BATTENBURGS AND LEMON DRIZZLERS
BY ANGELA MCCABE
Ladakhi women in tall hats,
long plaits and turquoise capes,
grind all day the nuts
into pure almond oil,
sing Hoi Cho Cho Lay Song.
Now yellow cream caresses my face,
transports me to a time
when we chopped almonds,
made marzipan for Christmas cakes,
Battenburgs and Lemon Drizzlers.
Irish women baking in floral aprons
and A line skirts.
Drop by drop of measured time,
my friend’s skin
welcomes the healing liquid.
down the deep curve of her spine.
Me singing the song
of the Turquoise women.
My hands dance along her buttocks.
Knead, roll, pummel,
arms, legs, feet glisten.
Her long plaits tied up.
Me wearing a Ladakhi amulet
and a Claddagh necklace.
BY TEODORA DUMITRIU
Poetry lies like a lion cub’s paws –
coyly, deceivingly sheathing the claws.
Poetry lies like a young dancer’s skin –
soft and silky without, raw and restless within.
Poetry lies like a grinning old clown –
huge red nose honking loud, diamond-shaped sparkling tears,
polka dot handkerchiefs streaming out of the ears…
pitch black trains piling up in the tunnel of silence deep down.
The second the lioness sprang, the audience screamed.
The ballet girl gasped.
The harlequin sighed.
As a clumsy young beast behind bars
groomed to bend and behave and beguile
she had mastered the Circus Codes early –
learned to bow, toe the line,
sip her bile,
chew her pride.
But then year after year after year, as the lion heart simmered and lion blood pried
every time her own kin had to kowtow,
the lioness lied.
Many a funny old clown’s heart is shattered.
Many a young dancer’s dream bleeds and dies.
When the lioness purrs, when the lioness curtseys – ringmasters, beware!
SHAKEN NOT STIRRED
BY KEN ALLAN DRONSFIELD
In an evening transcending;
a lonely heart not adjusting
as the rabbits play at chasing
shadows in flat mottled grass.
Warbling of self righteousness
fragile screaming in mourning
echoing within a mirrored eye
the abominable crispy breath.
Flame to the wick ignited but
the candle dreams of darkness
entombed within subtle empathy
grasp at Angels drifting so high.
Pastel orbs traversing souls
a percolated sadness avowed
my mutation reeks of intensity
of a journey shaken not stirred.
HOLD THAT THOUGHT
BY CLAUDINE NASH
Let’s hold these thoughts
far from our hearts, the timeworn
ones that make us sink
in doubt or draw us down
when we pull forward. Let’s
roll them between our
fingers and feel their thin
cloth catch on our winter
skin. We’ll crumple them,
lift them up to the window panes,
watch the cold morning pour
through the rips in their
I want to lose them at the
beach. We can slip them into
the sea as the tide sets out,
drop them into a deep hole
and watch the sand claim
the shifting space where they
sit. I’m done with these
gnawing whispers. Let’s be
old-school gangsters and
make some silence. I’ll get
the concrete forms, you
toss them from the pier when
the fog rushes the night.
(Previously appeared in The Camel Saloon)
Arthur is what many call a fanatic of murder mysteries. Living in Ontario's Near-North for most of his 58 years, he spends much of his free time since retirement watching, taking in and writing about the shadowy goings on of fictitious everyday Canadians. This is his first foray into publication.
That morning, he woke up with a sharp gasp and an idea stuck in his mind. He rubbed his eyes with hairy, thick knuckles – a woman once had told him that they seemed to belong to an ape. Then, he just relaxed.
Yeah, why the hell not? It was a good idea, actually, a great idea, after all. He’d strike two flies with the same blow.
The move was smart and long overdue. He’d been thinking a lot about doing something but he was smart enough not to put his neck into the noose. His burning wish was for revenge not suicide.
Energized, he jumped out of bed and went into the small bathroom. Everything around him was skimpy. He had downsized everything since that fatidic morning. Had he downsized more, he’d have vanished completely.
Huh, living off the grid had his perks. No one could trace his moves, and, more than that, no one really knew if he existed. Or to be accurate, no one knew if he still existed anymore.
