Elena

The short fiction that appears on this blog is interconnected within the same universe. Follow the tag #TheRift to read everything in one place. This is purely experimental fiction and you will see me playing with differing narratives and ideas throughout.

The television attached to the wall was tuned to static. The white noise bled through her thoughts. She was anxious and fidgeted, unable to control her movements. Her shoe fell to the floor with a clatter, the sound breaking a peace that felt deep and expansive. The other, being much more stubborn required her to bend down and loosen the golden clasp. The muscles in her back were weary and strained. The second shoe, finally removed, was cast aside and she resumed her position, slumped in the armchair. The room was pristine which made her feel out of place. The scuffs on her shoes, the rip on the shoulder of her dress, grazes across her skin; she was the fly in the ointment. The air in the room felt too close. Although her breath came steady, it was stifled, as if she breathed through a surgical mask.

She walked over to the window, pushing it open wide and looked into the night sky. Rain fell in steady sheets and drops splashed up from the sill onto her dress. It had been raining for days now, she’d lost count how many. It didn’t bother her – the rain soothed her when she was rattled and tonight was definitely a time when she needed the hypnotic patter of the water bouncing from the surfaces around her. She kept shifting her weight from foot to foot, feeling awkward and uncomfortable. Her hand moved absent-mindedly to the table at her side, grasping nothing but air. “I thought I’d poured a drink” she announced to the shadows of the hotel room, with a shake of her head. Elena stepped over to the bar in the corner. Opening the small fridge, she was momentarily blinded by the light and the room temporarily held a sterile glow. There, stood to attention inside the door, was her favourite gin, William Chase, which she briefly held the against her cheek enjoying the slight burn from the cold.

As she opened the bottle, the smell of citrus and elderflower filled the alcove she crouched within. The scent took her mind back to other days in other cities which caused her to pause and take a steady breath, blinking away tears and images. She decided, to hell with the tonic, but grabbed a handful of ice. She wanted to taste the alcohol entirely, in the hope that it would ease the last twenty-four hours, if not erase them entirely. Pouring a generous measure into a tumbler, a drip ran down the neck of the bottle and onto her hand. As the cold liquid touched her flesh she jolted; her body reacting to a memory, which she pushed back down, where it belonged.

Walking back to the window, running her hand along the back of the sofa to take some of her weight, she flexed her toes because her feet ached and caused her to walk with leaden steps. After a sip of the gin, she placed the glass on the table beneath an art deco lamp, next to the business card that had arrived on Wednesday. The edges of the card, were soft from her constant handling, the corners lightly curled from where she kept it in her jacket pocket. The typeface was bold and read only a name, Leilah Fox, and a phone number.

The rain had begun to fall more heavily in just that short time. A small pool was forming on the inside window sill. Elena traced her finger through the puddle, holding it aloft so the water dripped from her fingertip, causing tiny ripples to work their way outwards.   She wished she could make the room darker, but all of the lights were already extinguished. The moon was almost full and painted the city and her room with a silver luminescence. As she glanced at the glass, cradled with both hands, lightly shaking, she could still see traces of the evening under her nails. Emily.

Breathing out into the air, she pushed open the window further, her arm feeling the torrent of the heavens above. It was warm. There was no chill in this summer rain and she kept her hand on the latch of the window a little longer, not caring that her sleeve was becoming heavy with moisture. Below her, in the street, it was still busy, despite the late hour and the weather. Couples dashed for awnings over entrances or the open doors of taxis, men holding them as women dived into the back seats with a giggle. She envied them and their lives. She could imagine that young couple heading home perhaps for another drink, followed by a lingering kiss, followed by falling. She didn’t know whether these people would be falling into bed or in love and beneath her envy was pity. The driver of the taxi shut off the light on the roof, his fare on board, driving off leaving behind his own shower of water.

Only street vendors, drunks and the emotionless TV kept her, and the stars above, company now. Elena fished a cube of ice from her glass and held it in her palm, observing the block slowly beginning to melt. Placing the drink down by her side once more, she extended her arm, palm up into the rain again and watched as the melt became more rapid. When the cube had eroded away to a size no bigger than the eye of a rabbit, she tilted her palm and watched it slide to the pavement below between the miasma of raindrops.

In the time it took for the ice to hit the ground Elena saw her life culminate to this point. All of those days hanging on the phone. All of the letters she had written; places she’d visited, searching for the right spot. Noticing a wetness on her cheek, she idly wiped it away not knowing if it was a tear or a drop of rain. The night was making her nostalgic and a vision of Emily in her blue silk evening dress appeared before her. In her mind she heard the notes of their song played on a grand piano, Emily swaying her shoulders to the gentle melody. Em had deemed it their song because of the title ‘Round Midnight’, a play on the fact that they were always meeting so late and seemingly in secret. Now, Elena knew the wetness was tears. The salt from them stung the gash on her lip.

Grabbing hold of the glass, she knocked back the slug of gin that remained and her shoulders shuddered from the release of emotion. Her breath ragged from the crying or the gin, she couldn’t tell, nor did she care. Before she knew it, Elena threw the glass at the wall beside her. It burst into pieces, catching the glare of the moon, creating a glitter of carnage. She must still have some modicum of sense else the glass would be in the street beneath the wheels of speeding cars. “Now look what you’ve done” she said to nobody, or anybody who might hear her.

Crouching down she tried to pick up the larger pieces of the glass she’d shattered but soon gave up. Scrabbling round in the dark for chunks of glass while she was, she had to admit, a little drunk, was not the best idea.   The night had felt so long. She needed to rest but closing her eyes for longer than a blink was not the best idea right now. When she did let them fall closed she saw Emily, a different scene each time she failed to stay alert. At one moment stepping out of a gallery, her hand shielding her eyes from the sun; the next laid beneath her on their bed at home and, of course, slumped in a bathtub in a hotel suite not unlike this across town.

Elena knew she wouldn’t sleep tonight and if she did, it would be agitated and disturbed. It always felt like this, after. This instance carried more weight; more gravitas. They’d gone too deep, the months became years. Moments became memories and pictures up the stairs to the room they shared. There felt like hesitation in her mind, perhaps second guessing. It could just be regret, she couldn’t consider other possible timelines. She decided she would watch the sunrise, hopeful that the view her window afforded would frame it perfectly. Was it too early for breakfast or too late for dinner? Either way, room service would bring her whatever she wanted. She held the telephone between her chin and shoulder, idly picking the blood she had spotted earlier from beneath her thumb nail, it seemed there was blood under most of her nails. Concentrating on speaking she ordered a sandwich to be brought to her room already knowing she wouldn’t eat it and it would sit on the trolley, becoming stale.

A weary voice on the end of the line, clearly tired, probably someone pulling an extra shift, told her it would take thirty minutes for the food to arrive at her door; long enough for a shower and another drink. After pouring out more of the gin, into a fresh glass, adding the tonic water this time, plus more ice; she walked into the en suite bathroom and ran the shower. This was a habit she couldn’t break, the water would be hot right away but she grew up in a house where everything took its time. By the time she returned from collecting a towel and her robe, the bathroom was filling with steam. Before opening the door to the shower she made sure to fetch a stiff nail brush, again glancing at her nails and seeing the detritus of earlier that evening.

Elena stepped beneath the jets of hot water, the heat stinging her skin. Closing her eyes, she began to wash her body. She scrubbed at the nails of each hand ensuring they were clean. The flecks of dried blood fell between her feet and she sighed hard enough to relax her muscles. As she tipped her head under the shower, her eyes opening, a pink stream flowed from her hair. The shampoo foam was tinted to a candy floss colour and pooled around the plughole, strands of hair waving with the movement of her feet. Her eyes shut tightly.

