Circle of Backfire
‘Mrs Jones, the Consultant will be with you shortly’. Panic set a fire within me; I really need to sort my story out before the police get involved. I didn’t actually play a role in the deaths of the Corey’s, that was just wonderful luck, although my happiness at their passing and leaving behind little Abbey did stir my conscience with a little bit of guilt. The Corey’s were my best friends as well as my neighbours. I told others that it was their support and love that got me through the miscarriages and the failed IVF treatments, but really, it was little Abbey. That child stole my heart. She was everything I know my own child would be, she even had Sam’s eyes. We would joke about that, Joe Corey and I, about how my husband looked more like the father to Claire’s baby than he did. It was a fun joke as we knew there wasn’t any truth in it, until it made sense that it was the truth. I began to think of her as rightfully mine, Sam Jones is my husband after all. Abbey’s bright blonde hair, matched with my own, dyed hair – but that was irrelevant. It all just added up perfectly. When the car accident took the Corey’s, I knew it was a sign, a sign that Abbey belonged to me. And therefore, I’m currently in hospital, on a drip.
It was the grandparents that I needed to worry about. They just swanned in from out of town and tried to take Abbey away from me, from her home. They didn’t deserve her, they didn’t even live close by, and they only saw her once a week. I saw her every single day. I needed rid of them, not to kill them obviously, I still wanted them to babysit when I needed a night out, but still, I need them to leave. I researched the ‘tea’ carefully, poison is such a horrible word. I knew the dosage, how to administer it – herbal tea, and even how to counteract it just in case. Amazingly the remedy is just as poisonous if taken alone; ’do not consume if pregnant’ my heart ached, but when taken with the ‘tea’, it counteracts it and renders it safe.
How I managed to poison myself is beyond me. I mean my symptoms were slightly different to what I read, and I did notice how ironic it was that the symptoms were that of early pregnancy, and I was doing this to get the child.
‘Mrs Jones, it would appear you are pregnant’ Unspeakable joy filled me,
‘However, about that herbal tea you drank…….’
I’ve noticed as you get older that it’s harder to kill. So, Harry Lime wasn’t absolute in 1940s Vienna. This came to me while sitting in an eighth floor Travelodge room, gazing down on the microbial life of Spittalfields squeezing between its monoliths -the taxis, cyclists, white vans -street plankton.
I am alone but not lonely. I was here to compose myself, now looking up at the ridiculous tower crane defying all obvious physics; a stalk with a human germ in its plexi-glass bubble, higher than anyone else here about.
“We don’t know how long he’s been up there” they’d said earlier. “No radio. No phone Won’t speak back.”
The bedside phoneline burbled. “Ready?” asked the voice of London Met. “Fire Chief says one chance, or we’ll have to clear the area. That’ll be more than a mention in the Standard or Metro. A lot of trouble for everybody.”
Yes, one little life can do that.
“I’m really no negotiator.” I say.
He comes back with some urgency, “You said you thought you knew what he’d likely use as access codes to the capsule” Almost a plea, a prayer. The earlier persuasion included, no telescopic ladder in all London could reach, no copter may safely approach. There is little or no science in this solution.
In the following half hour, I am down on the street, harnessed and carabiner-ed to the slide bars affixed the tower crane’s own ladder. The emergency services have been adept at keeping this crisis small scale: no press, no crowd and few of their alarming vehicles in attendance. In high-viz and radio-integral helmet, I go hand over hand, foot above foot, eyes straight ahead to where St. Pauls is a whomever space to me, I continue in scaling this vertical metallic lace.
Above other buildings is a brighter light. The sounds change from street to air; planes in series approaching Heathrow, hoots from the river, sirens floating like balloons. All those who may cajole are now far below, but a voice crackles in my helmet saying my name with some assurances, then my name like a question. “Eddie, you’re doing great, Eddie?” “Eddie, rest if you need to, Eddie?” “Eddie, lean back into the harness when you do, Eddie?” “Eddie, how are the legs holding up, Eddie?”
