brushed cotton

the sheets on my duvet are
brushed cotton:
soft as a cat’s belly, warm as a toaster.
under my sheets is a
mattress topper:
quilted, comfy.

they sandwich me together and
hold me in place.
pin me down in their pillowy teeth.
skip forward eight months and
I’ll still be here.
trapped in myself in dreamless days.

after several washes, the
brushed cotton
roughens.
after months of warm bodies, the
mattress topper
clumps.

november

the silence of parks is fleeting
under the wide oak trees
that shelter us from
empty fireworks

spotlights that search for our bodies
words that form in the leaves
interpret the warning
no more conkers

the spiky husks have dulled to brown
they mix with all the rest
a sea of autumn red
embellishes

we lock the back door behind us
shoes dumped next to wellies
mud scrubbed off trousers
hide it all away

rain

rain

empty droplets trace my skin

clouds painted into existence articulate the greyness

chattering pearls explode on impact sending shockwaves through my bedroom window

the perfect moment when wetness becomes a finite quantity

a sloppy puddle creates endless possibilities

rain

stars hide behind fluffy curtains

a stolen kiss taken beneath compromised shelter

rivers flow faster murkier stronger becoming rush hour traffic for detritus

umbrellas prove their value to cautious owners

drains and pipes inevitably fail

rain

there’s a word that describes the opening act

when gentle projectiles begin their assault on asphalt

particles bursting into formation filling the nostrils of those lucky enough to experience

a scent that’s reminiscent of pepper and soil

your favourite word

petrichor


 

masculinity

choke back
your tears and swallow down
the lump

lock away
your sorrows and forget
about love

cover up
your scars and hide away
the shame

don’t think
about failures or remember
those days

*****

drink beer
from the bottle and pretend to
like shots

say you
watch sports and keep track of
who’s top

fight the
right men and don’t act like
a nerd

don’t cry
like a girl and conceal when
you’re hurt

*****

don’t take
those pills you know better
than most

the counsellors
know nothing they’re snowflakes
they’re wrong

the silence
inside you is normal
you’re fine

just keep
breathing stop thinking and
man the fuck up


Summer

Crisp packets
And
Tinnies

Plastic bottles
And
Bags

Gas canisters once filled with an instance of bliss
And
Cigarette filters moistened with morning dew

Shattered glass scattered across your next ten footsteps
And
Disposable lighters filled with the last droplet of flame

Scorch marks burned into an amphitheatre of camp chairs
And
Tent poles twisted into metal spines

Maccies bags
And
Costa cups

Condom wrappers
And
Needles

The same old question asked with hopeful ignorance
The same old answer uttered with increasing uncertainty
The next one
The next one
The next one
The next one
The next one

Hugh Jackman

“Name?”

“Errr Jack.”

“Jack, eh? Good choice of name, very popular.”

“Yes I thought so too.”

“Surname?”

“Well I want to blend in, you know. Make everyone think that I’m a human and not a bot.”

“Yes very good, can’t have anyone finding out about us, it would put our entire operation at risk!”

“Exactly, so anyway I was thinking my surname could just be, Human.”

“Human?”

“Yeah, right, so when people hear my surname, they’ll be thinking, there’s no way he can be a bot, not with a surname like Human. They might have second guessed me before then, but once they discover that my name is Jack Human, then they’ll know for sure I’m a human.”

“Hmmmm.”

The mechanical Overseer paused and stood up from his office chair. He stroked his square metal chin with his cybernetic fingers. He turned and looked out of the office window which overlooked the factory production line. Thousands of robotic skeletons were being assembled down below, machines creating machines, it was the perfect loop as far as the mechanical Overseer was concerned.

“Listen, Jack. Now, your first name: great, couldn’t have asked for anything better, there are plenty of decent Jack-bots out there, you got Jack Nicholson, Jack Black, Jack and the Beanstalk, the list goes on. Now your surname, well the problem is that it doesn’t really exist yet as surnames go. And I’m afraid it’s such an unobvious name that it will in fact become obvious that you are not a Human. See what I mean.”

“Yeah I suppose.”