*

The blood ran thick and covered Elena’s hands and arms. The wire had bitten too deep into the flesh of Emily’s neck and she’d began to gasp as she choked on the blood spouting from her artery. Elena whispered her apologies and both women cried, though it was hard to tell whether Emily was crying because of the incident, because she had hurt Elena or because she was dying. Elena decided it must be a little of each. Always professional and conscientious, even when emotional, Elena stayed behind Emily, pulling the wire taut, avoiding the spray of scarlet that arced through the air and set to stain the glaring white of the bathroom. That didn’t stop Emily reaching backwards, trying to find a hold in her killer’s hair, but as her life ebbed away, her hands rested on Elena’s and squeezed. It was hard to tell which caused the light tapping, as they stood together – the blood or the rain outside.

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SAW: The (Ironic?) Essay

It’s best to open this essay by saying that I don’t consider the SAW franchise to be classed as horror films. Sure, they’re bleak, rather disgusting and contain some terrifying situations, but they can’t truly be considered as horror films. Thrillers, maybe. Suspense is a preferable pigeon hole, because what transpires in each instalment is meant to keep you on the edge of your seat. It’s designed to keep you coming back. It’s odd that it was never created to be a TV show for a service such as HBO, because the way the series is crafted is akin to a weekly drama. It’s akin to CSI, but without cutting away from the gore. The end of each film is basically a massive cliffhanger, that forces the viewer to wait an unknown amount of time before revealing the next gruesome adventure.

The entire series is more convoluted than anything found elsewhere in cinema – with the exception of the Twilight series – due to a constant juggling of who is the killer, who is the accomplice and just how many bloody accomplices are there? What started as a simple, and to be fair, clever premise, has spiralled into a multi-film (plus one video game) entertainment juggernaut which seems to have no end. And I’m glad. I can’t sit here, in good conscience and declare that they are cinematic masterpieces, because of course, they are not. The acting is often awful, the direction is maniacal and the writing is baffling. But, for sheer entertainment, they’re rarely beaten.

The audience – us – is in on the killing. It’s one of the few franchises where we’re subtly rooting for the villain. Because, and stay with me, SAW is basically a game show. We all sit at home watching quizzes on TV, shouting the answers at the screen, in the mad hope that the person in line to win a car, or a million pounds, is going to hear us. Or, if you’re that kind of viewer, maybe you’re rooting for them to fail. Because, why do they deserve the car or the money over you? So, we sit there egging on the poor sap who is chained to a radiator/circular saw/spike trap (delete as applicable), hoping they will cut off their leg or arm.

In SAW VI there is a face off between two people who have tightening bolts attached to their heads. In order to not get their brains squished, they have to cut parts off of their own bodies and place them on a scale. Whoever, gives the most of themselves, wins. The bolts don’t tighten and everybody’s happy. Except the poor sod who cut off chunks of his stomach and was bested by a woman who sacrificed her arm. His brain got squished – technical term.

While this scene played out, I sat cross legged, like a child on Christmas morning, shouting at the woman to cut off her arm, or her leg. When she did, I cheered. Not because she was hurt, but because she won. Her winning was as exciting, if not more so, than watching someone reach the end of the Total Wipeout obstacle course. Did I want the fat guy to lose? No, but he wasn’t smart and I knew the solution to the problem. Here, the “plot” has taken a backseat to the violence and the idea of competition.

In another scene, a man has to choose which of his close work colleagues gets shot point blank by a shotgun. The targets are spinning on a playground roundabout – four people will definitely die and two won’t. It’s up to suit and tie man to decide. In order for him to prevent the death, he must press a button, but doing so drives a spike through the back of his hand. Those spinning around, quite obviously, begin to beg for their lives, offering suggestions of who should be killed instead. Once again, the audience becomes part of the killing, because we laugh as some obviously lie and spit out accusations, urging certain people to die.

The SAW franchise puts the audience in the shoes of the killers and because John Kramer (the main killer, oops spoiler, etc) decides those who will play the game are ultimately evil people or those who fool others for gain, he’s the Robin Hood of serial killers. The friend who is currently sitting next to me questions this comparison by saying that he doesn’t give to the poor, which is true. However, he gives them something else.

Few people escape his games, but when they do, it’s usually after brutally murdering someone who has done them wrong, he gives them closure – see the suit and tie guy who gets melted from the inside out with Hydrochloric Acid, he killed a man by denying him medical insurance and the man’s son got to pull the lever. Murder by proxy is Jigsaw’s ideal.

But, Jigsaw and his Merry Men of accomplices (his Maid Marion – his wife Jill – is soon in on the act) offer something else. Fear. We’re only ever given snapshots of the public, more so in the Final Chapter, but they know who John Kramer is and they know why and how he kills. As the franchise moves on and people wake up in traps, you will see a sense of dread hit them as they realise that they are in a Jigsaw game. The franchise has come a long way since Jigsaw first stood up from the pool of blood in the original film. However, the issue of morality has never wavered.

It’s interesting that we’re never really shown the public reaction to the murders. However, we are shown, time and again, people reading newspapers or watching news reports that detail the Jigsaw murders. And it’s this, that stops the SAW franchise being a horror film. Because the public is hardly shown, unless they’ve somehow crossed Jigsaw and end up in shackles. There’s no tension of “is he going to strike?” or “who will he strike next?” all we see is the torture and the killing. This isn’t Scream or Nightmare on Elm Street, where innocent teenagers run scared from a masked or deformed villain hell bent on murder. There is no running away from Jigsaw, so rather than urge those to escape, we urge them to win.

SAW is, and will be for some time, the perfect suspense film for the current generation of millenial moviegoers. It’s two side-steps from Big Brother and I’m a Celebrity. In the case of the latter show, we urge minor celebs to eat insects, or face horrible fears to ‘win’. And what do they win? Adoration, usually. Some respect. Freedom back to their lives, mostly. To finish the title of that show, they “Get of Here” and revel in the limelight created by the idea that they were tortured (in a minor extent) on national TV.

It’s hard to believe that I’m going to write this, but SAW is actually a very good commentary on modern life. Touching again on The Final Chapter, it opens with a trap taking place inside a glass box, in a busy metropolitan square – David Blaine, eat your heart out. Crowds look on as two men and a woman (love triangle) are about to be carved into pieces. Some onlookers call for help, others clamour to get a better view and, of course, many record the death on their phone cameras. That crowd is us. It’s very on the nose and an obvious metaphor, but it’s worth saying.

SAW is especially voyeuristic when compared to other “torture porn” such as Hostel or Human Centipede. This is often shown or mirrored in the killers watching the carnage on CCTV monitors, displaying exactly what we’re doing in that moment. In fact, most of the times that these monitors are shown there is rarely anyone sat in front of them, they kind of hover around. We are taking on the role of the killer, watching their test subjects fail or succeed at a game of death. Sure the death impacts those in the film differently to us, but are we not doing the same thing? Are we not watching – though able to turn away at any point – until the inevitable death? Where we’ll cheer or groan at the outcome, because the winning and losing is more important than the number of body parts or the sizes of bloody puddles.

This theme is continued in the latest iteration of the franchise – JIGSAW – when Anna, a young lady caught in the main trap announces that the whole point of this, is that it’s a game and “games can be won”. Her attitude instantly brings the audience on side, she’s savvy and we like that. She’s also the first person to work out what the killer wants and is constantly going over his speeches to ensure she and everyone else has the right information. SAW is very good at creating heroes and villains within the small groups of game players; appealing to our sensibilities and the tropes that come with gameshows.

