Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Spirit of the Ages

Pursed lips, pearl chokers - all symbols of a reluctance to relinquish the illusion of superiority. The new spirit of freedom barely mourned its predecessor, its worshipping at the altar of posessions over substance was electrifying to the newly initiated. A palace of mind-numbing egotism beckoned. Neither old nor new was a real advert for itself.

The copyright of this post belongs to Jenni Crowe

Conned by Birds

All hucksters are by nature sceptics. Don’t bet on a thing until you can see it, he told himself. ‘Til you’re 100 miles clear of the town you’re still in translation; the mark receding into the background relieved of whatever nature saw fit to relieve him or her of. It was a measured game – talk yourself into the confidences of some guy on a yacht, talking about his centreboard, drunk on rum but with money to invest. The huckster had a measured patter: taut, reasonable, pithy. He could get contemplative about the stars in the night sky just for effect: out on the yacht and trying to push through a book deal.
Just one thing bothered him: the sweet-voiced birds that sang, tiny as feathers themselves, delicate as spun silk. Curled up at night in the galley he would hear them in the hedgerows adjoining the mooring. He knew they stirred the yacht-owner in the morning, keeping his eye close on the boat’s lockers as the sun rose.
The huckster rose before dawn. The yacht-owner was snoring in a chair on deck. He was reaching for the key to the lockers that hung around the yacht-owner’s neck when a sudden trill came from the hedgerow, a trill that rapidly grew into a chorus. The sailor stirred in his chair, but resumed his snoring. But the excitable chorus grew still louder. It was too late: the yacht-owner was awake. ‘Hello, Keith,’ he said. ‘Effing Machiavellian hummingbirds,’ the huckster swore under his breath.

The copyright of this post belongs to Ben Hargreaves

Monday, 9 December 2013

Basket Case

Fires await a basket full of live crabs. The cook is irascible, the crabs are malformed; mindless they clamber over one another, far too small. He sees a dead mouse on the floor below and kicks it down the side of the cooker. Above the galley, three wise monkeys sing: they are penning a tale of licentiousness and gin. A pen apiece and for each new lyric, a prize from the red, white and blue sweetie jars above their eyes. Outside this home of monkeys, mice and cook, the afternoon falls softly by the sound of a plunging brook: dust motes are flicking through the twilight.
Rabbit is not for the pot yet, though each passing evening brings surrender closer, and the promise of spring. For now, cocooned in the under-earth, for her, winter’s implacable onslaught is escaped.

The copyright of this post belongs to Ben Hargreaves

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Master Ridley

Master Ridley, an excitable huckster from the slums of Wapping, traversed the fleabitten ways and taverns of the east end with pies and flags and bells and birds.
Master Ridley, with a rose wren in a cage upon his head, would sing his lyrical ballads and ring his bell, his wares around his neck like living necklaces. Some days hummingbirds would lie in dead piles baskets around his waist. Emotions would run high amongst the butchers at Smithfield Market who would shout and swear.
“Effin clear off Ridley, take your finicky fowls and jump in the river”.
But the fishwives of Billingsgate and the flower sellers in Covent Garden smiled
at his approach. Machiavellian tricksters often sounded cynical, but secretly enjoyed the delinquent exploits of Ridley, and the wares he peddled.
As summer days unfolded into Autumn, the centerboards of old serving tables were enlarged for harvest suppers in cobbled squares of tenement blocks. Ridley would offer worldly feminine flim-flam and measured masculine jugs of mead, which he proffered in a brusque, off hand way. This belied his own excitement of the season. For he knew as Autumn turned towards Christmas, his customers, all in awe of nature, would welcome the frosty fir cones, the roasted ducks and the pomegranate ribbons. Never questioning his dramatic musical renderings and goods, they relieved their tensions by embracing Mr. Ridley, ,the seasons, and old London town.

The copyright of this post belongs to Valerie Rule

Unmasked: Prologue

It was hot. It was dark, crowded. It always was. Of a sudden the club was oppressive. Ms Gainsbourg finished singing about the rain. Perhaps that was it, the notion of water. Contrasted with the piquancy of sweat, alcohol and expectation. Sniff it up. Maybe it was the look in my dancing partner's eyes. I had been grinding with him to the music. Trying to provoke a reaction in Therese of course. I looked around to where she'd, we'd been sitting. Gone. Of course. I blamed Noa. Dumped again, I thought. Noa had slid up and taken Therese's attention. I expected it. It happened every time we came in here. I had told myself I could handle it, tonight. That I would not sulk, whine, 'behave like a six year old with ADHD' in Therese's words. They were only talking. Why did it piss me off so.

I didn't act like a child. Did I? All the Rain had began over the speakers and I found the first guy who was interested. He was not much to look at, even in the semi darkness. But I got in close. We moved our hips in time. At least he could dance. Don't you hate it when they can't? Either throws you right off or you spend the whole song trying to not splutter. At one point I lifted my arms around his shoulders. Then turned and pushed my bottom into his crotch. He liked that. I could tell. All calculated to incite Therese. What was she doing? Totally ignoring me. Her attention seeking girlfriend. Talking to Noa who had sat in my vacated spot. Heads close. I had scowled under the strobes and turned back to the dance.

There was the brief lull between songs. I scanned the tiny dance floor, the bar area, No sign of Therese or Noa. Too crowded to see. La Rage by Keny Arkana began. A club favourite though quite old. Those around me started to move to the beat. I felt the breath of the guy on my neck. A sweet but cloying odour. His yearning for another dance leading to, to what. I tried to imagine his thoughts. Looked into his cocked face. A gun wanting to discharge. Not tonight Napoleon. I leaned up and into his ear. 'You're not my type' I whispered and stood back. He smiled 'bitch'. I shrugged, the air turned viscous and I knew I needed the sky and a ciggie.

I don't smoke. Not really. Not much. One here and there. I don't need the nicotine. My hands are fine thank you. There is another purpose. I like being out there. Outside the building at work, the smokers congregate on the corner. Some stand alone. Others in twos and threes. Not a distinct group, and changing throughout the day, but I like to think of them, of us as that. A group. Cast out to the edge of appropriate societal behaviour. Skulking, watching, and indulging in the habit that is now frowned upon. I like to be with the outcasts. Now and then. Smoking appears to add acerbity to conversation. The craic is good.

Outside the club's entrance is a set of steps down to ground level. I expected to see the bouncers, Awaz and Jac, and a couple of the clientele here, exchanging a few words amongst the smoke. The bouncers hanging by the exit. The rest gathered on the steps. But, there is no one. The surprise stopped me for a moment. Wonder where they are? Then I thought, you've never seen any trouble at the club Jo, even tough guys are allowed a break. I sauntered out and fished the fag packet and lighter out of my jeans pocket. The ritual is good. Cigarette, flare and then the tobacco, a scourging scent, washing away, for the moment, the lingering stains of wine and regret. After the first exhale, I looked up at a
clear sky. The stars were alone. They shone their ever changing permanence and had their usual effect on my petty jealousy.

My face twisted in defeat. I flicked the ash over into the stairwell. Down onto a pile of plastic sacks. Stacked. Docile, waiting to be taken away. The leftovers of nightly dreams. I'll go back in soon. Find her. Grovel. Attempt the smile she loves. I am so stupid.

Lost in this pitiable reverie, I did not notice the car pull up. Did not see it until I heard the door click shut. Thunk. I glanced down to the street. My first thought? Have I slipped back I time. Two guys, both tall, one wide one not were approaching the club dressed in suits. The street lamps caught the buttons on the double breasted jackets as they moved. Could not see their faces. They were wearing fedoras. Fedoras! I swallowed the exclamation. Are the 1940s in fashion in Paris? Do these guys spell trouble? I decided it was none of my business who they were or how they dressed. I turned back to the sacks and pondering my rubbish excuse for Therese.

Which is why, when something rough and dark was shoved over my head and I was lifted off my feet, I was a little taken aback. It was only when I was thrown into the car, and someone quelled my screaming and verbal abuse by placing what I assumed was his foot on my groin that panic set in.


He slapped me. Slapped me hard. I tasted metal. Nose filled with iron. Great, am bleeding. He's probably loosened a tooth. The force of his hand turned my head to the wall. I spat blood, my neck cricked. An electric pain went through my left shoulder and down my arm, fizzing to rest at my wrist. That was tied to its mate behind the metal chair. They'd shoved me down on it after bundling me into this room. Removed the hood. Tied my hands. The sudden glare of the fluorescents had disoriented me. I didn't struggle. It took a while to take in the place. A table, a chair, the long light strip, the bare walls left and right. Thin and not so. Little and Large. My captors. Little standing by the door. Large? Well, was very large. Over six foot and the sort of guy who'd need two seats in a plane. Large had stepped forward and slapped me.

I grinned red, 'aren't you going to introduce yourself first?' His reply was to give my other cheek the same treatment with the back of his hand. I screamed, the chair rocked. I thought it might tip over. That made me laugh. It echoed as in an asylum. That must have freaked Large. He hesitated. I wondered if I could reach his soft parts with a foot. They had not tied my feet. Before he started on my face again. I didn't want my jaw broken. Little came to my rescue. Sort of. He spoke from the shadows.

'Where is it Bridget? Just tell us and we can stop this.'

I squinted past Large at him, 'think you have the wrong girl, my name is Jo. So if you just be kind enough to....' My left cheek knew at once what Large thought of that. The pain took my breath. My head went down. Hope purple is an 'in' makeup color. Shit, my black top, the one I thought looked so good in the club earlier, was spotted with blood. Worse, the front of it was ripped. Missing some buttons. My bra was exposed. A chill flooded me. Shit, bastards, you'd better not. Think, girl, think.

