Teeth

the dream, it began
with one of my teeth falling out
and the others were bent like gravestones
toppled and tilting in the weak mush soil
of bleeding gums

the room had blue tiles
half-bleached white in an
aching permanent noon
like a bathroom
in an asylum
in a film
(in a dream)

the mirror was cracked and hanging at odds
my hands were burned and blistered
and my fingers twisted, broken and set
trees and branches, rusted nails

i touched my face and the skin melted and dripped from it
like paint that takes three attempts to open the tin
(with fingernails, with a knife, with a chisel)
something festering and silently toxic

one by one, the remaining teeth came loose
my tongue agitated the rotten stumps
but there was no familiar pleasure
in the final twisting free

i laid my broken teeth
with their blackened roots
to rest in a red velvet pouch

and knew that i was no longer
beautiful.

It Began By The Sea As It Usually Does

Just a dream I had…

It began by the sea as it usually does. This time there was no tidal wave but a crashing eternity of raging white horses. The water was warm. I walked in until it was up to my waist and then let myself fall back into it and under. I felt euphoric.

Then there was an obstacle course built inside a barn that was old, badly repaired and barely held together by rotting wood and wishful thinking. I made my way through it from the end to the beginning until I reached a platform with a man loading a gun. People were dancing on the floor below us. He handed me the gun and I fired a shot but the dancers didn’t seem to notice. As one fell, his partner carried on dancing, arms outstretched.

A line of people shuffled into the room, staring blankly at their feet as they moved. One of them looked up at me and we recognised each other. I asked him, “Last time, were you with me when I killed someone?”. He replied “No. Last time, you killed me”, turned his eyes down again and walked away, following the line.

I was climbing a metal ladder that was anchored to the ground but not held in place any higher. It swayed as I climbed and I should have been frightened but all I could think about was the dancer, soaked in her partner’s blood, elegantly gliding across the floor with empty arms.

Four Truths, One Lie and One Unspoken Secret, Part 2 (Flash Fiction Prompt: Love Lies/Numbered)

Flash fiction prompt 29 (Love Lies) and 30 (Numbered), part 2. You can read part 1 from yesterday here. Because tomorrow’s post will be a recap of the month rather than a fiction piece, today is my final flash fiction prompt January post!

If you haven’t read the previous parts of this collection, it’ll make more sense if you read them in the order they happened rather than the order I wrote them – Push, Near-Death Wish, Drowning, Drowning Part 2 and Four Truths, One Lie and One Unspoken Secret, Part 1. Today’s piece is from Noah’s point of view. Brett’s was posted yesterday.

Four Truths, One Lie and One Unspoken Secret, Part 2

1. I love you.

2. When you’re holding a mug of coffee first thing in the morning and you’re still half asleep, I want to freeze time so I can stare at you forever. In those quiet moments, before you construct your mask and awaken your bravado, I feel like I’m seeing something meant only for me. I thought that feeling would lessen over time, but it hasn’t. I will always make coffee for you without asking if you want it, just so I can watch you drink it.

3. That first night, I almost asked you to come home with me. You saw exactly the same thing in me that everyone else does, but while other people walk away, you walked right into it, right into me, and it instantly made you the most fascinating person I had ever met. You are still the most fascinating person I have ever met and I can’t see that changing any time soon. Or ever.

4. The night I walked out, I drove for miles in the dark but I wanted nothing more than to come home to you, to climb into bed beside you and tell you everything. It scared me that I could miss someone so much after only a few hours and I didn’t know how to handle that intensity of feeling. I’m learning though and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

1. A few times but only in self-defence. I hated it and I hated myself for doing it. I only did it because I had to. I had no other option and I felt like shit afterwards. I will never do it again.

1. I would though, if you wanted me to. I would, with you.


About the photo
Another heart drawn in blood, more love and violence. A fitting final picture for the month!

Index of January 2017 flash fiction prompts.

