November 26th

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When she was about ten she started to play the game with Wendy. They’d go upstairs to her bedroom, lie down on the bed and take turns being the man in the sports car and the girl. The man stopped and asked the girl if she’d like a lift and eventually he got to lie on top of her, touch her and kiss her. At first they kept all their clothes on, but as that became less exciting, they took off their T-shirts.

Then, one day, before they started the game, Wendy told her that her mother had said she could play the game but she had to keep her clothes on. It wasn’t proper touching each other’s chests, she said. But the game wasn’t as good after that, so they went to the beach instead and played hide-and-seek in the sand dunes. Once they came across a man lying in one of the sandy valleys, touching himself. Wendy told her mother about him, too.

She tried playing it with Alison. Alison had a chemistry set and a pet rat and white bedroom furniture decorated with gold swirls, like a human size set of Barbie furniture. But Alison was no good at the words and that was what she liked best about the game, how the man talked the girl into coming closer, are you sure you don’t want to come with me, how the girl resisted for a while, no, I have to go home, so when they did get to lie down she was already tingling and hot. And Alison was bony and her breath always tasted of old pop.

She became fed up of the game shortly after. Then boys began to make her feel hot, though none of them were any good at the words either.


  1. Everyone in the village was talking about the man who´d asked the little girl to accompany him to the park. Then someone overheard Henri say: “Come with me.” And they´d seen the little girl hesitate and then put her hand in his. They´d watched him go down the street and round the corner and when he was out of sight, they still saw him, hand in hand with the little blonde girl. They saw him lead her over behind the garden house in the far corner of the park and they saw him bend down, stroke her hair, unbutton her coat, untie her shoelaces. And it all became too much. So they called the police.

    Henri yelled and the little girl screamed. Someone took her aside as they dragged him away. That was the last she saw of him. When he got out a few months later, he shot himself.

    The little girl is grown up now. She sits and stares at old photos of her uncle Henri. She still blames herself for that day in the park. That blame has followed all her growing up. She couldn´t understand then, not even now, what all the fuss was about. Shortly after they took Henri away, she´d noticed how her godfather, even her own father, wouldn´t pick her up or hug her when other people were around. It was as if that sort of thing was suddenly forbidden, forever. She wanted hugs from those she loved, wanted the world to see.

    Today she finds it hard to make contact. She fears that once she makes it, they’ll take it away, like they took away her uncle Henri. They´d skirted the garden house, he´d pushed her so high on her favourite swing. It had been the last happy day of her life.

  2. Debbie’s friend Julie was now fifty and single again. She’d told her that she wished she’d been a lesbian because women were so much better to live with, were so much more considerate. She’d shared flats and houses with other girls when she had been flying and they’d never forgot her birthday, belched in her face or lied about where they had just come from. They didn’t make it awkward for her other girlfriends – of which she had many – when they called up just for a chat. They could get drunk together without throwing things at each other and they never spent her money although admittedly they did sometimes borrow her YSL lipstick or snakeskin handbag; this was to be expected, wasn’t it?
    She could talk to Debbie about almost anything. Except the fact that when she was about nine years old, she and Alison had seen a man standing over the stream in the woods and he had his huge pink thingy in his hand. He had bushy red hair, a messy beard and looked dirty. They ran away and kept silent.

    She talked to Debbie at length about finding the man of her dreams. So, when the love of her life, John, walked back into her life as a single man, twenty years after the affair in Paris and clutching a bouquet of her favourite lilies bound up with a fistful of romantic promises, it was fate. She shed her thoughts of a single life, and put the snakeskin handbag in the bottom of her wardrobe to keep it safe for her niece.

    A snake has no feet, doesn’t wear stilettos but still leaves a slimy trail. When he said he’d been away, it sounded exotic. It’s not quite the same as being banged up for indecent exposure.

  3. He had been an arenophile for as long as he could remember. It started on family holidays at Lytham, the one fortnight in each year when his family was happy. They spent most of their time on the beach and, best of all, he was allowed to explore the dunes on his own as long as he didn't go too far.

    Now he went to beaches with dunes whenever he could, with his spoon, ziplock bags and permanent marker pen. He would take samples from below the tideline, above the tideline, and from the sea and shore sides of the dunes. As soon as he had bagged a sample he would label it with date, time, beach, and exact location. Later, at home, he would wash and dry the sand, photograph it, and post the pictures on his website.

    If the weather was poor, he would visit several beaches in a day, and take pleasure in handling his samples when he got home. But if the sun shone and it was warm, he would go to one beach and stay there. He would find a hidden place in the dunes, strip to his trunks and lie on his back on the warm yielding sand. It always made him hard. If he moved an arm or a foot, brushing his skin against the sand, his erection would pulse. People appeared, sometimes, and he turned over quickly, often coming as he felt the sand move to accommodate him through the thin stretch of his trunks. He had to try to groan as if he was relaxing, rather than combining ecstasy and disappointment. Because if he felt safe, he could last a long time, sometimes touching himself a little, before turning slowly to push against the sand and lose his mind in bliss.

  4. Peggy came to live opposite at a time when I really needed her, tired of childish games with my sister, three years younger. Peggy’s father was away in the Navy, her mother a Headmistress in London; she was looked after by an easy-going Housekeeper, Mrs. Allen.

    We cycled everywhere. Peggy was a year older than me, wore a bra, of which I was very envious. I daren’t even mention such a thing to my mother. Mrs. Allen made me one, and although I had nothing to put in it, I loved wearing it.

    One day we were cycling along an empty road, hedgerows thick with meadowsweet on either side, Peggy in front, her legs longer, her bike bigger. A man drew alongside me on a bicycle and got off. I stopped too.

    “Would you like to see something nice?”

    Was it a bird, with a nest and maybe babies? the prospect was inviting. I asked where it was.

