What Keeps Humankind Alive

The sun shining through the bars of the window is the first thing he sees as he wakes. It frightens him until he sees his bare chest. He touches it with unfamiliar hands. He lies there stretching his fingers, obscuring and revealing the light — the light is strange, warm, and makes something inside him stretch out and want to reach for it too.

The last thing he remembers is walking the street. It was late, dark, yellow lights on puddles, people laughing and pointing, it was cold, his friends had left him, he was alone. And now he is here. Wherever here is.

He leaps off the small bed and lands on strange feet — they have uncomfortable fat stubby things on them, five on each foot. He is relieved to see he still has a few feathers protruding from his vital parts, but they malt as he walks to the door. He bobs his head against the metal hatch. The dull thud, rather than the expected sharp tap, hurts his brain. He staggers back as the hatch slides open.

A pink face presses itself against the bars. ‘Ah, well if it isn’t the chicken man. Slept off the booze now have we? Ready to tell us your name?’

He tries to speak but can only cluck.

‘Hey, lads. Looks like our guy’s still too chicken to speak.’

‘He looks more like a cock to me!’ laughs another voice

He presses his painful, bloated face to the bars and sees a group of them dressed in tight-fitting, black jackets with big, silly, silver buttons reflecting their laughing pink faces.

The one behind the door, pushes his nose closer and grunts. ‘Well? Want to tell us what you were doing walking like a plucked chicken out on the high street last night? Do you remember pal? Stag do was it? A prank? Do you remember your name?’

‘It’s no use Steve. Guy’s obviously bat-shit crazy. Let’s wait for the head doc to sort him out.’

He can only cock his head and peck at the door. When it hurts his head, he gives up, dances around the cell a few times clucking. Some things start coming back. The darkness, the hot house where they were all crammed together, the noise, a loud noise, then they were all running, many of them into the night, human voices ushered them on, the outside looked as dark as the inside, but smelt better.

We all have things we try to keep hidden, like a yolk swathed in albumen, that is in turn concealed by a fragile shell. That is the mind. And when cracks begin to form, it is inevitable that everything ends as a sticky mess, and what was kept hidden, becomes exposed and frightening. That is madness. We are all born mad, some remain so. And some don’t know it, until it’s too late.

It’s too late, he thinks. Get your clucking act together. The only way he can get out of this mess, is to pretend to be human, until he can figure out what’s going on. But what he’s heard of humans seems frightening — snapping of necks, slitting of throats, chopping of limbs, that kind of crazy thing. He doesn’t know if he has it in him. But he’s gotta do what he’s gotta do. He looks at the pigs, sitting with their big, bloated faces grunting and squealing in their desktop troughs, their pink, hairy ears pricked up, as a duck in a white coat waddles up with a clipboard. He looks at them and thinks, ‘when I get out, I’m going to carve one of you up. I’m gonna be a man. I’m gonna stay alive.’

© 2017 The Wasted Love Song
In response to daily prompt: Exposed
Image: Chicken Head by Ann Nguyen / CC BY

The tite is taken from a song written by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, which featured in The Threepenny Opera, and concerns humankind’s hyprocrasy and inhumanity. Here’s a wonderful version performed by Tom Waits:

‘We are all born mad, some remain so.’ — Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot.

Good Apparel

There was this building once. Some imposing Victorian edifice with nothing but forests around. I don’t know how I got there. One minute I was stuck in a corporate minefield, terror-filled, languishing, propped up in a sales meeting next to other nine-to-five corpses in suits. The next thing I knew, I was in a circle swapping coping mechanisms with other shellshocked survivors of life and mental misfits in gowns.

A small bearded man, who I later learned was in charge, crossed his short legs, leaned back, and stretched out his arms madly. ‘How about you. Yes you,’ he pointed. ‘What are your aspirations now you’re here?’

‘So, erm…I can put my socks on.’


‘Yeah, you know, those things you put on your feet to stop them sweating in shoes.’

‘I know what socks are. But that’s your main goal? To put socks on?’

‘It’s not my main goal, but it’s the only one I can think of right now,’ I said raising both bare feet in the air.

‘Well,’ he said rustling his beard, ‘it’s a good a place to start as any, I guess. It is all about emotional apparel, after all. You can put your feet down now.’

‘Emotional apparel?’

‘Hmm…How can I explain?’ he said rocking and hugging his shoulders. ‘Emotional apparel is what you wear in the morning, a bit like socks and pants no one else can see. They define how you feel for the rest of the day. You wear uncomfortable pants in the morning, you’re gonna be restless all day. Same with socks, put on a bad pair, walking’s gonna hurt. Life,’ he said slapping his cheeks, ‘is all about picking the right emotional apparel.’

Suddenly things slotted into place. My socks and pants were the problem. Over the winter, they put together an action plan so I could learn to wear socks with exuberance again, and avoid accidentally slipping on a pair of distressed pants in the process. It took some practice. I couldn’t get the hang of it until they forced pills down my throat; they kept my mind so wonderfully warm and cosy like a thick, knitted, cashmere beanie that the last thing I said as I walked into the forest was, ‘Now that,’ I said smacking my head with excitement, ‘is the mark of a good apparel. Thank you.’

© 2017 The Wasted Love Song
Image: Socks by Luca Prasso / CC BY

Sandra Invites Herself to Dinner

Sandra must have left the door open behind her. Frank turned around and got a fright. Standing in the doorway staring at him with black eyes that sat on a wrinkled, gaunt face, patchy with white stubble, a black hat clasped to his chest, was a man with shoulder length black hair. He stood in the door way looking at Frank saying nothing, cocking his head from side to side as if listening. Frank didn’t know what to say. Was this the ‘crow man’ Sandra had talked about? There was something about his eyes, tranquil and yet full of dark, dead mystery that scared him.

‘Excuse me,’ Frank managed to force out. ‘Can I help you?’

But the man just smiled and dashed away, leaving an empty doorway that seemed to darken as if he had left his shadow behind. Frank’s feet didn’t want to move but his mind willed them along slowly. He crept to the doorway. The man had left a sickly scent, like a mixture of old-fashioned soap and soured milk. Frank peered cautiously down the corridor only to see Sandra hopping back out of her flat a few doors down wearing a small black dress, and struggling with some high heels.