My name brackets all that comes to me, the voice sounding squeezed from outer space. Now I know why I, like him I’m climbing to, have no wish to reply from up here either. This is the out of body experience. Here, you are especially alone and yet magnified to hyper awareness. I whisper little nonsenses as a round, to keep that part of the brain occupied, to keep imagination from paralysing me. “Hand over hand. Step above step”. My voice wobbles, my leading leg too.
A city wind joins me and gently rocks the crane. The brittle nerve holds even as I rest in this ascent to my errant Father.
Late October, winter is waiting off stage; a snatched Saturday to put the summer home to sleep.
They arrive. Check outside, check inside, all good to go – just the annual tasks of defrosting the big old freezer and closing up the garden. Like a well practised dance, he puts on the central heating, she wedges open the freezer door, and they jump back into the car to get that last hurrah takeaway coffee.
At the kitchen table they sit with hands cupped around the warm liquid, and watch the cold rain beating against the window; it paints an obscure watercolour – a watery transformation of the beautiful Donegal landscape.
Coffees finished, they check the time. He puts on his coat, she rolls up her sleeves.
This freezer is not a self defrosting affair – layers of ice have built up like some kind of mini ski resort. Vinegar and hot water are ready for the congealed mass, but it’s the hair dryer that’s the real ally to get this defrost in motion. She often wonders about the safety of this combination; but needs must, the weather is closing in and there’s the journey home.
The white noise of the hair dryer has a hypnotic effect on her, and she drifts off into a reverie – a melange of times past and things that she needs to do. A heavy piece of ice drops; the noise alerts her to the task in hand. The large towels are insufficient defence against this onslaught of water. Now her left knee is cold and wet; the floor shiny, almost translucent.
She looks at the gathering speed of the melt, the gained momentum from the hair dryer.
Her thoughts turn to ice caps and the warning mantras of David and Greta.
Her thoughts turn to how each of us is a hair dryer blowing out heat.
Her thoughts turn to the watery landscape on a Donegal window.
She hopes it is not a portent of our future.
Fantasy in Blue
At the corner of my eye a cobalt blue light flitted across the room. At first, I thought it was my eyes playing up. I just blinked, gave my eyes a wee rub, cleaned my glasses and put them back on again.
As I tried to focus, I could still see this light flickering here and there in the dark evening. The room was mostly flooded with darkness apart from the wee light at my writing desk. Suddenly I saw the light again, fluttering as though it had wings, but it was too fast to be a butterfly. I decided to just keep writing away on my short story and to ignore this strange blue dancing light. I think I’ve lost it, too much time creating characters for stories swirling round my head.
The light came closer, stayed for a few seconds, and darted away again. However, in those brief seconds it looked like a girl with beautifully decorated wings. I gasped, and nearly spluttered out my cold tea which had lain too long on my desk. How on earth did she come into my cottage? Why is she here?
I thought I should go for a wee walk into the kitchen, it was time to put the kettle on and make a fresh, hot mug of strong tea. Surely, I had to be seeing things and my imagination was running away with me. The blue light swooped towards me and stopped at my eye level.
“It is a real fairy; I’ve finally lost it”, I declared aloud. I could see however that she had a fearful look on her face. There were empty jars on the kitchen shelf, and she pointed at one. I opened it, she hopped in and then gestured for me to close the lid on her.
I sat down bewildered and examined this fantastic blue creature. She looked so sad and lonely. I continued to watch her as she sat there with her wings still fluttering. She looked at me as if I had all the answers to her problems.
However, as I was about to start some sort of conversation with her, a heavy darkness took over the kitchen. Suddenly the room turned cold, a shiver ran down my spine, the fairy panicked with fright and the last thing I experienced was everything going black.
Home at Last
Lil wanted to be with Stan so badly. She’d been waiting for this day for such a long time. It seemed like a million years since they’d last set eyes on each other. In reality, it was only six, six very lonely years.
She could see Stan in the distance, smiling and waving. Her cells danced and collided with joy at the very sight. He looked much younger than she remembered, and when he called out her name, she tingled all over; the object of her desire finally within reach.
