Week Twenty-Seven prompt: Once Upon a Time

You should know upfront

That there is no once upon a time.

That this is not a love story.

That liars kill their kind.

Boy meets Boy,

one day on a train.

It sounds like a love story,

and it might have been

(for what is a love story but a story about love?),

but then they meet

the Girl.

She sits between them,

All five feet

a clear-skinned mystery

they want to solve.

A pinch and a tickle

they get for their troubles.

But, that day on the train,

they find a promise

in her silver laugh

in her small hands,

in the voice of her eyes,

“I am yours.”

From somewhere deepdeepdown,

they feel a push.

Boy and Boy slip.

Boy and Boy trip.

(They don’t want to get back up.)

Something as stupid as

an upside-down frown

holds them hostage.

She goes to them,

to Boy and Boy,

one by one.

She touches and

heat is hot andwhispersarehotter,

Skin to skin and skin to skin,


is that okay?”

It isn’t,


people can get used to anything.

There is a week,

and then two,

she isn’t where she says she is.

Boy and Boy play darts

dripping with doubt.

They find her,

one day on a train.

She is kissing someone.


like her lips kiss his lips

every day.

It sounds like a love story,

and it might have been –

(for what is a love story but a story about love?)

but Boy and Boy don’t believe in love stories

any more.

She feels a push.

She slips, she trips,

She wants to get back up.

Boy and Boy wear upside-down frowns

as they hold her hostage

until the train comes.

“Such a shame.”

“Terrible accident.”

“So young.”

“What an awful way to go.”

There is no once upon a time.

This is not a love story.

Liars kill their kind.

Like it? Vote for it here!

Week Twenty-Six Prompt: Sated

This is written in the same universe as 'After-Haze', my week 20 entry, but it can absolutely be read on its own. 'Sated' took me in the opposite direction this week, of wanting so badly to feel fulfilled, and knowing it will never be a possibility. Let me know what you think!

A History Lesson

Thanks Michael. Sit down please, Lucy, Tom. I promise this won’t take long. Rachael sees the dubious looks on Tom and Lucy’s faces and rolls her eyes. Well it might. But it’s important. No Lucy, your father and I are not splitting up, don’t be ridiculous.

Tom makes a small noise that might be a cough and Rachael’s eyes flash.
 What was that Tom? 
Tom is silent, slightly mollified and he thinks that maybe now isn’t the right time to stir his mum up.
That’s what I thought, Rachael nods. Now. 
Rachael inhales slowly and her children stare back at her, little faces peering up at her with the intensity only the combined forces of three children under twelve can muster. 
I have decided – Rachael pauses here, takes a breath and continues – to tell you about your uncle. 
Which one mum? We have like, over a thousand.
No, Lucy darling. Your other uncle. The one you never got to meet. 
Lucy's brow furrows. But, we already know – 
Tom elbows Lucy and she shoots him a vicious look, mouthing what? What? But Tom ignores her, staring at his mother. She looks sad and he sort of wants to hug her but he can’t really, he’ll be twelve soon, but Michael is there with his too-small arms and his mum is suddenly smiling again. Tom feels himself relax a little bit, enough to turn back to Lucy and poke his tongue out at her and watch her face heat up with indignation while he smirks, satisfied, and turns back to his mother.
Thanks Mikey. I’m alright. You can sit back down. I know you know about him, Lucy, but I want to tell you three properly, because – Rachael's voice breaks and she looks down at her hands. The three children stiffen slightly and Lucy’s breath catches; a tiny, fragile sound that is almost lost in the crackling of the fire in the hearth beside them. Rachael's shoulders straighten and she looks back up again.


Okay. So. Here we go, then. 
Okay mum. 
This is going to be me, telling you about your uncle.
A noise at the doorway startles Rachael and she looks up. Her husband, Dan, is leaning against the frame, staring at her in the pale grey winter light, last-minute Christmas packages in hand. Her eyes meet his and he wills her silently to continue. They have talked about this, late at night when Rachael’s legs are lying over his and his hand is wrapped in her hair; when words are breaths in the dark and everything around them is stillness and shadows. Rachael wants her children to know – they both do – so much, about her brave, clever, impossibly funny brother, who was no longer here. She wants to tell them how he teased her mercilessly over her crush on Dan, how he had once saved her from drowning in the creek out the back of their childhood home, how he had once let her into his tree house for a treat on her sixth birthday and let her eat as much mud cake as she wanted. She had been sick for a day afterwards and he had come to her with piles of Charlie Brown comics and read them to her, doing all the voices, til her stomach hurt from laughing so hard. She wants, with her whole being, has wanted for years, for them to know him like she had, which she knows is impossible but – she wants him to be more than just a name to them. 
Looking down at them all; at Lucy, fidgeting quietly with legs crossed in front of her, at Michael, so like her brother with a sort of quiet intensity in those bright green eyes of his and at Tom, who was trying very hard to look serious and grown up. Do you know, she thought, how much he would have loved you? How he would have spoiled you? How he would have claimed the ‘Cool Uncle’ title and demanded they come to him for advice about which spot exactly to tickle their mum in, or to teach them the Repetition game and, much later, to ask for advice about relationships and, God forbid, sex? How do I even begin to start telling you about this brilliant person you will never get the chance to meet? Somewhere in the very pit of her, buried so deep within her skin she had forgotten it was there, a tightness ached suddenly with this want, this want to have her brother back, this want for him to never have got into that car, for her children to know him, and she felt terribly sad that they would never – could never – know him, not really, not in the way she wanted them to. 
I’ve heard – Rachael can hear the smile in Dan’s voice as it cuts across the living room and three little heads snap up to stare at their father – that to start at the very beginning is a very good place to start.
Rachael looks up at him then, her eyes meeting his and he crosses the room and sits next to her on the couch, her body dipping towards his slightly as he settles; the warm length of his body in line with hers, smelling of Christmas and night-time and so very Dan it almost overwhelms her. Her hand finds his and the tightness unravels slightly and she thinks that, for the three little people in front of her, she can bloody well try. She takes a deep breath.
His name was Rob.

