All writing is my own - please do not copy or use without my permission.
It started to rain on the day Molly Longstone cooked her baby.
The baby had been born squirmy and delightfully fleshy, with fat red cheeks and angry fists. The baby was delivered straight onto her chest, with the two attending midwives cooing and heartily praising Molly. Molly smiled, at no one in particular. Molly handed the baby round at drinks parties and gently acknowledged the compliments the baby garnered. Molly dressed the baby beautifully.
She’d never seen the baby’s face clearly. Every time she looked at it, it was blurred in a sinewy veil. She saw an oval puce shape and undefined outlines. She could see the rest of the tiny body more clearly; the wrinkled feet and tiny nails were almost well defined, but its face remained hidden. The first time she held her child, she thought how easy it would be to squeeze its soft head until its brains squirted out of its nose and eyeballs. How easy it would be to throw this tiny bag of howling organs against the wall, or drop in down a flight of stairs, or out of a window. She’d stare absent-mindedly out of the window of her 5th floor apartment, thinking about the satisfying shape the baby would make as it splattered on the concrete below. The only noise that punctuated Molly’s silences were the baby’s cries. She knew when and how to pick it up. How to feed it, wind it, change its nappies. She never held it for longer than strictly necessary. She bottle fed it as far away from her breast as she could hold it. If the baby’s head flopped backwards, knocked the edge of the chair or fell heavily into its crib, Molly didn’t notice.
Her bath had been too hot, and her face was still wet with sweat even though she’d been lying naked on her bed with the window open for 7 minutes and 32 seconds. She stretched her foot and pulled at the white sheet with her toes. The ceiling was grey and sad. The walls gently swayed away from her and then came smiling back, arms outstretched. The walls waved at her and yawned.
The phone rang 5 times before he picked up. He didn’t say anything. “Josh” “Hmm” His voice had the annoying pitch of a child’s mouth organ. They sewed their mouths together. How desperately she missed sweet, sincere conversation. Remind me of your favourite place to walk. How low does the temperature have to get before you wear a scarf? How did you get that scar on your finger? Do you think Max is a good name for a dog? “I have to go, Molly.” She didn’t wait to for him to say goodbye, or say goodbye herself. She hung up and continued to stare at her yawning walls. The middle of the bones of her lower back ached heavily, like a thunderstorm about to break.
She stood up and put on the white toweling dressing gown that hung on the back of the door. She walked into the kitchen. She sat down at the table. A half drunk cup of coffee left over from this morning sat across from her. The once warm mug had left a ring on the wood. A wind up plastic bird sits on the windowsill and twitters away melancholically, bobbing its pink and green head.
The baby is crying. She thinks. The baby is abhorrent. The baby must have Ted Bundy’s eyes, or Peter Sutcliffe’s mouth. The baby has inherited evil from unknown sources.
Molly washes up the coffee mug in lukewarm water. The dishwater turns a deep murky grey, with small groups of soapsuds foaming against the stainless steel sink. Outside, through the window it is a clear and crisp afternoon. The sun was hitting a tiny spot on the floor, which felt warm when she played her foot against the light. She sees the darkness outside. Deep, fantastic darkness. The pavement underneath their building was a thick treacle tar, ready to seep their lives into it. Molly could feel the Earth desperate to yawn itself open and swallow her whole. A hideous, grinning face beams at her from across the kitchen and then disappears back into the wall. Back into the leaching black hole that followed her, growing and pulsing inside her. How she worshipped that abyss; how lovingly it nurtured her, turning every small action into death.
Later. The baby is lying on the kitchen floor. She doesn’t know how it got there or what its name is. She can hear it screaming. She looks down at it and sees thousands of fat, white maggots crawling slowly from its hot, round mouth. She blinks and the maggots become a swarm of flies, hovering and buzzing, swooping down at her. She bats them off and they turn into bats. Fast, flighty things, jerking towards her and falling to the ground where they pull themselves up with tiny human hands. She catches one and caresses it, holding it to her cheek and smiling out into the distance. It becomes dust in her hands and she feels a great sense of emptiness at the loss.
Earlier. Her mother called round, letting herself in with the spare set of keys. She busied herself in the kitchen, cooed at her grandchild and drank a cup of tea. She’d brought a bunch of flowers.