'That's not very helpful is it,' sighed Little,'look, we know who you are and we know why you are in Paris. We want it Bridget. Where is it?'

I looked up at the shadow. I could not make out Little's expression. But the other's loomed. He was almost licking his lips. They would beat out of me what they wanted. Eventually. I knew that. Maybe giving them an address would work. Buy me a little more time. The B word had confused me. Luckily, my face had been hurting too much to show it. I hoped. Not a moment to dwell on it. Try dumb.

'It would be helpful if you told me what 'it' was?' I tried my sweetest voice. I heard exasperation in Little's 'do it' and then something exploded in my face.

I am lying on some grass. The grass is warm. The sun is shining in my eyes. Right in my eyes. The warmth is seductive. I am so happy here, I want to close my eyes and sleep. I try to stretch my arms but find I cannot. Strange. The grass begins to tickle. It is rough grass that is itching my scalp. My head, the back of it feels wet. Weird, it is not raining, has not been. The sun is in my eyes. Must shut them, sleep. Sleep girl. That's what you need. Don't worry that your arms feel pinned. Don't bother about the wetness, the warmth that is seeping into your neck. Just sleep. But I cannot. Is it the sun that prevents me from shutting my eyes? Or the sounds? Some people are talking. Holding a conversation.

But I am unable to make out what they are saying . Just a few words...

'Christ, Rourke, the boss said...'
'I have'
'If she's ...'

...because there is another sound, coming from behind my head. Woo hoo, woo hoo. WOO HOO. Loud, louder, insistent. What is that? Why so noisy. Please stop, leave me to sleep. Please STOP, I try to shout. The voices don't hear me. They are fading. Where are they? I hear 'fuck', and 'come on' and 'if you think I...' The woo hoo has stopped as well. Thank the cosmos. I can sleep now. If only I could close my eyes, curl up on this grass. Come on you can do it close those...

...and I opened them to darkness. To darkness and a world of discomfort. My nose was blocked. Stuffed. I found it hard to breath. Shit, Large punched me in the face. The bastard.Next time I see him...ahh, excruciating pain scuttled down my spine. I was on the floor. Still tied on the chair. My head was lolling back. In something wet. Oh no, I realized the wet was me, the force of Large's punch had knocked the chair backwards and...and, I hit my head. HIT my head! Great, bleeding from in front and behind. Don't think Therese is going to be pleased to see me for quite some time. Who were those guys? No time to figure that out. Need to move. Move before. I tried to lift my head, the pain slammed down my spine again. And the room spun for a few seconds. Don't pass out. Don't pass out. You need to get up and get to a hospital. I told myself to rethink. Maybe the force of the fall has loosened my bonds. If I can free my hands I could perhaps roll off the chair without becoming unconscious.

I tried them. Bugger, no. Just as tight. In fact, digging in harder now. Surely, I am not going to bleed to death in this crappy room. It is spinning again. I cannot stop it. I cannot
get off the chair, off the floor. Cannot move without making the pain and the spinning worse. Rather undignified end, I told myself. And began to laugh. The asylum laugh again. I was passing out and remembering words from Baker's psychiatric report on me, 'She has borderline personality disorder and a predisposition to be a psychological mirror...she should make an excellent subject if she can be controlled'.

If she can be controlled.Subject. Controlled. S..U..B..C..O..N. I was spiraling down like water running out of a sink. All would be darkness soon. Down there. Nothing could touch me. The pain would be over.

But rising up to meet me were footsteps. They came closer and closer. I heard something open. A door? And more steps right in my ears. Then a sharp light that dragged me, unceremoniously up from the depths, pried my eyes open. A man was leaning over me. I saw a mustache, smelled the garlic. Felt a slap.

'Oww, not another, give me a break'
'Joanne Simpson, if that is your name, I am Inspector Lefargue, and you are under arrest'. He looked to his right and gestured at someone, 'untie her and take her away.'
'Oh, you are so kind Inspector' I croaked and passed out.


This is the point where you expect a trolley rushing along whitewashed corridors. Isn't it? The tempo of movement marked by metronomic lights in the ceiling. Things beeping, the intravenous drip. A caring hand brushing away the law. That's right?

Well, there was a trolley. I woke up on it. Head like a balloon but I figured I was in a hospital. The corridor was grimy. What I saw of it. I turned on my side and stared at a wall a few inches away. On my side....patch her up, triage nurse, she must be isolated, stay here Arnoux, make sure she does not move, let me see, oh that needs a stitch, yes inspector, how many fingers, three, good you'll have to wait, how long nurse, as long as it takes. It is not serious.

Semi conscious, the words mingled in my mind. The nurse secured something thick, a gauze wad? Tied it against my head wound with some tape and left me under the gaze of 'Arnoux'. I lay on my right side as in any other position someone was taking a pneumatic drill to my head intent on making me vomit. At least I'd stopped bleeding. I concentrated on breathing. My nose felt as heavy as granite. Ignoring the copper, I became intimate with dirty marks and plaster cracks.

It may have been an hour. It may have been four. I was dozing when movement of the trolley, abrupt, roused me.
'It is okay, I take you to the doctor now'. The nurse was back, soothing. She wheeled me along the corridor and behind the curtain of a cubicle. A small cubicle. The trolley just fitted. There was no bed in there just a couple of chairs. I felt the breeze of the curtain swinging open behind and a doctor appeared in front of me. Skin the colour of coal. Hair tiny shards of slate scattered across his head. Handsome. Despite my pain, I stirred, hoping my nose had not swollen to elephantine proportions.
'What have we here,' he glanced at me. Picked up some notes hanging on a clipboard from the end of the trolley and studied them. I had not noticed them before.
'Cracked your head , hmm,' he looked up,'and your nose as well by the looks of things.
Now how did you manage that young lady?'
I opened my mouth but Arnoux spoke, 'She has been in a brawl, she is under the,' he hesitated as if stumbling over a script,'protection of the police and helping us with our enquiries. Can you please attend to her promptly?'
Arnoux was standing somewhere out of my sight. The doctor fixed him with an icy grin.
'A brawl you say. Helping you with enquiries? Well, if that's correct then she should pick her fights more wisely,' he winked at me,' always happy to aid the prefecture, but I'll decide how long she will stay here.' I stifled a laugh. I knew it would make my head worse. Pursing my lips, I wondered if sarcasm was lost on Arnoux.

I got lucky. And I didn't! The doctor, with the nurse's assistance, helped me into a chair. She then disappeared with the trolley. Arnoux stayed this side of the curtain. Where did he think I was going for gods sake? I was so groggy I felt like I'd sunk a bottle of rum. My handsome physician had a velvet touch. Gently, he lifted the gauze.

Twenty minutes later, he had examined me and my head wound was stitched. The doctor had tweaked my nose, drained it of snot and blood, assuring me it was not broke. Giving me an ice pack, 'it will return to its, no doubt, pretty shape in a day or two,' he said, his teeth a snowy backdrop to a comforting smile, ' but you have a slight concussion and must rest.' He looked at Arnoux, 'I should insist that she stays here overnight.' Arnoux's eybrows raised in offence. 'But, I know, I know,' my healer stripped the plastic gloves from his hands and threw them in a metal pan, as if signifying defeat. Plop, they fell amongst the gauze and tissues that had absorbed some of my bodily fluids. 'Your Inspector will be here giving me a hard time and insisting that you speak to her disturbing the other patients and screwing up my shift. So,' he placed a hand on my shoulder,' I am discharging her into your care on the understanding that she rests before you do what it is you have to do, okay?'

Arnoux chose not respond. I slumped inside. Fat chance of that. I stood up, with the help of the doctor's arm around my waist. When he let go, I wobbled but stayed upright. Turning, I had my first real look at Arnoux since the police 'rescued' me. Young, sandy haired, skin retaining the remains of a south coast tan. His upper body shuffled to the left, a gesture I interpreted as 'follow me'. At the curtain, I paused, looked back at the doctor. He nodded. An avuncular nod. I smiled a thank you.

So I was not going to be allowed to gather dust under the covers of sleep in a warm bed. No kindly nurse checking on me in the tiny hours, when the days events gather in grotesque or beautiful reprints on unconscious memory. Just as well perhaps. Given the day I had just had. I trudged behind Arnoux, my thoughts a murmuration. Refusing to focus, until he put the handcuffs on me. With undue ceremony it seemed. In the middle of A&E reception. Bastard. In the midst of ubiquitous pain and frustration, he offered the assembled a piece of drama. Something to tell their loved ones when they got home or crow about at the office tomorrow. The man who was holding a receptionist in lubricious conversation stopped and condemned me with a sideways glance. A woman in the front row of those waiting to be seen looked up from comforting her baby. Her expression was more of resignation. My baby is ill but this criminal is seen first. I saw it in her eyes. Heard it in the baby's cry. I'm not, I wanted to shout, I haven't done anything but Arnoux had gripped my arm and was marching me past and through the whispering mob.

I was losing the battle with tears - salty that made my nose worse - and I realised I left the ice pack behind. Bum. We stepped outside. The air was mild. Good job, I thought, cold weather would finish me off. Arnoux marched me to where a car was parked in front of the
hospital. Dark blue in the sodium lights, windows tinted. He reached for a door with his free hand and shoved me down and into the back of the car. Oh you are breaking new ground now girl. This is much worse than your daily trip to the library of your self loathing. Head down I gave up and let the tears flow.