Four Truths, One Lie and One Unspoken Secret, Part 1 (Flash Fiction Prompt: Love Lies/Numbered)

Flash fiction prompt 29 (Love Lies) and 30 (Numbered), because I couldn’t resist doing a list instead of a straight-up story.  This piece is split into two parts, with the second part to be posted tomorrow. Now that the characters who have taken up residence in my head over the last few days have told me their names, I wanted to give them one more chance to speak to each other before prompt month ends.

If you haven’t read the previous parts of this strange little collection, it’ll make more sense if you read them in the order they happened rather than the order I wrote them – Push, Near-Death Wish, Drowning and Drowning Part 2. Today’s piece is from Brett’s point of view. Noah’s will be posted tomorrow.

four truths one lie and one unspoken secret part 1

1. I love you.

2. When you’re getting dressed, I look at you the way most people look at someone getting undressed. You’re beautiful as you are, but watching you put on clothes is like watching you put on armour to do battle with the world. Sometimes I wish I could tear down your walls, but right now it’s enough to know that you’ve built some of those walls around both of us and I have never felt safer.

3. That first night, I would have let you do anything and I would have done anything for you. I would have let you kill me if you’d wanted to and I would have gone anywhere with you if you’d asked. The following night, I almost didn’t go back to meet you because I was scared of what would happen. I wasn’t scared of what you might want. I was scared of what I already wanted.

4. The night you walked out, I lay awake until it got light outside and imagined you coming home to me. I thought it was a fight. I thought you’d assume you’d won. Now I know better and I know you don’t see the world in such simple terms. Next time, if there is a next time, I’ll stand in front of the door and refuse to move until you tell me all the things you’re scared to say. I’ll listen and even if I don’t understand, I’ll accept everything, all of it, all of you. Then I’ll move aside so you can leave if you want to but I know you won’t.

1. Never, and I don’t think I could. I don’t think I have it in me. I’ve spent my life pushing boundaries, testing limits, and I’ve found the darkest and brightest parts of myself in those experiences. But that feels like a line I couldn’t cross.

1. I would though, if you wanted me to. I would, with you.


About the photo
I wanted an image that suggested love and violence, since it’s fairly obvious from the ‘lie’ and the ‘unspoken secret’ that there might be a bit more of both in these guys’ shared future. Weirdly, or not that weirdly if you know me, I have two very similar heart-drawn-in-blood photos in my archives, taken a few years apart.

Index of January 2017 flash fiction prompts.

Near-Death Wish [Flash Fiction Prompt: Tomorrow]

Flash fiction prompt 28 and the guys from yesterday’s story are back. This takes place the day after Push, told from the perspective of the other person, and long before Drowning and Drowning, Part 2.

Apart from vague mentions of violent ideation in the first paragraph, this is pretty much content warning free. For a change.

Near-Death Wish

“So”, he said, past a split lip and blood-soaked teeth, “Same time next week?”. At that point, it could have gone one of three ways. An agreement, wait a week and see what happened next time. One more blow to the face, shattering the back of his skull against the wall, knowing in that moment he would have let me. And then there was the way I chose.

“Same time tomorrow”.

“Tomorrow?”. He spat blood onto the pavement, cracked his jaw, wiped his mouth on his sleeve and looked at me like he was wishing I’d said “Now”.

“Tomorrow. Same time, same place, no-one tries to kill anyone. We get a beer and we talk. Alright?”.

“Sure. But I don’t drink beer”.

“OK then, drink whatever you drink. And leave that knife behind”.

“How did you . . ?”

“Look, I don’t know how often you do whatever this is but you picked the wrong person this time”.

“Oh, no, I really didn’t”. A pause. “See you tomorrow then. And you can frisk me for weapons if you want”.

And with that he was on his way, limping slightly. Once he’d put a few feet of distance between us, he pulled the knife from his waistband and tossed it in the air with a flick of his wrist that made it spin. He caught it expertly by the blade, flashed me one last red smile over his shoulder that made my breath catch in my throat, and turned the corner out of view.

