The school bus driver spoke no English and my German was not exactly brilliant. So when he started driving the green bus down unfamiliar road and swearing, I felt I ought to try and help. I was the last one to be dropped off and so I guess he was lost. He pulled over to the side of the road and swore again. Then he lit another cigarette, something I noticed he did a lot of. He shook his head and asked me something in German. I considered crying but had second thoughts. The driver scratched his head and set off again, becoming more and more ill-tempered. I started to wonder if I would ever see my home again. Just then, I spied a familiar street. Here, here, I said. I pointed to emphasise my message. He turned into my road, stopped by my house and I said danke schöne. I thought that was the least I could do. That was the day I learnt the word Scheiße and I have been using it ever since.
Henry Bladon is based in Somerset in the UK. He is a writer of short fiction and poetry and teaches creative writing for therapeutic purposes. He has degrees in psychology and mental health policy, and his PhD explored connections in literature and mental health. His work can be seen in O:JA&L, PureSlush, Tuck Magazine, Mercurial Stories, The Ekphrastic Review, and Spillwords Press, among other places.
Maria could not decide on a shirt. White seemed the most neutral choice, the least likely to meet with disapproval, but was also most likely to stain, which was why she was there in the first place.
Jonathan sat at a desk in the next cubicle along from Maria. They weren’t exactly friends but they always smiled and said hello. On a few occasions, they’d even chatted over sandwiches.
Maria had noticed it almost as soon as she’d arrived in the office. Jonathan was hunched at his desk and across the back of his shirt were several crisscrossed lines of blood. Maria was too shocked to know what to say, even what to think at first.
How on Earth had Jonathan got such injuries? Some kinky game? An assault? Self-flagellation? He didn’t seem the religious type. He was usually so down to earth. Maria shuddered. It was all so medieval.
Maria wondered what to do all morning. She knew she couldn’t speak to him about it. She decided to buy him a shirt and put it on his desk when he wasn’t looking. Hopefully, he’d take the hint. At present, he didn’t even seem to know the stains were there, though Maria had noticed several colleagues glancing and whispering. She glared daggers at them until they dispersed. The morning passed, the stripes, all fifteen of them, darkening to rusty strokes.
Staring at the rows of shirts Maria wondered what collar size he’d be. Her ex had been 15 but Jonathan looked bigger. Too tight wouldn’t be good but she didn’t want to insult by purchasing too large. She opted for 17, realising that her dithering had used up almost all that remained of her lunch break.
The queue was five deep at the till and by the time Maria hurried out of the shop she was late.
At the junction opposite the office, Maria stepped into the road and was hit by a taxi which knocked her 15 feet in the air. She landed on the roof of a Volkswagon, bounced off and hit the road where she took a further 15 seconds to die, doing so with her eyes open.
The shirt meanwhile had been catapulted out of her bag and flown through the air to land at the feet of Jonathan who had been sent home early by his supervisor and who was standing at the pedestrian crossing, waiting for the light to turn green. With everything else that was going on, he didn’t even notice the shirt.
Mathew Roy Davey was the winner of The Observer short story competition 2003 and winner of the Dark Tales competition (August 2013) and has been long-listed for the Bath Flash Fiction award (Spring and Autumn 2017), Reflex Flash Fiction competition (Spring 2017) and Retreat West Quarterly Competition (Summer 2018). His story ‘Waving at Trains’ has been translated into Mandarin and Slovenian and been published in anthologies by Vintage and Cambridge University Press. Recently he has been published by Everyday Fiction, Flash Fiction Magazine, The Odd Magazine and Flash: The International Short-Story Magazine. He has recently been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.
Behind the Calliope
"This piece is part of what I call my “abandoned prose rescue project.” I asked a number of writers to send short, unfinished prose work for me to make something new, complete and presentable of. A rule of the game is that there’s no back and forth after the work has been submitted for my treatment. Each piece, each voice, suggested a particular working method to me. With Robert Scotellaro, I worked with his general conceit and fleshed it out, aiming for a consistent, seamless tone". - Peter Cherches
For my birthday my wife makes me a circus. She seats me by a rainbow walker who keeps falling through the blue. In the ring, a sad clown comes out and pantomimes the sinking of the Titanic. Finding his act more than I can bear, I take a stroll about the circus and discover my wife behind the calliope, making the beast with two backs with the bearded lady.
"Stop!" I shout. "Show's over!" The bearded lady runs off, clutching her garments to her hairy chest, as my wife and I stare at each other in icy silence.
I'll be getting my wife a county fair for Christmas. With an old-time Ferris wheel and an ancient dwarf who will guess her weight.
And for me, a kissing booth, manned by an oh-so-lovely bearded lady. Ooh la la!
Peter Cherches' next collection, Whistler’s Mother’s Son (and other curiosities), will include collaborations with 10 writers. His recent books include Lift Your Right Arm and Autobiography Without Words.
Robert Scotellaro's latest flash fiction collection is Nothing Is Ever One Thing. An additional collection of his stories is due for release in 2020 by Press 53.