    “Over there in the hedge, come with me and I’ll show you; it’s very friendly, you could hold it.”

    Suddenly Peggy started shouting to me to get on my bike quickly and come away. Perhaps she was hurt, needed me. I hesitated, torn between my desire to satisfy my curiosity about the secret hidden in the hedgerow, and the urgent note in Peggy’s voice. I muttered a reluctant ‘I can’t stop’ and pedalled furiously to catch up with her.

    I was frightened and bewildered by what she told me. I couldn’t sleep and went downstairs to my mother. She took me on her lap. I cried as she coaxed the story from me. Peggy had told me not to say anything. The next morning Mother went to see Mrs. Allen as I guessed she would. Peggy was cross with me for telling.

  5. It must have been a shock to wake up and find five cows and three calves grazing on the wasteland across from your home. You, the first to hear their strange moans, peek out of the window before anyone else. The night before, in your prayers, you`d asked for something different to happen. Michael always came over and you always sit in front of the play station, your parents checking in now and then; with a coke or a smile. How hard you prayed: please, please, pleeeeease God. Send me something different.

    You remember the summer fair, the green wellies; fifty pence. They all laughed, calling you farmer Giles. Somehow you knew you were going to need them. You pull them on and take the stairs slowly, heart pounding.

    Unlocking the front door you see the street lights are lit. Cars still in drives, empty milk bottles untouched, birds; chirping all at once, like they're conducting an emergency meeting; perhaps about worms. In your excitement you forget to put the latch on and shut the door. You are tempted to cross the road with your eyes closed. Because you can. You do. And you count the steps: 30. Nobody in school tomorrow will know that one.

    A lady beckons you over. She wears a green parka with a fur hood and a green headband to match. "Come and have a stroke."
    I laugh." My dad`ll have a stroke when he wakes up! Eeeeeee, It`s eating weeds!"
    Her hands run easily across the cow`s creamy coat.
    " They like the taste."
    "This is Ruby. And if you look over there, you can see her calf, Luella."
    "Can I ride her?"
    "You can take her for a walk later."
    "Around the streets?"
    "Yes. Phil will walk her with you. He`s a farmer."

  6. I can recall the days when I was swept along with innocence. I can recall the experimentation of emotions, bright as sunlight and laughter. I still have those days. I still feel the warmth and tenderness that two people share.
    The distinction between experimenting as children and discovering the physicality of enjoying another’s body and the abuse of that naivety and trust is paramount.

    But we instil fear into our children, afraid to let them take a risk, albeit under the watchful eye of parents. We load our prejudices upon them, preventing them from discovering themselves and the world around them.

    When I was ten years of age, I played the Wendy and Alison games and I wasn’t searching for words, I knew the feelings. But this didn’t prevent me from becoming a devoted mother and to share a happy marriage.
    Now that I can express emotions in a grown-up world I can make sense of the games and value them for what they were. They were innocent and magical and fun and dangerous and exciting. These are the things I value now.
    I value the naivety of myself. The discovery of myself as I travel through my journey. The discovery that the values I carry with me are different from many others. I’m heartened by it and disappointed by it. The world is harsh and beautiful. Few are full of hate and mistrust, but I love to love love for its own sake and peace for its peacefulness.
    Trusting my friends is never a question. Trusting my family is never a question. I trust until I smell a renegade rat in the race.
    We learn to trust again. We learn to understand that the memories of stale pop will become distant memories, memories of innocence and danger.

    Chris Hoskins

  7. My mother chooses my friends. She peers over the wall of the school playground to see that I’m involved, not the kid in the corner kicking idly at a stone, the one everyone ignores. That’s Erin, the roly-poly kid with the woolly ginger curls who stuffs crisps, packets of chocolate buttons, jammy doughnuts. My mother wants to take her under her wing. She feels sad when she sees her sidling towards another kid who promptly moves away.

    We must ask her for a sleepover my mother says. We must show her some kindness – poor kid, just imagine how you would feel if no one played with you?

    Erin’s father brought her after school and handed her over as though she were a lump of meat. No kiss good-bye, no wave from the car as he drove away.

    My mother plied her with food. I felt sick as I watched her stuff everything in sight but my mother smiled her approval, patted her head and offered more.

    We were to share a room, twin beds with quilted covers smelling of lavender. Erin refused a shower so I had the bathroom to myself. When I returned I saw that my mother was stripping her slowly until she was completely naked. Then she began rubbing baby oil all over her podgy body and they were both laughing. Erin began gyrating rhythmically, my mother rubbed harder, snaking her own body around her as though they were involved in a primitive dance. Was this really my mother?

    Erin never came again. Instead my mother started stripping me every evening, rubbed perfumed oils into my body. It seemed to give her pleasure; she would drool with excitement as her hands worked faster and faster. Begin that dance. But I didn’t like it. I was not Erin.

  8. When he was about ten he started to play the going out game with Susan.

    If you fancied someone, you insulted them just enough to get their attention but not enough to get reported. Next you got a (male) friend to tell the girl that you fancied her. If she stuck up her middle finger at you, you had lost. If she turned towards you and smiled, you were going out.

    The rules demanded that there should be no direct contact. Communications were through text messages sent via a friend as Susan wasn’t allowed her own mobile. ULkGd2day and WotRURding or maybe a joke WDUCACmlWthNoHumps AHrse which always seemed to generate an extra warm grin.

    When his credit ran out he would look for her on the school bus where she sat upstairs, queen of the front seat. That first winter she traced love hearts in the steamed up windows which he knew were meant for him. In the spring he snapped sticky daffodil stems from his parents’ garden and laid out six in a pattern of xxx’s on the pavement for her to see. In summer his love grew hot and bold and he blew her a kiss in full view of the world. In Autumn Susan got her own mobile and sent him her first message: IDntWnt2GoOutWthU.

