Friday, September 23, 2016

Welcome, Death

Bullets fly. From the arms of men they are received by the bodies of boys. Those too young to experience a woman’s love but too old to be shielded by a mother’s. They drop beside him. He stands and watches; viewing the final expressions of those he could once have called friends. Overarching disappointment, that is what he sees. Disappointment in their training. Disappointment in their Führer. That He had not prepared them. That He had not taught them how to meet death. How, when faced with an unyielding enemy, you welcome death as if he were your friend.

Pools of white appear from the darkness. Lights of the enemy, they search for him. Waltzing across the forest floor, red flashes zipping from their core. Gunfire. Forgetting his orders, he begins weaving as the Wehrmacht officers had taught him. But the crimson sparks, they chase him. Through trees, through undergrowth. When he shoots they swarm and so he scrambles, forcing his tired legs on.

The wings of a beech tree open up offering shelter. Once inside, the branches withhold the noises of war. The gunshots. The shells. The girlish screams of boys. 

A figure appears – British – and a voice from within commands him: hold the gun at chest level, look where the bullet should go. Breathe in. Aim. Breathe out. Fire. 

The British soldier shouts:

“A boy, he’s just…” Silence. 

The balls of his feet release and he springs up, flies forwards. Arms pumping. Breathing, always breathing. Running until the sounds have receded. Running until death’s eternal grasp can reach him no longer.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Quite Contrary

Chelsea, 1966: 

I was just leaving school when Kaffe Fassett and Bill Gibb set up shop in the King’s Road, designing clothes based on what young women like me with no money were wearing. On the train back from Aberdeen after visiting Bill’s parents Kaffe saw a woman knitting and asked her to show him how. After that, he was off. Never use 2 colours when 29 will do. And if you’re stuck, add another colour. I’ve been known to call him evil. All my attempts to knit one of his designs have ended in disaster.

Plymouth, 2006: 

I only went to the conference to please Jane who’d organised it. She gave me a ticket as a thank you for baby-sitting her Gran in the run-up. To be honest an afternoon with Gran was more my cup of tea. You could knit properly, let the still-only-slightly-confused conversation float past. But Jane’s brother, the grandson, was coming for the weekend and I wasn’t needed.

I collected my goody-bag from reception then perched on a stool to choose my workshops. Kaffe’s was already full, which was fine by me. But then Jane had a major panic about the conference dinner and asked me to stand in for her at Kaffe’s workshop while she sorted it out. I must say meeting him was quite a thrill. The floppy dark fringe was now short and grey but his hands were never still as he talked about his latest show, Quilt Mania.

I stumbled a bit introducing him but no-one noticed, they just wanted to hear from Kaffe. They’d all brought an object to inspire a piece of knitting. I didn’t have one of course but Kaffe handed me a Midwinter saucer, a gorgeous pattern called Quite Contrary: pink, grey, black and turquoise stars on a cream background. 

He had just the right colours in his vast stash, but people needed more help than Kaffe could manage on his own and I had to pitch in too. No time for designing. At the end of the workshop I was about to toss the yarns back when Kaffe swooped them into a clear plastic bag with a zip lock. 

At the dinner Jane and Kaffe sat far away on the high table like mediæval monarchs. I got rather drunk and went to bed early.

The next day he didn’t appear. I knew he was leaving at 2 to catch a train. At 1.45 his partner appeared in the lobby with matching sets of needlepoint luggage piled on a trolley. At 1.57 he began to tap one pointed purple leather shoe on the tiled floor. I barely felt the brush on my arm as Kaffe raced past, his famous leather satchel flapping open. A flurry of lifted suitcases and they were gone.

The spectacle case had been left next to my coffee cup with one of his business cards inside: Quite Contrary, Kaffe Fassett, April 2006.*

by Susanna Reece

* N.B. This is a work of fiction. It’s possible that the designer-maker of this purse is the author and not Kaffe Fassett!

