Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Sea

In the depths of the sea no wind can stir the silt into a tornado that greedily absorbs the colour and shape of everything and yet the surface boils with turbulence. The sea is a restless sleeper, always rolling over and back, never settling. It is dressed with flashes of colour from myriad fish and phosphorescence flares from the deep like a water born aurora. Waters flow endlessly around the earth in rhythm with the planets dance which can be rough and threatening, stealing life, drowning men, and yet she has a lullaby to sing when she is calm.
The fishing boats ply their trade year after year and the seasoned sailors know never to turn their backs on the sea lest it turns on them in an unexpected swell, swilling them from the deck in a salt spray slide. But when their work is done they allow themselves to be soothed by her song until they stay, subdued, in her far reaching embrace for the night.
The men on board, starved for the softness of a lover's touch dream dreams of mermaids rising on silvered tales from the depths to hold them and pull them deeply, into their rocking arms, their swollen bosom, their ripe mouths. The seasoned sailors warn them over cocoa,
"They will come to you in vulnerable sleep, Beware the shimmering comeliness of a mermaid's beauty their welcome is not what it seems. Fish must eat too and no curlews' call can reach you beneath the waves, no wondering albatross, a year on the wing, will see your path and send rescue. You are at the mercy of bliss. Should you give in to your desires and kiss the sea witch in return you are sure to taste salt tears. The dream would fold in on itself, collapse,a shout for help would bring you no aid. You are beneath the waves. Open your mouth and shout " I am in need of help" and you are doomed. There is no ladder back to the stars and you will be called forever to the billowy kelp gardens in the deep-dark. No. Better to enjoy the gifts of the dream and leave when they are done toying with you following bubbles to surface from sleep. Ask no more of the silken purse of nights' velvet sky but to deliver you safe to the 'morrow. There are too many connotations to the incantations of the sea, enchanting though they may seem. Do not trust the softness of the mermaids in your dreams it is insubstantial as a cloud. A man? A man can afford to be completely shameless in his dreams, he is blameless and can return to shore unsullied to enjoy his palpable pleasures."
Wave farewell to the mermaid then as she flicks foam with her tail and slides from her rock at dawn disappearing into the crest of a folding wave. They are freed now of the uncertainty of dreams.
"Shake of the night and let loose the nets one more time, men. Let's fill the hold with the sea's bounty and make our way home to the protective strong arms of the harbour to find a softer bed. The trestle tables are waiting to be laden with our treasure, dressed in their finest white damask gowns.



A violet evening sky rich with stars hangs like pinpricked silk across the heavens showing the relief of froth and foam cresting on gentle waves. They sing their constant lullaby on the water's surface while phosphorescence, the secret mermaid light of blue and green, bubbles in curtains from below, an aurora of the deep.
The bubbles of colour dress the leviathans travelling silently, unseen, in their finest sequinned frocks ready for the dance below the sea. Smaller fish fan their pectoral fins in puffs of pride showing their ribboned green and blue, the colours of an oil slick and as deadly to the more demure females of the species who can do nothing but shine their shimmering mirror scales.
The crowd assemble, coming through the four winds to conquer the extreme power of the sea in a need to dance, to celebrate, to sing their song under the sea. One by one they slip their silver coin to the mermaid with the dragons tail, progeny of an unholy union of myth and magic, who guards the gateway. (This will be the one day they all pass but only if her dragon heart desires are sated with silver.) She examines the coin for quality and nods her permission for them to enter Atlantis.
The grand ballroom, a cathedral of fan and fire coral lit by the swaying forms of myriad rainbow anemones offering a mirage as unexpected as that of melting fresh water layered on top of salt, making the leap or seal and the narwhal instantly at home. They cannot stay long below the waves and are eager for the festivities to begin.
The King appears, flanked by a royal guard of Mermen and Manta Rays, the book of power and a thousand secrets tucked safely under his arm. It holds the power to the Kingdom and can never be lost or Atlantis will fall. A turtle makes his slow ponderous flight through the water towards the King
and slips from his shell a silver token, a gift, a reminder, from the Fairy Princess on the Lone Isle to the North. His bewitched daughter resides with her still, beyond the castle keep. It is his great sadness. She lost her heart to a Landman and let the scales filter from her tale into the turquoise seas. Her punishment, to be banished from Atlantis, never more to fit in one world or another and so she lamented day and night all that was lost to her. She was kept beyond the great stone walls in a shallow pool so she could breathe the air and yet keep her skin from drying to parchment in the sun and she wrote daily to her Father, the King.
"Dearest Father and Sovereign King,
Why have you stolen my life? Why did you let my love fall through the endless fathoms to the floor of the trench to be supped on by the ancient terrors, six-gills and hag fish in the darkness. Am I not more precious to you than all the world. You know the Fairy Princess has the power to return me to your care if only you will give her The Book of a Thousand Secrets. You have my love, have I not yours?"
She had not forgiven him then, nor forgotten her love. And that was his curse.
Ever the servant to his people the King nods to the treasurer and the turtle is passed a silken coin filled mermaid's purse for his act of kindness, his tender delivery of heartbreak.
The King exits from his private grief, a cloud passing over his eyes and puts on his public face. He claps his hands and the Clam Calypso strikes up. The freedom of dancing naked under the sky and sea begins. Colours flash and whirl as the fish dance in crazed oblivion like bumper cars under bright anemone lights in a lunacy and excitement of utter abandon.
The way stone of knowledge hangs heavy about the Kings neck and holds him steady while his court whirl around him like ghosts of lovers, blurred at their edges.
"What is their secret," wondered the King, "how can they let go of the worries that bring me to my knees." He looked through the magical kaleidoscope portal to the sky and kingdoms of Above searching for the Curlew to hear their comforting song, "Hear us when we cry to thee of those in peril in the sea." They did not have his worries, but then they were supplicants to the wind's caprice. Nobody is truly free.