I lay awake for most of the night wondering how the hell this had happened. Sure, people tended to recognise me for at least part of what I was, but it mostly made them keep their distance, cross the road, walk a wide arc around me. Occasionally a random drunk would try to pick a fight but one solid punch would put an end to it before it even started. This one I couldn’t figure out at all. I got the feeling he wasn’t drunk and he was anything but random. I’d never met anyone who could take an impact like that and stay standing. For a brief moment I wondered if I’d finally met my match, then I shook the feeling away. I’d never been that lucky before, but I was curious. I didn’t understand any of this, but I wanted to.

The following night, I got there early, by accident but also not. With no idea whether or not he was going to show, I craved a cigarette. The last time I had a smoke was the night I quit my job and I swore off both tobacco and my previous profession for life. I quit cold turkey, smoking and killing, and it was all fine for over a year until I felt a vicious desire for both in the space of twenty-four hours. Because of him. And he looked . . . well, he looked good. I’d kind of sworn off that as well but maybe the general feeling of want was just finding its way around everything I told myself I wasn’t going to do.

My contemplation of self-imposed restrictions was interrupted by his arrival.

“You want to check me for knives?”,

“I want to trust you. Let’s play that game and see how it goes”.

“OK. You going to tell me your name?”.

“I said I want to trust you, not that I already do. Let’s go and get whatever you drink”.

It was a double vodka, straight, no ice. He didn’t even knock it back in one go. He sipped it slowly, actually enjoying the taste of the cheap spirit. I knew it was cheap because this particular bar didn’t have anything else, which was fair enough since its unique selling point was that it was open all night even though it probably shouldn’t have been. Plus, the staff were well versed in the art of turning a blind eye. We watched each other in silence across a table that had been decorated over the years by stabs and scores from countless pocket knives. I took a drink of my beer, slowly, amused that he seemed to think he could unnerve me by looking at me like that. Like that. I was not so easy to unnerve.

“So”, I said, “Tell me about that death wish of yours”.

“It’s not a death wish. It’s a near-death wish”. He smirked.

“And you saw me and thought I looked like the type to stop at near?”.

He shrugged. “I saw you and didn’t know. I still don’t. That’s why I’m here”.

“Because you want to find out?”.

“Because I like not knowing”.

And so the conversation continued. I had another beer. He had three more double vodkas and became sharper with each one. He told me he did things with computers. I told him I worked in security. Neither of us entirely believed the other, although no doubt there was a little bit of truth in each of our words. 5am arrived and I said it was time I got going.

“Why?”, he asked. “Don’t want to be late for church?”.

“Something like that”.

“So, same time tomorrow?”.

God, he looked so . . . the way he looked.  Throwing caution to the wind and every other element, I suggested, “Or now. Now would work”.

He grinned—a dangerous, enticing thing—as I stood up and walked towards the door. He followed, barely a pace behind. When we got outside, I stopped and turned to face him.

“I still don’t trust you but what the hell. I’m Noah”.

“I’m Brett”.

And as the world shifted from deep black to a rain-drenched silvery suggestion of a dawn yet to arrive, we walked away from the bar, together, and I wondered, not for the first time, what I was getting myself into.


About the photo
I needed “a rain-drenched silvery suggestion of a dawn yet to arrive”, so…

Index of January 2017 flash fiction prompts.

Drowning, Part 2 [Flash Fiction Prompt: Page by Page]

Flash fiction prompt 27 and I cannot believe I’m almost at the end of this challenge! Today’s prompt piece is a follow up to yesterday’s, the same event told from the perspective of the other person. I’m pretty sure these are indeed the guys from day 24’s Push and I’m intrigued to see how much more of their story they want to tell me.

As with yesterday, content warning for fucked up relationships, mutual violence and emotional manipulation.

