November 7th

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267

This is how quickly it can happen, you think. This is how quickly your life can change.

It’s just another ordinary day. You’re crossing the station concourse peering up at the board to see when your train’s due. You’re not looking where you’re going when you bump into a strange man. As he helps you up, he touches your arm and you feel a jolt of electricity. You stare into each other’s eyes and you can’t quite get a grip of reality any more.

I’m sorry, you say after what seems like another life and he smiles. Will you take the package now or later, he asks. You don’t understand and he stops smiling. Don’t fuck with me, he says, this is too important, and then he starts to back away hissing at you. People around you are pretending too casually that it’s not happening. Suddenly you have become an outsider.

This is how quickly it can happen, you think. This is how quickly your life can change.

You run after him. I’ll take the package now, you say, still not really understanding but wanting him to smile at you again. He does and you slip the brown envelope into your handbag without another thought. It hardly makes a bulge. He touches your arm again. I’ll catch up with you later, he says and you nod. You’re both smiling so hard at each other you think your cheekbones might burst.

You float back to the destination board. Trains are toot-tooting in parallel with your happiness. Commuters are turned into angels. When the hand falls on your shoulder you turn in anticipation of something good, something wonderful. It’s two policemen and they’re not smiling.

This is how quickly it can happen, you think. This is how quickly your life can change.

34 comments:

  1. With their cagoules and cheap rucksacks, neat hair and bland faces, you think they are some sort of evangelical types, so avoid their eyes and turn away. ‘No,’ you say, but they insist. Then one of them produces a card. All you can think is: how do I know it’s a Police identity card? What do Police identity cards look like? These nondescript strangers could be anyone. But the dry lump in your throat chokes you into believing. The intense awareness of your heartbeat. The almost uncontrollable desire for the lavatory. You walk between them.
    _________________

    You can’t focus on the faces opposite and the room is a complete blur. The only clarity is the scattering of objects on the table, so sharp they seem to be giving off their own light. There is: a pack with three cigarettes remaining; a box of matches, including several used and returned; a keyring with the Ford logo and three keys – one mortice and two Yale; a neat, white mobile phone; a What’s On guide with a creased back cover; an unused return portion of a train ticket and its stamped outward counterpart; a red comb; two biros, both lacking caps; a wallet containing credit card, debit card, library card, two store cards, one twenty pound note and change totalling £3.86; and a brown envelope, bulging slightly and still sealed.
    _________________

    You smoke edgily and look in the mirror. You look older than you did this morning. Your phone is ringing from your bag, but you choose to ignore it, pretend it’s not there, pretend you’re not here. Like nothing’s happened. You look down at the tepid water in the sink, smell the cheap soap and feel that, no matter how hard you scrub, you will never get the ink off your fingers.

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  2. MEN’S WATERPROOF TROUSER
    SIZE: M
    Barcode 5 031367511828

    ‘Is there something you want to tell me?’ he said as he studied the sticky label that he had just peeled off the bottom of her slipper. She quickly uncrossed her legs and slid sideways awkwardly on the leather sofa. That moment hung over her, the slowest passing black cloud whilst she thought of what to say. What kind of story could she concoct?

    Had it been her outdoor shoes, it would have been okay but it wasn’t. Unless she pretended that she had picked it up in the woods on her walking boots when she’d taken the dog out, come home and then it had somehow transferred over to her slippers. That wasn’t going to work. She was obsessive about taking off her boots the second she came through the front door, would march the dog to his spot in the kitchen, rub him with a towel and give him a biscuit and then put on her slippers. He knew all that.

    He hadn’t even finished reading the label out aloud before her cheeks had flushed to crimson. He could read her like a book and just knowing this made her thoughts race even more manically through the possible scenarios.


    It was fairly obvious that she had slipped up. How stupid to leave evidence. She must have forgotten to cover her tracks when she put her clothes back on afterwards. Track marks were for addicts. She wasn’t an addict; she could put a stop to it anytime. Just not today. It was a matter of opportunity. ‘Hi there, how are you?’ was all the man had said to her at first. This exchange with a stranger had brought her to life.

    Waterproof jacket and trousers, buy both together and save £10.

    Kathryn
    andpetkat@yahoo.co.uk

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  3. “I’ll take the package,” I said. They could have been famous last words before it all blew up in my face. Trouble was, he wasn’t listening, or if he was, he couldn’t hear me. My voice had got stuck somewhere between my heart and my epiglottis.

    The package had been my dream. The way out of the day job. A now or never deal. “Speak up.”
    I choked.
    “Too bad,” he said.
    I stared at him with my mouth open, but no words came out. It was all over.

    I skulked back to my one-window office, grabbed my bottle of Evian and gargled. Then I spat into the aspidistra. Five more years. A life sentence. I would die. Hey, why not? Even that would be better than endless Excel charts that fudged the stats. I’d go down, but I’d go down swinging. Maybe even get famous, though I probably wouldn’t be around to see it. Vincent had cut off his ear in frustration. I’d go one better.

    I found out how to do it on the Web. Wasn’t too hard, although I did get my fingers into a bit of a twist with the wiring. I had a brown paper bag. He didn’t deserve pretty paper.
    I got all dressed up and went to the top floor.
    “About that package,” I said.
    He looked at me over the pile on his desk. “It’s too late.”
    “Yeah, I reckon,” I said and held out the bag.
    He got up. Then everything went black.

    I came to in the ward, hands and ears blown off. They couldn’t charge me in that state. Seems that the stats got burned up in the blast, but he got away with just a scratch. I’m on invalidity now. It’ll take time, but it changed my life.

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  4. Donny could hear music, trickling down the stairs from the loft. The light was on as well. Bloody Marie, she never went out without leaving something behind. He climbed the stairs, and walked bent double into the converted room as the music stopped.