Monday, September 5, 2016


The moss stuck between my toes
On the riverbank.
Fish nibbled, 
Tickling me
And the laughter 
Made ripples.
People on the other side of the river
Wondered how 
My net caught minnows
I told them it was
All in the toe jam.

by Mary Bone

Friday, August 26, 2016

Nice Girl

The girl - the other girl - is pushing the stripy pushchair along the pavement. Aldi carrier bags swing from both handles. She almost walks into me. The baby is playing with its feet. The eyes of the child in the pram are his eyes, green and bright. 

Those are the eyes that I once fell into, coiled together on that old sofa with the stuffing bleeding out, our hands exploring one another for the first time.

Their baby has snot snaking down towards its lips. They’re his lips, too. His warm lips on mine on that sweaty sofa, the teenage mingle of sweat and aftershave, stolen from his dad’s bathroom cabinet. 

I’ve replayed this scene a thousand times – bumping into him, or bumping into her, bumping into them both. Showing him I’m fine, I’m over it. I’ve done all right for myself, thanks. But the baby, this baby with his eyes and his lips has stalled me.

He was a big fish in our small home town, once. He reeled me in, threw his affection around for a while. Before unhooking me, letting me go. Now he’s just a minnow, pulling this other girl and baby along in his wake. 

The baby with his eyes, his lips.

I was just a nice girl, he said. She was more adventurous than me, he said. Now she looks like the stuffing’s been kicked out of her, like the stuffing on that sofa, where I first tasted lust and excitement. 

In her dead eyes I see my alternate life. The one that got away. Her adventures confined now to a snotty child and budget chicken korma.

When we meet on the pavement, him and the girl – the adventurous one – and their snotty child, the one with his eyes, his lips, I don’t say any of the things I thought I’d say. 

I don’t tell him what a success I am. I don’t say Remember me? I just smile. I just stand there and smile, politely. 

I’m the nice girl, remember?

Friday, August 12, 2016


Sarité is dead again. Nearby, a mother kneels at the side of the road in loud lament for the shattered child in her arms. An old man leans in the doorframe of his soot-blacked house, watching me. Leaning is the best option after the landmine took his leg and his livelihood. Images surface when I’m not looking, in idle moments when I’m tempted to believe the world is a safe place again. But it never was.

I see Sarité again, turning to smile at me as she walks away, adjusting the child on her hip. “See you tomorrow,” I call out, but she doesn’t answer. Perhaps she knows that I will see her in an eternity of tomorrows, but not she me.

The moments fade, stealing my energy like a receding wave sucking sand off a beach, and I am left incredulous that life is mundane.

I move through each day, get on with my life like I’ve been told to. I get up, I do my job, I drive through endless stop-start traffic. A car backfires in the middle of Reading and I’m in Baghran again, running, stumbling from the Hazara marketplace as it explodes around me and all I can think is that I’ve dropped those beautiful pomegranates I’d bought. It jolts through my chest like an electric shock: I don’t see the marketplace, but I feel like I’m there again and it pulls the breath straight out of me. Someone hoots their horn at me, and I drive on down West Street, hands and feet still jarring.

Later there’s a film on. But a man pulls a gun and I spill my drink, Baghran intruding. Even sleep isn’t safe: I see Sarité’s face and what they did to her. The old man leans in his doorway and watches me. Awake in the dark, my heart slows back down, sweat turns to chill, but it’s always the hands and feet that take the longest to feel normal again.

And so comes tomorrow: I battle the traffic, panic in the Tesco crowds, meet a friend for coffee. My friend says goodbye, turns to smile at me as she walks away, and Sarité is dead again.

by Olivia Jackson

Monday, August 1, 2016

After Terror

There will be a pile of sand
flanked by 31 stones
where a sister died. She
was carrying coloring books
and boxes of crayons
in her backpack
when the bomb came,
her final breath a question,
not a goodbye. She
was carrying them for those
who died before
in similar blasts and fear.

Now there are lies,
speculation, calculations.
What'll happen when
it comes here.
A girl on the subway
cups her hands to alert
her mother she's hungry.
A boy plays with a toy
machine gun. In each I see
postures becoming
prayer, notes for us
who haven't yet fallen.

by Carl Boon