In a Name

Mary Chambers

Photo Credit: Kat Stan/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

The street was an island, a village in the middle of a city, an expensive haven of art galleries and clothing boutiques. Here, suddenly free from the traffic that had occupied all my attention as I drove, was an archway leading to a mews, a lady cycling in a black straw boater, a child on a scooter in green school pinafore. From a glossy Arabic patisserie wafted the odour of rose-scented pastry; the café next door gave out the acrid reek of roasting green beans.

The buildings were narrow and high, with a presence that only central London buildings possess. Most of them had been divided into tiny flats. On wrought-iron balconies, twin chairs were arranged, suggesting brunch for two on a Saturday morning.

Viola was here, somewhere behind the blue door that led to the flats above the hairdresser. How could she exist here, I wondered, in the midst of this calm and order? My half-sister Viola was chaos and crisis. What I found behind that blue door would bear no resemblance to the hanging baskets on the streetlamps, to the exquisitely arranged creations in the cellophaned, beribboned window of the patisserie. How could she even afford to live here?

She had never invited me to her home before. She drifted in and out of our lives at will—always on her terms and never on her territory. My house, the cafe near my office, Hyde Park with my children at the weekend. She was ten years younger than me, and although our door had always been open to her, Viola kept her own life fiercely separate.

I had heard nothing of her for months. But today she had called me at work. “Come and see me. There’s something I want to show you.” And she had given me the address. “Today,” she insisted. “Can you come today?”

And so, obedient as always, I had come.

“Polly.” Her voice through the intercom was distorted, giving nothing away. “Come on up.”

Her flat was right at the top, an artist’s garret, up three narrowing flights of creaking stairs. She was waiting for me, her face pallid in the half light at the top. A spare, boyish figure, as she had always been, but when we hugged she was somehow rounder, fuller, a damp warmth of human scent that was not her usual odour of turps and linseed oil.

“How are you, Vee?”

She went into the flat ahead of me, not answering. The last time I had been in a flat of Viola’s must have been in her days at St Martin’s. Canvases, half-constructed sculptures in chicken wire and plaster bandages, a detritus of dirty clothes and discarded plates of toast. This might have been the same mess, transported only a mile or two across town, although through several years in time. A drift of laundry and shopping bags, papers, empty mugs, and a coffee table strewn with orange peel. A canvas stood on an easel by the window: a woman in a blue dress, bloated with pregnancy and glowing as if with a secret that only Viola’s paintbrush knew. Other work adorned the walls: pages from sketchbooks, taped up with masking tape. Splashes of colour, swirls of life, Viola exploring one medium after another.

On the sofa, a packet of nappies had split open and spilt onto the floor. The baby slept on the cushions, her arms flung up above her head like an abandoned doll. A baby so new that the vernix still crusted in the folds of her skin, the yellow plastic hospital clip clinging to her drying umbilical cord.

“I wanted to show you.” Viola crouched down and touched a finger to the baby’s cheek. She looked up like a child showing off something she had made. “I couldn’t tell you. I haven’t told anyone yet. I wanted you to see.”

My mouth was suddenly dry, all words startled away from me. I would wake up in a moment and this would not be true—that I was there with Viola, that Viola, lonely independent Viola, was the mother of a baby.

“She’s mine,” declared Viola with a sudden defiance, as if I had asked a question. But that, I did not doubt. My sister had never lacked the capacity to surprise me. It would have surprised me less to find myself ten years old again, and the baby Viola herself, the same sharp pale features, the same shock of soft dark hair.

“But Vee—do people know?”

“You mean the midwives. Yes, of course—they did that, didn’t they?” She pointed to the brown stump of drying umbilicus. “And they showed me how to feed her.”

“Are you breastfeeding?” How could I imagine my sister doing anything so maternal? And yet, at the same time, how could Viola do anything else?

“Of course,” she repeated. “That’s what they’re for, aren’t they?” She pressed her hands to her breasts. Through her splayed fingers I saw that the fabric of her shirt was wet where she had leaked, and I recalled the unfamiliar dampness of our embrace.

“Vee,” I began, but I hesitated. How are you going to manage? I wanted to say. Or Are you sure this is a good idea? But it was too late for that—the baby already a precious sleeping fact on the sofa before us. Who is the father? Where is he? Does he know? There were a thousand questions I could ask. But in the end, none of them seemed to matter—just the baby, and Viola herself, who was suddenly more than an artistic vortex around which chaos whirled—Viola, centred on this tiny perfect being that she had created.

“Vee, she’s beautiful.”

Viola looked at me with relief, and when she smiled, the smile transformed her, softening the angles of her face and giving her the same glow that she had somehow managed to catch in the painting by the window.

“She is, isn’t she? I love her, Polly. I never knew you could love anyone so much—until now.”

The baby snuffled and stretched, working her tiny mouth as she began to stir into waking.

“She’s hungry.” Viola gathered the infant into her arms, folding herself into the spot where the baby had been lying.

I sat on a stool and watched as Viola fed her daughter. She held the baby as I remembered her holding herself when she was a teenager—hugging herself, locking herself in, shutting the world out, her arms forming a barrier that kept her—and her child—in a safe place, beyond which the mess and the chaos did not matter. Within that embrace the two of them were together, like two parts of a single being.

“Have you given her a name yet?”

“Not yet. I’m thinking. It has to be just right, doesn’t it, a name?” She looked at me sharply. “How did you choose? How did you ever decide that Jack was going to be Jack and Georgia was going to be Georgia? How do you give a person something so fundamental as a name?”

I shrugged. Jack had always been Jack. And Georgia—Georgia’s name had grown with her as she grew in my belly. Georgina, we had thought. But Georgina had never been quite right, and when she was born she could only have been Georgia.

“It felt right. We just knew. You’ll know when you find the right name.”

Viola shook her head, gazing down at her daughter’s tiny face.

“That’s the difference between you and me, Polly. You always just know. You’re a real woman, aren’t you? You have instincts and you know how to respond to them—and you run a house and hold down a job, too. Multitasking!” She screwed up her face as if the word had a sour taste. “I’m not like you. I can’t do any of those things. All I know is what to do with paint. That’s the only time I ever just know.”

I had never before known Viola to comment on the differences between us, although James and I had occasionally pondered them. Viola wandered in and out of our home and our lives; she would wallow in the company of my children for an hour, showing them how to make pinch pots out of clay, or weaving Georgia’s hair into hundreds of tiny braids—and then she would go, picking up her aloofness at the door and departing, apparently with relief, back to her own carefully guarded separateness.

“You know how to do that,” I said, indicating the suckling baby.

“This?” Viola touched a hand to her breast again. “This isn’t knowing—it’s just being. Just being a woman.” And she wouldn’t believe me when I tried to tell her that not all mothers found it so easy.

When the baby had finished, Viola turned her to face me, nestling her into the crook of her elbow.

