Scum

In the beginning
a hydrothermal vent lets loose
and mumbles, jumbles, bumbles,
of single cells form a juice,
a soup, a pudding,
a veritable Eton Mess,
a Riot Club of amoebas join
and while Spectators watch
the growth of a lifeform quite sinister,
you could almost believe,
given time,
this primordial scum might just evolve
and one day become Prime Minister.

Daddy or Chips

french-fries-1351062_640 It was my granddad’s funeral, the one I wasn’t supposed to like on account of what he did. I remember the front room, my grandparents’ front room, being full of people, mostly strangers, and it being dark. I thought it was odd to have the curtains drawn and the lights off when it was bright outside, but we did it out of respect, my mum said, ‘though he didn’t deserve it’, I heard her mumble. My grandmother looked old and drawn, quiet, maybe a little confused, maybe she didn’t know everyone either. She sat in her normal chair by the fire, which wasn’t lit. It was strange to see it so dark and cold. It was normally lit even through the summer with each lump of coal being positioned in exactly the right place to ensure it burned properly. My granddad knew about coal.

I remember us all just kind of sitting there in the awkward quiet, or standing if there was no room to sit, staring at the floor not quite knowing what to do or say until one guy, standing with his hands in his pockets, no idea who he was, suddenly said to no-one in particular, ‘You know, I’ll really miss his chips’. The room sighed, parts of it laughed and a smile spread across my face.

His chips were amazing. Potatoes had to be individually selected, peeled and cut properly before being deep fried in an old pan seasoned over decades of use. He really was upset if he caught you cutting potatoes the wrong way, ‘That’ll never make a decent chip’, he’d say, and he’d be right.

He grew his own potatoes of course. Most of the ex-miners in the long row of cottages had a small garden plot at the back where they grew their own vegetables, and perhaps kept the odd chicken. I remember my granddad, the one I wasn’t supposed to like on account of what he did, showing me peas in their pods growing in a wee patch of jumbled canes, greenery and damp earth that got under your nails. We city boys didn’t know how to shell peas, obviously, so he showed me how to remove the stem end, peel the stringy fibre and gently prize the pod apart. It took just a second. Inside, the peas were firm, bright, and tasted like no pea had ever tasted to me.

They were great cooked as well, of course, and we had them with chips, and beetroot. We always had beetroot with our chips at Granddad’s. And we wiped our plates clean with buttered bread and laughed at how Granny wasn’t going to have to clean the dishes as we’d wiped up every trace of food.

My uncle pressed a card into my hand and I looked at it, not knowing what it was. My brothers also had one as did my cousin. I was number 4. I kept it tight in my pocket as we walked down to the graveyard, a procession of quiet jumbling feet interspersed with thick accents I could barely understand.

At the graveyard, at the side of the grave where the coffin was already in place resting on a couple of planks of wood, my number was called and I was told to stand near the foot, just to one side. The crumpled bit of paper was handed over to someone and in return I was presented with an end of a bit of rope. I really wasn’t sure what was going on but I worked out, by careful observation, that after the planks were removed the coffin was being lowered into the ground by a few guys using rough, old tattered rope while we, we had nice rope with a big knot and frilly ends. We didn’t hold the weight of my granddad, the one I wasn’t supposed to like on account of what he did, but it looked like it was us lowering him into his final resting place.

And then I remember us all walking away from the hole, slowly being filled in behind us. I remember my dad, not usually one for showing any kind of emotion, putting his arm around my mum and she leaning in to him. I remember her saying, ‘I don’t want to cook tonight’, and her turning round to us, me and my brothers, and smiling, saying, ‘Shall we get chips on the way home?’

Pepper

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‘Don’t look at me like that Pepper, it’s not happening.’

‘But you must, I’ve checked all your records and you need to go. I can make an appointment for you right now.’

I looked down at him, his black emotionless eyes staring back up at me, blinking occasionally. Why did they make them blink? He cocked his head slightly, that way he does when he’s trying to understand me.

‘If I want an appointment, I’ll ask for one’, I snapped and turned away, heading upstairs to the viewing platform knowing it would be difficult for him to follow.

‘But my job is..’

‘Your job..’, I turned to him from half-way up the stairs, ‘..is to do as I ask!’

He paused slightly at the force of my voice before clumsily continuing to climb the stairs after me. I reached the top without looking back but I could hear the small motors whirring as a leg carefully positioned a foot, balancing it on the next stair before raising himself slowly on one leg whilst leaning sharply forward, and then standing still, straight up as if to take a breath. The next leg would then follow suit to the next step and a repeat of these tiny actions would eventually bring him to the top of the stairs. In about five minutes or so.