    It was a long time before he managed to create the purity of this love; most girls seemed to crave too much contact for his tastes. But Sarah understood how hard he needed to work, that overseas trips were a given these days. She was always prettily grateful for his Friday flowers. He would text her every day SrryWrkingL82nite. Sometimes he tried the occasional joke but admittedly that didn’t seem to go down too well.

    He’d always been good with words.

  9. You’ve always played games. With everything. I think you must have been doing it since you were a child. I can just see you how you at first competed with your friends who threw the stone the furthest, then who had the prettiest girl, the newest computer, the most expensive car, the best paid job. Life as such is just a game for you, only in this game you can’t choose who you’ll play with. Except when it comes to women.

    You thought it didn’t matter that I wasn’t aware of the fact that this was only a joke to you. You thought you’d have fun with me and then move on to your next prey. But it did matter, it still does, because when you joked around and pretended you cared, I broke the rules I didn’t even know existed and fell for you. I can’t help it but I still care although I know what a jerk you can be. You moved on, you even changed jobs since I had last seen you, undoubtedly to win again by landing a better position than all your friends.

    But I’m stuck. Here. Forever. Wishing at the same time I’d never known you but also that you were still with me.

    At first, I was confused and hurt, I wondered what I had done and I said wrong. I thought it was all my fault, that I just hadn’t been what you were looking for, until it finally occurred to me that this was just a game. A game I lost, a life I lost, simply because you were determined to win. I still don’t understand the rules. I never will, because you were the one to set them so they’re always in your favour. I never could’ve won this game.


  10. Wendy was old before her time. She was ten going on forty. She had lots of practice in being all grown up. She'd sit quietly, in the living room pretending to play with her dolls or pretending to read a book (books were sooooo boring) but all the time listening to 'adult' conversations. Her mum and her girlie friends would knock back the wine and curse round the coffee table, as if Wendy wasn't there.

    I suppose you could call Wendy's mum a 'relaxed' mum. Shit. Why don't I just say 'couldn't-be-arsed type of a mum. Even although she was a single mum and Wendy was her only child - so far.

    Sometimes her attitude was so relaxed, it was horizontal.

    Wendy loved her mum something rotten. She couldn't wait to grow up and be just like her. She'd have really, really long blonde hair down to her bum. Tickling her bum almost. She'd wear lots and lots of black and blue eye make-up. Wendy's mum seemed to be in complete agreement. She caught Wendy experimenting at her dressing table once and just laughed. Then she said 'My little Bridget Bardot, aren't you?' Wendy nodded and laughed too. Sometimes, her mum would play funny little games and Wendy would listen and learn. A favourite was when Wendy's mum would swivel, just like Marilyn Monroe and then say over her shoulder in a funny voice 'Don't you think your mummy's got a nice tight ass?' Wendy would nod, eyes like organ stops.

    Wendy would stop at nothing till she was all grown up and teasing all those sad old farts.

    There was a young girl called Wendy

    who played a game that was risque.

    But she didn't know it back then

    as she was only ten.

    Now thirty years on, its passe.

    Louise Laurie

  11. From the corner where dairy meets frozen ready meals, you can see almost half way down the drinks aisle. It’s where Wendy meets Bob to check up whether each has got what’s on their respective lists, before proceeding through wines.

    She sticks to white or fizz – that’s what her mum calls sparkling wine which is not champagne, far too pretentious except on special occasions - he concentrates on reds, usually from the new world, but not Shiraz which gives him heartburn.

    They make a joke about filling up the trolleys on the last lap whenever they talk about drinking. In truth, since as a rule their shopping list does not change, they invariably have room for no more than eight bottles, but always enough for six, to get the discount.

    It’s while she’s waiting for Bob, that Wendy sees this strangely recognisable face glancing in all directions as its owner sweeps up a litre of cheap Italian red into the folds of her heavy coat, with the deftness only experience provides.

    Mission accomplished, the familiar face stares straight back at Wendy with the kind of startled, wary look that says I’ve just recalled something scary which lay buried, then modulates through a kind of recognition to an expectation that something even more exciting may be about to happen.

    The face hesitates as Wendy walks towards her, then turns away, beginning what becomes a kind of chase down the crowded aisle, around the display of special offers. Gasping, clutching hands reaching, running now, grasping at the hem of the flapping coat.

    Bob recognises the trolley from its contents.
    He glances down the wine aisle then, pushing both trolleys, he retraces the route where he knows Wendy will have been, wondering if she might be trying to find something she has missed.

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  14. He adjusted the orange hairpiece first. Then he took a silver fur from the sack at his feet and draped it across the cracked flesh. Stepping back to admire his display, he stroked the leather pouch round his neck that held his lighter and just one cigarette: his last one. The last one he promised himself: had been promising since he was seventeen. But having once let the thoughts into his head, he knew he’d have to smoke it. Now. Straightaway.
    In the alley, he lit up, took a drag; began tracing the fuzziness of the liver spots on the back of his right hand. Something made him look up: the lights had gone out along the small parade, right as far as the motel on the corner. Too many dryers on at once in the hairdressers again, he thought, pressing his nub-end out against the wall.
    In the darkness of the backroom he stumbled and fell against the fur-clad dummy. He made no move to right himself but lay there, listening to the hollowed-out edges of his breathing. The lights flickered and came on at half their usual brightness. Slowly, carefully, he began to right both himself and the dummy, sliding his arms around the thin waist. As he pulled it to him he saw another waist, another embrace. The sharpness of it startled him and he stood quite still, for just a moment; his hands clasped around cheap shop-dummy plastic.
    Later, he pored over the accounts, eyes twitching behind thick lenses. Flicking away an accumulation of ash from his velvet collar, his gaze fell on the newly-installed camera. Leaning forward, he adjusted the contrast and pressed zoom, speculatively eyeing-up the plump flesh of two little boys trying on Halloween costumes in the changing room as he did so.