    Bob Dylan looked up from the rug where he was sitting cross-legged, looking like a pudding bellied buddha.

    'Fweearr..'

    Donny, took a step back, unsure what to do. He'd always liked Dylan, but what the hell had he said?

    'Err, excuse me Bob, but you can't stay here.'

    Bob started strumming, ignoring him apart from a slight glance out of his turtle neck.

    'Fwwwoorunpiss..'

    Donny, nodded; 'Gates of Eden', his favourite.

    'Love the song Bob, but you can't stay. Amy will be back soon, and she doesn't dig the sixties, you know?'

    Dylan stopped strumming.

    'Darnnddigthhursextees?'

    Donny nodded, as Bob shook his head and started strumming again.

    'Look Bob, you are just going to have to leave. Now.'
    Donny tapped his foot, annoyed with himself. Dylan was still really good, he hated to admit.

    'Bob, I'm sorry mate but GO.'

    Dylan started to play the harmonica meccanoed to his neck. Donny slapped his forehead.

    'I've had enough, I'm calling the police if you don't fuck off,'

    Dialing 999 on his mobile. Dylan shrugged.

    The paparazzi exploded through the window SAS-style, Donny falling to the floor in the full glare of flashbulb notoriety. Peeling the Kevlar from her face Nelly Furtado climbs out the back of a photographer's knapsack and asks,

    'What gives, bud?'

    Donny stands up, crying.

    'It's Dylan, he just won't shut the fuck up.'

    Dylan starts to break dance, humming along to his favourite song, 'Our Friends Electric'. Nelly wipes her nose on her silk kimono sleeve.

    'Don't think I was talking to you, bud.'

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  5. I used your name because I liked it; it felt comfortable in my mouth, balanced, lyrical, yet solid; it slipped out delicious and sincere. I used your name because I had just been reading your latest post online and when they found me, when they started asking questions, I thought of you. Your address tripped off my tongue like a truth. Last month in amongst your ramblings about your daily life, the tasty titbits about hubby and kids, you described your local, the Sportsman’s Arms on Kenworth Green (I dropped in on Thursday night, but nobody looked like my picture of you.). Your neighbour’s Monkey Puzzle is shading your lawn, is killing your camellia, you say. It took me a few days, but I found it in the end. You’re right, it’s looking very sad. I have a leaf, thick and green, edges yellow-tinged, in my pocket now.

    Later you wrote about waiting under the destinations board at Waterloo, about how you do it everyday; a creature of habit, like a dog, a puppet, a pigeon.

    We have similar hair, shoulder length, a sort of brown. I used to be blonde, but I prefer it your way. I told them so much about me, about you, with fine lines cut and pasted from your posts. I’ve Googled your work place, reunited your friends and easily found your postcode.

    Today I watched from the piss-rank phone box when they found you with the package. I captured with my lens the look on your face, that sweet half-smile twisting into disbelief, your head shaking in futile denial; one for the album.

    You really should take more care about what you write and where you leave it. I have written this in the dark, and will bury it, with the silent ones, underground

    sdunnakey@yahoo.com

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  6. Every so often Nan would take Lucy into Leeds on a Saturday for a walk round the shops and a bit of lunch. They started at home, at Mytholmroyd, waiting for the train. Lucy held Nan's hand and thought about all the possibilities. OK, they always went to Leeds, but they could get off at Halifax instead if they wanted to, or even cross the platform and go to Manchester.

    The train went through stations with magical names. Sowerby Bridge, Brighouse, New Pudsey. Lucy looked at people getting on and off and tried to imagine what their lives were like.

    Leeds station was one of Lucy's favourite places in the whole world. It had a bridge over the platform with shops on and escalators. Lucy always wanted to look out from the bridge when a train was going underneath, but Nan didn't like that, she said it made her feel badly.

    In fact Nan didn't like the station as much as Lucy did. Lucy would have spent all day there if she could. But Nan wanted to get into the city centre and look round the shops. To be fair, Lucy liked that too. So they had a deal: they would get back to the station quarter of an hour before their train home was due. Nan would sit down to rest her feet, and Lucy could go anywhere and look at anything as long as she was within Nan's line of sight.

    This was the best bit. Lucy loved watching all the people and thinking about where they might be going. But her favourite thing was the departure boards. Trains went to London and Edinburgh and Liverpool and Bristol, but also to Leeds-Bradford Airport, and she knew that from there she could go anywhere in the whole wide world.

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  8. They took the package away.
    I am sitting now, in a tiled room, on a chair beside a table. The table, I notice, is screwed down, but the chair is not. I am considering this oddity when the door opens. A woman is here, her voice muffled by a pollution mask.
    ‘… won’t be effective if we don’t do it now.’
    She does not introduce herself. ‘Are you allergic to penicillin?’
    ‘No.’ I frown. ‘Why?’
    She produces a syringe. ‘Take your jacket off, please.’
    ‘What are you doing?’
    ‘I need to get at your arm.’
    She flicks the syringe with a latexed fingernail, and nudges the plunger. A droplet appears at the end of the needle.
    I wonder for a moment, if I’ve stumbled on to the set of some BBC drama.
    ‘What’s going on?’
    I sense that she is not the person to answer my questions. Someone else is here.
    I turn to see a man, also masked, keeping his distance.
    ‘You should be grateful for this,’ he says. ‘Scum like you. You don’t deserve it.’
    ‘Don’t deserve what? I don’t understand.’ I can hear my tone rising in pitch. ‘What’s happening?’
    ‘We’re saving your life, if you’re lucky.’
    Panic strikes.
    I swivel to look for the door, the window, and any other means of escape. I feel a hand on my arm.
    ‘Your jacket.’ The woman’s eyes crinkle above the mask. Her touch calms me. I choose to trust her.
    ‘Will someone please tell me what’s happening.’
    She injects the drug, dabs away the blood, and smoothes a plaster in place. The smile she gives me as she leaves the room is a gentle smile. A sad smile. Her eyes say it all.
    The man sits down on the other side of the table.
    ‘My turn to ask questions.’

