Friday, April 7, 2017

Axel's Flight

Overhead, they swoop and soar, chirp and chatter, but Axel doesn’t seem to hear. His defences strong, resolve weakened, he protests his plight in that way of teenagers. His old head on young shoulders says he was destined to be caged.

My heart breaks to see him, happy in his own skin, with eyes black as the crows, but never to be free as the birds. 

I told him, ‘Accept nothing, Axel; challenge everything.’

He slants his eyes at me as if to say, ‘Don’t be ridiculous; it’s the way it’s always been.’ 

His chair squeaks with each slow wheel rotation but when he’s in a playful mood he’ll make it whir like a rotor that might lift him up to swoop and soar in the blue sky and billowing clouds. 

‘I figure it’d be pretty cool up there but I guess I wouldn’t last long,’ he says. 

‘Probably,’ I reply. I don’t want him to tell me he’d prefer to be up there. He’ll be there soon enough. 

I cannot imagine my life without him, empty of his squeaking and whirring, but I swallow, smile and open the door. He primes his wheels in preparation for the wheelie I know is coming; the escape. But only to the next cage. He stops short of the door and turns back to me with a wry grin. 

‘Maybe this time it will work and I’ll be cured.’ 

His whirring wheels gather momentum. The chirping and chattering increases overhead.

The ambulance driver glances skyward. 

‘You’re a hit with the birds, Axel.’

My boy laughs, the first time in months.

by Alva Holland

Friday, March 24, 2017

A Suitable Candidate

Within days, I’ve selected him from the saloon passengers as the most suitable candidate. Sensitive, tidy – not flamboyant like some of those men. And always attentive to his son – a family man, if you will. I do like a family man. Especially one with no wife! 

If he’s emigrating, he’ll be looking to make friends, that much you can count on. I smile broadly as we pass on deck. His pace quickens. The boy follows, looking down. So, he’s shy – what’s wrong with that? Shy I can work with. Shy I can handle. If only my ex-husband had been so shy!

During lunch, I occupy a nearby table. He orders pea soup. So I order pea soup. He gets out a copy of the Times. And I do the same. His hand shakes as he turns the pages. I might be making him nervous! Is this the right time to introduce myself? Maybe I should bide my time.

Several days pass. On some I don’t see him at all. They must be keeping to their cabin. Once or twice we say a courteous ‘hello’. But never more than that. Not yet. We’re getting to know each other slowly. 

On the St. Lawrence River, two pilots board the ship – all suave and sophisticated. Now this is exciting. Captain Kendall invites him to meet the pilots and I stand, looking down from the companionway. 

He’s blinking fast. And his son’s hand grips his tightly.

“Remember me, Dr Crippen?” one of the pilots says.

So he’s a doctor - I should have guessed!

The pilot removes his cap. “Chief Inspector Dew from Scotland Yard. We found the remains of your wife’s body under the floorboards.” 

He is meek as they handcuff him. Obedient.

Well, if they haven’t got the wrong man, I certainly have.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Spell in France

‘I believe I lost my husband outside the Church of Miracles. I knew he had been there at the time in the gardens, which were dark green and dismal after rain. I was trying to use up the end of a long roll of film and called out to him. He looked back at me and I think he smiled. But when the photographs came back from the developer, he was no longer there. You could just about make out some distant shape, almost a shadow, at the end of the avenue of cypresses, but it no longer resembled a person.’

Cafe Aphra follower M.S. Clary has won three prizes for short fiction and has now published her first novel, A Spell in France, with Matador. It is available as an eBook on Amazon Kindle, Apple iPad and all electronic readers.

Cafe Aphra: Tell us a little bit about your novel, A Spell in France. How would you sum it up for a potential reader?

M.S. Clary: It's a psychological thriller which involves a mysterious disappearance and its aftermath.

Cafe Aphra: Can you tell us about the writing process?

M.S. Clary: I probably started A Spell in France about five years ago and worked on it in fits and starts. I joined a writing group, which I think helped me to focus on finishing it. Then I was lucky, I had the benefit of working with an editor at Bloomsbury for a year. 

Cafe Aphra: Wow that sounds exciting!

M.S. Clary: Well yes, it was a very interesting experience. Initially the book was greeted with great enthusiasm by Bloomsbury but I came slowly to the realisation that it was probably not for them; time was going on, so decided to try to go it alone. 

Cafe Aphra: Is that how you came to the decision to self-publish?