From the viewing platform I gazed out across the Derious Plain. At this time of year the sky was mostly a deep amber with dark streaks heavy with poisonous rain. Dust clouds formed casually, rolled along the uneven surface for a few moments, and just as quickly dissipated. I switched on the audio to hear the outside as, safely cocooned within the bubble of my home, there was silence. The sound of angry wind drowned out Pepper’s fall.

He was right, I couldn’t deny it, I did need to make an appointment. My time here was almost up and I needed to report in with my findings, had I any to report. I just thought that, well, after a year here I would have something. I kept thinking, one more week, I have supplies, there’s no need to call in for a shuttle just yet.

I looked back to the staircase wondering why Pepper hadn’t quite made it to the top yet. I switched off the audio to silence the wind and was surprised I couldn’t hear the gentle whirring of his legs. Instead, I thought I could hear voices from downstairs.

‘Hello, is anyone there? Pepper, is that you?’ I approached the top of the stairs cautiously.

Pepper was lying, in a number of pieces, at the foot of the stairs. I half fell, half stumbled down to examine the carnage. ‘What happened Pepper?’ I picked up a stray leg and stared blankly at it.

He ignored me. He was talking to someone. Base? ‘Is that Base? Put me through, I need to talk to them, we’ll need to get a shuttle out soon and they can fix you up, good as new.’

‘..yes it is very sad’, Pepper was saying, eyes still blinking on his detached head and upper torso. ‘No, there is no need, Officer Jenkins will obviously need no further appointments..’

‘What are you saying Pepper? Pepper?’

‘.. and the body can be picked up at any time. It will be preserved for years..’

‘Pepper? PEPPER! Base, can you hear me? My droid has failed, Base?’

‘I can do that. Yes. Shutting down all life support now.’ His eyes blinked one final time and, attached to its limbless torso, he cocked his head at me, ‘No more appointments Officer Jenkins’.

The Curse

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‘But you can’t mean to go through with it, I mean you can’t, you just can’t. I’m not even sure we’d be able to do anything like that anymore anyway.’

‘You disappoint me little bird, we’re just as powerful as we always were, we just have to be believed in, and believe me, I’m definitely going to do it.’

‘But you’ll get in trouble, they’ll destroy you, vaporise you or something horrid. You, us, we, we can’t go around doing that anymore, in this day and age! It’ll all go terribly wrong!’

‘In this day and age? What is ‘age’ to us? We are immortal! Age is nothing. The Powers That Be are simply guardians.’

‘Guardians? They are our masters! We can’t do that sort of thing anymore, we were told no, no, no, NO!’

‘Ha, timid little thing aren’t you? I have nothing to fear, so if I want to curse that exquisite creature’s cheating husband and turn him into a fish, then I damn well will!’

‘Oh no, don’t tell me, you’ve fallen for the human haven’t you? The one who comes here every day and looks down from that bridge and stares into the foaming waters? You love her! You can’t do that, you can’t love a human! They’re the problem!’

‘Silly little tweeting nonsense! She’s praying to me every morning, that’s why I’ve grown so strong, can’t you see it? It’s her who loves me! She tells me her woes, about her husband who is cheating on her and how she rues the day she married him. Well, I can do something about that for her and turn him into a little fish so one of your little feathered friends can dip into the water, pluck him out, and swallow him whole!’

‘That’s truly, awfully, simply terrible! You just can’t, please don’t even try, you’ll be vaporised, your waters will dry up and where will my dippers catch their food? They have young!’

‘There she is now, standing proud in worship on the highest point of the bridge, praying to me, arms open wide! She loves me.’

‘Why is she climbing onto the wall? Are you doing something?’

‘She just wants a better look at me, to pray to me more deeply, to make me stronger so my curse will be effective immediately. Can’t you hear her? She adores me. She is begging for me to envelop her and care for her as my obedient servant for all time.’

‘Oh, that didn’t seem right. How is that going to help? Can you hear me? I said, how is that going to help?’

‘Stop chattering! You heard her didn’t you? Loud and clear? She wanted me and not him.’

‘But the curse? You were going to curse her husband? Turn him into a fish?’

‘I decided not to do it after all, she sort of cursed him herself as she flew down to my feet so there was no point. It would have been a waste of my powers. However, I’m not quite sure what to do with her now. Now the plans have changed.’

