The Prosperous Dutchman
Carmen Nina Walton
An ambitious artist seeks to reconnect with influential figures from his past. "After his fourth year in business William experienced a sense of having arrived at a longed for destination. He didn’t feel certain of anything beyond the hour he was in but considered that he’d survived, even grown, in the competitive and fickle world of art. He opened his studio not sure and not caring if he could succeed. There didn’t seem to be any other choices open to him that meant anything and he was at a precipice, ready to throw himself off."
Carmen Nina Walton
Ahead of a visit from her returning sister, a woman considers the effect of her father on their family. "In the wedding photo on Ruth’s sideboard Mum is at the back of the crowd of relatives. I have to pick the frame up and bring it close to my face to see her there, behind Graham and Julie, slight with her hair cut short and that pale blue dress she liked so much. Da’s at the front of the picture, bold and bluff with pink cheeks and his paunch, standing where the best man should have stood if Da had had any decency, which he didn’t. The photographer tried to tell him but he’s not a man for taking advice he didn’t ask for."
Days to Come
Brindley Hallam Dennis
A collection of 8 short speculative fictions with a Lake District flavour... "Despite the distortion of the fish-eye lens, Terrence could see quite clearly who was standing in the corridor. Maurice looked no older than he had all those years before. He hadn’t even put on weight. His hair was still dark and full, and cut in a classic, almost archaic style. He looked like the 1940’s matinee idol he’d always modelled himself on. Terrence had not lost the plot, he reminded himself, though his hair had thinned, and his figure was wiry rather than slim, worn away rather than honed. Chickens had come to roost, he thought. Maurice was looking directly at the little lens of the spy glass. Could he see Terrence’s own eye looking back? His hand rose and lost focus, and the doorbell rang softly once again. Terrence closed his eyes briefly before opening the door. Terry? Maurice. I expected staff. There is no staff, only me. Hard times. Hard times. Well, aren’t you going to invite me in? Of course, you are. Maurice stepped past him into the hallway. Terrence glanced both ways down the hall, closed the door and followed Maurice. To the right, he said. Into the lounge. Through a picture window a bare and narrow balcony was not softened by a parched palm tree in a plastic pot, the thin browned leaves of which quivered like dark knives. Beyond them the ruins of Tower Bridge could be seen, emerging from dark waters like a piece of last century art. Maurice turned from the view and smiled. Terrence passed behind the counter of an open plan kitchen and drew from a cupboard a bottle of real scotch. Not all bad then..."
Voiceless It Cries
With a subtle spice of gingerbread in the air, a lonely woman walks where the wind guides her. A suburban fairy tale, reminiscent of Shirley Jackson's early works. "Back then they were hers, the twins, and not their father's. There comes a point in most boys' lives when they learn to hate. Besides, her sons were clever from the outset: they knew better than to listen to fairy tales..."
Clouds of Glory
Back in the early 1970's, three ten-year old friends go up town to cause trouble. "The first thing I heard from outside was half-shouted laughter. Shadows moved on our wavy glass. The aluminium letterbox flapped as I wrenched the rain-swelled door open. I knew who it’d be. The time was right. “Comin’ up tahn?” One of them asked, grinning, the other thinking it with a half-smile but looking sideways down the street, uneasy. Kev was always like that. Like all the worst of his past was about to catch up. Happily uneasy though. Adrenalin always flowing. Always on the watch for opportunity . . . Mark grinned again, twitching his arms in his cherished plum and black PVC jacket. He often claimed it was leather, I didn’t mind. My uncle had reckoned leather was silent: “PVC sounds different,” he’d asserted dismissively, probably narked at being shown-off through a gap in the curtains, asleep on the sofa, some weekends back: “That’s my uncle!” I’d announced outside the house to a few mates. But what did he expect, my mother’s brother? At least I’d said it with pride. It wasn’t as if you could see anything but his head. Up in London he worked at Heathrow, and this fact along with the rarity of his presence, made him a minor god . . . and basically, (dog ends circulating in his mug of cold tea), he always lounged till noon on Sundays when he stayed with us; delaying till the whimsy to rise overcame his inertia. Only then, after occupying the solitary bathroom for what seemed hours, would he be ready to head to the pub – him and my dad. Oblivious of time, there they’d soak until the Yorkshire puddings sank and our dinner was dead. Dinner my mum made specially for his visits..."
Grow and Warm the Earth
Everyone hits Paul Doe, the teacher's pet. But what happens when you don't? "I hate geography. Meacher gives me the creeps. He has a high eye-brow smile that is permanently slapped across his boat-race, like he’s posed for a picture and the flash has frozen him in time or a cow-prod has taken him by surprise. He’s got sharp little pincer teeth that threaten to punch holes in your neck if you don’t know a stalactite from a stalagmite. You can hear, then feel his smile before peering up to find him leering down at you doodling in the textbook. The clock is limping by like a crippled tortoise and it’s freezing in 2B. Snow settles around the window seal and icicles have begun to appear from the top of the arched frames. Still too long to go. My mood doesn’t change when Paul Doe pipes up with his usual arse-kissing comments. “Carbon dioxide from burning fuels causes global warming, a process capable of changing the world’s climate significantly.” Bloody text-book whore..."
A woman leaving town decides to have a farewell drink with her ex-partner. "Just one drink to say goodbye, you’d said. Half an hour, tops. I’m off tomorrow. You’re not naïve enough to think that if he comes it means he still cares. That idea is on a par with telling yourself that if all the traffic lights turned green on the way here, he’d fall back in love with you and beg you to stay. Stupid. And they all turned red..."