Pancakes

Sunday morning pancakes had been Their Thing. But he’d officially moved out last week and Rachel was alone, completely alone, for the first Sunday in six years.

She hadn’t expected to feel so lost and strange. She’d spent the entire night bawling her eyes out, feeling like someone was squeezing her heart way too tightly, and now, waking up with her eyes sore and her skin puffy, she felt stupid and pathetic. Rachel knew, logically, that she was a whole person on her own, she didn’t need a partner, she was a strong independent woman etc. etc. but he’d been around for so much of her daily life that she didn’t know what to do with all the extra minutes. It was difficult to adjust to having so much unused time.

Continued on House of the Raconteurs.

Advertisements

Gresham Junior Detectives Club

Janelle’s telling me that a dead man fell out of the sky on Friday. “Jimmy Lewis told me,” she says. “He and his brother were riding their bikes near the woods behind the school. That’s where it happened.”

“Jimmy Lewis is a liar,” I scoff. “Remember when he told everyone his cousin was Jude Law?”

She rolls her eyes. “Yeah, but that was obviously a lie. This is different, Helena. This is a mystery.”

This is the most that Janelle and I have spoken all year. We drifted apart over the summer (she’d been busy moving house) and then school started and it was like we were strangers. But then she’d joined French club a few weeks ago (exams were coming up, so of course everyone was rushing to join now) and we’d started walking to the bus stop together every Saturday morning for the past three weeks. Other than ‘see you next week’ and ‘your shoe’s untied’, we hadn’t spoken much. Until today.

Continued on House of the Raconteurs.

Unexpectations

Based on the ballad of Tam Lin

Janet didn’t know how long he’d been sleeping, but when she came home, a large grizzly bear was peacefully sleeping on the couch where Tam, human Tam, should be.

They didn’t know that it would keep happening. The first time had been their second night in the new house. They’d been watching TV all evening and talking idly about Janet’s upcoming job interview. The job, a graphic designer position at a media company, was pretty much guaranteed, though Janet hated to admit it – her father, Media King of the city, had secured the interview for her. Janet got up to go to the bathroom and when she came back to the living room, a grey wolf was curled up on the rug, bright unblinking eyes staring at Janet. Janet wasn’t afraid – it was still Tam after all, who wouldn’t hurt her. And when Tam shifted back, he looked more bemused than anything else.

Continued on House of the Raconteurs.

The Appointment (published with Shift Zine)

The waiting room wasn’t as unpleasant or scary as I thought it would be. No one in straitjackets, nobody muttering to themselves, no crazed screaming. Just a lot of bored faces, flicking through a newspaper or texting on their phones. I couldn’t stop fidgeting. I picked absentmindedly at my nail polish and flicked the folded over corner of the questionnaire I’d filled out. I tried to be calm. And I did feel calm. Overall. Along with sick and dizzy and panicky.

The radio was on, playing the hits from last year. It took me back to summer, just turning fifteen, spending almost entire days in the park with Michaela and listening to music and watching funny videos on our phones. I’d felt happy then. I didn’t know yet how bad I would feel in just a few months.

Continue reading on Shift Zine

Red #4

They were red because we believe that red brings good fortune. The first car my parents bought in the UK was red. The front door of the house I grew up in was red. I’d always wondered if that was why my parents had chosen it. They kept the house full at all times, it seemed, with aunts and uncles and cousins, especially on holidays and birthdays. Chinese New Year was my favourite: all those red envelopes… 
When I was little, I loved wearing silk dresses and, for a time, refused to wear anything else. I particularly envied my mother’s wedding dress; she kept it safe in the attic but she showed me once, when I was nine. It was made of beautiful, shimmering, red silk. 

My wedding dress was white. The bodice was sparkling white, the white lace skirt swept the floor, and my thin white veil floated so delicately over my face that I worried I would sneeze while exchanging vows with my white, English husband.

I still hadn’t found the right shoes. My friends had come with me to every store in the area, scoured every website available, begged their mothers for a loan. “Just choose any pair!” they insisted, a week before the wedding. “They all look great with the dress!”

“But none of them feel right,” I said. I was being difficult, I knew it, but every pair I tried on had pinched or slipped or were otherwise excruciatingly uncomfortable. 

It had been a few months since we’d moved into our new house but we were still living out of half-unpacked boxes. A couple of days before the wedding, we decided to tackle them properly. “I know you,” said my fiancé. “And I know you don’t want to be coming home from our honeymoon to a house filled with cardboard boxes.”

“Very true,” I said. “It might be a bit of a shock after the glitz and glamour of the Scottish highlands.” 

I found them in a sealed box, marked ‘University’ in my eighteen year-old self’s handwriting. I noticed them immediately amongst all the stilettos and platform heels. Not that vivid red silk shoes were hard to miss. My mother’s wedding shoes were embroidered with peonies and had a low heel. 