I looked up at the sardonic Inspector Lefargue. He was in the passenger seat in front looking back at me. Sighing, and sniffing loudly, I edged forward and let him put one between my lips and light it. Thank the gods, at least the man is civilized.


What matters? What really matters? Is it not that moment in a life, a defining moment when you realize that the rules you have been following are for a game no longer played. A crystallizing of thought, light cast upon a diamond in the dark. You know that what you do, say, decide, at that point has the ability shatter your life and reform it in patterns that you may not see. As if you had sat with a telescope searching for a star called contentment, and decades later some smart arse tapped you on the shoulder and pointed to a different part of the firmament. Thanks mate.

I knew my moment. When Lefargue had thrown the europol report on the table in front of me and began his questions, I remembered it, I felt it as clearly as when it happened. But Lefargue's action was not only the trigger for memory, in it the pattern that had been set in motion was beginning to emerge. I saw it coming now. For a second, I was Galileo discovering a planet in the soupy sky. The feeling was intoxicating and terrifying.

There was no rest, except when Lefargue left the room. His courtesy extended to coffee, fags and painkillers. And the loo, once, hours ago. The blinds on the windows behind were I sat were beginning to filter the dawn. I looked down at the torn packet of Gitanes. A metaphor for my predicament, for me - empty, crumpled, and bad for my health. Was I bad for myself? Post-modernist nonsense or zen like insight? Whatever, Lefargue was off again, interrupting my pity-filled internal moaning. I tried to focus on him. Through the fog of pain spreading from my frontal lobes down my nose, continuous despite the tablets, I looked at his face. Serious but relaxed. Convinced I was hiding something. As if he could keep this up forever, until I said what he wanted to hear.


Lefargue stubbed his cigarette in the ashtray between us. He flashed me an incredulous smirk. 'Come Ms Simpson, I said tell me what you are doing in Paris?'

'I have already told you, over and over I don't know how many times.'

'Yes but tell me again, just so I have it right.' He sat forward and placed his elbows square on the table. Didn't he ever get tired. His smile betrayed years of smoking. 'After all, I do like a good story.'

The copyright of this post belongs to Gabrielle Goldsmith

The Butterfly

The Butterfly.

Philip had come to the pub to be around people. To hear normal life going on all around him, the conversations about holidays, the moans about husbands, work, money, kids and pointless opinions on the latest episode of ‘I’m a Celebrity, Get me out of Here!’ The superficial chit chat about nothing and the deep heart to hearts. Normal life. A comforting contrast to his own weird world, his mess, his dark matter. The dull everyday that had been invaded so completely by chaos; a butterfly had flapped its wings in some distant universe and caused his own to explode. Fragile, delicate, apparently harmless. A bright jewel flitting across his path, that had to be caught.
For a while, he thought he had caught her. Sitting alone in the pub, his heart took a bungee jump as he thought of her pale gold hair, her deep dark eyes, the warm sing-song of her laugh. She was always laughing. She was no Common blue or Cabbage white, but something rare, exotic, a bright-winged fantasy.
They had met at Ben’s terrible ‘get together’ party, a mercenary match-making experiment to which Ben had invited all his saddest singleton friends. Apparently, he included Philip in this list.
“You’ve got to get yourself a woman, Phil.” Ben had advised him over a pint, some weeks before.
“Come on, mate. I know you’re lonely. Just you and ‘Dave’ channel every night.”
“Me and ‘Dave’ are very happy, thank you.”
Ben had downed his pint, shaking his head. “I mean… don’t you want someone like Emma in your life?”
Ben never stopped going on about Emma. Philip thought he must know everything there was to know about the woman, being forced to listen to his endless exultations at work and afterwards, over many a pint: her favourite music/films/T.V programmes/ cooking tecniques/childhood memories… All her funny habits, (“Just so Emma.” Ben said, with a nauseating expression.) Even where she bought her bloody knickers. Being in love clearly turned your brain to mush.
“So, am I actually going to meet the wonderful Emma, at some point?” Said Philip. “Or have you made her up?”
“You can scoff. Come to my party next month and you will. You never know, you might meet someone yourself.”
“Pigs might fly.”
“I’ll prepare the runway.” Said Ben, with a grin.
He got to the party late, even later than the time usually prescribed to be cool. Not that he had ever answered that description. He hadn’t been going to turn up at all but, for once, there was nothing worth watching on ‘Dave’ channel, unless he fancied an evening of back to back ancient ‘Have I got News for you’ re-runs. And he was mildly curious to meet Emma.
“What time d’you… call this?” Ben was not what you’d describe as sober.
Philip shrugged. “Me and ‘Dave’ had a row. Where’s the booze?”
“Kitchen, mate. Help yourself.”
He did. He wrestled his way through the kitchen crowd (mostly drunk blokes, clutching bottles of Bud and loudly discussing the Liverpool v Arsenal game.) There was, of course, no real ale, so he poured himself a glass of dubious red and made a hasty exit. Not his scene.
The living room was emitting sounds of further drunken chaos, so he bypassed it and headed instead for the dining room.
He sat himself at the table, sighing deeply and sipping the wine from his pretend-glass glass. It wasn’t quite as dubious as he had feared; only moderately vinegar-like. A small sound behind him caught his attention. He turned and, with a shock, saw that he wasn’t alone. A young woman with long, pale gold hair in a sky-blue cotton dress - like a little girl’s - was photographing a vase of sunflowers, clematis and dried honesty. (Not that he would willingly admit to knowing the names of flowers to anyone. Years of helping his mum with the gardening was to blame for this.)
Embarrassed, he got up and began to creep away. But curiosity got the better of him, when he saw which camera she was using.
“Hi…” He said.
“You’re in my light.” She had a deep, gentle, amused voice.
“Sorry.” He moved a little towards the door, but didn’t leave.
“You must be Philip.” She continued to shift this way and that, focusing through her camera.
“How did you -?”
She lowered the camera, turning to face him. Her large dark eyes, set in a gently rounded face, were soft, filled with an amused, focussed light. “You’re exactly as Ben described you.”
“How’s that?”
“Handsome. Not as confident as you like to appear.” She smiled, a warm flush radiating upwards, resting on her beautiful cheekbones, sparking in her eyes. “Lonely.”
“I’m not lonely.”
“Have it your way.” She picked up her camera again and, before he could protest, took his photo.
Of course, when Ben had accused him of being lonely, he had been wrong. But somehow, when this woman said it, she was right. He was so lonely he didn’t know what to do with himself.
A subject change was in order. “I see you’re using an old film Leica.” He said. “That’s a brave choice. I tend to stick with digital, these days.”
She looked at him thoughtfully. “And you’ve got… a Nikon D.90…?”
Now she was freaking him out. “Spot on. How did you -?”
“I see you’ve met Emma.”
Ben had come in. He gave Philip a drunken grin and slipped his arm around Emma’s shoulder, squeezing it. She looked at him with an indulgent affection, reaching for his other hand. Philip looked away. Horror pressed in around his heart, pulsing mercilessly. Get your hands off her…
He muttered some excuse to Ben and bolted for the door, forgetting his wine. Forgetting his old life. Definitely forgetting his manners. Standing outside the closed door and breathing deeply, he realized with an exhilerating shock that he had fallen in love with Emma. The butterfly had fluttered her wings, the smallest stirring rising to an anhialating crescendo in his world. Chaos theory.
He found a place in a corner of the darkened, crowded living room, flopping onto a bean bag to avoid the general crush on the settee. It was a position strategically chosen to give him full view of the door and anyone who might come in. Well… to see if Emma came in. Eventually, Ben stumbled through the door, drunker than ever, without her. The butterfly had flitted away, back towards her own light.
It was almost midnight when he hawled himself to his feet, pushing his way out of the cloying, unbearable room. He was choking on the stench of booze, hot body smells and disappointment.
He opened the front door.
“Nothing wrong with the D90, as such.” Said a deep voice behind him. Then she laughed, that rich, sing-song sound, sending a thrill tingling to his toes and fingertips.
“It’s about all I can handle.” He admitted, with a smile.
“Oh, I’m sure that’s not true.” The brief touch of her hand on his arm glowed with promise. Her soft dark eyes drew him all the way into her butterfly world.
And so it had begun.
She had told him from the beginning that she was still just as much with Ben, that Ben mustn’t ever know and that Philip mustn’t try to get more of her than she was willing to give. Those were the terms and he agreed to them in a heartbeat. He would let her have her ‘freedom’, loving her, becoming her light, so that she came to him of her own accord.
That was the theory. At first, it seemed to work. Passion for Emma won over loyalty to his friend; he was shamefully jubilant to see how she seemed to prefer his company to Ben’s. She hardly even mentioned Ben’s name. He soon learned not to object or ask questions when she said: ”I’m busy, tonight.” He would simply nod. But the words were in his head, repeating, the film of his imagination was playing and there was no ‘stop’ button.
Still, he knew he could live with it. He had to.
It had been going on for six months now and he was exhausted. He wasn’t cut out for keeping secrets, or betraying his friend. Or for sharing.
The times he spent with her had a strange, dreamy quality, held long in the gaze of those dark, dark eyes, mesmerized by the bright technicolour of her wings. He carried her touch in the marrow of his bones, pulsing in his blood, when he was away from her. Which he often was.
He hung his whole existence on the times when it was his turn to see her, never knowing what to expect, what she would say, where she would lead him next. He followed her strange flight into the rapt darkness.
But then it was always time again for goodbye. He was never ready for it and had no say in it. He had simply to watch her walk away, back into the night where she belonged, never knowing when she would next materialise. The butterfly was becoming a moth.
So here he sat, in this pub, alone again. Tonight was another “I’m busy” night, which meant Ben. Philip closed his eyes against the pictures, the pull of guilt, the weight of unanswered questions. He would bear it all, to keep her in his life. His heart had captured her image, her face burned
into his existence, a photograph that wouldn’t fade. Even though, it now dawned on him, he was lonelier than ever.
She was a dark lust in his blood, a butterfly that would never be caught. His lonely, comfortable, microwave meal and ‘Dave’ grounded foundation hadn’t just been shaken, but obliterated. There was nothing left. And he missed Ben.
“Hiya, mate.”
Philip looked up, astonished to hear Ben’s voice. Why wasn’t he with Emma? Ben was grinning as usual, but there was a shadow across his blue eyes.
“What are you doing here?”
“I know.” Ben looked rueful. “Sad man, out for a pint by himself.” He planted his drink and crisps on the table and sat down next to Philip.
“Oh, sorry mate… are you -?”
“Yes. I, too, am a sad man. Isn’t Emma with you?”
Ben sighed. “Nah.” There was silence. Ben opened his crisps and downed half his pint. “I think she’s been seeing someone else.”
A thrill of fear passed through Philip’s gut, a dangerous spasm. With a mighty effort of will, he controlled his voice:
“What makes you say that?”
Ben sighed, swallowing the rest of his pint in one gulp. “I always knew she liked her own space.” He looked mournfully at his empty glass. “She’s an independent sort of girl.”
“Is she?” Philip couldn’t quite meet his eye.
“You know she is. I’ve told you that often enough. I still got to see quite a bit of her, though. Except lately… when I ask her if she’s free, most of the time she says, ‘I’m busy tonight.’” He shook his head.
Most of the time. What was she doing? She certainly wasn’t seeing him that much. His skin crept with horror at the familiar line: ‘Busy tonight.’
“Why don’t you confront her?” He said, hearing the edge of anger in his voice. Then, almost choking on his own hypocrisy: “You have a right to know, Ben.”
What he meant was, I have a right to know.
“I’m not sure I want to. I might be jumping to conclusions, anyway; two and two making three, you know.” He furrowed his brow, his eyes darkening. “Except that…”
“Well, tonight, she came out with that ‘I’m busy’ stuff again, which pissed me off. When I pressed her she told me she’d got some more overtime at work.”
“Well, maybe she has -”
“No. I phoned. Her mobile was off so I called her at work and they said she wasn’t there. And then they told me there’d been no overtime for months.”
“So, every time she’s told you she was working late, she was…” Philip swallowed. “Somewhere else.”
“Yes.” Ben laughed bitterly. “A mate of mine told me he’d seen her holding hands with this other bloke, a couple of weeks ago. I thought it must have been someone who looked like her. They say everyone’s got a twin, don’t they? But maybe it was her.”
Maybe it was.
Ben shrugged, sighed and picked up his empty glass. “Want another one?”
“Do I.”
This time it was Philip who downed it almost in one.
“I haven’t seen much of you lately, Phil.” Said Ben.
There was a reason for that. It was torture for him - literally akin to someone sliding razor blades under his fingernails - to see Emma and Ben together. Catching the affectionate glances, cringing at the private jokes, unable to take his eyes off Emma’s hand in his. It was like a car crash; you don’t want to look, but you always do.
“Yeah. Sorry, mate.”
“You doing o.k?”
“Yeah, I’m O.K. Well, I am now.”
In his mind’s eye, he saw the butterfly effortlessly rising, wings jewel-bright against the darkness, flying away into the night. This time, he would not follow.
Philip smiled at his friend, laying a hand on his shoulder. “Sorry, Ben. I’m really sorry.”