He started shaving, driving the blade closely to the skin, careful not to leave marks on his face. People remembered a goatee, a shaved skull with a tattoo at the back, and now he managed to move around without shaking any memories loose. No one had seen him like that since he enlisted ten years ago.
He looked at himself in the mirror, and for the first time in the last four months, he could look at himself, into his eyes, without shame or guilt. He finally had a plan.
She had died in that dirty alley, behind the smelly dumpster, rain slapping her face furiously, wind playing with the hair splattered with blood, her lifeless eyes staring at the overcast sky. And while she was dying, crying and probably begging for mercy or help, he was drinking his mind in a bar not far away.
He’d thought he’d have time to reconnect with her and to do all the things he’d put on hold for ten years. He’d thought he deserved a night with friends he’d not seen for too long to dwell on the years that had already passed and to get shitfaced like a stupid teenager in a feat of rebellion.
Choices! In the end, all that was, it was choices. Or mistakes. Or fate. Or the hell knows what. The bottom line was that she had died there because he’d been too bent on drinking beer and boasting like a stupid teenager with the eye only on the moment not on the bigger picture. He had to pay a price in the end but not before the actual killers would pay theirs.
He already knew the woman’s schedule. She’d sleep all morning, getting up somewhere after noon, with a raging hangover and pissed off that life would deal her some shitty cards. Then, she would yell a bit at the kids playing in the yard across the street, their yelling cutting like a blade through her numb brain. Then she would start prowling the streets, looking for the next dude able to buy her enough drinks to keep her living through the night. In the wee hours of the morning, she’d return home – if that shackled house could be called home, and she’d turn into bed, without even taking off her scruffy boots and the clothes smelling of cheap booze and smoke.
He’d visited her house in the past and she hadn’t winked. He’d been careful not to leave any trace of his passing and to survey all the exits and the vantage points from the street and houses nearby. Her back door was opening over a yard full of junk and beyond the back fence, there were the rail tracks. No one to see him coming and going. This time, his purpose was very precise: he’d seen her using the big kitchen knife a few times and once she’d even nicked her finger cutting into stale bread. She hadn’t bothered to wash it afterwards and he doubted she’d done it later on. The blood should have been on that blade if not on the hilt: exactly what he needed to see the job done.
He put on a pair of thick surgical gloves and lifted the knife. He checked the traces of blood and the corners of his mouth smirked: the blood was still there as he’d expected. Just fine for what he had in mind. He bagged the knife in a clean plastic bag he’d just torn from a roll he’d brought with him and then took her soiled jacket and put it into another bag.
He looked around surveying the space, saw that nothing was out of place and that he’d left nothing behind. Only then, he left.
Now he had to move faster. He was working against the clock and he couldn’t do a rush job if he wanted them to pay. Rushing too much would mean losing attention on the details and having one of them escaping their fate and that wouldn’t do. They had to pay for what they’d done.
Initially he’d tried the police but that lazy detective couldn’t move his ass fast enough and couldn’t be bothered to check something that was not screaming in his face. He’d already taken care of him. He’d messed with his head for a few months, scared him to death and helped him hallucinate a great deal – after all, he knew exactly what drug to use and how often so that the big fat lazy detective couldn’t run away from what it was pre-ordained in his destiny. He’d finally made use of his service gun and put a 9 mm through his skull. It’d been a neat job even though there’d been blood everywhere. He’d seen everything from his hiding place using a very strong lens.
Now, everything had to come to an end. He’d finally mastered the plan to get the best results and have the best revenge. The one that had used the knife on his girlfriend would die by the knife. The one that instigated the murder and the desecration of that sweet woman’s life would go behind bars for the rest of her fucking life.
He knew where to find him as he’d cased the joint for a few months already. It’d been difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when he’d find him alone as he was living in a house with two other guys but his work was made easier because the other two started working in a scrap garage and in the mornings they were busy there.
He knew he’d find him with his brains full of the vapor of the alcohol. He’d have preferred to find him sober so that he could be sure that he’d grasp the significance of his early demise but he couldn’t bank on that. He was rarely sober and even then just for a short time and usually when he was surrounded by people. His plan didn’t allow for other people’s presence.