But she hesitated, hovered on the edge of oblivion, like a caged bird too afraid to fly. Fearful thoughts raced through her head, rattling her to the very core. But she knew if she waited too long they could stop her. They had the power to do that. And what if Stan didn’t wait? What if this was her only chance to be with him?
The thought of letting this opportunity pass was beyond contemplation. So she steadied herself, took one last breath, and made the giant leap into Stan’s outstretched arms — home at last where she belonged.
All frenzied activity came to an abrupt halt as a weary silence descended upon the medics in the crowded cubicle.
The duty registrar hung his head and sighed, ‘There’s nothing more we can do for her now. She’s gone.’ Then he set the defibrillator on the blood spattered trolley, glanced at the clock, and declared.
‘Time of death, 4,53pm,’
Home is the Sailor
When he reached the top of the hill, Tom turned to look back at the view, fields stretching below his feet and falling down to the harbour, and the sweep round the bay to the cliffs. Never disappointing, it was particularly welcome when he returned from a long spell at sea.
Smiling, he lifted the latch of the cottage and entered, dropping his pack on the earth floor. His senses were flooded with the joy of being home. The peaty scent from the fire wafted over him, mixed with the smell of soup bubbling in a pot. Wild flowers sat in a jug atop a clean white cloth on the table.
At a sound from the bedroom, he turned to see a child toddling towards him, arms and legs spread wide to balance his unsteady steps. Tom gasped.
‘Can this be my son grown so big? He was but a babe in arms when last I saw him.’
‘None other,’ said Nerissa, his wife. ‘Babes in arms do grow and learn very quick.’
‘And he can walk?’
‘As you see,’ laughed Nerissa, ‘aye and swim what’s more.’
‘Swimming already? He’s his mother’s son all right.’
‘He is, but longing to see his daddy too.’
‘Da da,’ said the little lad.
With a cry of delight and tears wet on his cheeks, Tom raised the boy into his arms and hugged him tight. He gazed at Nerissa, still the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen in all his travels, golden hair hanging down her back and green eyes sparkling. He thought, not for the first time, that he was the luckiest man alive.
As Tom sat by the fire later that night, Nerissa rocked the baby’s crib and crooned a lullaby. Soon she came to sit at his feet, leaning her golden head against him.
‘How happy we are,’ said Tom, stroking her silky hair.
‘If only we could stay here like this all the time.’
‘Oh Tom, my love, we have talked about this many times. You know it cannot be any different.’
Tom sighed and sucked on his pipe. Nerissa continued.
‘What would you do when I went out to sea?’ she said.
‘I would miss you, as I do when I go off to sea.’
‘Exactly, but now that Kai can come too, we are always with you. He must also spend many days at sea. He is, as you say, his mother’s son.’
‘With his mother’s beautiful eyes,’ said Tom, and folded her into his arms.
Before many weeks had passed, Tom set out once more to board the Stella Maris, bound this time for India with cotton goods to exchange for tea. He kissed his wife and son at their door and made his way down the hill.
When it was dark, Nerissa slipped into the water from the rocks and swam off in the wake of the ship, her son tethered by a string to her wrist, their sparkling tails glistening in the moonlight.
I should have stayed awake last night, stayed up with Morwenna to dance in the moonlight, to watch as the wind played with her hair, as the stars gathered in her laughing eyes. Instead, I’d slept, holding her in my arms, enjoying the warmth that I’d missed for those dreadful months, breathing in the salt that still clung to her, pulling her closer as the fear in the back of my mind charged to the forefront. Something as wonderful as this could only last for a time. No matter the wonder and the magic that came with it, I was tied to this world and Morwenna to somewhere else. I was going to lose her again, and I was dreading it.
I woke to a grit covering me, throwing back the sheets to reveal a patch of sand, peppered with seashells. Leaping from my bed, I shouted her name. The house seemed to sprawl before me, each door leading into an impossibly elongated room that twisted in front of me, left then right, leading me back to the door I’d first entered. Blood rushed in my ears like crashing waves.
I found her curled up in the tub, arms wrapped around her knees, sobbing. With each heave of her tears, sparkling sand fell from her hair. It had started to climb her back as it gathered behind her.