From the third film onwards, the franchise revels in the fact that it shouldn’t be taken seriously. Which is another reason why it shouldn’t be considered horror. I know that sentence probably opens a can of worms given that Freddy, Jason, Myers et al have all churned out sequels that got funnier or more tongue in cheek as they went on, but they never wore it as a badge of pride. The badge of pride for SAW is the special effects. Starting out very visceral and realistic, the blood got thinner, the players in the game became more resilient (I’m sorry but if you cut off your own arm or are being carved in two by a pendulum blade, you’re gonna pass out from the pain).

On top of this, the tangled plot switches back and forth constantly until the final ten minutes where we’re shown how those in the game, and maybe some of us watching at home, were duped by sleight of hand or misleading moments. I have to imagine that the film makers get together in a room at the start of production and announce that they will out-do the predecessor. Which is exactly what TV producers do with game shows and reality TV. It’s all about pushing people, to see how far they will go or to see what they accept. Take the gore out of SAW and put Davina McCall in front of the camera and we have the next sensation in entertainment.

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Crow – Poem

Outside my window there’s a crow who picks through fallen leaves,

I can hear the crunch of its progress through the pane.

Occasionally it will fly a few feet and resettle to begin its pecking

in the hope of food? Materials for a nest?

I watch. The crow shakes apart a browned oak leaf

which speckles its feathers; a decayed galaxy of past life.

Midnight becomes a back drop to a million possibilities,

hollow boned and held above more minute worlds and ecosystems.

Murder circles above,

unleashing noise that filters down to my solitary crow, beckoning it home.

Does it look above? Does it shoo away thoughts of family?

The sharp stabs become relentless.

A breeze blows him to the sky and my world, his world and all others fall away to the concrete.

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A Unit of Time – Part Two

The short fiction that appears on this blog is interconnected within the same universe. Follow the tag #TheRift to read everything in one place. This is purely experimental fiction and you will see me playing with differing narratives and ideas throughout.

The dog is still there, pawing at the blanket. Glancing at her, he gives another growl, but this time it sounds more of a whimper. She sees slight movement from the blanket. As she focuses her attention she sees the man, surrounded by a pool of blood. Despite her fear and the surreal situation, she approaches the man and nudges him with her toe, checking that he’s real. “I need water” he mumbles through staggered breaths. The dog whines, nudging her with its nose. She’s unbelieving of what is before her. Running backwards from the room once more, she slams through the door into reception, startling Max and a customer. With urgency, Debbie walks to the staff room and runs herself a glass of water from the tap. Lifting a second glass, she fills it and leaves the staff room. Walking tentatively back to unit 172 desperately trying not to spill the water, she can hear the dog pining for his master and the master panting back, in a bizarre primitive conversation.

She closes the door behind her as she walks in, pulling it closed with a click. She hopes nobody will walk past and notice the missing padlock, then laughs as she thinks they would be more concerned to hear her talking to herself inside. “I brought you some water” she says as she begins to help the man sit up. Thinking that maybe if she plays along with her faulty mind, it will all be okay. This close, she thinks he’s not much more than a boy and one with a large gash above his heart. The blood is trickling down his clothes, mixing with the mud from before. Despite the urgent situation, she notices the striking colour the two create when combined. Raising the glass to the boy’s lips, she begins to think aloud, “I must be having a breakdown. You can’t be real, you can’t be here…” The boy interrupts her fevered whispering and thanks her for the drink. She notices the glass is empty and around his words he is gasping with the pleasure of a quenched thirst. “Thank you, nurse.” He says as his eyes begin to droop shut. “I’m not a nurse, I sell storage. I’m Debbie. I’m… talking to myself in a small temperature controlled room”

The boy raises his right hand weakly and pulls the Spaniel close to him. “I didn’t see him coming. Eddie here was meant to warn me with a growl when an enemy was approaching.” Tears began to fill the boy’s eyes, “Stupid mutt”. He shoves the dog aside and wipes the tears that have begun to trace clean tracks through the grime on his cheeks. “Oh, Eddie, I don’t mean it” he says with affection – forgetting Debbie is sat beside him. In order to bring his attention back to her, she raises the empty glass, “anymore?” she asks. The boy looks up to her and shakes his head with effort. “Who are you?” she says, dropping her voice to a whisper. “My name’s Will. William Fisk. I’m here again?” Their heads are getting closer as they share whispers, “Will, I’m Debbie, as I said. Where do you think you are?” At this, Will looks alive all of a sudden, his eyes wide, “What sort of question is that? This is France” He points sharply, ignoring the pain in his arm. “And over there is Germany and her army. Well, she has one less now after that one got to me.”

“No, this is England, Southampton, actually. A look of confusion sits on Will’s face. Debbie strikes her forehead, muttering “The blood is real, I can see it flow with each pump of your heart”. Will almost laughs, “of course it’s real, and you’re here to help me… aren’t you?” He nudges her with his foot, “I told you, I’m not a nurse. How can I help you? This isn’t France!?” She begins to raise her voice “I’m just a woman who works in this shithole, worrying about how much I still love my boyfriend even though he fucked my best friend!” Will winces at the language that is spewing from Debbie’s mouth. “Then how did I get here?” He says with a sigh of frustration escaping his mouth. “I’m sorry. I don’t know, Will. Tell me what happened. Everything from yesterday and today.”

Debbie pulls a tissue from her sleeve and passes it to this young man. “Yesterday I was strengthening the trench with Oswald. I hit my head on the wooden beam and was brought here for rest and pain killers. I saw you, didn’t I?” Debbie nods, mouth agape, “You were smoking… your dog growled at me”. His eyebrows rise slightly, “He probably thought you were a German. He’s trained to sit on the lip of the trench and keep watch. He growls when someone approaches, so that I can get them in the sights of my rifle.” The mud made sense to Debbie now, even if how Will came to be here didn’t. “You’re a soldier? First World War?” He noted her comment, “What do you mean, first?” Debbie waved the comment away, urging Will to continue his story.

“I stayed here for a couple of hours while the headache disappeared, then went back to my section of the trench to take up watch through the night. I was staring out across the fields of bodies and gutted holes in the ground. I must have dozed off. The next thing I knew Eddie here was biting the leg of a Jerry while I screamed because of the bayonet he’d stuck in my shoulder. I had my service revolver at hand, thankfully, and put him down where he stood. I blacked out from the pain, they brought me here.” He wiped at his face with the tissue and winced from a shudder of pain. He opened his mouth to speak when panic overtook him, “but if-if, you’re not a nurse… Nobody can help me. Am I to die, here?” Debbie saw something in the young man she’d never witnessed before. She saw real fear rise within him as it dashed through his veins disguised as adrenaline. Will tried to move, he tried to stand, falling back to the floor and yelling in agony. “I wasn’t meant to die here” he said. “I told them I’d come home, that I’d be there for my sister’s wedding.” He slams his fist to the floor. “I was going to take my girl to the west coast and propose to her ”. The tears begin again and this time he lets them fall. Eddie looks up at him, idly licks at the soldier’s wet cheek and rests his head on his lap.

Debbie couldn’t help but be swept up in Will’s emotion. She began to silently cry, turning her face so that Will wouldn’t see her. His breaths were becoming shallower suddenly. Debbie reasoned that the adrenaline of his situation had kept him actively talking and thinking. Now his fate had settled on his shoulders, maybe he was accepting his end. “I want to help you, Will. There must be something I can do. I could call an ambulance” she said, realising the absurdity of the thought. Will’s eyes begin to glaze over. Shaking him gently, she urges him to hold on, though she doesn’t know what he would be holding on for. How did he get here? She thought. Could he even get back? The boy soldier looks grimly at her, “you can do something for me”.

