‘There’s T-shirts! We get T-shirts!’ Kaitlyn’s excitable squeals rose above the chatter as we emptied the contents of the box onto our assigned table. She held the emerald T to her front, admiring the stitching of the golden logo on the chest. University of Winchester Foundation Music, with a shining treble-clef and the words MUSIC MAKER on the back, in the same shimmering thread.
‘Oh, it’s gorgeous. We’ll take it in turns to change, I’ll be back in a minute.’ And with that, she flew out the door, practically tugging off her clothing as she went.
Kaitlyn and I had both been asked to represent FM at the Applicant’s Open Day that Saturday morning, and had arranged to meet at reception to retrieve the box of leaflets and instructions for the day. I arrived at six minutes to nine, bleary eyed and yawning, expecting to have a couple of minutes to grab a cup of strong tea from the machines; living in student digs means being kept up until 2am by the flat upstairs playing beer-pong or deciding to hoover their room above your head in the early hours of the morning. To my surprise, Kaitlyn bounded towards me with the box already clutched in her hands and a large grey bag, much like one that carries golf clubs, slung over her shoulder.
‘Are you excited?’
‘I am. Come on, you can carry this.’ Continue reading “Mother Knows Best”
This piece of writing stemmed from a guided-write that I participated in during the second semester of my Creative Writing degree. We were played a selection of songs and each one inspired where the story would be taken. Two songs that jump out in this piece are Hall & Oates’ You Make My Dreams and David Bowie’s Life on Mars.
Really interesting and inspiring technique for those struggling with writer’s block! Enjoy…
Continue reading “The One Night Stand”
When I was younger, my favourite toy was a cardboard box. If I was faced with a Barbie, a remote controlled car, a bear and a box, I’d choose the box. I once made a cash machine with individual cardboard debit cards for each member of my family, their little faces painstakingly biro-d on as if they were also ID cards. I made paper bank notes and advice slips, which read somewhere along the lines of ‘eat more greens’ and ‘trim your toenails’.
I would slip my cardboard creation over my head and sit inside with a torch and all my paper ready. Each slot I’d cut had a post-it on the inside telling me which one needed money, an advice slip or a returned card pushed through. I’d wait for my mum’s card to be slid into the wonkily cut line marked
INSERT CARD HERE
My tiny robotic voice would ask for a pin and my mum would make beep boop noises as she tapped four numbers onto my carefully drawn pin pad. When my dad said he didn’t want an advice slip, my robot voice replied ‘No daddy, you have to take an advice slip!’ He laughed when I pushed trim your beard through the gap.
Another time I made an oven. I didn’t need no Eazy-Bake, I had my cardboard box. There was a car and a boat, a television and a laptop, complete with a cardboard mouse on a string and little paper screens that I would interchange, depending on whether I was playing ‘important business lady’ or ‘kid on Miniclip’.
Here I am, 21 years old and stood in my kitchen, confronted with a cardboard box. My initial thought was to flatten it, crush it down into the recycling bin and wait for the bin-men to decide its destiny. But before I’d pulled the tape from the first seam, I stopped. I remembered my ATM and my oven with its opening door and extractor fan. I smiled at the creative I used to be.
So, here I am now, 21 years old and sat on my kitchen floor with a cardboard guitar in my lap, smiling at the creative that I have grown into.
I spot her across the chapel, oozing confidence as she converses with ease, throwing her head back with glee as her laugh chimes above the chatter. The room smells of oak and buzzes with excitement as our choir rises from its pews, the first rehearsal adrenaline pulsing through our veins. I watch her glide through the space, the heel of her boots echoing to the ceiling, her lips brushing the cheek of each old friend she passes.
Her name is Miriam. Her clipped, blonde hair sits in a perfectly straight line across her shoulders, parted in the centre to frame her face. Her wide smile brightens her blue eyes. A pair of thick-rimmed glasses are perched atop her head, ready to slide down as soon as music is placed in front of her.
She’s from a city called Tallinn in Estonia – her friends have taken to calling her the Estonian Princess – but years of living in New York has given her a sultry American lull. Having a diplomat for a mother meant that, at the tender age of sixteen, she moved to the Big Apple for her mom’s assignment, where she began studying at the United Nations International School. ‘I graduated high school,’ she makes air quotes with her polished fingers, ‘which is really the International Baccalaureate Diploma programme.’ She flicks a tendril of hair from her face and flutters her lashes at me. She’s an intriguing woman; wide set eyes and a strong jaw line, stunningly beautiful in an almost alien manner. Continue reading “Miriam”
She stood straight and stretched her arms to the sides, letting the heavy camera hanging from her neck rest on her stomach. God, this place is beautiful. Perching on a nearby rock, she appreciated the sea breeze on her cheeks as she flicked through her findings on the small screen in her hands.