“I don’t know what’s happening,” she said, though as I looked into her eyes, I knew that was a lie. She’d known just like I had, that something would bring our time together to a close. She was smaller now, inches shorter than the night before.
“Where do you want to go?” I asked. She held out her arms like a child, and I pulled her towards me. She wept on my shoulder and I could feel the sand tickling my skin as it passed on its way to the floor.
“The beach,” she whispered into my ear. “Take me back to the waves.”
I helped her from the tub. She left crumbs behind as she walked, footprints of sand on the hallway carpet, little periwinkle shells bouncing as they landed.
Her limbs were frail now, her muscles worn away and scattered on the floor, so I carried her. In a mirror of our first time entering the house, I carried her across the threshold and down onto the empty strand.
She’d stopped crying, instead whispering as many words as she could to me, anything that came into her head, telling me all she could while she was able. I could feel her growing smaller as I walked. The water rushed around my feet, and she gasped as if she felt the cold too. I walked forward until the water was at my waist. The current slowly pulled Morwenna from my arms. First her limbs, then her torso. Soon enough, I held her face in my hands. With one last smile, she was gone, a golden cloud in the tide.
I knew friends that introduced me to other friends of theirs from a different school as a child as I was growing up aged fourteen. One of the friends, I got to know her mother and father. I looked after Veronica’s dog; Veronica could always see the good in me. I last ten years I would meet Veronica for coffee in her town.
The friend who I got to know her mother, I was experiencing problems at home, but the support that I got from the friend called Cara and her mother was very supportive and good. Cara’s mother is called Veronica.
I remained friends with Cara for a few years till we grew apart. I kept in contact with her mother, when I wasn’t in contact with Cara. Every time Cara gave birth, I would have rung her mother’s house and then Cara would be there after giving birth.
I kept in touch through writing to Cara’s mother. When I thought of moving away to Brighton, Cara came back into my life, which we resumed contact again. We parted company for two years, but resumed contact again after two years and still remain friends to this day.
I still keep in contact with Cara’s mother by ringing her every week and Cara phones me every week. Friendship spanning thirty-four years, which is a good story to tell and hear. Cara’s mother looks up to me and is proud of what I have achieved.
My foster parents didn’t want me to see Cara and her friends, so I didn’t tell my foster family about Veronica. Veronica looks up to me and sees me as an inspiration to her.
today I am not a big girl I am not a tall four and a half years old girl I don’t want to be mummy’s clever little woman or daddy’s grown up lady with a purse full of gold coins and keys to his heart I don’t want to be a not going out girl a stay in your room girl a not seeing your friends girl a not going to playgroup girl a not in the park girl
today my forgetting is hugely giant-size and my remembering is a scrapy little dot a scringly little spot a lesser than the number one right up to uninfinity
today I have forgotten how to butter daddy’s toast and set out his breakfast I have forgotten to smile for daddy until my teeth hurt I have forgotten how to hear when he is speaking I have forgotten how to say yes and every word in my mouth tastes more sourer than pee
today I am a hiding secret littliest baby creature smaller than a snail but bigger than an ant, because ants are so tiny that people can just crush them without even seeing them just be careful you don’t squoosh a snail shell because it makes a snot smeary mess don’t make a mess don’t make a mess
today I am the boss of the doll’s house and I can go in there and out of there whenever I like because I am unbig and unvisible.
today I am uglyface angry because the dolls are all in the kitchen and I didn’t tell them they could get out of bed. I didn’t give them my sirmission and I am so uglyface uglytummy scrunchytoe mad.
today I don’t like the teeny red tulips in the meany red vase on the kitchen table in this silly old screamy old dolls house. So I snap them off their skinny stemsticks and put them under the pillows in the bedrooms upstairs, one under the boy doll’s pillow, one under the girl doll’s pillow, and the other two under the mummydaddy pillow and I wish I could die them.
today red is my least good colour and the doll’s house is my worstest big toy and my hands are full of hating it
today daddy’s matches are whispering at me, they say they are hating, hating their box and those dolls and those tulips and the whole horrible house I want to let them out and give them loud shouty voices and we can all make a great big roaringly orangey scream.
