Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Next Event: Night & Day

Attention all Arts Lovers!

Join us at the Fringe Club Dairy on July 28th for our next event: Night & Day.

The lineup is as follows:

Followers Following by Liam Hogan 
Lovebirds by Sarah Evans
Narcissus & Echo by Jennifer Rickard
Night Flights by Judy Darley 
The Mayor of Australia by Rob Hawke
The Sleepwalker by Kate Whitehead
Lupa by Ysabelle Cheung 

Again, we start at 8pm (sharp!) and we're expecting a big turnout, so please arrive early to secure seats. And those arriving thirsty won't be disappointed either, as it's 'members prices' all night at the bar!

See you there!




The Third Face by Peter Tieryas Liu

Read by Hin Leung

I’m checking x-ray levels at the airport scanners because I’m sure they’ll end up killing me when hives and a red rash ripple down my back. Allergies have made a secret strike, so Miranda, SolTech’s VP of marketing and my traveling companion, gives me some Benadryl. I take ten pills and end up feeling like a drunk in the Miami Airport. I suddenly see tiny heads physically sticking out of the skulls of strangers. Some peek over, surprised I can see them.

“It’s the manifestation of the subconscious,” Miranda’s nightmare erection tells me. “Every person has those parts of themselves they either hate or love too much and I’m a caustic reinterpretation of the cosmic orgasm that some myths call the ‘third eye.’” Only there’s a third and fourth eye, and her second mouth annoys me with its shrillness.

“What are you talking about?” I ask, reminded of a freak alien I’d seen on a television show.

“Excuse me?” Miranda replies, apparently oblivious to the head above her head. We’re supposed to attend a conference in Los Angeles to try and sell our products; robotic hands to replace doctors in surgery. I’d been excited she’d invited me, especially as I’d heard she’d just had a messy breakup with her boyfriend. I’ve been crushing on her for three years now and my desire has a whole lot to do with my obsession for the moles under her eyes, six of them that form a black constellation on her celestial map of flesh. My lust is clouding my vision, rubber cement blotting out radiation blips on a radar pointing to an ebony dipper.

The Best of All Possible Worlds by Marshall Moore

Read by Matt Fleming

The messages always come at the most awkward moments. I’m in my hot tub trying to melt away the stress that goes along with what I do. Or I’m cooking dinner, the kind that involves more than a microwave, ten minutes, and a couple of beers while the food nukes. Or I’m in the sack with someone whose name I hope I’ll remember in the morning. My tablet buzzes, that double zzt-zzt that tells me it’s one of Them. My employers. Sending instructions. I’ve made a name for myself not just by excelling at what I do but by providing good customer service. I get them what they want, no questions asked. I keep my mouth shut and I cover my tracks. There are stranger ways to make a living, but not too many. Times have changed.

I look around the bar, scanning faces. There are plenty of dark smudges under bloodshot eyes. In the last couple of years, everyone below the age of forty has acquired a look of vague unease. Ambient music throbs: the soundtrack to after-work urban fatigue. The light in here’s all wrong, the color of a goldenrod if you left the stalk in a vase of pee. I think it’s meant for warmth, along with the wood-panelled walls and the overstuffed sofas, but in this light everyone looks like a candidate for mummification.  

“What’ll it be?” asks the bartender, an English girl with a hipster chignon, granny glasses with smoked lenses, and bright red lipstick. I’ve been here a few times; I’ve talked to her. “Just drinks, or do you want the menu?”


Extract: Terrestrials by Cliff Chapman

Read by Timothy Selby

Although this whim of going for hypnotherapy is terribly out of character and the fee a substantial one I can ill afford, my second thoughts are annulled by the hypnotherapist’s great beauty. She has rich auburn hair. She’s short, wears smart clothes and has a soft, shushie ‘s’ when she speaks. Her rooms are warm, neutrally furnished. She asks me to lie down, relax. Then some more, and to regress. I like to think that I’m not completely under, more in control than she wants, although I’m remarkably relaxed. Remarkably… relaxed.

She wants me to think of the earliest thing I can remember. “1947,” I say. Scorching, dry heat. Dust in my throat. Hold on. I’m thirty-five. 1947 was way before I was born. It might be… I might explain it… in a roundabout sort of way, sorry.

There’s a something big in the dirt. I mean, the ground. They’re saying it’s a flying saucer piloted by little green men and saying ‘UFO’ as if the concepts are interchangeable. They’re not. Unidentified Flying Object, versus identifying it as a flying saucer, right? You’ve identified it. And it certainly isn’t flying now, nor will it ever fly again.

This seems familiar.



One Day Left to Live by Clarissa Angus

One day left to live
By Clarissa Angus

I bring the group their third round in twenty minutes. They’re regulars, so they’ll be here for as long as it takes the sun to creep down the large, streak stained windows at the front of the bar, and beyond. Maggie, the only female, likes her Rioja in large glasses. Her skin is a shade you rarely see on TV. It’s charcoal, and glows a deep purple in this dim, cheap lighting. I wonder what would happen if I licked it. Maybe some of it would come off on my tongue.

The rest of the group are men. Two of them mix half-lagers with shots of Sambuca as side orders. The last man, built like the freaking Minotaur, sticks to our Offer of the Day – a microbrew of ale mixed with raspberry cordial. They’ve pitched up at a table right at the back, tucked into a corner, playing cards again. I asked them to stop – gambling isn’t allowed in here. They cried out in chorus: “Hey man, join us.” The Minotaur just laughed and dismissed me as an unequal specimen of manhood with a flick of his eyes. They’re still playing. There’s no money on the table – only matchsticks.