Drowning Part 2

7.09pm and the sun is setting as I drive away, encased in blissful silence and fading light. This has always been my favourite time, with clouds glowing red and orange as another day falls warm below the horizon. The side of my face is pulsing in time with my heartbeat, swelling like the symphony of your charismatic rage. I grip the steering wheel tightly as if it was built from the delicate structures of your throat, begging to be crushed in my hands. You, with your poet’s soul, who will never understand how close I came to not being able to stop, how close I come every time. You provoke me with flashing eyes to the tipping point of almost, knowing nothing of the times before you when almost was not my limit. The times before you when I knew no limits.

11.16pm and I pull in to the garage to fill up the car, letting my hair fall across my eye when I go in to pay. People already regard me with a sense of caution that I know has more to do with my demeanour than my size. I don’t want to deal with that tonight. I don’t want to be reminded that strangers can feel the violence in me. I don’t want to be reminded that it’s there, always, my defining feature. In a past life, it was celebrated by the people who put guns in my hands and money in my pockets. In a past life, it was useful, directed. In this life, I struggle to control it. You see me as calm, steady, reliable. You have no idea what it took to build these walls and what it still takes to hold myself behind them.

4.35am and the dark miles stretch out before me like the faces of the fallen, the worlds I have ended with only the barest of consideration and tragically little remorse. I used to drive at night then too, telling myself every time that I could just keep driving if I wanted to, that there was no good reason to go back. The truth is, I needed it. The money was just an excuse. I would have done it for free. You only know half of this story because I can’t get past the feeling that if I told you everything, I would wake up one morning and find you gone. For all we have done to each other, for everything asked for and given and received, we are still standing knee-deep at the edge of a bottomless sea and I have spent too much time at its centre. I was never caught in the current. I was directing the tides.

7.43am and I imagine you at home, in bed, still clothed and unable to sleep. I imagine being the kind of person who could be beside you now, the kind of person who could trust myself as much as you trust me. Instead, I sit in my car and fill more pages of a book that holds all the words I would never dare to speak out loud. A book that holds my past, my secrets, all the things I wish I had the emotional capacity to regret. The last thing I write before I slide the book back through the carefully concealed tear in the leather of my seat is for you. The last thing I write is, “I’m sorry”.

9.02am and I close the car door quietly and head back into the house. I walk with steady footsteps and hang my coat on the hook in the hall, smoothing the fabric with my hand before I go to the kitchen to make coffee. I know the smell will wake you because it always does. I know you’ll arrive downstairs in a few minutes, dishevelled and captivating as ever. I know you’ll think of this as a battle and assume I’ll believe that I won. I’ll make two cups of coffee because it feels like the right thing to do and I’ll try to smile when I hand yours to you. You’ll see the bruises on my face and I’ll see the bruises on your neck and for a fleeting moment I’ll feel like maybe I can tell you everything. But I won’t.

11.51am and you settle back against me as the fire burns with almost as much heat as you. I welcome warmth into frozen places, trying to ignore the fear that one day I won’t be able to stop myself and you’ll see past the parts of me you love to the reality that I suspect might be too much, even for you. The darkest fear is reserved for the possibility that you won’t fight back, that you’ll look into my eyes with pure acceptance and in the end your undoing and mine will be too perfect for either of us to bear.

We are the calm and the storm, the secret whispered in the moment before the tidal wave crashes. And for all the times we have pretended to dive into this darkness willingly, the truth is we are falling and we have so much further to fall.


About the photo
I rarely get to take pictures of sunsets from cars because I’m usually driving. This time I wasn’t.

Index of January 2017 flash fiction prompts.

Drowning [Flash Fiction Prompt: 3057]

Flash fiction prompt 26 and I don’t know who these characters are but I suspect they might be the guys from Push.

Content warning for fucked up relationships, mutual violence and emotional manipulation.