Like it? Vote for it here!

Week Twenty-Five Prompt: Intersection, “Closer”.


“Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to a divine purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: That we are here for the sake of others…for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day, I realize how much my outer and inner life is built upon the labors of people, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received.” – Albert Einstein

“At this stage, it remains unclear how many people have been injured, as the chaos surrounding the nightclub fire continues. First reports indicate an electrical short ignited the acoustical backing which surrounded the stage area…”
The morning has been chaos, I’ve been down in Emergency helping transfer the stable patients to theatre or a ward. The hospital is on bypass now, we’re not taking any more admissions. The burns unit is full and every bed up here contains someone in pain. Alexa asks me to do a dressing on a patient for her; rattling off a quick handover: She’s come to us from Emergency overnight, she’s fairly stable, extubated already, the main problems for her are pain management and infection control. Alexa touches my shoulder, “It’s a mix of first, second and third degree – her face, right arm, bilateral legs, abdo – face and arm are the worst. Just those dressings for now. Thanks.” I nod and enter the room, wheeling my dressing trolley in with me. The TV is blaring, another newscast about the fire fills the room. I mute it, and suddenly all I can hear is the ticking clock and the soft put-put-put of the pump pushing fluids into the patient’s one good arm. 

I cross to the sink, scrubbing my hands for the thirtieth time that day. My skin feels raw as I grab a towel and pat them dry, snapping gloves on after opening the dressing pack. What I can see of the woman is covered in bandages; swollen eyes and mouth are all I can see of her face. Puffy fingers peek out from one bandaged arm; the other arm uncovered, relatively unscathed. Good. One good arm. That is good. That will help. She begins whimpering as I slowly and carefully drip sterile saline onto the old dressings on her arm. 

“I know it hurts, I know. Try to take slow breaths.  We have to soften the bandages first before changing them.” 

Clotted blood and haemoserous stains turn wet, shiny from the saline. The dressing relaxes, no longer dried out papier mache, and I slowly, carefully, peel it back. 

Stop. Just stop. Get that look off your face. This is your job. Breathe through your mouth and suck it up. Breathe. Just breathe. This is a person. She is still a person. 

I bite my tongue. Stop. Her arm, what used to be an arm; what might, some day, again be an arm, stirs, reaches out, searching. Just stop. It brushes against mine; hot and angry. I watch it for a moment, see the red, oozing, raw skin against my own. My first impulse is to draw back, shake it off, some disgusting, rotting, inhuman thing touching me. She pulls her arm back, leaving a smear of clear fluid on my skin. I stare at the mark she left, anchoring me to this moment. Get that look off your face. The smell smacks into me, sinking into my nose, my skin, my clothes. This is your job. I close my eyes and suddenly, I am two years old again. I am staring out at the driveway of my childhood home. It is 45 degrees outside – mum and dad keep talking about it, “heat wave”, “we really should get air conditioning”. The driveway is paved dark stone and the heat is visible, rising in hazy waves to meet the hot blue sky. I am wearing latticed white stockings, no shoes, and a dress. It is 45 degrees outside. The door is propped open to let some air in. I step outside. 

Breathe through your mouth and suck it up. I think of the effort it must have taken this woman to touch me, how much pain it would cause that arm to brush against mine. Her eyes are wet; she is blinking as though she can’t see clearly. I look around for a tissue and grab one from her bedside table, holding it to her eyes. The tissue soaks up the salt water and I watch her mouth. She seems like she might be trying to talk, but I can’t understand her.

I reach to take off the dressings covering her face. They peel off, one by one, the smell rising up in cloying tendrils, getting worse with each unraveling layer. I gasp. I can’t help it when I see her face. What used to be her face. What might, someday, again be her face. But not today. Today it is half gone, blackened and shiny and swollen and oozing and it's never struck me before that without hair, eyebrows, a nose or cheeks a person doesn’t look like a person any more. Breathe. Just Breathe. The breaths remind me to focus on what she has been through. What she will go through. I see it all now, spinning out before me on some kind of timeline; I see debridements and amputations and skin grafts and excisions. I see how completely her life has changed even though she doesn’t know it yet. I see that right now all she needs is for me to be calm. In control. I take a deep breath. This is a person. I wipe a smile onto my face. 