“That’s your Aunty Polly,” she addressed the child chattily. “You’ve got an Aunty Polly and an Uncle James, and a Jack and a Georgia. You’ll get to know all of them soon.” She paused, staring at the baby as if filling her eyes with her, taking in every tiny detail, the same way she observed the details that made up her art.

Then, as if coming to a sudden decision: “Here,” she said. “You take her.”

She leapt up, holding the child out to me, and somehow I too was on my feet, my niece in my hands. I was not expecting her and I almost dropped her; Viola had to put out a steadying hand to give me time to collect myself. “Take her,” she repeated, as I adjusted my hold. “Quick, take her and go, before I change my mind.”

I stared at her. Surely she could not mean what she seemed to mean?

Viola was already propelling me towards the door. “It’ll be better that way,” she insisted—but her voice broke as she said it. “You’ll be a better mother to her than I can ever be. You’re already a mother. You’ll know what to do. They won’t take her away from you. You’ll let me see her.”

“What do you mean, Vee? Who’s going to take her away?”

“That’s what they do, isn’t it? Don’t they take babies away from unsuitable mothers? Nobody in their right minds would leave a child with me—I’ve never even babysat for one of yours! Look at me, Polly. What have I got? A studio flat full of stinking noxious chemicals. No job, no reliable income. What would I do with a child?”

The room had been full of questions ever since I entered it, and once Viola had started she couldn’t stop adding to them. “What if she cries and I don’t know what to do? What if I hurt her? What if I lose my temper and drop her out the window? I could have a moment of madness and push the pram out in front of a taxi—if I even had a pram, that is. They’ll take her away from me—they ought to, just for thinking those things—and it would break my heart.”

She was crying now—still trying to push me towards the door, but at the same time stretching out a hand to touch the baby again—half reaching for her, half holding back, like a puppet pulled about by too many strings.

“Vee,” I said firmly. “Nobody is going to take your baby away.” And I said it with confidence. “You might think those dreadful things, but you think them because you love her and you don’t want them to happen to her.”

“How do you know?” demanded Viola.

I thought of Georgia, sobbing and inconsolable night after night with colic. Of Jack, the baby who never slept. Of moments of despair, when James was at work and all I wanted to do was sleep. I could quite happily have propelled a little warm body from a third storey window—so I had thought. But I had never done it.

“You won’t,” I insisted. “Vee, I used to think those things too.”

She stared at me. “You? Really, Polly?”

“There were days when I couldn’t stop thinking like that.”

This made her pause, but after a moment she brushed it aside. “But you had James. James was there for you. What about me? There’s nobody here to stop me!”

You’re here,” I said. “You’re here, and the baby’s here, and you’ll stop yourself, because you love her. It wasn’t James that stopped me—James wasn’t always there. It was Georgia herself, Georgia and me together, somehow having to make it work.”

“You never told me.” Her tone is accusing.

“You never asked—nobody ever asked.” I hadn’t even told James of those terrible, almost forgotten moments. I hadn’t told anybody. “But I only thought it, Vee. Thinking doesn’t make you a bad mother—it’s what you do that matters.”

My senses were full of the baby in my arms: her warm weight against my chest, the milky smell of her, the comma-like curl of her fingers around mine. It would have been so easy to take her with me. Walk out of the flat, get her into the car—get a car seat from somewhere—and take her home. My family would make room for her: Jack would dote on her, Georgia would mother her, James would raise his eyebrows and remark on Viola’s inadequacies but would never dispute giving her a home. She would fill a space that almost seemed to be there, in my heart, ready and waiting for her. But she was not mine to take.

I placed the baby in Viola’s arms and Viola enfolded her, drawing her child back into herself with a tiny sob of relief.

“You do know,” I told her. “You know exactly what to do. You know how to love her—and it starts with knowing that whatever you might imagine, you’ll never let anything hurt her.”

Viola pressed her lips to the baby’s soft hair. “I do love her.”

“We’ll always be there if you need us. For both of you.”

She nodded.

“I’ll bring you some baby clothes. And I think Jack’s Moses basket is still in the loft.”

It was time to go. If I stayed, I might change my mind—might accept this gift that had been pressed on me, and run away with it. If I stayed, Viola would voice more questions. There would be more words to linger in the air and haunt her.

I would come back later. I would come often.

As I started down the stairs, Viola said my name. I looked back. The pale light from the skylight cast a silvered halo onto her dark hair.

“Lara,” she said. “Her name is Lara.”


Mary Chambers lives in Reading, UK, in a house between two rivers. She’s self-employed as a proofreader and copyeditor, and writes fiction in the gaps between reading other people’s writing and caring for her two children. In the 2020 lockdowns she self-published a children’s picture book, Alina Saves The Moon, with local artist-illustrator Leslee Barron. She is currently working on a historical novel. Email: mary.katalun[at]


Sophy Bristow

Photo Credit: Jenn Vargas/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

Wishbone (1978, Age Five): My arm feels like the Christmas wishbone snapping as mum pulls my hand… ‘Leave it, Megan. It’s dirty’… ow, it hurts, and my knees are wet, marks on my tights, trying to reach the red circle, my favourite hairband… but mum snatches it and puts it in her pocket, I want to ask her for it, but she’s looking across the courtyard… I stare at the ground with shiny flecks to dance around, I want to go to that puddle, but her arm is yanking mine again… ‘It’s dirty here, Megan. What did I just say?’… she points at the spot by the wall with the coloured swirls where she always makes me stand, maybe they’ll let me in this time… ‘Stay here where I can see you, I won’t be long, I’m watching you’… but she’s still looking away as she says, ‘I’ll give it back later if you’re good, and we can play Operation’… wish-bone, funny-bone, knee-bone, round red nose… I can see a red circle on the coloured wall and I jiggle from side-to-side giggling because she always tickles me when the buzzer rings… but then she’s walking into the alleyway like last time, and that man is with her, his coat looks square and has shiny buttons… from the side his nose is the shape of my favourite green triangle chocolate… I’m not sure where he came from, but I don’t like him, and now I want to cry… I look at them, then back at the wall sploshed all over with swirls and blobs… I trace my finger along the bright lines, seeing if I can find a cat, a seagull or even her face among them… but it’s just circles, round buttons, red noses… I tap where my wishbone is… and every now and again I look over my shoulder, for her hand coming back towards me out of the dark.


[(1995, Age 22): Blinking through wind-whipped dust, I loop my arm through Tom Boyce’s and say through my smile—‘wait ‘til you see this.’ He pulls away and turns to look at the house perched in front of us on this north London street. It’s another in a line of angular Georgian buildings, with flat faces and multipaned windows making compound eyes. The stray crisp packets flitting around and unremedied cracks across the frontage mark it out as a student place. Number 26, where me, Katie and Natasha live. As I turn the key and open the front door, Tom and I can only make out a deep, green shade and the heavy smell of blossom.