It was a dump in a very “nice” neighborhood. Luckily, mornings were not very animated and he’d learned to be one with the environment. However, this time, he didn’t want any kind of doubt concerning the killer.
He entered through the back door, which was always open. It would have been difficult to lock it as the door couldn’t be closed. The jamb had been nicked in the past and there was no way to close the door. In winter, it must have been a living hell with the chilly air coming in. The southern location of the town made it easy, he supposed. No blizzards like the ones in the east or snow.
After getting inside, he listened for any noise that would warn him that other people were there but heard nothing. He stopped in the kitchen to put on his thick gloves and to wrap the soiled jacket he’d taken from the woman’s house around his body over the plastic he’d already covered himself with. It was a little small but blood splatter would be found on it anyway, so no big deal.
He advanced silently on the corridor leading to the room he knew by heart now and opened the door.
The intended victim was lying on his stomach with his arms folded underneath, exactly in the position he’d fallen in the bed.
He jerked his head up, slapped him soundly and pressed the knife over the skin of his cheek, from the eye to the corner of his mouth. Blood surged and trickled on the pillow. A growl of pain emerged and his eyelids shot up.
“What the fuck…”
He couldn’t finish as a low voice said:
“You’d better shut up, asshole! This is judgement day and you have to reckon all your sins before going to meet your maker!”
He found delight in seeing the fear swimming in the pools of the eyes full of tears.
“Do you remember little Juanita?”
For a moment, it seemed that Juanita’s memory had been erased from the killer’s mind but then, something clicked, and understanding brought animalistic fear in his eyes. He tried to get away but the blade of the knife left a mark on his throat, not deep enough to kill but deep enough to hurt.
“Juanita was a sweet girl who’d done nothing to you! Because that bitch’s boyfriend tried to charm her, she had you kill her but first you had to torture her to satisfy the bitch. Well, now, it is your turn,” he said slashing a line through the shirt over the killer’s (soon-to-be a victim) chest.
The man trashed around trying to escape but the force of the arm holding him down was too much for him. He started yelling, with each slash, till a final move slashed his throat. Blood gushed out, staining the woman’s jacket.
He got off the bed and checked for blood anywhere around the bed. It wouldn’t do leave any bloody prints around, even though he’d taken the caution to cover his shoes with plastic shoes, like the ones used in the hospital. It was a good thing to know a woman or two working in a hospital. Satisfied that there was no danger to do that, he went to the kitchen and carefully bagged the bloody jacket. Then he took off the plastic and bagged it. He checked every piece of his clothing, took off the plastic covering his shoes, the shower cap he’d covered his hair with and checked everything around to be sure he’d left nothing of himself behind.
He left the house through the same back door and in a few minutes reached the old rusty truck he’d left on a side street. He drove to the woman’s house and carefully got inside and left the jacket on the sofa. He left silently and drove to the other end of the town where he threw the bloody plastics in a dumpster.
Then, he came back towards downtown. Downtown, he stopped his car and placed the call.
“911, what’s your emergency?”
“I want to report a crime, I think,” he said with a high-pitched voice. “I saw a woman coming out of a house on …. Street, from number 10 and she had blood on her. She was behaving strangely. I’ve seen her before although lately she hasn’t come around so much. Her name is Cissy Dollan, I think. I know she lives on …. Street.”
“What’s your name?”
“No, no, no. No name. Just my duty,” he stammered and put the receiver down.
The area was crowded enough and no one was paying attention to him. He started walking down the street towards his car. His step was lazy like he had no hurry or worry in the world. Well, he didn’t. He’d already taken care of that.
The next evening, having a beer in front of the TV, he heard the News speaker saying:
“The police made an arrest in the killing of Harry Camden. They arrested Cissy Dolan and she will be charged with first degree murder. Police sources intimated that there was a similarity with the death of Juanita Gonzales and they want to move towards charging Dolan with her death as well”.
Finally, he released a raspy breath and murmured: “At last, I got your revenge, babe!”
Born to Russian parents, Aleena was just three when her family immigrated to England 55 years ago. Aleena currently lives in Islington with her 3 lovebirds and enjoys writing well embellished semi-accurate biographical accounts of her most interesting life. You'll be pleased to hear that since the 'incident' Aleena has managed to avoid getting her skirt caught in her underthings.
