Friday, 5 June 2015

Over Where The Spring Lambs Bounce

Along in lines bloomed terrifically some young blondes
with their honey suckled scents lingering in wisps of air,
swelling the field full of amber petals, away from the ponds.
Then at once they scurried from the bippity-bopping of soft hooves
but with delicate legs like theirs, leashed to the ground,
the daffodils clutched to the wind with the lamb; unbound.

It skipped, it sprang, it wobbled about
through the clovers and the daisies
like an adventurous boy scout.
It searched, it smelled, it frolicked along
with the crawlers that crawl
and the flyers that fall.

With the bumps scattered in the ground underneath,
he fell about at first with his weak new legs,
wanting to run about and chattering his teeth.
Grass was rich away from the herd
but this would be his last graze,
for tomorrow the butcher pays.


Beasts that perch on the highest branch, repulsively inspecting the life below them, are the criminals. Their eyes follow every limp and notice each squabble among the young who plead for a morsel of food. Patient creatures; they allow the light to dim inside the elderly and the sick until they can strike. For generations vultures have recalled the tale of the place they hold in the tender balance of things. We must eat, they said. We must take them, they said. We must not question it, they said.

Skeletal trees dilate over the area where scraps of shrubs surface themselves through the mists of sulphur that cover the ground. My mouth overflowed with saliva as I watched some of the inhabitants limp below my feet. Then homing in on one in particular, I noticed a dressing of succulent blood covered the deep gauge on his left knee. Bacteria had already started to dwell in the area, creating a tangy taste within the flesh that I would remember well. He was close to crumbling. I became frustrated as the smell tingled my taste buds. Jagged skin was floating in the calm breeze around the joint. It was mesmerising. His fur patch worked his chest with knots that hadn’t been groomed in years. I admired him as he was unfixable. And with that, the last breath of air chilled his dry sacks then his skinny neck crashed to the ground.

I could not take any more. The odour drowned my lungs, beckoning my aching stomach. I needed it. Spreading through my veins the toxic was infecting my body, attacking at neurons. It was manipulating my thoughts. My neck urged forward allowing the aroma to support my wings, directing them down towards the carcass. The body lay like a bundled coat belonging to a beggar on the streets of Moscow in the winter with a tempting jar of coins in the left pocket. It was mine. Encircling him, I tried my hardest to aviate my wings back to the tree. I did not want to take the last part of him. Everything that he owned, everything that he was, lay limp on the floor. I did not want it. Rotted vegetation was good enough for me. I could not want it. The others stared. My father’s stomach bulged out already full from his morning meal. It came back; that viral demon that resided in the recesses of my heart. Placed there before birth, every vulture carried it around. It consumed your true self and leaves one only able to gain satisfaction by absorbing blood from the weak.

Leaving his bones on the ground I made my way back to their home. They sat waiting for me with proud smiles on their faces. It wasn’t my fault. I turned away and looked at two lion cubs playing together in the sun. They were both pushing around a knotted ball of weeds together allowing one to run around while the other played. An adult lioness basked in the sun a few feet away giving them a few glances every now and again. A hyena wandered around her and tried to get a bit closer to the cubs as they were uninterested in anyone except themselves and the ball of weeds. The hyena looked like he was about to make a run at them and I could see my father’s head veer towards them in my peripheral view. Thankfully, though, the lioness quickly caught on and ran at the hyena first, scaring it away from her cubs. My father stopped salivating momentarily and became quite irritable as he glared at the lioness.

The rest of the family started to gather, swooping down whenever they saw an opportunity. They took as much as they could without a mere thought of restraint flickering across their mind. Some decided to peck at the flesh of creatures that hung on the precipice of death till a full meal was ready. These victims carried a smell wherever they travelled that would have sickened any other animal. Vultures, however, already carry around a stench. The sunsets came sooner and the nights grew colder. Meat ceased to fester in my stomach letting the acid boil, and hunger tightened firmly around my mind. Fewer animals entered our arena. Fewer families left to eradicate.