    Leigh
    leigh.forbes@blot.co.uk

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  9. That’s what the books and movies will try to make you believe but of course I know better. As I pick up the trash around the house, do the dishes and fold the laundry. The sameness of it all makes it impossible to focus. My mind is numb as I wander through the house putting the remote back on the television stand, putting the semi damp towels on the rack in the bathroom and then before I leave the room putting the cap back on the toothpaste.
    “What exciting things do we have planned for the day,” I say to no one in particular – because of course there’s no one in particular to say them too. Oh yes, there’s the upstairs bathroom that needs cleaning, the front flower bed that needs weeding and we need to run to town to drop of the dry cleaning and pick up some milk and a loaf of bread. It’s an exciting life but someone has to live it, I think to myself.
    I pour myself a cup of coffee. I sit down at my computer and pay the light and water bills, transfer some money and check my email, nothing but spam.
    After cleaning the bathroom and running the sweeper I slip on my shoes and take my keys off the hook. The drycleaners, the bank, the grocery store, I check the chores off my list. Nothing really changes I think to myself. Now that all my tasks have been accomplished I stop at Starbucks to indulge myself.
    From behind me I hear, “Hello beautiful,” and I find myself looking up into the deepest blue eyes I have ever seen. Then suddenly he is kissing me. This is how quickly it can happen, you think. This is how quickly your life can change

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  10. “It’s just cocaine, it’s not a big deal,” Billy said.

    I’d never seen anyone do cocaine before and there was something naughty and exciting about the way he cut a line with a credit card and snorted it with a rolled up twenty pound note. We were in a toilet, in a club, on our first date.

    I hadn’t expected a fancy restaurant or romance. I was just eighteen and girls like me didn’t get wooed by men eight years older, especially as I’d already slept with him, but I didn’t expect to do drugs for the first time.

    Mum met him after we’d been together for two months. She didn’t like him, said he was ‘shifty’. I told her he was educated at private school and worked in the City.

    “That’s not shifty, that’s middle class,” I said but Mum just narrowed her eyes.

    “There’s less to him than meets the eye,” she said.

    When we’d been together for eighteen months we celebrated at his place with champagne and a takeaway. Eighteen months! My longest relationship ever.

    The week before Mum had invited me round to watch a video. It was called Maria Full of Grace and it was about a Columbian girl who was forced to swallow all these pellets full of drugs to earn money. Mum wouldn’t stop staring at me and I couldn’t stop gulping, gulping, gulping. I felt like I was drowning inside, like I’d snorted Maria’s tears and my lungs were full. I’d never really thought about where drugs came from before.

    “It’s just cocaine, it’s not a big deal,” said Billy after our food and champagne.

    I told him about Maria. I told him about her tears, but Billy just shrugged.

    “Chill, have a line,” he said, “and you’ll forget all about her.”

    taylor_cally [at] yahoo.co.uk

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  11. When the hand falls on your shoulder you turn in anticipation of something good, after all you’ve been behaving yourself for weeks. You’ve handed in homework on time, you read the set texts for English and French. You haven’t been late once.

    Your mother said it was sometimes harder to fight than to give in, and some things weren’t fighting against. And, in your case, you were only damaging yourself.

    Well, you say your mother, but it wasn’t the woman who’s brought you up these last fifteen years, but the woman who gave birth to you, a woman you only met for the first time a month ago.

    You’ve always known you were adopted, and while you’ve wondered about her, you’ve never thought about getting in touch.

    She wrote to your mother, and your mother gave you her letter.

    ‘It’s your choice,’ she said. ‘I’ll support whatever you want to do.’

    You kept the letter in your drawer for a week. When you heard her voice on the phone you thought you’d choke, but somehow you managed to squeak, ‘It’s Sophie.’

    You’ve met her half a dozen times since then. Claire. And you like her. She’s not like a mother, more like a big sister. She’s only thirty-two. That’s fifteen years younger than the mother you’ve known all your life.

    ‘I’m so pleased you’re doing this well,’ your mother says, when you give her your end of term report. ‘I was worried for a while; you seemed a bit lost.’

    It’s only then you wonder why Claire suddenly got in touch, after fifteen years of silence. What prompted her to write to you? Or who?

    Your mother’s hand rests on your shoulder, and you look at it in a way you never have before. You take it in yours and squeeze.

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  12. Nicola was a bit, how do I put it. She wasn’t really part of our group. A hanger-on, a parasite. Invariably there, never contributing much. My little sarcastic remarks about her made the others titter uncomfortably, so then I began just ignoring her.

    We drank vodka, it was a 90s-themed vodka bar. They had, for instance, buffalo mozzarella and sundried tomato flavour. And vodka cocktails. Nicola only ever drank orange juice. She hovered close to my stool, just out of my line of vision, clutching her bag like one of us might whip it off her. This bag was a designer item, not. Her shoes were clumpy like school shoes. Her hair, actually this is starting to sound like I was obsessed with Nicola. I wasn’t! Unlike her, I did have a life. I was pretty – long shiny blonde hair, clear blue eyes, lovely skin. Until that evening it all changed.

    Road to Ruin, I said, what’s a Road to Ruin got in it? Because the ingredients weren’t listed on the menu, it just said the name. “You should try one,” Nicola said. I turned my shoulder. Then somebody asked, “Where’s Nicola gone?” Someone else said, “To the bar”. And then a purple and blue drink with silvery streaks (and a green umbrella) appeared in front of me. “I thought you wanted one,” Nicola said.

