you were supposed to. And your piano practice. It was easy.
    So, when after a silence of eleven years, I heard he was dying, I got up at five the next morning and drove three hundred miles to the hospital.

  13. A man in the seat behind him is on the phone.

    “I wouldn’t have three children, two is ok, two is good, but three…one’s always left out. We’ve got four and it’s like having two separate families, there’s not a...not really a bond between the older two and the younger two. But it works quite well. But wouldn’t recommend it”

    He listens as the man talks on, amused by his absurdity, while unscrewing the cap on his pill bottle.

    “Married twenty-four years…yes, met in the June, engaged in December and married in the April. What about you?”

    A laugh.

    “It would be good if you did call it a day after ten years really. I didn’t want to get married, stopped me doing a lot of things. It’s still quite good at ten years, after that...”

    He thinks that this same man will return home to his wife and children and be thankful for their being, even as he disavows their love in a crowded terminal. He thinks of his own wife – and she is his wife still, for they never pursued that last legal finality, though their separation was absolute. It is years since he last saw her, and even now her indignant rage on the night she tried to make him stay ripples towards him like the distorting heat from the runway tarmac. He thinks of his daughter, a young woman now, and fatherless always.

    His flight is called. He is going to the coast. He will not see her again, in any case she cannot now exist as he knew her then, but he is going to walk along the sands where he once marked their names with a pebble. Walking is tiring for him, so it will not be long before he turns back toward home.

  14. I step into my dreams at night.

    I never know where they are going to take me. Whether they will be soothing ones with that hint of menace; or one where I'm flying then falling, knowing the ground will meet me half way.

    Usually, I have nightmares.

    These dreams are filled with blood bright as rubies, black as dark as the softest velvet and pain sharp as needles.

    I wake from these dreams, yelling, cursing. I am shaken awake, shook, shocked. I love to wander in them, to pull my head slowly open so that I can bathe in it, so that I can sleep in it.

    Blood in the brain is like blood in the womb. Warm, comforting like the waves of water or the ka-thud, ka-thud, ka-thud of train tracks underneath you.

    But there are no train tracks here. Just the sound of my beating heart pulsing through you, one beat at a time, creating a rhythm all its own.

    Tonight, inside myself, I stand in front of a building.

    It is tall, made of brick and mortar. It reaches high into a grey sky. I can see turrets and gargoyles on the buildings top ledge and wonder what would happen if one were to fall off and stretch its wings.

    There is confetti in the air, small square shapes that float like wishes. I open my mouth and catch a few on my tongue. They taste like burnt toast.

    There is rubble on the street around me. Paper, pamphlets, used condoms. There is a piece of purple paper that sticks out, that reaches out to me. I pick it up and look at it. I feel the roughness of it in my hands.

    Its words say: HAVE YOU FOUND JESUS?

    "No," I tell it. "No I haven't."

    Jamieson Wolf

  15. The phone rings and it’s your mum and you can tell by her voice what she wants to tell you. But you were just going out the door to take your son to judo and you don’t have the time to listen now and you want the space to be alone after she’s spoken and you don’t want your son to see the first shock hit you.
    ‘Can I phone you back in half an hour?’ You ask. ‘I’m just dropping Luke at judo.’
    ‘That’s fine’ she says and you know that it’s the only fine thing for her today.

    It takes a lifetime for you to gather together his Gi, yellow belt, drink, and money, and even longer to find your keys. You can feel each action marking off time. You want this half hour to last; you don’t want things to change, don’t want to deal with the tidal wave of emotions that are waiting to drown you.

    Finally he is in the car. You’re isolated from all the pointless weekend activities going on around you in the street. Your son is trying to make conversation. You realise he’s asked the same question three times.
    ‘I’m sorry love’ you say. ‘I’ve got a headache.’ You don’t want to pollute his carefree Saturday yet.

    Your son is safely deposited at the sport’s hall with eighteen other children with bare feet, wearing white suits and various colours of belt. You feel inevitability rushing towards you and you drive home very slowly.

    You fumble for your keys trying to open the front door. Your heart thumps a countdown as you walk towards the phone and dial your mum’s number. You hear her choked voice trying to speak.
    ‘Hello love, thanks for calling back’.
    ‘Hi mum’ you say ‘tell me what’s happened.’

  16. Secrets we hide even from ourselves haunt us in the early hours of the morning. They chase us down dark halls. Following us, poking and prodding and demanding our attention when we are attempting to be happy in other parts of our lives. They steal our past replacing what was with long shadows of angst and guilt
    Around every corner they spread their disease of depression, push us down into deep wells of despair. Until gasping for air and sobbing in pain, the day to day life we attempt to live is superseded by the desire to escape to some place of peace, of stillness from the haunting.
    Finally, we live half lives, zombie people longing for what can not be because of truth that came screaming up from the depths one dark despairing day. How to hope when there is this overwhelming, life sucking pall hanging over us?
    Nights are long and lonely, as are the days and those who used to know us have no understanding. We seek in places unlikely for some sort of shelter from this storm. Running for cover until we stumble into someone who will not turn us away, or demand that we get over our pain, but willingly holds us until the sobbing subsides. Perhaps not comprehending, but permitting us nonetheless to walk as slowly as needed. Waiting patiently for us to arise to whatever hobbling stance we can manage from the beaten down place that we still fall into.
    How to hope beyond even this moment? I can not say. Every season leads us down corridors that point to when the past became our present and continuous pain. Looking for hope in the new day or in the laughter of a child is only even possible because you are there for me.

