This Is Why Grown-ups Buy Torches

I was a child once, pretty good at it too; laughed too loud, wriggled in chairs, lifted my toes when trying on new shoes. My father spent his days amongst wires and dials, had little time for wriggles and laughter and knew he was a size 10 without lifting a single toe. He gave me a switch for my birthday, 11th or 12th, can’t remember exactly. He told me when it was time to become a man, when I’d grown tired of youth and weary of hope, when my feet were a size 10 and I knew it, I could flick it and turn on the light of adulthood. The day arrived. The world smelled of wet paint and tasted of salt and I bought new shoes without trying them on. I flicked the switch. No light came on but, one went out.
Richard Kemp

Living With the Enemy

We've skirmished for the last twenty years. Our scripted gunshots are programmed into every hour, of every day and so on. We know each others irritated retorts even before we spit them out. It drives me mad (him too). Sometimes I'm so frustrated, I could scream. I feel I'm being smothered by toxic gas and I'm tempted to leave to save my life. Then I look at him and can't actually make it to the door. Yesterday, we found we were on new ground. I didn't want him to come with me, but he came anyway. I'd hoped to be free of his lectures about politicians, the economy, the appalling driving habits of everyone else on the road. I'd wanted peace to face whatever was coming, a clear head. What came was a gigantic truck. After the oncologist had finished explaining, my sparring partner said, 'I'm here, lean on me.'
Ceinwen E Cariad Haydon

Useful objects and fabulous creatures

It wasn't my fault. I just wanted to keep the cats off the lawn. The Catalogue of Useful Objects described it as a harmless deterrent. A local tabby arrived, halted, slunk away. 'It's magic,' said Poppy. 'It's the noise.' I explained how some creatures can hear sounds we can't. 'They've got magic ears,' said Poppy, dismissing ultrasound. Next door's dog came out, bounded towards her, then halted as if at an invisible fence. 'Will it stop unicorns?' Poppy asked, mouth turned down. 'I'm sure it won't.' She doesn't differentiate between real and imaginary. The daylight faded. Poppy dashed down the garden. I thought she had grown three feet till I realised she was mounted on a white, horned animal. 'Come on,' she told it. 'Mum has sugar lumps.' The unicorn moved towards me, hit the barrier. It bucked, turned and trotted off, taking my daughter with it.
Jenny Woodhouse

The Night the Fishmonger's Van Reverses into the Youth Club Pop-up Disco and Shifts Debbi's World

She is spinning when it happens, a big bang, pilchards slithering in an ever-increasing arc, spilled from a giant blue bucket on the back of the fish truck, ice cubes scattering like stars on the shiny black universe of a portable dance floor, spinning, spinning in the centre, Debbi is a brightly-coloured planet wobbling on her axis, thrusting her hips to keep everything suspended in the vacuum, a single mirrored ball sending out filaments from its solar corona, as she sucks the caipirinha from her plastic beaker, bursts of lime juice vesicles stinging her tongue like scales, but she can’t stop spinning, mesmerised as the fish approach in the perfect synchrony of an expanding super nova, as the closing bars of “Discotheque” fade, Bono is the king of the heavens, the Neptune of the deep, and Debbi’s hula hoop clatters to the floor with the last of her determination.
Louise Mangos

A new life

There were no street names to help her orient herself so she followed scents of rosewater and cardamom. Stumbled through cobbled streets and lines of washing, dragging her battered red suitcase to a tiny, yellow rose-filled tea shop. She clutched the key round her neck, the one that unlocked a house that no longer existed, as she drank tea and ate sweet pastries like her mother made, felt the ridges of her neck relax.
Anita Goveas


The cough near lifts him off the ground. Dislodges a deep chunk of something. Like an ice shelf dropping into the sea, much faster than expected. Tries to spit but it's all strings. Between his fingers. A child's game that tells a story if he could only remember the correct shapes. Wiped on his leg. There's a town below the window and he can't remember when he last stepped out. If he's allowed to. If he could make it down the stairs. It's all he can do to catch the pigeon feathers that sink from the rafters and to dream of the ocean beyond the buildings. All this gunk inside him, but never enough wax. He still works away. There's sun out there. Open sky. He could take it in both hands. See his boy again.
Charlie Hill

Only About Love

When I shave him he moves his mouth and face around like he's chewing an invisible sweet. He offers up his neck with absolute trust; I glide the blade down beneath his chin and over his Adam's apple. It's massive, like he's swallowed a rock.     I hear the rasp of his stubble and it's almost like the noise is coming from me, because there is sandpaper inside me. My stomach is made if it. My heart is made of it. My throat. My insides have been transformed into a million tiny pieces of rock.     He can no longer speak, but words are unnecessary. Life is now simple in its cruelty; he once cared for me and now I am caring for him.     Each touch of my fingers on his skin reminds him that love still exists. I want all his waking thoughts from now on to be only about love.
Debbi Voisey