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  16. She was 17 when she lost her virginity for the first time (she lost it again at twenty-two but that was another story). A little older than many, but she was raised as a good Catholic girl. Not a very attractive one, and ‘good’ was a matter of opinion for God, if he existed at all, was going to damn her to Hell.

    It was at a taster week at Nottingham University. Having applied to do a degree there, she was offered a place on their pre-university induction course, almost a holiday camp, where prospective undergraduates could experience student life including lectures, parties and after-hours drinking. She met a girl in the pub. Slim, dark-haired and scented with patchouli oil. Her name was Catherine and she danced in front of the jukebox like they did in the movies.

    They went back to her room in the student apartment complex, hand-holding giggles as they avoided the dorm matron and slipped into a room borrowed from a real student that had luminous stars scattered across the ceiling. Catherine changed into jeans and they stole away to the park, slipping between the shadows and the pools of sodium light.

    The seventeenth hole on the Nottingham golf course had a bunker with such high sides it was hidden from view from every angle except the green and there was no-one playing golf at ten o’clock at night. Catherine laughed when she pulled out a condom. You won’t get me pregnant with your fingers and I don’t have any diseases. They made love to each other and laughed as the sand worked its way into naked bottoms and between toes and Catherine’s green eyes sparkled when she lit a pre-rolled joint she’d stolen from her brother. Look at it this way; we’re both still virgins.

  17. I see you every day in the park. My daydreaming dog walker. Low-slung lackadaisical slouch. Hungry geometric hips jutting from low-rise jeans. Casual urban chic. Beast in front, waif behind. Happy to go whichever way your canine sat-nav demands. Semi-sauntering, half dragged. Clocks forgotten, content in nature, in your head. Circumnavigating your mind’s maze, following well-trodden paths, trying to keep up with your outstretched arm. No ring on your finger, but an intensity in your eyes that suggests passion or some random, unnamed desire. I see you every day but you don’t see me. Even when you look straight at me.

    Your eyes, wide-set sapphires, your shining waterfall of buttercup hair. Your delicate face unblemished by whatever memories lie beneath angel-white skin. I wonder who you are: dancer, student, lover, anorexic, dreamer, vegetarian, conformist, traveller? I wonder where you’re going? Or coming from? Towards who? Away from who? I yearn to talk to you but what would I say? I’ve never been very good with words. If I was I’d tell you that I’ve never felt this way about a girl before, that I never thought I could. That I wish I didn’t. That you’ve made me question my sexuality. My being. That you’ve made me lose my mind. That I see you every day but you don’t see me. Even when you look straight at me.

    Instead I wait for you to pass and shut my eyes so I can see you again. I imagine diving into sapphires, sliding down waterfalls and dancing with angels. I imagine the scent of buttercups. I imagine cutting myself on sharp bone and for once feeling truly alive. And within seconds the tingling hotness begins to rise.

    I see you every day but you don’t see me. Even when you come inside me.

    Sarah C

  18. Ceri and I played couples from when we were eight until we were ten. In the flat over her father's garage, we moved furniture around to make her bedroom into our house. Ceri was my wife and I tied my hair back and wore her father's tie to be her husband,Ken. When she grew up, her mother said, she would marry a Ken who'd love her more than life itself, for her rounded body and her bright face.

    Ceri cooked dinner for me when I got home from the office. We lay on the bed and she fed me with her fingers. Often it was bread, but if I was lucky she gave me chocolate cut into morsels and once she poured tiny bottle of wine over my tongue. It was the sweetest thing I'd ever tasted. When we played at kissing, we kept a book between our mouths, in case her mother came in. If we fought, Ceri sent me home.

    At my house, we acted the story of 'Sinbad the Sailor' to the sound track on the record. Ceri played Sinbad and I was the beautiful slave girl, Naomi, dancing rings around Sinbad until he fell into a trance and under her spell. The last time we played, Ceri wanted to be Naomi,but she didn't take ballet and she was too well-developed for a slave. I tried to send Ceri home, but she stood on the hearth rug until I let her stay.

    Ceri's father went bankrupt and they moved. Years later she came to visit me with her husband, Ken. He loved her, she said, but he's so jealous of her old lovers that he's sick when he thinks of them. She didn't remember that when we played house, Ken was my name.

    Joanna Ashwanden

  19. ‘Sugar and spice and all things nice; that’s what little girls are made of.’ My mother always used to say it, but I didn’t understand.
    ‘It doesn’t make any sense!’ I would say, stamping my feet.
    ‘Wednesday’s child is full of woe,’ they’d say next. Now that did make sense. But it wasn’t fair. I didn’t choose to be born on a Wednesday did I?
    And my grandfather used to sing, ‘My baby has gone down the plughole, my baby has gone down the plug …’ which didn’t make much sense either.
    They taught me to recite, ‘Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink!’ And when I did, people would laugh. I didn’t know why.
    And then we’d dress up – and make up! I used to like wearing my mother’s wedding dress. Shoes several sizes too big and dress dragging on the floor for yards behind me. Lipstick, and powder and perfume. Perhaps that’s what they meant by all things nice? No closer to working out the sugar and spice thing though.
    At school we sang, ‘If I was a fuzzy-wuzzy bear …’ It made me cross, because I didn’t want to be fuzzy-wuzzy; or a bear.
    But I loved to learn Tennyson. Huge extracts from The Revenge. And more dressing up in the school play. And all those times that I was ‘always the bridesmaid and never the bride’. That was Mum as well.
    Dad just used to declaim Shakespeare and Fitzgerald. ‘Our little lives are rounded in a sleep.’ Yes Dad!
    Mum’s funeral went by in a blur. Sugar and spice – she was all things nice. But at Dad’s funeral I made them read Omar Khayyam. ‘The Moving Finger writes and, having writ, moves on.’
    Even after all this time, it still doesn’t make any sense.

