Opening Line: A gaping mouth never full

Ants attacking a moth

Image: Pixabay

It was the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last.

He’d walked past the place so many times in his old life, heard the raised voices, seen the huddled tourists clicking their camera phones. Sometimes there’d be applause, sometimes giggles, a smirk behind a palm. He was always too busy to stop.

That was before.

Now he has as much time as he likes to listen and watch. ‘Time rich, cash poor,’ his Mum said when he told her about losing his job.

He can’t afford to go to pubs or restaurants anymore – contact with friends has dropped off anyway. Just so busy with work, mate.

Now he spends his time in the capital’s parks. He likes watching the loose necked pelicans in St James’s, the deer in Richmond. But it’s the people he finds most fascinating and most hideous. The foreigners with their bum bags slung under overfed guts, office workers on their lunch breaks, stuffing meatball subs into their mouths, leaving the wrappers behind to flap in the wind like injured gulls. He sees it everywhere – humanity is a gaping mouth never full.

One Saturday he was sitting on a bench in Hyde Park. It was hot, a lot of scorched flesh on show. The litter bin next to him was full, at its base a moat of spilled vanilla ice cream black with ants. There’s the world, he thought, infested with people. And they won’t stop until it’s all gone.

That was the moment.

A wooden crate was difficult to come by. Scarce, apparently. Twenty quid on ebay. Eventually, he spotted one in a skip, just lying there, half covered by a length of stained stair carpet. Fate, he thought, as he carried it home.

Now he’s here at Speaker’s Corner and even though he hasn’t said a word, tourists are gathering, curious podgy faces upturned, cameras raised, ready to record.

And he knows.

These will be the best words. They will burn into every heart, shame the devourers.

These words will shape the world.

 


 

Written for The Daily Post’s Opening Line prompt.

For those of you who are unaware of Regent’s Park’s astonishing Speakers’ Corner, do pop along here to find out more.

Damon Wakes’ Flash Fiction Day: Bunch up your skirt

Standing stones

Image: Pixabay

‘Step through,’ said Rose. Her red kerchief was tied tight about her neck, cheeks flushing to match.

Maggie shook her head. ‘I don’t like it.’

‘Stop being a baby and step through.’ Rose’s heel stamped hard on the gravel.

Rose was always the same. Maggie – the more placid of the two sisters – usually let Rose have her way in the end.

But standing at Nick’s Hoop, with the chalk under her boots and the sound of the wind tearing through the oak trees made a storm blow inside her chest.

Rosie’s mouth twisted in irritation. ‘Remember what the rhyme says. You have to pass through the stone if you want to be wed in the year.’

‘Yes, Rose,’ said Maggie.

‘Do you want to be an old maid like Miss Stanhope?’

Miss Stanhope was the local school teacher. She had a long braid over one shoulder and read books that made the vicar’s wife tut. Maggie didn’t think being Miss Stanhope would be such a bad thing.

Reluctantly, she said, ‘No, Rose.’

‘Then step through. Bunch your skirt up as I did and it won’t snag.’

Maggie did as she was told, wrapping the layers of muslin round to free her ankles.

A flock of crows lifted from the stand of oaks, turning the air black.  The wind blew up, catching her skirts, tugging them from her hands. The sun blinked behind foaming, inky rainclouds.

For the first time, Maggie wondered who they were going to marry.

 


 

Written for Damon Wakes’ Flash Fiction Day. Take a look here to see what all the fuss is about.

Damon Wakes’ Flash Fiction Day: This way I can pretend

Red door with brass door knocker

Image: Pixabay

There’s the same lamppost with the broken bulb sitting in its pool of darkness.

And the beech tree with its crop of condemned trainers drooping from the boughs by their laces.

The same skinny stray sniffs the air, pads half heartedly towards me but turns tail before he’s within whining distance.

Now the countdown.

31, 30, 29, 28 … 27, Newberry Gardens.

Your house.

Not your house now, but always your house in my head.

One desperate afternoon, I considered knocking on the door (now painted red – you would never have chosen red) and making some excuse to get inside. My Nan’s old place. Brought me up. Sorely missed. I ached to walk the boards where you padded, look out across the broken valley, its smoking stacks.

But what if the wine stain’s gone from the carpet? What if they’ve fixed the sticking doors, changed the bathroom suite?

Then I’d have to accept you’re gone. This way, I can pretend.

 


 

Written for Damon Wakes’ Flash Fiction Day. Take a look here to see what all the fuss is about.

Damon Wakes’ Flash Fiction Day: Let me count the ways

Abacus

Image: Pixabay

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

That grey hair is from when you swallowed a Lego brick and I had to hold you upside down to get it back it.

That scar is from when you were snared by brambles and I had to free you.

This wrinkle is from your first night on the town with your mates – and the mess you made of the bathroom when you got home.