‘Sorry, it took me so long. It’s been a while since I’ve worn this one. Not much occasion now you see. You know what I mean? How do I look?’

Frank clammed up his lips, forced a smile through them, and shrugged.

‘Great! Thanks!’ said Sandra.

This was maddening, thought Frank. Why couldn’t he just be a man about it, chuck her out. Put his foot down. There must be a small bit of him somewhere that was capable of action and cruelty; some part of him that still allowed him to dictate his own life, rather than being pushed around by circumstance. He searched and searched, but found nothing.

Sandra helped him put the aubergines in the oven, reminding him not to add salt, and overdid it with the pepper in compensation.

‘Pepper protects, mum used to say!’

‘Will you stop it!’ Frank felt something welling up inside him that compelled his voice and made it louder. ‘Just bloody stop it! I don’t give a shit what your mom used to say! This is a private meal, do you understand? Private. Me and my wife. I didn’t invite you. You’re not wanted. Now please,’ Frank closed his eyes, trying to find some happy composure. ‘Please, thank you for the help, but this is not the time. Please leave, before my wife comes.’

‘Wow! Sorry. You’ve got issues. You should get it checked out.’ said Sandra. ‘Maybe I should go.’ Sandra’s face became shocked and sad. She put the pepper mill on the side, and walked out of the kitchen muttering to herself.

Frank breathed a sigh of relief. That was all it took. A little anger to get things done, perhaps he should do it more often. But then he remembered that book Mary had written and he struggled to read, where she kept talking about how bad anger was; anger fuelled more anger, it was the sewage that clogged up the drains of our lives, Mary had said. Well it worked here, how about that Mary dear? Put that in your book and publish it. He had no complaints about anger at that moment. Not one, it empowered him; it had bought him the freedom from his strange, needy neighbour to give him space to worry about the new, creepy one while he tried to patch things up, and grovel with Mary.

After a few minutes, Frank heard a noise and rushed back into the living room. ‘Oh! Fuck! No, no, no, no! Sandra, you can’t lie down here! Sandra!’ But Sandra couldn’t hear him, she had fallen asleep, snoring with her mouth open on the sofa, one leg up, and one leg trailing on the carpet. After Frank failed to wake her, he draped a blanket over her, perched on the armrest, and hated himself again.

© 2017 The Wasted Love Song
In response to daily prompt: Blanket
Image: P1040401 by Seika / CC BY

An extract from my current work in progress, entitled Flat 21. Find more information here.

Making Progress

Thank you for those who have shown interest in my latest project, provisionally entitled Flat 21. This novel is my current priority and is progressing well. Other blogging activity may drop off for a while, but I’ve added a ‘Works in Progress’ section where you can find more information about Flat 21. I’ll post more updates as I go. Thanks.

Frank Gets Depressed

Another day off work, another day in bed, the thin curtains barely containing the glimmering nausea of the cold, spring sun. The first thoughts Frank managed to locate in the vacancy of his brain was the same one as before: ‘I’m trying’.

He’d spent a lifetime trying. Trying to be happy, trying to find love, trying to make marriage work, trying not to get divorced, trying to get a job, trying not to get fired. He was awful at trying.

A week ago, Frank had managed to secure a much sought after morning appointment at the GP surgery.

The young locum with nice legs but a brash manner, looked him up and down. ‘Good morning,’ she checked and double-checked her computer, ‘Mr. Canda. What can I do for you?’

‘I’m not feeling very well.’

‘In what way?’

‘I just feel like things are a struggle.’

‘In what way?’

‘I’m struggling to get up in the mornings.’

‘Are you getting to sleep early enough?’

‘Yes. It’s not just that. I’ve lost interest in things.’ He was going to confess about his love life, his failed marriage, the lack of sex, the lack of drive. ‘Just everything,’ he sighed.

‘How long have you been feeling like this?’

Frank tried to think, but he couldn’t remember. Thinking had become a hazy activity, fraught with the danger of remembering things he didn’t want to, and fighting himself to recall to the things he did; like his credit card pin number while a formidable queue was gearing up their tutting muscles behind him; or where he parked his car in a multi-storey, so he had to walk through all levels which looked the same as every other level, except one of them had a black Mondeo, that was how he could tell he was on the right level, until he realised each level had at least five black Mondeos as far as he could see; eating too had become a tasteless pastime.

‘It sounds like you may be experiencing depression. Have you had any problems like this before? Any history of mental illness in the family?’

Frank tried to think. There it was again. That grey, nebulous haze he used to call memory. His Uncle Dan had been caught walking the streets in a woman’s nightie and after that he wasn’t quite right again; and his old man, cranky, shouty and susceptible to wild mood swings would often lock him and his sister in a cupboard. Was that mental illness, or was that struggling to cope with life? ‘I don’t think so,’ Frank shook his head.

‘Well, congratulations,’ said the locum with the nice legs, ‘it looks like you may be the first then. I’ll write you up some anti-depressants. Do you need anything to help you sleep?’ Frank shook his head. ‘These should help you with your general mood. Take one once a day. And come back and see me in two weeks and we’ll review how you’re doing. Then we can discuss any further treatment such as counselling.’

Counselling, thought Frank. That was a scary thought, that meant exposing himself, opening up, swapping that deceit for honesty again, or making the deceit more honest. It meant being frank. Either way it wasn’t something he was looking forward to.

A week of swallowing the little green and blue capsules religiously every morning with a glass of tap water followed by a slice of toast and wild strawberry jam had done little so far to alleviate the worse of the torpor. The nebulous haze was still there, Mary was still leaving him, he still couldn’t remember the things he wanted to, and the things he wanted to forget kept bugging him like a crazy fly buzzing against his cranium at night.

Another hour had gone. How exactly was that possible. He hadn’t done anything, no reading, thinking, moping, growing, or diminishing; he had somehow wasted an hour just existing without knowing it. He showered and got dressed into jogging pants and a loose t-shirt, he would save his better clothes — his chinos and blue Oxford shirt — for when Mary was here. He’ll pretend it’ll be one of those dining programmes where guests arrive at each other’s houses. She’ll come in a little black dress, present him with a bottle of supermarket Chardonnay, a European kiss on both cheeks, mwah! mwah! Hello darling. Please come in. The table arranged with napkins stuffed into flutes, artisan placemats, some Miles Davis on the stereo, the weather will be nicer then too – the grey skies gone. A cool breeze drifting from an open window. He was looking forward to it. Things were going to change. He was going to sort his life out. He would dig out some dignity, crawl on the floor and beg Mary to stay.

