Monday, 18 June 2018

Ben-Gurion On The Hill

by Neta Shlain

water

David looked up at the grey sandy hill with its poorly scattered vegetation, saltbushes mostly, and wiped his bald head. What was left of his once marvellous mane now tickled the inside of his ears with wetness. Sun was getting high; he placed the cap back on and began ascending followed closely by ministers of defence and agriculture.
     David might’ve not been a man of grand height yet his physical abilities could be compared to the more agile and much younger members of the Knesset, not that there were many of them. Quickly moving his short legs, he felt a sense of freedom rising in his chest, that same freedom that most of his dear ones left in Poland were denied. Tears welled up, he inhaled deeper and fastened his step still followed closely by the overly tired ministers.
     Finally, they reached the top. ‘Here it is!’ David extended his hand exposing an armpit soaked with sweat. ‘Here it is,’ minister of defence collapsed on the dusty ground, ripping a bunch of leaves from the saltbush and placing them in his mouth to create saliva, another hand grabbing the chest. ‘What is this?’ Red like a crab, minister of agriculture pulled down his hat to hide his eyes from the sun.
     ‘Ha Negev, my friends. Nothing defines a human more than the ability to make wilderness arable.’

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Waking up to Life

Boris Glikman
drink: a cup of blackest coffee



A woman with a gun in her hand demands of me and my companions that we provide good reasons why life is worth living—otherwise she will terminate us.

I think to myself: This is the very question I have struggled with for so long and now I am being forced to provide a definitive answer. Do I make up some fancy reason and perhaps escape with my life? But if I lie, then my life is not really worth pursuing. 

How many times have I dreamed and read about this kind of a life-and-death situation and convinced myself that I thoroughly understood it, assumed that I knew exactly what it felt like? And now it has finally happened for real and this time I cannot wake up nor close the book. 

I realise that we all have to go some day, but no one can ever accept that it will happen to them. Death is something that happens only to other people. What a pity it would be to go on a brilliantly sunny day like this, when the whole world is pulsating with life and every cell of my body is screaming out with the desire to live. On a day like this, I want to shout out "I AM ALIVE!!!!!" from the top of the highest mountain. How much more fitting it would be to leave on a cloudy, sunless day with the sky shedding cold tears. No, this doesn't feel like the right time to die! But when is the right time to die? How can one tell that one has accomplished all that one can accomplish on this Earth? 

To make the most of my existence, I really should try to cram it all in, all of my life, into these last few remaining minutes, the way I used to try to squeeze in all of the information just before the start of the exams. Now is the time to live my life to the fullest degree, like I never bothered to before.

Yet this fear of death that I am feeling right now is out of all proportion to the joy and satisfaction that life has brought me so far. Why does my life seem so dear and precious to me now? Is it because only now, on the threshold of death, does the vision of ideal life appear  to me, life free of all the illusions that have previously brought me down, illusions that only the proximity of the end can destroy? Is it because that only now can I see life as it really is—cleansed of all the grime that besmirches and distorts its true visage, unshackled from all the trivial annoyances that make life such a tedious grind to bear in day-to-day existence? 

It is as if, during the day of my existence, life concealed her features with dowdy garb and only now, as midnight approaches, does she shed her frumpy dress and stand before me in all of her natural, radiant, shining glory, revealing her most intimate, most treasured, most beautiful secrets. 

In the distance, I see my friends being finished off—obviously their answers weren't good enough. Almost certainly they all used the "My life is unique" defence and it didn't work.

My thoughts are racing now, desperately searching for a solution: Should I make my reasons stand out from theirs? But I am a person just like them. Wouldn't making my reasons more striking imply that my life is more valuable?

But what does the tormentor want from us? Honest, straightforward replies or singular, elaborate explanations? How can one justify one's existence? Where does one begin? I have no need nor reason to justify my past, for it is already gone and she can't take it away from me. In any case, I am powerless to change it in any way, no matter how much regret I might have about my past actions, and so what is the point of trying to justify something that cannot be undone. Nor can I justify my future for it hasn't yet occurred and is therefore of unknown nature, lacking any reality. It follows then that I am only in a position to justify the now, the immediate moment during which I am alive. 

