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

Life and Death and Life

The dead leaves crumbling in between her toes told her everything would be all right even without her grandfather. Autumn had always been her season of learning, his season of teaching – how to soak conkers in vinegar, why Halloween is not about sweets, what the next school year will bring. But now he taught her something new, something unexpected. A cruel but necessary last lesson this autumn: nature gives, and nature takes away.

She’d be okay.


Losing Her Shadow

Leading him down the lightless corridor she could feel the layers of darkness peeling away from her. Layers of her darkness detaching themselves from the corridors of her mind and transferring themselves to the walls around her. In that moment she lost her compulsion to the light. A light that drove her onto a pedestal and screamed out her flaws, her anxieties, her sins. For too long now she felt as though she had been resisting her shadow, resisting nourishment from space the light cannot possess. She realised, then, that darkness is not something real, something visible, something judged; it is just the absence of light. Only in the darkness, in both losing and accepting her shadow, could she be truly free.

Time to see now, she thought. Her mind did not have to fight off the vision her eyes normally conceded to. The colours of her mind splashed across her, liberated from the shackles of a rainbow. Her new spectrum rippled through her, through the fingers of the hand she tugged at, through the air that she gulped at. Through the darkness that pervaded the room as her essence did.

A final room took her and a door concealed any light left, a light that snatched at her heels and clawed at her skin. The hands took her and peeled away her clothes, the last artifice of a world she forgot in that blackness. He carved her shell a new shape. A forbidden shape. She felt an Eve in a garden she could not see. A garden she did not want to see, or understand. She had picked her fruit and it drooled sweetly over her lips.

But with the knowledge of good comes evil.

Reclining she saw a small window she had not noticed before. Through it she saw the roof of a building, a tree, the hat of a man standing near. But it was the light she saw. It was the light she feared. It screamed down at her, shrieking in her ears. It burned into her, igniting every synapse, inflaming every nerve. It was her husband screaming, her children, her mother, her colleagues, her life. Screaming at her shadow that fell from her, back against the wall.

Men in Ties

The man sat on the arm of the chair, the one that Sally used to curl up on before she was taken away too. He sat in that way, my father had surely thought. I could tell my father had noticed because of the way he moved his eyes, the way that all fathers move their eyes. It was an unforgiving rolling motion which betrayed his mind’s eye and the unfortunate foresight within. Those eyes revealed that secret knowledge to me, but before I could grasp it they grew cold and recoiled behind the word father.

Almost immediately he dragged himself forward on his own armchair readying himself for the conclusion of what was to be an inevitably brief visit. It was an interruptive perch.

“Tea? Or coffee?” My father attempted to stall. But that’s all it was, an attempt. My father knew of the seriousness that permeated through the flesh of our situation, but he also knew that we lived in a world where people were skin and bones. They’ll eat you up out there was what my father always used to say. Ever since he stopped being my Dad, the Dad who brought home milkshakes and hugs, and became my father, the father labelled on brown envelopes and on the tongues of men who wore ties.

“Mr. Robinson. Sam. The matter has been discussed,” the man said. My father’s jaw switched flank with his patience. I knew he always hated when the men in ties used his first name. He thought that it was them thinking they knew you and that they owned you.

“Just say it, mate. I don’t want your bureaucratic nonsense. I get enough of that at the Post Office. These are my kids. Just say what you’ve come here to say.”

“I’m sorry, Sam. We’ve got to take her.”

I’d been watching through the crack in the door. A crack was all they gave me. I’d become accustomed to the smell of the hinge on my living room door. For the past few years my life had been in the smell of that hinge and in the crack above it. That smell was who I had been, who I was, who I was going to be, and it reeked.

“You can’t take her,” my father spoke adamant of a plastic solidarity that held us together. The man in the tie had already prepared an answer for that. The men in ties were always three steps ahead; they knew what was and what was going to be. Like when my sister and I played Battleships once and she had strategically placed a mirror to my right before we began. When I found out I kicked the game over and the pieces went everywhere. I found a piece years later, soon after she’d been taken, underneath my wardrobe. It was an aircraft carrier, but then it became my sister. Sunk and untraceable.

“We have to,” said the mouth above the tie.

I said goodbye to my father at the front door. It was then that he became my dad again, crying in his slippers. He was no longer the name on my birth certificate. He was the freckles on my shoulders, the blue in my eyes, the blood in my veins. In that crimson moment I remember my dad, the man who lost me to the men in ties.