A reverie unfolds: Touch your tongue to the inside of the cheek gently feeling the buccinators; this is one of the rarest ways of making the other feel the inexplicably insurmountable joys of the expression- it kicked! Relentlessly being in the anticipation of the crimson stain and sometimes not awaiting it, to making hushed calls to the chemist in close proximity and ordering the test kits, reminiscing the litmus test in school, mirror-phase, coming to terms with the PV test and all the exploring of the boundaries of modesty---heralds the eukaryotic zygote.
The ease of secrecy, the trying-hard not to eat-out strife, wearing all the skimpy clothes for one last time, shoving all the heels for future use, morning sickness, anxiously popping pills, devising ever-new ways to break the news to the inner-circle, elated at the first appearance of the bump, when the signboard ‘maternity wear’ meets the eye, and when social inquisitiveness reaches its epitome and all you have to answer it with is, “Yes I am pregnant and due in March!”---The initial trimester.
Coaxing the doctor to ensure he does a normal delivery to attending pre-natals, scans, check-ups and binging on age-old grandmothers’ tips that lead you on a trip to being in a state of no return ‘overweightedness’, the frantic buying of banana pillows and what-not for that comfort while snoozing, when the gait resembles a duck-walk, the arrival of the stretch marks, itching and the endless trials of Vitamin E enriched oils, film-induced cravings emerge, hair turns out to be scant or thickens, skin glows or pigments, the mind and body go bonkers and refuse to work in tandem, looking at the extent of the bulge is an exercise in speculation, of whether it be a girl or a boy, twins, triplets or a malnourished baby and the hearing of moralistic stories and viewing of idealistic photographs hung on the wall continues---in anticipation of the labour.
Described as an equivalent of a catastrophe way beyond what a body can sustain, with its peculiarities differing for each individual and implausible to fathom, it arrives at the most unprecedented hour, waxing and waning of the cramps, the panic-stricken journey from a god-forsaken place to the maternity home, the footstep of the swearing doctor who loses his sleep most of the times, the pleading, the screams, the scratches, the frenzy, the impending decision of a C-section or normal, the arousal of a mixed bag of feelings---the end of an arduous journey…?
Refusal to ask the femininity or masculinity of the infant, being in the half-wake stage feeling the sudden lightness in the lower abdomen even in the spinal anesthesia mode, trying to take a sneak peek at the hurriedly stitching up doctors leaving the attendee wondering about the neatness, the forgotten medical instrument in the body, the hope that it remains a scar-less stitch, the worry that the baby is not pinched too hard and to be able to hear it too, to be caressed with utmost affection and nimbleness, shifting from the OT to the special ward in a daze, trying to speak up and be shown your piece of art and heart but the impending lethargy to call out or be entrusted with the responsibility of raising the child forever, those few moments before you take charge, the wish to just be, to enact dizziness and yet be aware of the surroundings, the fear of the baby being mishandled, the final holding of the baby in the arms and making a show of simultaneous overflow of maternal love and bond‘ing’---Birthing.
Latching, inability to sit up, the revenge of the nine months of no bleeding to an effusive scarlet gush, adjusting one’s sleep time with the baby’s and waking up umpteen times to ensure bums remain dry from pee, the advent of the masseuse, the heaving bosom and the sobbing child, the excruciating tying of the remnant-body, the encounter with the inevitable shape of the drooping mass with the darkened contours---the infamous post-partum depression.
Vaccinations and its momentary but monumental pain and grief, onslaught of differentiation between colours, the invaluable dimpled smile, revisiting birth-growth cycle, achieving milestones, outgoing into the land of laws, end of the longest holiday ever sanctioned, withdrawal symptoms, caught up in the web of rearing and housekeeping, endless advices and taunts, grappling with the bloated self, recovering from the strain, the introduction of semi-solids, the throw-ups, making new rules and changing them on and off, just a thought that passes by: to resume life and work as usual, abstinence from the self and the other, trying to wean but to no avail, looking up lose weight regimes, shadowed into the realm of the indoors, patience is a virtue: but who is even giving brownie points (?)---this is it.
It is all vented out in the manner of phases and flashes. This phase of a woman’s life that parallels rebirth. An entire trajectory of being and becoming. There are moments in which all is forgotten in a whisker, looking at the first walk, such a banal leap yet so momentous. The only agency here is of getting to name your own creation and honing those talents as you wish.. The feeling of pushing together all the varied thoughts in one breath, saying it all and barring none, bearing it all and caring nil, sharing it all and sympathizing zero, trying to move on but, “nobody moves”. This certainly is the best kept secret of an entire union of women all over the World. The most gruesome, emotional and sordid narration of a small dream that shattered the entire base and the whole of the superstructure. Accepting/Resigning to the fate/state? No pain, no gain? Consolation or Amnesia? The need to float the SOS message in an enclosed drifter casket or an openly-flaunting propaganda-bearing glass bottle across seven seas. Ever wondered, why the need to reclaim the Body? The child beckons…Won’t it ever be, or will it…?
Dr. Yamini Dand Shah ably co-curated Kala Ghoda Arts Festival, Literature, 2019. She is an Advisory Council member of the Board of Studies at Ruia College. Yamini is an assiduous literary researcher on gender studies and the Nation and a member of Challenging Precarity: A Global Research Network.