Should I appeal to her humanity, her compassion? But is there a more futile endeavour than trying to find a speck of goodness in the heart of a stranger? What is morality after all but some intangible, nebulous substance that we can only hope has found a safe refuge in the breast of fellow man. The only thing that prevents some total stranger from shooting you for no reason is a vague, insubstantial concept of conscience, invisible to the naked eye, as well as to any vision-enhancing instruments. That is all we can rely on for our protection from mortal harm. 

It is now my turn. I go in and face the interrogator. In a voice devoid of any tone, she commands me to present my case.

"Life is hard, really hard sometimes" I reply, "and a lot of times I don't want to go on struggling against the unyielding, overpowering forces. Yet I want to continue living. That is all I can say. I want to live."

The interrogator gazes at me with an empty, impermeable look—a look lacking any human expression, pondering her answer.

Just as she is about to make her pronouncement, I wake up to life.

About the author


BORIS GLIKMAN is a writer, poet and philosopher from Melbourne, Australia. The biggest influences on his writing are dreams, Kafka, Dali and Borges. His stories, poems


and non-fiction articles have been published in various online and print publications, as well as being featured on national radio and other radio programs.
 


Saturday, 16 June 2018

Chorus

by Roger Noons

a tot of rum


Seven minutes after leaving the car park, we had completed our review of the food and wine at Something Fishy; exhausted the comments about our fellow diners. I switched on the radio.

‘… ocean blue
and our saucy ship’s a beauty.
We’re sober men and true
and attentive to our duty.’

    After turning down the volume, I said. ‘This takes me back, Greg.’
    ‘Mmm.’
    ‘It was during that week’s performance of Pinafore that I discovered you.’ When there was no response, I continued. ‘We were so engrossed in each other, taking every opportunity back stage. I missed my cue twice on the Friday night, Prompt had to call me. Maurice was furious.’
    ‘Always took his productions seriously.’
    ‘Those bloody costumes, it was a devil’s own job to get my hand inside your trousers.’
    ‘I wasn’t in HMS Pinafore, Simon.’

Another piece from Roger, one of our regulars.