“You’re going to be okay,” I lie through my teeth. I am two years old again. I am screaming and screaming and screaming as my stockings melt into my feet. I cannot move. I can only scream. 

“I’m just going to change these dressings okay? It will be over soon.” Panicked footsteps, and my dad is almost there. I know it’s my dad, even through my tears I can see he is dad-shaped and crying and trying to get to me faster. Closer now. Closer.
Almost there. 

“Almost there, I promise. I just have to clean this first.” He’s there, scooping me up, crying and yelling and so mad at me but gentle and I am so tiny in his arms and then I am in the car, feet in an orange bucket. There is ice and water in the bucket and I cannot stop screaming. My sister is holding me, shushing me, telling me it will be alright. ‘You’re at the hospital now, they will take care of you. This is where people come when they’re hurt because people know what to do here. They look after you

She is still a person. 

“Right,” The nurse smiles down at me, I smile down at the woman; calm, in control. “Let’s get you fixed up.” I relax in the nurse’s arms. I trust her. The woman grips my hand suddenly, tight against mine, and her breaths come easier. She trusts me. 

**NB** 45 degrees Celsius is 113 degrees Fahrenheit. 

This has been an intersection with the very lovely , who put up with my nitpicking like a real trooper. Now go read hers, it's awesome!

Many thanks to  for 'whipping' (har har, see what I did there?) this into shape. 

Like it? Vote for it here, and don't forget to give kizzy a vote too!