The copyright of this post belongs to Holly Khan

Monday, 30 March 2015

The Key

The key is rusted now, small but heavy with memory, mysterious with untold story. We’re both
keeping our mouths shut.
It was the key she gave me over a year ago now, to the hotel room overlooking Stansted airport. I
had sneaked off with it in my pocket, not knowing I would never need it again.
I met Allegra as one does, at a dull, grown-up function, not a chair in sight, minimal food and dodgy
booze. Everyone was standing up, a glass poised with apparent casual ease in one hand and an Art
Deco plate in the other (not allowing for hand-shaking, just an awkward nod on introduction.) And
there I was, pretending fascination as another person with glass in hand forced their company and
conversation on me. I was delirious with boredom, not nearly drunk enough and mindful that, if I
spoke too enthusiastically, I may well spit out the delicately crafted canapes onto the dress of the
elegant matriarch I had just been introduced to.
“Oh, yes, my husband’s in oil.” She was saying.
I desperately wanted to respond with some entirely random comment, spat out, Tourettes-like into
the stilted atmosphere: something about being made entirely of bubblewrap. Or just, “Shut the hell
up, you old bag.” But obviously I didn’t. I just smiled and nodded, as one does. I was wondering
when Iwas going to start feeling grateful that this prop of the ghostly Empire and her oil-sticky
husband wanted to acknowledge me at all. After all, I was here to network.
Then I caught sight of her, a flash of red out of the corner of my eye, like a fresh spill of blood
against the snow­white carpet.
Excusing myself more abruptly than I should, I wandered casually over to one of the drinks tables,
where I could study her without appearing to. Stalker­style.
Despite the very red dress she somehow maintained an ethereal air, fey, haunted; as if she were a
glimpsed shadow from another reality. Or perhaps that was just my fevered, frustrated-novelist
imagination.I always like something a bit metaphysical in a woman. Her long, glossily dark auburn
hair reached almost to her gently rounded bottom, teasing the curves. She should be wearing a
flower in her hair, consumptive and Pre­Raphaelite, waiting for Rossetti to come along and paint
her. Pale and blood­-red and alone.
She stood in the corner, gazing around her with wide, innocent child’s eyes, until her gaze found
me. She had caught me staring, but she didn’t flick her eyes away. Neither did she smile.
She just stared back.
Then she beckoned me over, a rather clumsy gesture for a Creature from beyond the magical fairy
rainbow.
Perhaps she was real, after all.
The faintest ghost of a smile lifted her small, pale mouth as I approached. Her dark-eyed gaze was
alarmingly direct.
“Shall we make a break for it?” She said.
I smiled back quizzically, wondering if I was supposed to know her. Had we met? She would
probably say Yes; in another life. “Well, it is a bit uninspiring ­” I began.
“Pity I haven’t got my Norton Commando parked outside. I have a passion for vintage motorbikes,
you see.”
She glanced down at her tight red dress. “Not that I could get on my bike in this stupid thing,
anyway.”
Vintage motorbikes? I thought. She should be riding bare­backed and barefoot on a unicorn,
hair trailing behind her like fire.
“I used to have a Kawasaki Zephyr 750.” I said, careful to sound casual about it. I still
mourned the loss of my biking days. Another life, another me.
She smiled widely, tipping her cheeks with light and sparking in her strange, changeable eyes.
They weren’t dark, as they had looked from a distance, but a deep grey, like a stormy sky,
with a watercolour wash of green. “Newfangled.” She said.
“Anyway, I love this dress. Very classy.”
“Oh, very.” She looked scornful. “I ought to tell you that I dress to please myself and not for the
benefit of others. But actually, this little number was picked out for me.”
I didn’t know what to say to that. Did she have a personal stylist, or something? After a short
silence, I asked: “Where do you fancy going, then?”
She considered, twisting her glossy hair around her fingers. Her hands, I noticed, were childsmall,
her nails unvarnished and bitten down.
“Anywhere but here.”
“We could go and grab a coffee. Somewhere with fewer oil billionaires.”
She smiled again, leaning forward and whispering conspiratorially: “Away from this cosmopolitan
crush. The B.O stench of too much money.”
“Quite.”
Actually, there was a drifting, body odour smell in the room. Rich people obviously sweat a lot when
they’re around other rich people, who may conceivably be richer than them.
“I’d rather go for a walk.” She said. “It was heaving it down, earlier.”
“Who cares?” She laughed loudly, causing several heads to turn and stare in our direction. It was
a rich, vibrant sound; its energy entered my bloodstream like a drug.
I looked at her closely, trying to read her. Was she just messing with me? “Before you drag me off
into the rain, is there anything else I need to know about you?”
“Such as ­?”
“Umm… Are you an axe murderer?”
“Isn’t everybody?”
So, we snuck out like naughty school children bunking off, back into the rain. It was grey, especially
wet rain, falling in a single, drenching sheet. She whooped with excitement, holding out her hands to it,
shouting overthe noise of the traffic in the wet: “I’m an identical twin.”
“Sorry?”
“You asked if there was anything else you should know about me. Her name is Isabella and she’s
about half an inch taller than me. And she’s just chopped her hair off and dyed it blond, silly girl.” “What’s your name?”
“What name do I look like?”
She was teasing me, a foreplay guessing game.
“You look like you should be called ‘Peace­Child’ or ‘MoonStar’. But it’s probably something