‘Maybe just move her downstream a bit. No-one will suspect a thing.’

Hush

on cycling one day without my hearing aids in

The skylark ascends
in a silent, vertical line,
oyster-catchers flap
in noiseless distress
while quiet lapwings bomb
as I pass close to their nests
oblivious to their song.

I cycle slowly past
fields of voiceless sheep
and cars follow me
trying to overtake
but I’m deaf to their rush
as the countryside falls silent
as though someone called, ‘hush’.

The Squirrel

She watches it for a while as it scurries from the base of one tree to the next. It stands up on its hind legs and seems to sniff the air for a moment then continues to rummage around the fallen leaves. Eventually it scurries so close to her legs she feels she could bend down and touch it. Carefully she reaches into her handbag and pulls out her phone, taps in her pass code and then on the camera icon. She slowly raises her arm to point the camera at the squirrel just as it moves off. She has to turn slightly to her right as she swivels to follow it so she can get it in the frame properly. She feels a tap on her left ear.

‘Oh my goodness I’m so sorry’, he says. ‘I was so intent on trying to get a picture of that squirrel I didn’t realise I was so close’.

‘That’s ok’, she says and smiles. ‘I was trying to do the same’, and laughs.

‘I’m Gordon’, he says. ‘My wife used to come here and feed these little blighters all the time when she was alive. I love to come and watch them still’.

‘Mary’, she says. ‘I lost my husband last year. He wasn’t one for parks my Fred’.

The squirrel disappears behind a tree, content.

A Chip off the Old Bookshop

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He watched them for a while as they chatted, pointing to the windows, gesturing with wide arms as though measuring the walls and imagining them different. Occasionally they would glance over conspiratorially as though their presence had somehow managed to remain undecipherable, their secret plans buried and hidden amongst the piles of unsorted books.

‘Can I help you gentlemen?’, he finally asked and put his mug down on the counter, placing a bookmark neatly into the fold of what he had been reading, closing it, and placing it next to his mug.

Startled, the two young men looked at one another and slowly and nervously scuffled towards the counter, as though they had just been summoned by the headmaster.

‘Is there a particular book you are after?’. He looked from one to the other. Both wore almost identical ill-fitting navy-blue suits and, although both lads were quite slim, they seemed to have selected shirts too tight so that their buttons strained allowing glimpses of pale flesh beneath. The jackets were so tight they’d never fasten to cover the strain. And their sleeves were too short. And so were their over-tight trousers. One wore socks with some kind of logo on them. He was facing two boys who couldn’t even dress themselves properly and one was wearing children’s socks. Was this fashion or just pure and simple stupidity? He smiled.

‘I noticed you were in the fiction section’, he leaned over the counter and nodded over to his left. ‘It’s just that the children’s books are over there. Lots of pictures.’ He added and smiled again.

The two navy suits looked a little annoyed, realising they were perhaps being insulted. ‘We’re not here to buy your books old man, we’re here to buy your shop!’, the one with logos spouted.

Unmoved, he picked up his cup and took a sip, ‘I didn’t realise I was selling it’.

Logo Man, clearly the main voice of the navy twins, grew agitated and, now their purpose for visiting the shop was out in the open, vented his invisible boss’s anger. ‘You’re going to have to close sooner or later, you can’t survive here, in this spot, it’s in a prime location and my firm will give you a really good price. You know that, we’ve been sending you proposals for the best part of a year.’

‘I’m not selling.’

‘See you?’, the non-logo man dug into his pocket and brought out a small micro-disk. ‘See this place? See all these books? I can have them all on this tiny little disk, I don’t need your shop, people don’t need your shop, nobody reads books anymore. You’re just wasting everyone’s time and you’re not doing yourself any favours trying to stay open when you know you can’t. You’ll have to close sooner or later.’

Logo Man looked disappointed in his twin. ‘Well, we’ll send some papers through for you to have a look at with our latest offer’, and with that he turned to leave, his companion fumbling with his pockets, following.

Picking up his reading material again, opening it and removing the bookmark, he looked around his shop momentarily before continuing to read from where he had been interrupted, though having time to call after the Navy Twins without looking up to see if it had any effect, ‘I have colouring-in books as well’.

It was a good read this, a really good proposal to enhance the bookshop and put in a small coffee bar at the main front window. It was a surprisingly good idea, considering where the proposal came from, and it should do really well with a bit of work, he could see that. And, it would be one way of finally being allowed to put, ‘& Son’, after the shop name at long last.