“What can I do?” she replies, hoping his request was within her power. “Can you write a letter for me… please?” She doesn’t have her iPad with her, though she thinks how disrespectful it would be to take down a dying man’s words in Evernote. “I’ll be right back” She says, “I’ll find a pen and some paper”. Debbie dashes from the room, letting the door slam behind her. She is scared that she’ll return and he’ll be gone, either passed away or returned miraculously to his place in France. She slows her walk as best she can to avoid the attention of Max. Thankfully he is still busy, this time with a different customer. It was Miss Fox from yesterday. They both glance over at her as she approaches the desk. The voice of Miss Fox drifts over to her, “My goodness, why do you have mud and, is that blood on your trousers?” Debbie looks down and notices she must have sat too closely to Will. Debbie stops, it’s as if time is slowing and the air has thickened. The voice of Miss Fox whispers “Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It’s the transition that’s troublesome.” But she hadn’t moved her lips! Max hadn’t noticed anything. Debbie takes a second look at Miss Fox before grabbing a pen and whatever she could write on.

As soon as the door between her and the office has closes, she kicks her shoes off to the side and begins to run as fast as she can, back to unit 172. Skidding to a halt, she can still hear Will’s laboured breathing and for this she is thankful. Calming herself as best she can, she walks back into the room, closes the door and sits beside Will.

*

Debbie closes Will’s eyes as she has seen on numerous films and TV shows. She brushes his eyelids closed and lets her emotions break the dam inside her. Eddie, the Spaniel, is still by Will’s side, she absently strokes him while the guttural sobs wrack her body. She takes a last look at Will, believing that tomorrow, or even in an hour, his body will have faded back to its rightful place. He’d told her he was actually 22, the same age as her, claiming his looks were youthful because he’d spent two years in the mud of France and Belgium. The laugh that followed made him howl in pain and the memory makes Debbie cry harder. Getting to her feet, she tucks a sheet of paper into her pocket and walks to the door. His body is still there as she looks back. “Keep watch over him”, Eddie lets out a whimper and curls up beside Will’s form – tucking himself in tight. Debbie opens the door, finds her shoes and looks through the window to the front desk. Miss Fox has gone. Max has his feet up on her chair with his phone close to his face, lazy grin lit up from whatever has his attention.

At this sight, Debbie turns on her heel and walks to the loading bay door. She has her phone and her keys. She walks home as her purse is in her bag under the desk. I’m sure they’ll send it on to me, she thinks without much care. The sun dips behind a large cloud, making her journey home easier. After she opens her front door and throws her keys and phone onto the sofa, she climbs into bed and pulls the covers over her. After rubbing her eyes and yawning, she pulls the paper from her pocket and begins to read a letter written in unbelievable circumstances, headed with the green logo of Space Stacking Storage.

Dearest Leilah,  

Since coming to war I have done my utmost to defend the rights of the free world and protect King and country. I was sad to leave my home behind but felt it my duty to arrive at the front lines ready to fight. Some occasions have been better than you would think. The men stick together like brothers, helping each other with tasks and then settling in the evenings huddled up to play cards and tell stories of home. There’s plenty of bravado around, especially from the younger ones arriving each day. That soon changes. They stare, shocked, as old men sit around smoking and holding each other after the gas clears. They are dumbfounded by the men who claw at missing limbs calling for their mothers or their sweethearts. 

I have tried my hardest to be brave in the face of adversity. I’m not ashamed to say that at times, my façade dropped and I wailed with my brothers as we said goodbye to fallen family. I honestly believed that one day I would make it home to you. Even though every day men were rotting from breathing the gas or being dragged into the trench after being gunned down not two steps away, I still thought I would return home. It turns out that fate didn’t agree and I sit here waiting for my time to come. Please take care of my sister and my mother, tell them I love them and fought every second for them and, of course, for you. My darling, you will never know how much I love you. I planned to make you my wife, sweep you into my arms and declare to the world that you were mine forever. I hope I will always be forever yours. 

Endlessly loving and timelessly yours in spirit, 

Captain William J Fisk.

*

The letter fell to the floor as Debbie suddenly put two and two together. Leilah. But how could any of this be possible? She began to wonder on what had truly happened. Obviously Will had been real because she laid on her bed staring at a letter he’d dictated and she had his blood on her clothes, but could this still be a figment of her mind? Nobody else had seen this soldier and she had been under a lot of stress with the mundane work and troubles with friends and family. But why would her brain run to this, rather than just push her into a state of depression or anxiety? And the woman, Leilah had to have been real because Max had seen her.

Debbie pulled her laptop up to her bed from the previous night of watching Netflix and clicked the home icon, bringing up the colourful logo of Google. She typed several searches, all of them bringing up nothing but articles and links to Amazon for fiction. Looking up Leilah Fox on Facebook only brought up pictures of young girls pouting at phone cameras. Back over to Google and she was several pages deep into the search results when she clicked idly on a link to a forum and read a post by a user called ‘LF1897’ which simply read…

“Rip found. Southampton. Unstable. It was Will, I know it!!”

If you’ve enjoyed my writing, please consider donating through Ko-Fi

A Unit of Time – Part One

The short fiction that appears on this blog is interconnected within the same universe. Follow the tag #TheRift to read everything in one place. This is purely experimental fiction and you will see me playing with differing narratives and ideas throughout.

“That’ll be £7.50, sir”, Debbie runs through the routine of ringing up a sale through on the company’s new touch tills, practically punching the total icon due to frustration. The till finally springs open and she hands the middle aged man his change and a receipt. “Ah, you can just pop that in a bin” he says. It seems the fashion nowadays that people shun the proof of their purchase. Debbie wonders if this plain man with salt and pepper hair is reckless with his money or just doesn’t want evidence of his dull spending habits. “No worries, sir. Have a super stacked day” she throws the limp catchphrase towards the man’s back as he exits the automatic doors.

“Why do you think he bought them, then?” Max asks as Debbie slumps into her office chair twirling on the pneumatic base. “Do we have to play this game? Really?” She stares down her co-worker Max with a glare only half filled with malice and he returns her look with a smirk, “Well, I reckon he collects the skulls of animals he finds by the road and stores them under his bed”. This is a poor opener from Max, who usually goes straight for the lewd ideas. Debbie only has to think for a moment before an image appears of the man who just exited with three Small Home Storage Boxes. “Easy” She quips, “He has been saving his toenail clippings since he hit puberty and the supermarket bags that were his preferred storage containers are biodegrading in his shed”. Max’s appreciation is shown as he stands and claps slowly. To fully show his appreciation for her joining in on his time wasting game, he showers Debbie in the contents from her own hole-puncher. “Oh, fuck off, Max. Urgh, it’s gone in my bra!” With her fingernails trying to grasp small paper circles within the cups of her underwear and she makes her way to the staff toilets. “You gonna want a hand with those?” The predictable comment erupts from between giggles that shouldn’t emanate from a man of thirty four. Debbie answers with one of her fingers raised as Max groans, getting to his feet signalling it’s time for their sixth cup of piss weak tea.

Flushing the toilet and checking a text on her phone, Debbie strolls back to the front desk, finding a homely looking woman browsing the leaflets on reduced price storage cubicles. “Those are great value for money” She begins her sales pitch in earnest. It’s too hot today, the sun is streaming through the plate glass and the notifications from her friends on Facebook are making her envious. Trying to forget the picture of her best friend applying sun cream, taken 23 minutes ago, she looks up to the woman who is now standing directly in front of her at the till point. “Erm, yeah, they are a lot bigger than you think from looking at the leaflet” Debbie begins to cough in a poor attempt to cover the snort of laughter from the staff room and the comment of “size matters”. It manages to seep through her attempt at disguising his un-professionalism, regardless.