like Jane. Something strangely normal.”
She laughed again, that vibrant sound. “Close. It’s Allegra.”
“Allegra…” I rolled the sound across my tongue, savouring its luxury. “What name do I look like,
then?”
“I know what your name is, David.” She said. “I know your wife.”
My heart bungee­-jumped, landing in my toes.
“How do you ­?”
She grinned, clearly enjoying my shock. “She’s in my pottery class. She doesn’t really have a clue,
bless her, but she tries hard.” Her gaze twinkled into mine. “She talks about you a lot.” No response suggested itself to me.
“She’s a sweetie, actually.” Allegra waved her hand dismissively. “But enough about adoring wifey
Shauna. I want to know about you.”
An acid excitement rose in my throat. My heart was pounding like I’d been doing crystal meth.
“Such as what, exactly?”
“Such as, what were you doing at that appalling rich­bastard party?”
“How do you know I’m not an appalling rich bastard?”
She looked me up and down, my cheap­(ish) suit all but unravelling under her fierce gaze.
“Trust me, honey. I know.”
I squared up to her, laughing as loudly as her. I couldn’t help it.
“You’re right. I was born in a barn. Well ­ what were you doing at that appalling rich­bastard
party?”
“My husband’s possibly the richest of all those appalling rich bastards. It was his party.”
I stopped dead, the rain pummeling my head, collecting under my chin and on the end of my nose.
Most unattractive. She, on the other hand ­ equally drowned, looked alluring and invigorated, her
sopping dress clinging to her curves, her pale cheeks stung into radiance. The rain coursed like
tears of joy down her face. Her hair smelt of crushed grass.
“Listen ­” I said, “I get the communing with nature, wild­child thing, but can we go and get that
coffee, now?”
She leaned towards me. “I’ve got a better idea.” She said. And so it began.
The next moment she pulled me hard against her, her open mouth pressed to my neck. I breathed
in her warmbody smell, the fragrance beneath her dress. And then the bright darkness of her
saturated hair was in my grasping hands and clinging wetly to my neck; shining cords to bind me
to her.
“Let’s go.” She whispered.
She took the lead that first time. I followed dumbly, not a thought in my head, my whole body alive
with the memory of her touch. My mouth still burned with her kisses.
She took me to the hotel that was to become so familiar. I didn’t even notice the  screaming row of
the aeroplanes overhead. The insistent, pulsing rhythm of my own need drowned out all other sound
or sense. I followed her along the corridor, watching the curve of her calves tensing with each step,
the soft movement ofher thighs beneath the sway of blood-red. I’d like to say that I was troubled by
pangs of conscience; that partof me wanted to turn back, run away. But the truth is, I didn’t think
about  ‘adoring wifey’ Shauna at all. She had been blanked from existence and memory. If I had
given her even the briefest second’s thought, I’d have pictured her where she would be at half past
three in the afternoon, while I was in a darkened hotel room with a stranger.
She would be at the school gate, picking up our daughter, trying in vain to resist Emily’s pleas to go
to the park. While my desperate life was flooding out of me, pulsing into the life of a woman I had
known little more than an hour, Shauna was sitting, bored and resigned with the other school gate
mums, chatting about getting home to get the washing in, before it rained again.
But not a glimmer of her world disturbed mine. The universe shuddered to a stop and fell away from
our darkened room with its huge, destroyed bed, the sound of the rain outside, the hot, maddening
scents.
Time wasn’t restored to its proper rhythms until Allegra sat up suddenly in bed, her rich hair falling in
a tangle across her alabaster shoulders.
“I have to go, David.” She said with a rueful smile. “All those rich people will be wanting to get home
to their butlers and nannies.”
I forced a smile back. I didn’t want her to go. In fact, I wanted to lock her in the bathroom, to stop
her.
“Including your husband.”
“You got it.”
With astonishing grace she slid out of bed, her lithe, softly curved body still flushed with our exertion.
I watched her as she located her tossed clothes, dressing with a business­like speed that hurt my
heart.
“Allegra… Wait… Just wait a minute.”
She turned to me, unsmiling, zipping up her dress. “What, David?”
“Was this just… a one­off?”
She reached for her coat, glancing at her watch. Ruthless. “It doesn’t have to be.” She said. “Do you want to do this again?” Silly question.
A month later and we were back, afternoon again, a two hour window in her day. Same darkened
room, same hurried dressing afterwards. But that was all it took - like the warning about two
consecutive times mainlining heroin. I was hooked. And when she left me that time ­ with
non­specific assurances that she would call ­ I was screaming with withdrawal. I went home and
climbed the walls, waiting, helpless.
“Will you put that bloody phone away?” Shauna complained. “Anyone would think you were
expecting a call from your Hollywood agent.”
Emily, meanwhile, was seeing if nonverbal communication would succeed where her mother’s
nagging failed.She climbed onto my lap, tugging at my hair and putting her finger up my nose.
“Play ‘Minecraft’ with me, Daddy!”
But I could not be pulled back into their dimension. I was lost, corpsewalking through my life,
my pupils a black hole of lust and longing. I was far, far from home. Shauna and Emily talked;
I heard nothing. I climbedinto bed with Shauna every night and saw only Allegra’s lithe, naked
body, her legs thrown across mine, her hair a tangle on the pillow. Not Shauna in her pink cotton
pyjamas, snoring softly beside me.