I whip out a rag from my apron and wipe down the table next to theirs, overhearing every drunken word they’re slurring. “All I’m saying,” Maggie says, “is that it’s possible.” She sits facing me, so I can see her as I clean up. Not staring exactly, just observing. The Minotaur rests a hand on her thigh as he leans into the table. The cards in his hand look like crackers. 

“The end of the world,” he murmurs, not looking at anyone. “How would it happen, exactly?”

“A comet,” says the back of one the other guys’ head. “But let’s not forget history; a plague. Locusts.”

Maggie’s face fades before she lights up a smile and joins in with the laughs. She nudges the Minotaur with her shoulder.

“After this game, Mags,” he says.

I’m working the place by myself tonight. It’s small enough for an energetic elderly man with a cane to run. Patrons open the door, bringing the freezing cold wind inside with them. It floods the bar like a gigantic frozen hand, jangles bottles and glasses. I’m wished tipsy Happy New Year pledges by a few people, one week early.

I make a trip to the basement to replace one of the beer barrels, return to the bar and scan people walking past. A few throw tempted glances at the neon sign by the door. I grab my phone stashed behind a pile of paper coasters and look again at the job vacancy for a bouncer at the club just across the street.  

Maggie comes to the bar by herself.

“Same?” I ask.

She always smiles at me with pity, because my eyes are crossed. I don’t mind – I’m used to it. It helps that her smile meets her eyes, shows that she really would help fix them if she could. It’s an honest smile. Maybe she wouldn’t fix them. In my loneliest thoughts, she’s the type that would have me just as I am. I lean across the bar so I can hear her better.

“What would you do if you had one day left to live?” she asks. Her breath is a blast from a furnace.

I shrug. “Dunno. Maybe tell someone how much I like them?”

Her face twists into a grotesque parody of itself. I actually laugh out loud.

“What would be the point?” she asks. “It’d be far too late."
           
  “If they shoot you down, you’ll have nothing to worry about, I guess.”

“And if they didn’t?” The wine has transformed her eyes into diamonds.

It was supposed to be a joke. “What are you guys playing?” I ask.

“They are playing poker.” She hoists herself up onto a bar stool as gracefully as she can. I almost forgot how small she is; she could fit into my pocket.

“Can you play?” I ask.

            “I like to, when I get the chance.” She shuffles in her seat, tries to make herself more comfortable. She pulls down her skirt. It doesn’t even reach her knees.  

I pour her drink first, into a glass I just cleaned. When she reaches for her purse, I shake my head. “I never learned,” I tell her. “Some of my friends are good at it."

“I know I’d be good at it,” she says.

The Minotaur chucks us a look and returns to his game. I take the hint and feel it appropriate to tell her that I’ll be back in a minute. I clear tables, take a couple of orders (all spirits on rocks), change the channel on the TV; mute it altogether. I catch her running her fingers up and down the stem of her glass. Her nails are bright, cartoon-coloured red.

“You see them behind me,” she says, when I’m back. I look to the group as if seeing them for the first time. They’ve all undone their ties, and a button or two on their shirts – a manly look. I pour myself a shot of whiskey and clink my glass against hers. She laughs.

“I would tell them all what I really think about them.”

“What’s that, then?” I chance.

She looks at me as if she’s only just heard the question herself. “Not very much,” she mumbles. I just catch it. Half of the words are swallowed up by her lips.

I tell her I’ll bring their order over and she thanks me. I’ll pour salt instead of cordial into the Minotaur’s drink, I decide, in my head.

“Happy New Year, if I don’t see you until then.” She uses the stool to raise herself over the bar. The closer she gets to me, the more she blurs, becoming a warm chocolate apparition. She plants a kiss on my right cheek. She smells of strawberries and sweat.

“Thanks,” I say.

The Minotaur is at her side as if by magic. “Got those drinks?”

She hops off the stool and wobbles on landing. He offers her his arm but she refuses it.

“I’ll bring them over,” I say again. He turns his back to me.

On my break, I prop the heavy fire exit door open with my foot and suck down a cigarette. The wind wraps itself around me and pierces my skin, kick starting my imagination. I’d head over to Maggie’s table and casually punch the Minotaur in the head – one swift blow that wouldn’t leave a dent. He’d jump up first and his friends would follow and they’d pummel me until I was dust. Maggie wouldn’t see any of it. She’d be outside watching the skies for ways in which the world could end, on her last day on earth, my coat draped across her shoulders, which would be way too big for her.

I find the bar empty except for Maggie’s table, and ring the bell for last orders. Beside her empty wine glass is her business card and phone number. I’m blown away as the door opens, slapping my face with wintry gusts.


The Dungeon by Kate Whitehead

Read by Bhavini Ravel at 'Kisses & Blows'

I thought he was kidding when he said he had a dungeon.

We’d drunk a fair bit and were definitely tipsy, but not smashed. At least, I wasn’t. I thought I was being hilarious. So when he said he had a dungeon, I laughed.

Gary never said anything about his boss being funny. He went on about him being a company man, but not a joker. This guy didn’t even seem as old as Gary made out. OK, so he didn’t have much hair, but you could tell he worked out. His wife was a bit of a gym bunny, too. Maybe they were one of those couples that work out together.

I might have gone into a bit of a daze - I do that when I’ve been drinking, just stare into space. Gary knows that means it’s time to go home, but he was talking to Gym Bunny. I couldn’t see anyone I knew. I thought it was going to be one of Gary’s work dos, but it wasn’t the usual crowd from the bank. This lot looked like students, only older. Bohemian maybe, but you could tell it was designer gear.