  20. She never quite forgot her friend Wendy and how the words had excited her.

    She grew up, had many boyfriends and eventually got married. She adored her handsome husband, but their lovemaking soon became silent and routine. They had three children before the physical contact tailed off completely. She felt old and undesired. When the children left home, she and her husband had nothing left to say to each other. The silent house entombed her. She went to work, came home to the chores, and merely existed.

    The letter took her completely by surprise. She had almost forgotten who Alison was, but as she read on, the taste of stale pop suddenly filled her mouth. Alison wrote, efficiently but not eloquently, to invite her to a school reunion. At first she was doubtful, but her husband encouraged her to go. It would be too far away to drive home late at night, so she plucked up the courage to book a room in the hotel.

    On the day she nearly backed out, as she was so frightened of bumping into old boyfriends. What do you say, twenty five years on, to the man who drunkenly took your virginity? What would she do if someone made an unwanted pass at her?

    She entered the function room with trepidation, but was delighted to recognise some faces. Alison was just as she had pictured, still tall and bony. Her first boyfriend, Nigel, was pleased to see her, but soon bored her to death with his talk of tractors. Her first lover, Peter, didn’t even recognise her and she was pleased to leave it that way.

    But then she saw her.
    Wendy, her first, forbidden love.
    Wendy, who could still make her tremble with hot words.
    She was suddenly glad of that hotel room.

  21. When Helena was five, her favourite possession in the whole world was her cassette recorder. Resplendently decorated in dazzling yellow and blue, its buttons shone bright red, complementing the large, pink petal flowers painted onto the speakers. It was her pride and joy, utilised exclusively for broadcasting her favourite nursery rhyme tape on continuous loop. Barbie dolls provoked fleeting interest; the tape machine constituted priority as the engulfing object of her affections.

    When Helena was ten, her favourite possession in the whole world was her small, hand held electronic games console, permanently glued to her palm. Available only as a strictly limited edition, she steadfastly declined authorisation for anyone else to use it. Teddy bears and cuddly toys were ignored. Plastic babies capable of real tears and ablutions were inconsequential, providing negligible stimulus. The games console was all that mattered.

    When Helena was fifteen, her favourite possession in the whole world was Stefan. Entwined by longings fuelled by mutual curiosity, desire and lust, carnal exploration occupied every nerve and fibre. Their bodies exposed uncharted territories, both eager to implant their flags of virgin discovery. Close friendships with pop music held no commonality.

    When Helena was twenty, her favourite possession in the whole world was David; the four year old son borne of wanton teenage waste, fathered by a shortlist of three possible candidates. Normal youth, upholding safety and stability were remote aliens in a world she struggled to understand. Destitution, addiction, crime and social expulsion represented her ambitions and frail realities.

    When Helena was twenty five, broken and alone, incarcerated within the tight confines of her prison cell, her favourite possession in the whole world was her mind. Memories of an elusive lifestyle, yet to be discovered ran deep; and of a distant son, with whom she desperately craved reconnection.

  22. She was not a collector of things. Though for almost a year, as a youngster, she had collected rain in empty jars and cried when her older sister threatened to flush it all down the sink. Once she had found her sister in the bathroom, stripped to the waist, washing her dark locks in rain water. She thought then that all women secretly washed their hair the same way.
    The day after this incident had been her thirteenth birthday. She had sat on the top deck of the school bus, a little apart from her sister and others who were all busy in one way or another: lighting cigarettes, applying lipstick, undoing their top buttons, dabbing the hollows of their throats with patchouli oil or hitching up their grey, pleated skirts.
    ‘Hey Alice, want some lipstick?’
    ‘Leave her alone’, her sister said. ‘She’s way beyond the looking glass.’
    The all laughed automatically and carried on chatting.
    Their constant babble faded. It was as if someone had turned down the volume on the outer world and all she could hear was the slow, insisting thud in her chest. The bus stopped at a red light and she wiped the condensation from the window. Outside, droves of people were huddled in shop doorways and bus shelters, or else slouching forward beneath their large umbrellas. She peered down at the traffic below. As she watched the rain falling on the bonnets of cars, the driver of a red sports car slipped off one of his black leather gloves, wound down his window, pushed out his arm, and raised his open palm to the rain. She pressed her own splayed fingers to the window and watched as the car roared off, and as the long slide of rain on the glass formed into pearls.

  23. i told her to keep her clothes on. that there'd be plenty of time for that. i didn't think she was ready just yet.

    "what do you want me to do?" she asked with a mouth that was tired of asking. "nothing," i replied, as gently as i could. she looked at me, but not as softly as i'd thought she might. "you're one of them..." she said. her right eye locked onto mine while the left one swayed to one side. "one of who?" i asked. "you’re gonna get all doctor like."

    what was she trying to do? "what are you trying to do?" she asked. ‘i'm not trying to do anything,’ i said in a slightly defensive tone. what exactly was she trying to do? ‘and what do you mean by “all doctor like”?’

    "you don't want to fuck me, you want to fix me." she flapped her arms like white wings. "is that what gets you off? that i'm a little wounded dove?" in an attempted tirade i yelled, "hey, in case you've forgotten, i'm paying you so this is my time and i..." she interrupted my train of thought with a sharp cheddar smack to my face. it got my attention, but more than that, it got my respect.

    she said, "so, what's so wrong with you that you need to fix everyone else?" no one had ever put it to me like that. ‘ i don’t know,” i told her, and i honestly didn’t want to.

    she wouldn’t give me a refund on any of my money so i poured out my wine on her rug. she just laughed, this little girl that was so full of crap. saying that i wanted to fix her…how would she know? she never even gave me the chance.