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  18. In the last photograph she took of her father, he'd turned into an old man, even though he was only sixty-five. He was shuffling through the wrack line, splashing through the ripples left behind by the the outgoing tide. He didn't even have the strength to keep his shoes dry.

    When she took the photograph to show him in hospital, she sat beside him on the bed. He took it from her and looked, but then he couldn't talk to her. He found some other uses for his voice,like groans and a few curses she didn't know he knew.

    He had no words for her but he swore at the world. This must be the rage Dylan Thomas urged for his own father. She took hold of his fingers and stroked them but it didn't help. She moved to the chair, watching as he slid off the pillows and thrashed his arms around on the bed.

    She walked back to her mother's house through the car-park, keeping her face turned away from the strangers that she passed.

    She drove home to London that night. It was the longest she'd been away from the children and they were shrill with excitement to get her back, their piping voices strange and obrusive in her head. After she read their stories and kissed them goodnight, she showed John the photograph. There was a smear in the corner, a thumb-print. She got a tissue but instead of wiping the mark away, she blew her nose.

    At six o'clock the next morning, the phone rang. She listened to the flattened voice and said,

    'He couldn't go on like that, Mum. He had nowhere left to go.'

    John told her it was exactly the right thing to say. Then he held her while she cried.

    Joanna Ashwanden

  19. “Hi. My name’s Destiny, and I’m an alcoholic and a drug addict.”
    That’s how to start these meetings. And I go to every one, three times a day. Stand up and say my part, even if it’s a load of horse shit. ‘Cause that’s what it takes to get out of a place like this. When you’re in a reform school, you got to look reformed. It took a while to work out the system. At first, from withdrawals, I couldn’t sit straight on the toilet, much less go to meetings.
    But I got my shit together now. Today, everybody’s talking about their dads, and how they screwed them up by not saying I love you or just screwed them. That’s some fucked up shit.
    “After hearing you all, I guess I’m better off without a dad,” I said. “It was always just me and my mom and my little sis. Sis and I don’t have the same father. I used to ask about it, but no one never told me nothing. My ma just turns her back when I ask. Sometimes I ask her about him just to piss her off. Once, my gram said my ma’s protecting me. When I asked her what from, she turned her back too.
    “My therapist says not having a father is why I go for older boys. But I think I’m just mature for my age. Maybe that’s why I’m in here. I’m over-mature.”
    They all laugh. I like making people laugh.
    “It’s weird not knowing ANYTHING about him. I don’t even know if he knows I exist. I never got a birthday card from him or a phone call. Nothing. My ma’s a nasty old witch, but she always makes a big deal over my birthday. So I know I was born. Before that, it’s just a big black hole.”
    Valerie Gregg

  20. I’m digging my father’s grave, not to put him in, to get him out. The earth is stratified – loam and gravel, shells and fossils, then a lot of creepy-crawlies. He’s been dead millions of years, or he died quite recently. Here are signs of an extinct volcano. Just as I’m saying this to myself, the crater mouth appears and lava hisses out of it. That’s what extinct means, in the dream. Also it’s curious that however far I dig, I’m always standing beside the grave, in the open air and light. The hole itself seems to vary in depth. I feel most excited when it’s shallow, loose earth. That means I must be getting somewhere.

    He appears from behind me and grabs the spade. “I’ll take over, sweetheart.” How young he looks, I’m ashamed to be so much older, but glad at least he still recognises me. I am withered, I am the dead. My nights are criss-crossed with terror, my face with lines, my eyes with blood. Why is his manner towards me so gentle? He should be like the birds, not daring to alight on the hawthorn twigs. He can’t love me still – but he said ‘sweetheart’.

    What’s in the air, ash, cinders? No, moths. Flying out of the grave, a tempest of them. Dad seems upset, he stops digging and waves his hands around. Moths! I know they’re Grandma really. His mum divided by thousands into insect fragments.

    A child comes running through the cemetery. “Mum! Mum!” She throws her little arms around Dad. It’s my mother, the cute thing. She’s been lost for ages in the big forest. Moths settle on her face, he tenderly brushes them off. I feel his caress on my skin, a shivering touch, the pleasure. Who am I now, delighting, whole?