Friday, 15 June 2018

Icy Paradise




by Jo Dearden

frappuccino


The guide book blurb sounded promising:  A mountain train journey to an icy paradise. The hotel concierge was persuasive. ‘You can’t leave Interlaken without going up the Jungfrau. The views are quite spectacular. A breath-taking experience.’
The day began with breakfast on the terrace and the warm sun on their backs. It was still quite early but many of the other guests were also enjoying the delicious hot coffee and croissants looking out across the lake in front of the hotel. The water gently lapped against the wall below where John and Alice were sitting. Tinkling cow bells resounded in the clear, refreshing air. The tranquillity was intoxicating. No-one seemed to be in a hurry to get on with their day.
‘Switzerland has to be one of the most beautiful places on earth in the summer,’ Alice said as she gazed into the distance at the snow-capped mountains with lush green valleys below. ‘I’m so excited. Just being here is one of the best things I’ve ever done, but going to the top of the Jungfrau, well that must be on everyone’s bucket list’. John slowly sipped his coffee. He seemed slightly edgy this morning, not quite himself. Alice wasn’t sure. Perhaps she was imagining it.
            The small mountain railway station was packed with skiers. Alice felt out of place. Rucksacks, woolly hats, thick socks and sturdy boots were everywhere. The temperature outside was a pleasant 25 centigrade. Perhaps it would be cold at the top of the mountain. It hadn’t really occurred to either of them that they might need warm clothing. Alice wasn’t even wearing socks and her summer trousers suddenly seemed very thin and flimsy. She shivered. ‘Let’s come back tomorrow,’ she pleaded, but John had already bought their tickets.
Before she had time to think, the mountain train came bustling into the station. John pulled her through one of the doors and grabbed one of the double wooden slatted seats ahead of the woolly hat brigade. The train lurched forward with such a jolt that some of the rucksacks and skis clattered to the floor. Alice looked out of the window as the train trundled out of the station. Swiss chalets were dotted amongst grazing cattle in the ripe fields. Wild flowers cascaded down the hillsides like floral water falls.
In the distance Alice could make out a black shape in the side of a mountain. It beckoned eerily with its icy stare. ‘Look John.  Is that where we are going?’ she asked nervously.
‘Yes, I think so. The guide book said we would be travelling through the North face of the Eiger to get to the top of the Jungfrau.’
The sun disappeared behind a cloud as the train approached the gaping rocky hole. Some of the other passengers gasped as a gloomy darkness descended on the carriage. Alice clutched John’s arm. She felt claustrophobic travelling on the tube in London. How was she going to cope with this, she wondered? She closed her eyes as the train entered the mountain tunnel.
The interior lights flickered and came on. Sighs of relief could be heard as newspapers rustled, drink cans popped, and bags of sweets and crisps crackled. After a few minutes, the train jerked violently as it seemed to turn a sharp corner and slowed down to almost a walking pace. This was the narrow part, which Alice vaguely remembered reading about. She could hear a child crying at the end of the carriage. She looked out of the window. To her horror, all she could see was rock, brown, jagged and menacing. It appeared to be pressed up against the train. Any moment they would all be crushed to death.
Alice felt a few tears beginning to prick her eyes. John grasped her hand. ‘Don’t worry love. We’ll be there in a few minutes. Just think of the view.’
He was right. The train emerged from the blackness into dazzling daylight. They all tumbled out of the train, almost tripping over one another.
‘I feel as though I’ve been on a terrifying roller coaster ride,’ laughed Alice.
Exclamations in a variety of languages echoed round the tiny alpine station as the vast icy plateau greeted them. Its brilliant whiteness was blinding. John and Alice stepped gingerly onto the glittering snow. Skiers swished past them as they slithered in their inadequate summer shoes.
‘Let’s see if we can get some lunch over there,’ John pointed towards what looked like a restaurant in the distance.
‘But our feet will get wet. We shouldn’t have come John. We’re not wearing the right clothes.’
‘Oh, come on, we’re here now. Look there’s a path over there.’ John grasped Alice’s hand as he led her towards the building.
The warmth was overpowering as they staggered through the large glass doors. John managed to find them a window table. Alice kicked off her wet canvas shoes and glanced at the menu. John’s mobile started to ring. ‘There’s no signal here,’ he said as he got up from the table and walked towards the entrance.
Alice sat drinking a steaming cup of hot chocolate. She looked at her watch. John had been gone for nearly an hour. What was he doing? She went outside but knew she wouldn’t get far in her light summer clothing. She asked a few people if they had seen a tall, blonde slightly overweight 35-year-old man wearing khaki chinos and a denim shirt. As she stood shivering, wondering what to do, she heard a shout. A man had been found. He had slipped and broken his ankle.
The journey down the mountain was a hazy blur. An ambulance was waiting with its blue light flashing. As John was lifted up on a stretcher, his phone slipped out of his pocket. Alice picked it up. A message popped on to the screen. It was from someone called Jane: ‘I can’t wait to see you.’ There were several kisses underneath. Alice let go of the phone. The glass screen shattered as it hit the ground.

About the author


Jo Dearden trained as a journalist with the Oxford Mail and Times.  She did a degree in English Literature with creative writing as a mature student. She co-edited her local village newsletter for about ten years. She also worked for a number of years for the Citizens’ Advice Bureau. She is currently attending a creative writing class., which is stimulating her writing again. Jo lives in Suffolk.
 