I unhook my arm and pull on his hand. We go inside, but instead of a hallway cut by the angled light from a landing window, we step straight into the swaying layers of a garden. Instead of the sigh of pine floorboards, we feel newly dug soil underfoot, and a low branch creaks in the breeze. Reaching out, our hands brush, not plaster walls, but the tip-tops of leaves. Around us everything points upwards, hollyhocks stretching, peas and beans twisting around skinny poles…]


Butterflies in Stomach (1989, Age Sixteen): It’s pouring, and the salty taste of the sea runs down my face with the rain. I duck down a passageway to get away from cars spraying puddles and I shelter against a high wall. Shit, I shove all my shopping into one Topshop plastic bag because all the paper ones are soaking wet and falling apart. My fingers are numb and I flick at my pink plastic lighter trying to light a Camel Light, fuck, the wind keeps blowing it out, my hands are freezing. I really want that skirt I saw in H&M, did I get the right colour eyeliner, is Clearasil going to dry my skin out, should I get those Doc Martens, can anyone from school see me, did I go too far with Tom Boyce and will he call?

I peer up through the blur of rain and look around to see where I am. It’s like that place you always end up when you leave the cinema through the fire exit, blurry as you adjust to the light, broken glass crunching, graffiti yelling at you. I see the red circle painted on the wall opposite.

I’m here? I’m in the courtyard-with-the-alley-off-it, the one where mum would make me wait by the wall while she disappeared off with that man in his buttoned-up uniform. Shit, my fringe is soaking, it’s in my eyes, it’s going to go frizzy, I can taste hair product on my lips, can anyone see me? I pull my hood up further over my head. Will Doc Martens go with a skirt, and how often did we used to play Operation anyway? I need to get out of here.

This alley is nothing, I say, nothing, just a thread in the web between home, school, and the playground where I sit on the swings with my friends Katie and Natasha, sipping MadDog 20/20, laughing so hard that we’ll still feel the cracks decades later. I’m spinning my web outwards, but it’s sticky, like the drink.

FROM THEN TO FOREVER in neon blue. DIRT CHEAP in dirty white. Big capitals on the wall like someone really-meant-business. Splattered red BUTTERFLIES IN MY STOMACH.

Oh god, you can’t be serious, someone has got a window open and is playing “Sunday Girl” really loud. I try to swallow but my throat feels like I’ve grown an Adam’s Apple and it’s choking me. I play the words of the song in my head; I can’t help it—dad used to listen to it all the time. I told him, of course I did, about what mum did here—he and I were sat in the living room one evening, the rain outside so hard it sounded like it would kill spiders, Parallel Lines on the record player, and I said that she used to meet someone, and she might have had an affair. Cold as ice-cream but still as sweet. After dad had left to stay with his brother Jimmy, I screamed at mum that I’d told him and she sat with a fixed stare, as hard as the sky and the sea fused together.

I need a lipstick, should I get Revlon Lustrous Paint the Town Pink, like Lauren in the year above? I like her red chenille jumper, she smells of Impulse and Camel Lights, I want to be like her. Can anyone see me?

The rain is lessening off, so I light another cigarette and cross the courtyard into the alley. The walls are too high for how wide it is, like one of those shipping canals in our Geography Today book, full of new horizons and boats loaded with cargo. Mum used to stand with that man right here in front of this bricked-up arch. I run the tips of my fingers over the brick with the Camel Light still in my hand, where does it end up? I take a long drag and the taste of tobacco mixes with salt and L’Oréal Freestyle hair mousse. Where will I end up?

Maybe I’ll get Katie and Natasha to play Operation later—please take out my butterflies first, sip of MadDog every time you get the buzzer. A few last drops of rain drip off the end of my nose and I blow out circles in short puffs. I can feel the geometry of the alley in my grasp, but I can’t see past the walls yet, because I’m still spun on the inside. Should I get a diffuser attachment for my hairdryer?

Can anyone see me?


[(1995, Age 22): …with the slam of the front door behind us, I see Tom search through the sweet haze, panicking to make out a landmark linking him back to the London street we’ve stepped off. But it seems like the walls of the house have folded down flat, and this garden we find ourselves in is expanding out on all sides. Its blanket of leaves covers us, and he takes a breath…]


Water on the Knee (1995, Age 22): …there’s no point stopping now. As I march forward, calling for Tom to follow, the garden rolls out in front, and beyond that a valley and a billowing tarpaulin of hills. Silent, we follow a path which keeps to the valley floor, clinging to the right of a river. The further along the valley we go, the hills close in on both sides, until the path turns abruptly, becoming a narrow sheep-track that cuts up the right-hand slope in slow, careful zigzags. We scramble up, running out of breath, until we come out ‘on the top.’ Satisfied, we turn back to look at the house, which is a crumb now on a vast green plate. I plonk myself on the ground, pulling him down and looping my arm through his again, more decisively this time. We rest our heads on the deep-sprung heather and look up through bored clouds. The city streets are spread out in the sky over our heads—the curved concrete of London Zoo’s penguin pool swoops like vapour-trails, the dome of St Paul’s is the white circle of an impatient moon, and buses buzz around like bees.

‘Does this ever stop?’ he asks, gesturing around by flicking his eyes, ‘how far could we walk for?’

—‘I’m not sure, I haven’t got to the edge.’

‘Does anyone else know about it?’ The twitch moves over his face, like a bird crossing the sky.

—‘I don’t think so. Katie and Natasha haven’t said anything.’

‘What… Well, I suppose… Where are we?…’

—‘The garden behind Uncle Jimmy’s cottage, it opens onto the valley. I used to come here all the time with mum and dad, before he found out about her meeting that man in the alleyway…’

His eyes flicker again, and he opens his mouth to speak.

‘But we’re in London, Megan, we’re in Finsbury Park…’

I turn on my side, rest my head on my left hand and put the fingers of my right hand gently over his lips.

—‘Shush,’ I say, smiling, ‘or I’ll smother you up, and if I do it out here, no one will ever find you.’

He laughs, but his eyes are still darting.


On the way back we pause at a small stream that crosses our path, running off the hill and feeding into the river. ‘Hang on, let’s stay for a bit, make sure the stream is running OK,’ I say. I bend down, but Tom Boyce, who doesn’t know the boggy ground, kneels at the stream’s edge and wrinkles his nose as damp seeps into his jeans in cold patches. Working together, we dip our hands into the nippy waters, pulling out any large rocks that block the flow, and patting at the silty borders to mould them into firmer walls. Once we’re satisfied, we brush down our hands on our trousers, jump over the stream and make for home.

—‘You seem like you know the stream well,’ he says. ‘You didn’t get your knees wet.’