The Absence of Things
The rain came today, plumping on the heads of the daisies & dandelions
that, despite the odds and the frequent applications, carpeted the gardens.
Today was a day for jumping in puddles, in wellies previously tucked up for the summer.
If you hadn’t already been out, that is.
Birds sang, colour sprung from hedge & field and garden,
gussied up for spring and collective boredom,
sending those less green fingered to prune, and paint and make new.
To avoid the absence of things.
We talked in measured distances, ramming weeks of missed communication
into random pavement hook-ups. Brought homemade bread for the ducks.
Days shrank, expanded, spanned continents and anniversaries;
technological wizardry filled with boxes of smiling faces.
Sunsets. The Bann searched her back catalogue and displayed the greatest hits
on a beach lacking car tracks but gathering footprints.
Accidental on purpose weaving of new trails through the dunes.
To avoid the absence of things.
We learnt of time, tidal patterns, and the plumage of the coastal wanderers,
dallied with new obsessions. Traditional routes neglected; journeys taken with our fingers,
unlocking secrets with a different set of keys.
Cried. Laughed till the snotters ran, joined the numberplate warriors in their statistical analysis.
Booked and rebooked, postponed and resubmitted our plans.
Breathed in the spaces, in the gaps in our knowledge,
in the cracks and the mending and the newness of us,
in the absence of things.
The Bone Collectors
The plastic bags, tied at the top, stood like sentries one hundred metres apart along the roadside. Monuments to the decaying society to which their fillers belonged.
A small red car sped past, creating a dust storm in its wake. The fillers of the bags covered their mouths and noses and eyes, and choked on the cloud.
Charlie rubbed his red eyes and wiped the tears that streamed from them. Not a drop of rain would fall while the second sun hung side by side with its brother. The blazing heat evaporated all moisture before it had a chance to build up in the atmosphere, leaving the surface dry as the bones that Charlie was collecting for the miners.
The punishment didn’t fit the crime, Charlie thought. Twenty days in the heat of the Double Summer. All he did was bury his pa according to the old ways. Six feet down, covered in what passed for soil. The soil was too thin and refused to settle. The high winds of the Second Spring blew the fragile mound all over the field and then the gendarmes came knocking.
Charlie had no trial. He was placed in holding unit then transported to the roadside of one of the former colonies, Charlie and his fellow prisoners would collect the bones of the dead for the full duration of the Double Summer. Back breaking work during Spring and Low Fall, the excruciating heat of the two suns was the torture the magistrates deemed punishment for each and every infringement of their New Laws. Sixty men started on the road leaving the capital eight days ago, now only forty-two remained. The men that didn’t make it were left to rot on the edge, to be picked up next year by the criminals of that season.
Eighteen hours in the heat; bending, stretching, bending, stretching. Trucks passed once an hour with water, and they ate when the suns went down. Charlie knew some of the so-called crimes of his fellows, but was struggling to remember their names. As he looked down his side of the road, he rhymed off what he could recall; “Burial, Eating in Public, Failure to Report for Examination, Burial, Washing during Double Summer”
Only a sliver of the smaller sun remained, its crescent brightened to an angry orange glow as it burned the remaining eight men on its final day. The trucks passed, picking up filled bags, and dispensing the meagre amounts of water on the hour. The drivers began shouting encouragement from time to time, telling them they were making good progress and should reach the second city ahead of time. Emboldened, the men doubled their efforts, straining every muscle and sinew to reach the end of their sentence.
Two days after the second sun had disappeared entirely, Charlie collapsed onto the roadside. A small red car sped creating a dust storm in its wake. He had no tears left to wipe away.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are on our final approach to Birmingham International airport. The captain has turned on the fasten seatbelt sign so can you now please switch off any electronic devices, bring your seat into the upright position, make sure your armrests are down and tables are stowed. The toilet facilities are no longer available for use.”