It was on the day that I would be leaving for university. I was fairly sure that up until that day, they were intent on me staying at home, even though I’d spent the entire summer buying new bath mats and bed sheets. 

But it all came to a head when I started loading boxes into my car. It was a green Ford Fiesta.

“Don’t come with me then!” I shouted angrily, after they’d started on the guilt trip again. Just the sight of them standing by the stairs, standing in my way as I heaved my suitcase down, infuriated me. 

“Well if you don’t want us to come with you, fine…” my mother sighed.

“That’s not what I said – but you don’t seem to want to see me off, so don’t come.”

“You are so ungrateful,” said my father. “I offered to drive you, I told you I would take a day off work to help you leave your family home – ”

“If you say it like that, no wonder I don’t want you to come!” 

“So I was right!” said my mother. “You don’t want us to come!”

I ran back up the stairs for another box. I was exhausted; I’d spent the entire night packing and enduring snippy comments from both my parents. There were no excuses for what I did but I really wasn’t thinking straight. I wasn’t thinking at all. But it was vindictively soothing, climbing up to the attic, grabbing my mother’s wedding shoes, and stuffing them into a box. 

By the time I arrived at university, alone, I felt horrible. I didn’t want the shoes but I didn’t want to admit what I’d done. So the shoes stayed in the box.  

I never told them about the shoes and neither of them noticed they were gone. I came home at Christmas, Easter, and the summer holidays each year. The accident happened a month before graduation. 

I stared at the shoes now, sitting in the box. I no longer felt guilty, just sad. It had been a stupid childish mistake but the fact remained that I had them, here in my house, with my wedding just a few days away. 

My fiancé saw me put them on, but he didn’t say a word. My friends, on the other hand, had a lot to say. They thought I’d gone crazy. They thought it was nerves. They thought that a mental breakdown could be the only explanation for the reason why I wanted to wear them. 

Personally I thought the shoes looked great. They definitely stood out, almost looking garish with the white, but I liked them even more for it. They were comfortable, fitting perfectly since my mother had been the same shoe size as me. I was set on the idea now, oddly feeling the same level of adrenaline as that eighteen year-old in the attic, except with no sense that it was a bad idea. It felt completely, completely right.

My dress was so long that it didn’t really matter in the end, only the toes of the shoes poking out from the hemline as I walked down the aisle. I doubted that the wedding hall was staring at me for my shoes. I doubted even more that my fiancé was bothered by the shoes, judging by the smile on his face.

He waited until after the reception to comment on them, when we were in the car to the hotel and I was taking them off.

“They were your mother’s weren’t they?” 

I nodded. “She wore them at her wedding as well,” I said.

“I think she would have been very touched if she’d seen you wearing them today,” he said, squeezing my hand.

I rolled my eyes. “She probably would have told me off for wearing old shoes on such a special day.”

I hadn’t meant for it to come out so sharply, intended to make a joke, but I instantly regretted the stinging, bitter tone. And suddenly, I missed her. So, so much. She should’ve been here. They both should have been with me today. Tears welled up in my eyes. 

Then I felt him brush my hair back, so gently. So I looked at him and managed a smile. 

I bought a shoebox for them when I came back from the honeymoon and packed them away neatly. I decided they should stay in there. I wouldn’t be wearing them again. 

Good Morning

The bus driver does a double take as you board the bus. You smile. He doesn’t smile back. “One day ticket, please,” you say, polite and perfectly enunciated as if trying to prove your native knowledge of English. He counts out the change and drops it in the tray. 10p short but you think better of making a fuss. It’s an easy mistake and it’s so early in the morning, he’s probably still tired.

Probably.

You pick up the coins and quickly take your ticket.

They stare for a split second too long here, fascinated by how ‘different’ you look, and you always catch them. In the few seconds it takes for you to find a seat, you catch two, three, four pairs of eyes staring then glancing quickly back to their phones or books or out the window at the oh-so-fascinating row of houses that the bus passes every single day. But then, you are wearing a bright turquoise coat, you’ve just come onto the bus, you’re probably going to get a few casually curious glances.

Probably.

You sit down, hoping that your coat won’t offend anyone else.

Two children get onto the bus, on their way to school. The children don’t look away, and stare at you unabashedly like they’re on a trip at the zoo. You keep your gaze looking out the window. It’s not their fault, you tell yourself. And they’ll grow out of it. They’ll grow up and meet all kinds of people and probably be better people than their parents.

Probably.

They get off the bus a few stops later. You haven’t got far to go either.

It hasn’t been a minute since you get off the bus that a group of men, still in last night’s clothes, still hungover or drunk, notice you. They nudge each other and giggle, less mature than the school children on the bus. One of them lunges towards you and you take a step back. “Nee-how!” he says, screwing up his face grotesquely. You swerve out of his way and hurry down the road. You try to stay calm. You reason that it’s nothing to be scared of, just a stupid drunk. It could have been anyone. It just happened to be you. And it probably won’t happen again.

Probably.