The customer raises a perfectly plucked eyebrow, smiles and announces that she would like to see a storage unit that would hold the contents of her flat while she moves. “Of course” says Debbie as she calls up the list of vacant units on the company iPad. “I’ll find a suitable one to show you. We have one very close to the loading bay. That would save you walking back and forth with your things.” The woman seems pleased with the suggestion and beams at Debbie with a mouthful of perfect teeth. “My name is Debbie, can I take yours, please”. To Debbie’s astonishment the smile widens, “Of course,” the lady announces, “My name is Leilah Fox”. Debbie is stunned by this woman’s eyes. They seem to bore into her as if she is probing her soul. “Thank you, Mrs Fox” says Debbie. The customer’s smile fades in an instant, replaced by a look of sadness and anger. “No! It’s MISS Fox. Thank you”. Flustered, Debbie tries a quivering apology and grabs the keys to unit 172. Debbie ushers Miss Fox to the door that leads into the labyrinthine warehouse of green Space Stacking Storage units.

Debbie calls back to Max that she won’t be long and lets him know she’ll be on the radio if he needs her. It’s unlikely that he even heard her, but security is paramount to the company. The chances are that he’ll be sat behind the counter watching their progress on the CCTV monitors, adding his usual facetious commentary over the top of the pictures. Debbie’s radio crackles, “don’t get lost again”, Max’s braying voice carries an echo from the speaker. Debbie looks to Miss Fox in embarrassment. “Sorry, he’s erm…” Miss Fox cuts Debbie off flashing her radiant teeth, “it’s fine, you both must be so bored stuck in here when it’s glorious outside?” Debbie is suddenly aware that this Miss Fox may be one of the fabled mystery customers and casts her a professional look of utter disinterest at the summer day outside. “Here is unit 172, Miss Fox”, they come to a stop outside a bright green door that looks exactly the same as the surrounding facades. The only distinguishing factor is the unit number displayed on a yellow plaque in a font that looks uncomfortably like Comic Sans.

“Each of our units is temperature controlled to ensure your belongings remain in the condition you left them. We also supply a number of double strength cardboard boxes to aid you in your storage needs.” Debbie hates the sound of her own voice as she trawls through the script handed down by HR people who have likely never seen a real customer. “The door is currently fitted with one of our padlocks, but you must supply your own, should you choose to Stack Safely with us.” Miss Fox nods agreeably, a shimmer of impatience flits across her eyes. As Debbie fits the key into the padlock she explains about the access available for the customer, “You can access your unit 24 hours a day, we give you a passcode to get through the security gates.” Miss Fox mumbles a cursory “very good” as if the transaction would be null and void without some kind of dialogue from her. Debbie continues her spiel as the door swings open, “Of course there are certain things you can’t store here, I can give you a sheet with…” Debbie is cut off by Miss Fox’s distant look. Turning round she sees that in the corner of the room is a dog’s food bowl with only crumbs left in the bottom, next to a blanket. Debbie swipes her iPad, a look of confusion on her face, “Hmm, this room seems taken. You’d be surprised what people store in these units.” She says, waving her hand vaguely at the belongings. Laughing nervously, Debbie explains “We rented a unit to a man once and all he left in it was a mannequin. He kept the lease going for over a year!”

The iPad claims the storage unit to be empty, Debbie assumes a fault in the system and apologises to Miss Fox. “I’m sorry about that, I can show you a different unit, just down here. Exactly the same, just slightly further from the loading bay.” After showing the next unit, Miss Fox seems uninterested insisting she must go home and think about it. She takes a leaflet and one of Debbie’s business cards which has a quote scrawled on the back. “Thank you” with that, Miss Fox exits into the car park and drives away.

“Time waster?” Max sprays this question at Debbie in a shower of biscuit crumbs. Picking up her now cold cup of tea, she nods absently and begins a new line of conversation, “Did you rent out 172?” After taking a sip of the tea she grimaces and turns to her colleague – he looks void. “How the fuck would I know? I don’t keep track of every unit I book. It’s possible…” He trails off, swiping his phone and bringing up a betting app. After tutting at something on the screen, his eyes wander back to Debbie in the usual manner – from her chest up. He has forgotten she was speaking to him, rolling her eyes, she tells Max that she is going on her break. “I’ll be outside, making a phone call.” It was obvious she would either sit in the staff room which is only ten feet from the front desk or stand outside on her phone. Space Stacking Storage being on an industrial estate, her only other option would be to take in the sights of the M.O.T service garages and be whistled at by cretins.

The sun begins to burn Debbie’s skin the moment the automatic doors glide open. She pulls her phone from her bag, rolls up her sleeves and begins to check her messages. She deletes a text from Simon before she’s halfway through reading it, as soon as she reads the words ‘I said I’m sorry’, her finger channels her new hatred for him by swiping to erase his words. With no other notifications to check, she glances to the top of her phone, noticing that only three minutes have passed. Stifling a yawn, she knows she’ll go back to work early, just to have something to do. She has to check on unit 172, and find out why the system is saying that it’s empty, it’s clearly being leased. No, she thinks, I will sit here until my forearms have at least gone pink before going back in there.

*

Walking back into the air-conditioned reception Debbie disturbs Max’s important work of excavating his nostrils. “You took your time”, he says tapping the power button on his phone. “I’m entitled to fifteen minutes, so I took all fifteen. It’s too bloody nice out there to be stuck in here” she grabs the iPad and makes for the door that leads to the storage rooms. “I won’t be long, just need to check something”, Max blankly looks at her before going back to whatever he was doing.

Debbie walks through the silence of the storage corridors, shivering slightly despite the heat outside. Being alone here always sets her on edge. The sound of her shoes bounces from the metal walls and the strip lighting begins to work on her tired vision, an oppressive headache begins to throb behind her eyes. Arriving at unit 172, she stops short, noticing right away something she should have noted earlier, with Miss Fox. It isn’t a customer’s padlock holding the door shut. She fumbles for the key in her pocket, a slight shake to her hand. Taking an involuntary deep breath, the lock opens. Checking over her shoulder, glancing towards the other units – out of habit – she sees nobody else. Foolishly, she has left her radio on the front desk. Thankfully her line manager is on leave this week so she won’t be pulled up on the error. As the door opens, she doesn’t know what she expects to find. It’s not like there will be a note in here explaining the issue with the computer system.

A growl sends her stumbling backwards, into the corridor. “Sorry, miss, he’s awfully jumpy at the moment.” Debbie’s instincts cause her grab for her mobile phone, already scrolling her contacts to call the front desk. There can’t be a dog in there, she thinks, or a person for that matter. I’m tired and stressed, maybe the heat got to me. Reluctantly she pokes her head back into the storage unit. There is a man resting against the rear wall, stroking a Spaniel which is baring its teeth at her. She notices the man is shrouded by the blue tint of smoke. Raising his other hand, he takes a drag from a cigarette. “How the fuck did you get in here?” The man starts to stand up. “Don’t come near me. I’ll scream” Debbie is scared and confused, the unit was locked from the outside. “No need to scream, miss. I don’t rightly know where I am, seeing as I banged my head bad, now the side effect of the painkillers are coming on. Did I pass out? Did someone move me?” Debbie looks to the dog and slides her eyes over the stranger. He’s covered in mud, she can make out a khaki colour uniform underneath the filth. His eyes shine through the dirt on his face and a neat moustache twitches under his nose. “You can’t be here, you shouldn’t be here. You aren’t real, we would have seen you on the cameras.” “Cameras?” The man raises his hand and the dog steps forward. Debbie turns into the corridor and jogs urgently towards the exit, trying not to look panicked in case Max is watching her on the CCTV.