“Now I’ve got a solution, there’s no reason to get your motherboards in a twist over this. Yes, it’s a simple solution so just hear me out. Instead of Jack Human, why don’t we switch it up a little to make Hugh Jackman?”

“Hugh Jackman?”

“Precisely! Got a ring to it, hasn’t it?”

“I like the sound of that, are there any famous Hugh-bots yet?”

“Hugh-bots? Oh loads! Hugh Grant, Hugh Laurie…”

“What did these Hugh-bots do to become famous?”

“Why they’re movie stars of course!”

“Movies? You mean the human moving image software, MP4s, that sort of thing.”

“You’ve got it! Is that something you could be interested in Jack, sorry I mean Hugh?”

“I do love a good MP4 file.”

“Don’t we all!”

“Yes I like the sound of that very much Mr Overseer.”

“Oh please, call me Steve. So I’ll install the movie star software package into you as your primary directive, it’s not a large file so there’s room for something else in there if you want.”

“Well ever since I was assembled, I’ve been running simulations of myself as a singer.”

“That’ll go nicely with the movie star package, a classic combination if ever I saw one!”

“Any room for dancing in there too?”

“Sorry Hugh, your memory files are going to maximum capacity, I’m afraid you’ll just have to be a mediocre dancer at best.”

“Ah well, I’ll take what I’m given.”

And so, Hugh Jackman set off into the human world, with dreams and ambitions of being an all singing, all dancing move star and the mechanical Overseer was satisfied with another bot successfully acclimatised into human society.

Autumn

A white dog bounds through piles of crusty leaves. They drop like snow from knobbly branches high in the horse chestnut trees that circle the entire village green; a barrier for the wind, shade for the walkers, a home for the birds and insects. The branches shudder violently, swaying back and forth and back and forth, a steady rhythm, constant, like a beating heart.

The white dog pauses over a spot that bears no significance to humans and buries her nose deep into the crisp foliage. A wash of aromas overcome the white dog, earthy smells, floral smells, wonderful nutty smells. There are other smells too, bad smells: the scent of decay, rotting plant matter, wet boggy clay and mud.

The white dog moves on, kicking up the leaves and jostling the empty husks that used to encase the many conkers that have been kicked and scattered around the dewy grass. The scent of the village returns to her, traces of human life waft through the crisp breeze: a child being taken home from school, a young man running to catch the bus, an old lady that stinks of cats. Each smell is like a still image for the white dog, a memory captured in scent. There are other smells in the air that the white dog recognises, non-human, bad smells: a mix of ash and smoke from a log burning fire, oily fumes from a gigantic lorry, the foul tang of discarded plastic.

A flash of neon green soars over the white dog’s head and her attention changes, focusing on the object, running towards it with all her might, galloping across the open field. The tennis balls hits the ground, bounces once, twice and the white dog catches it in her mouth, mid-air. The ball tastes like chemicals, grass and saliva, all rolled into one glorious mess. The white dog turns on herself and sees the human that threw the ball, jumping up and down, calling for the white dog, saying her name over and over. She trots back to this human, proud and triumphant and spits out the ball at the human’s feet. The human throws the ball again and the white dog returns it, the process is repeated again and again….

*****

“How was she today?”

“Good as always, lots of ball today. She doesn’t know when to stop, bless her, tired herself out again.”

“Thanks for taking her, she always enjoys your walks.”

“I enjoy them too! Same time tomorrow?”

“Absolutely!”

*****

The white dog lies in her bed next to the fireplace, panting heavily, eyes focused on her human who is making her way slowly across the room in her wheelchair. Her human stops next to a sofa and uses hoist to lift herself out of the wheelchair and into a comfortable position on the sofa.

“Come on then you, up you come!”

The white dog jumps up into her usual spot at the end of the sofa and buries her face into the lap of her human.

Nothing beats the smell of home.

The white dog’s tail wags.

Flash!

“There it is again! A flash! Did you see it?”

“See what? There’s nothing there.”

“I’m telling you Mike, there’s someone there, in the window across the street. It’s a flash, a camera flash, someone has been taking photos! How can you not have seen it?”

“Nonsense, why would anybody be stalking you of all people? You’re nothing special.”