The copyright of this post belongs to Alison Stickings

Monday, 2 December 2013


‘Fire: its grace is not to remember,’ he said, under the dim light of the single electric bulb. I felt glacial; sarcastic: come on baby, ice my blizzard, I thought. I was praying for her. Sometimes she seemed unfurled before me – and at other times closed off, fox-like in her cunning not to be ensnared. When we begin to make the move, the connection, fiery passions can be so easily dowsed.
‘Imagine what fire has done for us,’ I said to him, eager to pin him back. ‘It destroyed one third of London in the seventeenth century: we’ve gone from rubbing two sticks together to the ends of the Earth. It’s creator but destroyer – and there’s a bad smell in the atmosphere; the smoke lingering around our fingers.’
He said he could see a time of order ahead: the sea ice would stabilise – we can be free to emerge and progress with impunity. ‘We can turn the heat up.’ His rhetoric filled me with indifference. Today fire in my glass means a fall from grace. He says: ‘Keep free, remember anguish, and raise a glass to those who fell.’ I thought, just give me my marshmallows, guy.

The copyright of this post belongs to Ben Hargreaves


"Who wore the dress?" Sister Mary Joseph demands quietly.

No voice is heard inside the convent. Sister Mary Joseph turns to face her audience. All eyes fixate on the floor, praying for a scapegoat, someone to frame themselves. Some are used to this and well prepared, simply recite "my father's freedom", the school's mantra in their heads, not allowing themselves to be pulled into the hypnotic oasis of Sister Mary Joseph's silent grasp. Time seems to stand still, endless horizons stretching away.

Gradually a snuffle is heard at the back of the hall. They all know the guilty party is to the front, so someone is cracking under the pressure. Sister Mary Joseph is good at that, her sense of purpose is tantalising.

A voice stammers and sniffles, "it wasn't me!"

Maybe not, but the atmosphere is changed, now that girl will be the scapegoat. Sister Mary Joseph is poised to pounce with the same ferocity that a hungry lioness would attack a lame zebra. And the girls know that their innocence depends wholly on her perceived guilt.

The copyright of this post belongs to Jenni Crowe

Earth Words

Earth Words

Explosive archeology is the latest trend in the field of history. The basic theory is that at seedtime, salt and dynamite are planted beside usual seeds in the mud of the desired area. The sustenance of the soil will feed the plants and beetles consume any excess growth. By autumn, the plants bloom, bringing artifacts inside the flowers. These then explode as they mature, allowing the artifacts to fall gently to the ground, all done in the natural element and eradicating the need for excessive digging. Success levels are surprising!

The copyright of this post belongs to Jenni Crowe

Wednesday, 27 November 2013


Cocooned in the under-earth, for the rabbit, winter’s implacable onslaught is escaped. If she dreams, it is not in wonder, but in certitude: she dreams of spring and an end to the crystalline chandeliers of frosted water hanging from the underboughs of the trees. An end to the dirty sludge, the detritus of campers, hikers and walkers who tramped the ground some four feet above her hibernation.
She waits coiled in the burrow for spring when the fire of the sun lifts her head, she resurfaces to her senses, and life begins anew.

The copyright of this post belongs to Ben Hargreaves

Thursday, 7 November 2013


A parasite - it must be removed! Even in the bright sunshine after a meditation session, she couldn't calm the feeling that action was needed. She sat plotting, staring blindly at the apple on the tray. How best to retaliate? Last time the potion in the tin had worked, but it could have done with improvement. Anyway, it was too precious to waste unless success was almost guaranteed. No, this kerfuffle couldn't bounce along any longer, precise planning would be necessary. Gradually a plan formed. If she was quick it could work. So, she packed up the yoga mat, bit into the apple and set to work.
She worked steadily, tapping, clicking, dialing and finally sat back satisfied that by tea time, the house guests would be packing their bags and rushing to catch the train.

The copyright of this post belongs to Ellen MacRae

The Consequences

One decision. It had seemed innocent, but its fallout reverberated through generations to come. Like a prism turns white into a myriad of colours, so its outcome multiplied, divided and reproduced mutations of further repercussions. Now blind to its original purpose, the carnage was initially invisible, and more dangerous for it. By the time it became apparent, rescue was impossible, cogs turning silently, unstoppable by crown nor red box. The consequences out of reach, dancing before their eyes as if hypnotic, hyperactive burlesque dancers. Regret would reign pensive.

The copyright of this post belongs to Ellen MacRae

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Small Portraits

A pure blue canvas. This winter sky stretched taut above the sprawling prairie city. She always thought it was the perfect sky. The city was coloured in yellow and orange, and the granite-green of the river was a swift ribbon over rocks capped with tiny snow hats. They say, if you wait five minutes in this city the weather will change. Those two weeks of October heat meant bare arms and sunglasses, and the sun glared on the padlocked patio of the nursing home. Her mother is a poet. Her fragmented brain cells call up wondrous words. They fall out of her mouth amongst broken teeth. This stoic elder is travelling slowly, hunched over her walker. The wheels push into the polished corridor. Her daughter pointed out the beauty of the sun, as though the leaves were on fire. Then the poetry. "Look at that fir tree laden with snow." There was no winter, there. But that was her poem. A snowy image, and she believed in it. Who would not want to see such a scene and instantly forget the row of vinyl chairs beneath the window, and the trail of spilled juice drops dotting the linoleum tiles? Who would not choose that beauty over the tartan cotton bibs tied around the necks of each resident at every meal, or the bafflement over the location of your own bed, as though you might wander forever looking, or a sea of forgettable faces? Only seconds to not remember. The daughter loved the words and phrases. They were 98 year old gems. "I put my smartness in my pocket and left it there."...and..."I'm a stupid cupid!" That poem came with a burst of laughter. Here in this city of the daughter's youth, the sun is now a blur; a ghost sun trying hard to be visible. There were signs placed beneath buildings warning of falling ice. She saw the melting icicles and the sidewalks shiny with the wet. Wait five minutes. Want five minutes for the fragile brain to try to remember. It forgets everything but sheer poetry.