    Next thing, I was vomiting up my guts. Coming out of the cubicle, I saw my reflection. Changed. Everything had changed. Or at least, no, the other people in the bar hadn’t. Just in their attitude towards me. Because of what I’d lost.

    Nicola was waiting outside. “I’ve called a taxi.”

    “Thanks, Nicola,” I said humbly. “And sorry about. You didn’t have to. You’re a really good friend.”

    “I’m the only friend you’ve got left.”


    frances.gapper@tiscali.co.uk

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  13. Some years ago, I suddenly found myself regularly losing familiar words I was about to use in every day conversation. The effect was devastating. I felt old, worthless. But I didn’t give up. I used an obvious and simple device with such astounding success that my life is transformed. I feel reborn, have a spring in my step, a smile on my face. Don’t tell me you haven’t come across this problem to a greater or lesser extent. Most people experience it sooner or later. Let me share my scheme, my joy with you. For me, the discovery has been invaluable. It is all a simple question of mnemonics.

    Here for example are some of the words which regularly elude me: Anchovy, Bassoon, Kidney, Damsel, Folly, Cascara, Penguin. Also listed in the same order are my chosen mnemonics. You’ll notice that each one begins with the initial letter of the word I’m trying so desperately to remember; neat isn’t it? Agila, Bagasse, Khor, Daddock, Fewter, Cagot, Palay. I must stress the importance of selecting mnemonics that will readily come to mind, as mine do. As I find additional words eluding me I shall of course immediately choose a fitting mnemonic for each one.

    I intend writing a small booklet which will explore clearly this solution to what can be a very real problem, life ruining in some advanced cases. Among the many publishers interested, I have one who is particularly keen, as he is personally experiencing the early stages of word losing. He is in process of testing out my method but must wait until he gropes for missing words in conversation, then chooses appropriate mnemonics. This will inevitably take some time. Meanwhile I have already commenced work on a first draft of my book ready to dispatch to him.

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  14. My life is about to change. On one side of this door is me, now. On the other is where I’d planned to be. The question is, can I step through the door?

    I back away, today is not the day. It feels like the door is escaping me rather than the other way around. Further and further out of reach until a solid warmth stops me.

    I pretend not to notice.

    I can hear him breathing. I know what he’s going to say and I don’t want to hear it. I count the spirals in the carpet until a hand grasps my shoulder, and twists me round. He leans forward, his beard bristling against my cheek.
    I’ll be with you he says.
    I love you he says.

    I look into his eyes and see that he believes those words will make everything ok. He has faith in me, in us. He believes that I have faith in him. How can I break that faith? How can I tell him that I’m faithless, that I don’t believe any more, that the Happy-ever-after isn’t real?

    Perhaps I should just stay silent.

    But faithless women don’t get to step through doors whilst music plays. Faithless women have voices shouting inside, telling them that they don’t deserve this, that they must pay penance.

    I listen to that voice. The only faith I have left now is in the truth of the soap-opera. If I step through that door, if I keep quiet, one day my unfaithfulness will come screaming back through the years. I will look in his eyes and see his faith in me shatter. Each year of silence will amplify what I did.

    I don’t step through the door. I take his hand and change my life in the other direction.

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  15. While far from practical –I lean to getting a man in when domestic infrastructure falters - I do take pride in my mastery of electricity. It’s logical, rational, and unlike most pipes and innards around the home, a clear head and patient approach will win the day.

    Until I shortened the cable that suspends the kitchen light above the table. A simple enough job, flip off the relevant fuse, click up the switch, sandwich wires between thumb and scalpel blade, twist, cap and reconnect with that quiet sense of triumph in my abilities

    In retrospect it was an easy mistake to make, given my imperfect sight and my stubborn reluctance to search for the glasses I leave around the place ten times a day. One fuse switch looks much like another, especially when both are labelled Lights. I’ve been shocked before, a tickle of static on the car door, the sting of a 13 amp socket, but this was a lightning bolt, a jolt that joined ceiling and floor through my conducting frame.

    Lying on the cold tiles I realised that my life had almost changed, might have ended there and then. Death or paralysis, I wondered as I rose gingerly on one tingling elbow, which would you choose? How quickly you can be transformed. In the split second it takes physics to confirm one of its laws all your plans, assumptions, anxieties, every taken for granted gift can be snatched away.

    Naturally I’m less assured these days. I know my mind can still practise logic, progress by analysis, that I can assume patience enough to navigate danger. But now there’s that knowledge of disconnection, the gap between my constructed reality and the things that can happen, the things I do.

    But, all things considered, I prefer it this way.

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  16. This is how quickly it can happen, you think. This is how quickly your life can change.

    Your husband runs away with your best friend and you hadn’t suspected anything.
    Your baby is diagnosed with a serious disability.
    You discover a pea-sized lump when checking your breasts.
    You win the lotto jackpot after buying just one ticket.
    Your house floods or catches fire.
    You suffer permanent injury in a car crash which was not your fault.
    Your elderly mother develops Alzheimer’s disease.
    You sell up everything to travel the world.
    You face redundancy at fifty.
    Your partner has a mid-life crisis and is charged with a crime.
    You wave your last child off to university.
    You unexpectedly inherit a large sum of money.
    You suffer a nervous breakdown.
    Your son in the armed forces is posted to Iraq or Afghanistan.
    You bury one of your children.
    You decide to follow your wildest dream.
    You relocate to another country, where you don’t speak the language.
    You give birth suddenly and very prematurely.
    You return to serious study as an adult.
    You finally learn to trust your instincts.
    You wake up one morning and find your partner dead on the kitchen floor.
    You unexpectedly answer the door to the bailiffs.
    Your divorce comes through.
    You make a major career change.
    Your teenage son becomes addicted to heroin.
    Your fourteen year old daughter gives birth.
    You become agoraphobic and housebound.
    You finally meet your soul mate.
    Your parents die.
    You let go of your insecurities.
    Your heart is truly broken for the first time.

