Deep Impact

When she said it, the air left. It was as though the exact words she’d spoken had rung something out from inside his head. The grey matter of his brain, rinsed, like an old dishcloth. He couldn’t believe it, what she had said. 

Then everything felt brittle. Soundless. He wondered momentarily if, in some alternate universe, he was living through one of those scenes from the movies he loved: the ones set in outer space; the kind he’d watch over and over and over, where the big red button gets pressed, mistakenly, opening a hatch that vacuums out the crew into the gaping maw of space, and then maybe they’re okay, but maybe they’re dead. He wondered which he’d be, but – mainly – he just couldn’t believe what she’d said.

For a bit, the only sound he could hear was the sonar sound of his heart from inside his ear: the sonorous thud of each beat, landing like a dull missile, and it wasn’t until he looked up and around him that he knew that nothing had happened – no explosions, no rapture, no dread. For the first time since she’d uttered the words, he looked up at her. He just couldn’t believe it, what she’d said. 

Around them, the wait staff still continued to serve, bussing from table to table. Cacophony. Nearby patrons scraped forks over plates, glasses clinked on teeth, chair legs squealed and dragged. He saw the mouths of others open and close – even hers, so round and so red – but no sound came, and he couldn’t believe what she’d said.

His brain simply refused, inflating defensively inside his skull like a pufferfish, blocking all access to his consciousness, extensively, so that even the smallest wisp of her voice would not be able to sneak its way inside. Code red. His body simply refused it all, materially: he couldn’t believe what she’d said.

He felt swollen, all of a sudden – raw – like the blisters he’d get at football when he was still a kid. The kind his dad would burst with a hot needle, before wrapping his feet. He recalled his father’s explanation for them: nature’s airbags, he’d say. They pop up to protect what’s beneath. Good lad. When he’d finished, he’d always touched his head. He thought about him now: how long he’d been dead. He wondered how he’d have explained the words that she’d said.

And now here he was, but older – the injury unfamiliar, and not the same pain, but the body’s defence kicking in, all the same. It had been a long time since he’d stumbled or bled, but he felt like death, after what she had said.

Chalk Circle Short Story Competition 2020

https://www.chalkcircle.org.uk/competitions-judges-report-2020

Read ‘Teacups Are For Girls’ here: https://ataraxicat.com/2020/04/05/teacups-are-for-girls/

https://www.chalkcircle.org.uk/competitions-winners-2020

Stage Fright

Gunther did not remember much about his death. In fact, the moment had passed somewhat uneventfully and, had it not been for the audience’s few gasps of surprise and an ill-timed giggle, he might have thought he’d dreamt it up altogether. 

Emily had been sat in the second row, slightly left of centre stage – not that he’d been able to see his wife during much of the performance itself. The stage lamps had masked the audience from the players with a brilliantly intense void of white light. He had felt the glow draw conspicuous beads of sweat to his forehead almost the instant he had taken his first steps on stage, like the rapid onset of fever. It had felt like being in the presence of a dying star. 

Continue reading “Stage Fright”

Only Dickheads Ride Vespas


Alex watched a large brown fly circle the sticky perimeter of his glass, and wiped the sweat from the back of his neck. The heat was stifling, and his focus had long since shifted from his parents’ conversation to the distant, silver spatter of the municipal fountain on the far side of the smouldering plaza. He imagined himself beneath its aquamarine deluge – feeling the cool water sweep into his armpits, and slick down, across the backs of his knees. He fancied he could smell the scent of chlorine and pennies from where he was sat, but the fantasy soon fell apart in the heat of the airless day.

He turned his attention back to his parents. His father was three minutes into one of his recapitulated monologues on how the game had all changed since the 1970s, and how Alex’s generation couldn’t possibly hope to recreate such a prodigious era. From the bits and pieces that he had tuned into, Alex knew that his father had already covered the problems with digital refereeing, and obscene player pay packets – “It just beggars belief, son.” – and would soon circle back to good old-fashioned love of the game.   

Continue reading “Only Dickheads Ride Vespas”

The Edge

photo-1498374084266-8fbbbd6ac90b

The night before, it was supposed to be Lucy’s turn to close up the shop, but she’d had to nip off early because the baby had the croup, and Tim had a work thing to go to. I’d offered to do it for her, because I actually quite liked the silence; the soundlessness of the shop floor as order is once again restored. Like a big jigsaw. In a way, I thought it would do well to prepare me for the following morning. Something practical, to take my mind off things.

At closing time, Arthritic Maggie had said Rather you than me, petal, and asked if I had plans for the weekend. How’s your fella, the one from Hull? She’d asked, and I’d told her he’d gone back home for a while because things around here were too depressing. So, he went back to Hull, of all places? She’d laughed. I laughed too. Why not, I thought.