Week Twenty-Three Prompt: The weak force

                                                                    Off the Beaten Track


“Hiking?” Jason’s eyebrows raise as he takes in Hannah’s fretful expression. She is standing before them, laden with an enormous backpack and looking very, very sorry for herself. 
“He’s taking you hiking on a date? That’s no way to get into a chick’s pants.”
Hannah nods miserably, apparently unconcerned that she has barrelled uninvited into Jason and Tracey’s Sunday morning breakfast at Salt. She groans, sets her bag on the floor and sits down next to Tracey who is trying unsuccessfully to hide her laughter.
“I know, I know,” Hannah says, covering her face in her hands. “I don’t even know why I agreed to it.”
Tracey coughs.
“Yes, alright, shut up, I know why I agreed to it,” Hannah snaps. “Because I’m weak and he has this weird kind of force-field surrounding him that makes me forget myself, but it was stupid.” Hannah slumps over the table with a bang, hair falling over her face as she whimpers.
“It gets worse,” Tracey adds gleefully. 
“Worse? What could be worse?” Jason laughs down at Hannah, who now has her head pillowed in her arms on the table, bemoaning Bonds T-shirts and Those Who Wear Them.
“Bonds T-shirts?” Jason asks curiously.
“It’s the lycra.” Tracey explains, waving an airy hand. “It adds – What was it?”
There is an embarrassed silence from Hannah, then, in a small voice, “clingy zing.”
“That’s it,” Tracey winks at Jason. “I’d forgotten.”
“Don’t forget the slight puffing effect around the biceps due to the ribbed edge of the sleeve cuff,” Hannah says from the table, turning her head so she can speak. “Keep up, Trace.”
“Well, that goes without saying,” Tracey nods seriously. “Go on Hannah; tell Jas what else you did.”
Hannah emerges out from under her hair. “I told him I’d been before.”
"Oh," Jason says. "Well that's not that ba-"
“Not just that you’d been before,” Tracey snorts around another forkful of bacon and eggs and Hannah glares at her.
“I told Troy that I go every month with my family, that we love it and that I can’t get enough of nature and being outdoors and – it is not funny Jason!”
“Sorry Han, it’s just that you’re not the most outdoorsy person I’ve ever met."
“I’ll be alright though, won’t I?” Hannah stares at them both, worry etched across her features. “I mean, I’ve brought lots of books and things with me,” she trails off, leaning over to search through the backpack. Tracey coughs slightly. 
“Of course you will. Won’t she Trace? You’ll be fine, totally fine. I mean, granted, the one time we went hiking was a complete disaster because I got heatstroke and Trace had a fit over the state of the toilets along the trail-”, Jason breaks off and looks across to see Tracey frantically shaking her head at him.
Hannah is staring at him suspiciously. “Toilets?"
Jason pretends not to hear, looking vaguely around the cafe as though searching for someone.
"What is wrong with the toilets on a hiking trail Jason?” Hannah demands fiercely, brandishing the book (Born Survivor by Bear Grylls) she has taken out of her bag.
Jason closes his mouth and turns his head upwards, eyes searching the ceiling for divine inspiration. 
“Um, they’re sort of. Well, you know. It’s like.”
“Just tell her,” Tracey interrupts. “It will be better if she knows.”
"Knows?" Hannah's voice is very high. "Knows what, exactly?"
Jason takes a deep breath. “The toilets are…well, they’re called ‘long drops’.”
“Long drops?” Hannah whispers, eyes glued to Jason’s face, brows furrowed. “But what does that even-” She pauses, a look of appalled comprehension dawning on her face. “Is that,” she begins uncertainly.
“Exactly what it sounds like? I’m afraid so.” Tracey pats her arm sympathetically as Hannah whimpers.
“Never mind darling. Just pinch your nose. Can I have a look at what else you’re taking?”
Hannah nods vaguely, wordlessly mouthing something that looks like long drops while staring into space looking slightly green. Tracey begins rifling through the bag, humming to herself.
“Oh awesome hiking pants!” She pulls them out, inspecting them. “But,” her brows contract. “Didn’t you just buy these?”
Hannah starts and looks at her. “What? Oh. Yes. Why? Is there-” she breaks off suddenly and lunges for the pants, cheeks colouring. “Never mind that, it’s just-”
“Hannah,” Tracey squints, “is that…Did you rub dirt on them?”
Hannah is a furious shade of red now and Tracey is laughing, shaking her head. “I cannot believe you.”
“I had to make it look as though I’d been before, didn’t I? So I couldn’t very well turn up with a pair of pants that looked new,” Hannah reasoned. “And I’ll take those, thank you, I have to go get changed. He’ll be here in a minute.” 
Standing up and sniffing haughtily, Hannah turns to make her way to the toilets and Tracey mumbles under her breath that she had better make the trip count and Jason cracks up again while shovelling eggs into his face. Tracey talks about how weird it is that Hannah is going out with Troy Adams, heartthrob, personal trainer, and darling of the English department to boot, so perhaps it is not so very shocking that Hannah likes him after all. She pretended for months that she didn't, huffing that 'he might be good looking and all, but he's a complete idiot,' until she started speaking to him during her more and more frequent trips to the gym that had nothing to do with the way he looked in those bloody t-shirts, thank you very much, and found that he was as anally retentive as she was when it came to her coursework, and, well. That was that.
Jason has finished counting the freckles on Tracey’s nose when he realises Tracey has fallen silent. She is staring towards the front of the cafe with an expression on her face that Jason doesn’t like to see directed at anyone but him.
He turns and nearly swallows his fork, because Troy Adams is standing in the doorway. He is wearing a white Bonds T-shirt which seems to hug his torso in all the right places, contrasting perfectly with his tanned skin as he glances around the cafe with a thousand-yard stare. 
Jason dislodges his fork from his mouth and stares. He can't help but notice that Troy is, emphatically, a Very Good Looking Man, even though, and he wants to be absolutely clear about this, Jason is straight. However, this doesn’t seem to stop words like ‘rippling muscles’ running through his mind, and he finally understands exactly why Tracey giggles every time his name is mentioned and why Hannah, the most sensible person he knows, is reduced to the sort of incoherent babbling mess who ruins new pairs of trousers and agrees to go on hikes. Troy is, Jason thinks, the sort of man that makes you want to renew your gym membership.
Across the table, Tracey is suddenly very aware of her tongue and she jumps as she feels Hannah touch her on the shoulder. 
“I'm back! And, oh- bloody buggering hell, he’s here and oh. That’d be right,” Hannah mumbles savagely. “He’s wearing one of those bloody shirts.”
Troy’s face breaks into a smile as he sees Hannah and he strolls over. Hannah pastes on a bright grin and says, too cheerfully, “Well Hi! And how are you!” The exclamation marks are clearly audible and Hannah hates herself because she sounds like a pre-school teacher.
“I’m fine thanks. You look nice.” His deep voice practically caresses the air and Hannah blushes and tuts, playing idly with her hair. Beside her, Tracey swoons and Jason glares and Hannah hates them but is glad they are there because this way, she thinks, there will be someone around to witness her last words before she dies of embarrassment.
“Well! Enough lollygagging!” What? She thinks desperately, but there is no stopping herself now. “Let’s get a move on or we’ll miss the astronomical noon!” Whatwhat
Tracey is muttering ‘ohmyGodohmyGodohmyGod’ under her breath and Jason is staring at Hannah as though he has never seen her before.
Troy, on the other hand, is looking at Hannah as though he thinks she's adorable and says, “Of course, sure, we can’t miss that," as though it is completely normal to talk about astronomical noons somewhere other than a Conference for the Very Boring. 
"So let’s get going then,” Troy says, and he takes Hannah by the hand and leads her away and Jason and Tracey both let out a breath they don’t know they’ve been holding.
They sit there in shell-shocked silence for a minute, until Jason clears his throat. “I’ve been thinking.” 
Tracey looks at him curiously.
“I should get one of those t-shirts.”
Tracey agrees.
Without the t-shirts, she thinks, she would have been safe. She would have been sitting safe in her English Lit class, content with her un-tanned lot in life, not knowing or even caring that there were people out there who did this sort of thing for fun, the idiots, but now she is here, trudging through the scrub, sweat pouring down her face and arms and back, going through this hell and it is all because of stupid-face Troy Adams and his stupid, stupid t-shirts.
Well, if she is honest with herself, it is also because of his back. And his arms. And his bum. There had been a reason she had suggested that he walk ahead of her in the first place. There had been plenty of occasions where lunging over rocks had been rendered necessary and these moments almost (almost) made up for everything else.
Troy stops in front of her and Hannah, who hasn’t been paying attention, smacks into him. For a second it is okay because she is pressed against him and that could never be a bad thing but then she feels herself falling backwards, arms flailing uselessly in front and heavy pack pulling her into weightlessness for a moment, teetering until she gives; then she is tumbling over and over down the mountain when she falls against something, hard, and cries out as a sharp pain splits through her foot. She can hear Troy yelling her name and suddenly he is beside her and, oh my God, she is crying and she tries to hide her face in her arm but realises she can’t because her arm is stuck under her stupid, stupid backpack.
“Hannah, are you okay? Where does it hurt, what’s wrong?” Troy’s deep voice is filled with worry as he lifts the backpack gently from her shoulders and this only makes Hannah feel worse. She can’t stop crying and then she feels herself go weak and she has no control over her mouth, which is exactly how she found herself in this position in the first place and she really just needs to calm down, but-
“I don’t even like the outdoors,” Hannah wails pathetically. “It makes me itch and I’ve never even been on a hike before, I only said that because you’re so into this sort of stuff and all, ‘Mr Fit Man works-at-the-gym-gets-up-at-5am-to-do-yoga-before-making-your-own-chai-tea,’” but Troy has cut her off with his laughter and Hannah huffs angrily, “Will people just stop laughing at me today?
He calms down enough to squeeze out three, beautiful, exquisite words which make Hannah forget all about the pain in her ankle and the fact that she feels sticky and dirty and her nose is blotchy and her eyes are red and her face is shiny with sweat.
 “I hate hiking.”
Hannah blinks. “You what?”
“I hate it,” Troy shrugs. “I only suggested it because you’re always at the gym and then when I suggested it you seemed so excited that I thought, crap, well I’d better do it then, and I,” he hesitates for a moment, something that might be a blush creeping up on his cheeks but he ploughs resolutely on. “I went and bought myself a pair of hiking boots and frayed the laces with a pair of scissors so that you would think I did this sort of thing all the time."
Hannah starts laughing then, because they are both so stupid and she manages to gasp out, "You are such an idiot," followed by, "Can we please get out of here?" and Troy joins in, grinning at her, a bit sheepish. She grins back and thinks how stupid they must look, sitting there grinning at each other like a pair of idiots (which we are, she reminds herself) but she decides she doesn't care. The sun beats down and the smell of the grass is all around them while something new fizzles and shifts in the heat between them. Hannah’s not sure whether it’s the force field surrounding Troy that causes her breath to catch as he leans in with a serious look on his face, and she feels like a weak swooning heroine from one of the 'special' books her mum hid from her as a kid.
“Does this mean that you aren’t interested in seeing the astronomical noon?” He asks in a low voice, tucking a stray curl behind Hannah’s ear. She can feel her cheeks heating up as she places her arms around his neck.
“Troy,” she says solemnly, “I don’t even know what the astronomical noon is.”
“Thank God for that,” Troy laughs quietly as he covers her mouth with his, and Hannah thinks it is the best date she has ever been on.