I couldn’t hear Gary’s boss over the music, had to lean right into him to make out what he was saying.

“Want to see it?” he shouted into my ear and it took me a bit to work out he was still on about the dungeon.

I was wearing killer heels - great for crossing and uncrossing your legs, but not so good for stairs so I took off my shoes - yes, you know you’re pissed when the shoes come off. And I shouted down the stairs after him - “We could do with a dungeon to lock up the kids when they’re naughty,” I said. Which now sounds like a stupid thing to say, but I thought he was having me on about the dungeon.

He said something like, “Strictly no kids down here”, and I was thinking of asking him why when he told me to close my eyes. I didn’t like that - I felt all dizzy with my eyes closed. When I opened them it was just me on the stairs. I could have gone back up, but I didn’t - I walked right on in there.

And there he was - posing like a Roman statue, no shirt and a black facemask, the sort that Batman wears. I had about two seconds to take it all in - he was well ripped and there were tattoos over his nipples - and then he lurched towards me like he was going for a kiss. I panicked and took a swing at him, got him across the face with the shoes. Whack! Everything went slow motion - took ages for him to fall and when he hit the floor it was hard. I couldn’t see his expression because of the mask, but he looked out cold.

I wanted to run upstairs and get Gary, but I froze. It was creepy down there - ropes bolted into the wall, some kind of harness hanging from the ceiling, and then he started making a weird noise, like moaning and snoring at the same time.

My mind was going fast, my life flashing in front of me like they say it does when you die, only this was fast-forward: Gary would lose his job. We’d have to leave Hong Kong. The kids would get pulled out of school. It would mess them up, they’d get into drugs, their lives were ruined. Gary and I would fight all the time, we’d split up. And I’d end up all alone and poor, really poor.

I knew I was panicking. I do that sometimes, like on Sundays when the helper leaves me alone with the kids. I tried to pull it together, but seeing my husband’s boss on the floor like that, handcuffs in his hand, there was every reason to panic. So I did the what seemed like the obvious thing - I handcuffed him to the wall.

I did it gently. I didn’t want to wake him, I just needed to buy some time and work out what to do. The handcuffs were heavy and the insides were soft like Ugg boots. Standing over him, it was hard to tell if he was awake or not. There was blood on the side of his head, but it was the tattoos I was looking at. The one on his right nipple was a wavy line, like the letter “S”, and the other one was definitely an “M”.

That did it, I was running up the stairs: a dungeon, handcuffs, S&M. I pushed my way through the party. Gary was still with Gym Bunny - she was leaning over the table like she was trying to get off with it.

I don’t remember what I said to Gary, I probably didn’t make much sense - I just wanted to drag him away. Gym Bunny was staring at me, her eyes taking over her face. I had to say something, so I blurted - “Your husband is downstairs in that room, I think I hurt him.”

She was grinning, “Ooh, he’ll love that!”

Gary was all for going down and seeing what happened, but I couldn't let him see that place or what I did to his boss.

“You can’t, he’s tied up,” I said.

That should have got the wife worried, you’d have thought, but it didn’t.

“Go girl, I didn’t think you had it in you,” she said.

That’s when Gary twigged something wasn’t right. We left pretty fast.

After that crazy night, I don’t complain about the boring banking dos anymore. Yes, Gary’s still with the bank. He got a promotion not long after that, but we’ve never been invited back to the house.

Lilies, Roses by Jason Jackson

Read by Tim Selby and Jennie Davies at 'Kisses & Blows'

When he buys me flowers, the first thing I do is fill the vase. I let the water run and run, because I love the way it spills over the glass lip. I love its cold kiss on my fingers. I love the rushing sound of it. Sometimes I stand at the sink for far too long. The flowers are there on the worktop, already dead, with the stalks ready for cutting, and I love that too, of course. The swift scissors, the particular angle of the slice. Precision work. And then I find immense pleasure in removing the stamens. Lilies  - he always buys me lilies - need to be neutered, as the stains can be impossible to remove. So I pluck, pluck, pluck. He doesn’t know how I feel about lilies, although I’ve wanted to tell him many times. I don’t like the smell. Cloying, somehow. Heavy, not light like a flower should be. And the way they look is somehow ghostlike. Eyeless, they seem to watch me. As I arrange them in the vase, sometimes I have to look away.  I make sure he never finds out that their smell, their blind, intense gaze, and even their colour - that off-whiteness, that pale green -  sometimes makes me vomit during the final stages of arrangement.

*

One day, she’ll take that vase and she’ll hurl it at me. It’s heavy, that thing, especially when it’s full of water and those ridiculous flowers. I imagine it striking my forehead, the lip of it cutting my skin, my blood flowing fast. I imagine falling. I imagine dying, right there on the carpet in front of the couch. I imagine her standing over me, the lilies lying across my chest, and I imagine her laughing. My anticipation of this moment, my own death and the pleasure she takes in it, is almost erotic.

*

I know he’s dull. Unimaginative. I know he could take more notice of me, listen to me, actually realise that I don’t like lilies. I like roses. But at least he buys me flowers. Birthdays, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, of course. And then, just occasionally, on some unimportant Thursday, or a Tuesday. There’s always a vase of lilies on the mantelpiece. I leave them there, and I never throw them out until he buys me some new ones. We can go for weeks. Months, even. Once, it took from September - my birthday - until Christmas day. The flowers were like thin corpses, hanging down from the lip of the vase. The water stank. The whole room stank. We carried on as normal. And then, Christmas day, a huge bunch, twenty or more. Almost too many for the vase. I let the water run. I cut the stems. I plucked the stamens. And, yes, I was happy. I even whistled ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ while I was doing it. It was Christmas day, and my husband had bought me flowers.