A girl wearing a khaki green dress trips over her shoelace on the corner of Carver Street. She tries to hurry herself up, desperately hoping it went unnoticed, but 2 people come over to ask if she’s ok. She brushes down her ripped tights and tries to ignore her grazed, stinging knees. So embarrassing, so sorry, she says to the person standing closest to her. “No need to be embarrassed! You need to do your laces up, though, no wonder you tripped. Here let me hold your bag.” Thank you, that’s very kind. She’s worried that the strangers might notice the tears welling up in her eyes. She clenches her jaw tight, digs a nail into her palm and stares up at the sky, desperate for her eyes to dry. “You’re very lucky, the way you fell I thought you might have hit your face. Could have knocked your teeth out. I’m forever telling my sons to do up their laces.” Thank you, thank you, that’s very kind, I’m fine really. “I’m afraid this bottle of olive oil in your bag has smashed.” She stared at the shopping. Everything was covered in a yellow oil slick. Her canvas bag was soaked through. “I’m sure most of the food will be fine, it’s all in packages. I complain about how much plastic supermarkets use but it can be useful, at times, one supposes…” Thank you. The second stranger says they’re glad she’s alright and leaves to catch a bus. Oh yes, err, thanks, sorry. “There’s a bit of oil on your dress, that’s a shame. I remember my mother telling me an old wives tale about salt, or wine or something getting oil off clothes. Can’t quite remember which, but I’m sure you can find out. You can find anything out these days can’t you? My eldest son works in computers; he’s just set me up with an iPad. Amazing aren’t they?” It’s fine it doesn’t matter, she mumbles. “My grandchildren can all use these tablets and phones and gizmos too. They’re only tiny but they know all the passcodes! Here, I’ve got a photo of them…” She leans into her bag and pulls out her wallet, which is jam packed with receipts and notes, miscellaneous pieces of paper and snapshots. “This one’s Jamie, he’s 4, and here’s Esther…” she continued. A strange, cold rage came over the girl in the khaki dress. She wanted to go home and clear up and forget this whole encounter. She wanted this woman to stop talking.
She pulled a small revolver from her bag, pointed it squarely at the woman and pulled the trigger. The bullet hit her just above her left ear and she collapsed. Her eyes were wide open in astonishment as the blood started seeping from her nose, ears and mouth. Err, yeah thanks, sorry about that. No one on the busy street turned to look at the commotion. Everyone kept walking. A man was looking at his phone as he approached, and caught his shoe slightly underneath the dying woman’s head. He tripped lightly and caught himself. “Sorry love,” he called out behind him to the dying woman with the face covered in blood.
Molly heard a quiet bang. It sounded like a car backfiring; muffled and distant. She smiled.
She placed her toe underneath the baby. She pushed down and slipped most of her foot under it. The baby seemed to be looking at her but she couldn’t be sure. She stared down at it. She pushed the baby lightly with her foot. It crept across the floor. The lino tiles were uneven; it bumped against one and stopped the steady progress. Molly repeated the action, with a little more force this time. Molly gurgled with pleasure, and clapped her hands together. She raised her foot and swung her leg, aiming straight at the baby’s face. Her bare foot hit with a deadening thud, and a slightly delayed squelch. The small monstrous stranger that had invaded her life flew through the kitchen and hit heavily against a kitchen cabinet. It fell to the ground. A soft trail of baby blood weaved its way from Molly’s foot to the baby’s still body. She ran over to it and kicked, again and again. She’d run gleefully to the last place the baby landed, eager to take the next swing.
The baby’s brains had oozed out through its tiny nose, like globs of snot. Blood ran from its ears. Its soft skull concaved, the skin around its mouth was a bluey grey and its tiny hands were squeezed into angry fists.
Molly sat on the floor and examined the human football. Oh. She picked it up and it hung loosely in her arms. Its cold grey skin reminded her of preparing the Christmas day turkey. Plucking away the remaining few feathers with a pair of tweezers. Pulling apart its legs and stuffing it. Covering it in a thick layer of yellow butter.