If she had made me wait another whole month for her summoning phone call, I would probably
have gone mad. Painted my face blue, started screaming, gauged my own eyes out. But instead,
I quietly continued with my nonlife, playing ‘Minecraft’ with Emily, having conversations with
Shauna about what we needed from‘Tesco’.
I didn’t think they would have a new conscience in stock.
I was fast becoming the kind of man I normally despised and I didn’t care. Lying with every
breath, sneaking around, all my brains in my trousers. All I wanted was to hear Allegra’s
voice again, the sound of the key turning in the lock, the soft sliding of her body against mine.
Evidently, Allegra couldn’t wait a whole month, either. She phoned me at work; no chat, just a
time and a reminder of the room number. As if I’d have forgotten.
I took liberties with my flexitime and sneaked off at 2.30, almost running into the road to hail
the first cab I saw.  My heart was thudding in my gut. I wanted to scream at the driver to go
faster, for God’s sake, man…
I dreaded getting there too late, finding ‘our’ room empty and anonymous. But she opened at
the first knock, a small, welcoming smile spreading a flush across her cheeks. She undid her
dark, silk robe and lassoed me with the belt around my neck, giggling, leading me inside.
Later, we lay on the bed, the curtains fluttering at the windows and planes screaming overhead.
The world going on with its business.
“Do you love Shauna?” She said suddenly.
My wife’s name sounded like an obscenity on her lips.
I considered. “Yes, I do. She’s a good person. Kind. Supportive. And a fantastic mother.”
Allegra gave a humourless laugh. “Not bad looking, either.”
I thought of Shauna’s blond, elfin prettiness, her neat figure. “Not bad.” I agreed.
“So, why are you here with me, David? Considering you have a perfectly adequate wife at home.”
She propped herself up on her elbows, piercing me with her cool, grey­green gaze.
I pulled her back down, encircling her again. “I could ask the same of you, Allegra. What are you
doing with me?”
She shrugged. “You got me.”
“Do you love your husband?”
“No. I can’t stand him, actually.”
“That begs an obvious question.”
She smiled. “Better the devil you know…”
I kissed one moist, glowing shoulder, tasting her. “Especially if he’s a rich devil.”
“Quite.”
I didn’t want to talk about her husband. My stomach churned with jealousy at the mere
acknowledgement of his existence.
I sat up, gazing at her. Her bright hair burned in a shaft of sunlight that was creeping through
the curtain, glowing across her breasts. Her eyes danced green in the light, staring back at me.
 “So, Allegra.”
“So, David?”
“I want to know you. What’s going on in there?” I pressed my hand to her breast, trying to
feel the pulse of her. Her gaze was steady, an unwavering challenge.
 “How would you describe yourself, Allegra? What do you want?”
She laughed. “Sex, most of the time.” Then she looked away, considering.
 “I’m restless. I’ve got talents, but I’m not sure how to use them. I’m constantly looking for
answers.”
I was looking for answers, too. Problem was, I wasn’t sure what the questions were.
I smiled into her eyes. “What are your talents, Allegra?”
She shrugged, again. “Oh, I’m good at most things. How would you describe yourself, then,
David?”
“Oh, I ride the waves of destiny on a hump­back whale. You know ­ wild. Crazy.”
She gave a loud shout of laughter. “I think this is the craziest thing you’ve ever done in your life.” She wasn’t wrong. These days, I had to fill out a risk assessment before I got out of bed in the
morning. Every major decision I’d taken recently was the result of minute calculation, representing
whole nights of lost sleep. The wonder is that I ever went near Allegra at that party. The frustrated
novelist in me would call it destiny. Nothing to do with boredom and three glasses of terrible red
wine.But the moment I set eyes on her, I had thrown out all my risk assessments. In fact, I shredded
them to dust and had thrown them to the wind. She glanced at her vile watch. “I’ve got to go.”
I shrugged too, pretending I wasn’t bothered. Easy come, easy go. Perfectly adequate wife at home.
“I’ll call you.” She said.
“When?”
“Soon.”
Then she was gone. Next time I would drop that damn overpriced watch into the toilet. If there was
a next time. But there was. And a time after that. It seemed she was as hooked on our strange
afternoon liaisons as I was.
The times in between were torture. Stretched on a rack of slow­grinding daily responsibilities, never
able toput her name on my lips, I was trapped in my silence. A low fever of desire bubbled
continually in my blood.
I wanted her in my sleep; when I woke; crammed in the tube amongst all those hot, pressing bodies. I
thought of the softness of her skin, the pulse and the rhythm of her as I stood in the queue at Tesco, or
flopped down in front of ‘Eastenders’ with Shauna of an evening.  I lived in a permanent state of
tension asI waited, waited, staring my phone down. Ring, you bastard.
The times inbetween worked on my curiosity, too. I started to think increasingly - like a grisly road
accident that you don’t want to peer at, but must - about her life with the husband she couldn’t stand.
The devil she knew.
On one of those ‘Eastenders’ evenings, Shauna suddenly turned her attention from Phil and Sharon
screaming at each other and said:
“Are you O.K, David? I’m worried about you.”
“I’m fine. Why?”
“You seem so… distant. Depressed, even. You’re not depressed, are you?” She cuddled up to me,
laying her delicate, beautifully manicured hand against my cheek. “You know you can talk to me about
anything,don’t you?”
Sadly, of course, this wasn’t true. I wanted to tell her. I wanted to pour out the vile contents of my
blackened heart to her and still have her love and sympathy. Instead, I muttered, staring at the stains