‘Dad used to say that if we helped it run strong, it would hold our family together in the valley, whatever happened. That made mum smile, like when we played Operation…’


Spare Ribs (2010, Age 37): The air’s been knocked out of me, the stuffing is long gone. The courtyard-with-the-alley-off-it sits in the centre of the wide view from my open kitchen window, with the sea behind it. I flip myself up and fold myself over to look at it. From this height and distance, and with the weight of all my stares, I have managed to level the alleyway’s high walls and drain their sour filling into the salty puddle of the ocean. The courtyard-with-the-alley-off-it is now nothing more than a flat page that I gaze down on, and this morning the next chapter of its story dropped through my letterbox—a planning consultation to tear the courtyard down and build a carpark.

The developer’s brochure sits on my desk, and I glance up from its glossy pictures to look at the sea, flat, fused with the sky, and it’s like mum’s stare is back on me, saying never ask me about it. Sparkles on the water’s surface tempt me back to the shiny tarmac I danced over as I waited in the courtyard for her to return… But I focus back on the brochure’s open pages. ‘Go ahead,’ I mutter. ‘Raze it, build whatever you like on it. I’m just going to sit here and watch.’

Copies of Herizons, Bitch, and Bust, the ones with my flat articles about mothers and daughters, are fanned out on the kitchen sideboard, with some old Spare Ribs of mum’s that she’s let me take. On top I can see January’s edition of Ms. with a big red circle on the cover—hanging off the white bar in the middle is the silhouette of a young woman. My name is written in the bottom right corner, No Entry: Megan Bold on closed doorways, and I feel mum smile at me with the pleasure that she used to reserve for when we played Operation. My heart and stomach leap into 3D in my chest, threatening to pump me with air.

Stop, fold myself down, put myself away.

The spare rib she gifted me won’t collapse, it’s sticking out of my chest and holding open the lid of the big oak trunk that I store myself in, the one from her living room that I persuaded her to give me when she moved to the bungalow. All the old games are still inside, apart from Operation, which I think she must have taken with her and put up in the loft.


[(1995, Age 22): …me and Tom get back to number 26 as the sun sets in a red circle and sit on the back step eating peas straight from the pod. Tom Boyce fidgets and looks around and then tries to see how far he can throw the empty shells. He’s not saying anything now, just letting out long green breaths, and after a few restless minutes he gets up and strides off. As I hear the front door close the walls of the house pop back up, the valley disappears, and I am back in the living room with Katie and Natasha…]


Funny Bone (2016, Age 43): Blown like a kite towards the church, I fly over the floral arrangement that spells out ‘Linda’ in pink and red and land in my pew to sit alone in the front row at mum’s funeral, craning over my shoulder to see who else turns up. The stiff faces are backlit by a winter sun sieved through stained glass.

I gasp.

It’s the nose; he looks like the man who used to meet mum in the alleyway-off-the-courtyard, the man who was always wearing his uniform with shiny, round buttons. Blinking, I see a woman, just behind, with the same profile, unmistakeable, like my favourite green triangle in Quality Street. I breathe faster and, as I do, I begin to re-inflate, greedy to suck in new air… I can see at least five people who have the profile—they must be part of a family… am I finally going to find out who it was?

Eyelid twitching, I stand up and start to walk around the church greeting people on my newly puffed-up legs. I want to know who this family is. Right now. ‘Second Cousin,’ says one of the faces, ‘Great Uncle,’ says another. What? This is mum’s family; these are relatives I’ve never met who have crawled out to say their goodbyes or atone themselves for years of staying away. I run my finger along the bridge of my nose, tracing the shape, I don’t have it, mum didn’t have it either. I take in rapid puffs of air. Why didn’t mum just say she was meeting a cousin or an uncle or whatever? Come on mum, why?

It’s so stupid that I start to laugh as though the tiny tweezers from Operation are reaching inside and tickling my funny bone. Come on mum, you’re killing me. My head expands like a soufflé as I gasp in huge lungfuls, and slowly, my fixed expression splits and then my body cracks down the middle through my heart to the ground underneath.

I gasp, tears roll down my cheeks. Can people tell I’m laughing? My hair is falling in my face, but I laugh harder, so hard the ground breaks open, and the courtyard-with-the-alley-off-it bursts through, sending tons of concrete flying as it slots back in; I imagine its blocked archway opening up and mum rolling through, towards the red circle. The buzzer sounds. I’m practically on the floor laughing by now, like I used to with Natasha and Katie, laughing so hard I can’t stop. Come on mum, stop it, stop tickling me!


At the wake, people eye me as I stalk around studying them, so familiar although we have never met before. So, which of them was she meeting in the alleyway-off-the-courtyard then? ‘Not me,’ they say. ‘Courtyard?’ They raise their brows, innocent-like. ‘Uniform, no never, but you know who?… No, that’s…’ Their glance turns sideways.

I leave early because I want to go to mum’s bungalow and get to the bottom of this. Right now. I take the spare key from under the loose brick in the driveway, open the door, and climb up the ladder into the loft, digging through piles of Ruth Rendell thrillers, old letters, and beaten-up maths textbooks with names like Hess and Fletcher that sound more like spy stories. Finally, I find a Laura Ashley carrier bag wedged under the eaves. Inside, along with mum’s old copy of Operation, is a photo album wrapped up in some paisley curtains. I start to flick through it.


[1995, Age 22: …‘What happened?’ Katie asks, offering me her last Camel Light while running her other hand through curly auburn hair, which she dries every morning with a diffuser. ‘Where has Tom gone?’

I shrug.

‘I’ll go to the corner shop.’ She’s looking at Natasha with a frown and motioning at the cream telephone on the sideboard. ‘I need to get another pack of cigarettes, and I’ll get us some wine.’

‘I’ll come with you,’ says Natasha, standing up and pulling her dead-straight blonde hair into a knot with such determination she winces. She mumbles something to Katie and they nod at each other. ‘Everyone OK with white?’—but it isn’t a question. And they look at me, still frowning, but trying to smile…

By the time they get back, I am laid out on the floor, as flat as paper…]


Broken Heart (2056, Age 83): Maycroft Manor care home and I’m playing Operation on my own in my unit, like I do most days.

I am neither flat-packed, nor blowing up. I no longer use hair mousse and I only go out in the rain when someone is on hand to help me back inside if my mobility device malfunctions. Most importantly, I know, I am absolutely certain, that the MM-Assistants (I still call them nurses) can see me. They can see me in front of them, and they can see me on all the little screens that are in the Maycroft Manor control room, where they monitor my ‘machine’ that administers drugs and shocks as and when I need them. I know they can see me because they flash ‘yes’ when I ask them if today is Wednesday and ‘no’ when I say that I’d like to go down to the seafront. They look at me blankly when I pick up the little pincers and so I turn to them and explain, ‘the red nose lights up so you know when you make a mistake; you should understand.’ They’re renderings, of course, with identical bobbed hairstyles, and they communicate in binary—red circle for no, or ‘incorrect,’ white circle for yes; it’s all in the pupils. The manager explained that he programs them this way because policy states that healthcare contexts should seek to eliminate grey areas, but I know that the more advanced software is too expensive.

