Thursday, January 29, 2009

Punishment by Caroline England


He wakes, throat clogged with her smell, then sits bolt upright, his heart pumping lead. He's disoriented, unsure of whether the deep terror he feels is real or imagined. Droplets of sweat form crosses on his skin.

“Are you alright?” The pillow-muffled voice of Clare beside him. “You’ve been muttering again. I’m knackered. Please go to sleep. I’m on earlies tomorrow.”

He shakes his head, then rakes sharp nails through his hair as perspiration turns icy. A dream, only a dream. Lies down, pulls the duvet towards his chattering teeth, then turns onto his chest, the welts below his shoulder blades still raw.

“You’re not wearing a ring.” She nods towards his left hand as he lifts the glass to his mouth.

He pauses for a moment, unusual for him, then smiles. “I could say I’m not married, but you wouldn’t buy that, would you?”

The woman drops her gaze, then circles a finger around the rim of her wine glass. Her fingers are long and slender, nails cracked and chewed to the quick. For a moment he listens to the whispered echo vibrating from the glass before opening his mouth, but she gets there first.

“That’s a shame. You should wear a ring. You really should.”

“There’s blood on the sheets again. You ought to see a doctor. You can’t just stay in bed...”

He feigns sleep. The conversation is stale. Life is on repeat. He knows he should get up, break free, but he doesn’t want to.

“Don’t pretend you can’t hear me. It’s gone on too long to be flu or exhaustion or whatever excuse you invent. I’m getting worried, even if you’re not.”

He keeps his eyes closed, reaches for the dream, tries to mould the memory into something tangible. He can’t remember it all, but he recalls the fear, the terror and the mind numbing pleasure of it all.

She doesn’t look like her photograph, but why should he care. And anyway, he couldn’t describe her if he tried because he’s not really looking at her. His eyes are stuck on her mouth, the movement of her lips as she sips from her glass, the white of her teeth as she smiles.

He drops his shoulders, tries to relax. His nerves are new, his lines feel dated. “So, do you live near here?” the words fly out unbidden. And it’s still only nine fifteen.

He gets up eventually because he needs a piss. Unsteady on his feet, he watches the urine splash around the bowl and fleetingly wonders whether it should be so yellow or smell so much, but doesn’t really care. Weeks of bathing the wounds have sapped his strength. Wounds that weep, and scab, then heal. Disappear for days and days until he knows with relief and emptiness that they’ve gone for good. Then they bleed again.

“Do you have any hobbies?” He laughs as soon as the words are out and so does she. He wants to say, I’m usually better than this, much better. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. But she takes his hand, lifts it to her face, and then licks it slowly along the length of his upturned palm, shooting splinters direct to his groin.

“Collecting things,” she replies with a smile.

He clips his nails again, then leans over the sink, fighting off the urge to be sick. When he opens his eyes he sees Clare in the mirror and he turns, hiding his back to the wall.

He sees she looks pale, smudges under her eyes. “I came home early to see if you’re ok….” She shrugs and starts to turn away, before facing him again. “Surely you didn’t think I wouldn’t notice….”

He opens his mouth but he’s dumb.

“I thought it was one of your women at first,” she continues, her trembling fingers covering a sad small smile. “But you haven’t been out for weeks… I’m worried about you…”

She reaches out her hand to coax him around, then slips her arms about his waist, laying her cheek on his back. “So it must be you… You must be doing this to yourself.”

Clare pulls away from him, traces the half crusted scabs with soft fingers before putting her lips to the scars. “Let me help you,” she whispers. But he jerks involuntarily as the memory floods back.

That’s what she did, the one. Put her lips to the wounds and she sucked.

She leans towards him, her hair hides her face and time stops. He’s naked and hot, afraid and relaxed; he wants her again and again but he’s frozen with languor. Her lips move to his, brush by his cheek to his neck, then she bites.

“If you won’t talk to me, then talk to the doctor, or your sister, your mum. We can’t go on like this. Just look at yourself. You’re hardly recognisable any more.”

With trembling hands on his sunken cheeks, Clare turns his head towards the mirror, but he closes his eyes. He knows what he’ll see if he stares. Not the ghostly face he’s come to recognise as his own, but the one who’s like mercury, the one he can’t pin. He shakes his head and makes for the bed.