THE LOVE OF MY LIFE
NEVER TOO LATE
I met the love of my life in late spring. Too bad: it was one-sided. I don’t think it could have been different considering how I met him.
I left my apartment to go to university and there he was in the elevator. I’d heard a real hunk had moved into the apartment two doors down from mine. I smiled to him, showing my straight rows of whites and I could see a playful light in his eyes. Instantly, I thought: that was it.
He was exactly what I’d imagined I’d want during all those awkward years of looking around, trying to find my Mr. Right and being shut down just because I had those ugly braces, the height and the curves of a scarecrow, and the chest of a boy. Well, that changed. The braces were gone, leaving behind a beautiful smile, the height remained, but got assorted with curves and my breasts sprouted and I was filling a double D bra. Now, I had my chance to have my Mr. Right.
I smiled wider and tried to get a bit closer; maybe, maybe he’d make a move. I knew everything about flirting from movies and erotic novels. Besides reading for my courses, that’s what I did: I read erotic novels, watched chick flicks and stole advice from Cosmo. Even now, even though it doesn’t seem like it matters anyway. I suppose it became a habit.
He simply laughed and for a moment there, I felt unsure. The elevator reached ground floor. He let me pass first and followed me out. I had already been out of the door of the building when he touched my arms and said:
“I think I’d better let you know: your skirt got caught in your panties.”
My cheeks flushed red. I could feel the rush of blood filling every pore of my skin. I was mortified and then I tried to save face. I laughed as if it had been a common occurrence and playfully touched his arm.
“It happens, doesn’t it? Thanks for telling me!” I pulled the skirt out of my panties and tried to console myself that at least I’d showcased my shapely legs and round behind. Nothing to be ashamed of!
He laughed and left.
That was the turning moment, I think. I started checking the hall through the peephole before going out. I was mortified to meet him again. I did everything in my power to avoid him and threw myself into a life full of activity, lying to myself that I had a huge group of friends, a fulfilled life, and that there weren’t enough hours in a day to do everything I could do.
Now, drinking a Napoleon and watching the people passing by the little bistro in St-Germain, I realize the emptiness I surrounded myself with. The love of my life is stuck somewhere in the past and I didn’t even let anyone get too close. The closest a man got to me was to take my coat off.
Well, I’ve got so much knowledge and it’s going to waste because I’ve been afraid of being caught with my pants down. Literally!
Swallowing the last of my cognac, I make a decision. The first one coming down this way is mine. Even if he’s young or too young! When you turn 55, it doesn’t really matter how young he is. I’ll turn into a cougar. So what?
A thirty-something year-old comes along: ink-black hair, a little longer than the norm, a supple gait, and a predatory smile. All right, he’s got something in common with the love of my life. So he’s he the one I need now.
I cross my legs pushing my skirt farther up my long legs and lean against the back of the chair to push my breasts up. I make a stand. I see his eyes darting towards the buttons almost ready to pop and then lingering over the curve of my hip towards the length of my legs. He licks his lips. Yeah, he’s caught. Now, let’s try to recapture lost youth.
Romanian born and bred, somewhere in the center of Transylvania, Mira coquetted with the idea of writing for a long time; however her fear of rejection made every attempt to publish fold. Finally, she imagined that if she could face randy teenagers everyday as an English teacher, she could face not making it on a top spot. Obsessed with what made people tick, she’s portraying characters that catch her eye.
The little block of flats had been erected somewhere after the Second World War and displayed a sedated architecture. It had avoided the modern, post-modern, and neo-classical style and found itself harboring the traditional style that was outdated at the time.
It was hidden behind some old oaks and some bushes whose name I can’t remember for the life of me. It boasted only six little apartments but they were all filled with so much life that it was like it was busting at the seams.
The financial worth of the lot beneath the building tripled its value in the last five years and it became evident that the owner was thinking about selling it. Its value was higher than the entire building.
Besides all of that, the building had become a money eater. Plumbing giving in and walls screaming for repairs and new paint were only just a few of the money pits dancing in front of the owner’s eyes, who would grind his teeth thinking of what was expected of him.