Thursday, 14 June 2018

The Envelope

by Jenny Palmer  

wormwood

‘Open the envelope,’ said Leo, handing it to Romaine.
            ‘No. You open it,’ she said. ‘It’s for you anyway.’ 
‘Well, hang on a minute,’ he said. ‘I need to wash my hands first.’
It was an official-looking letter. Leo had an inkling of what it might be. He’d applied for a passport some time ago. After living and working in England all his adult life, he wanted to visit his country of origin before it was too late.  
When he’d first met Romaine, she’d been working in the community café down the High Street. That was in the days when there still was a community, before the area got divided up into postcodes and the kids started knifing each other.
The café had been her home from home. As well as serving food, there was a bookshop, literacy classes, a writing group, and twice a week they dished out free legal advice, which Leo had once had occasion to avail himself of. He’d stayed on to have a meal in the café and ever after that, whenever his shifts allowed.
‘Hurry up, will you?’ Romaine was shouting from the kitchen. ‘Dinner is nearly ready.’
He’d been looking forward to dinner with some anticipation. Of late Romaine had been experimenting with new recipes. She’d taken to watching cooking programmes on television and then trying out their suggestions. It meant searching around for ingredients and, as often as not, she would end up having to substitute them with something else. It defeated the purpose, he always thought. Of late her tastes were getting more and more outrageous. Last week he’d caught her watching a programme about Peruvian cooking, where they were serving piranha fish. The sight of those upturned fish heads on the plate, with their teeth baring, was enough to put anyone off.
The allotment was Leo’s solace. It took his mind off things, stopped him worrying about the sort of trouble his grandkids were getting drawn into. There were so many risks these days. You could be caught in the cross fire. It didn’t matter if you were the innocent party or not. And you could get stopped and searched or hauled into the police station.
When he was still driving the buses, he’d got into the habit of putting a few hours in at the allotment after work. Now that he was retired, he could spend as much time as he wanted there. He’d always grown vegetables, like his grandmother back in Jamaica. The climate had been warmer there and she’d grown all sorts: yams, maize, bananas, mango. Here he was confined to potatoes, courgettes or cabbages. At least it saved Romaine a few trips to the market. 
He’d been thinking a lot about Jamaica lately. As kids they’d played outside from dawn to dusk. He went to the beach most days to meet up with his friends, when his grandmother wasn’t looking. They swam in the sea and swung in hammocks on the beach in the afternoon sun. They were long, hot days that stretched into warm, balmy evenings. Later he sat on the veranda watching the sun go down, while his grandmother chatted idly to the neighbours.  He would have been perfectly happy, if only his mother and father hadn’t gone off to live in that distant land England.
Eventually when he was ten, his parents had sent for him to come too. He’d travelled over with his Aunt Ada. All he could remember of those first few months in London was the feeling of disappointment and the cold that seeped into his bones. England wasn’t what it was cracked up to be. Besides he hardly ever saw his parents. His mother worked shifts in the hospital and his father worked on the buses all day long.
The family had lived in a bedsit then.  Once his little brother had come along, it was really cramped. He escaped downstairs to Aunt Ada’s, whenever they needed change for the electricity meter. Ada was the one who taught him how to take care of himself, how to avoid getting into trouble with the other kids. She insisted on him doing his homework. Once he’d passed his driving test, his future was secured. He’d work on the buses like his dad.
 ‘You could do worse,’ Aunt Ada had said. ‘It’s a steady job and there’s a good pension at the end of it.’
‘If I live long enough,’ he’d said.
His father had died before he’d even got to pension age. After that, his mother and Aunt Ada started going out together. They went up the West End to the Odeon Cinema at Leicester Square or shopping on Oxford Street. They’d been happy enough then. Neither of them considered going back. This was their home now. 
‘Your dinner is going to get cold,’ Romaine was shouting from the kitchen.
She was growing more impatient by the day ever since he’d started planning this trip.
‘It beats me why you want to go off half-way round the globe on some fool mission?’ she said. ‘It’s not as if you have any relatives over there anymore.’
‘Well, it’s different for you,’ he said. ‘You were born here. You don’t have the same memories.’
His parents had been invited over as Commonwealth citizens after the Second World War to help build up the mother country. He’d settled in eventually. He’d never wanted to go back until now. And had never known there was so much red tape involved in applying for a passport. He’d sent off everything he could think of to prove his identity: his photo, driving licence, his National Insurance number and copies of his household bills.
Finally, though, the waiting game was over, and it had arrived. He would go down the travel agent’s first thing in the morning and book the ticket. So, what if Romaine didn’t want to come with him? He’d go alone. And it didn’t matter that his grandmother wasn’t there any longer. He could still visit the places he’d known as a kid. Some of his old friends would be around. He was really looking forward to it now. It would be the trip of a lifetime.
The smell of jerk chicken and peas was wafting in from the kitchen. Romaine had come up trumps.  It was his favourite. Soon, he would be sitting and eating with his friends in the old country. It was time to open the envelope.  
‘What is it?’ cried Romaine, as Leo collapsed onto a chair, the blood draining
from his face. 
She picked up the letter and read it out.
Unfortunately, we are unable to grant you a passport at this stage. We
require further evidence of your status as a British citizen. Unless you can provide us with your landing card, we will have no alternative but to deport you back to your home country.’
‘But they can’t do that!’ she cried out. ‘This is your home. You’re not an illegal immigrant.’
‘I was a kid when I came here. I’ve never even seen a landing card,’ he managed. ‘They’ve shifted the goal posts. How can they do that?’

