by Janet West
It started gradually, the separation. I didn’t notice anything for a long while, maybe I chose to ignore the signs. Was I always going to be the last to know?
It started with magazines: just one, to begin with, but soon there were more, glossy, sleek, sexy publications for his personal pleasure, judging from the sighs and gasps as he flicked through the pages. More and more magazines, week after week, never thrown away as far as I could tell.
I was watching from what we grandly called the library, but was really no more than a bookshelf, filing cabinet, desk and chair under the staircase, wondering when had I stopped being enough. Was it an age thing? Had I passed my prime or was he simply bored with me?
He started leaving the magazines where I could see them. He had his favourites, I could see that from the turned-down pages. I felt insulted, angry and sad that we’ve been together so long and yet he’d never spoken directly to me about his fantasies.
Last week I thought he was going to say something, anything to break this silence. He sat across the room from me and just stared - I waited - it had to come from him. The tension was unbearable. Eventually he stood, took his car keys and left, gently closing the front door behind him. Hours passed. I waited. Door opened - how would he be? Drunk? Tired? Sorry? Did I care any more?
Of course I cared! Was he going to tell me it was over, finally, after all these years? I’ve been faithful, present always, available for him day or night even if I felt cranky, he still had the power to awaken me with those strong fingers - I admit it, he could make me dance to any tune. Maybe I’ve been too available, too grateful for his attention, not like those glossy magazine images, airbrushed to perfection.
He came in, his arms piled with boxes that he put on the sofa. Still ignoring me, he sat down next to them and started opening them using his keys to tear the plastic - lazy as usual, couldn’t be bothered to get a knife from the kitchen.
Watching him opening cartons I stifled an urge to laugh - “Apple” it said. He was buying apples? In that small box? Seeds perhaps? Hmm. What the… a shiny flat boxy thing that lit up an apple shaped picture when he plugged it in.
Finally he turned to me and with that look I’ve come to know so well he said, “I’ve done it, I’ve bought the kids a laptop. They’ve been nagging me for months. Perhaps now they’ll leave me alone so I can get back to you.”
He sat at the desk, with a tumbler of scotch, rolled a piece of crisp white paper into my carriage and got to work, inviting me to dance.
All Filler, No Killer
by Kevin Cheeseman
It wasn’t the psycho pointing a gun at my chest that scared me. It wasn’t the 100 feet drop to the pavement, inches behind my heels.
It was the fear of not grabbing your attention with these opening lines.
‘Excuse me,’ said the psycho. ‘What exactly are you talking about?’
‘Sorry,’ I said. ‘That wasn’t meant for you; it was supposed to be interior monologue. I’m not used to handling this first person point of view.’
‘I can tell. It’s not the author’s thoughts we’re supposed to hear, you know. What I wanted to say was, I don’t think it’s too smart calling a guy a “psycho” when you’re stuck between Rock and a hard place.’
Damn. As soon as he said that, I realised it wasn’t right. For the gag to work properly, I should already have established that the psycho was called Rock. I made a mental note to fix it in the next draft.
Besides, I wasn’t altogether happy about him introducing his Bruce Willis style humour into my story. It risked deflating the suspense.
‘Suspense? You haven’t created any damn suspense.'
‘Am I still saying this out loud? Bugger.’
Out there on the roof, time seemed to stand still. That’s a cliché, I know, but it’s convenient for this next bit.
The gun aimed at my chest was a Beretta ML901, first produced in 1953. It had a reputation for accuracy that was unparalleled for a pistol of its size. When Beretta announced that it was planning to cease production of the model in 1969, it was persuaded to make a one-off batch of 2000 pistols for its best customer: the CIA.
‘What is this? The History Channel?’
‘It’s authenticating detail. It adds…you know…authenticity.’
‘Give me a break. You’ve obviously just dropped in a chunk of your research that you didn’t want to waste. It’s irrelevant. It just holds up the action. Not that there is any action. I’ve been standing here pointing this gun at you for the whole goddamn story.’
He had a point, I supposed. I made a mental note to fix it in the next draft, along with that other thing. Whatever that was. I really should write this stuff down.
My phone pinged.
‘That’s a text message,’ I said. ‘May I take my phone out of my pocket and see what it says?’
‘Why the hell should I let you?’
‘Well, it could be an important plot point.’
'Deus ex Nokia? That’s bold. Or desperate. Go on then. Slowly, mind. One false move and I’ll shoot.’
Finally, I thought to myself, an element of drama.
‘You’re still talking aloud, you know. What’s the message?’
‘Oh. It’s just a warning that the word count is getting close to 500.’
‘Okay. That’s enough. You’re under arrest. Turn around while I put these handcuffs on you.’
‘Wait a minute - you mean you’re the good guy? Wow. I did not see that coming.’
by Jacquie Palmer
I make my way to the Nguyen Dynasty mausoleum in Hue, Vietnam. It is hidden in lush undergrowth, shrouded in secrecy and reserved for those ancient powers whose lives were dominated by the fear of saboteurs. The intrigue excites me.
As I walk down the muddy track pushing the large dripping palms away from my face, a minute lady appears from nowhere, thrusting a massive bunch of bananas at me.
“You buy, you buy.”
I shake my head “No, thank you.”
Looking behind her, I notice a large adolescent boy, extremely disabled and propped up in a dilapidated hammock, which swings between two palms. His face is without any expression. A wooden shack lies behind him and the doorway reveals a torn, grubby mattress. Muddy puddles of thick brown sludge surround the makeshift home and there is a dilapidated wheelchair at the side, which looks unfit for purpose even on smooth terrain.
Is this the result of Agent Orange? I had seen so many people affected by the deadly chemical in my travels, but few as profoundly as this young man. Assuming the lad is the minuscule lady’s son I am shocked, not only by the level of disability but the conditions in which they are living. My son suffered severe disabilities for a span of his short life and it was unbelievably tough, but my home is in a country with modern amenities and some degree of a support system.
Her eyes are large and intense. The obviously once beautiful face is hollow, haunted with anxiety. She puts down the bananas and with an enormous effort pulls her son from his seat. He is unable to stand unsupported and his size diminishes her further. He slumps to the ground. She doesn’t speak my language and I don’t speak hers, but she has to make me understand her desperation.
I’m not sure I do understand, not in the truest sense, but I immediately want to buy all her bananas, feeling guilty for my original response. I pull out some Dong from my rucksack and hand it to her. She smiles with gratitude, but she needs much more than I can give her and it feels hopelessly inadequate. She wants, and deserves the best for her son, just as I had for mine.
I smile back at her as I continue through the forest to the ancient site, but I am no longer engaged with history or facts, which will anyway become obscure after the passage of time. Instead I am consumed by my thoughts for this brave young woman, her wounded son and their struggle to survive.
I took no photos of them, but I am sure in the years that follow I will remember their faces far more clearly than any others I have recorded with my camera.