on the carpet: “Just work, I guess. Clients who don’t call back when they say they will. All the
uncertainty.”
She patted my arm. “Yes, you have been surgically attached to that damn phone, lately. Emily’s
been moaning about it.”
Since the counselling session was starting to turn into a nag, I concluded with: “I’ll make sure I
spend more time with her.” We went back to ‘Eastenders’.
I wasn’t depressed ­ I was scared. It had been three weeks since I had last seen Allegra ­- a longer
gap than usual - and a creeping paralysis of fear was invading my thoughts.
What if she never calls again?
What if she’s tired of me?
But the day after Shauna had her ‘concerned’ chat with me, Allegra called. That same afternoon we
were back at the hotel, same sounds, same smells, same curtains fluttering at the windows. Same bed.
And the feel of her skin, rushing into my withdrawal, making me weak with relief. Afterwards, I held her close, afraid of any movement she may make to glance at her watch. That ever­ticking enemy. Her darkly rich hair was spread across my chest, tangled as ever with our fix­hungry
love­making.
“So, tell me,” I said, “why can’t you stand your husband?”
She sighed. “Beyond the usual burping, farting, smelly socks left on the floor, picking his nose when
hethinks I’m not looking nonsense?”
I laughed, recognising some of my own behaviour. “Beyond that.”
“James is a control-freak. I’m a possession, one that needs dressing correctly, presenting, keeping
in line.I’m part of his business empire.”
“So, he chose that red dress you were wearing at the party.”
“Of course.”
“He’s not doing a very good job of controlling you at the moment, is he?”
“I sneak out from time to time. Jump on my Norton. Go shopping with Isabella, spending his money.”
“Having sublime sex with me.”
“Yeah - well, I don’t think he cares that much what I get up to. As long as I’m available when
he needs me, so I can be presented, properly attired and ready to charm all his boring, loaded
buddies.”
“Sounds unbearable.” I said.
“It has its compensations.” She smiled mischievously, tilting her face up so I could kiss her.  It was
a long, languid kiss, her fingers tracing slowly along my jaw and down my neck, giving me such
shivers that I hardly had a chance to wonder what those compensations were and if I was one of
them.
Twenty minutes later she was rushing to put her clothes on. “Oh, crap.” Another frantic look at her
watch.
 “James will be home by now.”
“I thought you said he didn’t care what you did.”
“He likes me to be home when he is. Like I said: available.”
I caught hold of her arm as she passed by the bed. “Allegra.”
She stopped, gave me one of her cool, measured looks. “What?”
“Why don’t you leave him?”
She smiled. “I might. Now ­ where’s my flipping shoe?”
I might. I might… Two words that consumed my thoughts every conscious moment in the days
that followed.
She wanted to leave him, I was sure ­ and she was reaching out to me.
As for me, I was starting to lose patience with our arrangement ­ the all­ too brief criss­cross of  this tumultuous, fevered semi-reality with our normal lives. It just wasn’t enough. I wanted to fall asleep
with her, wake up with her in the morning, walk along the street holding her hand. I wanted time with
her that wasn’t dictated by her bloody watch. I wanted to throw open the windows of our darkened
room, drive out the shadows cast by the absent ‘devil’, to show that a normal life of happiness was
possible, out in theopen, in the bright light of love. I would rescue her.
I was her means of escape, just as she was mine. We would escape into each other.
I guess I’ve always been a believer in destiny, even while surrounded by blokes whose ‘match made
in heaven’ was whoever was willing to shag them. The fashionable thinking on such matters is that
there is no other half of you out there somewhere ­ only a number of people with whom it is possible to
form ameaningful relationship. ‘Marriage isn’t about destiny. It’s about hard work and compromise.’
That line.
But I’ve remained a secret believer; that out there in the world is someone who holds the key to your
existence, who can make sense of your universe, as you bring meaning to theirs. Catching sight of
Allegra that afternoon, standing alone in her blood­red dress, I had recognised that Someone.
Until that moment, I hadn’t felt I belonged in my own life. The I.T job with its ceaseless demands,
its pedestrian tasks, its grim routine. My real skills dropped on the floor, part of the detritus to be
swept up at the end of each dull, frustrating day. And Shauna. She didn’t belong in my real,
undiscovered life, either - she was part of the engine that drove me away from it and deeper into
my obligations.
Pay the mortgage. The hall needs redecorating. I’m sick of Majorca: Let’s go somewhere a bit
more exotic, shall we? I told Emily we’d get her a Playstation for her birthday, this year.
On and on, further and further from the person I was meant to be.
I looked at Shauna and knew that ­ sadly, terribly ­ I couldn’t stay with her. This faithful woman I’d
stood beside at the front of a church and made those promises to, this woman who had carried,
born and nurtured our child, was keeping me from myself.
But with Allegra… I saw a fellow captive longing for freedom, her wing span as wide as mine,
ready to climb on those thermals to a new, clean hemisphere. We would discover ourselves and
one another in flight.
Some might call it a midlife crisis. I called it a prison break.
I knew I had to tell Shauna before I saw Allegra again. I had to tell her quickly, before I lost my nerve.
There would never be a ‘right’ time, so I did it that Monday evening, once she got back from her
pilates class and Emily was tucked up in bed.