She squinted through the summer sun, pushing her glasses further up the bridge of her nose as she awaited a burst of inspiration. She’d scrutinized the shoreline; studied the pebbles at her feet, drawing pictures in her mind; glorified over the golden ratio. She sucked in another blast of salty air and heaved her aching body to her feet – she wasn’t leaving without the perfect shot.
‘Do you love her?’
I stopped dead in my tracks, my heart leaping to my throat, a deer in headlights.
‘You heard me.’ He said it with more force this time, adopting a stern, fatherly tone; ‘do you love her?’
An eerie silence fell between them and I leaned my head against the cool wall of the hall way, my suddenly sandy tongue plastering itself to the roof of my mouth. What do I do? Do I stay where I am, unmoving and unheard? Or do I creep away, risking the floorboards giving away my position, my unlawful eavesdropping?
I imagined him leaning against the marble kitchen counter, hands deep in jean pockets, head lowered, eyes cast to the floor. There came a sigh, from which man I will never know. Slippered feet shuffled on the kitchen tiles.
I closed my eyes and bit hard on my trembling lip. My mind conjured images of his father’s stern eyes, calloused hands resting on generous hips and a brow raised. My imagination mustn’t have been running too wild, as there came an exasperated sigh.
‘I haven’t even had this conversation with her yet, let alone you! I love her, Dad. I do. And I’m scared.’
I thought of his rough hands, like father like son, being pulled over his face and through his thick, dark hair. Another sigh was forced through pursed lips. Why are you scared? I pinched the bridge of my nose and concentrated on the scuffed skirting board, noticing for the first time the line of Thomas the Tank Engine stickers that paraded the edge meeting the laminate floorboards. I thought of the other fragments of vandalism around the house from his childhood; the crayoned characters behind the door of the cupboard under the stairs, the broken photo frame still parading the smiling faces of his grandparents, the paint on the face of the well-loved rabbit of his infancy that was still proudly perched atop his wardrobe. I let a smile creep across my still shaking lips. Continue reading “Eavesdropping”
Running, running, running.
The sound of my feet was almost thunderous as they slapped the wet pavement. Stones dug into my bare feet, the rain splintered my hot skin.
Running, running, running.
I couldn’t stop; my throat was closing, my breaths coming short and ragged.
Don’t stop, he’ll catch you.
My soaked fringe plastered itself to my forehead, sending beads of moisture running down my temples. I’d left my bag at his house, my phone, my purse, my coursework, my favourite jumper, even my shoes. I’d just left, I’d turned and fled. He’d tried to kill me… he’d pulled out a knife and run at me… even after the beautiful weekend we’d just spent together? I didn’t understand. It had been so perfect. I’d thought that, finally, maybe things were starting to change. I kept running, though my legs felt like they were going to give way underneath me. The back of my head was throbbing in time with my racing heartbeat
“You’re cheating on me!” he’d yelled. He forced me onto the bed and wrapped his hands around my neck. I couldn’t breathe, hot tears streamed down my face. I clawed at his hands, shaking my head, squeezing my eyes shut.
“Liar! Don’t lie to me!” His fingers tightened around my throat. I panicked, trying to force out words, any words, a sound, anything to get his heavy body off of mine. I released my hands from his wrists and took a swing for his face, my nails catching his left eyebrow; they dragged down his eyelid and across his cheek. He lurched away, droplets of blood already forming under his eye.
Now’s my chance.
I started for the door, ignoring my belongings by the bed, forgetting my phone on the bedside table, not even noticing my shoes by the door. I heard him snarl behind me and caught a glimpse of the blade he was now clutching, his knuckles turning white. I knew it was a bad idea for him to keep that in his room. He’d always said that it was for the people he didn’t trust, that living in such a dodgy area meant he needed to stay alert. I’d always been wary about it. People he didn’t trust.
Don’t look back.
I ran down the hall and managed to slide round the front door and slam it behind me before his fingers caught my shirt. Stumbling down the cold stone steps of the flat, my toes started to go numb. I choked out a sob, absentmindedly touching my throat where his thumbs had dug into my flesh. Breathing the smoky air of the block of flats felt like luxury.