When she was younger she took her mother’s nail scissors out of the dresser and cut off all her eyelashes. Her mother was devastated, naturally. The neighbours had always wondered about her daughter, as did I, and she grew paranoid. People don’t like little girls with stains on their knees. I once passed the garden to see six naked, shaved dolls stuck in the mud. There was a seventh, headless. Neutral smooth areas losing definition. Dirty fingernails are otherwise harmless, but that wasn’t. There was something more in that. You could tell her mother had lost it. The day her daughter stepped out of that house, with naked eyelids flaunting themselves to a fig-covered world, her mother stopped going outside. I saw her only once after that morning. She was smoking on the porch; two fading eyes hiding behind a red cigarette, just a smoky haze. The whole family was a blur. Transgression was a second nature; sugar and spice, and all things spliced. Smoking couldn’t have helped. Or maybe it did. But it wasn’t her body she worried for. You see, the body is a dangerous thing; everybody’s different, but ultimately there are only two kinds. Her daughter knew that. She was seven, but she knew that. Her mother died soon after her spirit did. I’m not sure how. Closed doors are powerful things, even for me. As for her daughter, she grew up, joined the football team, learned to drive, and was in and out of hospital. I think he works at the Post Office now.


He cut into that earth over and over, but no life came. Not one pitiful stem. Soil and water is a messy combination, but those stains can be washed away. The problem was that he longed for it too much, and everyone knows that if you long for something too much it won’t come. That’s just a fact of life, and death. He couldn’t do it, but he sure could stare at her and think about it. Her daffodils only bloom once a year, but life springs in her garden once more than his. His only brought death. They grow from narcissistic things, daffodils, and that’s what he hated. It would always make him greener than the grass on the other side. It turns out he never knew himself back then. All it took was a fifth pint. Four had always seemed enough, but the soil frustrated him that day. When he left those dregs in the pub he realised: good things come easily. The hoe was useful after all. It was the only thing the garden needed. But, then again, nothing fertilises better than a rotting corpse.

A Dead Hand

Soil fistfuls dropped but

Sending up no hollow sound,

Stiff like a dead hand.


Echoes and ripples are empty things. They are both distortions of the truth; mere reactions to a beauty the air and the water simply cannot understand. That rock face retorts and the water shivers in vanity, my vanity, at a face that transcends its very nature.

Who could kiss their own reflection but a man with no fear in beauty; no fear in death? Who could thirst, hunger, and cry in pain to afford one sight of this reflected beauty? And who could hold their own eyes until death, but a man with a face like this.

Tears distort the reflection and a stale wind whispers, Who goes there…goes there…goes there… but no answer comes. There is no answer in death; only a creaking heart, a pair of rusted lungs, and two deep, bronze eyes.

Love is in the Air


Love is in the air and I’m choking on the fumes.

If there’s a thin line between love and hate then I must have broken that line. You told me today: Love is blind, and that It doesn’t matter about the differences we share. But, for me, division is implicit in sharing.

It’s your clichés that kill love for me, the way they contradict each other. You say: make love not war, yet all’s fair in love and war, and doesn’t love conquer all? Maybe love died in the battle today.

Those faded butterflies in my stomach may as well have been wasps in my lungs. That probably would have hurt less. I’ll always remember those words you said, in my way:

You say that, Roses are red, and Violets are blue, But if love is blind, How can I trust you?
I’m leaving you.

Guilt is Strange

Guilt, he thought, is strange. It is one of only a few emotions that have a physical effect upon the body. It is a stomach-tossing, throat-tugging, head-pumping thing. He had felt happiness a few times and, although it too had some physical effect, he concluded that it doesn’t have so profound a grasp over the human body as guilt. Sadness is also different. He considered the tears he had shed within his life and they seemed, now, to have been superficial. Perhaps they have a more apparent physical effect; noticeable to a beholder and not just the sufferer, but it still was no match. Excitement, although this was a rare feeling for him, came closer. It hums within a person and acts upon the organs in a very conspicuous way. Yet none of these, he decided, came close to the current feeling. None made him feel so nauseous, so grave, so psychologically convulsive as guilt.