She placed the baby on the table and went to the cupboard above the oven to find a roasting tin. Josh did most of the cooking now, but she could still remember where everything was kept. She undressed the tiny limp infant and softly, tenderly covered it in oil and salt. She was humming to herself tunelessly as she performed her strange kitchen duties. She felt wifely and domestic, preparing a good meal for her husband who worked a long day. She smiled at the flowers her mother had brought round. “It’s nice to have flowers in the house, baby. When you grow up you should always have flowers in the house.” The baby didn’t answer. She chopped up some garlic and rubbed it around the baby’s swollen eyes. She went and got a chopping board and potatoes and began roughly cutting them up. She laid them around the edges of the roasting tin and then lifted up the meat and placed it in the middle. She cut some rosemary from the plant pot on the windowsill.
The oven needed a couple of minutes to warm up. Whilst waiting, she maneuvered the prepared child into what she thought would be the most comfortable position. It lay on its side, with one arm under its head, propping up its face. “So that you can see out at what mummy’s doing in the kitchen,” she cooed kindly. She sat and stroked the child’s hair with her finger. The walls smiled encouragingly at her and she felt a deep sense of calm accomplishment. She smiled back.
She got up from the table and opened the oven. The heat washed over her and made her wobble momentarily. She stood back, a bead of sweat dripping down her forehead. Perhaps too hot, she thought. I mustn’t burn dinner. She turned the temperature down and then went back to the table and picked up the heavy baking tray. Normally she’d just slide it in, but the baby looked so comfortable and she didn’t want to disturb it, so she gently pulled out the top shelf with a pair of oven gloves and delicately placed the meal onto the middle of the shelf. She pushed the shelf back in and closed the oven door. She peered through the greasy window and smiled. For the first time, the baby’s face was in perfect focus. It opened its little eyes and beamed at her. Molly waved through the window and the baby copied. It had lovely, rosy cheeks and plump little feet. It gurgled and laughed and smiled an angelic smile.
“Thank you for today,” said Molly. Her body hung fluidly in the air, flowing like water to fit the available air. Outside, it started to rain.
The girl in the khaki dress walked the rest of the way home uninterrupted. She pulled her purse, phone and house keys from the oil soaked canvas bag and threw the rest straight into the black bin outside her block of flats. She unlocked the door to her flat and turned on the lights. Walked into the living room and slumped herself down on the sofa. She switched on the TV and watched an episode of a standard singing talent show full of young hopefuls with pitchy voices. She pulled her hair up into a messy bun and opened her laptop. Replied to some emails, checked various social media platforms and read the headlines. Had a quick look at her diary and planned her outfit for tomorrow. Probably best to wear flats, she decided. The rain continued to fall.
The Self Aware Lizard
I’m feeling very anxious today, said the lizard. The therapist didn’t hear him because he spoke in a tiny lizard voice that wasn’t perceptible to human ears. It’s been very hard, doing anything I used to enjoy, since I developed a sense of self, he explained. The therapist yawned and closed her notebook. The clock was ticking away every second. “Always bloody late”, she muttered, unlocking her phone and scrolling through her emails. Well, whilst you’ve got a minute, the lizard cried out in his politest voice. I could really do with chatting through some of these things, you see, I’m not sure how good I am at being a lizard. I don’t like the sun and I don’t like insects. I’m trying to go vegetarian but the plants make me retch. I can’t talk to other lizards about it because none of them understand what I’m saying. They squawk and hiss at me. They run away or try and fight me. I’m not really one for fighting, he explained. I read a page of a book you left open and I think I’m what you’d call an ‘introvert’. I’m very passive; perhaps even “pathologically submissive,” like that man you were speaking to last week. The lizard crawled head first down the wall, towards the woman. She crossed and uncrossed her legs. The lizard paused for a minute. I’d like to be a productive member of society, he said eventually. I want to find a job, but I’m not sure what I can do. I don’t think public speaking is for me, and I’m not sure I’d be great at managing people. I’d like to write books, but I can’t hold a pen. If I got a laptop maybe I could jump from key to key? It would take a while, but it would be good exercise.