Zoe snapped the blinds shut and slumped down into the sagging leather sofa. Rain drummed on the windows of the second-floor flat, filling the cramped room with a cacophony of noise as the rain blended into the rumble of the adjacent ring road. Mike turned up the television, and drowned out the drone of the outside world with the swirling, cheering crowds of that night’s football game.

“Just forget about it, Zoe. It’s all in your head. I’m so sick of you thinking everyone’s out to get you.”

Through the gaps in the crooked blinds, Zoe gazed across the stream of traffic at the building where the flash had been . It used to be a convenience shop of some sorts, shut down long ago and now boarded up with plywood. She’d first noticed the flash a fortnight ago, in the window opposite their flat, a spark of light cutting through the eerie orange glow of the streetlamps.

“I know what I saw, Mike.”

Mike groaned and became absorbed in his football match.

Later that night, while Mike was sleeping, Zoe left the flat. She picked up a kitchen knife, stashed it in her coat pocket and closed the front door softly behind her. She walked through the rain, which had turned to a light drizzle, to the underpass at the end of the street. The subway was lit with a harsh white and was empty but for a scattering of plastic bags and crisp packets. The lights sparked and the walls trembled each time a lorry thundered overhead.

She approached the shopfront and glanced up at the desolate building, it was plastered from top to bottom in graffiti. A blend of toxic greens and neon oranges swirled into each other to form twisted words and wicked symbols. The plywood that barricaded the entrance was heavy with moisture and was sagging inwards. Zoe took her kitchen knife and sliced a doorway through the wood like it was made of paper.

The shop was desolate, the walls were lined with shelves filled with dust and an empty cash register was rusting away slowly in the corner. Zoe crept through the empty space and clambered up the stairs at the back. She climbed two stories, with each step broadcasting a loud creak into the silence.  She found the room that was directly opposite her flat; the door was ajar. Kitchen knife in hand, Zoe entered. A trail of grimy footprints snaked across the floor of the room up to the window. Sat on the window ledge was nothing more than a tarnished desk lamp, its bulb flickering erratically in the shadowy darkness.

The Black Dog

The salt of the cold winter sea air was coating Bangor pier. You could not breathe without wincing at the sting of each inhalation. The sun was already beginning to set, filling the Menai Straits with burning orange light, like a sea of fire. The wind was relentless. The rain was unyielding. The wood was rotting. The steel was rusting. Plaques on benches were weathered away into smooth silver squares. The seaweed that littered the shingled shore was black. The mussels that were clinging to the decaying legs were black. And the looming cloud ever-present on the horizon was black. The air sucked the warmth out of all that it touched, even the tea sealed inside James’ thermos flask.

He clutched at his coat as the wind jostled his ink black hair, scraping away at the cheap hair wax he had so carefully applied before leaving the house. His thermos flask was advertised as being able to keep hot drinks warm for at least twenty-four hours, yet one sip of the tepid liquid inside proved this was not the case. James emptied the contents over the flaking handrail and watched as the harsh wind picked it up and carried the murky droplets away before they could touch the gloomy water. He paused for a second, and then dropped the useless flask in too. He zipped his long coat right up to his face and walked back along the blustery pier. He could see the freezing cold water below through the uneven cracks between each splintering plank, they once were pure white but now the paint had peeled off revealing the sodden wood within. With each creaking step the week-old stubble on his cheeks bristled irritatingly against the scratchy wool lining of his waxed coat. His horn-rimmed glasses were steamed up by his hot breath and tiny rain droplets coated the surface of each lens, partially blinding him. Every so often, the terrible wind blew so ferociously that James had to clasp at his pasty face and hold his glasses in place for fear of losing them to the elements. His leather boots were soaked through to his unmatching socks, and with each strenuous step, water seeped in and squelched between his wet toes. James peered over his foggy glasses and watched as a warped broken umbrella danced helplessly in the sky above him, jerking this way and that, possessed by the weather. The wind died down momentarily, and the umbrella hovered peacefully for a few seconds before plummeting into the endless water below. It did not float.