© 2017 The Wasted Love Song
In response to daily prompt: Grey
Image: Happy pills! Brooches for you! by Pati / CC BY

An extract from my current work in progress, entitled Flat 21. Find more information here.

The Heart Without, Within

Her mom told her everyday to never go down there — and twice on a Sunday. But after years of being told this, there was only one thing Cindy could do. One night, feeling its inexplicable pull, after her mom had gone to sleep, Cindy grabbed her dad’s old Maglite and went to the basement.

She stood on the threshold in her slippers and dressing gown with an ear pressed against the peeling door. It was already past midnight, she should be sleeping, but the extreme stillness wouldn’t let her rest. There was no harm in looking; after all, it was too late to expect approval from her mom. Or that feeling she often saw on her friends’ faces, which she imagined was acceptance or love or something comforting like that — it was too late for that too.

Cindy opened the door. A creak announced a strange draft, one that smelled cold and ancient. She tried the light switch. Nothing. She tried it again. Still nothing. The descent was exhilarating, terrifying, all-consuming; all her fears reeled and cycled together at each step as the torch failed to shine past the heavy curtain of darkness. What was her mom hiding down there? At the bottom, she managed to make out a scattering of odd things: battered, leather suitcases with rusted clasps; scrawled, cardboard boxes stacked and sagging beneath each other — PHOTOS, MEMORIES, DIARIES; worn armchairs sitting on top of each other; her old bicycle with the pink basket parked next to her baby cot. Then she saw a child’s hand. It was attached to an arm on the ground. She stifled a silent scream. But it was only her old doll, Annie.

Then something else caused her heart to erupt through her mind and leave her body frozen. A figure stared at her from the shadow cast by the torch. Cindy’s mind wanted to run, but her feet couldn’t move. She turned the torch slowly until she found a pair of dead mannequin’s eyes staring back at her. The mannequin screamed. She screamed. The mannequin moved. In panic Cindy swung the torch, to her left, then to her right, she swung its weak light and found only darkness. She swung it back, but the figure was gone.

It had moved closer in those short seconds. It was upon her. She could smell its breath. It reeked of alcohol. Its voice was familiar.

‘I told you to never come here!’ The face in the torchlight was strange, yet familiar; the eyes were distant, filled with raw sadness and wet with tears. The voice slow.

‘Mom? Is that you?’

‘You shouldn’t be here.’

‘You scared me. What are you doing here? What’s going on? I thought you were asleep.’

‘Please, go away. Leave me.’

Her mom, whom she was used to seeing as forceful and inaccessible seemed so frail in the gloom of the basement. They stared at each other not knowing what to say. The first thing Cindy thought was, she must miss dad too. But her mom never talked about him, they didn’t talk about him since he left. In that moment, half-clothed in shadows, Cindy realised they didn’t really talk about anything anymore.

She extended her hand and felt the unfamiliar touch of her mom’s, who recoiled as more tears refracted in the beam.

‘It’s okay mom.’

At that moment, Cindy understood nothing is for free, everything had to be earned, companionship, respect, love, nothing is taken for granted; but sometimes, between parents and children, hidden reserves are kept, strewn somewhere among the bric-a-brac of the dark recesses of the heart. It was just a matter of finding them again.

‘Please, leave me alone.’ Her mom cried.

But Cindy didn’t. She couldn’t.

She sat next to her mom on the cold, dusty floor of the forbidden basement among remains of the past. She saw her mom as she had never seen her — vulnerable, fragile. She put her arms around her, her mom recoiled until her slight push became a deep, embracing pull and they held onto each other fully with tears wetting each others shoulders.

‘I’m sorry, honey.’

‘What for?’

‘For failing you. I’m sorry. I didn’t want you to see me like this.’

Cindy said nothing and held her mom closer. How could she blame her? Dad’s leaving was his problem, not hers. And her sadness wasn’t entirely her own fault either. Her parents — grandpa John and grandma Marie — were messed up, and probably their parents too; each generation messes up in their own way and carries a little of the carnage over for good measure. Within that big soup mixture parents force feed their children — that magical elixir, they tell their children is for their own good — is a potent concoction of the happiness and pain they endured, sprinkled with hope that their children will succeed where they failed. Or fear they will follow in their own failures too.

‘I come here to get away from things,’ her mom said.

Cindy didn’t know how long they had been sitting there, but she could see the appeal of descending where nobody came, where nobody could see you, where there were no distractions, and be free and apart. Her mom wanted to keep it exclusively hers, she understood that. But Cindy felt its danger too, of the madness of darkness that consumed, working its way towards the heart without, within, and back again at the sacrifice of all else.

‘Come on mom. Let’s get some sleep. Then tomorrow we’ll clean things up a little.’ She grabbed hold of her old doll. ‘Put some things up for sale. I forgot about Annie. You think anybody will buy this? Maybe we’ll fix up the lighting, put some new chairs here, get some books. You can still get away mom, but isn’t it better to do it somewhere brighter, more comfortable? Or we can go for a walk in the park. Like we used to. How about that? I love you mom.’ She rested her head on her mom’s shoulder like a child does.

‘I love you too, honey. I’m so sorry.’ She kissed Cindy’s hair, the way a parent does when their heart tells them their child is in need.

© 2017 The Wasted Love Song
Image: _GBD1020 by Gabriele Diwald / CC BY

The Unremarkable World of David

David wakes on swollen mud banks, under the shadow of dead trees where dull rushes struggle to stretch into the brown haze of sky; a lone crow dives and caws above. This is David’s world, this is his mind — where he decided to live long ago — where stories were born, residents became characters, and time was held within its own sphere; where, when real stars died, his continued to shine, vibrant and clear. But something happened. David’s world became sick. Time turned into an unending, bituminous stream, over-spilling and consuming everything. But this is David’s only world — his source of everything. He continues past his old house, near a crossroad of innumerable paths where unreadable signs hang. David finds a rusted cart sagging with wood. It is something new to his mind. He tries to write about it. But worryingly, the cart has no past or future, offers no story, it just exists without meaning or purpose; David doesn’t know how to comprehend something like this anymore. And so, he writes nothing.