The lizard got the distinct impression the therapist wasn’t paying attention to him. He wanted her to nod and murmur sympathetically liked he’d seen her do with human clients. She had a series of stock phrases that she’d drop into sentences when they got tearful. “That sounds really hard”, “I’m sorry you had to go through that” and “I’m listening” seemed to be her favourites. I wish she’d listen to me, thought the lizard. He moved slightly closer to her. Excuse me, he shouted out. The woman turned in his direction, but didn’t spot him and instead frowned out the window. My voice must be very quiet, thought the lizard. Perhaps I’ll have to tap her on the hand to get her attention. Then perhaps she can find a microphone for me. A microphone! The lizard thought of himself in a top hat and tails, compering a night at a jazz club. He held the stand of a tiny silver microphone and dipped it low as he sang jazz standards. He smiled. Perhaps that’s it, he thought to himself. Yes, I think that’s it! I’m meant to perform! I’ll find others like me (there must be others like me), maybe not lizards but frogs and mice and birds and squirrels. I can’t be the only animal who’s developed the power of speech! I’ll form a band. We’ll have tiny instruments made; little trombones and saxophones. We’ll all wear tailcoats and sunglasses and perform on a tiny stage designed for puppets.
The lizard immediately felt much calmer at having discovered his newfound purpose. He had a sense of belonging; he was forward looking and filled with vigour. He turned around to run out the window in search of his band mates. In search of his new life.
He was half way up to the window when he paused. I should really thank her, he thought. She hasn’t helped me directly, but perhaps I wouldn’t have come to this realisation if I hadn’t been listening to her therapy sessions. She might appreciate having helped me without realising. He turned back and started heading down the wall. When he was near the floor he jumped and ran across the carpet and straight up the table leg. He peered his enormous eyes over the edge of the table and hoisted himself up. The therapist was still looking at her phone and hadn’t noticed him. He pushed out his chest and boldly walked towards her. When he was only a few centimeters away he stopped and looked up at her.
“Excuse me”, he exclaimed. She looked down at the table.
She shrieked, grabbed the nearby notebook and slammed it onto the lizard. It caught the end of his tail, which immediately dropped off and writhed itself onto the floor. On no, cried the lizard, running as quickly as he could up the wall. He reached the window and dived out, clinging to the sill with his front feet. He swung upside down and scuttled along the bottom edge of the windowsill. From the other side of the sill, hidden from view, he slowly poked his head out and looked back into the room. He saw his lifeless tail on the floor of her office. The therapist kicked it with the toe of her shoe and called for her receptionist to come in and remove it.
“Strange to have a gecko in an office this high up,” said the receptionist, as she used a tissue to pick up the dead tail. She discarded it carelessly into the bin. “You think that’s strange,” laughed the therapist nervously, “I could have sworn the fucking thing spoke to me. Speaking to nutjobs all day has finally sent me round the twist.”
The lizard stared forlornly into the bin. He had always been exceptionally proud of his tail. How will I get enough protein to regrow my tail, thought the lizard sadly. Now I’m on a vegetarian diet I might not have the energy. No one will want to join a jazz band if the front-lizard has no tail. How will I find a lizard wife, looking the way I do now? A little tear welled up in his lizard eye. He stuck out his long tongue and licked it off. I’m very lonely, he sighed. It’s not easy being a self-aware lizard.
Joe Smith loved Christmas lights.
He lived at 12 Stretton Road in Derbyshire and every year his house was the talk of the neighbourhood. 3 strings of flashing blue light wrapped round his garage door. Flashing white lights zigzagged across it and lead up to the roof of the bungalow. They circled the windows and trailed down the side of the house. The front door had 5 different wreaths of flashing multicoloured lights. On the roof stood several 3-foot high reindeers, all made from flashing silver lights. The small hedges on either side of the drive were so heavily flooded in light you could hardly see the leaves. The front window looked out onto main road. Joe would sit for hours every night, as soon as the lights came on, with the curtains slightly open waving and smiling at the people who stopped to stare at his house. Most people found him slightly eccentric and harmless, and waved back, stopped and pointed out different lights their children might have missed and thought as they walked by, how much Mr Smith must love Christmas. Every so often a woman would rush by quickly, telling their child to ignore the man in the window. Frightened, perhaps, by an elderly single man staring at their children from his house. But most people enjoyed the house. They all thought it was a sign of how much Joe Smith loved Christmas.