  21. Memories.

    Go down memory lane, and what do you find? Just the way you felt about the things that happened and what it was you chose to remember. When you were grown up, and wondering about your childhood, you asked your sister if she remembered that time your Mum slapped your Granddad. You were ten, your sister fourteen. ‘Sure I remember,’ she said. ‘What a laugh. He used to needle her for fun, and he had it coming to him. Mum said he was always putting her down but that was the first time she whopped him one. He landed in his chair!’

    All you remembered was your Mum’s face red with temper and how she burst out crying and ran upstairs. You felt she’d really let herself down. You were ashamed, especially when you saw how good your Granddad was with her later on in the day. Your Dad didn’t say anything and you loved the way he was so patient and calm. He didn’t start arguing or shouting like your Gran did. Just said to you, ‘Don’t worry, love, it’ll blow over.’ When you were remembering, you told your sister this and she gave you one of her ironic looks. ‘Go on,’ she said, ‘he was a coward and never stuck up for any of us. You were always his favourite,’ she added with a smile.

    And what about the time you asked your brother if remembered your little cousin Ben falling out of that tree you’d been told not to climb. Your brother helped him up even though you told him not to. How Ben was concussed and taken to hospital, and the beating you two got. Your brother said he didn’t remember. He’d got more to think about these days than revisiting the past, he said.


    The Running Dream

    I’m running along the plush red corridors of an enormous hotel. I have a key but I’ve forgotten my room number. I’m trying locks at random. I’m frantic, desperate to find my room before the person running after me catches up. I never see the person in the dream, don’t know who they are. But I know I’m being chased.

    The Rising Dream

    I raise my arms above my head. All it takes is a bit of concentration and I’m rising high into the sky, up and up. The clouds feel fresh and silky against my skin as I soar through them, up and up. Suddenly everything turns black. Stars and planets appear around me. But I know I must keep rising. Up and up.

    The Primary School Dream

    I’m back at my primary school. I wander around noticing every detail, as vivid as if I was there yesterday: the grooves in the wooden desks, the sticky paint-pots, the musky velvet curtains, baked beans steaming inside a metal cauldron. Then in the playground: the gravel crunching beneath my feet as I run, the climbing-frame cold and hard against my palms, the shouts of familiar voices even though I’m the only one there.

    The Mummy Dream

    I’m at my Mum’s house. The house I grew up in. The atmosphere is familiar yet different. I’m looking for my Mum but soon realise she isn’t here. I go into the garden. It’s night. I peer up into a deep black sky dressed with stars. The stars start to draw together into the shape of a giant hand. The sparkling hand waves at me then gradually disappears.

    The Kissing Dream

    I’ve finally found him. THE ONE. We lean towards each other, about to kiss. Then I wake up.


  23. She suggested I go down to meet her at the old place
    "That would be great, Mother."
    "Why don't you call me Mum?"
    Quite a shift for someone who used to say things like:
    "That would be absolutely divine, child"
    So I did.

    We remembered together what strange conversations there had been.
    My dad's favourite phrase: "Do you think it's really wise,old man?"
    And those ridiculous puns. If you said something like: "I'll do it when I'm able", he'd say, "You'll never be A bull. "
    I usually ended up saying nothing.

    "Quite a trickster your father."

    "Look. I've kept his study like it always was."
    Though I'd never entered the room before,I recognised it.

    "Wasn't there a table with carved initials?"
    "No,dear. Just the big desk."
    And there was no knife, just a pen beside a pad with his name written, over and over again.

    "In dreams isn't a knife the same thing as a pen is?"
    She gasped a mock shocked laugh.

    "Did he always tell the truth, Mum?"
    "I think it's ok to tell a person a lie, if we really want to spare their feelings.

    I turned away and looked out over the garden.
    Nowadays I seem to be for ever gazing out of windows.

    "And did he hurt you, Mum?"

    "An animal always protects it's own, but humans sometimes hurt those we love. Dreams are not the same as real life."

    Her shadow fell onto the wall by the window as she came up behind me and looked over my shoulder.
    "We should have done this long ago."

    "Your father would have said, "I was always a Freud you were too Jung.""
    We both burst out laughing.
    "Now he's really gone."

    It was the first time we'd laughed out loud together.

  24. After my father died, Mum couldn’t smile at all. The tears keep coming, she said, a note of despair in her voice. It was hard to be with her then because I felt as if I’d been let out of jail early, and all I wanted to do was dance.

    What is it, I asked, what are you so sad about? You didn’t want him around, he was horrible, he almost ruined your life.

    You, she said, didn’t know him before.

    So I said tell me, tell me about before.

    She told me about how he used to take her dancing, and he would always bring a flower for her to wear in a buttonhole or in her hair. Okay, they were nicked from people’s gardens, but it was a sweet thought. And she had to pay them in, because he never had any money (no change there, then, I thought) but he was so charming and so funny that it didn’t matter.

    But that was before he got trapped in a bottle, like one of those ships; you can get them in, but you can’t get them out again. And that’s why I’m sad, she said, because he thought drink was a refuge, but it wasn’t, it was a trap. I knew there was no hope, but I still hoped that some day, not that he’d come back to me, I wouldn’t have taken him in, but that he could come back to himself. And now he never will.