About the author

Jenny Palmer is the author of two memoirs ‘Nowhere better than home’ and ‘Pastures New’ and a family history ’Whipps, Watsons and Bulcocks.’ Her new collection of short stories ’Keepsake’ is to be published soon by Bridge House publications 

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

A Small Lie

by Andrea Williams 

a glass of chilled cider

When I arrived at work on Tuesday, I was called into the office first thing.
“This is your last written, official, warning, Jones.  You’ve been late 43 times since January, and despite you saying that you know how essential your job is to keeping the warehouse running, you keep on turning up late.  Not a couple of minutes, not a missed bus worth, but half a morning late.  So late we have to pull in other people from their jobs. We can’t rely on you.  Well, unless you’re here on time every day for the next month, its P45 time for you.  Is that clear?  Is there owt you want to say?”
“No, sorry, I understand.”  
Silence.  Really there was plenty I wanted to say, but you can’t, so you don’t, do you?  I wanted to say something like ‘Your job is so boring and repetitive and gives no job satisfaction, and I can’t stand the idea of working for such a misogynistic bullying dinosaur who doesn’t value the people or provide any training or encouragement to do well.’ 
But you can’t really say that can you?  So I tried to look sorry, and trudged back to my airless, windowless cubicle to fiddle with the computer keyboard and keep the forklifts moving.  It’s a job, and it pays the rent, and it pays for the fishing tackle, and the bait, and the waterproofs, and if I close my eyes in my cubicle I can imagine I’m somewhere else.  Like maybe out on the point, after a good nor’easter, and the fish are biting, and the surf’s up enough to take the line way out to where they feed on the flood tide.  
“Billy - wake up man,  where’s the next picking note.”  An angry voice called me back.  “You just ‘fish’ out another for me, and stop ‘flounder’ing about. The ‘plaice’ is going to pieces. Get your ‘skates’ on, we’re all getting a bit ‘crabby’ out here, ”  he said, and I could see half the drivers stood round with big smirks - they knew what was going on. 
“Here, five more for you.  You’re too slow, they’re stacking up.”  I said, and went back to daydreaming the day away.  