“Bad news, Shauna.” I said.
She sighed. “Don’t tell me you’ve lost your job. I can’t ­”
“No. No, I haven’t… listen, Shauna, I…”
She looked at me closely. “There’s someone else.”
“I’ve fallen in love, Shauna. She’s going to leave her husband. I’m sorry, but... I have to leave you, too.
I’m sure we can work out something civilised about Emily.”
A bright hatred shone coldly out of the glaze of shock in Shauna’s blue eyes. She bit her lips.
“You think so, do you.”
An hour and a half and lots of screaming later, my bags were packed and I was out of the door,
heading for the nearest cheap hotel. Now, all I had to do was wait for Allegra to call. This time, I
knew she would.
She did. She smelled the scent of imminent freedom, heard my heartbeat pulsing across the city.
My phonerang. Her voice whispering to me, close inside my head, summoning me to the hotel the next
day.
She was waiting for me, naked, in the dark room, her long, fireflecked hair hanging over both breasts,
a strange smile on her face.
She knows. I thought: She has felt it, too…
“I’ve been looking forward to this.” She said, her voice a purr.
“Me, too.”
She knelt up, smoothing her hands along her thighs as I crossed the room, sitting beside her on the
bed.
Winding her silky arms around me, she kissed along my neck, pressing her tongue to the base of
my throat. I pushed her away from me, gripping her arms tightly.
“I’ve done it, Allegra.”
“Done what?” She said, her smile quizzical.
“I’ve left Shauna.”
She released herself from my grip. “Oh. Why ­?”
I took her hand gently, stroking her fingers up to the bitten-down nails, feeling the cold metal of her
wedding ring.
“Well ­ because… I want us to be together. When you’ve left James, of course.”
She moved back in the bed, covering herself with the sheet. My heart chilled at the withdrawal of her
touch.
“I see.” She said quietly. “You’ve obviously given this some thought.”
“Of course I have! I haven’t thought about anything else since I met you, my darling.”
She was staring at me, green­grey eyes gone dark, pupils pin­pricks of unreachable distance.
“But, David... what’s wrong with what we have?”
I gazed around me. The mildew on the window sill. The small holes in the thin, yellowed-cream curtains.
The bed with the dodgy springs, saggy with repeated adulteries. This dark, airless pleasure­world we
had created was now a prison cell. “What’s wrong with it?” I said, my voice husky with panic.
Beep­beep. Beep beep. Her phone screamed out of her handbag, the rudest of interruptions.
She pulled it out, reading the text with a frown.
“Damn. James wants me home.” She shrugged, gathering up her clothes with chillingly familiar
speed. And a glance at her watch. “Shit, shit, shit…”
I got up from the bed, backing towards the door. I couldn’t let her leave. Not yet.
“We need to talk about this, Allegra.”
“We will, darling.” She was smiling again, but her pinprick eyes gazed through me. Fully clothed now,
sheslipped her arms around my neck, kissing me softly. Her breath was sweetly almond as she
whispered againstmy cheek: “I’ll call you soon. We’ll talk.” And then she was gone.
She had left her room key on the bedside table. I picked it up, feeling its warm pressure in my hand,
like a reassuring touch. A gentle pulse of promise against my skin. I locked the door and pocketed
the key.
Even before I’d hailed a cab outside the hotel, the planes screaming my stupidity overhead, I knew
that she wouldn’t call. That she would never call. That I would never see her again. Shauna began divorce proceedings straight away. I found myself a small flat to rent at an
extortionate rate, returning every night after work to its anonymous silence. Since we didn’t manage
to work out ‘something civilised about Emily’, I saw my little girl every other weekend, taking her for
a Macdonaldsor a K.F.C, sometimes Pizza Hut, if I was feeling a bit more flush.
Which I wasn’t, often, what with the rent and the alimony ‘arrangement.’
Depression crept in as inevitably as Winter, taking hold as the months moved slowly on. I missed
Shauna; her companionship, her safe, warm body. I began not showing up for work, huddling
instead under my blankets until late in the afternoon, when I got up to a bowl of sugar puffs and
‘Countdown’.
I tried not to think about Allegra. But my dreams were crowded with her, blood­red out of the
corner of myeye, my mocking destiny riding off into the sunset on her vintage Norton. Sometimes ­
I couldn’t help it ­ I imagined her with her blond haired twin Isabella, laughing about me over
coffee.
Eventually, they got sick of me not showing up at work and I resigned just before they fired me.
The extortionate rent on my flat now beyond my financial reach, I found the grim bedsit I’m in now,
screaming neighbours, dodgy landlord, peeling wallpaper and all.
I wonder what happened to my destiny, when, not so long ago, it had seemed within my grasp.
I could see it, smell it. Touch it. It left its blood­red stain on my flesh.
I turn the key over in my hand, rusted, small, heavy with memory. It isn’t suffering that proves our
undoing; it’s pleasure.
That’s when we make all our made choices, chuck out reason, miss what really matters.
Suffering grounds us. But one glance from a mysterious, unavailable female and I was in another
hemisphere, floating away into airless disaster.
I’ve decided to get a frame for the key, to hang it on my tiny, peeling wall. It will unlock my new
life of understanding. I still believe in destiny. It’s just that now, I also believe it’s possible to miss it.
To tradeit in for selfishness, swap your real life for fantasy. And other people’s real lives.
So, if I stay in this dump or if my fortunes unaccountably change and I find myself in a mansion, that
key is going with me. I have hung it on the blood­red wall of my heart.