Like it? Vote for it here!

Week Twenty-Two Prompt: Bridge


We ride bikes over bridges. There are hundreds here, spread all over Osaka like some gigantic game of pick-up-sticks. We ride bikes because Alex isn’t allowed to drive or even get in a car for the next year. They ride bikes to work, riding straight on to the ferry then off again, then onto the train and off again, and I can't keep up. Alex and her friends laugh between themselves, calling out to one another, “The artist will not risk any harm, accidental or otherwise, to his or her body, while contracted to the company.” I don’t get the joke, the awkward younger sister playing catch-up tag-along with Alex and her friends. She explains over her shoulder. 

“We’re not allowed, but when we’re drunk we take taxis, and one night Chantelle wouldn’t stop repeating our contract, over and over, and I guess-” she sees my face falling. It’s not that funny.

“You had to be there,” Alex finishes lamely and I nod, uncertain. 

I’ve come here to help Alex, but she doesn’t want help. She wants to ignore it and I’m on ice around her, trying not to slip. So I nod and we ride, and there’s nothing between us but the wind in our hair and the whistling hum of bike wheels over bridges.


“Suit work is hard,” Alex tells me. 

“Suit work?” I’m distracted by the night parade spinning past, screaming at me that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. Normally, for my family, it would be, but since that phone call, the one that changed everything, Alex has been ignoring us. So now I’m here, watching the night parade and Alex is beside me because she has the day off and wants to talk about suit work which she's never done but her friends have.  Suit work, when you have to dress up as Shrek or Bugs Bunny and spend hours standing around, every movement bigger than life, your face melting under the heat and the claustrophobic giant head over yours. Real important stuff.