    This is how quickly it can happen, you think. This is how quickly your life can change. Then you realise that almost everyone you know has experienced one of these life-changing events and has survived.

    You will survive too.

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  17. One solitary act of inattention can change everything.
    You wake up any day – a Tuesday, for example – and find that your world has drifted onto another orbit. It might be subtle, but if you’re aware you can sense it and know that everything is now, again, about to change. I try to be that mindful. It’s a Buddhist concept I’ve adopted from living in Cambodia. The acceptance of now and the understanding that everything passes in time. But I was rushing home that Tuesday morning, back from the school run to a house filled with even more feverish, snotty kids – so “mindful awareness?” Forget it.
    I was vaguely aware of someone behind me, though. Not a regular in the street scene of my corner of Phnom Penh. Not one of the mine victims or a massage girl. I sensed she was a girl, though, a young woman, but she was no one I had ever seen before. Probably British, or maybe American, with some enormous backpack and a pair of Nikes. “Oh God, a tourist”, I thought. “Not today. Don’t ask for directions to the Killing Fields… I know, I’ll find her a tuk tuk, He can drive her someplace. Tourists love that.”
    “I’m sorry. But is your name Deb? Is this the ‘Home for Blessed Khmer Children’?” She clutched her backpack tightly, ignoring the sweat pouring into her eyes. She looked worried. Something was not quite right about her.
    “Deborah,” I barked. “Not Deb. And this is the ‘Khmer Home for Blessed Children.’”
    Relief poured off her like monsoon waters. “I’m Amanda. This is for one of your kids.” She touched my arm, and I felt a jolt of electricity.
    That is how quickly it can happen. That is how quickly your life can change.


    Sue Guiney
    sue@guineyuk.com

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  18. Have you noticed how time is elastic? It really is, and not just because memory is playing tricks and washing away parts of the past like little waves wash away ripples and footprints with the rising tide.
    It isn’t just elastic, either. It can change its consistency from soft and fuzzy to hard and sharp.
    One day you can be driving along a familiar road like Stone Street and when you are eight miles from the Farthing you realise that you are at the Canterbury crossroads. You have spent absolutely no time getting there. There was no traffic. Nothing to connect you with that missing slice of compressed time. Perhaps it was never there. Not even soft and fuzzy. Just blank.
    You wonder if everyone, everywhere, just thinks it was a private thing, but really lost those minutes? Jumbo jets landing, millions of cars driving, people being born, making love, dying. All happening instantly and unrealised.
    Then there is a universal stretching of time, hardening and leaving sharp images of seconds that take minutes to consciously experience.
    It has happened to us all. The awareness of a cloud formation or a brilliantly plumed pheasant, clear in every detail as if you have been sitting at an easel and painting them for hours. Perhaps this was just time slowing. It doesn’t slow consistently or predictably. A child chasing a ball out between parked cars moves with the same slow treacle-flowing consistency as your own heavy reaction and afterwards each millisecond is separate and distinct, like the frames on a roll of ciné film.
    Of course this is all to do with physical laws of time and motion and is immutable and beyond our control or even conscious awareness.
    Proof?
    If it wasn’t like this you could always select slow-forward for lovemaking.

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  21. But this change, no, let your training do its work, the police were not following me, it was blue they were after, they did not know about me yet. Now I had to clear the environment, just be part of the crowd joining the rush to work.

    I picked a train at random, London to Cheltenham, slow train, five stops later I got off, waited in the car park to look for watchers and followers. It was conceivable that they had me already, but I hoped not. I needed time to make the switch. One phone call, codeword alpha two five...

    Roger – black two, I repeat – black two.

    Oh god, I had heard them before, in mission ops rooms etc, but to have them spoken to me on a live op was a shock. Sitting, I took out the envelope read the contents. It took me two passes but I had it then, so I destroyed the original.

    Walk back to the station, get back on the train. They would be waiting, if I was lucky the team would meet me for a debrief. Black two meant everything was down in ops. They had been picked up in their base of control and bailed out. They may not be up and running for hours, I had to stay live until then. And the best way of doing that was to be near to the centre.

    The station looked clear on arrival, that was expected, they wouldn't want anyone to suspect the deceit going on in the heart of freedom. It would not be right. The idea is to get yourself searched. To let them see you have not made the switch and hope they let you wait. Thats what I hoped would happen.

    But with Freedom you never can tell.

    Jim Barron
    jimbarron@walkauvergne.co.uk

    ReplyDelete
  22. jan fortune-wood7 November 2007 at 18:55

    There’s the life you had before and the life that comes after. What separates them is a moment, a decision made before you even thought about it, one foot that momentarily strayed from the path. It takes that little. What separates these lives is everything. A chasm that opens at the mere flick of a wrist.

    There’s the life you had before and the life that comes after.

    It’s not that the life you had before was anything special. It’s simply that it was your life. The daily round of work and family. Looking forward to that video you had on order and wanted to watch curled up on the sofa in your pink pyjamas with a glass of merlot, that book you were just getting into, that party in London you’d bought the silk skirt for with its splashes of orange and red.

    It’s not that the life before was anything special. It’s simply that it was your life.

    There’s the life you had before and the life that comes after.