There was a bang above me, a series of thumping and roar that made my heart attempt to bash its way out from behind my ribcage. He was coming for me. I heard people opening their front doors, talking curiously to one and another, and knew that they’d seen a small, barely dressed teenager, flying down the stairs in tears, her hand clutching her already bruising neck. I hated it. I’d always hated being in the spotlight. I hated being noticed. I couldn’t stand being with the thought that people were talking about me. I wanted to just shrink back into myself, back to my own little world. Through the communal door, across the grass, into the road, never looking back. My fists sliced through the frigid air, my heartbeat pounding in my ears.
Don’t look back.
I didn’t care for the stones in my feet, I didn’t notice the sharp pain in my left ankle, I blocked out the ache in my neck and the throb at the back of my head; all I could see was the look on his face when it had been an inch away from mine, his breath hot on my lips. The anger, the hate…
Don’t look back.
I turned my attention to the streetlamps, casting glowing pools of liquid gold on the wet concrete, making it shine and sparkle. I slowed to a jog, the hammering of my heart behind my ribcage becoming too much. I could feel my pulse dancing in my throat.
I was alone.
I was completely alone.
Completely alone with nothing but the pattering rain and my own footsteps for company.
Don’t look back.
I couldn’t take anymore. My world was caving in on itself, everything that meant something to me was gone. He’d pulled me in with his humour, his charm, his eyes. And I’d fallen for it all. Yet he’d filled a hole in my heart that I thought would hang over me forever, and for that I felt bound to him; he was the reason I wasn’t in that state anymore. And even through all the accusations, the belittling, the shouting, the hitting and shoving, I couldn’t bring myself to leave him. Because he would always apologise, he’d always tell me how awful he felt, how much he loved me, he couldn’t live without me, and that it would never happen again.
And I always believed him. And it always happened again.
I found a rain-darkened fence and leaned my back against it. It felt cool on my shoulders. Resting the back of my head on the wood, I closed my eyes, and for a moment I felt even more alone. Like the street wasn’t beneath my feet, like the world wasn’t revolving around me. It was just me, a fence and the occasional drop of moisture on my face, falling from the tree above me. I slid down to the ground, breathing deeply until I came in contact with the pavement. I hugged my knees to my chest, keeping my arms around them firmly. Resting my mouth on my forearms, I felt a sob push its way up my throat. My chest heaved and my eyes stung. I tightened my arms, pushing my knees far enough into my chest that it hurt. I balled my fists, my long nails digging into my palms, burning as they burrowed further, and further, and further. But I couldn’t stop. I felt the warm liquid run down my wrist. I couldn’t hold that sob any more. I let it out, not caring how loud I was. I felt my face tingle as the hot tears spewed over my icy cheeks, never ending. I ran my soiled hands through my hair and buried my face in my knees, screaming. My scalp became tender as my fists tightened on my hair.
I can’t do this anymore.
‘I can’t do this anymore!’ I screamed, all the anger, the frustration, the pain, everything building up inside me was coming out. I saw my dad telling me how disappointed he was, telling me he didn’t love me like his own. Turning his back on me. I saw my best friend abandon me, laugh at my insecurities as she flipped her hair and waltzed away. All I’d ever wanted was –
“You!” I was lifted from the floor by my hair, “what the fuck do you think you’re playing at? You think you can just run away from me?” One hand was pulling my head too far back, while the other had a firm hold on my shoulder. He shook me with enough force to make me dizzy.
I whimpered, looking at the angry spit around his mouth. “I’m sorry.”
“You’re sorry?” His face was now just millimetres from mine.
This is it. This was the end. There was no way for me to escape now. I began to close my eyes, but over his shoulder I caught sight of… a man. A man in a towel dressing gown, sprinting towards us. Before I had time to even gather my thoughts, I went flying, my head landing with a deafening crack. My vision blurred, an ear-piercing buzz filled my head. I could hear men shouting, feet scuffing the concrete, and then closer to my own head, was a metallic clink. I squeezed my eyes open and closed, open and closed, open until my vision starting coming back to me. I shifted my body weight onto my hands, my elbows giving way underneath me several times. My head hung and my hair clung to my damp face as I heaved my dinner onto the pavement. I peered up through my fringe. The two men were face to face.
“You think you can throw around some girl like that? You think that’s okay?”
“Don’t tell me how to treat my girlfriend, mate.”