Looking at memories from above, replaying stories, making connections so there’s never an ending, isn’t that what people do when they get older? Testing the steadiness of my hand, I remove Adam’s Apple first, and then, still dialling in my touch, the Ankle Bone’s Connected to the Knee Bone next. It’s the courtyard-with-the-alley-off-it that I’m looking down on under harsh spotlights because I’m sure that’s where the illness has always lain. My memories are scattered around it—Wishbone, Butterflies in Stomach, Water-on-the-Knee, Spare Ribs, and Funny Bone. I extract them one-by-one, to be reviewed, restored, reconnected, and rebooted. They are alive and pulsing.

A dog-eared photo, out of place and eerie in this world of emojis, screens, and invisible waves, watches the procedure alongside me, propped up like the other crumpling residents in the neighbouring units here at Maycroft Manor. I found this photo in the loft, after the wake. Written on the back, it says: Mr J Lawley & Linda Lawley, Eastbourne, 1942. It’s a photo of mum, just a little girl, with her father, Jack. The scene is unmistakeable—they are standing in the alleyway-off-the-courtyard, in front of the bricked-up arch. The camera catches his profile—family nose, Quality Street green triangle. He’s wearing his policeman’s uniform with shiny brass buttons, just like I remember.

According to the Office of Births, Marriages and Deaths, Jack died two years later when mum was only seven, driven off the road by a speeding ambulance in the middle of a blackout.

I reach to retrieve the Broken Heart but my hand twitches and the buzzer sounds.

Bzzzzz. She kept going back there for a shadow. Like I kept going back to the stream in the valley, stuck, Age 22. Play again.

Bzzzzz. The alleyway-off-the-courtyard was a misconnection. A point where the wrong cargoes were spliced with the wrong horizons, a bad join where carefully packed memories and wishes leaked out.

Pass me the tweezers again please, Nurse, I’ve got to get this out.

Bzzzz. Bzzzz.

The Broken Heart is stubborn. Alarms going off, red circles flashing.


[1995, Age 22: …so, Katie and Natasha decide to fold me into an airplane and launch me back to my mother by the sea, flying high above the alleyway-off-the-courtyard, which cuts like the stream in the valley, but keeping everything apart instead of together. I dive down and then level off and drift in gently through the window of my mother’s living room, landing on top of the large oak trunk.

A love letter sent to the wrong address.]


Sophy Bristow is a writer living in Cambridgeshire in the UK. She has been shortlisted for the Fish Short Story Prize and has published flash and poetry in a few places including Lighthouse Literary Journal, From Glasgow to Saturn and Fenacular. She is currently studying for a Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow. Email: sophy.bristow[at]

The Red Balloon

Elisse Sophie Ahmet

Photo Credit: Lydia Brooks/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

The young toddler loosely strapped into the navy blue pushchair was a pale boy of two. His fine mop of straight, sunshine blond hair was cut into a bowl shape that skimmed the long lashes of his almond-shaped eyes, which were flecked with shards of green. When he let go of the red balloon tied to the yellow stick that he was, until moments ago, still holding, those almond eyes widened to the size of large, unshelled walnuts. He began to wail.

“Oh no,” Eve said.

She moved around in front of the boy and crouched down to his level. The wind pushed her hair across her face and a few strands found their way into her mouth. She spat them back out again.

“Mummy doesn’t like it when Emil cries his big, ploppy tears.”

For once, Emil had slept through the night. Even more surprising, he was in a good mood. Pushing the pushchair to the Broadway Centre took about thirty-five minutes, and was mostly uphill. Now she was returning, pushchair laden with bulging shopping bags, Eve was sweating. Emil chomped through his floppy salty chips noisily. At least she didn’t have to think about the cat anymore. She was secretly glad when it ran away.

Her son’s face was a puce ball of furrows and folds and not for the first time did Eve wish she could hit him. She stood and assessed her surroundings. The golden M logo on the curved red plastic was still visible as the balloon bounced down the embankment of the dual carriageway. She looked from one side of the bridge to the other. Vehicles shot past and the structure wobbled slightly as they whipped underneath, vibrating through her legs. That was the reason they had come this way; Emil liked to wave to the lorry drivers, and Eve did anything that would stop Emil crying for a God-Forsaken-Second.

The balloon was slowly making its way towards the bottom of the bank until a gust of wind blew it directly in the path of a blue car. The driver was startled and honked their horn loudly. Eve’s heart paused. Emil tugged at her floral skirt and screamed at the top of his lungs.

“Okay darling don’t cry, please don’t cry.”

He pointed over and over again at the direction the balloon had taken. It had been free with the purchase of the meal he had smeared into his hair. A remnant of ketchup smudged across his right cheek near his ear. In his left hand, he clutched the toy unearthed from the cardboard box.

“Shush now sweetheart, we’ll go back soon and get you another one.”

A lorry pressed down on its horn. Eve jolted up in time to see the balloon dance furiously into the air and back onto the embankment. It jumped about on its stick a few inches as Emil wriggled out of his pushchair. He poked his arms through the bridge’s cold, grey railings. Eve snatched him towards her chest.

“What have I told you about getting out of that chair?”

His scream pierced her. He flapped his hands in her face and managed to scratch her eye as he squirmed to be let free. She dropped him with a thud and his arm hit the pushchair, which began to roll backwards down from the middle of the curved bridge. Eve swore.

When Emil was placed in her arms for the first time, he wriggled uncomfortably until Adem took him away. After that, Eve fell into a fitful sleep. When she woke sometime later, a matronly Black nurse handed over a plate of buttered toast and tea. She salivated remembering ripping up chunks of the warm, scratchy bread with her teeth.

Tyres skidded. The balloon was in the road again. It bobbed about and rested on the railing nearest to them. Eve scuttled over to the pushchair, which had rolled back to the entrance of the bridge and fallen over with the weight of the shopping.

“Stay there,” she turned and warned Emil. He froze on the spot.

Eve felt her chest; her nipples still cried milky tears when he mewled. Emil loved breastfeeding so much that she’d allowed him to carry on way longer than anyone recommended. She put a stop to it only when one of the other mothers made a dirty joke as she dropped Lina off at nursery. That morning, her daughter had gone in again without a fuss. Eve was starting to suspect Lina preferred to be there than at home.

Eve picked the pushchair up and scrambled to retrieve the melon that had rolled from her shopping bags, as well as the Kinder Egg she had bought for her daughter.

“Emil, look,” she called out. Emil was still frozen in his place. “Mummy has a surprise for you.” She rattled the Kinder Egg. As Emil approached, a loud sound shocked him into jerking his head towards the railings again. He could see the balloon in the road. He pointed and repeated his desire to have it back.

What was everyone at LINPAC doing while her son screamed and screamed at her? Friday afternoon; they were probably half cut from the small plastic cups of bagged white wine Joyce distributed. Working through a haze of alcohol until 5:30pm rolled around and they all left en masse for the George Arms.