There was nothing left. The others had feasted until they were sustained, taking what they could day after day. My stomach let out a continuous groan as though from the lesser fortunate from the previous week. Especially fragile with a slight breeze, my skin barely stuck to me anymore. We were weak. A few of the vultures had tried searching elsewhere but we had left nothing for now. Some of the vultures came back hoping for something to crawl out of the sand. Others didn’t make it back. One of the young vultures fell off a branch next to me after a sweltering day under the sun. Another young vulture flew down poking him with his beak and nibbling his feathers. It stayed still and silent on our hazardous land. He became the next feed for the rest of the family. I watched them as I stayed still.

I stayed silent.

Coffee With Clara

Clara’s coffee house stood on the end of Mapley Street with red blinds that by now could only drop halfway down without splitting apart. The place looked out dated compared to the Starbucks a few roads over. There was an ‘O’ on the illuminated ‘Open’ sign that had flickered out almost seven months ago but no one had thought to change it yet.

“Thanks for the tips Marge, I’ll be sure to name my character after you!” Joe shouted as he waved back to the grocery store, holding a plastic bag nearly half empty. He walked along into the café, then sat down at the nearest table to the door and got out his pen and pads of paper. They already had scribbles all over them. She brought over a full plate to a man, who was sitting at a table next to the counter. He sighed as he slouched in the chair. As she put the plate down, she rested a hand on his shoulder, stroking off the dust from, what looked like, weeks of work at the construction site with no time to wash his overalls. He was a fairly large man and came here almost every morning. They exchanged a few words and he smiled as he tucked into his breakfast. She had a quaint kindness about her that Joe had always adored. She was the main reason most of the customers went there and didn’t Joe know it. That and the killer tuna salad sandwich her cook can make. Clara came over quickly and brought him his morning coffee: black. She was a timid woman who got along well with all her customers, unlike the usual boisterous characters in the area. Her thirty year old body wasn’t skinny, and her hair was always pinned up with one or two stray hairs that would rest on her cheek bones. She wore plain clothes and wore very little make up but she had an essence about her that called the community to her café like homing pigeons.

“Are those new shoes? They’re pretty.” Joe asked eagerly.

“Oh, yes. Bought them the other day at that market down town.” Clara replied while writing down his orders, oblivious to Joe’s attentive compliment.

“Rick looks exhausted today,” said Joe.

“I know, he just said that he’s worked double shifts this week,” she said as she glanced over at the table she had just served. “But how’s the book coming along?”

“Oh not too bad, I guess.” Clara smiled and squeezed Joe’s arm slightly then went back to the counter.

Behind him Joe heard someone screaming. Turning around to the window next to him he watched a man in a smart business suit yell down the phone. He was threatening all sorts of things that shocked even his creativity, before throwing the phone to the ground almost hitting a homeless man in the process. Leaving it lying on the floor he walked in, composed and sturdy again. Getting nowhere with his novel, Joe gawked at him as he sat down, concluding that he must live a stressed lifestyle to look so self-assured after that outburst. He got out the business section of the Independent and sat to read it only a few tables away. Close enough for him to hear when Clara, unaware of what had just occurred, came over to take his order. Getting to his table, she quickly went back behind the counter to bring over a high chair for the woman sitting at the table next to him, who was struggling to hold a toddler with one hand and a forkful of chicken nuggets in the other. The woman gleamed at Clara, while sitting the child down and proceeded to cut up the nuggets into bite size pieces. Clara went back to serve the man at the table, as Joe continued to stare at them. The man hesitated before looking up as though he was finishing reading a sentence. But then as soon as he saw her waiting patiently with a notepad still in hand, he smiled and asked for a latte with two and a half teaspoons of sugar. “Also what do you suggest as an accompaniment? A lady as beautiful as yourself must have exquisite taste.” His hair was perfectly combed back with just enough gel in it to shine slightly under this lighting. She had probably noticed that by now, Joe thought with a jealous tick coming along. She giggled at his boyish charm and suggested the scones. The toddler next to them started to cry, annoyed about one of his toys falling on the floor. Joe didn’t mind the noise too much, as his sister came round frequently with her two year old son. He did mind, however, that he could no longer hear the conversation between Clara and the man. They conversed for a few minutes and Clara’s smile had not once been interrupted. “Oh, Lewis you are so funny,” Joe heard Clara say when the child’s shrieks eventually subsided.