    So I treated us both to a course of salsa classes. I met her for the first one with a red rose I’d bought for her buttonhole, and showed her the receipt. And she stood up on her toes, and held out her arms, and began to pirouette, and smiled.

  25. You have arrived at some unknown destination with a group of friends. It must be a dream, as you don't have many friends. Does Laura, who lives next door, count as a friend or a neighbour? You're not sure. But you're sure you'll not ask mother. Mother would snort, then say through those half-closed eyes of hers 'What a silly question to ask, she's a neighbour and a badly dressed one at that. You're not really the 'friendly' type are you - as well as not being particularly bright' she would add unnecessarily.

    You've all decanted from a big red glorious car. You're all laughing and giggling and carrying proper leather luggage and you all scramble towards reception, quite breathless with anticipation.

    The wedding's been cancelled. No explanation.

    All your new friends simply shrug their elegant shoulders. The girls toss their shiny manes this way and that making their hair like shimmery waterfalls and the chaps look suitably miffed for a split second then disappear to get themselves a drink. You appear to be left standing.

    It's at that point in the dream that you wake up. You've been having this dream a lot lately. It's not as if there's a family wedding planned or anything.

    A hot bath with lavender oil doesn't seem to help either. OK, it certainly helps you sleep but then you start dreaming about this wedding scenario again.

    Father may as well not be here. He's either in London on business or else holed up in his den along with Flopsie and Mopsie (our gorgeous labradors) and a bottle of single malt. Mother doesn't seem to notice that he's absent a lot.

    Mother's gone into town early today. Left a note for father. Mumbled something about a new hat. That's very strange. Mother never mumbles.

    Louise Laurie

  26. You dream of the red eyes every night.

    You don’t know who the eyes belong to, but they follow you throughout your dreams in a most unsettling manner. They bore into your very soul, filling it with fear and self-loathing. They remind you of your father and the anger he used to take out on you and your mother, whenever he saw red.

    Now the eyes are starting to haunt you during the day too. You search the face of every passer-by for those menacing blood-red irises. You spot them lurking behind trees, peeping out from rows of stationary cars. You are sure that they are out to hurt you. Just as he once did.

    Your formerly busy social life grinds to a halt, as fear of the red eyes takes over. At night you pour yourself glass after glass of wine…white not red…and vegetate in front of the television. Your mother speaks gently to you down the phone, reminding you that it was all over long ago, that your father has been gone for fifteen years.

    For a long time he was locked up for what he did to her, but no one ever realised what you saw that night.

    You are five and hear the screams. Climbing out of bed, you run to the kitchen and peep silently in. Your mother has disappeared and a wet trail of blood leads to the open back door. Your father sits at the sturdy table, carving letters into the pine with the tip of a sharp knife. Later you discover they read W-H-O-R-E, but you don’t understand. You run away to huddle silently under your duvet, pretending to be asleep until a policewoman finds you. You never see your father again.

    So how can you be sure he really is dead?

  27. Nathan studied God suspiciously. “Who are you, where am I, and why am I here?” he demanded.

    “Whoa! Steady Champ! That’s no way to address your creator, is it?” God frowned distastefully. Such reactions from the younger men were normal. Even in death, there was something about employing a macho façade he never understood. “You’re in Purgatory. Before you ask, yes, you’ve passed on, and yes, this room is uncannily similar to a cinema auditorium.”

    Every ounce of aggressiveness evaporated. Shock convulsed his thoughts, rendering him temporarily mute. God was used to this too. Eventually, Nathan found his tongue again. “But how did I …”

    “Multiple organ failure as a result of years of self inflicted alcohol abuse. Remember? I’m disappointed at your continued self denial, but you always were a stubborn one. You chose to ignore the doctor’s warnings. You chose to ignore frantic pleas from your family. So hear you are.” Crimson painted Nathan’s silenced features in a despairing mask of shame. God continued.

    “Watch the screen please.”

    Darkness swallowed the room, as a vast, panoramic view unravelled. Birds sung as smells of freshly cut grass and overturned earth complemented a cloudless aqua sky.

    Three young children, two girls and a boy, complete strangers, spoke to them intimately, as if looking into an unseen camera lens, or speaking to a trusted, loved figure. Every innocent detail of their features illuminated Nathan’s heart. An invisible, vaguely familiar voice guided them.

    “Who are they? Why are you showing me this?” Nathan whispered.

    “Pan Out!” God yelled. Suddenly, the image betrayed reality. The children were knelt reverently at the black, marble headstone with their instantly recognisable father.

    “You’re looking ten years into the future. They’re the grandchildren you’ll never know. I’ll let you listen to them for a while, granddad …”

  28. Hey Pop,

    I was down at Bondi this afternoon, wearing a ball cap. Caught a glimpse of myself in a shop window. Could only see my gray sideburns, and I thought it was you! When did I get so old? LOL.