His seatbelt was already fastened, as it normally was. He was terrified of flying and it always made him feel safer to have the seatbelt on even though he knew that if there was a catastrophic incident involving the plane the seatbelt would be meaningless.
As meaningless as everything else seemed to be at the moment.
His mum had suffered from anxiety and depression for many years, which ultimately led to her being committed on three occasions, before she ripped off her mortal coil in true soap opera style.
He resolved that he would never fall victim to that pointless self-indulgent affliction. He was stronger than that.
He took after his dad. A smart, capable guy who had a wonderfully optimistic outlook on life and a zest that was infectious to all around him. He was more like his dad, for sure.
Except he wasn’t.
After his dad’s arrest, he portrayed the stoic, loyal and supportive son despite some niggling concerns that they might actually have evidence. The trial put paid to any uncertainty when it all came out in its finest, grotesque, sickening glory.
He could hear her talking in the background.
He knew she was speaking to him as he could hear his name, but the voice was distant and even though he knew he needed to, and wanted to respond he felt debilitated, like he had been stunned or was in a coma, at the very least some semi lifeless state from which he could not shake himself.
He couldn’t move, he couldn’t speak. How had he got to this place.
All of that shit with his parents, he had dealt with.
Jenny leaving him and taking the kids, he had dealt with.
His promotion had meant more money, sure, but the additional pressure? He had dealt with that too.
But Bruno. Taking Bruno to the vet for the last time must’ve been the straw that finally broke ‘his’ back.
She gently touched his forearm with her hand.
Bang! He was back in the room.
“Colin, are you alright?” she asked him.
He turned and looked at her. He inhaled like it was his first gulp of air after returning to the surface from an ill-fated scuba-diving trip.
He knew what he had to do.
“I’m grand”, he said.
He screamed silently, “No I’m not. Get me out of here. I hate flying. I hate this, I hate it.”
“Go on then” she said.
He cleared his throat and pressed the button.
“Birmingham control tower from Echo India 4 5. Landing checks complete we are on final approach to easterly runway 2”
She was supposed to be happy when he handed her the keys. No matter how many times, he never learned. It crushed him when she said, ‘What’s that?’
‘It’s the keys for your new office.’
‘I have an office.’
‘You said you wanted a proper office, outside the house.’
‘I got used to it here. But it doesn’t matter anyway.’
‘Why are you like this?’ There it was, the million dollar question. ‘Why do you think I’m doing all this?’
‘Because you don’t know how else to be, what else to do with yourself. Go and see a therapist. They’ll help you figure it out.’
‘They haven’t helped you figure anything out!’ White flash of rage. This fucking therapy and him the one paying for it! Paying to make her hate him more, Jesus, he might as well cut his own throat and be done with it, maybe cut hers too, that would sicken her. Sicken him too of course, he was a good man, why was she like this? Why did she make him like this? ‘Spend the money at the optician! You don’t see a thing I do for you.’
‘Well you don’t listen to me so maybe you’re deaf. I keep telling you – this isn’t what I want. None of this.’ Waving her hand at the house, so dismissive, his life’s work he has given her, the hours he has spent working into the night for her kitchen and sofas; the apartment in Spain where the wifi’s so shite he can hardly get the work done. Her swanning off by herself with her books and her journals to find herself and him the mug funding the search party.
‘I do all of this for you. Every single bit of it, for you.’
‘I don’t know who it’s for. Maybe the ghost of your dad. It’s not for me though, not one bit of it. I never wanted it. I just wanted a walk with you of an evening, watch a bloody box set together, not sit on my own while you work. Sure it’ll help you catch the next one. The one all this shite matters to.’
He watched her drop the keys on the hall table she’d gurned for, careless, like she wanted to scratch it. Watched her walk outside with the bag over her shoulder, watched her pull her own keys out – the one to the camper van, the one she bought and paid for with her own money, she liked to say, forgetting the loan he took out to cover the other half – and watched her reverse out of the drive.
As she drove away, she didn’t look back.
She never checked the tyres, let alone the wheel arch. That was another one of his jobs. That and the insurance and sorting the tracker for it, the one she didn’t even know was there.