Joe Smith did not love Christmas. Joe Smith did not love the children stopping to stare at the lights. Joe Smith did not love smiling and waving at passersby.
Joe Smith loved collecting seizures.
Hidden amongst all the lights were 6 cameras, all pointed to different parts of the drive or pavement. Inside Joe’s living room were 6 TV monitors, which were always on, always waiting. Joe sat with a notebook and pencil and waited. He loved to wait and watch. Around once every fortnight or so, someone would walk by and suddenly, with one particularly bright flash of light, they would freeze. Joe would prick up immediately at that first sign of rigidity. The hair on the back of his neck would stand on end and a shiver of excitement would run through his body. He’d quickly turn to make sure all the monitors were on and all 6 cameras were filming so he could save the moment for prosperity.
The person outside his house would stare blankly for a split second before crashing to the ground. Their bodies would convulse, their faces turn blue. He’d try desperately to hide his smile from any potential onlooker as the seizing body cried out. If there were people around they’d come rushing over. Phone ambulances, offer water, kneel down beside the stranger and speak to them in the most panicked calm voice imaginable.
Joe Smith didn’t like that people tried to help. They got in the way of his secret joy. But he had learnt over the last few years not to make a fuss. He just accepted that people got in the way of his particular hobby.
He was the seizure collector. Collecting every contortion and cry in immaculate detail; on film, in his notebook and most importantly, in his mind. Locked away in his memories forever.
Joe Smith hung out by hospitals and researched epilepsy support groups at which he could volunteer, during the rest of the year. But nothing was ever quite as wonderful as the immediacy of the driveway seizures, brought on by his menagerie of flashing lights.
Joe Smith loved Christmas lights.
An old woman is sat in a church smoking a cigarette. She’s wearing a brown mac and a light blue headscarf. Her nose is running from the cold, but she doesn’t have a tissue. She wipes it on the back of her hand. She spent last Christmas with her son’s family. They were loud. Christmas was always busy and messy at theirs. She felt particularly tired for those 4 days she spent at their house every year. They played the television too loud and the dog barked too often. Her grandchildren had never been things she was particularly fond of. ‘Hurricanes of exhaustion’ was how she’d best describe them. Her daughter in law served Christmas dinner, piling her plate high with meat and brightly coloured vegetables that they all knew she wouldn’t touch. She sat silently staring at her plate whilst everyone else argued and chatted. Her nose began to bleed. She could have stood up and got a tissue from the windowsill. She could have asked someone to do it for her. Instead she sat, silently, and let the blood drip onto her plate. Her granddaughter noticed. She saw her glance at her frail old body and quickly look away. Little cunt refused to help. She could have got her a tissue. But the selfish little cow couldn’t even bear to look at her. The old woman lets the blood continue to drip onto the hand-embroidered tablecloth. She’d spent hours stitching the cream lace trimmings before her son’s wedding. Presented it to her new daughter on her wedding day with great pride. It was folded in a cupboard for 364 days of the year. Brought out every Christmas day without fail, and absolutely not to be bled on. God, she hates that fucking tablecloth. The girl starts to cry. She tries desperately to stifle a tiny sob, pretending a bit of food had gone down the wrong way. She pushes her fork off the table and slid off her chair to fetch it. Underneath the table, inside the church of feet, it’s safe to let tears pour down her cheeks. She weeps because of the disintegration of this woman; the rotting of her body. She would tell anyone who say her that she was crying for her grandmother, but really she is crying for herself. Crying for her own humanity; for not being able to forgive herself for being something that will eventually die and be buried. She’s angry at this strange old woman; this skeleton with flesh. Angry at her pathetic-ness. At her quiet acceptance. Selfish little fucker. “Oh”, her son says suddenly. “Mum, your nose is bleeding, let me get you a tissue.”
I was really sick all over my carpet following a seizure. I came round and had to clean it up. I got a cereal bowl and a dessertspoon and spooned the sick into the bowl before flushing it down the toilet. Then I crawled into the kitchen and got the cranberry washing up liquid. I squirted it onto the stain and used warm water and a scrubbing brush to lift the mark and the smell. It was around 5am, so after that I got into bed to sleep it off. I told my boyfriend about it the next day and he told me it was a ‘funny and depressing enough a story to be made into one of my ‘art poems’’. So I wrote it down and here it is.