This empty feeling is the day you left home.

This joy is the day you married your lovely girl.

This swell of pride so huge it might break me is our grandchild’s fist curled round my finger.

Too many ways to count.

 


Written for Damon Wakes’ Flash Fiction Day. Take a look here to see what all the fuss is about.

Damon Wakes’ Flash Fiction Day: Will You?

Unmade bed

Image: Pixabay

If I wake you as I leave, will you whisper my name, reach for my hand?

Or will you turn your back, pretend you haven’t heard?

I think I know.

 


 

Written for Damon Wakes’ Flash Fiction Day. Take a look here to see what all the fuss is about.

Moral Mondays : The return of the corduroy kid

Corduroy jacket with metal button

Image : Pixabay

 

‘You’re wearing that jacket?’ said Nell.

‘Yes,’ said Dad.

‘It’s a bit 1985 Geography teacher.’

‘It’s retro. Corduroy will make a comeback.’

‘Not in your lifetime. Mine, maybe.’

‘Thanks for reminding me how ancient I am.’

‘Are you nervous?’

‘A bit.’

‘How long is it since you dated?’

‘Put it this way, I’d just bought this jacket.’

‘Lord. Just don’t come across as desperate. Floss between courses and don’t put out on the first date.’

‘Nell!’

‘Just … Make her realise how great you are first.’

‘Thanks, love.’

‘Now, go on. And careful coming home.’

‘Night.’

‘Night, Dad.’

 


 

For Nortina’s Moral Mondays. See the moral – this week is lessons from Dad – and write a story in 100 words or fewer. See here for full Ts and Cs.

Three Line Tales : No end to nightmares

three line tales week twenty: cupcakes, icing, frosting

photo by Stephanie McCabe – click here for full res version


 

Ffion nudged a plate of pastel coloured cake towards Billy. ‘You need sugar by the looks of you. When did you last eat?’

A waitress skittered past, pinny crisp and white as snowflakes, heels tapping on the parquet flooring. Billy’s coat was stained, one sleeve torn at the shoulder. His hands were splashed brown – possibly dried blood. He didn’t touch the cake.

‘Billy?’

‘Ever had a nightmare you couldn’t wake up from?’ His voice was frail enough to snap.

‘All nightmares end.’

A square of cake quivered, crumbs trembling onto the plate. An ant emerged from the spongy rubble, then another and another, threads of black, lacquered bodies cutting across the bright white cloth.

‘Not anymore,’ said Billy.

 


 

What is wrong with me? I see this lovely photo Sonya selected for today’s Three Line Tales and all I imagine is ants marauding over the cake and endless nightmares! Do see if you can write something more cheerful – or if you can trump me with something terrifying. See here for Ts and Cs.

 

W4W : Why William Shatner should never play Macbeth

Comedy Hamlet and Yorrick scene

Image : Pixabay

 

As an Englishwoman, subject of this sceptre isle, this precious stone set in the silver sea, I’m ashamed to say, I’ve spent very little time watching or studying Shakespeare since leaving school.

As a teen, I was besotted by the stage – the lights, the attention, the thrill of stumbling over props and stagehands in semi darkness.

I acted in youth theatre, though this foray into the seedy world of Thespia was in part due to the attractions of the young male lead in my troupe, a loose hipped, loose lipped, self-adoring monster intriguingly named Conan. A barbarian like his namesake, this glorious creature was monstrous in the way only attractive teenage boys can be. I learned my lines (barely), threw myself around rehearsals (embarrassingly) and he hardly flickered an unfeasibly  long eyelash my way.

As compensation for my failure as an actress, I trotted along to every school theatre trip going. Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Edward II, Midsummer Night’s Dream, even Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and Coppelia got a look in, though I later decided I’m not a fan of ballet, preferring blood and guts high opera and its tendency towards morbidly extended death scenes over ballet’s pallid and picturesque drowning Swan Princesses.

In a moment of madness, I used my hard earned deli counter wages to buy a pre-loved copy of the complete works of Shakespeare. It had yellowed pages spotted with damp and a spine that crumbled more with every read. Unfortunately,  I found it disappointingly impenetrable and soon put it aside in favour of what I viewed at the time as easier prey such as Equus. I must have been a very weird teenager.  

As an adult, my

SHAKESPEARIAN

experiences have not improved.

Years ago, I went to see a production of Macbeth (always one of my favourites, due to its high body count and obsessions with personal hygiene and the supernatural) starring an actor from Blake’s 7. Those living in the UK and of a certain age will no doubt remember Blake’s 7 for its shaky sets (imagine the original Star Trek with half the budget), camp costumes, overacting and its terrifically downbeat ending where after following the crew across the universe for four years, all our heroes die in a bloodless laser gun shootout.