    Give a shout. The kids miss you (and so do we).


    He pondered a reply and then dragged the message to his “Jimmy” folder, having no idea how to respond. His wife (second, married long after the kids had gone) was always chiding him, “you could at least match their efforts.”

    “I don’t want to interfere,” he'd say. Truth was, he never knew how to talk to his kids. Their lives were light years beyond any boundaries his guidance might have created. The oldest had been a missionary in Africa, sold drugs (and got arrested) in Berkeley, then became a dot-com tycoon. His daughter married into Hollywood, found fame and fortune (then lost it) before she was twenty-seven, then went into nursing.

    And his baby, his spitting image … now a 34-year old graying single father (well, there’s his “partner”, but two men having kids?) with three adopted children. In Australia. How could he contribute to that? They’d all made such a point of telling him how much he’d fucked them up.

    “Just say hello,” his wife cajoled.


    Good to hear from you. Never saw Dad in the mirror (I’ve always favored your grandmother’s side of the clan).

    Would you kids believe that you’ve made me proud beyond words (maybe that’s why I have so few)? You’ve had adventures I could never imagine, and I see the world through your eyes every day. I love you very much and I’m sorry. We did our best.


    He took a deep breath.

    Then he pressed delete.

  29. When one of your boyfriends said the knife in your dreams symbolised a penis, he was wrong: it was wishful thinking on his part. (His real blade, which marked him out as gang leader, was big and he wielded it impressively.) No, your father's knife that you dream about is not his penis but his tongue, which cut deftly and repeatedly into you and your mother:

    Get off your backside, you lazy slut. What are you doing now, you fat cow? You're just like your mother, you lying bitch. Even his softer criticism had a sharp edge: Why can't you be more like your step-brother, you clumsy idiot? But after his final finely-crafted ultimatum to your mother: Get out and take your brat child with you!, the fifteen years of silence cut his words even deeper.

    And now, at last, he is dead. In your dreams, he no longer holds the paper knife because he will never be able to cut you again. Now you hold it instead. You should be crying with relief. Instead, you feel numb, because without the pain of his words cutting into you, there is nothing to remind you that you are alive.

    You feel nothing any more but the weight of his knife in your hand. You hug the ornately carved handle in your palm and practise slicing the air; try to cut a door or window away from your past. But they won't open. You run the shiny sharp blade lightly across your other palm. A trickle of red runs across your hand, yet still you can't feel anything. So you look at the smooth white skin of your forearm. It is etched with his words that only you can see. Perhaps now, if you dig deep enough, you can cut them out.

    Sarah James

  30. It goes back a long way. I’m not sure if it’s the gypsy’s curse; or something more primeval. All I know is that for generations now, the women in my family have been cursed with bad love.

    Violet: 1914

    Surely we don’t even need to tell this story. He was only eighteen. Violet was already pregnant. She told stories about him to the bump. But she didn’t mention the trenches, or the mud, or the slow screaming death. She wore a plain gold band so that nobody would know she hadn’t been married when he left. It wasn’t that unusual and in the confusion of war people didn’t ask questions. The child was a girl, and Violet fell to her knees to pray the curse would lift.

    Carrie: 1932

    Her mother always gave her lucky white heather. And a rabbit’s foot. She didn’t like that because it gave her the creeps. When she spilt salt she threw it over her shoulder and she never put new shoes on the table. But it didn’t make any difference. This time there was no war to blame. Carrie made her own bad luck. Conway didn’t tell her he was married. Another unplanned pregnancy followed.

    Elizabeth: 1952

    The shadow of being a bastard followed her all her life. She knew that people whispered about her behind their hands. Money was always a problem. She just got used to being the one who never had new clothes, never had anything nice. In some ways the war and rationing had been a blessing, everyone had been in the same boat then. People told her she was lucky she was so pretty. Then she met my father. He loved her with all his heart, but she couldn’t bring herself to love him. And that was her curse.

  31. There is no electricity and it is summer, imagine the scorching heat directly piercing on your skin,
    and I had a shower to refresh or redeem my slumbering mood to go back to my table to write,
    for pen is my only strength .I go to slice some bread, search for a knife, but untimely phone ,it is
    ringing ,it is nuisance, for in the middle of the bath it is ringing, it is all the more a pest, I murmur.
    “Mummy! Two blokes were fighting over a coin they found on the road, each one is vying as to
    Who should own it ,there was a scuffle, calling by bad words, chasing each other, one fellow
    Used his penknife, running and chasing each other, one almost entering into our house, I was
    Terribly frightened, you see,” my ten year old son narrated with all childish wonder.
    It is about the bad dream which he enacted, and children get dreams quite often,
    and I would suggest this topic of Dream for a Ph.D.thesis . Yes! We elders too get dreams,
    and we too dream and what a lot of difference it makes, you see.