“You’re pushing me away, for God’s sake. I love you but I can’t take it anymore. If you won’t talk to me, it’ll be the end…”

“No!” the volume of his reply surprises them both. “No; never. Please don’t leave me. I’ll get better, I’ll sort it. Don’t go.”

“Losing your touch, eh?” The barman winks at him as he sits in the bar with an empty glass and a watch too big for his wrist. He has no idea where else to go. The effort he’s made to get there has exhausted him and he closes his eyes.

“Have you got something for me?” she asks, surprise pulling him back from the brink. He nods and holds out his fist. There’s something different about her tonight, the pupils of her eyes have effaced all colour but the scent confirms that it’s her. “Good boy,” she whispers as she takes his hand.

“Come with me.”

He sips the coffee, takes a bite of the toast Clare’s made for him, but he barely chews because he’s eager to talk. “You know when we got engaged...”

Clare nods, her face inscrutable, her hands still clasped in her lap.

“I said that when we got married...”

She finishes his sentence. “… you wouldn’t want to wear a wedding ring. I know. But that didn’t matter to me. I just wanted the wedding in church.”

“Yes.” His throat is dry, he’s unable to swallow. “I didn’t want to wear a ring because I’d worn one before. I never told you. I’m sorry…”

She’s gentle tonight, the one, anoints him with oil in soft lonely strokes from the palms of his hands to the soles of his feet. He trusts her now; there’ll be no more pain and yet he knows there will always be a part of him that yearns for it. He sleeps, long and restful.

“Its time to say goodbye,” she whispers eventually, then lifts his hand and draws off the ring. A golden reflection lights up her face as she opens the box and drops it down to a tune of rings.

“You’re forgiven,” she smiles, then closes her eyes and rests her head on folded palms. Only then does he recognise her face.

Blood Red Sentimental Blues - Cotton Jones

Not well known for her pyrotechnics, Caroline's had some stuff published in magazines - Transmission, Parameter, Pipeline, Chimera, Lamport Court, Peace and Freedom, nr1, Succour, Pen Pusher, Positive Words, Twisted Tongue, The Text, White Chimney and The Ugly Tree.

Street art by CAKE.
Photograph by Adam Lawrence.

Michael Nau dips further into the darkness of the crossroads of rock lore as he releases his first full-length album as Cotton Jones. Just released on Suicide Squeeze Records, Paranoid Cocoon is the dusty barroom in the one road town, and it will fill every corner of your mind.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Day After by Gareth Storey

The sun was coming through the curtains; I hadn't pulled them all the way. The pale yellow light was directed into my face. My mouth was dry; and my tongue felt like it didn't belong to me. I tried to remember how I got home. The only memory was that of meeting outside the Odeon at five p.m. and I know we went for drinks. How many drinks? That is the question.

I felt tired, thirsty and hungry but didn’t want to move. The rhetorical question I asked each hangover ran through my mind: Why do I do this to myself? I waited for an answer and got nothing. In the kitchen I filled a Stella pint glass with cold tap water. I gulped down the water, put the glass down and took a deep breath. Idea’s started to come to me of ways to make this hangover go away. I could have a beer or a Bloody Mary, that worked, but I didn’t feel like letting the cycle begin again; or go for a run, exercise would shake me up or I could take the easy option: take a valium, put on Scent Of A Woman and fall asleep. A better idea came to me instead of those: Breakfast.

After I’d eaten I had a shower, got dressed and decided to go into Slough to buy some magazines and the Sunday papers. I walked into town, enjoying the rare sunshine but my head was killing, it felt heavy, like an anvil.

While browsing through the music magazines at Borders a voice behind me said:

“Hello, stranger.”

I turned around to see a girl with short brown hair, green eyes, light tanned skin and a great body.

“Hi,” I said, thinking: “who the fuck is this?”

I looked into her eyes and then to the magazines I was holding: Premiere, Empire and Total Film. I looked like a geek. She watched this happen and then laughed.

“You told me you liked films.”

She laughed again, it sounded good, she leaned on me as she tucked her shoelaces into her Converse all-stars.

“So, how’s the head?” she asked.

I had no idea who she was but I replied:

“It’s ok, ehh, it hurts.”

I shrugged after I said this letting her know that I’m used to feeling hung over. I let out a nervous laugh and she smiled at me.

