Flash fiction, short stories, poetry …
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Posts from — August 2012


Hello there. It’s been ages since I’ve managed to get a writerly post up here and there doesn’t even feel like a particular reason. I just managed to get my flat rented (I’m now a landlord) and I’ve had a few abortive attempts to write various Cafe Short-esque pieces (some too long, others need a bit more work but may yet see the light of inter-web), but other than that, not a great deal.

Happily, though, white screen has been banished with this post, gloriously and morbidly entitled #119 SUICIDE. Do read on and pray I haven’t regressed to teen angst and dark reflection on ‘the pointlessness of it all’ (sigh). The main objective here was to try to focus more of the story through the lens of the narrator’s perception – an effort I was quite excited about. However, I make no claims as to the quality of the result. See how you get on. Damn you Ruben Mancusco.



hen I was twelve, I was given a black eye by Ruben Mancuso. This was during an argument on the school playground that had been caused by one of the oldest of reasons – the love of a good woman (Sarah Froistad who was 11). I can only imagine where I would have gone if I hadn’t had that fight. But I did, and I resoundingly lost: my mother planting my blackened face in my fathers (raw) steak lunch when I got home. Ruben got hauled out of school for that – he was a bad seed – but not if you listened to the feting he received from the other kids who knew who was the real winner. I had yet to prove myself and took my jeers and sneers with no small amount of depressed resignation. I never did see Ruben again – until today that is. I can’t say I was happy to do so.

Since the time of that beating, I have found the life of an artist to be agreeable. I have decided to go the commercial route and have had much work exhibited in moderately influential galleries, though you might not like it: my work is often dark and malformed (you would say so, should you see it). I give birth to great, shadowy forms on huge canvases that loom out of the darkness with long melting eyes and a shuffling implacability. Some wear musculature looped and overlaid like unwrapped packs of wet sausage; all are brutish. I tell myself the thick paint, scored to the canvas by the brass heads of brushes, is necessary.

But now, Mancuso. It is Mancuso – cappuccino in hand, talking to a slim, European brunette by the door to the gallery book shop – who has risen. They kissed a gentle goodbye. I was entirely transported by their sense of ‘lightness’ in attitude, smiles, clothing (rich and smooth) and sunlight (the windows and doors they were standing near, casting that haloed edge of specular light through their hair). I try not to think about Ruben’s disconnection from his past, how much this image has changed – perhaps how much he has learned – so much so, that he seems to be a fresh, human spirit, reborn a new; laughing and entertaining this unknown girl with her red, damask scarf twisted around a finger.

But I see now I am not similarly disconnected. I can touch this painting on this wall in this gallery – ignoring the warning signs not to touch – and feel the raised, black paint, that is still oily and rubbery and puckered like a scar. I can see the traversal through paintings of my attitude and will, one picture to the next, flicking backwards through those still frames (#118 DESPERATION, #117 LOATHING OF SELF, #116 ISOLATION…) and I mustn’t make this connection: that each painting is the same painting, in as much as it is a still frame of the same moving image. I see it now: one still after the other, each rewinding (I must not consider their return to that first ovum of canvas) and despite changes in scale or medium, it is a blank, soulless brute looming and advancing and bringing up fists like meat, though of course in reverse. As I must not see it, it is rewinding in my mind’s eye regardless (#27 RED ON BLACK, #26 REFORMATION … #15, #14…).

“Five, four, three…”

One…oh, God…

Though I destroyed it, one was ‘GIRL WITH GOLDEN HAIR, CRYING.’

Burn the prospectus now. There is no originality here. If I had a knife, I’d score it all through. Freud is reborn. I thought these twists of image – form flicking in halogenic light behind the viewer (‘brave and original – an artist to watch out for’) had come from pre-conceptualization; were a comment on modern value and expression and immoderate tastes – and that I was uncovering a message; the message; a message I was battling to touch, or grasp or paint into clarity. I felt like I was touched by God or satellites or a dog star, universal. But it was a moment I was copying. Years I spent doing it. But Ruben and both girls are the full cycle. I have gone nowhere in my cold cellars and abandoned properties, my gradual rise through the socialites and parties, the agonising leap at one patron after another – glass in hand, canapé limp and fishy – while he has proven it all wrong. There is no justice, there is no darkness. I’ve lived a child’s nightmare, where Ruben found only sunlight and blissful forgetting on the arm of ‘GIRL WITH EBONY HAIR, SMILING’, age unknown . And…

Beside me, a sculptural form like a basket, but it is a head made from leather belts – the colour of saddle leather – fixed in wax to form a human head. It rests on a clear plastic stand in a clear glass cube, and the whole is on a white plinth. This is not important, other than it is a break in thought. It’s not my creation: I never made it or imagined it. But it is beautiful.