  24. Her early childhood experiences made her an expert. The less contact, the more enhancement through innuendo. Actual physical interaction usually led to disappointment. Inference could be intoxicating. She didn't like the sensation of hot tingliness doused by abrupt fervor that never lasted as long as the suggestion. Then the smell of burps and farts. Perhaps, she'd just not met the right specimen yet.

    She bared her teeth, checked for grit. Polishing superficiality was critical for upper management. Depth perception only to buoy the Chairman. Three degrees and twenty years later, she could elevate the temperatures of others through her words alone and stay cool herself. The analysis of power neckties and blue oxford cloth shirts, the language they had learned to speak in order to play their roles, their words dropped colloquially on the floor. She checked her smile, slight hint of irony. Each eyelash was carefully separated, her hair combed but loose, one spray of the atomizer around her neck. Looking down, her knees peeked in demure articulation just below her skirt line. Adjusting her collar so that the blouse plunged just enough with suggestion without hinting too much, she entered the boardroom.

    They turned, a menagerie of upscale simians with various degrees, their eyes going up and down, necktie adjustment, heads suddenly pulled out of their blackberries. She smiled. "Good morning, gentlemen. I trust you've all been given assistance to coffee or tea? I hope you won't be terribly bored and have to text your colleagues during the presentation." She had learned to speak one thing and imply another. She looked at each of the men, lingering just long enough: are you sure you don't want to come with me?

    Their chests inflated. She remembered that certain church leaders were called primates.
    "Let's speak plainly, troglodyte to troglodyte."

  25. He remembered how good it felt to rub his body against Daniels, how flushed he got in his cheeks, his crotch so hot it felt as if it would go ablaze. He knew that it wasn’t right to get hard when fooling around with another boy.

    It had been an eye opener. He had not been able to get an errection while thinking of girls, but one thought of his friend’s body pressed against his and he felt hard all over.

    He remembered when Daniel had stopped talking to him, when Daniel had felt the hardness in his pants. “You’re fucking hard.” Daniel said.

    He shook his head no, tried to deny it, but how could you deny a hard rod in your pants? How could you deny and ignore the evidence when it was right there, taunting you?

    “I’m not hard.” He had said. He tried to laugh, tried to play the whole thing off as a joke. Daniel had reached forward and grabbed hold of his cock, squeezed it as if it were an apple to judge for firmness.

    “You’re a fucking liar.” Daniel had said.

    He remembered looking at Daniel’s own crotch and saw a tent there, saw something that had not been there before. He had reached out to touch Daniel’s cock, to return the favour, when Daniel had slapped his hand away.

    “Fag.” Daniel had spat. “Faggot. Fudge packer.”

    He had been too young than to know what these words had meant but he knew that they were bad. He knew something had changed between them.

    “If I had known you were a fag, I never would have done this with you.”

    He didn’t know what they had done. He didn’t know what was wrong with him.

    He knew he was different from other boys.

    Jamieson Wolf

  26. Gone were those innocent days, nearly about some five decades ago when girls and boys below ten would play the roles of husband and wife,dramatising father and mother, setting up homes of clay with clay utensils and ladles to serve, no kissing and no hugging. As a child I recall to have played by the beach in the sand dunes ,play hide and seek with both the fists Clasped playing the crab surging up and down. This is indeed a harmless game.

    As technology advances, in tune with the times, games change. Coeducation, media , wall posters
    and films contribute a lot in making children aware of the meaning of involvement of their
    physical and emotional selves. Thousands of young girls have been trapped or fooled by some
    Conjuring tricksters, resulting in the violation of the innocence of those victims, why, because of the
    Game, game of indulgence. A game of sexual abuse. A mother plays predominant role in Checking her ward not to bypass her limitations.

    The other day I had not a strange encounter in the city bus in India with a girl of eighteen,
    With a baby, struggling to gain a seat. Upon my growing inquisitiveness and explicit sympathy She poured out, “ oh! don’t ask my sad story, a tinker was my neighbour, he used to get drinking Water from my house, made frequent visits, when my mother was away to the town fair, I fell,
    ‘in an awful daring of a moment’s surrender,’ (using equivalent colloquy ) “ this is my fruit,, I am hood winked forever, “showing her baby , she sobbed.
    So many victims , near the signals, platforms, in the trains, victims of unabated heat, or warmth,they cannot go home, Common sights with sighs, yes !wordless game of sex.

  27. Once upon a time, there lived in an ordinary sort of apartment building a beautiful princess, disguised as a somewhat pretty young woman. Every morning she would wake up, look in the mirror and say to herself. “Perhaps today is the day.” Then she would get dressed, and head off to work.
    Every evening she would come home, make something to eat and watch old movies or read. Every night she would dream of the one who would come for her. He would say gentle loving things to her that would caress her heart. .
    Unbeknownst to the beautiful princess, living in the very same building was a handsome prince, disguised as a somewhat good looking but rather ordinary sort of fellow. He was smart, but a little bit quiet. The quiet ones should always be watched as they tend to have a bit of mischief in them.
    The prince lived in the apartment above the princess and often they would ride the elevator down to the parking garage together. After a little while they got to know each other a bit and soon they were spending an evening here or there in the other’s apartment where they would split a pizza, watch a movie, or play a game. He was a bit of a tease and she liked the comfortable way she felt when she was around him. Oftentimes after being together she would lie in her bed and replay bits of things he had said and it would warm her heart.
    One morning, when the elevator stopped on her floor and the doors opened, he said, “I know you.”
    “You do?”
    “Oh yes,” he replied. “I danced with you once upon a dream.” After that is was just a matter of time and they lived happily ever after

  28. I know her so well, although it is on words alone that we have built our friendship. For six years I have written every other month, and she the same, alternately. She has a nice address: Hush Cottage, Ribbleton Moor. It sums up all that she is: kind, gentle, rustic. We write about children, husbands, family in general. Family is important to us.