There was a decapitated pigeon head on Magdalen Bridge last Thursday. The bigger colleges have hired out hawks to kill the pigeons, so there are a lot of pigeon carcasses littered around Oxford. It was strange and sad and a little amusing so I took a photo of it and posted it onto my Instagram. I received a message from a girl I’d never spoken to telling me I was “cruel and disgusting” and “didn’t value life.” Within the day it was taken down for infringing community guidelines. I knew Instagram censored human bodies, but the decapitated pigeon discrimination took me by surprise.
The train journey home from Oxford for the Christmas holiday was a nightmare. I over packed and couldn’t maneuver my case properly. Someone was in the seat I’d booked and when I (politely) told him, he got really shirty and angry. I had to bite my lip really hard to stop myself from crying. I sat down and between Oxford and Birmingham I threw up three times. The first time I managed to get to the train toilet but the second two times I vomited into a plastic bag I’d picked up from the floor. The man next to me had his arm digging into my ribs and I kept having tics and partials and hitting him. He got angry and kept shoving me away, which made the partial seizures worse. The train’s ubiquitous screaming child was sat behind me and people who had to sit separately were shouting down the carriage to each other. I know it can be hard to recognise partial seizures, but if I see someone in distress and vomiting I offer tissues or ask if I can help.
On all official forms and medical records etc I always write my name as ‘Jessica’ and I don’t know why, because I’ve always only used ‘Jess’ and everyone calls me Jess. Sometimes when people call me by my full name I genuinely don’t realise they’re talking to me. Nothing irritates me quite as much as when I send an email ending it with, “Best, Jess” and someone replies “Dear Jessica”. Yesterday (when I was in a particularly snippy mood) I replied “Dear Liamica”. He didn’t seem to understand my point.
For Christmas I’ve ‘adopted’ a brown bear for my boyfriend from the WWF. I had to give them his information to have the adoption in his name and was a bit worried they’d email him about it before Christmas. So I sent him a text telling him to ignore any emails from companies he didn’t recognize. He replied, “Don’t worry, as part of my efforts to be taken seriously as an academic I ignore all emails for a minimum of 2-3 months.”
Snippet of conversation between my grandparents: Grandfather (Dada): “Is there much sex in Harry Potter?” Grandmother (Mama): “I wouldn’t worry about it John.” Dada: “I’m not worried Margaret, just hopeful for the chap.”
“It’s not about that!” she sobbed, slamming her fist on the table. “Jesus Christ, Lorna, I’ve told you to drop it!” The blonde woman, face red and blotchy, eyes swollen from crying, let out another stifled sob. “I think I’m going to be sick,” she said. “For God’s sake, Lorna, this is what I’m talking about. You get yourself into such a state over nothing”. He put a cigarette in his mouth and lit in on one of the candles in the middle of the table where they were sat. “You get yourself so worked up.” He exhaled a cloud of smoke. She coughed. “Over nothing.” Lorna started playing with the pearl necklace she was wearing with a shaky hand, twisting it round her little finger tight enough till she could feel her pulse in her red fingernail. They sat silently for a moment. “Frank, honey,” she began softly, “I just want you to speak to him. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, just tell him I don’t feel comfortable with it.” “No, Lorna. You’re a big girl, if it’s such a problem you tell him”. “He’s your brother! And he won’t listen to me, he’ll think it’s all a big joke.” “’Cause that’s what it is, Lorn,” he said. “A joke. A harmless bit of flirting. He’s just giving you a nice bit of attention.” “It’s not harmless,” she shouted. She hated how quickly she lost her composure, after calming herself down not 20 seconds ago. For a moment, it made her as angry with herself as she was with him. With both of them. “It’s not harmless,” she repeated, quietly. “He always tries to get me alone, to brush up against me as he walks past. Last time we had a meal at his, he kept tapping his foot against mine.” “Foot tapping? Christ, you’re right, Lorn, he’s the devil,” sneered Frank. The tears welled up in her eyes again. “What if it was Emily? Would you say something if he was doing it to Emily?” “Jesus Christ Lorna!” Frank roared, shooting out of his chair and knocking over his half