Why do human beings need answers? Partly I suppose because without one the question itself soon sounds silly. Better then to ask no questions? Better then to be a contented pig than an unhappy Socrates? Since factory farming is tougher on pigs that it is on philosophers I’ll take my chance. – Jeanette Winterson

Extended at the Top

extended at the top

The woman,
still and calm,
folds her hands
gazing out at us.
Loose brushwork
in her hands
and soft shadow
on her neck
the great Dutch master
Frans Hals,
best known
for portraits of the wealthy
and members of the aristocracy.
It was once believed
this was the artist’s wife,
but, actually,
it is a mystery.
The picture seems
to be extended
at the

The Child


He sits in the middle of the classroom, small and low in his chair, so that the others, the ones sitting behind him, can see over his head; he knows that those behind him neither appreciate nor notice this act, but he doesn’t mind because it allows him to just sit there, quietly and out of the way, and wait for the day to be over and not listen to the teacher speak and glance every now and then, as much as his low position will permit it, at the birds outside as they swoop and glide from tree to lamppost to tree again, thinking things aren’t so bad – but, as he always does, he stops himself from breathing, just for a minute, just until his head throbs and his face turns a pale blue, and before he lets himself breathe again he looks around to face the others. One girl looks over at him, only for a moment, before turning to face the teacher again.

Closed Doors


What goes on behind closed doors? Nothing. You put a cat in a box and it isn’t alive, or dead. There is no cat. Same thing here. You keep that door closed and nothing will happen. Nothing will change. You open that door and you’ll know if the cat’s dead or not. Look, forget about the cat thing. Just don’t open that door. Ignorance is bliss, you know? What you don’t know can’t hurt you, and what’s wrong with that, eh?

But if I thought my girlfriend was ragging my boss, I’d open it, mate.

Grandad’s Dregs

I sucked in that stale air like a bad pint, but you were savouring your dregs. My eyes were restless. They strained towards your crisp bed sheets, the white flecks on my fingernails, anything but your fading, half-closed eyes. I’d never kissed you before. Not when your cheeks were full, when your skin held you tightly, when your lips could gather words or moisture or smiles. But it felt right, then, to kiss you once, when not even my eyes could speak.

Hills like White Elephants: Pastiche

The shade provided little relief for her as she placed herself down by the table, immediately uncomfortable and unnerved. Knowing it would be forty minutes until her train arrived she happily agreed to nullify the awkwardness, of both her seat and her situation, by discussing drinks with her lover who sat opposite.

The unnatural discussion over, she took to admiring the landscape beyond them. It was a task she took to with some trouble.

She could have noticed the line of hills on the horizon, white in the sun but otherwise brown and dry, or indeed the woman who began serving their drinks in silence. But she found herself once again with hands to bump, thinking about the life growing inside her, and of her own life simultaneously falling apart.

Death is Part of the Contract, Mr Jones

It was difficult for Ben to avoid thinking about his own death. Now that it was booked for the approaching Monday. The thought provided no relief, and stirred no fear. It was the cause of, and solution to, the ultimate problem. It was a thought that, to Ben’s petty comprehension, meant he was still alive but didn’t want to be.

Death is part of the contract, Mr Jones. You will most definitely die.

In this way Ben had never attempted to understand the labyrinthine nature of his existence. His was a life of futility and paranoia; the possibility of the Minotaur behind each impending corner.

There are reasons for dying, and there are reasons to stop living. They are different things.

This was the extent to which Ben philosophised his existence. He was no Hamlet. He could think, and consider, and argue, and question, but still he would remain unassuming and undeserving of what he felt was beyond him. Beyond any reason to live.

All people stop living, Mr Jones. But those who come to us don’t just stop living. They die, and they die the way men are supposed to die. In glory and commemoration.

Ben had objectified thoughts which remained deep and subjective to most. Ben wanted to die. The Sunset Corporation could arrange it for him. He would convince himself that death is the most human part of life. There can be nothing inhuman in what they were doing.

Like Spartacus, or Davy Crockett. You are one of them, Mr Jones. Yours is a death worth celebrating. Your life won’t just end, Mr Jones. You will die a hero of men, a hero of life. In your death is your life.

But ultimately, Ben Jones just wanted to die.

The End

No one has time to reflect on their own death. There is no hindsight, no regret, no pain when you’re dead and gone. There’s barely anything to reflect on when you’re alive too: knowing nothing means nothing to think about. All you can do is feel your heart beat, your lungs heave, and your skin ripple with life.

And then you don’t. You die. This is all you can think. This is all you can consider in the moments before you die. You’ve fallen to the floor and you’ve been kicked and punched. You ache of life. You radiate it. Life is tearing you apart. You feel life pulsate and drum through you in your pain, in your numbness. But you think because you can. You think because you live. You appreciate it.

But then the bat comes down and hits you on the head.

The Captured Art of a Flash-Bulb Murderer

He isn’t sure how much it affects the heart rate, or whether it’s before or after they die when they soil themselves. Often he’d lay on his bed alone and think – a pastime he’d accepted when he’d started. The self-inflicted loneliness is both a blessing and a curse – about his victims. Through thought he would normalise it: Their bodies have no time to prepare for death, but their deaths have plentiful time to be prepared. A beautiful contrast. In his mind, death was just a universal force that he’d learned to control. He’d learned to inverse it. He had mastered the art of taking life away, and with it the art of letting himself live.

Turning over on the bare mattress his eyes moved, as they always did, to the photos on the wall. They kept what he did real; they documented the past, and encouraged a future. Each was a testament to his power. Each was a photo of  a victim in the moment before death.

He delighted in the fact that none of the photos showed the blood or the wounds of his victims, or the weapons used to kill them. To him, this was a feat. Verification of his power. All that he preyed on, bar the opportunity to execute his power, was the last moment of his victim. The terrifying moment in which they knew they were about to die.

Photos of muffled screams and eyes that seemed to transcend the paper and ink which made them. Eyes which lived on, in an immortalised and celebrated moment, far beyond the last breath of those to whom they belonged. The wall had become to him a living fresco of delight and death through which he maintained a sullen yet glorifying pride. The screams, the blood, the agony. The conscious moment of imminent annihilation.

The sights and sounds of those moments pervaded the room, replacing the loneliness his task had aimed to destroy. In these photos he gained reason to live, reason to continue with his art. This was, after his self-satisfying art, a second success. His life and their deaths. The curse and the blessing.

He sat up, picked up his old Polaroid, and felt the shape of his pocket-knife through his jeans.

Then he left.

An Endless Bleed

She was pregnant with grief now. She had learned, three months ago, that grief is not a sensation like happiness or excitement; grief is not fleeting, and it does not come and go as it chooses. Her grief swells within her as an eternal hunger, being her, owning her. Engulfing her. Grief seeps from her as an endless bleed from an open wound, and beats within her as the echo of a pulse her baby boy left behind.

Let the Clouds Cry for You

When she was a child and she felt upset, her mother used to say to her: Don’t cry. Let the clouds do that for you. This was something she had taken with her through life: the purging sentiment in her mother’s words. Her tears dried up as her nature took the burden. But now she finds her clouds lie heavy, dark and brooding with melancholic life.

Thirty years of suppressed evaporation; now it pours.

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