Not as important as the answering machine telling you your sister needs to begin treatment for a cancer no one knew she had. Not as important as the scrambled panic to dial the buttons to call Alex to give her the news. She was only home for a week, and went to the doctor for a check up and then flew back to Japan to be an entertainer for another year, forgetting to wait around for the results, assuming she was fine. I hear the click that means she has hung up on me, and that click tells me she needs me. 

So I pack my bags, and while I’m packing I remember something from our childhood, something Alex was never seen without, something that lies forgotten in a closet somewhere. I pull him out, a bit dusty but still grinning. Gizmo, the Gremlin. We went on the Gremlin ride at Movieworld when we were little, screaming and clutching each other. Alex made me go on another seven times. Dad bought Alex the Gizmo toy and she dragged him with her everywhere she went; school, parties, bed. I hold him close now and breathe him in; he smells of childhood and is so tied up with Alex as a little girl that I start to cry. 

But now I’m here and I’m not crying but she doesn’t want to talk about it. She wants to talk about how hard suit work is, because she can’t admit to herself that she’s very, very sick. 


I lie on the floor of her tiny studio apartment; the one they give the entertainers who work for the company. Free from rent and space, the bathroom is in the kitchen and I’m on a mattress three feet from the front door, next to the toilet closet. Alex is on her bed and I’m dozing off when I hear her gasp. She sits up and I swear I can hear her heart pounding, or maybe it’s mine but I’m up on the bed next to her. She is struggling to breathe and I take her pulse. Her heart is racing and she looks at me with something like fear in her eyes. I reach into my suitcase and rifle through. My hand catches on an ear and I pull Gizmo out. Her tears fall like hailstones and her gulps are loud in my ears as we cling to each other on her tiny bed. 

“We’ll get through this. We have to.”

She holds me tighter and I know what she’s saying; that she’s not ready yet, that she’s glad I’m here, that she doesn’t want to leave but she will come home soon. That she can’t believe her younger sister is taking care of her. That she wants to say thank you, but can’t find the words. 

I find them for her, and I whisper to her in the dark. Words of encouragement sink into the night around us, wrapping her up in my hope for her future. You will be okay, you will get better, you will fight this and you will survive. Slowly, her breaths come easier. 


We wake, wrapped around each other, necks stiff and knees creaking. My eyes are puffy and I blink them open. I must have cried at some point and I feel like a wet rag wrung out, left to dry in a heap on the bathroom floor. Alex is next to me, eyes still shut, hands curled around Gizmo, so much younger than her 26 years. The street noises far below drift up to us like smoke signals. Start your day, get moving. 

She stirs, then clears her throat.

“Wait here.”


Alex is gone for over an hour, and I stare out the window in her apartment. I see the smoke stacks, the buildings, the cars, the bridges, stretched out over the city, people like ants from up here, crawling aimlessly. I wonder how many other people out there are sick, how many are crying, sleeping, laughing, eating. At times like this, I imagine there is a plan for us all; that we can’t all be here for nothing, that all the suffering has a point. I imagine the world is better than it is. Then I stop, because if I don’t I’ll go crazy and I do know the world also has a lot of good in it, and there’s a knock at the door and Alex’s friends are looking for her and they see that something is wrong and they wait with me. 

They stream America’s Got Talent on Alex’s laptop; one of their friends back home is going to be in it and they want to cheer them on. I’m sitting in the corner of Alex’s room, waiting for her, hugging Gizmo to my chest. One of Alex’s friends teases me about Gizmo, and another one tells me one of the judges was the voice of Gizmo in the Gremlins movies. 

Their voices mingle around me and I lose track of the conversation. They cheer for their friend, but I can’t; I don’t know this person, I don’t even really know these people, but I am grateful they are here and that they seem to care about Alex. 

She comes in and stops short at the sight of us gathered in her room. They mute the computer, and I can’t look at Alex so I stare at America’s Got Talent; watch fire twirlers glinting in the stage lights and I think for a moment I’d give anything to be one of them instead, away from this tiny room. Alex crosses over to me and snaps the laptop shut. My neck cricks as I look up at her. 

“I’ve just been to talk to the director. I’m going home,” she says to the room at large, but she’s looking right at me and suddenly I am five and I am on the Gremlin ride at Movieworld.  I am lost and scared and screaming and wanting to run from the Gremlins which have taken over and then out of nowhere I feel a hand over mine; I open my eyes and see it is her hand, and I look at her, teary-eyed and she is shrieking too. She squeezes my hand. It is her way of telling me that she’s here with me, that it’s okay to be scared, that we don’t have to face the Gremlins alone.

This has been an intersection with the ever lovely . I wanted our team name to be whipgig, but she just looked at me funny

Week Twenty-One Prompt: The straw that stirs the drink.

Geoffrey looks a little like Karl Lagerfeld, minus the rings and the camp. I know his name is Geoffrey because I sneak a peek at his boarding pass as I stash my bag in the overhead bin. My friend plunks herself in the window seat, insists I take the middle, and she pulls down her eye mask, pops in her ear plugs and there is no hope for me. Geoffrey and I sit on the plane next to each other, perfect strangers confined in a petri dish for the next 16 hours. I tell him where we’re going. He nods as I list off the usual hot spots, but his eyes light up as I mention his home.  