He’d just inherited the building: there were no connections and no memories. People inside were just names on the renting contracts and those contracts were due for renewal in a month but he hadn’t given them a thought. He was dreaming about a fat bank account that would fuel a trip to the tropics, where he’d buy a beautiful cabana somewhere near the beach and drink, swim, and sleep his days away, chasing a female now and then. Heaven on earth, in his peanut-sized brain dosed with the mirage of wealth.
Meanwhile, life was flowing in the little building, hidden by the curtain of trees, sheltered, not a part of the changes that came and went on the principal artery, just a few feet away.
On the second floor, there were three families. They’d been there for almost half a century and had let the changes pass them by.
The apartment on the right hand was inhabited by a seventy-some-old couple. They had moved there immediately after their wedding day, exactly a decade and one day after the end of the big conflagration. They’d been young at the time and many had even said they’d been too young to marry and that the marriage wouldn’t last. I guess they’d proved them wrong. Their marriage had already celebrated the fifty-eighth year of marriage and they’d brought up together a passel of children that gave them another passel of grandchildren.
Their days were quiet. They’d wake up early in the morning and had their tea with a slice of bread and jam on the balcony, listening to the birds and breathing the crisp air that came with the dawn. They wouldn’t say a word. In so many years, everything had been said and what they needed they could convey with their eyes or a gesture or a sigh. They’d linger on the balcony for a while. He would read the paper and she would just watch the trees in front of the balcony, deep in thought. She’d probably think of her children or of her grandchildren or of something that had happened long, long time ago, far too long for her to remember accurately. After a couple of hours, they’d go out heading towards the market, even if they needed anything or not. It was like a physical exercise for them, to keep them going. They’d have lunch always on the balcony, just a soup or sometimes a soup and a sandwich. She’d cook the soup just before lunch so that they’d eat something fresh. After lunch, they’d sleep for a couple of hours and then they’d go for a walk but in the opposite direction from the market. There was a park nearby, somewhere in the area of 800 feet. They’d rest on a bench for a while and then they’d tour the park. They’d go back after a couple of hours because they never knew when one of the kids would visit and those were the most precious moments of their life. They’d wait at home, in silence, each one reading something and waiting. When night would fall, they’d go to bed to start everything all over again the following day, without thinking that they might not have too many nights left to be spent there.
They’d sleep without hearing a peep even though the apartment next to them was quite a noisy one. The building was solid, though, and isolation good.
The middle apartment on the second floor was rented by a couple in their mid-forties. They’d married about fifteen years before, for the first time. They’d divorced after the first two years and had had a very quarrelsome interlude for about a year when they’d decided to get married again. They’d fought like crazy for about five days a week, screaming at each other and throwing things. Luckily, none of them had been very good in reaching the target so there were no wounds to deal with, but of course they’d had to buy new dishes twice a month till they agreed to buy camping dishes, those made of metal that would withstand the vicious meeting with a wall. The other two days of the week had been the make-up days, when they’d have sex with the same vivacity they used for fighting. The neighbors would have been grateful that the walls were so thick, had they heard what was going on.
The second marriage had lasted a little longer. They’d tried hard and managed to stay married for five years. Then, one day, just because he’d left the toilet lid up, she’d decided it was too much and thrown him out of the house, literally, opening the door and pushing him out. His clothes followed through the window. She asked for a divorce the following day.
The ink hadn’t even dried well on the divorce papers, that they found out that they were so in love that they couldn’t live one without the other. They’d left the court and flew to Vegas, and in three days they got married again.
Their life was full: rants about everything under the sun, with swearing, yelling, throwing things and resentments building up from Monday to Friday. Friday night, suddenly, everything turned into romance at first, starting with a candle dinner – funny romantic dinner with camping dishes, by the way, and ending with carnal pursuits pigmented with loud moans and screams that would have turned the neighbors’ ears red.
Of course, there was no thought about losing their apartment. There wouldn’t have been time, even if they’d known.