*

I buy my wife lilies but I buy Caitlin roses. Pink ones. Red ones. Yellow. White. Once, for her birthday, I spent two hundred and seventy-five pounds in a florist’s. They selected the finest, darkest maroon roses, placed them in vases of water mixed with black ink overnight, and then they delivered them - one hundred black roses - to Caitlin’s flat. When I arrived, she’d spread them all over the bed. We crushed them under our bodies even as they bit back at us, and in the morning the sheets were stained beyond repair.  

*

Once, a year or so ago, I bought myself some roses. I was in the supermarket, and I just thought, why not? It was only a small bunch, five or six, and to be truthful they weren’t too impressive. All red. A little limp. Seven pounds, they cost me. They came with some ferns. Some tall grass, just to fill the thing out. A bouquet, the label called it, but I thought that was a little grand.

I took them home with the shopping and I emptied the vase. There were some decaying lilies in there from three or four weeks previously, and I threw them away before I let the vase fill with water. The roses lay on the worktop. They looked a little sad, I suppose. Flowers always do, what with them being already dead. I’ve always found that strange. How a flower can be dead, but still be seen as beautiful. I remember seeing my mother’s corpse, rouged cheeks, all trussed up in a high-neck dress she hadn’t worn for years. My mother was a beautiful woman - much more beautiful than me - but her corpse was just a dead thing. I often think it would be helpful for us - the bereaved, I mean - if a corpse could keep its beauty for a while, just like a cut flower. It might help us through.

Anyway, I put the vase full of roses on the mantelpiece and I sat down on the couch. I was trying to watch television - I like the chat shows - but I couldn’t settle. I kept looking over at the roses. Somehow it just didn’t seem right. So I carried the vase back into the kitchen, took the roses out and placed them on the worktop. I emptied the water down the sink, and then I got the old lilies - what was left of them - out of the bin. I filled the vase with cold water and I put the rotted, limp lilies back into the vase. I made sure that when I threw the roses into the bin I squashed them down under some empty food tins and potato peelings. I didn’t want him to know what I’d done. I could just imagine how awful it would make him feel, to have his wife buy her own flowers.
 
*

I’ve tried to stop. Sometimes I can go for months without buying her any. All she has to do is throw the fucking things away, and then I think I could leave her. But no. She just lets them sit there, rotting. The water in the vase turns thick and green. The smell becomes almost a solid thing. The flowers are thin strips, husks, dust. But they’re there. I can’t touch them. I won’t. And I always give in. There’s always something, like our anniversary, her birthday, fucking Valentine’s Day, something. Or I just get weak, or guilty, or nostalgic, and I stop at the service station on the way home from work. They even know me in there. “Your wife’s a lucky woman,” one of them said to me. 

Well, not anymore. Tomorrow I’m buying roses for Caitlin, and I’m never buying lilies for my wife again. I’m not going back there. She can rot along with her flowers.

*

These lilies on the mantelpiece have been here for three weeks now. They’re brown. Wilted, and the smell is bad. But tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, so I know it’ll be all right. I know that however bad things get, there’ll always be lilies.

Carlton Makes his Move by G. R. Kissick

Read by Hin Leung at 'Kisses & Blows'

The night I got my job at Chrysler, me and Carlton got heavily dilated on coke and some of that fine Wine of the Century at my place. Carlton is a fine-tuned high, if you know what I mean. One snort too many and he gets kinda dreeeeamy and useless and floats around like seaweed and plastic cups, but if you hit 'em jes right he's off, and this night he was off like I ain't never seen before, bouncin' 'round and runnin' at the mouth like Mohammed Ali. He was turbocharged fartless, four-on-the-floor. You couldn't hold the boy down. He was out there in the Ohhhh-Zone. So when he said he felt like dancin', I didn't say no, natch.  You gotta let the boy dance. So we hopped into his Camarro and double-timed it down to Sully's, and I swear the boy was more wired than a wonderbra. He was cranked up higher than a boom box on Friday night. Which it was. The Devil on angel droppings ain’t got nothing on Carlton when he’s coke-enhanced.

Wellll, as soon as we got past the bouncer, Carlton was racing his engine. And he didn't waste no time, either.  That boy was motivated. That boy has night vision. He spied two high falutin womens all the way cross the dance floor.

"Dey's lonely," he said.

"That don't mean they lonely for us.”

"Dey is.  Dey is. Dey jes doan know it yet, dat's all. Catch up wid me, Rose, and I show you how to assert your gender and insert your member."

Carlton was always callin' me Rose cuz of my name, but I wouldn't let none of the other guys get away with that shit. Wellll, he was off like one of them laser-guided missiles and I was jes coasting along for the ride, so to speak. Nothin' to lose, right? It's not like he's gonna hit somethin' and blow up. And my eyes still sort of murky, sort of infrared, cuttin' right thru all the dancers. You see some real isotonic crap out there, real love juice. Welll, the one was gorgeous, she was jes gorgeous, like a box of milky Schraft's chocolates, and the other was, well, she was there for contrast. But I muss admit she got lookin' better and even mo' better as the evening retrogressed. She was what they call a late bloomer.