    We are distantly related: our grandfathers were brothers. They argued in 1931 and never spoke again, but their wives stayed in touch until the war snapped even that bond of love. When contact was re-established, seventy years later, the old folks remembered each other only as children.

    We have never met, she and I, and we have never spoken on the phone. I do not know what she looks like, although she once sent me a photograph of her dog. Such detail has not been necessary. I gobble up her news like a hungry turkey, wishing, as soon as I have turned the last page, that there will be more. But, it seems, we write as much as is appropriate; more, would be too much.

    Part of me treasures this relationship with my verbal cousin - it can never be smashed by reality - but another part of me longs to meet her.

    Earlier this year, while travelling to Scotland, I chose a route that took me through her district. Could she come and meet me? Dinner?
    She was committed elsewhere, she said, and could not come. Sorry. Very sorry. What a shame.

    Could not. Would not? I wasn’t sure.

    Her mother came instead, all eighty-three years of her, and said her daughter was too shy to meet me face to face. I did not take offence, but began to fear that words alone are not enough.

  29. The sun set with such drama, that it was as if it bled molten rivers over the heavens. So they came out of the west. Great winged beasts with men astride them. Screaming black shadows on a backdrop of gold. The creatures breathed red, bright fire, and the men loosed silver tipped arrows. Everything about them was regal, spectacular and deadly.

    Hyran stood his ground. They were prepared. He was ready. He told himself this over and over, though he had had no real idea of what was coming, and it was not difficult to see why no one, so far, had survived.

    The sand gritted through his toes, and he dug in, as if to keep his balance would be to keep his head. All along the dunes they stood, villagers with nothing more than forewarning and a modicum of talent. He bit his lip in an effort not to cry out.

    Garad stood behind him. Hyran could hear his steady breaths. There was nothing distressed about him. His whole demeanour said ready, able and unimpressed. Some how it made Hyran worse. He clenched his fists in an effort not to fidget. Took a deep steadying breath, and released it slowly. No, that hadn't helped. Oh well.

    ARE WE READY? Garad spoke into their minds, and with his words came the calm. It was time.
    They began to chant, just as they had rehearsed it, gone was the fear, the thinking, the panic. They were lost in the words. Before them the air began to shimmer, the heat waves coalescing, and as the sun finally dipped behind the horizon, a wall of golden flames shot up in its place. They had created they own molten haze. This one encased both riders and beasts. Once more they screamed.


  30. She told her daughter it wasn’t proper for little girls to touch each others’ bare chests, but couldn’t help wondering what good it would do. Ten-year-old girls will be ten-year-old girls, won’t they?

    She’s always tried to be open with her kids. Trust was a sparse commodity in her childhood, and it was one of her motherly missions to not repeat history. As long as they were honest, she promised she’d never get angry. Strangely enough, it seemed to have worked. Angie told her everything.

    That would never had happened with her mother. She’d have been grounded, welts rising red across her bottom, for even mentioning being half-naked with a girlfriend. Which would only have made playing the game more compelling, next time without tee-shirts *or* pants.

    Completely natural for little girls to explore the heat of their budding sexuality, but certainly ‘not proper’ — and by all means not to be spoken of.

    She certainly couldn’t discuss what was making her hot right now, soaking up the sun on her back yard chaise.

    The neighbor boy was mowing his yard. Sweat glistened on his shoulders, dripping down his downy chest, random grass clippings sticking to his forearms and rock-hard stomach (did that child never eat?). His baggy shorts rode down, well below his waist, exposing the waistband of his boxer-briefs and the faintest hint of a treasure trail.

    She ran her thumb over the blue button on the plastic keychain that looked remarkably like a remote for the car.

    When did fourteen-year olds get buff?

    She let out the slightest gasp as the vibrating egg nestled between her legs purred to life.

    Proper or not, it was only a matter of time before she taught him to tend to her garden.

  31. First in line when looks were handed out and always first at school. The first in your family to get a degree; a first with honours and the first of your friends to get a job. First pay packet spent on your first holiday abroad. First time you saw her in a bikini, first clumsy conversation, first date, first joke shared, first kiss, first sunset stroll on the beach, first night nerves, first time past first base, first morning you saw her without her make-up. First meal you cooked for her, first meeting with her parents, first time you realised you didn’t mind her toothbrush moving in. First joint bank account, first time buyers, first car, first wedding, first dance, first time’s a charm; first baby, first smiles, first night’s sleep, first tooth, first Christmas, first steps, first birthday, first day at school. First time you can’t see what you first saw in her. First feelings of attraction to someone else, first affair, first wife’s first inkling she isn’t first choice, first aid needed, first night apart, first to appoint a solicitor.

    Second opinion leads to a second chance, but first wife hears second hand about the second mistake, you tell her anyone else is second choice, but second big fight and seconds out. You’re tired but every second counts and you get a second wind; a second home, second wife and second baby follow without a second wasted but you can’t help having second thoughts. Then second glances lead to a second date and having a second life is like a second language to you, you love to have second helpings, but your second wife has a second sight and you have your second discovery on your hands. It’s Second World War again.

    Maybe you’ll be third time lucky.

  32. Red leg

    We tape the charts on a Sunday, make dens under the stairs and talk about lads. We dress up and practice walking in heels for when we’re older.

    Usually, when her brother comes home, we go out to play or head over to my house. But today, it’s raining outside and we don’t want to go someplace else. We’re in the middle of watching a video and he only wants to read his paper.

    She says, it’s my house just as much as yours, why don’t you go in another room and leave us in peace for a change.

    I laugh. It’s not funny or anything. I can see him getting angry, the spots on his neck starting to pulse under his shirt collar. And I know what’s coming next. It’s not something I want to laugh about, but it comes out like a hiccup, a nervous thing I wish I could stop.

    He pins her down on the couch and starts thumping her on the leg, over and over with his big fists. He does it til she’s way past tears, til she begs him Stop it, stop it.