© 2017 The Wasted Love Song
In response to: FFfAW Challenge-Week of April 18, 2017
Image by: Yinglan

Moving On

It was supposed to be a quiet Sunday lunch, but Elsie wouldn’t shut up. She kept going on and on; Bill was getting earfuls between mouthfuls.

‘Get over it,’ said Elsie, ‘there is no us anymore.’

‘But, I love you,’ said Bill.

‘It’s over. Move on,’ Elsie kept repeating.

Bill refused, raised his voice, got a few looks. Welled up with tears. She was driving him crazy.

He glanced over his plate at the young couple, smiling and laughing like he and Elsie used to when she was alive.

Move on how? It wasn’t that easy anymore at his age.

© 2017 The Wasted Love Song
In response to: 100 Word Wednesday, Week 14
Image by: Anjo Beckers Photography

The Handle

No matter what Alan does, the handle always breaks. It is held to the door by four, small screws and has no connection to the one outside — although he finds that when one breaks so does the other. When it breaks on the inside, he has to insert his finger nails into small gaps around the frame and pull the door before leaving; if it breaks on the outside it is easier, he can just push, and worry about having to pull again later.

Damn that handle! Alan stares at it in his hand. It’s going to make him late for work again. The handle has seen better days, it has been mended and taped so many times; cracks are beginning to show, he doesn’t know how much longer it will last. If he fixed it good and proper — perhaps got a new door — it would shave precious moments off his day. Imagine the things I could do then, he thinks. Standing here before the door — perched before this moment of pulling that preceded later thoughts of pushing — he thinks of the wonderful things he could do, if only he fixed the handle. Accumulated together, he calculates the time would allow him to read a third of a book a week, perhaps plan out a career change, sleep more, eat better, put together that online dating profile, get some time at the gym.

If he had a letter box, he could pull it, grasp the metal lip between his index finger and thumb, how delicious that would be; he would already be stuck in traffic now. If he had a letter box, he could attach the handle to a string for later retrieval so he could arrive home in style, with the pretence of turning a handle like most people did. What a sight his door must be when he was at work, those small holes exposed and getting grubbier around their edges.

And what a strange shape the handle is! He’s never noticed that before. It feels so uncomfortable in his hand. If only it were round. How pleasurable his grasp would be then! He would stand and turn it all day long. Holding an oval handle seemed very displeasing.

Alan thinks about the pulling again, locates the optimal place around the door frame to insert his fingers. If only Sally was still living with him, she would be helping him open the door now. She would know what to do. She would have replaced it for something solid, reliable, perhaps made of heavy brass. How happy a handle like that would make him feel. But Alan has been pulling and pushing everyday for so long now, struggling to get in and out, that it would be frightening if he didn’t have to do it anymore. Perhaps he should leave it as it is.

© 2017 The Wasted Love Song
Image: handle by Aamir Raza / CC BY

Inexplicable Splendour (Part 1)

‘It would be better if there were nothing. Since there is more pain than pleasure on earth, every satisfaction is only transitory, creating new desires and new distresses, and the agony of the devoured animal is always far greater than the pleasure of the devourer.’

– Arthur Schopenhauer

One cold Wednesday afternoon Harry stood up and said, ‘Fuck this, I need to detoxify. Coming?’

Harry Szabó didn’t talk like most people I knew. But it gave him a unique charm. And I couldn’t help liking him. Detoxification for Harry meant drinking himself into oblivion. ‘Purification through alcohol cleanses the toxins of working life,’ he said.

I guess Harry was what you’d call the nouveau riche. His family was Hungarian or something and his uncle had died leaving him a fortune. But he wasn’t exactly subtle or wise about it if you asked me; he would often turn up in new designer suits, sports cars, and latest gadgets; but the most perplexing thing was his decision to keep working. It’s not like the civil service is the most exciting of careers. Most days, working in local government is like sitting and watching a reel of endless red tape unravel slowly.

‘Why are you still working?’ I asked him over beer that evening. ‘I mean, with all that money, you could retire. Go on a permanent holiday.’

‘Without the flagellation of employment, the absolution and purification is less satisfying,’ he said. ‘Besides, I’d miss my buddies.’

‘Well, I can’t say I’d be so willing to put myself through much more flagellation if I was in your position.’ I took another swig of beer. The alcohol was getting to my head. ‘I would tell them to stuff their job up their arses and say, “fuck you all!”‘

Harry laughed and called me a crazy drunk who couldn’t hold his drink. ‘You’re so desperate for approbation to define you,’ he said, ‘your desperation is like isinglass, transparent and glinting, it’s quite charming in a way.’ There he went again with his fancy words. I didn’t know what isinglass was — sometimes I wondered whether he understood half the things he said.

Harry didn’t turn up for work the next day. I caught up with Wendy at lunchtime. Wendy worked in finance, and was another reason I was in awe of Harry. It was no secret they had an on-off relationship. Wendy and I had reached that stage of familiar friendship where anything intimate was forbidden by an unspoken law. I was a shoulder to cry on, an ear to complain to. I would spend hours listening, wishing we were lovers, while she complained how Harry didn’t love her. Although I remember Harry once telling me about the ‘potent, interminable passions she aroused within every sense and feeling’ of his being. I guess that was his way of saying he loved her.

Wendy said she hadn’t seen him.

I tried calling Harry, but got straight through to his answer message, and hung up. I missed his strange charm and fancy words. I wanted to learn from him. Although, I wouldn’t admit it then, I wanted to be him — be him, so I could be with Wendy.

My phone buzzed. It was a voice message from Harry. ‘Hey you,’ he said. ‘Hope I’m not discommoding you. Sincere apologies for the protracted silence, unfortunately the privations of life were in some desperate need of redress, hence the absence today. Listen, I need to discuss something with you surreptitiously. Meet me at Duke’s in an hour. Hope to see you then.’