Now Carlton had done started before he even got there. The boy was sorta dancin' across the floor, clickin' his fingers and strollin', and he just sort of rolled up to their table like a pimp car on cruise control. And I swear he made it up as he went along. He did. Wasn't nothin' I ever heard before. They looked up like he done interrupted heart surgery or something, and the boy jes smiled and said:

"Well I know you been waitin' a lawng time for me, sweetheart, but I have arrived, I ain't no jive, so let me jes sit down and buzz your hive. I'm feelin' allright. You're lookin' good. I’m gonna love you like a lover should. I know, I know, I unnerstand exactly where you're comin' from. It's the shock of recognition, Darlin'. You jes don't know what you're missin', Darlin'. Let me turn on your ignition, Darlin'. And I am spellin' that with a capital D because I'm right for you and you're right for me.  Don't . . . don't . . . don't say a word.  I know jes what you're thinkin'.  Is this a Ford or a Goddam Lincoln? Let me buy. Wha' you drinkin'?"

"I'm sorry, but I don't believe . . . ."  She held her hand to her throat like she was protectin' her necklace.

"I be Carlton. Like the cigarette? I'm smooth smokin' and there ain't no chokin'. Tee hee. And this here's my main man Roosevelt, named after the aircraft carrier. He might look like a farmer, but Good God doan you know he's a lover?  You can't judge a book by-no-evah lookin' at the cover."

"Excuse me, but . . . ."

"Wait!  Wait . . . .  Jes wait . . . .  Don't move a mussel. You are perfect jes the way you are. Jes the way you are.  You're Venus with arms. I succumb to your charms. The fire's gettin' hotter. Let me loosen my collar." Carlton was slowin' down now, but not for lack of steam.  He was jes gettin' more romantic-like.  I never knew he could rhyme like that. Womens love poetry.

"So let us sit down and buy you a drink. A Pink Lady or something nice like that. Let's discuss this animal magnetism. Let's cogitate on the possibilities here. I've told you my name. What's yours?  I know it's gonna be something nice. Something you could name a fine wine after.  Or a boat."

"Titanic," she said.

The leftover girl smirked.

"Naw, you're puttin' me on. You ain't no sunken ship. Your name . . . ."  And here Carlton looked off into the little twinkling lights on the ceiling and raised up his arm like he was Julius Caesar or something. "Your name can only be spelled with stars."

Wow! Where'd he get that from?  Both girls giggled. You could tell they was tickled, and we was sittin' down, we was gettin' ready to buy 'em a drink, and if there was a turning point that evenin', I'd say that was it. "Your name can only be spelled with stars." Radical. Barry White couldn't touch it with a vibrator.

Wellll, Carlton was talkin' so good that night I didn't have to say nothin' at all.  I jes looked at my girl and said, "And I feel the same way about you, too, Darlin’."

"Unh hnh," she said.

And believe it or not, we made it with those two. And wouldn't you know that Zeniqua (yeah, that was the name you could only spell with stars)— Zeniqua gave Carlton the clap so bad the boys on King Street call him Standing Ovation. And that leftover girl, Latavia, had to go and marry me. Like a ball and chain. Like a ten ton barnacle. Like a giant chunk of space junk fallin' out of the sky. And now I be a Daddy an' a number 9 bolt man, and she be one mean, ugly woman with a bark like Cujo an' a bite like a wheel clamp. It jes goes to prove, but I don't know what. I tell you true, if I ever get amnesia, jes leave me where I am. The Salvation Army would be all right with me. Life jes ain't fair. And I wasn't no way the one who done all the talkin'! It was Carlton Pitts, the poet with a plan. Carlton Pitts, rhymes with shit—the boom box with no friggin’ OFF switch. If he's still runnin' off at the mouth like a skunk with rabies, I don't know nothin' about it. The wife won't let him nowhere near this place, and that's all right with me. We got chilluns to protect.  And the only coke I ingest these days comes in a can.  Damn.

You Know This is Going to End by Cindy Ip

Read by Veronica Lam at 'Kisses & Blows'

“You know this is going to end.”

I say to him simply and clearly: exactly the way it should be. We are naked on his bed. The room should be dark but the Central light pollution makes it feel like a movie scene. The curtains are open. I’m on my side, facing away from him. This would be symbolic – I mean, it would be in a movie scene – but really I’m just looking at the lights.

His arms are wrap around me and I feel everything. The warmth of his body, his sweat, his breath - it’s corporeal, tangible. Here. Like the movies. A story of the things I wanted. Everything is real.
But we’re just pretending.

We met at Taz in the summer. Old story. Mutual friends. He bought me a drink. And a suggestion. “Here’s a game? Let’s pretend we’ve been together three years,” he said. “Happy Anniversary, honey. I love you.”

 “I love you too, honey,” I said to him simply and clearly: exactly the way it should be. “Happy Anniversary.” Then we kissed.

“Keep telling me you love me,” he says.

And I do because it’s the truth. Well, the truth in context. It’s a line used to substantiate our performance.

At night we were ferocious lovers. During the day it’s like we barely know each other.

“You know this is going to end.”

We saw each other when we could. A ritual. He’d invite me to his place. We’d talk for a minute about our days. Then we would kiss like strangers – or the complete opposite – lovers reuniting after months apart. He would tell me I’m beautiful. Then he would take off my shirt, my shorts, my bra, my panties.

“Happy Anniversary. I love you.”

His fingers are inside me, hard, fast until I lose control. He smiles, licks his fingers, asks me to taste it. I do. He lifts me up. I’m on top.

 “I love you too, baby.”