The only emotion that came near to it, he considered, was terror. He had often been provoked by a horror film or by a sinister shadow on a midnight ceiling. He had felt terror, then, only mildly. Now his guilt took the form of extreme terror. His remorse became violent fear. His mind had difficulty understanding his own thoughts but he knew, for sure, that he became terrified by the idea of living. The prospect of waking tomorrow frightened him. He imagined looking into his refrigerator not with the usual disappointment but with horror. He imagined watching television with dreadful, not normal, eyes. He imagined feeding his cat with uncontrollable trepidation. He didn’t want to live anymore, but he didn’t know what that meant. The things he passed on his walk, mundane things, seemed to invoke a different feeling. Normally he would pass them over with indifference, perhaps without noticing some at all, but now they became strange and unknown. The unfamiliarity teased his mind then, steadily, began to throttle his soul. He seemed to recoil from the normality that surrounded him and he surrendered himself to the darkness of his mind, a mind that began to trick him. The people he passed were just shadows of the beings he had seen before. They became half-dead creatures with cold eyes, soundless footsteps with writhing limbs. They seemed to ignore him, or perhaps they couldn’t see him. They’d look if they knew, he thought. Sounds became ominous and echoed into the recesses of his mind. Light became dark and the city descended upon him. His heart strained to the roar of the menacing shadows and his spine stiffened with the cold sweat of the night. He paused.

And then he ran. He ran past the shadows and the echoes. His feet spun off the world beneath him. The air bit him and his eyes watered. He stumbled over the pointless root of an oak, and fell into the meaningless hedge of a garden. He ran on and soon became aware that his eyes were not watering. He was crying. Tears of euphoric terror, perhaps the first real tears of his life. He thought of his father and his mother, whom he had barely known. He thought of his job and his unfriendly friends. He decided that he hated them and, also, that they hated him. He thought of his past and all that did not mean anything to him now. He thought of futility and of meaning. He hated everyone, he hated his job, he hated his house and he hated his bed, his refrigerator, and his clothes. He couldn’t face another dripping tap, or another brown envelope. He hated his whole life and it was too late to change any of it, so he ran.

And then he stopped. He became aware that he was standing outside his front door. The shadows had gone and the echoes became distant. His mind, whilst still troubled, composed itself with the thought of the evening ahead. He took hold of the handle and appreciated its cold simplicity. Tonight is the night I kill myself, he resolved whilst opening the door. Finally his life had a purpose.

The Woman Who Found Love

You said, ‘I love you.’ Why is it that the most unoriginal thing we can say to one another is still the thing we long to hear? ‘I love you’ is always a quotation. You did not say it first and neither did I, yet when you say it and when I say it we speak like savages who have found three words and worship them.

She was right. She has to be; it’s in a book and people have read it for years. It’s so striking, so blunt, but it resonates with a soft, familiar hue. It’s almost like I’ve always known this. Like the knowledge has always been there but buried somehow under a pile of flowers, clichés and the two seats that hide in the darkness at the back of cinema. Hidden completely until now.

He’s lied to me, then. Now. Will do again. They’ve all lied. I’ve lied. Constant lies. There can be no truth in something fake. Love must feel as true as a polyester jumper feels like cotton, or silk. I’ve worn love, fake love, for all these years. Love has worn me, eroded me. Yet now love has worn away my plastic eyes. I’ve broken through.

But surely I felt it and always have. Love is warm, cosy. Like seal pelt gloves. I still feel its warmth. He is warm, never cold. He never quotes it, surely; he feels it within him and injects me with it too. That’s love, isn’t it?

Warm though. Not hot. Why did I use warm? Warm is a forgotten cup of tea, or a cloudy summer’s day. Warm is medial, temporary, flat. If love is warm then I am lost in warmth.

‘I love you.’ He said it this morning, over a half-tied tie and a welcome mat. I welcomed it, clueless and stupid. Like I saw you, or I poked you, or I killed you. Love is an action. ‘I love you.’ He acted love upon me, forced it upon me. Love is something he did to me. This morning, last night, our wedding day, our sixth date. All those texts, phone calls, birthday cards: he did love to me. At me. Love is no more than a foul verb. I feel it no more than I feel think, talk, or stand. Love is something we act; it is a play within which we all participate, recite our lines, and stand where we are told. Love is not love.

And so I stand at this doorway, and recite my lines like the good actress I have become. Like the actors we all are. I take his coat, close the door, and embrace him. Looking into his plastic eyes and whispering off a stale breath: I love you.

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