full gin and tonic. “So he’s a paedophile as well now, is he?” “I never said that!” “Yes you did! You’re accusing my brother of being a paedophile, my own fucking brother!” “I never said that,” she screamed. “How could you even think that. You’re sick. That’s twisted.” “That wasn’t what I meant.” “That’s some twisted shit. Accusing a man like that. Telling people these things. Making him out as some kind of monster – and Emily! For God’s sake she’s a kid. That’s some twisted shit. You’re ill, Lorna. You’re not well. That’s not right, you don’t go saying those things about a man.” Frank walked over to the brown leather armchair and threw himself down in it. He pulled the small table with the ashtray on it closer to him with his foot, leant forward and tapped the end of the cigarette. He shook his head, “it’s not right to say that about a guy,” he muttered. Lorna sat quietly for a little while, until her hands had stopped shaking enough to clear the plates silently. She took them through to the small, clean kitchen and shut the door behind her. Calmly, she pushed the leftover food into the bin with one of their knives and filled the sink with warm soapy water. She washed the plates slowly and methodically in repeated circular movements. She glanced at her reflection in the tap, saw her distorted blotchy features and allowed herself a grim chuckle. Dean wouldn’t touch her if he saw her now, she thought. Dean was a flirt; everyone knew that. Well maybe not everyone, but his wife certainly did and that seemed greater than everyone in Lorna’s books. Lorna had seen her sister-in-law glance at her husband angrily and despairingly and a strange mix of the two at every public event they’d been to. He could always be found, his hand on the waist of a tiny young girl, seemingly enraptured by her every word. But with Lorna it was different. There was something cold and menacing in every tiny gesture he made towards her. She could never quite put her finger on it, but there was something about the way he spoke to her that scared her. She’d asked Frank often enough to tell his brother to leave her alone, but it always ended in a calamitous argument. She was oversensitive, naïve, manipulative or downright lying, in his eyes. He’d never seen Dean do anything untoward. Every so often Lorna wondered if it was all in her head. Maybe Dean didn’t flirt threateningly with her. Maybe he was very friendly. Perhaps he didn’t exist at all. Maybe Frank had no brother; he was just a fantasy she’d made up to kill time before her hardworking husband came home. Maybe there was no work. Maybe there was no Frank. But the night terrors would always bring her back to reality. Always the same, small subtle movements of dream-Dean, coming closer towards her, till she woke up, paralyzed with fear and drenched in her own sweat. “Listen, Lorna,” Frank said, opening the kitchen door. “Look, I really think this paranoia thing needs to get sorted. You need to see someone. Go to the doctor, find someone to talk to.” He flicked the end of his cigarette into the dirty sink water. “God, you look a mess,” he said, pushing a piece of hair behind her left ear. “A pretty girl like you shouldn’t ever look like this, Lorna. Not unless someone’s died, maybe,” he laughed, bitterly. Lorna stared at the floor. “I just think,” she began. “No, Lorna.” He stated firmly. “I’ve had enough of this. Finish the washing up and come to bed. You can phone the doctor in the morning.” He turned and left the room. “I mean, Christ Lorna,” he shouted from next door, “most girls would like the attention. Bit of harmless flirting. You need to lighten up!” She listened to his footsteps get steadily quieter as he walked up the stairs to their bedroom. Then the faint noise of the TV. In a minute she’d walk up the stairs and join him. Change into her nightgown and brush her teeth in the bathroom. Get into her side of the bed and pull the covers up high. Watch whatever shit Frank had put on TV silently, until he decided to turn the lights off. He’d never been one for make-up-sex at least, so she could at least be spared that ordeal tonight. She looked at the mounted knife rack. Considered, briefly, stabbing herself in the throat or slitting her wrists. She thought about slicing one eye out of her head. She was pretty sure that would get rid of Frank and Dean for good. Neither of them would want her around then. She toyed romantically with the idea of a one eyed, independent future for a minute. Then she put the plates on the drying rack, dried her hands, turned off the light and followed her husband up to bed.