The first thrust is a rush. We continue to a steady rhythm. He turns me over so I’m on my back and he’s on top of me. I feel his sweat drip down my body. We’re nose to nose. Lips touching. He tells me in short breaths how much he loves me and maybe at the moment it’s true. I say it back to him, “I love you.” We continue until we come and our breathing slows. We lay in the dark. Our bodies separate. I turn away and stare out the window. Hong Kong is beautiful and there are always the lights.

We continue like this for months. But we’re just pretending.

“I’m having a party this Saturday,” he says, “but we’re not going to hold hands or do anything couple-y. Do you understand?”

Another month passes. We have more sex. It’s great. It’s terrible. I excuse myself to go to bathroom. I find a cotton pad with blue eye-shadow in the trash. It’s a nice color. I don’t wear blue eye-shadow.
My heart tightens. I run through my options. Do I make this a thing? Do I confront him? Scream at him? Smile a tight-lipped smile? Am I allowed to cry? The cotton pad stares blue back at me.
I crawl into bed with him. I lay next to him, naked, then turn on my side and stare out the window.

“What’s wrong?” he asks. I think about how nice the lights outside are. “I’m not mad because you’re not my boyfriend” I tell him. “I found a used cotton pad.” It is the most reasonable thing I can say. I say it simply and clearly.

I start to get dressed.

“Wait,” he says, taking my arm. “That was just about sex.”

Reality is complicated. Our relationship had been based on unspoken rules. We fake love for an hour and walk away like it didn’t matter. We compartmentalize our lives. We construct a small, intimate wall to separate ourselves from the rest of the world.

“Are we only about sex?” I ask.

I feel as though my mask has slipped. I’m bewildered. Hurt. Disillusioned. To have the multiple dimensions of who I am – as a human being – excluded, except for just one superficial aspect, is disheartening.

“We’re more than sex” he says. “I want to do stuff with you. I want us to hang out more. You’re smart, interesting. You have a good heart.”

I look at the door. But it’s already been decided. I get back into bed. He wraps his arms around me.

“I love you,” he whispers. Those three words to suspend our reality.

I stare out the window. He holds me tight and neither of us say another word. The city lights shine a spotlight on our bed. My eyes get heavy. I drift off to sleep. In the morning we’ll be strangers again.

The Duke and the Kid by Alan Graham

Read by Matt Fleming at 'Kisses & Blows'

“What more can I tell you guys? The Kid is busting a gut to take down The Duke.”

The Kid keeps quiet as his manager goes through the motions of hyping the fight. He knows the drill. Head down, scowl and keep quiet. FWAM! The flashbulbs explode around him as reporters jostle for the right image for the pre-fight evening papers.

“Look at these!” the manager grabs one of the kids arms – “he’s got the muscles to crack a jaw on a Roman statue.”

This gets a big cheer. FWAM, FWAM – more photos.

“Hey Kid!,” he hears a voice shout, “What you going to do with the money if you win?”

The Kid knows not to answer. “Hey, this young Champ” the manager grabs his arm again “I tell you, this Kid wants to announce today that if he wins he will be making a generous donation to the Mulberry Street Boxing Club that originally helped him become a boxer and to this very day keeps kids off the streets.”

The Kid tries to stay scowling and suppresses a smile. Let his manager think they were still going to get a massive handout after the fight. These charity “donations” had kept that crooked entourage in cigars, showgirls and liquor long enough. Not for much longer.

*
At the Arena, the Duke stares at himself in the mirror. He tracks his years boxing on the lines and scars of his face. He runs his tongue into the gaps between the teeth he’s lost in his previous title fights. The press had once described his large dark eyes as like a shark’s. He can’t see it anymore, he lacks the eyes of a predator.

THUMP
Urgh
THUMP
Oh Baby
THUMP
Oh BABY

He can hear DeConnick the Bookie screwing a Cigarette Girl in the room next door.  He focuses on the sounds the two are making. Where exactly are they – is either of them close to finishing? He’s trying to avoid DeConnick – you don’t really want to interact too much with the guy you are about to do over – so the longer he’s futzing around the better.

“And the Duke knows what he has to do?”

“DeConnick  told me he’s going down in the second.”

All his life, the Duke has imagined how people were talking about him behind his back. The slights, the lies, the racist slurs. It’s what started him fighting, it’s how he discovered he was good at it. Back then, he probably got it mostly wrong. Tonight he knows exactly what people are saying right now – how the word on the street is spreading about a fixed fight.

*

 “Seen this Sugar? We’re front page!” Mary Ó Cíosóig startles the Kid with the front page of the evening paper. There he is, leaving the press conference with the glamorous dame with the difficult name. Journalists have long since stopped trying to spell Mary’s last name correctly,  she just smiles when people ask and just purrs  “you can just call me Mary O”. Mary O. The press loved it. It even made the Kid laugh.

TCHIK

Mary O lit herself a cigarette and scoured the articles for further mentions of her name.  The Kid likes looking at Mary O. A few years back he’d tried to convince himself that he could even fall in love with her. But she’d put the icy mitt to that with some cold hard truths. She catches him looking at her, and she smiles and raises an eyebrow. They both know it’s her well-rehearsed act of flirtation. She’d even taught it to the Kid.

*

The crowd cheers as the fight begins. There’s none of that tentative first round crap. The Kid and the Duke lay into each other from the off, two guys fighting for a purpose.

The second round begins, and it’s also off to a flier. But as the seconds count down a few in the arena begin to worry that there’s no sign of the Duke going down. He doesn’t appear to be weakening at all. Awkward conspiratorial glances are made between faces in the expensive seats.

When the bell rings for the end of the second round, there’s an almighty Roar from the crowd. People who’d heard rumours about a fix – about a dive in the second – can’t help cheering that all the shillers who claimed to be “in the know” have been made to look real dumb.