Emil toddled towards Eve as she rebalanced all the bags on the pushchair. Behind her was a quiet street with a row of houses shielded by the tall trees. The embankment absorbed much of the sound and fumes from the violence of the road below. Before he reached her, Emil found the gap between the street and the bridge’s entrance and began to crawl through it to get onto the embankment. Eve immediately abandoned the pushchair, dropped the bags, and ran to where he was so fast she tripped on her foot. Her face smashed into the ground.

“Emil!” she screamed through the blood dripping from her mouth.

A third of her tooth was on the ground and another part of it was embedded in her bottom lip. She untangled her limbs and pushed through the small opening Emil had crawled through. Sliding on autumn’s orange and red leaves, grabbing handfuls of grainy dirt and broken beer bottles, she tugged at the back of the boy’s shirt, pulling him backwards with a severe jolt. He screamed.

She clutched Emil so tightly he squawked from the pain of it. Blood from her lip dropped onto his light blue coat. He managed still to blubber and sob about the balloon.

“For Chris’sake,” she hissed. “Will you stop crying if I go get it?”

Emil nodded through his tears.

“Then you have to wait here. Do. Not. Move. I mean it, young man. Stay here. Understood?”

He nodded again.

Eve backed down the embankment keeping her eyes fixed on Emil. He had stopped crying but kept his bottom lip upturned ready to begin again at any moment.

Eve’s foot slipped and she fell forward. She slid on her front further down the muddy hill. Something thorny embedded itself into her leg through her floral skirt and her lip throbbed with heat. She was nearly at the bottom. Emil looked on, sucking his thumb and rubbing his ear, which he did whenever he was sleepy. He was due a nap when they got back, Eve remembered now. She could hear him humming a tune from one of his cartoons. Pingu? Her foot reached the road. No, Thomas the Tank Engine.

Any moment now she expected to hear a crash. She couldn’t be sure if the cars were honking at her—the woman scrambling down the embankment—or the balloon, which belligerently moved across their eyelines without popping.

“Stay there. Do not move, Emil. I mean it,” she warned again from the bottom of the embankment. Her voice was carried away by the cars and lorries as they shot past. She turned away from him to see where the balloon was: the middle of the asphalt.

She climbed over the grey guard rail and the wind slapped her hard in the face. A purple sports car raced past, fluttering her skirt in its direction. She looked down the looming stretch of road. In the distance she could make out the hotel where she and Adem had their wedding reception. On the other side of the road, a field full of teenage boys from the school it was attached to. They were playing football, or hockey—she couldn’t quite see. Another car came over the edge of her line of vision. It was there and then it was gone in a matter of seconds. The balloon danced closer to her and she looked from it to where she stood, calculating how many steps it was. Maybe seven, eight? She could make it across the road and back if she bolted when it was clear. Eve turned back to check that Emil was still where she had left him. He was. The pushchair too, was where she had left it. If she was quick, they could get back in time for Emil to watch Thomas the Tank Engine before his nap. Ringo was always her favourite. She knew there were people who said that for attention, to be different, but she really meant it. His voice was so soothing. She often drifted off as Emil babbled along to his narration.

The sky had clouded over. A droplet of rain kissed her cheek. She had to be quick, Emil would catch a cold if she wasn’t careful. Lina needed picking up soon. The washing wouldn’t do itself.

She turned to wave at her son. And then she stepped out into the road.


Elisse Sophia Ahmet is a 32-year-old freelance creative copywriter of British and Turkish Cypriot heritage. Born and bred in London, she is interested in women’s stories, particularly feminine performance, identity, and motherhood. Her work has been published by Litro, Between the Lines, and Lucent Dreaming. She has a master’s with distinction in creative writing from Royal Holloway and is working on her first novel, The Other Side of the Island, an intergenerational drama spanning seven decades in the lives of three British Turkish Cypriot women—a grandmother, mother and daughter. Set against London’s racial, cultural and historical tapestry, it interrogates the connection between motherhood and mental illness, identity, and the legacies of trauma born from displacement. Email: elisseahmet[at]


Renée Perry

Photo Credit: Rick Cameron/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

You said, “There’s a new woman in my department. She just got to San Francisco a couple of weeks ago. Just a couple of weeks and she’s nailed down a job and a place to live.”

“That’s pretty fast,” I said.

I passed the house once, twice, then again. Then I went back to work, putting replacement parts, small screws, wires, plastic clips, into the back of the vans that the telephone repairmen would drive the next day.

I asked you, “Your new coworker, she’s from the Midwest, you said?”

You said, “Yes, Michigan. She’s just moved to town. She has the cutest dog, so smart.”

The next night, I drove by once, just the one time, then turned around and went back on my route. So many small pieces, each with its specific place, its drawer, its cubbyhole, its rack.

You said, “She drove all the way here in a Honda Civic. You know, the ones that look like they put a car shell on a motorcycle. All those miles, can you imagine?”

The third night, I didn’t go off route at all. I finished my trucks, hung out with my coworkers at the barn, had a beer and came home where you were already in bed.

“All that way with a dog in the car and all her stuff. I don’t know if I would have done it,” you said. “When I moved to California, my sister was here already and I knew people. Coming out all that way and not knowing. It’s so brave don’t you think?

I said, “Yes, I guess.”

After a week, I drove to half a block away from our home. I turned off the lights, turned off the engine. I sat there, looking at the cars on the street. There was your car. And there was her car too.

When we had breakfast the next morning, I didn’t mention the cars. I wasn’t supposed to be there. I was supposed to be on my route, driving from garage to garage. I had one route with no change, no deviation. I should have been miles away.

I said, “Your new coworker, she must be settling in now, right?”

You said, “Not really, she doesn’t know that many people here yet. Mainly our work group. You know how hard it is to make friends in San Francisco.”

I said, “Yes, yes I do.”


Renée Perry lives and writes in the Central Valley of California. She has been a population ecologist and a nonprofit operations manager, though not at the same time. Twitter: @rroseperry Email: rroseperry[at]

Basement Flat, Corner of Barons Court Road

Emma Pearl

Photo Credit: Julie Jablonski/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

An unlikely setting to barter for your heart’s desire—the back wall so close to the train tracks that the whole building rumbled constantly—but the address I’d been given, nonetheless. November wind cut like a knife, urging me down the steps when I might otherwise have walked on by or dithered on the pavement battling with my second thoughts.

A scrawny, unkempt woman opened the door and regarded me hungrily. Her corvid eyes were too small even for her narrow face. Inside, the flat smelt not of incense but of earth. Plant pots sat precariously on every surface, seedlings every shade of green leaching over edges, handwritten labels that made my breath stutter.

Liver Function. Sense of Smell. Friendship. Premonitions. Courage.

Fear rose in my throat and I fought the urge to run. I had to do this—every other avenue was already exhausted. The curse of infertility was scraping me inside out. I needed a child like air to breathe, no matter the cost.

My eyes kept flitting to the labels, desperately trying to predict what I would be sacrificing to this unwholesome woman who was, apparently, the answer to my prayers.