M.S. Clary: Yes. At thirty or forty-something, many decades and possibilities lie ahead, but I felt for me, time was running out! I wanted to put it aside and get on with something new. So I decided to publish the novel with Matador, which is part of Troubador Publishing

Cafe Aphra: Matador certainly has a very good reputation as a self-publishing house. And what project are you working on now?

M.S. Clary: I'm 3/4 way through the first draft of a second novel based on moral dilemmas, and have reached the difficult stage of trying to draw all the strands together... I'm also contributing to an anthology of short stories my Oxford-based writing group is currently getting ready for publication.

Cafe Aphra: Thanks very much for your time and for sharing these extracts of A Spell in France with us. Good luck with finishing your second novel!

'CHAPTER ONE: The drive to Nice had taken nearly ten hours. Before we set out, Trevor was confident we could do it in six. I used to believe that if we hadn't chosen to stop there, things might have turned out differently. But I no longer think that. It would have altered nothing...'

To read more about M.S.Clary and her writing, check out her website here.

Friday, February 24, 2017


She watched it fall in waves gracefully down to the floor. She’d always been told that it was her best feature, thick and luxurious with a single streak of white. It was natural, she insisted. A reminder of her busy life with four children. That streak was a trophy, the spoils of battle on a field of teenaged angst where more than once she’d had to pick her hill to die on.

That battlefield had changed over the years. Now she was waging a war upon her own body as the chemo worked its gruesome magic. Her life was a whirlwind of doctor’s check-ups, follow-ups and throwing up. Now those very same teenagers were riding into battle alongside her, lances raised and armor ready to fight off the latest onslaught of her disease.

Breast cancer. A large tumor that had grown in the single year since her last exam. She’d lived the past months in suspended animation, going through the motions as they rallied around her. She worked at an elementary school, the kids all making get-well cards, wishing her well as the first treatments began.

She watched the white streak finally float by, the remnants of her once prized mane waiting to be swept away. She was Joan of Arc at last, sword held high, her army raised behind her. She would not die on this hill, not today.

Artwork: Joan of Arc by Ngan Nguyen

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Audition

This is the story of man who can’t begin to think or question why the unfathomability of all that is good or bad is even comparable to the unending nothing or why the chances are slim or why one would even try and change or what needs changing and how it can even be possible to see the entirety; the plusses and negatives, pros and cons, arguments and counter arguments, or is it even in those terms and if so how and what can be done; about right and left, religion, greed, altruism, nature or what is our nature and why can’t there be more than one, how many times have people been over the ins and outs, the ups and downs, the circular - back to the began; is there more than one person (me?) who thinks this and if so would it be rude and why would it be, why can’t one talk to those dead souls on the train and if one can what would they say (speak souls speak!) would they make their excuses and leave, is there any excuse good enough or what is important to him or her and her and him, if it’s important at all then why no talking, in the deep moments, full of solemnness, why is that so much different to the club and dub and beats and lust and sweat and booze and drugs and smoke, is that what people want, would you choose to (if you had the choice) and if so does that mean we are all the same as the one who thinks it’s good to gratify and solidify urges and splurges of cash… what is this thing that makes me stand in the rain, that makes me wipe water from my eyes, that makes me scorn at loved ones, why did I love her, did she make me happy, what happy, I was miserable surely, but where am I going and if it’s where, I think, is it worth the trouble to go to uni, to learn the ways, the papers, the mortgage, the nice areas, the movies, the coffee, the art installations, the 5 yearly vote for him or him or the other one, do they have human conversations, punctuating with the telly remote hand, speaking of the values and dignity and freedom but does it translate to the world and if it does why can’t I see it when others can? Why are they all the way over there, and I here; encased away, folding inwards from all the life that permeates the edges of my feeling and vision and…

On second thoughts, this man may not be very good company. 

Move along now. 

Artwork: The Audition, by Maureen Monteath

by Stephen Durkan

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Anti-Ode to Social Media

The zeitgeist you’ve created
Is a pox of epic reach,
A free-for-all of vitriol
Via one-way posts and tweets.

Trolls and bullies lurk
Behind your anonymic walls,
Without a shred of decency
(Or any guts at all).

You abet the human tendency
To cluster into groups
Whose members feed each other
And regurgitate their tropes.

Opinions trump established facts;
Lies outshout the truth;
News that’s false gets more applause
Than news that’s backed by proof.

We can castigate each other
With a mouse-click-turned-down thumb,
And a friend is just a notch
On someone’s cyber radar gun.

by J. Craig Hill