But by the fifth round, the Duke is beginning to tire. The Kid begins to look ever more younger, faster, sharper. And when the Duke tries to land a punch it doesn’t seem to have the power it once had.

BAM

The Kid thrusts a jab against the Duke’s ribcage.

The Duke tries to respond when

KUNK

the Kid has read his punch, moved out the way and landed one right on the side of his head.
The Duke feels his legs weaken. He looks to see the Kid darting back, hesitant to follow-up on the blow. He smiles at the Kid and for the first and only time he decides to stop trying. His wobbling knees do the rest and he crashes to the ground.

*

Everyone who witnessed the fight that night raves about the fight they’ve seen. They got the story they wanted. The young Kid  – the good looking punk with the glamourous gal - finally felled the aging, unbeatable Duke. Arguments erupt among the onlookers as to whether the Kid is better than the Duke was at that age. Most people don’t spot the fury in a few of the better dressed punters. And those that do see it, don’t dwell on what might happen when a fixed fight gets broken for long.

“WHERE’S THE GODDAMN BUSHWA GOT TO?”

There isn’t much love for the Duke after the fight, and he knows he has little time before numerous heels come to collect on his betrayal. But he planned for this. He feigns concussion, and once rushed to the treatment room, delivers a quick POP POP to KO an unfortunate Doctor. He momentarily feels sorry for the poor guy, before he wrenches open the window and climbs outside.

He skips down two flights of stairs, then makes a leap onto the roof of the adjacent building. From there, he takes the goods lift to the ground floor. A car is waiting. The Kid sits in the back seat of the car, and he opens the door for the Duke.

“Did you have time to collect the winnings?” the Duke asks.

“All here,” the Kid points.

“And the safe in the boxing club?”

“Mary O emptied it during my press conference.”

.The Kid holds out his hands, and the Duke tenderly takes hold them.

“Get in and kiss me,” smiles the Kid.

“Close the bank, boys!” laughs Mary O from the driver’s seat. “Save it till we’re a safe distance away and no-one can see!”

As the engine revs, the Duke leaps into the backseat next to the Kid and embraces him.

The Descent of Man by John Robertson

Read by Damien Barnes

You can call me a fool for believing in humans. You can dismiss it as a lame refusal to grow up, or a sign of mental illness. But I know we’re not alone in the universe. I’ve known for years that man is out there, and that he’s visited our undeserving planet on many occasions. And now I see it firsthand as I speak.

Let me give you some background.

Yes, I was your typical sci-fi nerd as a kid. Lacking friends, I sought solace instead in comic books, movies, and in conspiracy theories about military bases where human autopsies had taken place. My daydreams were haunted by crudely imagined humanoid faces — clumsy hair on their heads, grotesque nostrils, and those pointless, comical eyebrows.

But don’t let that mislead you. I only seriously grew aware of human existence after becoming a well-adjusted adult, married and with kids of my own. Coming from a long line of farmers, I’d taken over the family estate by then. My life was far removed from the preoccupations of my childhood. And it was only an appearance in one of my corn fields one morning that brought them back with a vengeance.

You’ve no doubt heard about crop circles. You’ve probably even seen their photos in tabloids and dismissed them as ludicrous hoaxes. But I promise you that when they appear in a farmer’s field, his life is never the same again.


Genesis by Randall Bruce Wilson

Read by Sean Hebert

I didn’t know her, but it seemed like I did. There was something in the way she tilted her head to one side that felt familiar to me. I smiled spontaneously from behind my mask and she smiled back from across the aisle. How had she seen me smile? 

That’s where it began. We were underground. I was speeding to the last stop but began to wonder if I should disembark earlier. Our exchange of smiles had made me uncomfortable. Though I looked everywhere but her direction, I could tell that her stare was locked on me. 
The train stopped.

I should have stayed home. I didn’t have to go out, ever, unless I wanted to. I worked for a conglomerate that monitored my availability constantly but allowed 20 non-sleep hours away from my home-work-station per week. I could order anything I needed in; food, water, movies, sex. Anything but air, and I wanted a breeze. I couldn't open my window. Too many people had jumped to their death, so all buildings were now airtight; except for the first three floors, but those floors were reserved for commerce. You could jump from those windows too I suppose, but you wouldn’t die. You’d land on a pillow of a crowd. I suppose you might get trampled to death, but if you were going to kill yourself, there’d be better ways. Anyway, I wanted to look out a window and see something other than another window so I got on the train to the last stop which exited onto a tiny park on a dirty coastline. I liked that park.

She walked over and slid down into the seat next to mine. She smelled fresh like the air freshener they piped into our rooms to mark the passing of seasons.




Prime Cut by Liam Hogan

Read by Daniel Levia

“Got Human?”

“Huh?” was my not-so-intelligent reply as my brain stumbled on those two unexpected words. I looked my potential customer over: five eyes stared steadily back and something I might charitably have described as a tongue flicked the edges of its saw-toothed mouth. A Vryxillian. Hadn’t had one of those in my shop before.

“Got Human?” it rasped once more, leaning forward over the butcher’s block.

I’d heard about this – rumours, gossip, jokes that weren’t quite funny enough to be jokes. Technically, as applicants to the Council, we were off the menu. But I’d been on the Space Station long enough to know that “technically” just nudges up the rarity value. All my meats were incredibly expensive already of course – the cost of getting them there meant that my sausages really were worth their weight in gold. How much would a pound of human flesh cost? Or rather, how much could I charge for it?