Curiosity. Singing voice. Childhood memories. Honesty.

The handwriting scrawled like spiders tiptoeing down my spine. Flies buzzed at the window pane—dead bodies piled on the sill—and the strip light in the hallway flickered like a curse, echoing the ragged hope in my heart.

How to play the violin. Left thumb. Remorse.

The woman held out her hand. I had been instructed to bring a personal item. It must be precious, small enough to fit in my palm and have been in my possession for at least five years. I passed her the only thing I could find that fit all those criteria—a brooch that had belonged to my grandmother. I wouldn’t miss it. Doubt plagued me sharp and sudden. Did that mean it wouldn’t work?

She studied it, threw it in the fire that blazed lazily in the hearth. The flames danced and glowed turquoise. The woman nodded. It was enough. She fished it out with a pair of tongs and placed it carefully in a pot, pushing it deep in the soil with her blackened fingernails. She set the pot beside the fly graveyard. What would she write on the label when I left?
Sense of humour. Faith. Confidence.

How could I know then that this trade would render everything pointless?

“Drink this,” she muttered, pouring a glass of dubious-coloured water from a jug. I gulped it down, anxious to leave now. The taste was bitter, and those crow eyes staring into my soul made it bitterer still.

I left, my heart skittering like a trapped fly. Too late for regret now.

A week later, a positive pregnancy test brought the joy I had hungered for. It had worked. But it wasn’t until after the baby was born that the label on my plant pot became clear to me.

Ability to love.


Emma Pearl writes fiction for all ages and is represented by Sera Rivers at Martin Literary Management. Her debut picture book Mending the Moon (illustrated by Sara Ugolotti, Page Street Kids) will be published in November 2022, the sequel Saving the Sun in 2023. She is a WriteMentor picture book mentor. She grew up in the UK and now lives with her family in New Zealand. Twitter: @emmspearl Email: emmspearl[at]


Mike Hickman

Photo Credit: Paul A. Hernandez/Flickr (CC-by)

Right now, she can see three options. Over and over.

1) Linda stands silently on the porch as the officers circle the “why?” Because they need to know why, even with the “what” warm behind her and the “how” warmer still in her hand. “Drop the questions,” she tells them. “You can go back the way you came. You know I can’t.”


2) Linda has answered the questions so many times now. There is nothing they can ask that hasn’t already been asked. Of herself. All these very many nights out in the cold. So, as she stands there, as the officers approach, as she knows what they will have to ask, she determines she does not need to say another word. The weapon, after all, is still warm in her hand.

Or, with only the tiniest shift in emphasis:

3) Linda has answered the questions so many times now. So, as she stands there on the porch and the officers approach, she knows what they will have to ask. She determines not to say another word. The weapon, after all, is still warm in her hand.

Linda watches the moths skimming and rippling across the refracted porch light. Playing at freedom, the light recaptures them every time.

The other questions usually start around now. The questions that had first prompted her circumlocution. Set it in motion. Impelled her towards the porch light this night and every night.

Until they stop.

“What you doing out there? Where’s that beer you were gettin’?”

There are only so many ways it will turn out, Linda tells herself, as she turns back towards the house. Every time, every night, she finds herself standing out here, replaying what is yet to happen in all its potential eventualities. She cannot do this for much longer. So she allows Harold to call her back in. Just this once more.

At least until tomorrow.


Sometimes Doctor, always writer, Mike Hickman (@MikeHicWriter) is from York, England. He has written for Off the Rock Productions (stage and audio), including a 2018 play about Groucho Marx and Erin Fleming. Since 2020 he has been published in Agapanthus (Best of the Net nominated), EllipsisZine, the Bitchin’ Kitsch, the Cabinet of Heed, Sledgehammer, and Red Fez. Email: sirhenryatrawlinsonend[at]

Four Poems

John Sweet

Photo Credit: smilla4/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

bluest sky

snow on the first day of spring and
then the next and
how fat will you get eating
nothing but dirt and sorrow?

or maybe it’s the space between love
and broken bones I’m talking about here

colleen laughing as she’s
pushed down the stairs or maybe this is
just the way she wanted it to be

do you remember her telling you that
everything was fine?

do you remember the cuts on one arm
and the bruises up the other?

regret is a tiring thing

stand there with your hands on fire,
the children in tears,
and consider all the reasons a man
might have for drinking himself to death

consider the absolute failure of
pollock’s last paintings

believe in the age of famine

lesser gods crawling through
the filth of lesser minds

side streets and abandoned factories and
the futility of building palaces
on graveyards


christ has no use for your suffering

phone rings and it’s your father saying
so long motherfucker just the
way it happens in your dreams and
hatred is easy so why not embrace it?

look at all the politicians
all the holy men
who want you to understand that killing
the enemy is your only option

look at all the enemies they offer

it’s only inevitable to find yourself on
someone else’s list because
no matter who you are
you’re the wrong person

you grow fat on apathy and fear
because they taste so goddamn good

nineteen-year-old kid with a gun
kills a mother of four
and what we need now is a tv movie

what we need are arguments from
both sides that accomplish nothing

that sound good in campaign speeches
and spilling from the assholes of
media personalities and
then on the second day of spring i
wake up to bitter sunlight and
children’s toys stuck in the frozen mud

i wake up to dried blood and
empty apologies

every day of my life wasted thinking
the next one will be better



not a fear of death, not yet, or
at least not while awake but
desperate times call for stronger drugs, and
all the burned girls standing laughing
out in the rain

all the reasons the heart has
to betray the body

the o.d. and the car crash

a sleight of hand where everything you
love is no longer anything that matters so
grab a shovel

dig a tunnel
down to christ’s back yard

watch cobain turn blue at the
foot of the bed

spent your whole life believing in
magic but
there is no magic here


an eye

all poems starve in
the desert
of your mind

all wars begin with
the idea of god or the
concept of greed

this need to kill
the enemy
leads to the need to
create enemies

to become one

some stranger in a
windowless room
smiling in antici-
pation of the
day i die


on arthur ave

man says he’ll feed the
starving children dust

says he’ll burn
hollywood to the ground

will teach the priests about pain
and in the background a
television plays too loud
and a stereo
and the portrait of christ above the
sofa has been done in
luminous paint

still sings even after the
lights have all gone out

still bleeds


John Sweet sends greetings from the rural wastelands of upstate NY. He is a firm believer in writing as catharsis, and in the continuous search for an unattainable and constantly evolving absolute truth. His latest poetry collections include A Flag on Fire is a Song of Hope (2019 Scars Publications) and A Dead Man, Either Way (2020 Kung Fu Treachery Press). Email: bleedinghorse99[at]

Five Poems

Lacie Semenovich

Photo Credit: Julian Macedo/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

The world is empty
for D.H.

The world is empty
of you before we feel

the space of you occupied
by should haves, chances
waiting to be taken, plans
unfilled, promises broken

without intent or malice,
simply the unknowable
future we all borrow against.