            I’ve lived there for 20 years, he tells me.

            I spent three days there once. Does that count?

            It’s not enough.

            I know, I say. That’s why I’m going back.

As the plane touches down, he hands me a vomit bag. Across it he has scrawled bars, restaurants, hotels, sights, hand drawn maps. Two words etched across the top of the paper in messy ink hold my attention.

San Francisco.


            I could never live here, she says with a toss of her hair.

She sucks her juice through a straw as she looks across the bay. I hate the way she does it, lifting the straw above the level of the liquid, just enough that the noise disturbs the group of German boys at the next table. I want to snap at her. She knows what she is doing, she knows the best way to stir me after five months of travelling together, but it is getting old.

We have been to Victoria Falls, then Johannesburg, Tokyo, Osaka, Lausanne, Paris, London, New York, Vegas, now, finally, San Fran. Five months away. It feels like the whole world should be changed and my mind is half back home, in my sunlit bedroom, listening to music and cooking dinner, going to work, dropping by my parents house. Five months and the friend I’ve been travelling with isn’t my friend anymore. Conversation has run dry, there are no more words spilling from our mouths. We go some place loud, some place we don’t have to talk and just dance the night away. There have been people we’ve met along the way who have filled in the blanks, but now I’m sick of it.

So I take a breath.

I am silent, taking in the way the light slants off the bay, the faint noise of the Pier 39 seals below us, the beat of this city. I close my eyes, tuning her out. She is saying something about how it is too slow here, the people are too simple, the place is too pretty and it is all just a bit vapid. We pay and leave Eagle Café and I take another breath, watching my feet wind their way through the street, careful not to step on the cracks. There are so many here, spread out over the road like scars. I imagine they are from earthquakes that rumble underneath the city while cats hide behind refrigerators and people sleep on, undisturbed. People who live in an earthquake city aren’t slow or simple, I want to yell at her. So what if it’s pretty and the people are nice? Does that mean it can’t also be taken seriously?


We walk down to the water and take a ferry out to Alcatraz. It’s one of the strangest places I’ve ever been to. I stand in the tiny cell open to visitors, stare at the four walls and imagine how cold this place would be at night. My not-friend takes photos of herself putting her head through the bars, pulling faces and I look away, a bit ashamed, but she just shrugs and says the men who were in here deserved everything they got.


We rent bikes from Dylan’s Bike Store, and we follow the map he marks out for us in highlighter, right before he adjusts the seat heights for us and gives us a number to call if we puncture a tyre and I can’t stop saying thank you because people are so friggin’ nice here.

We ride through Marina and get looks from rich young things spending their money on Union Street underwear, and I stop and stare through the window at the French lace corsets, delicate as butterfly wings. The women who wear these are tall and tanned (and young and lovely) and I want to be them, or be friends with them or I would even settle for standing near them sometimes and smelling their perfume.

We wind through Russian Hill and take in the zig-zagging Lombard Street. I imagine the architects and town planners; and someone slapping their palm onto a table crying, “I’ve got it!” The houses are tiny leaning towers of Pisa and there are eight hairpin turns slashed into the hill and she thinks they were kind of crazy, but I think they were kind of amazing.

We turn onto Valencia and suddenly we are in the Mission. We fly past bars and restaurants and colours, so many colours they blur as we tear down the hill towards the water and then we are at the waterfront. The rest is a haze of shape and shadow until we reach the bridge. We climb off our bikes and look down at the waves crashing against the pillars holding it up. We see the tiny dots of the surfers in full winter body suits, and something comes over me and I speak. She almost listens.


I would rather live in New York, she says to me as we stroll through the Farmers Markets looking for cheese.

I shrug and don’t say what I’m thinking, because in total I’ve spent less than eight days of my life here and I know that it’s incredibly weird, but I’m protective of this place the way I am about my family, and I don’t want anybody insulting it.

New York is the younger sister skulking behind a tree; edgy and bright and boiling over with too much of everything. Lost souls are drawn to her bright lights and she burns them out while they don’t even notice.

Las Vegas is the older sister dressed in sequins tap-dancing around the kitchen table. She gets a boob job and a tattoo that says princess just above her butt and she makes no apologies for it.

San Francisco is the middle sister lazing on the couch reading a book, effortlessly stylish in a way that tells others she doesn’t give a shit. She has fights with her parents about global warming and the importance of standing up for gay marriage, and she brakes for animals. She is kind, kind in the way that doesn’t come along too often these days and she feeds the homeless regularly. She can peel an apple in one long strip.


We’re in Haight-Ashbury, having been directed there by the hotel, spending so much money there’s no point putting my credit card back in my wallet. Even she has to admit the shopping here is fantastic, and even though we had other plans today we let them slide with a ‘we’ll get to that tomorrow’ as we stare at rack after rack of clothes, shoes, bags, knick knacks.