Duke’s was a jazz bar near Embankment that Harry often frequented. He enjoyed jazz because, ‘the disarrangement invigorated and enlivened the soul, it helped to assemble the disparate facets of being, it fashioned inexplicable splendour from chaos and nothingness,’ he had a habit of telling me. It was a busy night. The live band almost drowned out by chatter and laughter. I found Harry in the corner with Wendy. She looked beautiful, and radiated even without make up. I wondered if she and Harry had been together that evening. I imagined them together in bed, and cast a nervous glance at Wendy as I sat next to her.

‘Hey man’ said Harry, ‘glad you could join us. I was worried that you would forsake me. I am cognisant of the short notice, for which I apologise, but it’s a rather grave matter, I’m afraid.’ He said without taking his eye off the band. ‘That’s why I requested you both to come down. Naturally, you should be disposed to the entire truth, but certain protocols and discretion need to be considered. Let me get you a drink, and then we’ll go for a walk.’

‘I’m good.’ Curiosity had quenched my thirst, and the noise of the bar was making me nauseous. ‘Some fresh air would be nice though,’ I said.

‘Well, I won’t remonstrate,’ said Harry, flicking his immaculately pomaded hair. ‘Let’s make haste. The agitation is perturbing’.

It was just before midnight, and I remember, it was unusually quiet for a Friday night. In the distance there were voices, half shouting, half singing as we walked across Waterloo Bridge. We rested in the middle looking out across the black, gleaming river towards St. Paul’s. Harry found some stones, and skimmed them with ease. I wanted to do the same, but had a feeling mine would sink. Wendy wrapped her arms around herself; I stood close so our elbows touched, and breathed in her perfume in the breeze.

‘It’s difficult to know where to start,’ said Harry. He turned around and faced us with his arms outspread, elbows resting on the bridge. ‘You see, something of controversy has arisen. A matter that calls into question my very existence. I told you that my recent fortune had been the result of an uncle who had passed away. That isn’t entirely true. It wasn’t my uncle. It was my father.’

‘I’m sorry to hear that,’ I said instinctively.

Harry ignored my comment. ‘And I’m afraid it’s all rather catching up on me now. A bit of an inconvenience really. You see, he didn’t just pass away. He was murdered.’

‘Murdered? How?’ I said.

‘Shot. In his bed. Police said it was a break in, but there was no sign of a struggle, and recent events suggest otherwise.’

‘What recent events? What’s happening Harry?’

His face had a worried expression I had never seen before. ‘I’ve become the recipient of some rather threatening communications. Letters through the door, mainly. Each describing horrific ways I could perish. And I’m afraid it’s gotten to the point where I can no longer disregard them.’

‘That’s awful, Harry,’ said Wendy. ‘Have you been to the police?’

‘Oh, they are of no assistant at present. So I had the compulsion to divulge my secrets,  before it’s too late.’ And then he turned around and faced the river. Started saying things like, ‘Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song’, which I later learned was from a T. S. Eliot poem. And strange things like how hypnotic the wide, expansive nothingness of the river was; of how it was like brittle glass. ‘Feels like you could walk on it,’ he said, ‘and be caught precariously between two things, drowning and existing.’

Dreams arrived in fitful spurts that night, in them Wendy and I made love. In my dreams I was inside her. And yet she remained distant, ‘like an enigma, waiting to be deciphered’ as Harry often said. And then I dreamed of Harry, we were driving in his Porsche. The sun was shining, John Coltrane was playing on the stereo. I was telling him how great sex was with Wendy. He said he was happy for me. Then we were being pursued by these dark vans. I jolted awake, sheets drenched with sweat, around 06:30 — too early to get up, too late to go back to sleep. I thought about Harry’s revelation, about his murdered father, and the death threats; and then about Wendy again, caught between images of sex and death when the phone rang.

‘It’s Harry,’ said Wendy. ‘He’s gone.’

To be continued…

© 2017 The Wasted Love Song
Image: Domes of London by Tom Waterhouse / CC BY

Crazy in Love

Despite everything he did, Alastair was the most debonair man she had ever met, Amber would often say; with his Prussian blue eyes, and a charm that invited you in like a whirlpool. They had met in university halls one empty autumn evening when neither expected to do anything, least of all fall in love — each turning a corner with a pile of books, both side-stepping in the same direction until the books fell.

Amber was still delicate after her split with John. The beginning of the end had started a month earlier with an argument on platform eight at Birmingham New Street, and was finished by John’s short, unenthused text — ‘CBB GB’ — while Amber was barely halfway to Bristol Temple Meads.

But Alastair’s shadow soon obscured any memories of John. And grew darker in the winter. When she looks back on it now, it seemed almost warlike, how it happened; the way he came onto her, gentle at first like a pioneer, but then the aftermath was that of a ruined, divided nation. The slow imposition of a foreign culture, causing the demise of another — the little bathroom laws, and kitchen rules, the bedroom dictates — until she felt nothing but the chains around her arms and legs and mind moving towards her heart.

It had happened so quickly — a quiet night in, some rosé, a romantic movie, then Alastair had other ideas. But by then Amber had grown tired of the chains, wanted to stretch her arms, find her own feet again, discover her own words. Alastair insisted, called her a few things, which he said he later regretted. The dangerous thing with love is it can kill a heart as equally as it can mend it. Lucky for Alastair then that the knife was blunt. She didn’t want to hurt him, not that way. But he had hurt her. So had John. And they were both blind to it.

There was no going back after that. The fall was liberating — like someone on a ledge who has no other release but descent. ‘I was crazy in love,’ she would later joke in hospital.

When they discharged her in the spring — the shadow of chains fading around her heart, some medication for her mind — she stood beneath the cherry trees in the hospital grounds watching a stream of people going in and out of life; the branches shifting in the breeze as the blossom snowed; she closed her eyes and thought of all the things beyond her control, of how we are all chained to something, while trying to expand her notion of forgiveness to include herself.

© 2017 The Wasted Love Song
Image: your love is like bad medicine by Rakka / CC BY

Breaking Eggs

By the time Richard dragged himself down for breakfast Libby was correcting her eye shadow and pushing her leftover corn flakes around; Jimmy was munching through two pop tarts at once while listening to music on his phone; and Hillary’s half-finished egg sat on the breakfast bar with a lone soldier as she caught up on the morning’s news on her tablet.

‘If you want breakfast, you’d better get it yourself. I don’t have time,’ said Hillary without looking up.