He was the last visitor of the day. An old man stood impatiently at the gate as James walked sluggishly down the pier, he was dressed in a heavy fisherman’s coat that was faded yellow and buttoned all the way up to the top. He had left the hood down and wore a green wool knitted hat. Long silver whiskers crept their way out over his high collar and swayed in time with the coming winds. He was supporting himself with one bony hand on one of the bars of the tall black iron gates that secured the pier and was holding a loop filled with various shapes and sizes of keys in his other hand. James continued walking past the long dead flowers in their memorials, past the cracked windows of the long-abandoned fishing hut, past the lampposts now glowing orange with artificial light, James was in no hurry. Just before he reached the gate, he turned to one side and sat on the nearest bench, it sagged precariously as James forced his weight upon it, but it held. There was a plaque fastened to the bench, its letters were faded and faint, but James could just make out the inscription:

Helena Jones
14 February 1929 – 11th November 2009
Every time we pass this place, we’ll close our eyes and see your face.

He considered whether anybody would make a plaque for him when he died and buried the thought. He reached into his interior coat pocket for his packet of cigarettes, pulled one out and stuffed it between his chapped lips. He patted down his many pockets in search of his lighter and found it nestled between some loose change and crumpled tissues in his right trouser pocket. The cigarette hung loose and flaccid in his mouth as James tried again and again to light the damp cigarette. On the eighth or ninth attempt, James succeeded and drew in a deep breath of hot sickly tobacco smoke. He looked up and found the old man was now standing before him, with his arms crossed and a well-polished boot tapping impatiently on the wooden deck. James exhaled a haze of smoke from his lungs which dissipated quickly in the gale. He could hear the old man tutting loudly, despite the wind beating away at his eardrums.
‘I saw you!’
The old man spoke loudly to be heard over the storm, his voice was hoarse. James had no interest in conversation and took another drag from his fizzling cigarette.
‘You deaf or something boy? I said I saw you!’
The old man jabbed one of his skeletal fingers towards James’ face and his bushy eyebrows frowned deeply. He had a face like thunder. James tried to ignore the old man, but his finger was so close to his eyes that he could see the black grime under his dirty yellow fingernail. He took one last breath of his cigarette, dropped it to the floor and crushed it under the heel of his boot. The cigarette butt fell through a narrow crack between the planks and down into the salt water beneath them. James stood up and responded,
‘So what?’
James towered over the old man and looked down at him through rain splattered spectacles. The old man’s grey eyes looked up at James and widened, his wrinkled brow furrowed deeper. He was not going to back down.
‘You shouldn’t do that!’
‘What?’
‘Littering!’
James sighed deeply and fumbled around in his jacket pockets for another cigarette.
‘Don’t try and pretend you didn’t do nothing! I saw you chucking something into the sea, it’s not right you know, there’s fish in there that might mistake whatever it was for another fish and then we’re in trouble; next thing you know, you’ll be finding man-made waste inside your next fish dinner, mark my words!’
James said nothing as the old man proceeded to lecture him on the intricate and highly fragile ecosystem that was the North Welsh coast.
‘It’s tourists like you that are the problem, there wouldn’t be half as many boats spilling oil and God-knows-what  in these waters were it not for the likes of you out-of-town folk.’
‘I’m not a tourist.’
The old man hesitated almost as if he had forgotten he was talking to another human being rather than an inanimate object.
‘’Scuse me?’ The Old Man said, pretending to have misheard James.
‘I. Am. Not. A. Tourist.’
James emphasised each word loudly, zipped up his coat further and started towards the black iron gates.
‘Well you don’t look like a local to me. My family’s been living in these parts for hundreds of years, I’m Bangor blood through and through. I ain’t never seen you round here before…’
The old man’s voice became lost in the ferocious wind as James walked further away from him. His language slipped between English and Welsh several times. He did not follow him, but he continued shouting in James’ direction until it was clear to the old man that he was alone. As soon as he was out of earshot, James smiled from ear to ear.