The actor from Blake 7 gave a perturbing performance, gurning, sucking his cheeks and staring into the middle distance (a la James Tiberius Kirk) which I think was supposed to convey inner turmoil, but just looked as if he was having trouble with his wisdom teeth.

Hoping for a more positive experience and plumping for ‘proper’ stage actors this time over ex sci-fi telly bods, we saw Twelfth Night a while after that, but though a better production, the story line itself is horrible.

Have you seen it? It’s a ‘comedy’, which is tricky to pull off at the best of times. I for instance, would be a Spaced or My Name is Earl kind of person, where the majority of the world seems to be more Terry and June or Two and a Half Men. I suspect Twelfth Night is the Early Modern equivalent of the latter, having as its central figure of fun Malvolio, a lowly steward who is humiliated and imprisoned by higher status tormentors just for being a bit of a pranny.  You had to be there, I guess.

Anyway, I’m hoping an upcoming Shakespeare play will rejuvenate my love of all things Bard.

For I have tickets to see the great British actor, Timothy West as King Lear in a few weeks’ time. Lear’s much more up my street than Twelfth Night. There may not be any witches, but there is madness, betrayal and enough pointless death in the last act to make Hamlet puce with envy.

So, wish me luck and be warned – I may soon be in the market for a second-hand complete works. Though not, be assured, teenage boy actors.

Probably.


Thanks to dear Kat, founder of W4W.

#tuesdayuseitinasentence : What Gordon could do with his spatula

Messy canteen kitchen

Image: Pixabay

‘What are you doing?’ Gordon glared through the kitchen hatch, pupils shrunk to the size of pinheads under the bright strip lighting.

With his paunch, a slick of greasy black hair over his bald scalp and a face permanently scrunched by ill-temper, he wasn’t a good looking man. Dorothy tried not to judge books by covers, but she knew Gordon’s ‘contents’ and it matched his cover exactly.

She rolled up onto the balls of her feet then back down to her heels. ‘Exercises. Doctor says I’ve got to do them twice a day.’

Leaning through the hatch, his surprisingly delicate hands resting on the frame, Gordon resembled a curious guinea pig peering from its cage. Dorothy suppressed a  smile at the thought.

‘Do ‘em on your own time,’ he said. ‘Serve table three. He’s waiting.’

Heels clicking the floor tiles, Dorothy looked around the near empty café. Of the twelve tables, eleven were empty, their cutlery, condiments and serviette holders all filled and neatly arranged. Only table three was occupied and that by a lone man wearing a quaintly old fashioned trilby and grey pin stripe suit, a cerise carnation springing from his lapel.

‘He’s still reading the menu,’ said Dorothy.

Gordon scowled, lips parting to show rodential yellow incisors. ‘Stop being so bone-bloody-idle and serve.’

How long had she worked in this dump? Fourteen years? Fifteen?  And nothing in return but varicose veins that resembled the Nile Delta and plantar fasciitis crucifying her feet. Nothing to go home to but a rented flat above a newsagent and a stray cat she called Nobody that might deign to visit, but only if the old lady next door hadn’t been to the fishmonger that day.

The order pad was in Dorothy’s hand and she was halfway to table three before she had time to tell Gordon what he could do with his spatula.

‘Are you ready to place your order?’


Written for My Loving Wife’s #tuesdayuseitinasentence, brought to you today by the word SERVE.

Feels like an opening, doesn’t it? Where do you think the story should go next? Answers on a postcard (or in the comments box) please.

Moral Mondays: My Sweet Butcher

Opium poppy

Image : Pixabay

Light stabs through a meagre gap between the curtains. I could rise, pull them to, but the effort is more than I could bear. I turn over, hoping sleep will welcome me back.

Once I dreamed of sun slicked pebbled beaches, the scent of seaweed, frothing waves. Now sleep holds only darkness, hate filled eyes, the death of love.

I could ring the bell for the maid, have my hair dressed and coiled, my waist turned waspish, laced and corseted. I could.

My hand reaches for the stout brown bottle, my sweet butcher of nightmares.

 


 

Written for Nortina’s Moral Mondays. See the moral – this week is ‘say no to drugs’ – and write a story of 100 words or fewer on the theme. See here for full Ts and Cs.

At the mention of drugs, I didn’t think of rave culture or crystal meth or the UK’s recent ban on ‘legal highs’, but of the 19th century’s addiction to opiates.

Women particularly used a tincture called laudanum – usually a mixture of opium and alcohol – for every conceivable malady from menstral pain to diarrhea. Many 19th century literary figures used laudanum too: Charles Dickens, Bram Stoker, Elizabeth Gaskell, Wilkie Collins, Edgar Allan Poe and Elizabeth Barrett Browning among others.

See the marvellous Victorian Web for Dr Andrzej Diniejko‘s article on Victorian drug use.

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