‘You could’ve woken me.’

‘I told you to get up. You ignored me.’

‘I didn’t hear.’

‘Not my problem. You better get a move on.’

‘You finishing your egg?’

‘When I finish this.’ Hillary chuckled at some news and shook her head.

Richard sighed and forced some bread into the toaster. He hadn’t been sleeping well. And woke with a feeling that a tap had been dripping in the night, that before the day had started, his reserves had already been used up. There were rumours of takeovers and restructures at work — which he knew was just a euphemism for casting out flotsam like him.

‘Jimmy, are you ready for school?’ said Hillary. ‘You’ll miss the bus again.’

‘Jimmy!’ Richard scraped his burnt toast and waved a spare hand in front of his son’s face.

‘What?’ Jimmy pulled his ear buds, spilling tinny, rhyming profanities all over the table.

‘Your mom’s talking to you.’


‘Are you ready for school? You’ll miss the bus,’ repeated Hillary.


Libby, having finished her eye shadow, attended to her lipstick, leaving her corn flakes to luxuriate in milk. ‘Dad, can I get a lift again today?’ she said.

‘Sure, honey. How’s the new job?’

‘It’s alright. Some guys are a bit strange though.’

‘Yeah? How so.’

‘Dunno. Just odd.’

Hillary looked up. ‘Have they said something to you?’


‘Have they done something?’ said Richard.

‘No, dad. Nothing like that. They just seem… weird. Like… they’re from another planet or something. The way they stare. I dunno. It’s weird, I can’t describe it. Like they’ve given up on life or something.’

‘Well, maybe it’s because you’re still new there, love,’ said Hillary. ‘Give it some time. I always feel uncomfortable in a new job.’

‘Your mom’s probably right,’ said Richard, dolloping jam to sweeten the bitterness of his toast.


‘Sorry, your mom is definitely right — as always.’

This pre-morning rush was one of the rare times they still spent together. He treasured and dreaded these moments around the breakfast bar. But everything seemed steeped in secrecy these days, it was the thing that drove them all on individually — silently; it whispered in his dreams, and woke him in the morning with a hundred things he didn’t know how to say.

It wasn’t that long ago he was bouncing Jimmy on his knee, and chasing and tickling Libby around the play room. And now they were strangers. Jimmy was becoming increasingly inaccessible in his own brooding world of rap music and games; Libby, as an HR officer, would soon be leaving her blotch on the world of corporate disappointment, and already had her own studio flat lined up; and the distance between him and Hillary seemed to extend nightly.

As he drove Libby to work, they exchanged a few words, but her replies dropped off until she replied with silence. Once gone, such moments together could never be recovered, but as much as he regretted the loss, he equally didn’t know what to do when they presented themselves.

‘Love you honey. Have a good day.’

Libby smiled and closed the door behind her.

Richard staggered through the morning traffic to work. The sun shone brightly in the sky. Inside, the tap continued to drip.

© 2017 The Wasted Love Song
Image: Break-fast time by Phototropy / CC BY

Bela Lugosi’s Dead

My father had brought the television down for the night. I sat in the dark storage with my cathode-rayed babysitter, watching some black and white horror movie while my family milled about the kitchen and the shop. The sound would be turned down, so my movies remained mostly silent until the drunkards came.

Sometimes, if I was caught outside, too far from the storage room when the door’s ting-a-ling announced another customer, I would be quickly shuffled beneath the counter. It wouldn’t do for a small child to be seen in the shop, it was very bad for business, my father said. So, I crouched between tins of pineapple and water chestnuts; bent down low, so if it was a busy period — such as a Saturday night after closing time — I would be stuck in such a position for quite some time until my neck began to crick. And when I was eventually let back into storage, I had to slump in my chair in order to watch the TV because of the restricted movement of my neck.

So, there I was that night, my chin on my chest due to another prolonged concealment among the tin cans; the thin, green veil drawn to hide me, my TV turned down low, while Bela Lugosi’s Dracula stalked and transfixed me to the small screen.

This was my escape from an incomprehensible world. Sitting there, late at night, eight-years-old, half prostrated, I learned that the dread behind the celluloid or in the pages of books was nothing compared to the real horrors that visited most nights — between the strange words: slurred, abrupt, argumentative, were racist taunts, pounding fists, and laughs of loathing; these couldn’t be muted, were always in Technicolor, and had no off-switch. But they had to be endured, because our family had to eat too. (Sometimes they would stay outside, and stuff fireworks and excrement through the letter box instead.)

That was how I measured out my weekend nights as a child, hands cupped over my ears, sounds of real horrors leaking behind a veil, while watching unreal ones play out on the screen.

I would like to say that this prepared me for life by strengthening my resolve, so such hatred affected me less when I became a victim of it myself later on. But it didn’t.

Bela Lugosi may be dead, but my memories of hate and racism are still alive. Sometimes when I close my eyes, I hear half-veiled sounds of abhorrence and abuse emanating from Bela Lugosi’s eyes.

It was through these events that I learned that the world can be unpleasant, things are not always within our control; where people are often too angry to be anything else; and senseless hate comes and goes, and visits you in the night. And when it leaves, it leaves its mark. And when all is silent, you are unable to celebrate its absence because you dread its return — waiting for it appear suddenly again with another ting-a-ling of the door.

Nouvelle Vague, ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’

© 2017 The Wasted Love Song
In response to daily prompt: Measure

An autobiographical piece about growing up in a takeaway in 1980s Britain.

Beggar in the Sand

My senses have been at sixes and sevens since the birth of memory — hearing what I feared, tasting what I couldn’t see — it even earned me my BA (Hons) in Underachievement at Dropout University.

But I reckon my sense of self is pretty rumpled now — like a parched beggar blind beached and teased by the sea — perhaps this timely thirsty reminder of mine will help dig him out. I’ve been taking empathy courses, and delivered some canapés (well past their sell by date), and some hors d’oeuvres of the future. Careful not to overfeed him, lest he be sick of the hereafter.

My beggar has been left in a thirty-year sterile season. I really should take more care, build a shelter, have a chat, take a change of light and clothes, and comb his hair. Look at his face, like a cactus drained of rain, sleeping sallow in the mirror. It would be a shame to wake him now and rudely rob me of my companion in the sand.