“Only twenty minutes left of the day, let’s lock up early and head to the pub. I need a drink, Max” she says, gasping for air in the reception lobby. Noting the look on Max’s face she raises her hand stating clearly “nothing is meant by it. I just need a drink.” Picturing the man and his dog, she continues “I think I’m going mad.” The grin slides from the face of her co-worker and he shrugs his acceptance. It takes less than five minutes to go through the routine of cashing up the till, sending off sales reports and securing the office. After another fifteen minutes, they’re both sat in the nearest pub with alcohol relieving the tensions of the day.

*

“And this guy was sat there with his dog!” Max holds the bells on the fruit machine with a jangle of tones, “uh-huh, shit come on, the cherries rolled too far”. Debbie looks over at her colleague who is craning his neck in an attempt to watch a woman enter the toilets. “Max! It could be an intruder” Debbie became angered and worried, the noise of the pub was suffocating. “Could be” replied Max, but he wasn’t listening to her, he was counting the change in his hand preparing himself for another trip to the bar.

Debbie drained the dregs of her now warm beer, as she thudded her empty glass upon the table a new pint of lager was traded for it and she began emptying this new drink, “I should check the CCTV” she said to nobody in particular. Her mind was becoming hazy but that didn’t stop her from speculating on the earlier situation. Was the young man real? He certainly seemed so. Her memory clawed at the the fleeting moment from work and she remembered a smell of decay and smoke hanging in the air. Plus there was the echo of his voice, would those have been there if it was a figment of her imagination? Was she having a stroke? That was the smell of burned toast wasn’t it?

When Debbie wakes in the morning, she finds it hard to remember the night before. She lost count of how many drinks they consumed, but the pounding in her head and the smell of her body gives her some idea. Did she mention unit 172 to Max? Standing under the intense spray of the shower, her skin crawls cold as she recalls the man and the dog. Feeling fresher, she looks in the bathroom mirror and laughs at herself, “You need a break from life, love”. While she dresses in her uniform, she weighs up what happened yesterday. I’m an intelligent woman, she thinks, no matter the crappy job I find myself in. I’m under a lot of stress from Simon, I’m barely sleeping and my brain is rotting from working with a misogynist. It was obviously a funny turn. Laughing again, she mutters under her breath about going insane.

She arrives at work after a clammy commute on the bus; several men had brushed up against her despite plenty of space to move freely between seats. She sees that Max is already behind the desk. As she approaches the door he stands and points at her, chanting “lightweight, lightweight”. “Fuck off Max, I’m not in the mood today.” Placing a hand on his chest theatrically, Max begins to turn and offers a cup of tea. “No, thanks. If I’m to survive with you today, I’ll need a coffee” she replies. “Feminist” says Max, with a sneer. Debbie throws her bag under the desk and glances at the monitors to see the deserted routes through the maze of green doors. An anxious feeling rumbles in her stomach as she sees unit 172 appear on the screen. She begins to rise, wanting explore the room again, determined to prove her mind was playing tricks on her, when Max clunks a steaming coffee in front of her. “You need to call head office about one of your customers. Oh, and you can do the callbacks this morning. I need to restock the boxes and packing tape.” He has begun to loosen his tie, such is the exertion it takes to lift cardboard. “Yeah, whatever, sure. I’ll do it now” Debbie manages to stutter, reaching for the phone and calling HR.

With the urgent work out of the way and her limp homemade sandwich eaten, Debbie announces that she needs to check a unit. Max has balanced his phone on the side and is watching Top Gear on Netflix while he stacks flattened boxes, “uh-huh”. This time she remembers to pick up her radio as she snatches the key for 172 from the board. “Okay” she mumbles, “time to prove I need a holiday”.

Rounding the corner of the hallway leading to unit 172 she remembers how she ran from here yesterday, leaving the unit door open – completely forgetting protocol in her panic. But the door to 172 is now locked. Same lock as last time, fastened securely, like normal. Of course, she thinks, Rob would have done the rounds on his night watch and tended to it. It’s amazing what no sleep will do to the brain. Exhaling sharply through her nose, she unlocks the door and steps inside with assumed courage.

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BPD and Relationships

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I’ve been thinking a lot about BPD recently. I’ve written about my struggles with the condition previously, but the past few weeks aspects of my life have shifted or changed and this has brought a lot more to the forefront of my mind. I also finally met someone who also suffers and I’ve had the opportunity to discuss issues with her. It has made me realise that BPD, along with a few other mental health conditions is one that suffers from lack of awareness. BPD, or Borderline Personality Disorder, is a tricky thing to live with. Ultimately, a sufferer will go through wild tangents of emotion, similar to those with Bi-Polar disorder. However, whereas Bi-Polar is often shown in mood swings that take place over days or weeks, BPD can wildly swing within just 24 hours.

Living like this is tiring. The idea of waking up one morning and feeling nothing but waves of love for a friend, only to find that by the end of the day you want to cut off all ties with them, is something I face each day. It’s usually triggered in small ways; a mistimed comment maybe or perhaps not receiving a text message for a couple of days. We know deep down that friendships and relationships ebb and flow like the tides, but it doesn’t stop the reaction and the knee-jerk actions that follow.

BPD is generally thought to be rooted in abandonment issues, meaning that the sufferer is constantly alert for signs that they will be left behind, or maybe they don’t feel worthy of a connection or closeness. Here’s an example; I spend a Friday night with my three best friends. We play Dungeons and Dragons, we laugh so hard we’re almost crying and at the end of the night we each hug or fist bump and head home. It’s a nice feeling – this camaraderie is pleasing, but often short lived. Let’s skip forward a couple of days – maybe I haven’t heard from one of those friends, maybe they haven’t been as present as my brain would like. For most, this is a regular occurrence and something that is ignored, for me, it becomes a disaster.

The pattern of thoughts will flow like a rollercoaster; my mind moving up and down with no control from me. Suddenly everything comes into question and I begin a routine of analysing my interactions with them. I unlock my phone and scroll through recent messages looking for signs that I have somehow upset them. Maybe they just got bored of me, because that’s how I think they should act. Scenes from the evening replay constantly as I try to sleep because I’m looking for signs and cues in the way they moved, constructing ludicrous scenarios in which I’m the bad guy and they are actively trying to find a way to leave me behind.

BPD

Now imagine that happens with everyone. It’s not just your close friends and family, but now it’s your boyfriend or girlfriend. It’s the man who sold you a pint of milk this morning and was a little gruff, instead of his usual cheery self. It’s the work colleague who didn’t sleep well and snaps at you when asking how they are. These are all perfectly natural occurrences, but the BPD acts like a magnifying glass, which is slowly turned from them, back to you.

I read a blog post on this recently. It describes knowing someone with BPD in an interesting way. Imagine a friendship is like a book. The years roll out behind you and the pages turn; sometimes there is peril, often there is joy. It burns slowly and steadily from the moment you meet. Being friends with someone who has BPD is like experiencing a short story instead. There’s a cliffhanger on every page, conflict around every corner and the protagonist is entirely unreliable.

You see, BPD sufferers do everything to 100%. If they fall in love, it’s hard and fast and with every inch of their heart. If they hate someone it’s with a burning venom that threatens to implode their brain. This could be over just one hour of time, or an evening of conversation. In the modern age it’s made worse because of messaging apps and the constant connection we have. Our friend has read our message and not replied, they must hate us and it’s time to analyse. They’ve not opened the message you sent for several days, but you see them online, they really do hate you, then. Time to analyse.

We do everything at a fast pace, spilling our souls to people who we have only recently become attached to. I met a friend last year. She’s one of my closest friends. We went out to have coffee together and ended up going for lunch, spending hours with each other and discussing our deepest secrets and fears. Within a week, maybe two, she was driving miles to stop me from killing myself. I gave her everything inside of me, from the small details to the secrets I’d never shared. BPD is like being on Ecstasy – you love everyone in the rave, you tell them your inner thoughts and that you’ll be friends forever. Then you wake up the next morning during the come down and retread everything you said, because maybe when you said goodbye, they didn’t squeeze you hard enough.