The copyright of this post belongs to Claudia Anne  October 30  2013

Monday, 4 November 2013


The Mexican wave of humanity surged forward as one voice, a crescendo of excitement as the gleaming horseflesh thundered past. Glorious musculature rippled and strained as the sun caught the shadows and marked the flight. The symphony of silks shimmered as frantic sweating bodies fought for the glory of the winners' enclosure. Then the dampened sigh of group disappointment peppered with shrieks of delight as the race was run.
Gloriously attired ladies in ranks of flowing finery, their heady perfume mingling with the earthier scents of equine warriors. Parading bodies of Arabic excellence, strutting arrogantly round the paddock, heads tossing, tails swishing, a cacophony of Chestnut, Grey and purist Black. Majesty personified.
Hearing the discordant, mechanised, shrill announcing of the next race, scurrying Top Hats and Morning Suits, agitating around coarse-voiced Umbrellas. Odds shouted, punters jostling, pick-pockets thieving and the mounting tension as the fillies strut their stuff towards the distant staring gates.
Magic filters out the oxygen iun the air, as the previous winner holds aloft the silver chalice of success and smiles lead away their steaming treasure towards his well deserved rub down and reward.
On the periphery of all this rioutous splendour and multicoloured fantasy, he sits alone, head in hands, pockets to let, a broken dream.
The Social Pariah of the afternoon.
The Loser.

the copyright of this post belongs to CH


Your photograph is radiant, distinctive, glorying in your new jeans and leather jacket. Seventeen and taking on the world in your Rocker gear. The memory of the engine throb, bursting upon the consciousness as you opened the throttle on the long straight road and learned to fly.
The smell of Methanol mix and leather stays with me to this day.
The knowledge of parental disapproval and hazy images of teenage angst, coming full circle and buzzing still. memories that travel the road of time, out of shape and coloured by the encompassing damp of passing life converge on the Salt Box Cafe at Biggin Hill.
You may have been seventeen but you were no new penny. Bruised by circumstance, angered by confusion, hungry for freedom, the worm was on the turn. Too long the boot prints of treachery and stupidity had shadowed the idyllic cocoon, now the drifts of colour were permeating the understanding and the glittering grin of survival greeted a new day.
The Amber Raven of my Tiger 70 kick-started into life, climbing out of the pit, the wind blowing the cobwebs asunder with giant golden wings of promise.
The worm was dead.
Life began.

The copyright of this post belongs to CH

Wednesday, 16 October 2013


Even Caravaggio fled in the end.
Haunted always by his demons of temper, drink and love, he fled the corridors of his own creativity. Forced into an exile of his own choosing, he thought he would eventually feel peace. Floating one day down a river, he asked himself, who am I in retreat from?
At first he said his creditors, then he said the guardians of the peace, but he had to admit it was from himself. He, who turned the world again by brush and paint, turning enemies into lovers, and lovers who betrayed became dead lovers. Why should he justify his actions? He, so childlike in his assumptions, easily denying responsibility, so when he asked himself how does the child fare, he smiles his mysterious smile and retorts “the flying book lands where it is taken by the wind”.
Caravaggio is bent double in the boat, he is hiding, he is laughing, he is a conundrum of infinite possibilities, and he will always give you colour, bestiality and build a reliquary from a yellow umbrella.
The tree canopy along the river bank is turning from green to withering bronze, marooned by the waters of time, trees full of wisdom: they know the winking stars hold no price and cannot be copied.
Caravaggio, emerging sleepy eyed, bearded and with a feather in his teeth, cannot help but feel optimistic, gleeful even. All things bring him love.

The copyright of this post belongs to Valerie Anne Rule


The bond was sealed in our blood.
We came into this world as conjoined twins and that proved an alley of love that kissed my life over and over again.
Other sisters could never trump our rare story, as we tended towards a thug like defence. A physical and emotional bond, volatile and extreme was written into our history before time began. A desolation in the stars.
Before the operation to separate us, irritation and hysterical love stalked me. Gloria’s little ingratiating habits, collecting the offal the butcher threw out, saying that it was good for us. Forever tying and re tying her shoelaces so that my nose touched the dirt in the street. But then there was our secret language and a nurturing symbiosis which gave her beauty and me truth.
She became a famed model, trailing her anorexia and her plastic surgery like the star she was with all her satellites gathered adoringly about her person.
I, the ugly sister, became a reclusive writer of historical fiction, shunning the publicity and knowing everyone really just wanted to get to Gloria through me.
But surely I must be competing against her, you may ask?
Just now my book about the suffragettes is due to be published and as I look at the author photograph inside the dust cover, I smile at my eye patch with the green sequins, the purple feather in my limp hair. Yes, an alley of blood brought me forth and indignation still flames my cheeks where she once lay.
In the photograph I stand beneath a chapel arch.
The photographer himself is being photographed.
Gloria always wants to be in on the act.
She, the willowy thug with the beautiful eyes and the crinkle to her lips. Me, the ugly one with the brain and the brawn. Her life is full of sugar baskets found under trees where no digging is needed. My life, like a museum of curios filled with dusty objects from our former, conjoined life together. Little did I know then that these curios were treasures. Memories of love and faith and defiance.
Now, I sit here alone, reciting some of our secret words: suffragette, suffocate, submissive, swallow, sequin, sister.
They bring me comfort.

The copyright of this post belongs to Valerie Rule

Monday, 14 October 2013


Rachel sat gazing into the mirror. She was meant to be getting ready for her act, the burlesque number for all those drunk, leery old men out there. Her crown sat on the dressing table, ready to perch in her hairspray-stiff bouffant. She was Queen of tack. She looked out on her sad subjects from the secret carnage of her heart, and smiled.
In the films, of course, there would be someone to rescue her. A loaded Richard Gere type, ostensibly life-hardened, but with a deep, pulsing love for the real her, under the burlesque outfit and beyond the graffitied-on smile. He would be willing to brave all kinds of dangers – pimps, punters and her flat-mate Carolyn with P.M.T, just to find her and whisk her away. Such was his purpose in life.
The trouble is, she thought, she wasn’t sure that there was a real her, any more. She looked into the prism of her memories and saw a refracted nothing. A trick of the light. Her present was only fallout from the past.
But there was the red box. There wasn’t much in it, after a year of saving, but it was something. And, of course, what was hidden in the secret compartment: the letter, emanating its dangerous scent beneath the layers of velvet.
And still she gazed, pensive, frozen, staring into the ghost of her eyes until her vision blurred, merged, a myriad of dancing light, the shadows of angels.
“Oi, Rachel babe! You’re on!”

The copyright of this post belongs to Alison Stickings 19.9.13.

The Necklace

There was no escape. Emma sang along to U.2’s ‘With or Without You’ and meant every word.
He was poison in her veins, a dark lust in her blood, a bright stain across her life. His danger had drawn her, a stranger down a dark alley promising riches. The safety of his embrace had kept her.
“You are in a pickle.” Said her sensible friend Jenny.
“Got any advice for me?”
“The same advice as I’ve been giving you for the last three years.” Jenny laid a hand on Emma’s arm. “Ditch him.”
“I can’t.”
She couldn’t. It wasn’t like she hadn’t tried. Every so often the tension would build to screaming point and she would let him have it. He was selfish. He only wanted her for one thing. She was just a bit of recreation for him, a break from his boring, frigid wife. And, by the way, if his wife really meant so little to him, why did she still call the shots? A mistress’ standard complaints; a cloned tirade.
Then she would say: “That’s it. I’ve had it. Find yourself another girlfriend” and he would calmly take her in his arms and whisper words of adoration, of a future he would carve out for them both, if she would just trust him a little longer... Of faraway places and long nights of peace, a time to love one another without interruption, ration or shame. And he would kiss the trail of her tears. Only you, my darling. Please don’t leave me. Only you.
With such words he kept her. Then he promised to make it up to her in some way, taking her out to dinner or sneaking her off for a weekend away
and she would forget all the reasons why she couldn’t live with herself any more. The healing whispers of skin on skin drawing her back into his enchanted world, where no-one would ever find them. Safe in this world, there was no place for the ‘little things’, the trail of clues that lead to the inescapable fact that there was no place for her in his real life. That their enchanted world would one day melt away to nothing under the burning sun of their daily betrayal.
“He’s using you.” Said Jenny.
“He’s not. He loves me. Look at this beautiful necklace he just bought me.”
“Evidence of ownership.”
“Actually,” she said defensively, “it was a birthday present.”
“Your birthday was a month ago. Don’t tell me, he forgot it until you casually dropped it into conversation.”
She didn’t answer.
Forgotten birthdays, cancelled dates, times interrupted by phone calls: “Sorry, darling. I’ve got to get back. Fiona wants my input on picking out new curtains for the lounge.” The ‘too much information’ of his domestic life; she was used to it all. The little things.
Still, it was a beautiful necklace. She looked at it now, a silver locket, Victorian-looking, encrusted with marcasite and garnets.
“That must have cost a bit!” She exclaimed when he had given it to her, on their last weekend away - after she had, as Jenny guessed, dropped hints about her missed birthday. “Where did you get it?”
“Never you mind, darling.”
It would be too cheesy to put a photo of the two of them in it, of course. Not to mention indiscreet. Perhaps she didn’t need a photo – the locket itself surely proved that he loved her, didn’t it? Something so beautiful...
Jenny said she should give him an ultimatum. “Tell him: it’s her or me.”
“I wouldn’t do that to him.”
“No, you wouldn’t do that to yourself, because you think he would probably choose her. Am I right?”
“No. You’re not.”
Jenny looked at her sadly. “Husbands never leave their wives for their girlfriends, you know that. So, pre-empt it. Leave him. You’re worth more than his crap, Emma.”
Jenny was wrong about him. He loved her, not his wife; he told her so all the time. But she couldn’t help being curious about Fiona, the wife she had never met, her unseen nemesis. The woman who pulled her strings from afar. She had a picture in her head, a comforting one, of someone frumpy, a couple of stone overweight, ugly glasses and sensible shoes... But, somewhere in her subconscious, she knew this was the wrong picture. Had she seen her before?
Then she remembered. He had given her a card the Christmas before they got together, when he was still just the boss she had a crush on. It featured a photograph of him with his family, wife and two boys, smiling with smug contentment at her: We’ve got each other. What have you got?
Emma rifled through her dressing table drawer, home of everything pointless she couldn’t bring herself to throw away. Old love letters. Orders of Service for weddings. Nauseating Christmas cards.
She found it. There he was with his boys, Jonathon and Callum, who were grinning like they’d sprinkled methamphetamine on their cornflakes instead of sugar. And there was Fiona.
She was beautiful. Blond and elegant, her blue eyes sparkling into the camera, a perfectly manicured hand placed territorially on her husband’s shoulder.
Emma stared at the photo and his real life stared back at her accusingly. There’s no place for you here.
She looked more closely. Around Fiona’s elegant neck hung a silver locket, garnets and marcasite, mock-Victorian and very familiar...
The phone rang. It was him.
“Hello, darling! Fiona’s taking the kids to her mother’s, later. Shall I come over?”
Her heart trembled at the sound of his voice, an echo of emotion. Then she heard her own voice, cool and controlled:
“Sorry, I’m busy tonight. I’m doing some internet research to find out how much I can get for a rather nice silver locket some cheapskate gave me when he forgot my birthday.” She crumpled up the card she was still holding in her hand. “One previous owner.”