The copyright of this post belongs to Alisha Bailie

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Marjorie's Babies 1 & 2

Marjorie muffled the metronome, swaddling it in heavy cotton cloth, much as she routinely did with the flannel nappies to insulate the babies. Cotton babies they were—fresh and fragrant like daisies and daffodils—soft and warm, comfortable. But unlike cotton, they were crusty around the edges, salty like Marmite kisses on their tear-soaked faces—luscious faucets streaming, leaky taps—their little dimples like tiny pools you could peer into with a magnifying glass. So needy! So unsatisfied—like a Monday morning mug waiting for its spoonful of instant coffee. Spiky and irritated—not at all like cotton!—but taffeta—scratchy; like nettles—prickly.
Turning the volume down to the lowest audible setting on the keyboard, Marjorie seated herself down on the cushioned seat. She would not wake the triplets if she took such preventative measures…
Upon the kitchen countertop, her mobile rang and made the cutlery jump. A shrill alarm; a space invader. With stiffened limbs, fingers still poised above the keys, Marjorie waited breathlessly for the inevitable shrieks of awakening.


With stiffened limbs, fingers still poised above the keys, Marjorie waited breathlessly for the inevitable shrieks of awakening. Trying to juggle her writing career with being a mother was proving to be fraught with more difficulty than she had anticipated. She desired to progress her career, but little Leroy’s needs were like ruts in the road to her success.
Since his birth in June, she had failed to make any substantial progress with her novel. This motherhood was a new chapter in life, all right—a single, long, unimaginative chapter with run-on sentences and lengthy pauses.
Here—September. She had been scheduled to share a sneak preview of her work in progress, but with no progress having been made, she would instead be sitting in audience to support a young graduate’s writing.
Sure enough, like clockwork or the inevitability of playing Easter Bunny for many years to come, Leroy cried out—waking after a mere 10-minute nap. With a sigh of resignation, she ascended the stairs to the nursery. Past the leaky sink tap, the ticking Beatrix Potter clock, she manoeuvred through familiar dark space to his cot and plucked him up into her arms as if to comfort him. Her voice, cool, as if carried from another place, she began a lullaby; stiff and formal, in taffeta black, her slippered, stockinged foot beating in time to the faucet and the taunting metronome.

The copyright of these pieces belongs to Monica Jenkins

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Bloody Shame



Her mouth looks good in red. A red, red scar. Where did she hide her drug paraphernalia? What will she do with so much shame? Her mouth looks good with a blood-soaked handkerchief with its delicate lace edging. Hidden in the wings is the physician with bottles of laudanum in his white coat. Going to him is like riding a runaway coffin cart. Rotting food. The gutter is filled with rotting fish food. Can the fish predict the future? What will she do with so much shame? Her mouth looks good in red, like notes from Lohengrin sung by a grave trombone.

The copyright to this post belongs to Claudia Anne

Greens

Green 1

I, Geraldine Persnickety ask myself how I will make this string of green stones belong in the wardrobe of my fashion shoot. I look a the mottled faceted peas strung together escaped from their pods in exasperation. No clasp.
I green myself into a silk shift and tie the tassled low waist ribbon so it falls to the gossamer hanky hem and stare into the mirror. Is this not a perfect portrait of England's green and pleasant land. Inspiration strikes, I can wear the stones as a choker. I wrap them about my pale knock leaving the ends to hang low at the front and check the impression in the mirror again. Am I not beautiful? I will dazzle in the clam shell lights of the catwalk. They green and smoke a little from their pits of anonymity but they glimmer none the less.
Jaque enters the room again to check the final running order, the turnout of the models, as if we were horses in his stable. He is looking flustered, unsure of whether he is coming or going. He has been worse since his cigarette break and I wonder what he saw as he trod the path through the woods. He has greened about the gills and I am not sure if the slick of sweat is nerves over the arrival of the audience or opiate.
They are all out there, the Great and the Good, arriving in their chauffeured Rollers and Bentleys, stepping out of the darkened inrpteriors into the partially lit auditorium, rolls of money held tightly banded in pods at their pockets ready to honour their bets.
I prepare to step out onto the stage, visualising my shield of white light to protect me from the stripping gaze of those in the audience who would wish to see me laid bare on the central plinth, repeating my mantra with every facet-glint from my green choker 'I am beautiful'. But then I see her,there in the audience, the woman who would make the devil panic. Could I get a message backstage with a flutter of my fan and spread the word like the disciples, like a carrier pigeon?
She is here.


Green 2
Water greens the moss to life as it escapes the darkness of the cave where it is born of the earths depths unseen. It bubbles forth from the rock where only one side is rough, the other worn away to polish by centuries of liquid caress, no need to change the conditioner.
It rolls and boils smoothing its way over singing stones and gurgling gaps in the river bank winding its way to the mystical forest. Droplets of water clinging to moss, lichen, ferns, like a necklace of precious stones that a mermaid would wear to enhance her natural beauty. How many hues of green can there be? It seems infinite in all the shade ing of the seasons. And as the water weaves in around and through her journey does she remember her roots in the darkness of the earthen cave?
"Where are the caves" she sings," I have left them for the light. I have no need of darkness. I have life and a journey ahead of me. I shall be lifted to the heavens in the glow of the sun's rays. Can't you see I have come from antiquity and will go on to eternity. Come with me, I will carry you"

The copyright of these posts belongs to Holly Khan

Friday, 13 March 2015

A Final Journey



The journey of our creation comes full circle, from watery birth to watery end, and the shades are drawn on our lidded eyes to open no more in this life: now is the beginning of a new journey.
The light is shut out from our eyes and salt tears fall from the loved ones surrounding us, a payment to cross the river stir riding on a Jackdaw.
The soul is a feathered thing, fluttering untethered in the cross winds of this world enjoying one last ecstasy of freedom and jubilation.
But will the Jackdaw carry you true with the salt-tear sacrifice and your ferry jewel?
When finally you settle next to that river of the dead and the black jack unburden so himself of his load what will you see but magic?
A miracle.
The river stretches out before you so vast to either side that you cannot comprehend its magnitude
You are but a gnat buzzing on the water's edge of oblivion, insignificant, inconsequential, minute.
The blood orange sun hangs on the horizon glowing tangerine.
Like a mirage it hangs inverted on the water's surface, an intangible reflection of a star, inconceivably magnificent.
A sound greets your ears as a boat glides towards you water slapping gently at the sides, oars dripping, trickling.
All at once you know what you must do and step across to the boat,ms lipping on slimed banks, falling on board in a tumble.
A lean hooded figure stands at the prow offering no helping hand as you right yourself for the journey steadying your absent breath.
The air about you seems suddenly full of expectation, bloated.
The oars push away from the bank and slowly the bow ploughs a furrow into deeper water moving as if bewitched.
"You are mine now belov├ęd"