    The life that comes after is not your own. It starts with interrogation and suspicion. Your story no longer makes sense, like a jigsaw with too many pieces, but you know they all have to be made to fit. You don’t look forward any longer, only back; replaying the time when you had an ordinary life that was yours, replaying that that moment when your world shifted. This is how quickly it can happen, you think, over and over. There’s the life you had before and the life that comes after. The life that comes after is not your own.

    All you want is that ordinary life; the family, the mortgage, the daily round of work. There’s the life you had before and the life that comes after.

    ReplyDelete
  23. I was floating down Oxford Street, as light as a snowflake, dressed in white from top to toe, when a flash of colour in a boutique window changed my life. My name was Gwendolyn at the time. Not a name I would have chosen but my agent insisted on it. She also made it abundantly clear that I should always wear white. I pleased her by stripping every vestige of colour from my hair, my eyebrows, even my eyelashes. A French manicure followed and my teeth were whitened during a lunch break. My wardrobe was awash with virginal garments; not a coloured one amongst them. She was delighted at my transformation into such a ghostly vision although I was mortified when I overheard her mention to one of her colleagues that I was practically devoid of talent. How insensitive! I knew from the very beginning, however, that she would fleece me; use me for her own ends.

    I soon tired of this look. All that upkeep, the washing, the bleaching, the effort to keep everything pristine. No one notices a grey person. It was at that time that providence came to my rescue. The time I was wafting down Oxford Street.

    A blood-red dress of infinite beauty beckoned and I responded with alacrity.

    ‘It’s so me,’ I beamed. ‘I must have it.’

    So I bought the striking gown, rushed home, dyed my hair raven black, pencilled kohl around my eyes, slashed my lips crimson. I called myself Scarlett, gathered my white garments into a bundle and flung them into the Thames.

    Gwendolyn faded from my life; Scarlett took over. I became ambitious, ruthless, determined to succeed. Over the years I trampled on many rivals, greed propelling me forward. I became a star.

    The power of colour had changed my life.

    ReplyDelete
  24. It is in a local wedding party that Rajita met Ranjit and the parents were seeking
    alliance for Rajita ,their only daughter for the past three years in a very hectic way
    but in vain. Rajita and Ranjit liked each other and the former never knew that her
    future husband is not far off.Ranjit explicitly said that he must fly back to Australia
    within a fortnight , every move of the arrangement was made in a flash and Rajita
    flying high in the sky to Australia with her scientist husband who came like a lightning.
    A momentary glance, a quick decision changed her life ,her life style , an ordinary
    girl in an extraordinary situation. How quickly her wedding took place and how her
    life was changed beyond her comprehension!

    Two young lovers in a book fair, drawn by the catalogues were so engrossed that
    Lucy dropped her hand bag, it was spotted and handed over to her by Jacob and the
    timely hand had an electric touch that resulted in embraces and kisses and what not
    much to the embarrassment of the others. A man and woman suddenly aware that
    their l ife is changed .
    In a sudden roadside romance , love,or ,flirtation , or sudden collision -- that the careful
    Vegetable vendor washes off his hands ,by offering some money ‘ after a daring moment of
    awful surrender’. Just like lottery or horse race, indeed you never know,

    Sometime back a flower seller beckoned a driver near a local park and with a sort of
    awful, understanding cuddling up of their emotions ,she argued to the driver pretending
    to be uncanny “ I am carrying your child , hem! What do you say?” Her belligerent voice
    only invited the cops in a sudden shift.
    Radhamani
    poet_radhamani@yahoo.com
    pearlradhe.blospot.com

    ReplyDelete
  25. The woman in the red room sat very alone. She drained the last leg of Blossom Hill and admitted to herself she was sad, maybe lonely, but without doubt, it was not her fault.
    She had filled her life with blame. Blaming her family, blaming relationships, blaming childhood.
    But she had changed, clearly for the better. As had been her goal.
    Now she spent copious hours riveted to the chair in the red room proving she was right. Diligently ‘Blogging’ bitter diatribes. It was her calling, ever since she had discovered feminism in the first year of university. She had discovered that it was not her fault that she had never succeeded before or that she had not even aspired to try to be great. Women were not taught to aspire to greater things. In her day women were subliminally programmed to seek love and validation through looking/cooking good, to secure a man, fill a home with womanly touches and children. The woman in the red room remembered how she had believed in ‘the order of things’.
    By her second year, feminism had changed her. She knew there was a conspiracy. She’d been a victim of modernist and misogynistic acts of reasoning, made by great white men, who’d dictated taste and norms for identity. She had had a man, children and a home, but she had put an end to that when she realised she had been duped. The red room was the solitary witness to the mutations in her reasoning. She was able to prove truths to herself and now she sought to picket norms and taunt others into seeing how stuck they were. She wanted to share her revelation, inspire others to change, for the better, as she so very clearly had. She poured another very solitary glass.

    ReplyDelete
  26. You look at the parcel then at your feet and across to the rail track. Then turned your gaze at the crowd and saw the two policemen deliberately edging towards you.

    Your stomach flipped a turn of nausea and with full force the adrenalin grips your innards, curdling your pancreas with a vehement grasp. Your vision blackened for a split second. Nearly there, Ian, be patient.

    ‘Suddenly, life has new meaning to meee…..’

    After spending the night rolling sideways, countless times with the feverish impulse brought on by days of endless contemplation of whether to come today, you made yourself say ‘Yes, I must’.

    The stench of stale microwaved lamb and vegetables, the creaking and damp floorboards and cracked walls made your mind up for you. You knew this had to be and be it must. Yes.

    The microwave pinged again and you took out your morning breakfast – a plate of scrambled eggs and a mug of tea, piping hot. With an oven glove you grabbed at your morning effort and sat next to your shrine of newspaper cuttings of Ian in his last moment of glory as the armed robber who cheated life by burying his head in a bucket of water by his bed after overdosing on a packet of sleeping tablets you’d sneaked in with his ration of ciggies the day before.