    He makes her say sorry, she’ll never do it again, and all the time he glances over at me, thinking it’s funny, thinking it’s a game because I’m still laughing that hiccuppy kind of laugh that I can’t stop because he makes me scared and I don’t know what I should do.

    Afterwards, he goes off to his room like he should have done in the first place. She doesn’t say anything about my laughing, just cries for a while. I hug her and we decide to backcomb our hair. We sing I know him so well from memory and talk about who might start their periods first.

    Annie Clarkson

  33. Once there was a girl who was in love with a man. They had a date at the Empire Cinema on the corner of Lincoln and 10th. She had put on a new dress and her favourite pair of shoes and even wore a velvet ribbon in her hair. She wasn’t sure about the ribbon but she decided at the last minute that it looked cute.

    For some reason he did not come. She waited on the steps of the cinema until long after the film had begun. She was certain he would still show, but when he had not turned up by half time she accepted that he was not coming after all. The girl went home and threw the velvet ribbon in the dustbin.

    He never called to explain. It was only many years later that she saw him again at a supermarket on the corner of Munro and 11th. Even then the pain was small but certain, like a cigarette burn. She smiled and said hello and asked why he had never showed up that night. She made herself laugh to show that she did not care. He said wasn’t it the darndest thing but he had been waiting at the cinema on the corner of State and 8th and had been about to ask her the exact same question. He was good with his words, they made her feel tingly and hot, and so it was only much later that she realised she hadn’t even told him she’d been waiting at the Empire Cinema on the corner of Lincoln and 10th.

    She had married a man who was not good with his words but who told her every day that he loved her and always appreciated it when she wore a velvet ribbon in her hair.

  34. This comment has been removed by the author.

  35. The older she got the more adult the games became. She’d fantasise about teenage boys getting closer to her as her wet bikini top shaped her breasts starkly when she played her game of close encounters. ‘Get closer, come on, closer, make me feel you’ didn’t really make her feel hot as water splashed up her nostrils and made her splutter. She’d be left dripping at the pool side as they’d over-exert themselves laughing too much and spoiling the fun..

    Then she’d become Miss Wet T-Shirt 2007. Paper notes with phone numbers would be shoved down her well endowed shirt, begging her to ‘Get in touch soon, please. You’re beautiful. Let’s get close up and feel the heat’. This would stir a passion in her but first, she’d screen them by arranging to meet at the local bar before moving to a more intimate surrounding where cocktails would be readily served to regular clients. There they’d watch girls dance around poles on a podium and would draw her closer to her new companions as their conversation turned red hot and she’d be ecstatic.

    Going on holiday with her new companions was what she badly needed. They’d role play scenes from Dr Zhivago in the log cabin they’d hire in a Swedish resort with the fire log crackling away as they enacted and re-enacted the snow scene with their own, adult-rated and visual interpretation, ‘here my love, come closer to me, it is so cold outside, come let me warm you up here.’

    She still felt something was lacking. Soon bored and frustrated, she’d chosen something completely different. After responding to an ad in a travel brochure, she’d briefly settle for a spot in the sun, volleyballing with holidaymakers, compering beauty contests and acting small parts as a novice holiday rep.

  36. Hi Lynne,

    Just noticed I didn't add my name and email address

    username: collb


    Thanks :o)

  37. Do you remember how sand dunes were a part of our childhood, how we’d count off the weeks until it was time to go back and stay with our grandparents at their house by the beach? How whole long, hot summers would drift by on a sand filled breeze and how we didn’t care about anything other than swimming, building sandcastles, shrimping with our nets at low tide and not being caught in the quick sand on our way back? Do you remember how we’d walk to the caravan stalls most afternoons and spend our pocket money on rainbow sherbet in paper bags, sold by the quarter, and how we’d wince at its sharpness and how our tongues turned bright rose?

    Sometimes we would persuade our grandparents to let us ride on the swan boats on the tiny lake beside the stores, but that wasn’t very often. If we had been well behaved we would be given a milk ice lolly. When my father visited at the weekends, down from London on the train, he’d treat us all to Mr Whippy ice-creams complete with flakes and served from a van. We would drool delightedly as the ice-cream melted down fingers coated with sticky sand.

    When we grew tired of the caravan stores, we would wander down onto the shingle and hunt for coloured glassed, treasure smoothed by the pounding of the waves. Or we’d skim pebbles across the water – competing for bounces.

    But it was always the dunes that drew us back, a place where we could play away from the watchful eyes of the adults and out of the wind. We would sit for hours our small hands raising sand into the air and sifting it through our fingers, finding sand beetles or ladybirds and then burying them again.

  38. She rehearsed the words over and over again when she got back to her flat. “Are you sure you don’t want to come with me?” he’d asked, and she’d said “No, I have to go home.” Just that: nothing more. Not a hint of flirtation, of regret, of anything at all which might possibly leave an opening for another time. For another chance.

    Could she really have been so awkward, so completely and utterly gauche? Could she really have got to twenty-two with so little experience of managing these things? He’d never dream that’s what it was: that she had been waiting and hoping for so long that when the moment came other words came out instead of the ones she had whispered to herself so often when she lay awake in the middle of the night thinking about him.

    It had come out of the blue, that was the trouble. They had left the office at the same time and he’d told her he was going to the theatre, that he’d got a spare ticket, and she’d smiled. Then he’d said it – “Are you sure you don’t want to come with me?” – and she thought he’d meant it too, that he’d hoped she’d say yes, even if it was only so the ticket wouldn’t be wasted. But something had shut fast in her mind then, like it had when she was younger and the big boys had wanted to touch her and she’d said “No, I have to go home.” When she thought about it now it made her want to cry, because she knew she’d keep saying the same thing even when she didn’t mean it, because she hadn’t meant it then either and she still felt guilty that she hadn’t said it loud enough to stop them.


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