    The next day night, around 9 P.M in the evening, some hocus-pocus:
    Opposite to my window I could hear sudden shout of a father, “get out of the house,
    Should you not know your limitations, coming home at this late hour, already your sister
    Was entangled in love or some infatuation, or some nonsense, that fellow cheated her,
    You want to bring another disgrace into the family, know how to behave else you cannot
    See my face”. The agitated carpenter pouring a volley of outbursts at his daughter, his wife
    Lending him moral support, “this house is cursed with bad love”. Daughter ran home.

  32. There is no electricity and it is summer, imagine the scorching heat directly piercing on your skin,
    and I had a shower to refresh or redeem my slumbering mood to go back to my table to write,
    for pen is my only strength .I go to slice some bread, search for a knife, but untimely phone ,it is
    ringing ,it is nuisance, for in the middle of the bath it is ringing, it is all the more a pest, I murmur.
    “Mummy! Two blokes were fighting over a coin they found on the road, each one is vying as to
    Who should own it ,there was a scuffle, calling by bad words, chasing each other, one fellow
    Used his penknife, running and chasing each other, one almost entering into our house, I was
    Terribly frightened, you see,” my ten year old son narrated with all childish wonder.
    It is about the bad dream which he enacted, and children get dreams quite often,
    and I would suggest this topic of Dream for a Ph.D.thesis . Yes! We elders too get dreams,
    and we too dream and what a lot of difference it makes, you see.

    The next day night, around 9 P.M in the evening, some hocus-pocus:
    Opposite to my window I could hear sudden shout of a father, “get out of the house,
    Should you not know your limitations, coming home at this late hour, already your sister
    Was entangled in love or some infatuation, or some nonsense, that fellow cheated her,
    You want to bring another disgrace into the family, know how to behave else you cannot
    See my face”. The agitated carpenter pouring a volley of outbursts at his daughter, his wife
    Lending him moral support, “this house is cursed with bad love”. Daughter ran home.

    Radhamani sarma

  33. Worse things happen at sea, he used to tell me.

    I didn’t understand what he meant until one day past bedtime, kneeling on the bed with the curtains pulled aside and the air cold and damp on my face. I leaned out the window and watched the silver spoon held high in the hands of night dip beneath the ripples in the sea.

    The cold air drew goose pimples on my skin. The sky’s diamond teeth reflected in the glass.

    I saw the limbs of men long ago drowned by the frothing mouth of the ocean, their salty tears scraping through the waves like a vulture’s claws.

    I felt the bruise of a shipwreck in the sand as I gripped the window ledge, my eyes dewy as I stared, as I stared, as I stared.

    I saw the ghost of an ancient dream as it padded lightly along the seabed, bubbles of breath dead and tangled amongst the seaweed and the fish.

    The shrieks and the rumbles of a heavy storm flapped in sails now disintegrated, bodies washed overboard as easily as sardines.

    A seagull screeched as it flapped uselessly against a greasy black tide, the water clouding, killing, dying beneath its frantic feet.

    Wars were fought here, in this crystal abyss, in this laughing jewel of nature as she stretched her arms and wrapped them solidly around men whose minds were somewhere else. Cannon balls sank beneath her skirts as she roared her laughter against them, as she let them bleed each other empty.

    Worse things happen at sea, he told me.

    I had never been far from understanding. Understanding was, perhaps, knowing that the worse things crept beyond what you knew, easing apart your curtains and settling down against your pillows, stretched and open for you to imagine.

    (Jenny Adamthwaite

  34. I could see my father waving at me from the beach. I couldn’t hear his words - I was too far out - but I could see his expression, and I knew I was in for it. I remember the adrenaline rush, the rising fear, the anticipation of my punishment to come. Would he beat me on the beach in front of everyone, or would he wait until we got back to the campsite?

    I turned the dinghy towards the shore. ‘We’d better go back,’ I said to my friends, hoping they didn’t see my dread. Even at nine I felt the need to be cool.

    My father was waiting in the surf. He smiled, and helped me pull the boat from the water.

    ‘Good boy,’ he said. ‘Please don’t go so far out again.’ He strolled back to his chair beside my mother.

    I didn’t understand.

    I’d been expecting a strong hand around my upper arm, a painful march back to the tent, and a sound hiding while I held my fist jammed between my teeth. It was always worse if I made any noise. I would then (usually) get to spend the afternoon in contemplation of my error.

    My father is a genuine man, with genuine emotions (lots of them). He thinks he’s a hard man, who keeps it all to himself, but it’s easy to tell how he’s feeling. I’d long since learned when to run. But I couldn’t work him out that day.

    Now, thirty years later, I’m phoning to ask him if he remembers the occasion; the day he didn’t beat me, but he has no recollection. He remembers only joking with my mother as I carried my dinghy on my back like a multi-coloured beetle.

    We laugh to hide the truth. We are friends now.