We ask cliché questions.
Have only silence to offer
in grief’s call and response.

We are not clever or profound
when death stares us down
through closed eyes.

Tonight someone
pours whiskey to the earth
for you, barbecues ribs in your
memory, smokes a cigarette
without you, whispers your name

in prayer, talks your spirit home until
the sun colors morning.


Muse on Vacation

My Muse is on vacation in Paris or Berlin or Venice.
Her temp sits with his feet on the desk—snoring.
She sends postcards—a photograph of Rodin’s The Thinker,
Michelangelo’s drawings, a poem from Zimbabwe—throughout
the summer with a sentence or two about natural beauty and human
creativity but not enough to piece together her romances. She meditated
a whole month in India—silent—refusing even to hold a pen.
She went to China to see The Great Wall and read mountains
of poetry, but stayed only a day saying she felt stifled,
saw too much important work to be done. She felt unprepared,
untrained. I think she blamed me. She writes that she doesn’t know
when she will return. Not to wait for her. Not to while away my hours
jealous of her escapades. I fear she will find a lover. One who bathes
her in dictionaries of rare words. Who does not ignore her
in the middle of the night when she lashes against the bed frame.
Someone who follows her to Antarctica in search of talking penguins.
I want to pull stars from the sky for her. Transcribe the ancient hearts
of women before words complicated everything. I write all the bad poems
I can so that she can see how much I need her.


The Ocean


We picnicked on the beach,
befriended the land crabs.

I scooped holes
in the sand,
hands cupped
in giving.

I piled
a new mountain
behind me.

The sand slid
into my eyes.

The mountain
buried me.
The crabs carried
my still beating heart
to the ocean.


On the third day
God named the Earth.


The sea turtle
washed ashore
bloated with death.

I said a prayer
and left him
to his decay
and carried my own
down the beach.


When a never born
child’s name is stolen,

a never mother weeps.


The wind builds
in my ears.

The waves teach
me to fall.

The sharks lick
my cut knees.


He drives with impatience.


I meditate
to carry peace
in my pocket
from this life to the next.


The reincarnated child
hops with joy to see
his light tower again.

The adults shiver

and say prayers.


Everyone sleeps
while I write,
while the mountain cuts
new teeth.


Sleeping Alone

I miss the weight
of your calloused hands
on my bare stomach
pulling me into the cave
of your torso.

Sleep comes quicker
when your breath
guards the hollow
of my ear, when your heart
beats against my back.

I lie awake with the ghost
of your knees bending
into mine.


A Mother’s Vigil

She waits
for her son
all night, all
day, until
time is light
and dark.

Until she is
and awake
in every

Her yarn-
burned fingers
crochet American
flags. She
sleeps, white
knuckled, sweat
filled, dreams his
birth, remembers
his death.

by war, she will not
recognize his
face when
he returns. His eyes
dimmed, full
of sand and blood.

The cat claws
at the door. Tree
branches scratch
the roof. Dogwoods
bloom. Snow
surprises the ground.

She turns
on the night
and sits
in the half moon’s
light, hook
and yarn twist
and separate,
the pattern
so familiar
it makes itself.


Lacie Semenovich is a poet and fiction writer living in Cleveland, Ohio, USA. Her work has appeared in B O D Y, Sheila-Na-Gig online, Qwerty, Chiron Review, and The Best Small Fictions 2020. She is the author of a chapbook, Legacies. Email: lacie_clark[at]

Bay 4

Hannah Ray

Photo Credit: Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

I hear the lady next to me crying.
She wants to go home.

Two days later she’s gone.
Starch-fresh sheets.

I hear another woman
With an accent behind
The curtain between us.

She had a section too,
And cannot move
To lift her child.

I shush long and loud, to
Get you to sleep,
The lady listens, and copies,
Her child is soothed.

When I can walk,
I pad round to her.
She cries, tells me
All the things I felt,
Two days ago.

I tell her she can
Ask to see the Breast
Feeding team.
I hear them come round,
They help her feed her baby.

She cries,
Behind the curtain, I cry.
Our babies are soothed.
She thanks me,

I never knew her name.


Hannah Ray is a writer and editor living in West Cornwall, UK. Her professional career spans more than 12 years in the media and tech industry, including running editorial for Vogue, Instagram, and the Guardian, and consulting for Netflix and the BBC. She writes fiction, non-fiction and short stories. Her first novel, Family & Company, was longlisted for the 2019 Mslexia Novel Competition and she is working on her second novel, Hard Reset. She works as a freelance writer and editor for startups and artists on the cusp of revolutions in technology. She is currently a writer and editor for Substack. Twitter: @heyhannahray Email: heyhannahray[at]

Two Poems

Jenny Hockey

Photo Credit: GIS@Sam/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

Eltisley Avenue

Thursday 4th
and school kids thunder by
as winter daylight creeps about our purple room
in a ground floor apartment with an unwanted piano,
where I sit out my hours working green nylon yarn
into doll-size jackets and mitts, my swollen body
squeezed into a vinyl armchair.

All day and the midwife doesn’t show.

Monday 23rd
Two weeks past my date
they gather me into their arms—a stretcher’s too long
for our door, set aslant in the small shared hall.

Tuesday 24th
Wearing a dressing gown abandoned
by an old boyfriend, I step down out of the ambulance—
a baby asleep in my arms.

Two doors up the road, a neighbor wipes her eyes.


He was a Good Person

You knew that whatever you asked him for—
a tea bag, a hand with pushing your desk
nearer the window, the name of someone in Central Admin
who could organize a payment,
his face would brighten
at the chance to help,

a good person who’d ease back his chair
from his desk, ready for a chat
and even a cuppa shared—

after he’d walked down the corridor
—a word with a colleague along the way,
to fill his kettle in the kitchen,

a good person with a long institutional memory
and an amusing story or two to tell
about the woman in Central Admin
who never paid out on a Tuesday,
only on Fridays every other week,

a good person who, even before you asked for help,
would enquire about your husband
and whether his stress fracture had healed
and how your recent conference trip to Ukraine
had gone

and something would prompt him to tell you—
by the way, about the ducklings,
six or was it eight of them, newly hatched on the pond,
not the pond by the Vice Chancellor’s office,
the pond they recently dredged,
just behind Central Admin—

and what kind of tea bag exactly would you like?
PG Tips, decaf, ginger and lemon?
There might be a lapsang souchong somewhere,
if you could just give him a minute—


Jenny Hockey lives in Sheffield, UK. She belongs to Hexameter, The Poetry Room and Living Line—with poems in magazines such as The North, Magma, Toasted Cheese, The Frogmore Papers and Orbis. She retired from Sheffield University as Emeritus Professor of Sociology to write and read more poetry and in 2013 received a New Poets Award from New Writing North. Oversteps Books published her debut collection Going to Bed with the Moon in 2019. Twitter: @JHockey20 Email:[at]