The next few weeks past in this manner with Lewis coming in in the mornings for a latte and scones then leaving for work while Clara giggled to herself as she cleaned the dishes. He seemed to work almost every day, whether it was a weekday or not. His handsome face and sturdy stance made her act like a young girl again causing Joe to grow more and more uncomfortable each day that Lewis came in. He fidgeted while watching Lewis and Clara speak each morning. Her lips had been smothered in a dark red lipstick lately, where packets of laughter escaped every now and again. They chimed in Joe’s brain leaving him with a pain that wouldn’t subside. He tried to carry on working on his novel though, staying from morning till late afternoon talking to Clara at every opportunity.


On a Saturday morning, Joe walked past Marge’s grocery store where she had bunches of flowers out on the front stand. Joe stopped mid walk to stare at the newly bloomed sunflowers. They were a deep purple, like the colour of Clara's apron. “These would be great for Clara don’t you think, Marge?”

“Oh wonderful, sunflowers are just the sort of thing that suits a woman. I see men who come here and always go for the red roses. Roses are for young sweethearts that you don’t much care to see when they grow old and haggard, like me.”

“Now don’t say that, you still are bursting with vibrance! Maybe these’ll put a bright smile on her face.” As Joe said it, he also mumbled a comment, which was inaudible to Marge.

Joe looked down at the flowers with a disappointed look so Marge shyly ignored what he had said.

“You should ask her out before it’s too late. And don’t give me that look I know you’ve always had a thing for her.”

Joe smiled, as though thinking back to a fond memory, and paid for the sunflowers. As he walked the few metres down to Clara’s, his hands trembled holding the bouquet of flowers. When he walked in he strode right up to Clara and handed her the flowers surprisingly confidently. “Oh thank you, Joe. These are beautiful,” she said smelling the flowers. She gave him a hug that reminded him of ones that old friends do when they haven’t seen each other in a long time. He stood, unable to move, and after a long pause managed to fumble out a few words to her, explaining how they reminded him of her then sprinted out of the café to figure out what to do. The homeless man was sitting there as usual. Joe rubbed his face, troubled from the ordeal he had just gone through. “Mate, you don’t look too well,” the homeless man said to Joe. He chuckled at the irony then took a deep breath and went back inside. Clara was filling up a vase full of water for the flowers as he opened the door and placed them on the counter top.

He sat down and while Clara brought him over some coffee and a sandwich. “On the house.” Joe smiled at her while sipping the coffee. He got out his papers and wrote with a spirit that hadn’t been there earlier.

‘Lewis hadn’t come in today’ Joe thought. But he briskly pushed away the thought, deciding that he should be grateful for such a thing. He’d started to write eagerly again and was enjoying all the attention from Clara.

When closing time came he waited for all the other customers to leave. Clara was washing up some mugs. He packed up his stuff and went towards the counter. A few steps away he paused abruptly and dropped his bag then ran straight to the bathroom. He splashed some water on his face and steadied his shaking hands on the edges of the sink. He looked up into the mirror and stared at his dripping face. His hair was straggly and his face unshaven. His shirt wasn’t even buttoned all the way to the top. “Could she say yes to me?” he said out loud to himself.

Then he heard the front door open. “Shit, she’s already leaving! You can do this, Joe, just ask her to dinner. It’s easy,” he said to himself. Then he ran out the bathroom, heading back towards the counter. He’d run through the flowers and broken glass. The vase had been thrown to the floor, leaving scattered petals everywhere.