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And this is only one side of things. Then there’s the self destruction; the insistence on pushing those people who do love you away. Things are going great, you’ve been having fun with someone, maybe you’re starting to see that they will be in your life forever. Perhaps you fall in love with them, or maybe you just see each other all of the time and become best friends. Then your brain begins to wander old dusty corridors looking for a reason as to why they’re still around. Have I been lying to them? Have I somehow tricked them into liking me or even loving me? Because, I don’t deserve them in any context – your brain becomes and echo chamber for your own thoughts, “They don’t like you really”, “You’re a burden on them”, “You sent too many messages” or “that sentence sounded sarcastic”.

Then you push, subtly at first. Digging at them because they weren’t there for you when they had no chance to do so. You press their buttons to antagonise them, looking for them to snap and ‘admit’ that they don’t truly care or want you out of their life. Because, above all, we want to be right. We want to be able to laugh at ourselves and say ‘I told you so’ even if it means getting hurt and losing that person.

I met someone, let’s call her ‘L’. I get on with L very well, we have the same interests, we enjoy talking to each other and pretty soon we’re close. We share stories and secrets, we bond over past hurt and heartbreak and a connection is formed. But L works a lot and has a busy life. L sometimes can’t message me or gets home late and falls asleep because she had a long day working and running around after her children. I know she cares about me, she has said so on many occasions. I can scroll through past messages and see what she has said, and I do. I do, because inside I’m waiting for the moment when she realises that she doesn’t want me in her life. I check through everything I’ve said, I write messages, delete them and write them again, trying to get the tone right. But I’m pushy, because this person is important and I don’t want to lose them. Ironic right? I don’t want to lose someone so I push them away or say stupid things to them, not because I want to hurt them, but because I want to hurt myself.

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BPD is like having an angel and devil on your shoulders, but the devil talks louder. He has a megaphone or a loudspeaker. He pokes and prods throughout the day, nudging you with messages, goading you into sending that text or making that call. His message is always clear, “You’re not worth anything and soon everyone will know”. Pretty soon, that irony drives you mad and you decide to remove yourself from relationships and interactions, destroying not only the walls of closeness, but the foundations on which they were built. Trust is lost, doubt creeps in and “told you so”.

I don’t really know why I’m telling this story. I suppose it’s in the hope that someone will read it and when they hear the letters BPD they’ll remember this post. They will hopefully sit there and know that the person who is being erratic, bouncing off of the walls or lacing their relationship with doubt isn’t doing it consciously. Inside they are likely screaming for help, screaming to keep you close and screaming to be heard over the devil on their shoulder.

Patreon

I wanted to take a little time to write about Patreon and the work I’m doing over there. Some of you may already know that I have a Patreon page. For those who don’t, it’s a place where I write certain things before they get published elsewhere. Each month I write a few poems, a couple of pieces of short fiction and a tongue in cheek essay about something in pop culture. The first essay was about the SAW film franchise, for example.

A Patreon is an odd thing, because unless you already have an established audience it’s unlikely you’ll have many patrons. But it’s a helpful resource for writers as it boosts their income while giving them a chance to experiment with new things without some of the risks found in the industry. My Patreon gives me a chance to mess around with ideas in short fiction and poetry that might not usually find an audience.

I don’t write reviews there or anything similar, because that content is easily accessible elsewhere, even by me, on UtterBiblio. So Patreon offers me a space to create, yes, but also get paid to do so. In a world where so much written content is free, it’s hard to charge others for what I do. When I first set up the page, I struggled with the idea of asking for money to publish words that could be published for free. I have my day job as a games journalist for Kotaku, Eurogamer, Pocket Gamer, but I don’t get paid for my fiction or poetry. However, I feel like my words are worth something, even if it’s only a couple of pound per month.

I’ve got a lot in the pipeline for my Patreon page. I’m working on doing some spoken word poetry to be released as audio files. I’m also compiling a series of interviews with creators which will look at the craft of creating – writing, art, music, film making and more. I’m considering a secondary essay each month which will focus on literature and pick apart themes and topics within books.

I will never raise the price of my Patreon, it will always be $3 per month, less than a coffee. I’m hoping to expand the readership in the hope of building more of a community and having interaction and input.

If you’ve enjoyed reading my work over the past ten years, whether it be my writing about books or video games or maybe my fiction and poetry, please consider pledging and supporting personal writing. You can find a link below to the page and I truly appreciate everyone who supports me, even if all you can do is share this post or pass on word of what I do.

https://www.patreon.com/Amisma

My Daughter, Amelia

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She was the best thing to happen to me. She gave me purpose beyond living my days. She was cheeky and inspirational, at times she would entertain others with nothing more than her charm. She had this ability to walk into a room and captivate everyone around her with a smile. Her grin always looked lopsided because of the one dimple, it pulled you into her space and once there she had you. She would tell you stories or take your hand and draw you into her world of make believe. One minute you were a frog, the next minute a prince. Her laugh was infectious and she had a way of scrunching up her face when she let go of everything and lost herself to giggles. It was sweet and a little devilish.

She had a troubled side; always a bit of a nightmare at bedtime. Not allowing us to leave the room until she was sound asleep, but that was because of the night terrors that would visit her often. She couldn’t articulate what she wanted or perhaps needed to say to us. There were nights of tears from all of us, so tired, the monsters chased off but the adrenaline still flowing. But in the morning she would be her again. The girl who loved life and discovering how things worked, what animals sounded or moved like and she’d often be found sat by herself reading, probably to the cat.

One time, we were on holiday in Great Yarmouth and we stayed at the same caravan park each time. This year we’d had a really spacious caravan with a small pond behind it, in a secluded garden. We explored every inch together, pointing out the tiny pieces of brilliance that fascinated her. We had to leave her on her own for a moment for some reason. She knew to stay inside – she wasn’t like me as a child, who would break every rule and push people as far as they could go – we knew she would be safe. We’d only popped outside, to the car maybe. When we returned she wasn’t there. We searched high and low, dashed outside to the pond in a state of panic. Calling her name after some time resulted in a faint giggle. A laugh that couldn’t be contained any longer and we followed the breathless excitement of her outbursts to find her under the bed in the main bedroom, tucked up as far as she could go. We couldn’t be mad at her, because this was what she did. She explored and pushed, but not to antagonise.

She was intrigued by expression and emotion. Always doing certain things to see how a 10400472_13215959929_8958_nperson reacts, but she was quick to apologise if she hurt your feelings. She cared a great deal. Amelia was a child who sensed heartache and would climb into your lap for a cuddle if the mood in the room changed to a negative colour. Her excitement knew no bounds and she was quick to change a frown into a smile with nothing but words or expression. I think she might have had the genes of a writer inside her, not necessarily from me, but from her own creation. She played with language in ways that caught the attention of those around her and inspired me to push my mind. Elephants were Eletrunks; Jigsaws were Puzzlesaws and if a smell began to linger she would express herself by saying “what’s that sniff?”.

I think her passion was with animals. We were nearly always at the zoo, seeking out her favourite enclosures. She had a passion for otters and flamingoes, but every species would grab her senses and not let go. Most of the pictures we have of her she is at the zoo or on holiday at a wildlife park. We made sure that she had access to everything that made her happy and made her who she was.

I have a picture of her at a party where she sought out the host’s cat and decided that she would stay there because that was where the fun was.

In another picture she stands with barely contained pride in front of a tiger. She was perhaps three feet from this tiger, who was behind many layers of fencing. But she knew she was close to something special, something that held power. You can see behind her eyes that she was in awe and moments like that capture her passion.