It’s a shame that it’s winter and I’m wearing so many layers because much valuable shopping time is lost peeling leggings and stockings and thermals on and off again. I’m in a frenzy, ripping things I don’t need from shelves and saying, “I’ll take it,” and I feel sick at the amount I have spent, but this place is getting to me and I need to take a small part of it home as proof.

I will keep these things in my closet until someone I trust comes over for tea. I will wait for a lull in the conversation, then I will take the things out of my closet, shyly offering them one by one to the person I trust. I will show them the vomit bag Geoffrey gave me, carefully kept for all those months. I will show them photos of me on the cable cars. I will make them touch the fabric of the clothes and trust in the power of osmosis to explain for me the unsettling pit in my stomach; one which tells me that I feel at home here in a way that startles me out of my old skin. I could carve out a life here, here in this pretty earthquake city with the vapid slow simple people. I could hang out in the Castro and make gay friends and I could run down by the waterfront, only eating organic veggies I buy from the farmers market. I could be a kind stranger on a plane dispensing advice to young girls about my home and I could take my mum and dad out to Alcatraz when they visit, and they wouldn’t stick their heads through the bars. I could ride my bike over the bridge, pausing at the top to watch the fog roll through the bay, freezing my hair into slick tendrils that stick to my skin. I could leave my sunlit bedroom behind and settle into this city by the sea, and I could get a cat that would hide behind my refrigerator as I sleep undisturbed in my San Francisco bed.

I could.

This has been an intersection with the very lovely . Many thanks go to her for being so inspiring, and also to , for her insight on how to make this not suck. 

Like it? Vote for it! 

Week Nineteen Prompt: Et tu, Brute?

The House that You (and Jack) Built

I stare up at your house; your beautiful, ridiculous house. I remember when you came to me, eyes shining and cheeks flushed -“We got the land!” and it had been my flippant idea to make a house out of cards. You had stared at me, and I had no idea what I had done until it was done. Cards, paper, strawbale, mudbrick, rammed earth – anything you could get your hands on, you did. You had me over to colour consult; there were taps and light fittings and trips to the tip for "inspiration". Jack would roll his eyes at me behind your head, a private joke, but you went ahead and you made it. You built a life there, a green, vegan, recycled life, you and Jack, Jack and you – it was the house that you and Jack built.

I had thought it would be raining. It’s the kind of thing you expect, for it to be raining when you tear the world apart, but it's Spring and there are birds and a light wind blows my dress against my knees. If I tilt my head to the side and squint, I think I can see your house swaying in the breeze. All it would take is a chip in the right place; a chip that, funnily enough, I'm here to provide. I know what I’m getting into, by doing this. I can hear the things you’ll say in my mind and I know the look you’ll give me. But I want you to hear me. I want you to hear why.

I want you to know that I would never hurt you, except that I did, worse than any friend could hurt any friend, worse than your worst enemy could. I wish I could say I didn’t mean for it to happen, like all those girls in movies do, but I don’t. I was sick of it, sick of your everything and my nothing when for all our lives it was the other way around. You had the problems, I had the answers. But then you went and got your own answers, and I got left behind, so I took yours. I took Jack, that night we went to dinner together but you went home early because you were sick, and there had been a look, and then it was a touch, and then it was me and Jack, Jack and me, and now I’m standing here at your front door working up the guts to ruin your life.

I didn’t mean for Jack to fall in love with me. I didn’t mean to fall in love with Jack. I didn’t mean for it to be anything more than a restoration of the balance of power between friends – between you and me, me and you. Sometimes we would lie in your bed, Jack and me, me and Jack, and suddenly it was my house, my husband, my bamboo cotton sheets we were lying on. Everything Jack and I were and are and can be is built on lies, but when I lie there with him, head on his chest, heartbeat to heartbeat, the world beats away.  The space between us, normally occupied by the memory of you, becomes space no one can touch.

I want you to know that I know you don’t want to hear this; that I know this will make you sick and that I know I’m the person you don’t want to know. I wish this hadn’t happened, except that I don't. I wish Jack didn’t love me, except that I don't. I wish I could tell Jack it’s over between us, maybe even slam a righteous door in his face, except that I don't.  I wish I was the sort of person who had the guts to say this to your face, instead of to your cardboard door. 

But I’m not. Instead, I’m going to knock on your door, and you are going to answer it. You will smile at me, and I will tell you I just dropped by for a visit. You will make us tea. I will pretend that I still have the right to call myself your friend; that there is no Jack and me, me and Jack. I will sit there with you and I will know that when you find out, when your house of cards clatters to the ground around you, you will remember this day, this warm Spring day with the birds and the breeze that blew my dress around my legs; you will remember the look in my eyes and my uncertain smile, and you will hate me more than I hate myself.

I raise my hand to knock on the door of the house that you and Jack built, and I can hear you moving around inside. There is a moment before you answer, a moment when the wind stirs my hair around my face, a moment when I speak to the air before me, words falling to the steps below me, words that tell you, before I see you, I’m sorry.

 would like to make it clear that this is a work of fiction inspired by this week's topic and by a play her sister was in recently, 'All's golden square in love and war'.

Like it? Vote for it!