Lewis had his hands round Clara’s neck. Joe ran at him. Joe hit him. Lewis let go. Lewis hit him back. Clara screamed. Clara cried. She ran out of the café.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

The Opening Night

Chapter One
The dull hum of the dull voices that travelled around England with extraordinary pets and curious children resonated round the tents, while I relaxed in my caravan. Suzie’s feet pattered on the wet grass just outside. She was strolling towards the main tent with some black lace up shoes, kicking at the puddles along the way. The main tent was otherwise known as the big top for its terrifyingly large size. Having to hammer down pegs this morning I was well aware of that fact. The red and white stripes that covered the entire thing always made my eyes go fuzzy if I stared too long, but the fairy lights really spiced it up this year. They hung around the edges of the tent then flared on the floor away from the entrance, close to where Suzie was hanging about.

A thud came from the big top and Suzie seemed to stop to listen then ran past the fairy lights and went through its opening. I put my pint down on the side table, grabbed my jacket and followed her inside, a few feet behind. I stayed stood at the opening. On the floor, clutching her ankle was Esme. She was the best tightrope walker I had seen go through this circus in a long time. Except for the elephants she was probably the most popular part of the show and definitely the reason why the teenage boys came by. “These damn shoes are so torn up now I slipped right off, Hank!” she shouted across to the circus’ owner, Hank, on the other side of the tent, while throwing her shoes towards him. They didn’t make it past a few feet and he didn’t take much notice of her complaints anyway. Hank was a tough old man who, from the stories, seemed to have been an animal tamer in a circus when he was younger but then his ambition led him to buy this one. He wore an old suede jacket and had a bushy beard lined with straggles of grey hair. Suzie ran to Esme with the new shoes in hand but dropped them before she got there and embraced her.

“Oh sweetie, it’s ok. I’m fine it was just one of the practise ones,” she said to Suzie. She kissed her forehead and then stood up, struggling slightly, with a smile on her face so as to not alarm the young girl. She held Suzie’s hand as she went to pick up the new shoes off the dusty ground. Suzie looked the splitting image of her mother except for her golden curls. Esme had strikingly beautiful red hair. When I think of them now, they remind me of the fairy lights that were pinned outside the tent. Since they joined us they didn’t leave; they didn’t even go outside of the tent’s area much when we situated in a place for a while.

I sat down on one of the benches at the front moving a couple of things to the side so I could stretch my legs. Esme must have heard me because she looked up and smiled at me. I waved back and watched as Suzie got up on one of the tightropes. It was only a few feet high but she was seven years old at the time so I was always impressed by the poise she held on the rope. Esme sat on the floor and after putting her new shoes on she applauded Suzie’s cartwheel on the tightrope, pretending to holler and cheer like a real audience.

A few of the acrobats turned their heads and most of the children in the big top had come over and sat down near them on the floor. Esme was quite a favourite to the other children that travelled with us. She got up and joined Suzie, counting her in before they started doing a little routine. Hank looked over, a little impressed, at the duo. Suzie was too young to do any acts live or on the high wire but she was enthusiastic enough to get anyone going. They were spinning and twirling around each other. Esme and Suzie were so in sync together. They always seemed to know where each other were without looking to check. They held hands and kicked their legs high into the air, laughing as they did so. Esme was even somersaulting along the rope. We all knew then that it would be nothing compared to what her show later that night would be like, but it was still compelling to watch. Esme had a way of absorbing those around her into the act. You almost forgot the rope was there sometimes and just saw her floating about, bending nature to her whim.

Some of the children got quite excited and one of the boys started to practise his juggling while another little girl cartwheeled around him. Some of the very young ones were clapping Esme and Suzie, while the others watched or played cards. They stopped for a moment and Esme caught my eye then whispered something in Suzie’s ear and she looked around in her playful manner and grinned when she found my face. “Charlie! Can we go see Maggie today?” Suzie said while running towards me.

“Maybe not today Suzie, she’s probably already asleep ‘cause it’s opening night tomorrow for them,” I told her. The elephants were Suzie’s favourite; especially Maggie, as she was only a few weeks old then and I think Suzie was hoping to ride her when she got a bit taller. We had had a few days of travelling so she hadn’t been able to play with them properly for that time. Her face stayed lit though and she jumped about telling me what snacks she was going to bring for them the next day.

