Saturday, January 28, 2006

Time Again to Get Frantic

Next weekend (February 4th & 5th) we get back to the normal Frantic Flash schedule and from then on we we'll have Frantic Flash Weekends on the weekend that includes the first Sunday of the month.

The recent FF had just 27 entries, virtually all old-hands at Flashing, and we rarely get more than 40.

This is policy. I like to run lots of small, regular competitions for the buzz, but not have competitions that are so large and have hundreds of entries that take me away from my own writing for too long.

Just to remind you. You receive an email (if you have signed up) at 0900, 1800, 2100 on both the Saturday and Sunday. The prompts are in the email plus they are displayed n my blogs and the 7Q site. You then have 75 minutes to write your story and submit it. If you email immediately to say "I'm in! You get an extra 5 minutes. Entry is £5, Prizes are Half the Pool, typically £50-£100.

All timings are UK Time.

Here are this morning's Boot Camp Prompts.

Email: Wrong Number

The Sadness of Weddings

Her Family Tree is a Willow, I am Pine

One or Two Natural Wonders of the World

Last Tango in Basingstoke

One Hundred Million Pounds

In His Cottage Kitchen, Just Talking, About Books

After They Leave

Lawrence of Bulgaria

The Bitter Things, and Time

Monday, January 16, 2006

FF Provisional Results


Britain's Smartest Rodents
Tennis With Dennis
A Spill of Moonlight

Close Up

A Big Fish
I'm OK, You're OK
Toot, Half Welsh
Outside, Alive
Power of One: Eleven Reasons
Is It That Time Already?

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Final Set of Prompts 2100 Sunday

16 Prompts. Good Luck

This is Harry, Mr Privation Officer

An Officer and a Gentleman (When Sober)

Tea or Coffee? Cocoa? A Kick in the Nuts?

Jasmine Jones and the Delicate Odour Problem


The Philosopher & The Sewage Farm


Casablanca, Lawrence, Just 39 Steps, My Friend

The Power of One

They're Not Hanging Level, Jones

Why It's Obvious God is Welsh and the Devil Was Born in Lithuania

Las Vegas is a Carbunkle

Tarzan and the Tool-Eater Jaguar

The Boys Who Stole the One Ton Safe From the Local Post Office

Life is Just a Towel of Cherries

Blue, By Blenkinsop, Wagstaff White,


1800 Sunday Frantic Flash Prompts

Losing Chelsea

The Long Winding Road Through Wales

Atilla the Bun

A Gooseberry in a Lift

Laughter From Another Room, The Light Fading


It's a Flower, Pink, Looks Like a Daisy

Jenny Jenny and the Junipers

My Name is eddie, I'm a Coward

Meeting After the White Gate

Shall I Compare the To An Outside Toilet?

A Gazzunder Goes Under the Bed

Black & Bright

Tosser, Screwit, Furkup and Soddem, Solicitors


Brighton Bag Ladies' Annual Conference

0900 Sunday. Frantic Flash Prompts

Here They Are and Good Luck.

Up Too Early, A Day to Die

The Open University Tutorial on Terrorism 101

How Not to Read

Deadwood, on Stage

The Mouse That Thought

Choose China, Charming Charles

A Rose, a Name, By Any Other

Thou Art Whole, and I, I am Undone

If Music Be the Food of Love, What's a take-Away at One in the Morning?

Tennis With Dennis

The Budgie With a Badge

The Scent of Chrysanthemums

Here Cum Dee Train

General: Did You Come Here to die?
Soldier: Nah Sir, I cummed yer Yester DIe

Nuclear Chocolate


Saturday, January 14, 2006

Saturday Night 921:00) Flah Prompts

Here they are!