Tonight an artist on a quiet street in Cadiz lays his head on his pillow and falls in love with tomorrow. He’s thinking about he girl he saw earlier on today, whilst running his forefinger up and down his stomach. He’d smiled at her, and she’d stuck her haughty nose up in the air and trotted away, swishing her long blonde hair in his direction. He’d thought about running over to her; telling her he was harmless, that she was beautiful and he’d love to make a life with her. Take her on a first date to a little cocktail bar stylish couples went to a few miles from him. Gently intertwine his fingers with hers as her eyes filled with tears when she told him about her Dad who’d passed away 6 months ago. Stroke her arm sympathetically. Prove he wasn’t a threat. The night is hot and heavy; the kind of night that steals sleep. He thinks of the irritable shopkeeper he’d spoken to earlier on that day, who had been reading a book on Plato’s Theory of Forms. He went into the second hand bookshop often; glanced quickly and cantankerously at the posy male hipsters, with their pretentious glasses and stupid beards, who thumb through books just to impress their girlfriends. He likes the shop because it smells like stale tobacco and coffee and the owner brings his old, overweight dog in everyday. The dog sleeps under the desk, occasionally gets up and stretches his legs, or wags his tail lazily at no one in particular. He doesn’t like being stroked, but exists alongside his owner quite happily. The artist came here most days. He’d look for something to spark his imagination, to make the huge empty canvases easier to fill. Something to give meaning to the grey and black abstract shapes that cover his white studio walls. Lying in bed, he thinks of the queen in one of his niece’s storybooks. She looked so sad in her pastel dress with her golden hair, trapped in her tower. He knows she will weep in his dreams tonight. He wants to make the sad queen happy, so he masturbates whilst thinking of her. A compliment. He can mention it to her, years from now, when they’re married and sharing a jug of sangria in a local restaurant. She’ll laugh coquettishly, flash him a devilish grin and say, ‘parada, niño malo’, but she won’t mean it. She’ll want him to tell him more. Later on he’ll call her a whore whilst he’s fucking her, and she’ll keep smiling. She’ll smell like his 4 year old niece’s favourite teddy bear, and she’ll never cry in his dreams again.
There’s a naked body, bleeding from the head in the middle of my bedroom floor. I step over it, hang up my jacket and take off my shoes. Perching on the edge of the bed, I survey it for a moment before getting up and taking two steps. I kneel down and press my ear to the body. It’s dead. But I heard my own bloodthick pulse in its fever. It’s Wednesday evening, a little after 7pm and there is a dead body with my pulse bleeding in my bedroom. The metallic red treacle inside of it continues spilling out from the head. It’s stained the carpets and the smell will be hard to get out from the curtains. I don’t know what to do with a still beating corpse, so I decide to continue my evening as normal. I go to the kitchen, fry 2 eggs for dinner and set myself a solitary place at the table. I sit and eat in silence; the smell of the blood lingers in my nose and combines with the greasy egg of the kitchen air, making me repulsively aware of dead and useless things. There are 3 days worth of washing piled up by the sink, which I go through methodically in hot soapy water, before wiping down the surfaces. Back in my bedroom, it remains. It’s already October and it’s already dark, so I draw the curtains and put on the TV. If I don’t look at it, and it doesn’t look at me, we’re ok. I undress and slip into my bed, underneath the lumpy duvet. Time passes. “Look”, I hiss at the body, “I really think you better get going soon.” It does not answer me. From this distance I cannot hear my pulse within it. Time passes “They’ll be coming soon. In their grotesque toothless clutter, and it’s best they don’t find you,” I insist. More time. A pause. A sigh. “It’s just, I think you have my pulse. And they haven’t taken that from me yet, but your dead so you can’t defend it. I need it. They’ve taken everything else. I’ve been chopped up and pulled apart into tiny pieces, sailed across the world and scattered. They gobbled me up.” As I stare at this lifeless, pulse-stealing thing, my sorrow becomes an opera of snakes deep inside me. They’re coming. I’m trying to warn it. They’ll slide under the door and slip through the windows. They’re hiding under the bed; these long legged sorrow dogs, who stalk my every move. I pull the duvet up to my eyes. The TV continues to play. The stairs are creaking with the weight of their approach.