It was getting dark and there was a crispness to the wind, which took me back to my caravan to get a warmer jacket. On getting one I quickly gulped the last of my drink and strolled back out. A sudden concern for the elephants came upon me and I headed to the animals’ tent. I couldn’t remember if I had covered them for the night as it was colder than I had expected it to be. When I got in there, I could feel that Maggie’s skin was far too cold. The blankets were bundled together in a few trunks near the big cats’ cages. By the time I had got back to the elephants, they must have woken up because they were huddled together. They looked like a big mess of grey; Livy’s trunk hung over George and their two calves were in balls against his chest. It seemed like they could be crushed at any moment, they were so tightly wound. In the morning they wouldn’t be so idle when they got a whiff of the fresh fruit I bought in town, that afternoon, for them. It would be a welcomed change from the oats I had to give to them on the road.

Maggie had resided next to them but barely touching; she was prone to fidget in her sleep much more than the others on nights like these. I wondered whether animals dreamt too and if so then what about? Was it about nuts and berries or the opening night? Whilst tucking them in, I worried for them. I worried that every twitch was a hopeless thought or a terrible walkthrough of what tomorrow could be like. ‘No, they are unable to have nightmares’ I concluded. They dream of the stars.

I went back to the trunk to put the extra blankets back but stopped before going through the gates. A few feet in front there was a hunched over figure facing away from me. The person seemed to be at one of the big cats’ cages. He was rattling on the bars with what looked like a stick. It wasn’t uncommon for arrogant teenagers to sneak in and try to show off by agitating the lions, so I prepared myself to scare them off when I saw that it wasn’t a stick but the handle of a whip. ‘David’s visiting his girl tonight’ I thought. He was the only lion tamer and honestly no one else really went that close to them. I waited for a bit to see what he would do but he just stood there mumbling some things to himself and rattling those cages. Boy, I would have thought ol’ Gracey would have scratched his arm up by now but she seemed fairly happy watching the whip go back and forth along the bars.

After some deliberation, I decided to walk in. I locked the gate behind me, which must have startled him because he dropped the whip and turned round pretty quickly. “Oh it’s you! I was wondering who was hanging around here this late.” I exclaimed.

“Um, hi Charlie.”

“I was just checking up on the elephants. They were a bit cold you see.” I said as I gestured to the blankets. “They should be well rested for tomorrow, though. I bet everyone is pretty excited. Esme was practising earlier and it looked like it’ll be another show stopper.” I realised I had started to ramble so stopped as Hank didn’t look too interested.

“Good. Yes, very good.” His voice was trembling a little when he said this. He was looking out of the corner of his eye at the lioness, as though he wanted me to leave.

I bent down to open the trunk and placed the blankets in there. He was right next to the gate when I looked up from the trunk. He looked a lot calmer now but was acting jittery. “So… were you checking up on the animals too?”

“Yeah. Anyway I’ve got to go back to my caravan now. Lots of work to do.”

“Oh I can imagine. The circus won’t run itself!” I chuckled, and off Hank went.


The next day Suzie arrived just on time and was already jumping about to see Maggie. She had brought some peanuts for the elephants, which seemed to go down a treat. The little ones sat by themselves, away from us, trying to get a few peanut shells open. They had not quite conquered the skill as well as their parents, who hovered over nervously watching their attempts. We all have our acts to practise. Suzie held out some peanuts to Maggie, her hand flat and outstretched just like I taught her. She looked as if she was about to go for them but then very tenderly twisted her trunk around Suzie’s, exchanging greetings, as it were. Suzie stared at her, dropping the peanuts. They stood like this for a few moments until Maggie moved away and sat down directly in front of the peanuts watching them. Suzie picked them up and sat down too. She started opening them with her new friend and offered them back to Maggie but, uninterested, Maggie felt about Suzie with her trunk playfully patting her feet. Enjoying the attention, Suzie ate them herself and continued to sit with Maggie for the next hour or so.