The copyright of this post belongs to Alison Stickings. 22.9.13

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Coming to Life

I was bewildered. Only a minute ago I had been dust. Other than that, nothing. But now i was something... something special, I knew it. Love had made me ... and there I was floating around in my mother's tummy. I knew nothing but yet everything was around me. I started to get frustrated. I wanted to show people who I am, but yet I knew not how. I plunged into darkness determined to live my life, to show people who I am in my real heart. But I myself did not know that...yet. Suddenly a saw a gap of air. My heart rose but I did not show my feelings. I crept towards it but my feet did not move and all of a sudden there I was squinting at the sudden hit of blinding light and sharp cold air... But i was in my mother's arms. I knew this was where I belonged.

The copyright of this post belongs to Xantippe Rose

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Pandora's Box

Pandora’s Box.
This was it. She was over him. She had decided that the fifteenth of February, 2013 was to be the date chiselled indelibly into the headstone erected over the grave of their love. Today.
Every day for the last year Claire had stood under the fallout from the explosion that was the end of their relationship. Acid rain falling into her life. The adrenaline surges of anger, the myriad ghosts of memory everywhere she looked, peaceless spectres of the past with nowhere to go. Stabs of hatred, murderous thoughts as illicit as pornography, creeping into those darkest, sleepless hours. She had never before realized that to hate was as consuming as being in love, pulsing in every cell of her weary body.
It wasn’t David who was the principal target for this hatred. It was Kate. Her former best friend, betrayer, charmer, all round toxic human being. Sugar-coated cyanide. And thinner than her, too.
The fifteenth of February, 2013 would also mark the day when she finally buried the stinking corpse of her hatred, deep, deep underground, so it would never be dug up.
Claire looked around her and sighed. She had developed some atrocious habits during her year long mourning/hating period. Greasy dust caked every surface, deceased arachnids hung like warnings of a similar doom from the many cobwebs. A dirty teacup from her mother’s last visit two weeks ago (her mum refused to drink out of a mug), still sat on the magazine-strewn coffee table. Numerous filthy plates skulked, ashamed round the side of the sofa, their contents by now spot-welded on. There was a smell, too. An unloved sort of smell.
She thought about tidying up a bit before Ben arrived. But she decided that she didn’t have time and, more crucially, couldn’t be bothered. Ben wouldn’t care, anyway. He was used to her mess.
It had all begun three years ago, almost to the day she thought, with a fresh jolt to her heart. A cheesy Valentine’s card featuring a butterfly on a rosebud, unsigned of course, plopping on her doormat. Huge, embossed, glittery, undoubtedly expensive and as tasteless as they come. Still, it was the only Valentine’s card she had received in years, so she wasn’t going to scoff. She maintained a cynical attitude to the whole money-gobbling and emotionally-blackmailing enterprise and always said that she didn’t want a stupid Valentine’s card, anyway. But when this one arrived, smelling faintly of rose like the drifting scent of hope, she realized that this wasn’t true.
I reckon I know who this is from.” Kate had said, studying the card.
Who cares.” Claire replied with studied indifference.
You do.”
O.K. I’ll indulge you. Who do you think it’s from?”
Kate gave her a mischievous smile. “David. I caught him gazing at you the other day. And haven’t you noticed how he always goes to the coffee machine just after you?”
Now that Kate mentioned it, Claire had noticed...
Kate handed back the card. “He’s probably just winding you up, anyway. He must know how much you hate Valentine’s day. Everyone else does.”
But David hadn’t been winding her up. He really had fallen for her. Claire couldn’t think why, especially when he worked so closely with the beautiful, elegant (and thin) Kate.
Ben would be here, soon. At eleven on the dot, no doubt. He was the most prompt human being she had ever encountered.
But what was the point of torturing herself yet again with beginnings? The past was a prism in which to gaze, mesmerized by shards of bright, distorted memory, day after day, year after year, until all the years were gone.
She looked at her watch. Ben was late. In all the time she had known him... He had told her once, with his usual science-geek preciseness:
If I’m late, it’s probably because I’ve been abducted by aliens. Although, it is highly unlikely of course that alien life forms could adapt to breath our atmosphere. Or, they might exist in another dimension altogether and manifest only as minute dust particles. A quantum reality entirely separate from our own would, by definition, be unrecognisable and intangible...”
I get the message.” She had said. “And if I’m late?”
He shrugged, smiling. “An entirely normal scenario. I would suspect no alien interference.”
Good old Ben. Absolutely bonkers, but lovable and there. He had the most beautiful brown eyes too, like warm chocolate, she always thought. He had hugged her, mopped up her tears and listened to her tirades. He had braved her vile kitchen to cook her dinners and attempted to distract her by patiently teaching her why Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and Quantum theory couldn’t both be true, “although they demonstrably both are.”
He had been a bit quieter of late, though. Rather pensive.
Maybe he really had been abducted by aliens.
She and David had clicked immediately. It didn’t seem to matter that he wasn’t her type. Nothing like those nerdy, insanitary science-geeks she normally went for. He was handsome, accomplished, confident. He smelled nice. She broke all her own rules to be with him and she didn’t care.
They set the world on fire when they were together. Their relationship mystified all their friends – how the heck did these two mesh? They liked different music, different food, different films; they had diametrically opposed political views. He was a wild, former public school boy who proudly voted Conservative. Claire was a thumping Liberal from the rough side of town, used to hard work and self-discipline. “Control freak.” He had called her. Then he had shown her how to lose control.
He won’t settle down, you know.” Kate had warned her. “I know him.”
Claire hadn’t realized, at that point, quite how well she knew him.
Ben had warned her, too. Her oldest friend from school days, he had watched with concern as her life spiralled out of control, never getting enough sleep, neglecting her work and every other part of her life. And it was true; the intensity of it all was beginning to wear her out. The highs left her dizzy and disoriented, a sort of love altitude sickness. And the lows... When he let her down, or said the wrong thing, or didn’t turn up at all, those times when she was left to free-fall into a dark place she hadn’t known existed. Then she found herself sobbing (yet again) into Ben’s best ‘Battlestar Galactica’ tee shirt.
Not that it slowed her down. She wanted more and more of David, his smiles, his touch, his wild, surprizing love, like a shot of some pure emotion drug, straight in the veins.
Until one day, getting ready to go on a night out with Kate. “May I remind you that there are other human beings on the planet, besides David.” Kate had said, when Claire hadn’t wanted to come. David was in London for a week and Claire was miserable. “You can spare your old pal an evening.”
Kate’s red box sat on her dressing table, mysteriously locked as ever. Claire had long been curious about its contents.
Is it Pandora’s box?” She asked.
It’s not Pandora’s. It’s mine.”
What’s in it?”
Never you mind.”
Secret treasures? The severed fingers of men you once dated?”
Kate had given her a measured, impenetrable smile and ushered her out of the door. But later, when they came back from the club (where Claire had mainly sulked in the corner), she escorted a very drunk Kate to the settee and sneaked into the bedroom. The box would be locked, of course...
But it wasn’t.
Love letters. From David to Kate, dating back to months before she and David had got together, the latest one written a week ago. Claire sprawled on the bed, reading them for hours, every wounding word, phrases that cut jugulars. She herself sometimes got a mention: ‘You were right, darling, when you warned me how clingy Claire is...’ And: ‘You know I don’t really love her. Not like I love you.’ Lastly, this one: ‘She could do with losing a few pounds...’
As far as she could see from the letters, David and Kate had set her up, a sort of joke between them, an aphrodisiac. A bet, almost. David even made reference to ‘Dangerous Liaisons’ in one of his letters.
Kate said later that she regretted the whole thing and had left the red box unlocked on purpose. “It had all got out of hand and I had to stop it. I knew you wouldn’t be able to resist having a look.”
If only she had been able to see that Valentine’s card for what it was. She would have ripped it into a thousand million pieces of tack, scattering it to the wind like atomic dust.
For the first week afterwards she had holed herself up in her flat, alternately sobbing and staring into space. She spoke to no-one. She switched her phone off. She forgot to eat.
In the second week, she went to the hairdressers and had all her hair cut off. She gazed down with satisfaction at the long, gold locks shimmering on the floor and wondered if she was having a breakdown.
No such luck. She had just had to carry on, as if David and Kate hadn’t stolen her life. Now here she was a year later, no job, no social life to speak of and a short hair do. Ben said it suited her. Time to get her life back.
She was starting to get worried about Ben.
Then the door knocked. And there he was, standing on the doorstep, smiling sheepishly, his brown eyes melting into her heart. Ben.
How was your alien abduction?” She said, shifting enough debris from the settee for him to sit down. But he remained standing. “Well, you are... twenty minutes late.”
He dropped his eyes. “Something even more sinister than that, I’m afraid. I went to buy you a Valentine’s card but they’d sold out, it being the day after. Anyway, I reckoned you’d think it was tacky so... I made you this, instead.”
He reached clumsily into his pocket and stretched out a line of newspaper hearts.
Claire, I...”
She walked over to him, smiled into his deep brown eyes and held out her hand for the hearts.
This is much better.” She said.

