After the all clear When doctors declared him all clear there was no dancing in the streets, no confetti canon fired in celebration, no bunting strung across the street. Instead he retreated to his sickbed in the blacked-out room, unable to blink away the darkness that made shadows of the light. Though they’d armed him with statistics, and said that he’d be fine, he couldn’t find the strength to make a truce with peace. For hours he’d hide behind the bathroom door checking, checking, checking for the enemy within and at night he’d lie awake, waiting, waiting, waiting; surrendered to the certainty that the attack would soon resume. His body had betrayed him, threatened him with death, and now the sounds of sirens would never leave his head. (from Impspired Magazine, Volume 3, 2020, editor Steve Cawte. Shifting Sands Fifty weeks of fifties, crammed in an old jam jar; he promised her a week living like Jay Gatsby on the southern coast of France, but Lockdown grounded all her winter-warming fantasies of walking hand-in-hand on sun-bathed beaches; of dancing barefoot in his arms to the silky rhythms of the waves. No choice but a DIY holiday at home, instead, with a ton of builders’ sand raked across the yard; and Mediterranean-blue emulsion sloshed across the fence, where they doze for seven days in deckchairs, dug from the back of the shed, and sip consolation cocktails they name Captain Tom and the Furlough Funster, as they empty plastic jugs of each, and in her daytime dreams, dressed like Jay and Daisy, they build sunset castles on the Riviera beach, laughing uncontrollably because the sand’s too dry to shape, oblivious to the storm clouds gathering in the east. (from Wishing You Were There?, Hedgehog Press, 2020)
Juliet in a hijab She'd promised them gangs, riots in the streets, revenge: Eastenders in Verona, she had said. Even subsidised the costs to turn the spot away from their estate and focus eyes beyond the flats. Act One, they cannot see beyond men dressed in tights, swollen codpieces, breasts squeezed skyward by tight-fitting bodices, and their titters rub away the age-thin patience of matinee habitues. Act Two, they launch a fresh attack across the generation gap: an armoury of drinks and snacks that snap back disapproving heads assailed by bottles' snorts and wrappers' insistent whispers. Act Three, too much to bear their teacher throws her hands up in despair and in the darkness pulls her pupils out. They do not need cajoling, their yawns are wide enough to swallow time: all that is, save one, Jahidah. She sees a sister on the stage, who reaches out to take her hand to tell a story she understands. She sits wide-eyed in her back-row seat, and though there is no one around her, she knows that she is alone no longer. (from Saudade, also published in Acumen, January 2019) Miscarried When she lost the little girl she'd longed for, they did not try again; 'Too old!' he'd said. She did not lie silently in a closed-curtain room; she did not stare mutely into the unused cot. Her grief was a howling, bared-teeth grief; a sinew-ripping grief; a snapping, snarling grief that locked its jaws around her throat and swiped at both his outstretched hands. He learned in time to tip-toe round her, flattening himself against the nursery walls, but he never could ignore the quiet sound of gnawing, as it devoured him hour-by-hour. (from Saudade and nominated for the Pushcart Prize, 2019) The Cleansing We thought the pond just needed cleaning to make sure the fish would thrive but you said overstocking was the problem and not the years of silt. We deferred to your authority idly standing by as you labelled so many sick, diseased and weak: threats to the well-being of the rest. You judged them by their colour, despatching the unchosen to the pile beside your booted feet impervious to their mouthed appeals. Afterwards we cleared up the carnage yet the memory still lingers, like the stink upon our fingers, that no amount of water will wash away. (from What the Moon Was Told, Dempsey and Windle, 2020) Psychopathogen I'm a globetrotter skipping over borders unannounced, travelling incognito though you'll know I have arrived when my hand hooks into your, and won't give up its grip; when my breath corrodes your throat; when my weight falls upon your chest as your lungs flood. President or pauper you're all the same to me just numbers in a sum. You'd like to wash your hands of me, but you'll need to catch me first and I'll ensure you do, then slip away unseen from the siren scream to keep the total climbing, the records crashing, the headlines coming and be for eternity the measurement of time. (from Psychopathogen, Hedgehog Press, 2020)
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