But I rope in some community volunteers, and with advice from professional overseers, I wake up the beggar. And, I’m embarrassed to say, cast him with some new clothes; ‘Go on, shoo, off on your way.’ Out of sight, out of mindless stupor, that’s what they say.

Now this is the part where I exclaim, ‘I feel better, now my beach is clean, and I can swim in the sea!’ But the truth is, I miss my beggar, the sands blow guilty without him, so now I lie down and take my thirsty place in his wallow.

Please don’t wake me now — leave it till tomorrow.

© 2017 The Wasted Love Song
In response to daily prompt: Timely
Image: Chia, 2014 by Maurizio Agelli / CC BY

The Disunited States of Bill Harmony

Bill Harmony raises his head. But it has lain prostrated for so long, it is a struggle. His body aches. But his mind hurts more; at this moment, it sits like a dark, angry globule swelling somewhere inside his head. He takes it as a sign, meditates, smiles, and goes back to sleep.

He always had a difficult relationship with his mind, the more he contemplated, the more it protested. And it was in such a way that Bill Harmony had always struggled with this said dark, angry globule. It was a mutual, unhealthy relationship in which neither mind nor emotion capitulated in his lifelong battle between the warm glow of enlightenment and the comforting, indulgent darkness of ignorance.

In his quest for betterment, he was acquainted with many musical instruments and could carry, what (at a push) could be termed, a ‘tune’. He owned many books – some of which he read, others he would take cursory glances at random and absorb the greatness of their words — some he understood. He found that he was able to lose love as easy as he gained it. A talent he improved with practice until he was able to lose it before having gained it at all.

Then one morning — when his body was still young at least — Bill Harmony sat at breakfast with a niggling feeling that lay somewhere between indigestion and depression, and thought it was high time to contemplate his predicament.

A few days later, he contemplated his predicament. Between mouthfuls of porridge, before the tea was half drunk, he concluded that, ‘this is it and that is all’. It was simple. Why had he been so blind? He had reached the limits of understanding, that, he told himself, was why he struggled. There was simply nothing more to know or feel. And upon this gleaming realisation, that feeling that was neither indigestion nor depression became comforting; like a warm compress for the soul, a bandage for the psyche, antiseptic for the ego — you get the idea, it was good.

He had finally gained the enlightenment he had once read about in a pamphlet while waiting for a hernia operation. Now it was just a matter of persuading his mind and his heart so they could stop squabbling. But his heart had a mind of its own, and his mind was disheartened.

Yet Bill Harmony continued with the belief that ‘this is it and that is all’. He told himself everyday as he meditated between sips of tea and mouthfuls of porridge. It calmed him in between having to say it again — which was usually around the time of his second breakfast.

And who am I to correct him now, for am I any better? Should I let this man pass away with his warm, comforting (mis)belief. Or should I at this late hour do the decent thing and break a man’s heart to heal his mind?

Between you and me (come closer so I can whisper), if Bill Harmony’s life was a candle, if true awareness burnt within the flames, then unfortunately this poor man’s state of self-cognizance (despite the burning and suffering) had never reached any higher than the puddles of wax coagulating at its base — constantly melting and forming, melting and forming, and gazing up from darkness at a faint, indistinct glow above.

Oh, it’s okay. I can speak louder now.

© 2017 Occasional Dreams
In response to daily prompt: Blindly
Image: Candle by David Monje

The Fall

With one eye on a skewed, gilded mirror — horrified at the bloodshod eye reflected back below a cheeky cherub’s posterior — the other blinded by sudden sunlight through muslin, William had an awful feeling of falling and thought, either he was sinking fast or the hotel was. As his hangover dissolved into a cacophony of screams and alarms tumbling from the corridor, the rattling of the chandelier as it pitched and crashed, the fall of the television from the dresser, and the smashing of the bed’s edge into his legs, which pushed him onto the Juliet balcony confirmed, beyond any doubt, the latter.

And now hanging off the balcony — his choice limited between prolonged dangling and premature plunging — this was an undignified way to go public with his fetish, William reflected; whatever was consuming the building would soon usher him into a sweltering eternity wearing nothing but his wife’s lacy knickers and negligee — shit, he thought, as he fell.

© 2017 Occasional Dreams
In response to: Three Line Tales, Week 62
Image by: Serge Kutuzov

Many thanks to Sonya for hosting Three Line Tales.

Bouncing Back

The cemetery is an awful place to be even in day light. It has been neglected for so long, not even ghosts walk among its weeds anymore. Only decay and abandonment stalks here — the kind that stinks, the kind you try to scrub but it lingers for weeks.

I had woken with an awful dream of places and faces I didn’t know; with a feeling of being unwanted that only drink can take away. And so I drank to forget. And walked. And like the bounce of a ball that is launched from great height, carried by its own impulsion, my walk walked itself. (And I remember such a ball once, it was wonderful. I would bounce it off walls alone in my room, and sometimes cast it from my bedroom window just to watch it spring and skip along on its own. It never faltered. And always came back. I would sit and write about all the places this ball had visited.)

But wait. There I go again, babbling old fool! Always missing the point, always going around the houses and forgetting my path.

So, here I am in the cemetery, intoxicated, not knowing how I got here, and wanting to leave. I hear a whisper. Yes, something whispers where even the dead fear to tread. A soft, gentle voice that draws me nearer. It helps me navigate the graves like a lighthouse standing proud in a storm oversees a battered ship to safety.

In my drunken torpor, staggering, cursing my legs, despising my arms, disbelieving everything in my mind, I drag myself past open graves — I don’t know if are waiting for someone (for me) or someone has just risen. I want to rest in them.

But the voice carries me past the gates — heart beating, gasping, drowning in air, my hands stained with sweat and mud — I make it through the dead place into the woods. Here it is quiet, with a comforting silence. It sounds like being forgiven, I forget about the dead and their fears, about my dream. With clarity I remember mother, and why she left, of father and why he had to beat me with a stick, of work tomorrow, and tomorrow. But it doesn’t matter.

Because in the darkness of the forest it doesn’t seem dark at all. It is a separate darkness, a verdant, lush dark that lives and breathes, wraps its arms around you — it comforts and heals.