The copyright of this post belongs to Alison

Tuesday, 3 September 2013


Like a butterfly emerging from a shadow, my multi-coloured plated clock came out of a local auction and contained a story of love...
It was hand crafted. Frequent washing made it a menace in hot summers because each time the clock struck twelve, the sun burnt a little further into the hour hand.
In the middle of July, 1952, the hand snapped, like an angry poppet and more than half of it dropped off. I let out a quiet murmur, and part of me wanted to cast it into the nearest passing submarine so that it could be taken to the depths of the Atlantic.
But because English was only my second language, the admiral didn't understand me. He was laid back about the intended decimation, whilst I didn't dare blink my eye, in case the clock's red polish, that wasn't kind or valued, began to smear before even entering the ocean.
A flicker of the admiral's eye had me wondering whether I could actually let go this precious time-piece. Before finally casting the clock into eternity, I read some passages from the frequency gospel.

The copyright of this post belongs to Daniel Fishel

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Thoughts on God

God is all loving thoughts. His heart is a bundle of joy, kindness, positive, friendship and last but definitely not least LOVE. His heart is bigger than his body he does not give out toys, paintings, sweets, books, computers, eggs, pets, junk shop stuff  he gives out love. Think of us as a window, every bad thing we do is a mark on the window. Spray  can not wash it off or washing up liquid or water not even MR MUSCLE the only thing that can get the marks away is kindness for instance, Debbie Mitchell is always rubbing her window clean with kindness! She gives away toys, flowers, positive  comments and love...but mostly love but do you know what? Debs is in your family. Let me tell you what I am talking about. Think of your baby brother/sister, your older brother/sister YOUR mum and dad your grandmother and grandpa your THEIR babe brother/sister THEIR big brother/sister THEIR mum and dad THEIR grandmother and grandpa and so on... well somewhere in there is Debbie because we are all brothers and sisters to Adam and Eve which means we are all siblings to each other and we are children of God we are all a FAMILY!

 by Xantippe Steele   

Saturday, 24 August 2013


Your life is so far from mine
Full of friendship, laughter
And tattoos of deep
Sustaining meaning.

Such freedom can only be imagined
From this trap where I wither
Away to a small nothing.
The exotic keeps you company

Where you rise above the
Mundane. Escaping the pull
Of nothing and asserting your
Powerful, colourful kindness

Over us all. For surely
We are blessed to know you
Even if we are too far to share
Your everyday.

One day I will join you
To sing of gladness,
To soar like an albatross
High in the sky.

The copyright of this post belongs to Moira Cormack

Friday, 9 August 2013

The Magic of Story

Writing has a magical impact on your body and your attitude.Non-fiction or fiction, it takes you through a journey of imagination .You learn some, you win some. Each word has its meaning...a bit like every person has its skill. Reading and writing can take you back in time or forward into the future. What I find most amazing is every character has its feelings: some can be cowardly, some can be sheepish, some can be daring, some can be brave but each one has its own abilities and disabilities. Baddies can be a nightmare for a dark night with a full moon. Some goodies can be a dream in a blue midnight sky pricked with shining stars like decorations on a Christmas tree. Stories expand your imagination and give an urge for ideas.  Here's a piece of advice: people say that other people like and hate characters. Me, I just see the need for all of them: from a werewolf to a super hero. Here's another piece of advice: lots of people say we copy characters from real people but I think characters come from right here: the heart. The last thing I want to say is writing and reading is MAGIC.

The copyright of this post belongs to Xantippe Steele               

Monday, 5 August 2013

The Temple Plot: Fragment Two

'What colour was the horse?'

'What...WHAT, why are you asking that?' My patience had snapped. I made to get up, I was done with listening to this official lecture and interrogate me. One of Pharaoh's city guard, high ranking from the look of him, he was unfazed by my actions. He nodded to the burly subordinate that barred the door behind me. I felt his bulk move towards me and raised my hands in defeat. I flopped back in my chair. The room was cold and my bones ached for sleep. I had been offered water when they had hauled me in here but that was, must have been hours ago. Nothing since, my throat ached.

I had fled to the guard's compound when the crowd at the market place turned into a mob. Coming back from the cemetery, lost in thought of childhood times, I was startled from my contemplation by the sight of a mass of angry people who were lighting torches in the twilight, who were coalescing bent on. Bent on what? Reaching the market I moved to stand in the path of the main group. 'Friends, what is happening here,' I spoke up, letting my cloak fall open so they could see I was a priestess. 'Do not trouble yourself adoratrice,' replied one near the front, anger in his voice and eyes. He spat the last word out with venom and pushed past me, knocking me to the ground. I had to scramble and roll out of the crowd following behind, lest I be trampled. Those demented apes were bent on destruction. When I reached the compound, the guards were already roused but, instead of being thanked I was arrested.

The official was still going on about the damned horse.

'What colour was it?'
'Why is that relevant?' I retorted, pulling the sodden and dirty remains of the white gown closer.
'It may have been a military horse, the trouble it caused getting loose may have ignited the mob's ire.'

Oh sweet Isis, I whispered remembering. Remembered looking over my shoulder before I passed into the guards' compound. The mob were kindling fires in the library. They wanted to burn everything with their half truths and blunt endings. I felt no pity for them. Whatever their reasons. I knew this was wrong. I knew the Gods would punish them and me.

I had come here for safety, for hope but these questions made me feel like I was a perpetrator. Is this a punishment Lord Amun? This official was calm, given the mayhem unfolding outside, smug and imposing. Perhaps his men had the situation under control. Perhaps, but he was still talking about the horse!

Which market stall had it crashed into? What was the horse called? I wrinkled my brow. Did he actually say that or was I becoming delirious with the cold, with thirst and hunger. My damp clothes did not help. It had been as if the fires had burned the rain. The sudden shower had done nothing to slow the devastation. I pictured the library, flames beginning to take hold, a curiously cold magenta. What a fabulous finale to their rampage I thought bitterly. Why burn knowledge? But, maybe, may be his men had got there in time, stopped the mob before it was too late.

'The library?' I croaked.
'Is safe adoratrice,' he nodded.

'Praise Ra,' I blurted out in relief.

'Though it took the great majority of my men to disperse the mob and extinguish the fires. There is some minor damage to the outer courtyard but....'
He went on but I was not listening. Another thought had darkened my brief happiness. Another thought as clear and as deadly as Ramses the great's spear.
'Where are your men now Sir?'
He stopped, looked at me reprovingly, 'I'll ask the questions here. Now, what we need to know, first, is who ordered this, who guided the horse, who created this riot for I don't believe for one moment that it was an accident.' His voice was dark, accusing but I held his gaze defiantly.
'Where are your men?' I beseeched, for I knew. Of a sudden it was obvious what was going to happen, was likely happening right now.

The officer sighed. His expression one of anger, I thought he might lean over and slap me. Instead he raised his eyebrows quizzically at the man at the door.
'They are mostly still outside the compound Sir,' he replied, ' making sure that the city stays calm.'
I closed my eyes. Began a silent chant. Merciful Goddess let her be safe, merciful Goddess let her be safe, merciful...
'I need...we need to get a message to our Queen,' I almost shouted, 'the riot, the attempt to burn the library, it is a diversion, to keep you and your men busy whilst...' I struggled to finish, my emotions overspilling, 'the Queen, she is in danger.'
'Nonsense priestess, our Queen has the palace guard to protect her. I know your position is exalted,' he said with sarcasm, 'but I also know how you acquired it.'

Words I'd overheard back in Thebes, just before her visit, floated through my head. The key is to convince those close. That's all I had heard from behind a pillar in the darkened courtyard. I did not see who spoke them or to whom they spoke. But they now made
perfect sense.