Drowning

3.05am and seven hours since you calmly picked up your keys, told me not to wait up and walked out. Anyone else would have shouted. Anyone else would have angrily grabbed their coat from the hook on their way down the hall. Anyone else would have slammed the door as they left. Anyone else would have floored the accelerator as they drove away to add volume and drama to their exit. But not you. Never you. You, the master of the stone-cold promise and the heavy silence and the ominous unspoken threat. You, the elegant conductor of the hammering in my head. Everything I do is wrapped in you and soaked in you. My lips worn pale from drinking your poison, a taste of us both on a sliver of ice. The moon hangs in a misty sky and all I can think is I am so out of focus. I am so out of focus.

5.23am and I sleep with one eye open still, just as I should. Forgiveness rarely finds its way to souls like ours. In my half-awake world of in-between dreams, I shoot myself. In the head, in the heart, in the mirror. A slow motion bullet ricochets from bone to muscle to glass until it is swallowed up by the emptiness that hangs in the air. My silence, flash-frozen, left behind by your measured steps that punctured my lung as you turned your back and walked away. I still breathe, but only for you and I no longer choke on the blood from the loss you slid between my ribs. Your absence holds me with prison guard keys and spits its demands in my face. Stop. Fall. Kneel. Lie still. Lies, still. The reality of you is dead calm. The lack of you is a tornado.

7.43am and I imagine a place where I can walk down the street wearing no shoes. Where I can stare directly into the sun with eyes wide open. Where I can fall asleep in someone’s arms and be carried to bed. I imagine the sound of your car pulling up outside, the crunch of your footsteps on the path, the turn of your key in the door. I imagine the gentle tread of your shoes on the stairs, the soft drift of fabric against skin as you get undressed and lay your clothes neatly across the back of the chair. I imagine the brief chill as you lift the covers, replaced by the welcome warmth of your body as you climb into bed next to me. I imagine your breath on my neck, your fingers sliding around my wrist and gripping just a little too tightly, the way I like it. I think, “I’m sorry” and wonder for a moment if I said it out loud.

9.14am and I awaken to the aroma of freshly brewed coffee filling the house. I am still wearing the clothes you last saw me in and even though I couldn’t care less, I know you’ll notice. I would like to believe that you’ll assume I was angry, that I lay alone dreaming of how to destroy you, but for everything I’ve ever been wrong about, we know the truth of each other too well. Before I go downstairs, before I say a word, I know you’ll be aware of how much a night without you hurt me. I know the corner of your mouth will lift in quiet satisfaction as you pour coffee for both of us without asking if I want any, because I always do and you never ask. I know you’ll count this as a victory because we are nothing if not a war. We are each other’s strategic targets and collateral damage. Neither of us really wants to win. Neither of us ever will.

9.32am and I walk into the kitchen, pausing to savour the sight of your shirt stretched tight across the muscles of your back. You turn, with precisely the half-smile I predicted, and pour two cups of coffee. Then you push your hair back from your face and my heart swells like the bruise around your eye. My hand throbs, remembering the impact. As I tilt my head to crack the bones in my neck, your pupils dilate when you see the marks from your fingers that have darkened on my skin. The thing is, we both knew exactly what we were getting into and this has never been anything other than what we wanted.

11.51am and the fire crackles in the hearth as I lean back against your chest and your arms find their way around me, exactly where they belong. You are solid and honest and real, the rock I break myself against, the cliff I leap from, the earth that catches me. I am the explosion, the unpredictable flame, the molten core that melts the frost in your blood. We are tangled, tied, entwined, not a disaster waiting to happen but a disaster that happens a thousand times a day.

We are the hours between the seconds, the gulp of water disguised as a gasp of air. And for all the times we have pretended to reach for the surface, the truth is we walked into this drowning with no intention of ever trying to hold our breath.


About the photo
I took this during a camping trip in the snow. I don’t remember it being cold but I remember it being beautiful.

Index of January 2017 flash fiction prompts.