Highway 349

His Plymouth Valiant, the car he'd had since he was sixteen, lay overturned in the ditch. After he had crawled out from under it, Tom sat by the road. It was completely dark, save the headlights pointing, cockeyed and aimless, out into a field. Tom lit a cigarette and inhaled. Some blood had dried on his cheek and he could feel it crack and flake. Jesus Christ, he thought. Jesus. What a mess. After three cigarettes Tom stood up. He felt weak and nauseous. He thought for a moment about turning the headlights off, to save the battery. He laughed. The battery? He had three or four hours of walking ahead of him. He was in the absolute middle of nowhere. But the stars were bright, inspiring, ancient. The car was just a hunk of metal after all. Nothing but a pile of steel and wires.
Travis Cravey


She dresses in white, like a bride, or a sacrifice. A virgin, an angel, a slick-skinned plastic mannequin in the window of the defunct Kohl's in Peoria, where she used to live with Brent, but that was a long time ago, wasn't it Now she lives in New York City. She has left the past behind. The self help books say that is the right thing to do. Move along girl, you are growing and going and doing your thing and toning your butt and drinking kale in a glass! In the restaurant she sears wagyu, pounds duck so thin it melts to nothing. She lashes coconut milk over bittersweet custard, punches rosemary into sourdough, bruises the sweetness out of honeycomb. She sears, pounds, lashes, punches, bruises, she, she, she. Brent is an aftertaste. In the newspapers she is little white hands full of watercress, truffles, saffron strands, michelin stars.
Grace Cahill


It's our Sunday tradition to drive into the Peak District, strap on our water packs, and start our GPS watches. The world brightens during the uphill slog. Ascent defeated, our reward is to share a pack of Jelly Babies as we soak in the view. Today, fog shrouds the summit. Freezing rain drives into my face. I don't stop at the top, but push on, slipping and sliding down the muddy slope. You were always in better shape than me: racing to the top and then looping back, nimble as the sheep that skittered out of your path, to run the steepest sections a second time. I said you had the heart of a man twenty years younger, and you laughed and said you hoped he wouldn't want it back. Driving home alone is the hardest part.
Hannah Whiteoak

I, and my lovers

My mother’s first love broke his neck for the Weimar Republic; her second was exiled after Hitler’s demise. Long before the Velvet Revolution, we fucked in the firing line of cameras and tanks. But then a wall broken for freedom turned our passion to whimpers and drowned them in cards of sex business and videos. Is this what you wanted? cried the young man from Chemnitz. Now an old woman, I remember the peace years, the decades when we let love unravel and opted instead for online shopping. Outside, they are sharpening their axes, and striking about in word and deed. We shall rise from your ash, they scream as they tear down each post and lintel, and throw leather-bound books onto the bonfire of the frustration I, and my lovers, have sown.
Sylvia Petter

Probably Nothing

On the road to Waddington we pass a woman climbing out of a ditch. We pull up after 100 yards and turn to watch her through the TV of our rear window. She brushes something from her pink sweat crops, glances all around. Traipses off in the other direction. "We should’ve gone back," I say, after a while. "Well, we didn’t," says Pete. He leans across to the glove box. It gapes open onto my lap with a clatter of CDs. "Choose something upbeat, for Chrissake." I grab the nearest CD. "She could’ve been mugged and left for dead," I hazard. "Been dumped by an ego-ridden boyfriend. Hit and run. Date rape. Alien abduction." I turn to stare back at the empty stretch of horizon. "It could have been anything." Pete winds his window and sticks a palm out, resisting the breeze. "Yeah," he says, "but it was probably nothing."
Linda Grierson-Irish

The Herd

The steam rose in silent clouds from the large backs of the animals as they ate. Maybe twenty or so in the herd were packed in the courtyard for the early feed as the light rose gently behind the far trees and seeped silk into the inked sky by the milking parlour. Only the small shuffles of hooves in the hay and their heavy exhales lifted out over the air. The calves remained in the straw-warmed barn, blinking a slow morning prayer. Apricot down licked up in tufts by the rough tongues of their mothers. I stood still as a reed, casting a shadow through the doorway longer than the walk there. I watched their stomachs rise and fall in steady peace. I know what I have to do.
Louise Cato