    As you sat there thinking about that day the phone rang and a policeman broke the news to you, you almost collapsed as you sat there numb. Then you screeched ‘Noooooooo…..’

    The phone clicked. You got up from you chair. Walked to the door and walked out.

    Now, a wind blows gently into your face as the policemen came nearer. That ‘Yes, I must’ became a real affirmation,

    ‘Yes, my darling, I’m coming’

    Colleen
    coll@literaryspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  27. Dear Katja,

    By the time you read this I will be gone. It’s such a cliché, I’m sorry. But that’s all I’m sorry about. It is ironic that even in leaving I could not come up with something more exciting or original. My banal departure might help you feel a little vindicated, but before you get too indignant, open the gift that came in the package with this letter. You will understand everything then.

    Stay calm, Katja. You are wondering how long I have had it. How long I have known. You’re trying to work out whether it was right from the time you first lost it, when you started searching for it everywhere, pacing distractedly about the house as your eyes roamed about like a mad woman’s, imagining you were hiding your distress from me. Even if I hadn’t accidentally found it, wedged in with all the loose change and fluff in the backseat of your car, I would have known. A stranger could have read it in your eyes and I am your husband after all.

    It is only now after many weeks have gone by that you’ve finally relaxed, assuming that it had vanished forever, like only abstract things such as love can do.

    I must confess, at first I felt a mild sense of pride because, for the first time in my life, he wanted something that belonged to me. But it wasn’t long before all I felt was sickened.

    I have had the locket all along, Katja. Since the day my brother must have given it to you - the date is engraved beneath his inscription. It seemed fitting that I waited to give it back to you today because today really is the first day of the rest of your life.

    Birthday greetings

    Ivan

    claudia@pelagos.myzen.co.uk

    ReplyDelete
  28. ‘This is how quickly it can happen’, you say. It’s your story, the one you were told. You have to convince the police you really are a silly, naive, gullible young woman, who’s been beguiled by brown eyes and a warm smile in a face that looked kind at first, because you were looking for warmth after your husband had left you in this foreign place, and you were feeling abandoned and alone. You will give them a convincing description of him, the stranger in your head.

    You wouldn’t know the man, or the exact time or place. Just to expect a touch, you were told. Keep cool, keep calm. It was a dry run, to see if the plan worked. You don’t know much about the plan only that the cause is just. There would be only a small amount of marijuana in the packet, they said. Not sufficient for the police to bother with charges, and only in case you were caught. Just enough to convince the authorities it was all about drugs, but you were not to worry, you wouldn’t be caught. But if you were, make sure to stick to the story. You must not think of anything else, not your daughter waiting for your return, not the real face of the stranger. Only your story.

    Now you are in this bleak and windowless room. A uniformed woman stands by the door, her arms behind her back. You sit at a table and wait. You tell the woman they have no right to keep you. You wait. You ask her what you are waiting for. You wait. Two men enter. They sit down, arrange notebooks and photographs in front of them. They start asking you questions but they want to begin where you want to finish.

    sandraandrews@blueyonder.co.uk

    ReplyDelete
  29. Sometimes, you have to wonder what all the fuss is about. Unfortunately, it's always like this when Westminster's high rollers ride shotgun into town, temporarily defenestrating us of our civil liberty in the name of democracy and freedom.

    Working in residence by a seaside town can be a fools paradise. During the summer, there exists an irresistable temptation to put all plans on hold against the glorious light and heat. Real life recedes against the rapturous high season. Yet real life cannot be destroyed, so, come the autumn, when the tourists themselves have re - engaged with life on planet earth, normality returns to ambush you.

    Late September is the worst, particularly those alternate years finishing with an odd number. That's when the pale people from the corridors of power descend for their invasion by the sea. Thank God it's not an annual pilgrimage.

    For one week only, every man, woman, child, creature and beast will be subjected to daily searches by edgy, uptight police before permission is granted to set foot upon the streets of our own communities. Our city centre becomes a poor man's quarantine zone of militaristic precision.

    From the freezing checkpoints of the station, long walks through sloping boulevards, shelving steeply down towards the briny, become our very own personal acts of contrition.

    It's not the savagery of the trapped sea winds, screaming against imperceptibly tall buildings framing either side of the wide road whilst whistling through your soul. Nor should one complain of the desolation and greyness of the recently golden beach itself; the looming darkness of the high rise promenade guarantees acres of pebbles will never be warmed by the autumn sunshine.

    For everyone affected, it's what we don't see; the not knowing. How many snipers occupy the skyline today, and who're they really watching?

    ReplyDelete
  30. You’ve become an outsider. The people in this tiny, close community hardly know you anymore. In the shop, Mr Downes who you served five days a week for nearly a year looked at you in puzzlement for a while before he managed to place your face. “Hello love,” he said when the penny finally dropped. “Long time no see. I almost didn’t recognise you with your hair like that.”

    Mrs Burton cut you dead in the street too. She always was unfriendly so perhaps that’s no surprise. Then just as you were taking a look in the churchyard at all the old headstones going back centuries, Miranda spotted you. She remembered you alright and gave you the nth degree wanting to know everything you’d been up to since you left.

    It was then you realised you would never have fitted in. You thought for a while you might be able to, but coming back now you saw you were right not to stay. It would never have worked out, especially if they ever found out about Linden. You wouldn’t be calling on Linden, that was a certainty. Anyway his wife might be there – sometimes she chose to work from home to save on the travelling. Even if she didn’t know anything had happened, it would be uncomfortable for you to have to see her.

    You’re over him now, at least enough to stop crying yourself to sleep at night. If you met him in the street you’d smile and say “Hi,” just as you would to any other passer by.