Unaware of the drama going on in the middle apartment, the family in the other corner apartment on the second floor was living life working hard and raising three children in two rooms. Both were hard-working people and he even held two jobs. They’d been living in that apartment since a month after their wedding when a distant uncle had found out that the apartment had become available. He hadn’t mentioned that someone had been brutally killed there, but it might not have mattered. With the rent prices out there, this had seemed like a gift from the heavens.
Their days were spent with running to work, working as many hours as possible to be able to feed the brood of children and to pay rent, electricity, and maybe, if the Lord was benevolent, to save some money for a vacation sometime in the distant future. Then they’d share chores and supervise homework and fall into bed like logs. They wouldn’t even have time to think about marital relations. Anyway, the neighbors would take care of their part too.
Being forced to leave the little apartment would have been a hardship. The rents out there were too high and they wouldn’t be able to rent anything decent. However, they continued with their hard life unaware of anything happening behind the scenes.
On the first floor, there were three other families. Maybe saying families is too much.
On the left-hand corner, the apartment hid the most mysterious tenant. Tall, broad-shouldered, tanned and dressed in well-pressed clothes, a man in his thirties would live in his own world. He wouldn’t know anything about the old couple living above his apartment or the rambunctious couple on the second floor. Hell, he didn’t even know the neighbor next to him, and their patios were separated only by a fragile, white picket fence.
He kept strange hours and would be away for days and nights in a row or would spend a few days inside going out only on the patio, to enjoy the sunlight and the breeze.
He’d found the perfect building to rent an apartment. Strangely, there were no old people minding other people’s business or women already past their prime trying to offer him either a night in their bedroom or to cook a delicious cake, stealing their way into his heart through his stomach. No one paid attention. He could practice his profession without fearing that someone might see something or hear something or might leak some info to people that shouldn’t know anything.
He was a very well-paid gigolo, making his living on the dance floors of the clubs, turning an older woman in his arms, knowing that later she’d find the perfect gift for him, or in a hotel bedroom, offering spinsters the night of their life in exchange for a monetary gift that would pay his rent and a few whims along the way. His eyes were on the money prize and lost everything else from sight. He couldn’t guess that his little slice of happiness on earth was about to go. He’d be at a loss for a reaction. He was used to things that went his way without a hitch.
The apartment in the middle of the first floor was the quietest of all, not that any of them would have been noisy. The sturdy construction didn’t allow sounds to travel too far. However, this one was quieter than a tomb that wasn’t hunted by the owner.
The renter was unknown to the others. He’d come now and then, always under the cover of night. Not even the landlord could have reached him. His application showed the name of John Smith but it was not the name he was born with or the name he’d ever use. He had too many names to count. He didn’t have a job of leisure. He was good at tracking people, learning their habits and killing them for a hefty amount of money. He’d be pissed off to learn about the landlord’s plans and he’d fulfill a contract without pay for the first time in his life.
The last apartment on the right corner of the first floor was occupied by two old women, mother and daughter. They wouldn’t speak to each other anymore and not because they’d learnt each other’s thoughts but because they hated each other with a passion. The mother wouldn’t drink or eat anything her daughter touched, fearing poisoning. After how much she managed to control and ruin her daughter’s life and her chance at a little happiness, she knew she had to be very careful.
They shared a kitchen and a bathroom. The living room would stay empty days and even weeks in a row. Each of them would spend their lives separately in their bedroom.
The mother would crunch chocolates and read thrillers, enjoying the novels where the culprit would go away without a scratch.
The daughter would spend her days dreaming of other times, sometimes reading a romance and crying watching soap operas. Spineless, she’d let her mother chase away every chance she had for a different life and when she’d woken up there was no chance left. She was stooping, her hair was thin and kept falling and her skin was paste white, spotted by the traces of the tears that had become a common occurrence in her daily life.
The mother would have been angry finding out she’d have to move out but she knew nothing. The daughter didn’t care. She was past any care in the world.
They all would go on like guinea pigs in a cage, following the paths of their lives, their eyes on tomorrow, without knowing that tomorrow would bring such a big shock that their lives would change forever. Tomorrow lay in the hands of a new owner with the eyes on the horizon, dreaming of a boat, a hut and drink covered by a colorful umbrella without knowing he was harboring a very skilled killer who wouldn’t like to have his little nest taken away.