Later that day, I reverse my car backwards off the quay outside the riverside gallery, scraping a huge gash down a side panel as I rush past a bollard (a bollard from when the quay had been used for ship building). The crash whiplashes my neck and bounce-bounce-bounces my head off the head-rest as the back of the car hits the water – near vertical – and the underside grates on the stone pilings, until the front wheels roll for a moment, till the nose grates once more as the back of the car pushes back. We all belly flop together with a splash, a gurgle rushing in behind. The entire accident is just that, my foot slipping off the clutch onto the accelerator, the gearshift sticky around reverse. The freezing inrush of oily water is gaspingly cold, and my mind shoots out to all the things adrenaline suggests as a car sinks (undo seatbelt, un-trap feet, wind down window, whatever else I can make up in the moment as a ‘should do’). But all I can think of – as I get out of that car and sail as a shirt bagged out with water to the nearest ladder, tsunami pouring from the sleeves – is that I’ve finally been released.

#119 sank in the boot of the car.

August 3, 2012   28 Comments

Kreativ and Versatile


any thanks to Helen Howell and Steve Green for giving me a Kreativ Blogger and a Versatile Blogger award, respectively. These two wonderful people obviously have great taste and a near goddess-like / god-like ability to detect fine fiction. That, or I owe them both a large selection of cream cakes and a hug. You should immediately read their fiction, or your lives will be ever so slightly diminished.

Moving swiftly on, in order to promote said awards, one must reveal a number of unusual factoids one has about one’s person – which, in my case, are still lingering despite the use of a strong steroid cream – and then nominate a number of new award recipients.

So, in no particular order, I present TEN UNKNOWN THINGS ABOUT MYSELF:

  1. I once accidentally gate-crashed a coven. Going to a party in a derelict building I turned up early and discovered some red drapery, weird stuff in boxes, etc. But I’m early and no one’s around, so go catch up with some folk in the pub. Returning to the party venue, I found all that strange stuff had gone, which kind of freaked me out. It turned out I’d gone into the identical house next door. They were, I was assured, white witches.
  2. I used to collect agate and other semi-precious stones as a kid. At a burial mound in the Highlands, I found a primitive tool (probably a knife) made of chipped agate. It was in a tiny, sandy spring. I subsequently lost this pretty awesome thing in the rest of my stone collection…
  3. While diving off the coast of Malta I found three of the largest cockroaches you’ve ever seen in my diving costume, swam as the head of a shoal of saddled sea bream (not one nose was further ahead than the other) and fed the fish a couple of packs of Twisties (a bit like Nik Nak crisps, in the UK) from the deck of sunken tug boat. The boat was resting on a bed of white sand, the crisps were compacted flat with the water pressure. It was exactly like feeding pigeons. Nearby, the Virgin Mary looked on – a statue put there by fishermen.
  4. Also on that Malta trip I did a night dive on a tanker (the Um El Faroud) that’s been sunk as a natural reef. It was at the limit of non-decompression diving; the propellers were a storey high, we swam through the interior – saw the bunkhouse and corridors, and swam out through a hatch. Back on shore our guide tells us that the world’s largest great white shark was caught by local fishermen within a few hundred yards. There aren’t any sharks in the Mediterranean sea, but this one had somehow gotten in. It was a monster. I saw a photo of it hanging from a crane. It looked exactly like Jaws.
  5. I once dressed as a girl and – as part of a team – pushed a bedframe around the Edinburgh Meadows for charity. I discovered that tinned tomatoes do really nasty things to your skin as we were required to throw miscellaneous foodstuffs at other teams. Looking at photos afterwards, I was rather appalled to find I made a very credible female. Thankfully, I look a bit craggier now, sans Minnie Mouse T, mini skirt and makeup.
  6. I once fell in quicksand as a kid – not something I was expecting to encounter in Scotland. I was ‘up north’ staying at a bothy, and a reservoir had been drained. Walking on the bottom of the gorge was fine – it was all rocks – and I came to a small riverlet which looked to be about 1” deep with a sandy bottom. I took a step out and practically vanished. Luckily, having watched quite a few Tarzan movies, I knew not to struggle, thought ‘light thoughts’ and kind of tried to stay on top of the sand, making as big a surface area as possible. I managed to eek myself out. Thanks Tarzan. It was entirely serious.
  7. I once caught six or seven mice by hand. The flat I was in was overrun and the vermin were so precocious I could chase them with an empty cornflakes box, corner them and pop them in. Cereal box loaded with skritchy rodents I then wandered Edinburgh city centre looking for a place to dump them: along the way I found a sub-basement (where I was about to chuck ’em only to look up and find a bunch of office workers working late, staring at me out of the windows, paused mid photocopy); a back alley (only to find a security camera on an accountancy company zoning in on me); and at last, a flower box next to a multi-story carpark where I finally got rid of them. In the distance, a couple were wandering along hand-in-hand while the flowerbox next to me was rustling and springing away in a very excited manner. I left prior to the couple-mouse encounter. Squeee!
  8. As a student, I was once entirely fooled by a confidence trickster who – with whatever lame story – convinced me he was trapped in Edinburgh and needed some funds for bus travel. Offering his shopping (a bag of shirts) or a small silver ring he had on him as collateral, he persuaded me to draw out some cash and give it to him. This taught me lots of things, but I sure darned wished I’d taken the shirts which probably would’ve peaked him, as I bet no-one ever took those… and it did look like his actual shopping.
  9. Our cat used to bring back mice in a very much alive and slightly ticked-off state and then lose them in the house (it used to get everything, including river rats, bats and on one occasion, a mole). You’d be watching the telly and a field mouse or a vole’d run past the skirting – somewhat misplaced from traditional cornfield. One day, a mouse is dropped off by the cat – and we see it happen – and we hunt high and low for the little critter, but it’s gone. We figured the cat must’ve doubled back and eaten el-rodenti like a cocktail canapé. Maybe eighteen months later, we find the mouse as flat as paper and as wide as a tea plate under the sheepskin rug. There were four paws at each ‘corner’ and it was mummified… Ew!
  10. Hanging out with some of the Beltane folk, in Edinburgh, we went to the Hermitage for another of the Celtic festivals – I can’t remember which. It was at night in a wooded, country area on the fringes of the city. There was maybe twenty of us and there was fire, and juggling, music, acrobatics. Laughter. It was a truly awesome evening and, as I left, alone, walking down off the hill, a white barn owl flew directly towards me through mist as flat as a table top. It was flying right on the junction of mist and air, and its wing beats caused swirling vortexes in the moisture. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen: utterly mesmerising and utterly silent.
  11. BONUS FACT: I was walking down through the Edinburgh Meadows one morning when I spotted a squirrel sitting on a tree root – this wasn’t that unusual, except for the fact it was holding up a tiny advert for King Cornetto in its paws. Double take. In fact, it was the circular lid of a King Cornetto.  The writing was precisely upright and it made the perfect, squirrel-sized ice cream ad – I mean, I read the ad and then considered what was holding it. Impression registered, the squirrel started casually licking the back of the lid for the ice cream. For a moment, I thought the advertisers were losing their subtlety (or I was losing my sanity). Damn you Walls for deploying cute forest creatures in the promotion of your whipped, creamy products. Of course I had to go buy one… (le sigh)

And now to nominations. I am somewhat conscious that I’m not entirely widely read on the blogging front, however I do know what I like. While there are a near infinitude(1) of folks who deserve a shiny new badge, I pick the following for their Versatile and Kreativ leanings, complete with a kapital ‘K’, as well as being those I’ve read somewhat more recently.

I would say if you were nominated for these hallowed halls, don’t feel under pressure to pass things on, unless you feel so inclined – feel free to bask in the glow of righteous nomination, throw up the badge (or not), or preserve this entire affair as a guilty secret between just us two and billions of squirrels whom, having navigated the complexities of marketing, are now spending their ice-cream profits to get on line and read these very blogs.  I salute you my fluffy-tailed, praline munching friends.

Nom, nom, nom, nominations:

And there you have it.

Next week, more about acorns and how to find them (2).

Stephen 🙂


(1) Dear God, I made that up and it turns out ‘infinitude’ is a real word. Well there you go. That’s what I want to see written on my next squirrel-borne placard – something that makes you think, while also delivering a ‘huh?’

(2) That Arboreal Rodent Award is tough to get – I’m starting early with the voters.

 (*) Update (04-Aug-2012). I’d originally left these two out, thinking I couldn’t return the reward to the giver, forgetting, of course, that I can give the opposite award to the other  there’s two awards here. St



August 3, 2012   8 Comments