Continue reading “The Edge”

Friend Request

photo-1587808573237-dd2983e56a7f

She had met David online when he, a mutual friend of an old colleague, had sent her a friend request. Following what had been a taxing, if not entirely tedious, day of processing innumerable forms, she had returned home to find the little figure in the top right corner of the home screen was coloured red, proffering a tiny speech bubble containing the single number ‘1’. It wasn’t the case that this alone had taken her by surprise, or had stirred any greatly anticipatory emotions within her. She was used to friend requests, from distant cousins, neighbours, and the like, though most often from middle-aged colleagues who, having recently discovered their own effervescent online presence, would proceed to forward video compilations of dogs falling into swimming pools, and grainy, garish reproductions of inspirational quotations from pulp fiction writers. But David was different: a stranger, a spark of promise amidst the quotidian hum of the everyday. She knew at once that she would accept the request, but humoured her shy sense of dignity by scanning his profile briefly, as if to vet the man at the other end of it, flicking through profile pictures and noting which school he had gone to, before sending her response.

After she had accepted, she fed her cat, folded some laundry, and completed the minutiae of the quiet evening, before getting ready for bed. That night, whilst brushing her teeth, she looked up at her face reflected in the small oval mirror that hung above the sink. She had never been considered a beauty, even in her youth, but she fancied that her face still retained something of the girl that came before the woman. She was grateful for her mother’s high cheekbones, which, even now, seemed to beat back against the inevitable pull of gravity, keeping her jawline from drooping – though her own aging had never truly disturbed her, as it had others.

Continue reading “Friend Request”

Music To Cook To

photo-1569926426428-471bfd09906a

He had made her a CD. Initially, he thought about making a tape, providing a useful segue into discussions about old sound systems, a topic about which he knew a lot. He imagined how this vintage gesture might be charming, and give way to his being able to tell her things she might not already know, like how hi-fi is an actually an abbreviation of high fidelity, or how to tighten the belt inside a record player. He thought she might like that. She seemed to like learning.

He recalled, on more than one occasion, her having mentioned almost winning the pub quiz at her local, and she had seemed interested in telling him some of the answers she hadn’t known. Did you know that? She had asked. Sometimes he had, but he never let on.

Continue reading “Music To Cook To”

Hit and Run

photo-1444492892076-4e4f86ad703b

I killed a fox, last week. I hadn’t meant to, only, once it had begun to drag its one rank hind leg from under the dogwood and across the lane, I was already going at around forty or fifty, and I just didn’t see it. Jack did, even from the back seat, and, just prior to the moment of impact, I heard a soft ‘fff’ noise come from his mouth, as the full horror of the impending collision was laid bare to him.

I’d picked him up from school only an hour or so after I’d checked out of the clinic. He had been reading one of the books we bought him for Christmas: the hardback annuals full of facts and trivia and records, of men with eyeballs that pop out of their skulls, and women with nails like beige coils of measuring tape. He’d been trying to show me something, in the car.

As we stopped to get out and check the now mutilated orange carcass spread across the road, it occurred to me that I might have missed my chance to swerve because I’d been looking at Jack in the mirror.

Continue reading “Hit and Run”

Teacups Are For Girls

CUPS-9

One time I seen Shaun’s dad in a dress. Well, that’s not true, Gary seen him. I just heard about it. But, another time, I did see him talking to Mr Walker who lives up May Road. Dad said never to go up May Road. That’s where all them sorts go. I’ve done nowt but walk past, cos’ of what Dad said about it, but I still seen him once talking to Mr Walker, and everyone knows about him.

Anyway, Gary said he went round Shaun’s last Monday to knock for him, and he weren’t in. And then his dad answered the door in a dress.

“It was blue and yellow,” he said, “with little frills on it, like me mam’s apron.”

Continue reading “Teacups Are For Girls”

Narrative Poems

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Slag

A throwaway. Even before the echo reached the underpass ceiling, it had sunk like a bullet into her. He had impressed them, and there was laughter. It was repeated, by another. A little stiffer than before, her arms pressed against her side; two pink pillowcases full of cake batter. He’d spat out his tab as he’d said it, and for no good reason. He saw her gait change. Her hair was flat from the rain. She did not look up. The two of them strangers, immortalised in the moment, as the vowel hung ripe like the fetor of shit in the air. Her thighs rubbed fffip fffip fffip, quicker now. Soon she was part of the distance. He stood stunned with regret, wanting to touch her, to make it okay again, but the lads had finished their tins, and the motion to get on was made.

 

panoramic-coast-2-1372213

Berwick

They all thought I was a lark, when I swam out from the northern coastline one arctic February afternoon, until they saw it poking out from between the salt-lashed rocks. An arm, swollen and ghastly pale, it beckoned and fell in time with the tide. They screamed me to shore – a hand, a hand, a hand in the water!– and I spat and thrashed my way out. We peered, shivering; the hoard of us, at the puckered fingers, until one more brave than the rest fetched a washing line pole to release the drowned body from the depths. Could be anyone, we said, could’ve been you, they said. I thought of mam, how she would have cried had they lifted my miry corpse from beneath the clacking bay stones. I imagined the news spreading around town. I considered my funeral, the music, the sickly stench of lilies, and thought quiche might be nice for the wake. Maybe Jen would turn up in a black veil, and she’d cry and want to take it all back. Marble coffin. He was so young. Cheesecake for the sweet. But as they pulled the pink rubber glove from the water and threw it splat on the sand, I joined the chortling chorus, not daring to venture back in to the black water, or revisit the empty memory of my death.