Dinner With Saddam

The Mother of All Headaches

Bluetooth and Other Bastards

Ice-Skating for Lunatics

Swimming to the Azores

A Blessing, a Dressing, a Settling, and Down


Half Welsh, Half Scottish, Half Irish, Can't Do Sums

Twice a Half of Two-and-a-Half

Kissing Barney Stone

A Kidney? You're Kidding Me

You Put Your Left Leg in, You Bring Your Left Leg Out, But Still Your Yogi Doesn't Love You

Brown, Vicar


18:00 Frantic Flash Prompts

A few more prompts to play with. 75 Minutes, and good luck to you all

Moldo the Magnificent (on his nights off)

Jack in the Doldrums

Circumnavigating the Globe Solo With a Friend

Peach, Vanilla, Peach

Seven Lucky Breakaways

Acceleration is On

Chimney Cheese

The Invoice

Focus, In Focus, Out-of-Focus


Jimmy Jewell and The Travers Girls

Silent Night, What a Fight

The Soft, Slow Drip of Blood of Night

Frantic Flash Prompts

Eczema and Other Joys

The Blonde, the Redhead, The Brunette, and Two Pounds of Butter


The Nigerian Who Really Did Have Millions to Get Out of the Country

4AM, Tea, Self-Pity

Jack Spratt, Would Eat No Fat

Run It Up the Flagpole, See Who Salutes

Cake, Lobotomy

Gently, Gently Down the Stream

Acid, Sugar, to Mars, Ping-Pong

Fifi the Flea, Fell in Love, With a Clown From a Flea Circus

In a Hole, Still Digging


SCREEN OFF CHALLENGE: With screen on, type: The Light is Red, Weeping, Bleeding


people using this prompt may take an extra five minutes (to tidy) BUT MUST SEND IN THE RAW VERSION OF THE STORY (UNTIDIED) AT LEAST FIVE NINUTES BEFORE THE NORMAL DEADLINE.

That is you must send in the unedited version by 70 minutes, but have until 80 minutes to send the tidied up version. WE MUST RECEIVE BOTH VERSIONS, ONE IN 70, SECOND WITHN 80. (This is to prevent cheating).

Good Luck


Frantic Flash Advice

(74 Minute Warning)

Frantic Flash Prompts will appear at 0900

When Boot Campers and others raised money for Children in Need, they wrote a flash an hour for up to 30 Hours straight. Already 35 of those flashes have placed and many others are out there under submission.

In my own case I think at least half of the flashes are solid/good and maybe 5-6 are really good. Those I have sent to good competitions.

For those who have never tried writing fast to a deadline, consider it. You may "freeze" the first few times, but once you learn to "let go" your unconscious will surprise you.

THIS was a flash, and THIS and THIS

Flashwriting (one word) releases ideas and attitudes that often surprise us. We break away from the obvious and predictable. The unconscious is a powerful place. We should use it more!

When you see prompts, don't dive in, but also don't think too hard. Read all the prompts and "stay loose". Allow the bizarre combinations to enter your spirit. Roll them around, join prompts together. The harder you think, the more concrete, the worse will be your story.

Good Luck


Friday, January 13, 2006

Frantic Flash This Saturday and Sunday

Seventh Quark has had 7 Frantic Flash Competitions and one FF for an iPod. After a little break they are back, this weekend and again at the beginnig of February.

There are six time slots.


Saturday and Sunday

Entrants get the prompts by email (and they are displayed on the 7Q site and here). They then have 75 minutes to send in a story using one or more of the prompts. If they email me to say "I'm in!" they get until the 80th minute.

Marks are posted very rapidly and the shortlist should be posted around midnight Sunday.

Entry is £5 per flash (£5:50 if paid by PayPal) and the prize is guaranteed to be £50 or higher. Currently we have 20 sign-ups but some may well enter more than one story. The Prizes may reach £100 if the usual last-minute entries turn up.

Contact Alex at


Thursday, January 05, 2006

Bits & Pieces

The Interior of One of Alex's Log Cabins in Wales!

Just a reminder that Seventh Quark is always looking for good material up to 5,000 words, art-work for the covers (we are not paying yet but we might run a competition soon for photographers!)

Keep an eye on 7Q On Line for news and good writing. The Frantic Flash Competitions are back and there's one the weekend of the 14-15th January.