A Life Deconstructed

In the days following her death he walked around the house gathering her things into small piles. Flat items were stacked – papers, cards; other belongings were stowed neatly into bags – unfinished knitting, toiletries. He cleared her side of the wardrobe, and seeing the clean space, emptied his side too. Despite his age, he managed to drag most of the furniture into the garden; and eventually it became easier to knock down the walls, rather than trying to heave the bulkier pieces out. He surprised himself at his own strength. Dismantling was not unlike constructing, it brought a certain purposeful satisfaction, and he arranged everything into tidy piles outside, until there was no 'outside'. A week later all that remained standing was a single front door frame, and he stood at its threshold, uncertain of where it might lead.
Laura Adams

Conscious Decisions Never Taken

The detective sergeant never had a pram in the hallway of the flat she lives alone in. At the end of her shift she takes the day’s criminals to her bed. Her lover does too. She doesn’t think there ever was a questionnaire. She can’t recall ticking a box that said No, it just never felt right to kill time chatting to mothers at school gates or in play parks. On weekends, she doesn’t have to drive her teenager, so she can take her car, that has no scuff marks on the back of the driver’s seat, out of the city, to practice the words to break it off with the criminals, telling them it’s not about you it’s just me, but she concedes that at least they’re dependable in their deceit and anyway when her lover won’t divorce his wife, who else is she going to spend Christmas with?
Marissa Hoffmann

Or Hats

The child presses her nose to the window, still shy with the driver, this woman who is not yet her mother. Out on the road, a woman in pink sprouts tiny balloons for hair. A white plastic bag becomes a dove. This is the game the child plays. Smuggled from the other place, where staircases soared into space and corrugated sheets danced like striped dresses. Windscreen cracks snuggled friendly spiders. Bullet holes on a rusty white van bled a flock of birds against a bleached morning sky. At a junction the car stops. "Look," says the child, forgetting herself, "hats!" The woman glances over at a bush on the roadside, its leaves in floppy layers. She hesitates. "Leaves," she says, gently. The child turns back, drops her forehead against the glass. The woman makes a soft gulping sound, like a fur-balled cat. "Or hats," she says.
Linda Grierson-Irish

You Will Hate Me

You will hate me. That thought is a weight on my shoulders and a tight strap across my chest. I have rung and they are on their way. You slouch in the armchair — oblivious. If life force is palpable it has seeped and leaked out of your pores bit by bit. You have moved like a sloth for days while I've circled the phone not wanting to upset you. Trim. The fat. Off. You don't see what I see — in the mirror. You don't concede your gaunt cheeks, your augmented eyes, and your dull strands of fine hair. It's falling out, did you know? You fail to notice your dismal bones, your frail posture. Your thumb and index finger close easy around your arm. It won't stop you. Every. Breath. Hurts. They'll hook you up to be force-fed. I'm your mother. My love is steel. You will hate me.
Charlotte French


I don't see her enter the train but I see her when she sits down opposite me. She locks her eyes on mine and I feel my cheeks begin to burn. I sink my head a little lower, lift my book a little higher and attempt to disappear. The rest of her expression gives nothing away. My eyes meet hers once more. That same stare in return. Instinct. She knows. But how? There's nothing to know. I pack my book away. Stand and move towards the door, preparing to exit. Smoothly she does the same, an invisible thread between us prompting her movements. She stands behind me. Too close. My heart beats faster. I exit onto the platform. She keeps pace. Annoyance suddenly surfaces. I turn to confront her. Face to face. She stands so close I can smell her bubblegum breath. She blows a single, perfect gum bubble. Pop.
Elaine Mead

20 Seconds during an Earthquake in Walnut, California

you’re in class when it starts and your skin tingles and you smile but the kid with the tight haircut shouts for everyone to get under the desks so you roll your eyes and say yeah sure what the hell everyone down but you have some arthritis so you stay up and this whole thing reminds you about a lecture your father gave you thirty-five years ago about how you’re not a leader and he was right so to spite Tight Haircut and your father you fold your arms and lean back against the whiteboard like you’re James Dean or Marlon Brando not that these kids are old enough to know Brando but this isn’t for them it’s for anyone who wants to know what you’re rebelling against and this stance says, “What do you got?”
John Brantingham


They say that’s where London used to be, but we don’t remember. We’ve seen pictures – sodden, then dried out, faded pictures. We’ve heard the stories – alcohol-soaked, never-to-dry-out, kaleidoscopic stories. We’ve felt their pain – sob-drowned, sinking, seeping pain. Up here, we say we’re drookit when we’re wet, but they don’t know the word, so they haven’t started to worry yet. We say, ‘Dinna fash,’ instead of ‘don’t worry’. They hear it as comfort. And it is. Though false. If we used their tongue, they’d hear the lie. Up here, even this high, we all lie. And I never did learn how to swim.
Karen Jones