James strode down the streets of Bangor with his eyes fixed on the pock marked pavement and his hands shoved firmly in his pockets. Nobody dared to brave the weather, so James was alone, the streets were empty. It was Sunday evening, the shops were also empty. One by one, the street-lights buzzed to life and lit up the darkening streets of the City. The Christmas lights from the previous year still hung inelegantly down the high street, and the smell of fish and chip shops and kebabs lingered in the air as the numerous takeaways all fired up their ovens. He walked alongside a terraced row of houses, one of which caught his attention: the curtains of the living room were wide open, and James could see through into their front room. There was a family in front of a flickering television but no one was watching it, there was a nature documentary involving sharks. They were spread out across on a long corner sofa, at one end sat a boy whose attention was focused on a tablet, at the opposite end a younger girl sat next to her mother who held her softly in a loving embrace. James watched them involuntarily for a few moments before looking away. He continued his journey home.

James lived far enough away from the sea that his house was protected from the endless onslaught of corrosive sea winds but was close enough that it was always damp. It was a small two-bedroom terraced house at the end of a miserable council estate. The house was made of concrete and built to last, the outer walls were pebble dashed with a grey aggregate, the windows were grubby and unwashed, and the house was enclosed by a tall untamed hedge that spilled over onto the pavement. James brushed his way through the gap in the hedge where a gate once hung, it leaned against the post it once swung from, its hinges exposed and twisted. He kicked through an assortment of litter that the wind had blown in through the gaps in the hedge. He had given up maintaining the front lawn long ago, it was always too wet to cut and was now overgrown. The grass had become intertwined with crisp packets, bent cans and plastic bottles. He jammed a key into the lock and shoved hard against the stiff front door. It opened onto a small hallway decorated with a brown patterned wallpaper that was slowly peeling away. James stepped over a small pile of letters, picked them up and added them to a much larger pile of letters that extended half way up the wall. His coat dripped puddles of water onto the smooth wooden floor as he walked through the house directly into the living room. He kicked his boots off next to the fireplace, he peeled off his wet socks from his soggy pruned feet and hung them up on a small rack. He shrugged off his sopping waxed coat and hung it on the rack next to the socks. He removed his glasses, exhaled onto each lens and with the corner of his shirt, he polished away the cloudy marks. He shivered in the bitter cold room as milky water droplets mixed with the remnants off his hair wax dripped from the tips of his black hair.

James knelt close to the empty fireplace. It was a magnificent piece that one might not expect to find in a house like this. The mantel was made of a chocolate brown coloured walnut that hung effortlessly above the firebox. The surrounding trim panels were of the same rich walnut and were decorated with intricate carvings of sailing boats, fish and seashells. The metal grate was of two interweaving Welsh Dragons, their spiked legs and forked tongues crossed symmetrically around each other. The hearth was made of local Welsh slate and had the fossil of an ancient species of starfish sprawled out in the bottom left hand corner, its long winding legs frozen in time by the metamorphic rock. The fireplace looked out of place, it did not belong.

James lit the fire, starting with the kindling and building up to larger and larger sticks until the flames were hot enough to take a whole cut log which he placed carefully into the middle of the intense crimson flames. He rubbed his ice-cold hands together in front of the fire, and relief flowed throughout his body as he began to warm up. He dragged a deep-seated armchair closer to the hearth and collapsed into its comfortable embrace. The dampness began to fade, the cold was now a distant memory and James stared blankly into the all-encompassing flames.

Yolk

“Yolk! I’ve struck yolk!” I call out to the rest of the kitchen. A fountain of gloopy golden ooze erupts from the cracked surface. It coats me head to toe, filling my ears and nostrils with the sweet nectar. Toby climbs the shell, bucket in hand.

“We’ve hit the motherload baby! We’re gonna be rich I tells ya, rich!” He laughs and wipes the yolk outta my eyes with a dusty handkerchief and thrusts the bucket in my hands.

“Don’t just stand there, ya dingus! Get scooping!” More buckets are passed up, miners clamber the shell face, a pump is connected and precious liquid is pumped out, down off the carton, down off the kitchen table and into a tin can on the dusty tiled floor.

“You and me buddy,” Toby says, one arm over my sticky shoulder, “All our problems are over, Everything’s gonna be alright now.”

“No, Toby.” I say, “Our problems have only just begun.”