  35. It’s the first day of the longest hottest summer ever. Mr Carpenter parks his Easy-Squeezy Orange outside our house. I hop from one bare foot to the other, holding onto mum’s skirt: her hands are out of reach - cigarette in one, iced drink in the other.

    Mr Carpenter winks. “Step inside girls, I’ll take you for a spin.” Opening a door reveals seats and cushions. Mum leans forward, peers inside, the split in her skirt shows off her legs. I want to say that Dad is on his way home; that he is stuck in traffic. I bet Mr Carpenter never gets stuck in traffic; bet he just drives his big Orange straight through.
    They whisper close, then Mum hushes, waves her drink, steers me home.

    Summer drifts on. I lie in the paddling pool, watch silky ripples stripe my legs.
    A shout out front, “It’s the Orange!”
    Water splashes on parched grass, bare feet slap hot patio bricks, mince across sharp gravel.
    Mr Carpenter surrounded by kids. “All aboard’ he calls, “All aboard”
    I shiver in my swimming costume behind the Sampson brothers. Curved orange walls beckon a warm welcome. My foot is on the step; a hand is on my arm. “Its OK, Mr Carpenter,” I smile. I can manage.”

    “Sorry, love. You’re wet. Can’t let you in.”

    “I’ll get a towel”.
    He glances at the lace curtains veiling our windows.
    A gentle push, my hands slide down smooth plastic. The door swings shut on walls lined with golden faces and long golden limbs.
    A cool hand on my shoulder, the scent of cigarettes and lemon: “Are you OK, love?”
    The Orange rolls away.
    I can’t speak, I can barely breathe. I wrap my arms around her and she enfolds me, wet swimming costume and all.

  36. The pavement is sticky like uncooked dough; it lifts in strings under our sandals. Ralph’s crouched down in front of Baby and me like some kind of stick insect trying to scrape together bits of chewing gum from the wavering black tar. He’s rolling them together into a gooey grey ball.

    The lady with the pretty little girl is already coming back out the supermarket with their trolley piled high.

    The little girl watches me with solemn blue eyes as she and her momma walk by.

    “Don’t stare, Mary-Lou,” says the lady and grips the little girl’s hand tighter. I stick out my tongue and Mary-Lou looks away.

    At least Baby’s stopped crying though she was going crazy ‘til just an hour ago because she was thirsty and wanted the boob and Momma had been gone so long. She’s sleeping now but her face is looking all pink and swollen from the sun. I think maybe we should move to the shade of the awning by the entrance but Momma said to be sure not to budge. I don’t want her to miss us when she comes back.

    Ralph frowns in concentration as he scrapes at a sticky pink patch with his thumb.

    “Stop it now, Ralph,” I say, “Momma won’t be pleased when she comes back and sees the state of you.”

    “Momma ain’t coming back.”

    “She is too, ” I say though the words sound fake, like when I told the lady who stopped and asked if we were okay, “Yes m’am, our momma’s just inside buying ice-lollies for us all.”

    It was true, that’s what Momma’d said. Though I didn’t say that was seven hours ago and she’d had her suitcase with her too.

    I don’t care for the ice-lolly now. I just want to go home.

  37. Noise, white noise - white, white, noise. Noise, loud noise – loud white noise. Fear. Cold, white, cold white fear. Run, run fast, run fast from fear. Faster, run faster. Faster, push yourself, faster and faster to escape the bright light, the white light, the night, the noise, the white noise, the loud white noise that closes in. Howling noise, white, animal noise, wolverine white. The white noise in your head. And the noise you are making, the rasping of your breath as you fight for air, in panic, blind panic, inhaling in short bursts to fill your lungs. Fear. Fear and pain, searing pain, searing, knife edged pain, tracing a line along the curve of trachea walls. Searing, slicing, pain. Tracing a line and descending to another pain, deep down in your gut, deepening, clawing, pulling at you, pain in its pure white animal form. And still you run, run faster, out of terror, pure white terror, blind terror that drapes, suffocates, like a sheet, suffocates, a winding sheet. Stop it from winding itself around you, stop it from winding, from strangling. Run, run before you are immobilised by the blind, white sheet of fear. Think escape, think flight, think , think, think. Think anything but don’t let it consume you - the white wolf on your heels. Noise of the night. Run, run from the white wolf, from yourself, from your mind, from your fears, from fear, from…. from the white noise of the night.

    The white wolf spectre lingers, ghostly pale, and cold, pale and cold as the frozen lake, cold, cold….. cold as shards of ice that fracture, that fracture, splinter, fracture and splinter the terrible fear of the night leaving hoary remnants well into the pale light. Frosted shards - quiet remnants in the early morning.

  38. At the front of the room there is a big bay window looking out across the front garden towards the road. The view is familiar, even though you haven’t been in the house for years and don’t remember anything about the last time you were here. You think that hundreds of houses across the country, even across the world, must look out, like this one, on a piece of lawn, a hedge – or perhaps a fence – and a front gate. You can’t see the cars passing because a tree blocks your view of the gate and the beech hedge has grown tall over the years. The windows don’t look double-glazed, but you can’t hear anything from outside either.