    You pay for your sandwich and the pack of cigarettes you know you’ll regret later on, and leave the shop heading off to where you’d parked your car. Next time you’d take the quicker route via the dual carriage way.

    ReplyDelete
  31. This is how quickly your life can change …


    It's not you, it's me. You got the part. Twins! There's been an accident. You're fired. I just don't think I love you anymore. There’s been a complication. You may kiss the bride. Bingo! Your co-star is Val Kilmer. It’s too late for the epidural. Please hold for the President.


    I'm pregnant. They were attemping to buy yellow cake. I lost the baby. You’ve got a letter from the IRS. Sorry son, you’ll have to come with us. We’ve confirmed you on American, Flight 11 out of Boston. It was only a kiss. What do you mean he’s allergic to nuts? And the Oscar goes to. We need to talk. It’s malignant. This is going to hurt me a lot more than you. Oh crap, the condom broke. We find the defendant ...

    You've tested positive. I’m sorry, did I wake you? Flight attendants, prepare for emergency landing. And tonight’s final Super Lotto number is. I want you to piss on me. Iceberg! There’s going to be an audit. Fancy a threesome? She’s out of remission. I think I like goats. Code blue. I found a lump. My boss needs a date. Don’t move or I’ll kill you. You'd better sit down.

    Good afternoon ma'am, are you the Lance Corporal’s mother? There was an IED. I've met someone. "Baaaa" means no. You don’t understand, I’m a white witch. Do you promise to not get mad? They’ve taken my passport. I have a gun. It’s not your child. What do you mean you enlisted? I heard from the clinic today. Hold on, Mom, the policeman wants to talk to you. The rabbit died. The good news is …

    Do you promise not to tell?

    I am so very sorry, we did everything we could.

    ReplyDelete
  32. You’re not looking where you’re going when you bump into a strange man. You see a flash of bright blue eyes and shocking green hair. As he helps you up, he touches your arm and you feel a jolt of electricity. You stare into each other’s eyes and you can’t quite get a grip of reality any more.

    Looking around, you see things you didn’t before. You see shadows that are moving, snaking their way across the ground. There is a sheen in the air, a shine, that makes the blue sky seem too bright, too beautiful.

    You see things in the bushes. Little men with sticks for arms and leaves for hair. You see something that looks like a little brown gnome, gnawing on a flower with its sharp teeth. You nearly cry out when you see what looks like an elf, its pointy ears sticking out of its nest of hair; it stops to gather the twigs that have fallen on the ground.

    You can hear things too. There is a whispering in the air, something soft that teases at your ears. It sounds like white noise and you’re prepared to dismiss it as such but you can hear words, catch snippets of conversation. There is music too, a soft, lilting melody that fills you with warmth and unease.

    The man is looking at you, those blue eyes searching, looking into you. “What is going on?” You ask. “What have you done to me?”

    “It is always this way.” His voice is like music. “You didn’t see before but now you SEE. It always happens like this.”

    “I don’t understand.” You tell him. “See what?”

    “You see what you did not before.” The man sighed. “I am sorry, I didn’t know; I wouldn’t have touched you otherwise.”


    Jamieson Wolf
    jamiesonwolf@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
  33. i’m going to give you something. i’m going to unburden myself on you and it will be heavy but it will not weigh you down because i won’t let it. i’m going to hand you something and you’ll take it because you have no choice, because i smiled at you and you know i’m sincere and you love me even though i haven’t let you know me. i’m going to let you love me. i’m going to let you in. i’m going to let you now, and it will change both of our lives. it will shape us both for all time to come. it has been shaping us all along, before either of us ever made it here. i will give you something heavy and i will soar with the weight gone and you will soar because you let me and that is enough, because that is huge. i will unlock this place, and we will both go free and smiling, dancing and hopeful down the platform and we will neither of us be caged by this any longer. i will give you this and it will heal me and once i am healed, i will heal you. i will give you this so that i will continue to be able to take things from you, to continue to let you unburden yourself on me. i will now give you a real chance to soar. i see now that it is a give and take thing and i have only been doing half the work and i see now how i haven’t let you grow. i see now how i have made you what i expect by not allowing you to be more than i expect. i will let you now, and it will change both of our lives.


    alison.baldwin@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
  34. I watch the sparrows hopping closer, ever closer, then a much too sudden movement scatters them away.
    If I throw the seed too far they just approach, in their sparrowy, hopping, strolling way, and eat their fill.
    With a more judicious aim, they must take a chance with every grain, winging in and making off one morsel at a time, consuming it elsewhere, or passing it to their mate, before returning to run the same errand.
    Time and again.

    The females are smarter than the males. Maybe that comes from being pursued, one way and another, and escaping, one way another, for most of their lives.
    If no predator is looking to eat them, no amateur zoo keeper seeking to extend his collection, then one of their own kind is trying to jump them.
    You need your wits about you to be a sparrow, anywhere in the world.

    It is their power to fly, to escape, living to hop another day, that attracts me to them.
    And the constantly recurring theme of hunger, which draws them in to me.

    The bird in the cage behind me lets out a haunting little call when she hears the nearby feeders coming closer.
    Untrained to warble a siren song. She cries no lie, no tempting lullaby, drawing them first to slumber then endure a longer sleep.
    Nor is it warning, nor alarm.
    She is not saying: " Keep away! There's danger here!"

    Her's is a plea for lost companionship.
    "I'm here," she calls.
    "I'm here and maybe you would like to be in here with me."
    Looking for a friend, like her to learn the hard way, how quickly your life can change.

    Her calling voice is strong enough but cheerless.
    Hers is an indoor song.
    Like mine.
    A song from behind bars.

    mikemay@supanet.com

    ReplyDelete

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