She loved other children, but had a small social battery. She was quick to tire of others and look for her own space where she could hide away and be her. Not that she ever put on an act for others, she always embraced who she was and what her brain told her to do.

She was stubborn, but eccentric. Whenever she would arrive anywhere that wasn’t public she would shed her clothing piece by piece, leaving a trail to the person she wanted to see. When she reached her destination she’d be wearing just underwear and a vest, even in freezing temperatures. I think in some way she was marking her territory and creating her own little safe space. There’s also the idea that she did it once, everyone found it amusing and she kept up the tradition because it made people smile.

167205_491906189929_7644070_nAnother passion was anything Disney related. Taking her to Disneyland was a highlight. Nothing beats watching the expression of anyone as they walk down main street and see the castle up ahead, but a child contains no sense of shame or embarrassment at feeling overwhelming joy. She was in her element as she joined in with the parades and danced with characters in the street, a plastic necklace draped around her from one of the dancers. She and I would sit together and lose ourselves in the animation of Disney, usually The Little Mermaid or Tarzan. I think most of the games she played found their origin in those films. She loved Mickey Mouse, probably the most. We’d watch the old cartoons from the early 20th century and cheer as Mickey bested the giant or won the heart of Minnie.

She loved the idea of love. It was something that was often in her mind and she’d express it often and to mostly everyone. She loved people “big much” and would hold her hands out to her sides to try and capture the size or scope of what she felt. She noticed things, little details, and would pick them up to make you feel special. If you were wearing stripes, you were special like a Bumble Bee, but not like a nasty Wasp.

I don’t know if it was just because we influenced her or if it was in her system, but she loved music. From moments on car journeys where she would call for the volume to be turned up loud on the latest Kooks album or we’d play Banana Pancakes by Jack Johnson in the mornings, when it was just us awake. We’d sit on the sofa, her feet sticking out of her pyjamas and waving side to side along with the melodic strumming of an acoustic guitar. She found pride in learning the words to songs, as if by learning them she could own them and make them hers. Today, I can play certain songs and see her next to me, watching my lips move as I sang so that she could copy along.

She was always attentive; watching people and absorbing every detail. I remember times where I’d be playing a videogame on a handheld system and she’d snuggle up next to me, watching my fingers move and the game correspond with the presses. Usually she’d fall asleep, pressed up to your arm or your side meaning you couldn’t move or go anywhere. She had a way of stealing you away from life. She still does.

Writing about Amelia in this way makes her more real, which seems ridiculous. Of course she was real, I held her in my arms the moment she was born and the moment when she died. It solidifies her existence because, after all, she was taken after only three years of life. Which is nothing, really. I miss her, very much. I miss hearing her voice call out to me in the mornings. I miss seeing the pride she had in herself. I miss the little things the most; dancing to Motown songs in the kitchen, quoting SpongeBob Squarepants, the way she would look at you if you said something funny.

It’s hard to remember the tangible moments when they live so far in the past, but they’re there in songs and pictures and memories that others share. She’s always with me when I pick up a new book to read or hear a TV show or film she loved. She’s there in my eyes, hers were blue like mine and my mother. But she fades in and out every day, meaning that I need to revel in moments like these, in weeks like this which are always hard but rebuild the connection we had… over a bowl of Cheerios, SpongeBob laughing in the background as we sat together just as friends, as well as father and daughter.

Eleven Years

Eleven years.

That’s a long time. More than a decade of my life as a dad with no child. I have to ask your forgiveness for this post because I feel like I write about Amelia a hell of a lot and I don’t want to sound like a broken record. However, with each year my thoughts and emotions change and warp as I leap over new hurdles, where no two are alike. I know how to run this race now and I honestly thought I would be used to it by now. After all, eleven years is a very long time.

As I edge closer and closer to the 3rd of February each year I know what’s in store for my brain, but I cannot anticipate how the feeling of grief evolves. With each anniversary, I tackle a different beast. Last year, when we hit the ten year mark, my mind put a lot of weight on that number. Ten years. A decade. I had a breakdown. The month of February saw me trying to live my life and ignore the feeling that was dwelling in the pit of my stomach. On the 28th, the last day of the month, when I was sure that I’d got through everything I ended up in hospital.

Stress.

I fucking hate that word. But it was accurate. I hadn’t truly expressed my sorrow and pain in the right way. I let it all build up inside of me. The panic of what was happening around me was becoming a constant. I got up to pee in the middle of Fences in the cinema, and woke up on the floor. I love that film, it’s a little tarnished now and makes me a little nauseous when I think about it. It makes me remember the ambulance journey, the night in A&E on a drip which would hydrate me. I had blood tests, X-Rays and answered a wealth of questions. Stress, they said.

Which was what I’d said to the paramedics, the doctors and each nurse I saw. I’m gaining ground on the eleventh time I’ll have lived through this handful of days, which represents a huge loss for me and probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to face in my life. And it never gets easier. It’s always different. One year it’ll have claws, the next it’ll be teeth. I can’t put it into any other words, because this is how it feels. I feel assaulted by the week. It’s exhausting and it never leaves my mind.

I’ve tried blocking it out. I’ve tried being mindful of it all and I’ve tried celebrating life, removing myself from life, too. Nothing works because it’s a void that can’t be filled in any way. It’s just what it is, a block of days that carries an enormous weight. Sure, sometimes the weight is a little lighter, or maybe it isn’t but I have people around me to help carry it.

This year will be a little different. I won’t have the same support network to hand, though support will still be available. Things have changed and that’s something I need to focus on. I want to fight, but I also want to submit. It’s hard to choose which is best for me. I’ll spend times with friends and family, I’ll spend moments alone. I’ll look at pictures and remember her, I’ll cry and I’ll visit the places that open a connection with her. And that. I guess, is all I can do.

A few weeks ago, when I was feeling particularly low, knowing that February was beyond the horizon, I wrote myself a letter. I wrote it in Amelia’s voice and tried to put myself into her mind, wherever she may be. I can’t imagine what comes after death, but I think of her adding years and being aware of what happens in life and how things change. So, I wrote this letter, from her, telling me it’s okay to be sad and that it’s okay to not grieve. Because I forever hold onto this grief with the fear that if I’m not feeling this way, she will be forgotten.

When I saw the new Pixar film Coco, it struck a chord with me. The idea of forgetting about Amelia is never far from my head. Every day I remember less of her personality, mannerisms, her voice. I can look at pictures to jog my memory on how she looked, but the rest isn’t tangible. I fear forgetting her, in the same way the cast of Coco feared being forgotten. I always consider Amelia to be alive within me, but if I move on or stop focusing on her, remembering her, will she die over again?

So, although this time of year is incredibly difficult for me, I get the chance to remember her. And to talk about her. Which keeps her alive, in memory and spirit, a little bit longer. I want it to be easier, but remembering isn’t easy is it? Remembering is painful and dark and deep and you can easily get lost in it. I know I’ll survive this time, like the other times. I know I’ll get through it. I just wish she was here to hold my hand through it all.

Foresight – Poem

1:

He guides me, with staff, to still water.

I see the path he lights and

I walk the valley, fearing no death or evil.

My cup. My place in His house.

b):

With your pen, you sign your name.

Take one at night, every night and

no lingering in my thoughts, it will help me sleep.

Take with water and lay your head safely.

iii:

She takes my hand and places the cup within.

Above my bed, the glaring light and

I can no longer see my future ahead.

A sip from the water, the lights off, I sleep.

Four:

The guidance is in my own hand.

I trace the path, with a flash of metal and

a wince of pain, but I no longer fear death.

My blood. My eyes are closing.