I wondered if my reptilian client realised that I was human? And if it didn’t... “Not now,” I said. “But I can get some.”





The Aliens On The Train by Rebecca Clarke

Read by Jonathan Nazer

I sat between two aliens on the London Underground today. At first I thought they were men dressed in shiny silver foil with clothes hangers as antennae, but on closer inspection, their scaly skin was not well-applied face paint but a true algae pigment, and their webbed fingers were not artificially attached, but biologically correct.

They boarded the train at 9:46pm, waddled down the empty aisle, and ignoring the two rows of available seats, sat on either side of me. I contemplated moving because of the breeze from their gills against my cheeks, but I didn’t want to appear rude. So we sat there in silence, me and two aliens, until the train left the platform.

"Oh, what are we going to do? We’ll never escape this wretched planet now!” the alien on my right wept. The other leant over me and patted his companion on the back. I squirmed in my seat.

"Cheer up, brother. We'll find a way. I have been thinking, my dear brother. I have a plan, but it won’t be ... pleasant." The alien turned his head at an impossible angle to look at me with his catlike eyes.

"Pardon me, I go by the earth name of Philippe. What is your name, friend?" the alien asked me, raising his voice over the sound of the train speeding through the underground tunnels.

"Michael," I replied, doing my best impression of a 'this isn't weird' smile.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Together by Yalun Tu

Read by Sean Hebert at 'Kisses & Blows'

I don’t know how much you know but we’re supposed to end up together. The narrative was written from the onset, beginning with a kiss in Connecticut on a party weekend. Your friend – remember her, the golden haired, wild one – was snapping pictures and captured it, by coincidence, by circumstance, by fate, and how perfect is that? Our first kiss, destined to adorn a wall in our hallway. Oh, that picture? It’s a funny story, really. I could practically hear your girlfriends gush.

I don’t know how much you know but we’re supposed to end up together. There was talk of a house, a dog, winters with sweaters. We’d kiss in the rain clink champagne glasses, the years would turn, and I’d read newspapers and you’d stir your museli in the morning. But we’d still be us, I’d still see that secret look you me give during parties that means I’m doing this for you and I hope you know that but oh I still love you and it’s alright as long as you clean up afterwards. And I would because dirty dishes should never be left out as they attract bugs and oh-by-the-way-I-love–you-too.

I don’t know how much you know but we’re supposed to end up together. Our time together was a Friday – the anticipation of pleasure, a weekend that could – and would – fall in every direction. There were Tunisian restaurants and moonlight tangoes, a surprise trip to Florida where we cooked my grandmother lamb chops. “I swear, it was one of the top meals of my entire life” she still says in her Maryland twang.

People reduce this sentiment to cliché, adopts maxims, we’ll go where the wind takes us or home is where the heart is or all I need is you not realizing how stupid these things are. I went where I planned to in a home I paid for on a targeted, mapped out course to maximize my utility. It is as clinical and perfect as it sounds and will lead to me being rich and successful whilst keeping a touch of boyish charm. And this is why you like me. And this is why you love me.

And this is why you loved me.

We’re supposed to be together. I moved to Hong Kong and – we’re supposed to be together. Hong Kong is a Saturday. Hong Kong is a queue of beautiful parties. Hong Kong is love and love here is never having to check your bank account balance.

It was only a pit stop, a blip, a two year plan that turned to three to six to seven to the end of us. We were supposed to be a Sunday – bike rides, brunch, undercover snuggles in the limping afternoon. I would bring you hot chocolate and you would accept it because all women love chocolate but somehow you love chocolate more than the rest of them. I would put my arm around you and trick you into thinking the marshmallows are homemade but you’d be far too smart for that. And when you opened your mouth to protest I’d kiss it and there would be laughs and chocolate and then only the sounds of two people next to each other.

I don’t know how much you know, dear. There was a moment – no scratch that – there were four moments when everything seemed lost and I could have fixed it and I didn’t. The night before I flew to Hong Kong and you stayed over and we woke up eyes swollen. When you asked me to stay but I had booked a trip to Europe and left. When my dad was sick and I called you and you told me you still loved me in the elevator bank. When the skinny guy, Kaz I think was his name, (he’ll always be the skinny guy to me) broke up with you and you came to New York and lay in my hotel bed. I remember watching you, curled up tight, arms wrapped around the pillow. And I leaned over and whispered a secret into your ear.

I don’t know if you heard but it was important. And I thought that there, in the early morning, in the beauty of that hotel room, if I mouthed in 100 times it would finally become true. There is power in words and power in a name and – and – and….

We’re supposed to be together. I learned that you were engaged via Facebook. I clicked a link and saw the ring, saw the congratulations from our friends. I was in my office eating a bagel. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day in Hong Kong. And I went to the coffee shop and ordered a coffee. And I drank the coffee and went back to my office. And I remembered the Frank O’Hara poem “The Day Lady Died”:

It is 12:20 in New York a Friday
three days after Bastille day, yes
it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine
because I will get off the 4:19 in Easthampton   
at 7:15 and then go straight to dinner
and I don’t know the people who will feed me


And now you’re married and now you’re happy and you looked so beautiful in the wedding pictures I saw. I’ve sent you a few emails – short, terse – “Happy birthday”, “check out this funny video”, “look at the kittens” when what I meant to say was… What is there to say, anyway? You’re happy and I’m happy for you and that’s not true at all. I’m blessed for what we had and what we have and how I’m me now because of you. We’re supposed to be together but I suppose you supposed differently. And I don’t know how much you know but it’s Monday now.