I sit against a tree, massaging my back against fungus and bark when from out of the cemetery, like it has been gathering momentum for years unaided, my ball comes bouncing back and hits me in the face!

Yes! My ball, the one I had when I was young, small and red but pitted now, but unmistakably my ball. It has skipped over fallen grave stones and dead flowers like a master running back to its dog. Oh! What joy to hold it again.

And like Pavlov’s bell, its bouncing sound makes me reach into my pocket. I am surprised by what I find. My pen is still here. Its ink is dry, so I suck it until my mouth goes blue. And here in the dark woods, in silence, surrounded by growth and rot, I write about the ball again, of the things it has seen, the places it has been, and how it found its way back.

© 2017 Occasional Dreams
In response to daily prompt: Heal
Image: Bounce by lindsay / CC BY

The Diminishing Life of Harold Burden

It had happened again.

Harold had stuck his ear back on yesterday and this morning it lay on his pillow again. But he didn’t have time to struggle with it. He pulled on a hat, kissed his wife, and went to work.

Throughout the week, more bits cast themselves off at the most inconvenient times. He lost a few fingers in Starbucks and a foot in Tesco. It was rather careless, he admitted. His wife said he should file a report with the police or take some rest. But Harold didn’t want to bother anybody and said they’ll turn up in good time.

By the end of the week, his legs had run off. But he felt fine, he said. He didn’t have time to stop. Work was getting out of hand; it was year-end. Several of his team were off sick, if he wasn’t going to cover for them, who was?

Calmness was called for, he told his wife, the last thing he wanted was to lose his job.

© 2017 Occasional Dreams
In response to daily prompt: Denial
Image: Missing by jev55 / CC BY

The Short Life of Tom’s Spot

Something was bothering Tom in his sleep. And when he woke and dressed, he noticed a red, painful lump, about the size of a pea, had appeared below his right eye. Two small, white dots sat like eyes and a dark mark widened into a smile as he approached the mirror.

‘There you are!’ said the spot, ‘I can see your face now. Was getting bored of staring at that stupid nose. Can’t say this is any better though! You’ve got something on your cheek by the way.’

Tom palmed his face.

‘No, the other side. Oh, wait! That’s just me!’

‘What do you want? I haven’t got time for this.’

‘Oh, be nice,’ it said haughtily. ‘I just popped up to see how you’re doing. See warts going on. I’m in a tight spot you see.’

It was mocking him, Tom thought, the spot was mocking him.

‘I was thinking…’ it continued.


‘…Well, it’s just that… do you think red suits me?’ It rolled its eyes and grinned.

‘I don’t have time for this.’ Tom ignored it, opened his mouth, and turned his attention to his toothache. But the spot became depressed and started weeping.

‘Stop crying,’ Tom said. This was most infuriating, he thought, the more agitated the manic depressive pimple became, the redder it was, and now it sat like a mini Mount Etna, threatening to erupt all over his work shirt. ‘Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!’

The spot’s lip trembled; it gasped for air as it tried to stifle its cries. Tom sighed. He was already late for work. There was only one thing for it. He placed his index fingers together squeezed the spot’s cheeks.

‘Please! Please! Don’t! I was just… lonely… I was tired of living, you know, inside. All those hairs, they keep teasing me on their way out. I just wanted some company, see how things were on the outside. Get some fresh air, you know.’

The spot seemed sad. Tom felt sorry for it. He could understand its predicament. He often felt depressed and squeezed out recently, not feeling wanted. Maybe he could leave it. It was an eyesore for sure. He’ll stick a plaster over it, pretend he had a shaving accident and deal with it later.

But just when Tom started feeling sorry for it, it started rubbing his face in it again. It started yapping on and on, and wouldn’t shut up. It wasn’t doing itself any favours, didn’t know where to draw the line. It kept saying how swell it was feeling, practically bursting with joy, it said; wanted to be called the ‘Scarlet Pimplenel’, and repeatedly asked if it should wear red or white to work.

Tom had enough. In a moment of rage, he put his fingers together, squeezed, and screamed at the mirror.

Suddenly it was gone. Everything went quiet.

Tom stared at the broken, silent remains in the mirror with a feeling of guilt and shame. What had he done? What had been the mouth was now a bloodied smudge, and the whites of its eyes had become dark. Something, which had seconds ago, breathed, laughed, and made bad jokes, was now a lifeless blot on his face’s landscape.

He tried to ignore it, but throughout the day, each time he closed his eyes or touched the sore, the spot’s lifeless face reminded him of his guilt for silencing a part of him that only wanted to be free and enjoy some company for a few moments of its short life.

© 2017 Occasional Dreams

The Ash King

Another door opens. But I am so weary. Each door takes me farther from my kingdom, each threshold crossed I lose more. My troops are dead, my limbs weak, I’ve forgotten what I seek.

Eleanor, my love. I will return.

I grip my sword and step through. What demons lurk within?

Mist clouds my vision, and carries me against my will. When it clears, I am in a twisted forest of ashen trees. I call out, but only silence replies. No life breathes here, no demons lurk. I witness charred copse after charred copse, breathing in ash, until I reach a familiar meadow.

Eleanor, I am home!

But, oh! What broken dreams are these? My heart shatters with grief.

No king deserves this. I kneel upon blackened fields before my cursed kingdom, I have failed thee.

My tower is ruined, inside is a farewell note.

Night falls.

I sit alone with my tarnished crown upon my head, high in my silent kingdom of ash, swathed in blankets of dust, and weep upon the bones of my love.

© 2017 Occasional Dreams
In response to: FFfAW Challenge-Week of April 4, 2017
Image by: Yarnspinner

Silhouettes and Shadows

Mamma got mad, what if I’d been caught?

But it was a mistake. I got blinded, you see, by light gleaming off glass on the pavement. I wanted to touch it, parked my bike against one their lampposts, and reached out. Being in sunlight is like being in the presence of god, they say. But it hurt.

It served me right, mamma said, reaching out like that. We’re just silhouettes and shadows, she said. We don’t matter. Some don’t even notice us, wouldn’t miss us if we disappeared; the world would be a brighter place without us, some say.

© 2017 Occasional Dreams
In response to: Friday Fictioneers, 7 April, 2017
Image by: Jellico’s Stationhouse