I managed to get up early and be on the early bus for the next 11 days.  Then I went fishing, off the beach, on a flood tide, and what a night it was.  Ended up in the dark, wearing a lamp to see by, and every time I cast, I seemed to catch something.  I should have stopped sooner, because when I’d packed up and hiked back with the gear, and nearly three stone of fish, I’d missed the last bus.  
Next morning, I’d slept in.  Now what?  When I go to work, I’ll get sacked for sure.  I need some excuse that’ll work.  I thought up the best I could think, then phoned in, sounding as if I cared.
“Billy Jones here, Mr Williams, yes, yes, sorry, I know what you said last time, but you’ve seen I’ve turned over a new leaf, and its just, well, you see me Mam died, and I’m at the hospital, and I’d have phoned you, but I’ve just now had chance, and I know what you said, so if you want to sack me, then I’ll understand.”  I thought that that last bit was real good, then I thought fast and added, “and I’ll need to ask for some time off for the arrangements and the funeral too, so just go ahead and sack me if you want.”   There was a silence, his angry remarks at the start had stopped, and his voice had changed.
“You say your Mam just died?”
“Yes Mr Williams, I’m very sorry I didn’t have chance to ask for the time off.”
“Don’t worry about that lad, a bit sudden was it?”
“Yes Mr Williams, she’s been having problems for a while,” and I thought quick again, “I didn’t want to say anything before, in case you thought I was trying to make excuses.”  That got him, his voice softened.
“You should have told us, Billy man, we’d have let you have some time off if you needed it.  Just take as long as you need, and be in on Thursday.”  
‘That’s great,’ I thought, still got a job and a whole two days off.  So I went fishing. 

Thursday morning came, and I made sure to be on time.  Clocked in and went to the cubicle on the far side of the loading bay.  It was full of flowers.  Well, not full exactly, but there were two bunches, and a few envelopes with my name on.  They had sympathy cards, saying ‘sorry for your loss’ and so on.  I’d barely got sat down when Sheila came in from the office.  I like Sheila, well I would if she’d let me, but whenever I’d spoken to her before she did her best to ignore me.
“Billy love, I was right sorry to hear about your mam.  Tell us what happened.”  
I wasn’t ready for that.  Had no story prepared.  I thought I’d just wangled a couple of days off, kept my job, and got away with it, but she wanted details, and seeing as she worked for Mr Williams, I knew it had to be convincing, ‘cos it was going right back to him. I took a gulp and started inventing.  
“Well, she’s been badly for a while,”  thinking to myself, ‘about twelve years since we waved her off at the crematorium,’  “but lately she’s been getting sicker, and I didn’t like to say much.”  And then I had a flash of pure genius.  "It was ‘women’s troubles’ if you know what I mean, and she didn’t like to talk about it, so I used to just say that I’d missed my bus or slept in so as to keep it a bit, well, quiet like - for her sake - you know.”  That worked, I could tell by her expression.  When Williams heard that, I might even get a few credits back.  Then, disaster.
“I’m not sure I know what you mean, Billy, what sort of troubles?”  
Well I have no idea what it could be that could kill her, I only knew that there was a whole area of medicine I overheard bits of down at the pub that were ‘women's troubles’ - I was just hoping some of them could kill a man - well, kill a woman, that is.  
“They didn’t explain, exactly, just said they couldn’t operate or do anything.” and I added  “It was very sudden, and she went peacefully.” 
“Such  a shame for you. How old was she?” 
How old? how old?  how would I know?  If she was 57 twelve years ago when she died, and just died now, she’d have to be… what’s 57 and twelve.. quick.. she’s looking at me… 
“Sixty eight.” I said, then got the right answer, “Sixty nine.” I corrected myself, and thought,  ‘Phew, close shave there.’  Then I realised I could have said forty three or fifty two and she wouldn’t have known, and I might have got more sympathy.    
“And when’s the funeral dear?  I’m sure Mr Williams would like one or two of us to come along and show some support for you.”   ‘Oh no’ I thought, how can I get out of that - play for time.
“I…, I…, I’m not sure yet, they want to do a post mortem, so I can’t say when, yet.”  Sheila gave me a bit of a look, so I thought I needed to add some more, “There was something about it being so sudden, like, so they just needed to find out more.”  Her face cleared, almost, and she turned to go, then said, over her shoulder,
“Well, as soon as you find out, be sure to let us know, so we can arrange something.”  and she left the cubicle, which suddenly seemed to got very hot.  

Anyone know where can I find a spare funeral at a couple of days notice?  

About the author

When not writing Andrea makes furniture, repairs dry stone walls, and enjoys Northumbria.