“I’m not surprised,” she said, “You were, let’s say, very inebriated.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet. Did I do anything stupid?”

As soon as the words had come out of my mouth I regretted asking, but it’s something a drunk must do the day after to find out what happened: put the pieces together.

“Well, you were funny, in fact you were charming but you got thrown out…”

“Of where?” I interrupted.

I didn’t remember being thrown out of anywhere, oh fuck, I didn’t remember being anywhere.

“You don’t remember? We were in Reflex.”

“Reflex?” I said. “Oh shit, I remember falling off a stool at the bar. They’re really tall and awkward those stools.”

“Yeah, when you’re wasted,” she said and laughed again.

Talking with this girl who I couldn’t remember made me feel better. I asked her did she want to go for a coffee but she was the one who said to me:

“What about a beer?”

“That sounds great,” I said, sounding too enthusiastic.

I put my magazines down and we went to the pub next to Borders and I paid for the beers. It was one o’ clock on a Sunday and a few men sat alone drinking pints and smoking. We sat at a table near the back of the pub. The television was playing football without any sound. When she asked the next question I felt like a fuck up.

“So, do you remember my name?”

I hesitated, “Ehh, is it…?”

I searched my mind for her name and nothing happened.

“I can’t remember it right now but until I do I’ll pay for the drinks, all right?”

She seemed pleased with this. Then I asked her if she remembered my name. She waited and said:

“James. James Brogan.”

Fuck, she even knew my surname.

“I’m impressed,” I said, “And I was just testing you.”

We kept drinking and I kept paying. We talked about lots of different things I found out she liked country music, reading the classic Russian authors and drinking. She told me about how I approached her and her friends last night and how I made them laugh. Parts of the night came back to me but still I couldn’t remember her name.

After five pints I asked her if she wanted to go get something to eat (with me paying again).

“Let’s go to your place,” she said. “You told me last night you were a cook. You weren’t lying were you?”

I felt a surge of excitement and said: “Yeah, sure, I wasn’t lying.”

I couldn’t believe it; I was taking a girl to my place to cook dinner, I was guaranteed to get laid. It had been over six months, which means: nearly a year.

The taxi dropped us off at the shop near my house and after I’d picked up everything I’d need we walked towards my house. I put on some Al Green as I cooked and she sat at the table smoking and asking me questions about my family and my job. My questions to her were about films and music. After a dinner of Grilled chicken and chilli Tagliatelle and a bottle of Petit Papillon Grenache Blanc, she looked at me and said: “Thanks for dinner. You weren’t lying.”

She moved to the chair next to me and we kissed. We kept kissing and started to grope each other and take off our clothes. We moved to my bedroom and she lay on the bed naked. I stood fumbling with my socks. I got a condom from my drawer, put it on and lay next to her. She looked at me. My cock was as hard as it had ever been.

“James, I’m not going to let you fuck me if you can’t remember my name.” Her words sounded loud and ugly. My cock deflated, I fell back onto the bed and sighed. She got off the bed and put her clothes back on while I watched her. I put my boxer shorts on and sat on the edge of the bed. What a tease. I felt depraved. This was the closest I’d got to being laid in six months. Fuck. I lay on the bed depressed and thought of quitting drinking. It does me no good. She walked out of my room and went to the bathroom and as I heard the toilet flush her name pounced into my mind.

“JANE!” I screamed.

I couldn’t believe it, I remembered. She came out of the bathroom and walked into my room.

“Jane,” I said again.

She smiled and undressed.

Hurricane Jane (The Twelves Remix) - Black Kids

Gareth Storey was born in a hospital in the wonderful Guinness producing Dublin City but now lives in Camden, London. He has been writing for over ten years and has had stuff accepted on various websites such as Route and cityofsharedstories. He is currently enjoying his new found optimism, dark haired women in heels and Belgian beers. He continues to write short stories and poetry. Cheryl Cole inspires him.

Street art by "DAIN."

Photo by Adam Lawrence.

Jacksonville's Black Kids have been on a eighteen month whirlwind that has resulted in stardom, a contract with Columbia records, and upcoming tours with Kasier Chiefs and Mates of States. The original version of "Hurricane Jane" appears of their debut full-length album Partie Traumatic.