    You stand looking out of the bay window in this room, which is almost empty and feels, even in midsummer, rather chilly. Perhaps you are hoping to see the sun, or some other sign of life outside. But there is nothing, and after a while you turn away almost self-consciously, as though someone has been daring you not to.

    It is then that you notice the other window, the tiny one at the far end of the room. It must look out onto the back garden, you think, and perhaps you are surprised that it’s so small. But you feel sure the house is more than one room deep, so you wonder whether it’s an internal window. It feels rather creepy, being able to watch what people are doing in another room. You want to go and look through it, but now you have a sense that someone is daring you not to do that.

    While you are hesitating a voice calls from the hall and you turn to leave. When you look back from the doorway, the little window has gone.

  39. She put down her coat and picked up the phone.

    Squatting in the kitchen by the fridge she clutched the handset and felt the tears starting even before dialling the number. By the time her father answered, no words would come. Instead the sound from her throat had grown to a wild moan rising and falling with each intake of breathe. The dog rose from its basket, sniffed her hair and gave a single, unsure wag of its tail.

    Ever since leaving the church, this is how she had wanted to grieve: in a corner, on the floor, howling like an animal among the dust and the fallen food and dog hair. All through the service she had pictured herself throwing back her head and screaming, turning to the congregation and reaching out pleading arms for aid like a civilian caught on camera in a war zone, a famished mother begging for food for her stick-like infant, an injured villager desperate to be pulled from unmoveable earthquake rubble.

    Nothing less than an elemental, third world cry for help would do to mark to the injustice of the death of this man: her friend, her children’s father, her past and her future. She ached for something physical that the cold, calm Christian funeral had done nothing to provide bar a few limp handshakes after the service and a squeeze of her shoulder and a quick hug at the graveside. Any words of condolence, however heartfelt were whispered and sparing, the loudest sounds the hymns which, for some reason, people thought it a mark of respect to sing at full pitch.

    Still holding the phone, she heard her father’s intake of breath and the first words he had spoken to her since the accident.

    “Would you like to speak to your mother?”


  40. I cut and cut, gently but firmly, but hardly anything happens. I barely scratch the glaze. So I try pushing the blade sideways, but all that happens is that a large flake of old shellac, about the size and colour of an old threepenny bit, flips off and onto the floor. I select another knife, with a lighter, sharper blade. Once the tip breaks the coarse-grained surface, I should be ok. But the wood has other ideas. If I press too hard, the grain takes the blade where it will; too soft, and it doesn’t leave a mark. Patience is probably best, so I repeat the same curve, lightly, over and over, over and over. Yes, I can see a faint line. Should I keep going on this one, giving myself an assertive beginning? Or perhaps I should continue to the next letter? That way I may at least get through my whole name, so that, if I never come again, future visitors may – if the light’s right and they look very closely – know that I was once here. Yes, that’s better than just leaving a couple of strong letters that could leave anywhere. But while I have been thinking about it, the glaze has melted, filling in the cut and rendering it invisible. I start to sweat, pressing desperately into the wood, where the blade sticks. I watch transfixed as the sticky glaze oozes up the blade, up the handle, and approaches my fingers. Although molten, it is uncomfortably cold as it enfolds my arm and closes about my throat.

    I jerk awake to my daughter’s voice from the far end of the hall. Her voice is muffled and, in my confusion, I don’t catch all the words. She is shouting something about the pavement that I don’t understand.

  41. I have a long slow life and many lovers, though they know it not nor care. They caress me with their slow sharpness, the beetles gnawing beneath the silk of my bark through the days and nights which are the breath of my leaves, the heartbeat of my sap. Bumblebees gorge my flowers like lovers staring into slow eyes. The birds speak my branches with their claws. The owl tunnels me deeply and brood in the deep knots of my bowels, staring and hooting. Mushrooms dress me in the long roll of years. Dressed in bloody velvet stags tease and stab my bark. Bold gnawing things caress my roots in the slow tender roll of seasons, secreted in the mold and earth and the secret lairs of worms. The woodpecker whips into my flesh, impatient as an itch, pulling the grubs like long lashes. Long kisses from the sun flush me until I wilt in their unremitting flame. The moon sits in my empty branches singing poems of its heart. The rain rips me, speaking rivers from branch to branch, in the storm, asunder. The gale tumbles me into winter, stripping my green dress and leaving me cold to the frosty long-lived stars. The lightning reaches into me and makes me gasp, its own light carving my rich boughs to jagged stumps of ecstasy wrapped in fire, wrapped in flames, sheathed in shame. When I fall, the moss and creeping earth will love me last and maybe love me best.

    But it is the badly-loving boy whose neglected blade caresses his name into me who wins my heart. I love the axe and shining tooth. I love the squealing blade. I love the beast who plucks me whole and strips my branches bare, for I love not wisely at all.

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