And just within arm’s reach, was the knife. I looked up in time to see the man in the dressing gown being shoved into the road. He fell backwards, his arms swinging in every direction. Danny was stalking towards him, his fist’s clenched. His foot came down on the man’s face.
He stopped in mid-kick, and turned to stare at me. “What?”
My whole body shook, my head was spinning. “Please don’t hurt him, Danny, please. I’ll do anything.”
“What could I possibly want from you? You are nothing. Look at yourself!”
He stood and stared at me, before letting a grin form across his face. He laughed to himself, then turned his back on me and crouched by the man’s head. He held the back of his head and put his sweaty face right up to his. “Maybe we should teach you a lesson. You don’t get involved in other people’s business, right? Got that?” I saw his fist lift high into the air. The man squeezed his eyes shut, waiting for the pain to hit him.
“DANNY!” I had the knife in my hand, I was off the floor, I was running towards them. I took him by the shoulder and yanked him away, taking him by surprise. He stumbled away, but only briefly. He was up and on top of me already, his hands around my throat once more.
“When… will… you… learn,” he spluttered into my face as he slammed my head against the pavement with each spat word. The queasiness was returning even stronger, I couldn’t fight, I couldn’t resist, my body wouldn’t respond. All I could do was wait. My fist tightened around… around the knife. I looked up into his eyes, those eyes where I would once have felt love and compassion. But know all I felt was hate. My arm swung round and the knife buried itself into his side. He toppled away, an agonising scream escaping his lips. I stood up, looking over my shoulder at the man still lying limp on the floor, blood coming from his nose. His eyes were wide open though, staring from Danny, to me. I looked back at my fiancé, blood soaking his shirt. He was looking at the knife, his hands hovering above it, not knowing quite what to do. I couldn’t bear to listen to the strangled noises he was making.
Running, running, running.
Just don’t look back.
August 14th 2015
They stood in the crisp morning air, their clouds of breath colliding and dancing away with each other. It felt as if the whole world was sleeping, and they were the only two of mankind left to witness its beauty. The sky – bright white, almost fluorescent – hugged the horizon line like a glowing halo, the clouds dense and low and dazzling. She felt like she was breathing through new lungs; the boulders that had been clinging to her shoulders had been lifted, her throat no longer tightened when her turbid mind began to wander. She closed her eyes and heaved a satisfied sigh as the bitter air nibbled at her nose and pinched her finger tips. The field below them was completely empty, apart from a large willow tree that proudly sported a rope swing, and one lonely yurt. The plume of smoke rising from its makeshift chimney was being carried across the acres of land in a long, smooth line; no gust of wind to disrupt its travels, no fracture in its perfect poignancy.
They sat on that hill for what seemed like hours, talking about anything that came to them, be it relevant or irrelevant. At points they just sat in silence, appreciating each other’s company and allowing the six A.M. bird calls to accentuate the dearth of conversation. They watched the sun rise, listened to those birds sing their good mornings to one another, breathed the fresh country air and witnessed that perfect plume of smoke as it continued its adventure all the way across the land, as far as they could see, uninterrupted and unscathed. She imagined being as light as the cold air that embraced her, and letting the trail of smoke carry her with it on its journey. She fantasised about not having a care in the world, about drifting over the furthest tree she could see and allowing herself to travel wherever the wind took her. She’d start fresh.
As he began to make his way back to the campsite, she trailed behind him, smiling at the ground below her feet and giving mental thanks for the evening they’d shared. She wanted to tell him how much it had meant to her. He’d known what to say and when to say it yet he’d also known when it was appropriate to just listen. To just be there, a rock for her to cling to when she felt like she was drowning; a life jacket to hug her when she felt she could no longer swim away. He’d allowed her the time she’d needed to elucidate her disorderly thoughts and offered her the warm space that she’d needed – far more than powdery pills and plastic capsules – to empty her mind.
Inspired by To This Day by Shane Koyczan. – ‘and if you can’t see anything beautiful about yourself, get a better mirror.’
She stares at her reflection most mornings
her lips set in a stony grimace
a deep line between her eyebrows.
She thinks her skin is rough and papery
sagging and decrepit.
I think she’s beautiful.
She pulls at the skin around her eyes
picturing herself young and youthful
twenty-four and full of life.
I think she grows more beautiful
with every passing year.
She frowns at her greying hair
parts it to one side and the other
pushes it back, pulls down a fringe.
Everything she tries, she complains
I imagine stroking it out of her eyes
cupping her face
telling her just how beautiful she is
how beautiful she was
how beautiful she always will be.
But she never listens.