'You don't understand, we must...'
'Stop this,' he barked banging his fist on the table,' I do not have to do your bidding.'

I seethed with frustration, felt tears in my eyes. Isis, please do not let her die.

'Now, are you going to co-operate? I have all night to wait for you to do so,'he said ominously.

Copyright Gabrielle Goldsmith 2013

Saturday, 3 August 2013

The Temple Plot

The Temple Plot - fragments (was known as Under a Theban Sky)


The story of...

Merytaset aka Usrera Ankhesenamun

(Beloved of Isis) aka (Powerful of Ra, whose life is in Amun)

Background of the piece

Merytaset was born on the edge of the Nile in reign of Ptolemy VIII (circa 140 BCE) as her Mother tended fields alone, the cord was around her neck and she was saved by a mysterious beautiful lady who appeared 'out of nowhere' to help. Merytaset's Mother always maintained her saviour was the Lady Isis herself. Hence M's childhood name.

Her Father, who by the time M is 5 has risen to being a diplomat for Pharaoh, 'dies' when he sent on a mission to Assyria and does not return. They are not destitute as they have their section of land to farm, and her Mother is by this time a dressmaker of repute that has caught the eye of Pharaoh's daughters. Over the next two years, M gets to know at a distance the female royal circle.

Life is considerably more tough though,and when her Mother Is given the great honour of her child being apprenticed at the age of 7 at the great temple at Thebes, she accepts.

The story begins 12 years later with M becoming the Great wife of Amun, the chief priestess of the temple on the morning of a visit of the Queen, Cleopatra III, who has identified herself with Isis. In the course of the visit, M hears some disturbing news about a plot to overthrow the Queen. A plot originating from inside the temple. She confides her information to the old high priest. But can she trust him. An attempt is made on the Queen's life but fails when M prevents her food from being poisoned. But. Unbeknown to her she was meant by the conspirators to do that as a bluff designed to give the Queen false security. The plot is much larger and involves temples throughout the land. The Queen leaves for Alexandria, waving away M's protests about her safety.

Weeks later, M makes her yearly pilgrimage to the tomb of her Mother in Alexandria. Whilst there, a seemingly innocent event at the market, a horse getting loose, is the catalyst for the plot to occur....


The horse, unbidden and riderless, came galloping through the market place, causing a ripple and then a rupture in the sea of people. They scattered to avoid its hooves. Like silk ripping I thought, stepping out of the animal's path and remembering. Remembering Boyalais holding the shimmering cloth tight, as Mother with deftness would tear it in two. Long ago. Bo..Ya...Lais. I rolled the syllables around my tongue as the horse wrecked havoc amongst the ordered stalls. Nubian for pretty young girl, Mother had given the maid this name for the girl would not or could not tell her what she was called.

I closed my eyes. The furore, the madness of the market dropped away. Mother, dressmaker to Pharaoh's daughters, working into the night in front of the hearth. The walls
of heat fading, flame turning blue, turning her head to a noise from the archway that led to the sleeping rooms. The noise me, dangerously curious, head peeping round the corner. 'Go to bed Merytaset' she would chide. But gently. Always gently.

Long after Ra began his night's journey, my Mother would work, set the candle aflame and work. Long after the Goddess Nuit began her watch over our blessed land, nothing would deter her. Especially if a Pharonic commission was due. Perched close to the dying embers, her hands moved at speed, 'these dresses are our fruit little one,' she would smile. I would think of Father's maxim when faced with a task for little reward. 'It's a long walk.' So it was, for although the Royal family were inevitably pleased with her work, she received scant profit.

I opened my eyes. A rather harassed looking man, flushed of face and beating away protests from the market sellers was trying to retrieve what I presumed was his horse.
The animal had scattered a table full of melon and crashed into a stall offering wine. It now appeared to be trying to eat the stock of a baker, much to his chagrin.

I had known for years that my current exalted position, though it ignited ignorance, was in all fact owing to my Mother's toil. This was one of many reasons why I made the pilgrimage from Thebes. I tried to travel unrecognised but I could not bring myself not to wear the robe of a priestess.

The horseman had recovered his charge and was now placating the stall holders. The fact he had opened his purse helped. I pulled my cloak closer and continued walking through the market. The cemetery was nearby. I carried the offering in my pocket to place at my Mother's tomb.

Copyright 2013 Gabrielle Goldsmith

Friday, 19 July 2013

The Raven

Oh, my raven! My saviour! You are the transcending flight from the cloudless blue of heaven; the tenacious one who lovingly snatched my hair ribbon in the grass. Out of the swirling sky came your majestic shape. Even your patched wing could not change the healing you brought to me. Beady eyes shot with black truth ushered in my purification. You were a flying, probing reality, and I lay under your wings for shelter, feathers black as a coal tit. Your limitrophe feathers were sleek like the floodtorrent cruising down the river of torment; more like the raging blood in my sickened heart. Chrestomathy was the human diagnosis, but you were having none of that, and engorged a cuckoo feather to show me how foolish I was.
The copyright of this post belongs to
Claudia Anne.         July 21/13

Monday, 1 July 2013

The House Speaks

The house says, 'yesterday I was five rooms of heartache. I heard the crying through my walls. For days I knew trouble was bungling my wallpaper. Catastrophic cracks appeared on all the ceilings. The dominant doors swung open at inappropriate moments-when my inhabitants were undressing or going to the toilet. What had been a magnificent edifice was now a poor ruin. I was always much more than they knew. I was always a home in my brick heart.'

The copyright of this post belongs to Claudia Anne

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

The Courtesan

Simon Burns stood in the garden, the five buckets of frogs stood at his feet. The courtesan at the window oozed jealousy, eyes stabbing like knives as the other woman scurried away, handbag swinging. He guessed that like everyone all she really wanted was to find love. He could sense her portentous determination even across the lilac garden. As he glanced back at her, he saw she was now down to her brassiere, wine cup in hand, but the peacock display in her hair remained untouched. A petal brushed he cheek and he hummed "are you lonesome tonight?"

The copyright of this post belongs to Jenni Crowe

Thursday, 20 June 2013


The journey begins at the base of the spine. Beneath the cerise silk shawl, the sharp white shirt, the green camisole I find that there’s a place for me. The riches of her bones lie in wait, like a shoal of regimented fishes, each one connected to the next like a little punch of promise. We are camping in a garden, in the rain, sisters but not sisters, weaving together a tapestry of many coloured memories to lie beneath. I feed her tea and oranges; she gives me coffee and almond biscuits. This could be the CafĂ© Americain, I think, as my fingers paddle their way up her back. The air is thick with imagination. I swallow the gift of her kiss, and travel my hands on, up, round, until I reach the point at which her composure melts.
‘That dress you’re wearing,’ she says. ‘It’s in the way. You should have taken it off when you came flying down the stairs. I thought I could trust you to do that. And the hat. You are seriously overdressed in that hat and that pompom scarf.’
There is a free spirit of enthusiasm in her voice as she draws me into the arc of her arm like a baby newborn. ‘Have you come here for forgiveness,’ she murmurs, ‘or have you come to raise the dead?’
Happiness bubbles in my heart. I know how to help. I know the joyous things that we can do. I raise myself on one elbow, touch my finger to her lips at journey’s end. ‘Meet me in the morning,’ I say, ‘and you’ll find out…’

The copyright of this post belongs to Jill Glenn

The Ostrich Plans to Set Sail

The ostrich marches on board with a quite particular step. ‘It is,’ he says, ‘the embarkation that gives most pleasure’, and then he dips his head shyly, looking overboard to blow a kiss at the shoal of fishes. They dart away, startled, into the turquoise shadows, swimming to the rhythm of a different drum. The ostrich stands like a rock in the sunshine for a moment and looks over his shoulder. There’s no-one there. He turns to Noah.
‘Should there not be two of us,’ he asks. ‘I think there should be two of us’.
Noah looks the other way.
‘Bit of a problem there,’ he says. ‘Accommodation on board a bit tight. You know how it is. All the rooms connected. And so many have brought gifts, such riches, but they all take up space. So there’s only a single cabin for you.’
The ostrich droops. The joy goes out of his day. He feels that tristesse, that melancholy that has assailed him all his life when plans go wrong.
Noah watches. ‘Would you like a drink of punch?’ he asks, hopefully. ‘It’s on the rancid side, having come by sea in a barque, but I know your tastebuds aren’t what they were, so I’m sure you’ll like it. And I know there’s no room for a partner, but I have got you a little friend…’ And out of his pocket he produces a thrush.

The copyright of this post belongs to Jill Glenn


Remembrance cuts through him, sharp as a lemon in the mouth. He is missing many things: several buttons, and the bodkin with which to stitch them on, his parrot, half his false teeth; indeed, as a castrato, he is also missing something else more personally significant – but he is no longer missing his memory. He is Stephen, restored to himself at last. His hand closes over the little angel talisman in his pocket, and he lifts up his voice in a rollercoaster of relief. No sooner has he hit the highest note than he loses himself again. A parrot, vivid as a lime leaf in the sun, darts out from underneath the foliage. A lurking cat appears with a dozen eggs in a basket and a pocketful of change. The jester happens by in a pair of knitted jodhpurs with a shaving brush behind his ear. The table is not set; he cannot find his right shoes. He is no longer Stephen, there is no angel, there is no remembrance. He has taken out the picture from his own photo-frame; he is empty of himself. He begins to cry.

The copyright of this post belongs to Jill Glenn