The copyright of this post belongs to Holly Khan

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Remembering



Ruby sat atop the serpentine curve of the dune looking toward the sinking sun lowering itself gently to the hot sand and the lengthening clawed shadow of the lone tree as it ghosted towards her. The Eritrean coke bottle stood empty between her bare toes, buried to its waist in sand. It held no message of hope or quenching liquid it was merely a reminder of the better times, of when they had met. Even as these thoughts ran into her head she chased them away feeling the bile of betrayal rise in her throat. The wounds were too fresh, still oozing, she could not think kindly of him yet.
But as Ruby absorbed the warmth of the African sun she knew that the wounds would dry like the salt pans and form a crust. Healing was a process. It would take time. With a little nurturing she could rekindle the fire of inner strength she knew still glowed in her depths. So there she sat, feeling the sun enter her skin, feeding the kernel of regenerative power, preserved, hermetically sealed, deep at her core.
When they had met Ruby had been a delicate blossom of orange fruit, fragrant, transparent, unprotected and she had been left pulverised like marmalade. She could never again be that innocent blossom but 'the sun will go on rising and setting' as her grandmother used to say, whatever misfortunes befall you. If life is going to carry on, Ruby decided, she was going to get up and go with it. She may not be what she once was but lots of people like marmalade. There was a sweetness to marmalade wasn't there? She must learn to trust again, to taste life and unscrew the lid on the jar at her heart and let someone worthy taste the bitter sweet glory of her amber fruitfulness.
As the sun finally dipped below the surface of the sand Ruby prepared to turn her hourglass to its new beginning. This wild space, untouched by the hurts of man was a balm to her soul. She was enveloped here, held safe. It sang to her: I will offer you protection;walk my scorching sands and use the blisters to obscure the pain; I contain innumerable moons,one reincarnation after another, stay with me until you find the one that reflects your soul song and then you will have the strength you need to go on.

The copyright of this post belongs to Holly Khan

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Snowdrop


Willy Wainwright sat on the bench in the sun. Warmth spread through his bones and filled him with a sense of wellbeing. May was a lovely month full of hope and new beginnings and his eyes followed the family of ducks as they travelled up the canal in regimental order. He appreciated things like that. He unconsciously straightened his regimental tie and squared his shoulders in his smartly brushed blazer. The breeze tried to play with his white hair as it passed but it was cropped too close to his head and so it passed on to ruffle the grasses on the edge of the towpath, which were much more in the mood to join in. It was not that he did not know how to enjoy life, so much as he was not a fan of frivolity and did not brook fools lightly. He belonged to the dinosaur generation that did everything so differently. He found it difficult to understand why everything he had stood for, was now automatically discredited. It had all made sense once. He glanced at his watch and experienced a small flutter, soon now, soon.
His thoughts drifted back to those early summers of his prime. Hot sultry summers of smartly dressed ladies, parasols raised to keep the relentless sun away from their fair complexions. Rank upon rank of disciplined scarlet tunics and elephants wallowing at water holes. Sparkling Cricket whites and magnificent, horseflesh, performing for Polo. Brightly clad relatives of the local Nabobs and stunning backdrops of exotic Indian Palaces. He missed it, if truth be told. Sadly the miss was as much for the passing of an era and his youth, as a desire to go back to a country that had changed beyond recognition. He knew he could live very much more cheaply there than he did now, in his small lock keepers cottage in his English market town. Something had died with the end of Empire. He appreciated today belonged to the young with their hostile attitudes to India’s past, but his memories were his own. His eyes fell on his polished brown shoes and he took comfort in something he was in tune with. For all the pop music, current thinking and destruction of the past, no one seemed to be all that happy.
To his left movement. It was George rounding the curve of the water leading Goliath. Glossy chestnut coat and horse brasses catching the sun, he gently leaned into his collar taking the strain. Placing one sure foot at a time the Shire moved down the towpath towards the bench and slowly the big heavy barge eased into view. This was no dirty coal heaver but a jolly trip boat, alive with fluttering bunting, and chattering passengers. Willy rose to his feet and watched with anticipation as Goliath reached him and George slowed him down to a halt. Patting the beautiful animal on his neck, Major Wainwright stood erect, all of six feet tall in spite of a slight lean on his silver topped cane, which these days was becoming a necessity. He was still an impressive figure with his tanned face and full head of white hair. The passengers rose to greet him, friends of long standing, the ladies in their flowery dresses and the gentlemen as smartly turned out as he. The majority of them had shared that warm, colourful past of his and understood its passing. George held out a weathered brown hand to assist him onto the boat and an elegant lady moved to lightly kiss his cheek as he settled himself into a green and gold chair.
‘Lovely to see you again Snowdrop’ she whispered as she sat beside him and held his hand in hers. The blond hair was mostly silver now and the chiffon dress was gracing a plumper figure, but the smile was the same. The laughing eyes that had melted him on a hillside in Pondicherry wove their magic again on the boat to Stoke Bruerne.
His heart felt very full that afternoon, as comrades all, they smiled, conversed and took tea together. Life was not quite over yet, there was still some future to come.
He had big plans for Mr and Mrs ‘Snowdrop’.


The copyright of this post belongs to Geneva Grey.