Way back we had some great shots taken in Venice but they were lost in a system crash (back-up, wossa back-up?). Photos neend to be very high resolution (even 4 Megapixels is dodgy when printed in A4) but should be INTERESTING, quirky, catch the eye, make us think.

Questo Perfico Mico is after your flashesbut we are only interested in great work. Here's a tip. If your story has a twist-ending, then print it off, dip it in gasoline, set fire to it and shove it down your pants.

This cuts out the need for me to come round.

(Take a look at the links over on the right).


Wednesday, January 04, 2006


I’ve made the final cut. The blood wells in the narrow gash, a burgundy meniscus rising, filling, tipping, dripping. I watch, fascinated.

I’ve sliced it the right way this time, but I don’t know what to do next. It’s pooling on the bathroom floor tiles. What’s black and white and red all over? In ancient times they knew how to do it properly; their multitudinous baths incarnadine and all that. Seneca, wasn’t it, who sat in a warm bath and opened up his wrists, or was it Archimedes? No, he’s the one who measured his bulk in the bathwater. If he’d cut his wrists as well I wonder if the results would’ve been the same. Eureka, I’ll never do it wrong again; I’m in control. I’ve taken medical advice.

He was full of useful information last month, that callow Dr. Singh, the emergency department physician. He breathed biryani across my narcotic bed, his gaze lazily sashaying from my medical notes and down the deliberate cleavage of the suturing nurse.

‘She’s been in here before, what, twice? Classic cry for attention. Look, nurse, it’s a transverse cut, not very deep. See the stutters, the false starts.’ I wasn’t there to him, the ugly unseeable appearing unhearing. ‘If she’d been serious about it, she’d have cut deeper – a longitudinal cut over the radial artery.’ It was as though the contents of my triple chin had oozed out like a gelatinous worm and coiled itself into my ear like a plug. ‘Finish up here and I’ll arrange her discharge and medication.’

Ah, yes, those round white discs of redemption ... the pills that tuck a fleecy blanket round me while I lie in half an inch of stagnant water at the bottom of the ditch. They cover me up but underneath they’re wicking, and it isn’t until later that I’m drenched in the stink.

Longitudinal, he said. Lengthways, like the stripes that people like me shouldn’t wear lest we look as wide as a barcode or a zebra crossing. I was lovely once, when my breasts stood proud beyond my belly and I’d stare down each passing male as he glanced up from my nipples to my eyes, shooting him with a tensile arrow of sexual possibility. Look at me now, draped in the swags and tails of outrageous corpulence. Blame it on my mum, my genes, my glands; blame it on him, his withdrawal, his derision and disgust; blame it on cakes, chocolate and cappuccino; blame it on misery, self-indulgence and greed; blame it on me and my liposuccubus.

‘Oh that this too, too solid flesh should melt,’ or is it ‘sullied’? No matter, no difference, grey and drooping both like outsize grubby knickers hanging out to dry. ‘Inside every fat person, there’s a thin person screaming to get out.’ Why should fatties have the monopoly on stereotyping? What about ... inside every fat person there’s a fat person happily guzzling chocolate, or there’s a thin person hiding because she can’t stand being touched, or there’s an obese person screaming with hunger? I’m not even obese except on their scales. Hath not a fat person taste? If you prick us do we not cream? I’m not freak-show fat, I’m Rubenesque, just big enough for smarting little kids to ask, ‘Is that lady going to have a baby soon?’ Just fat enough to make a perfect trophy ex-wife.

It’s difficult to cut your wrists with a safety razor; the plastic ridges get in the way. Ask me; I’m a professional. A longitudinal, deep cut – that would require a different choice of weapon. So down to the study I went, our old study, our fertile thinking room, past arena for the thrust and parry of our sparring. The tongue can sometimes cut unkindly as a sword.

The light-table’s still there, on the old desk with the legs that wobble where I sawed them in half and nailed them back together again to get it through the doorway. Its cloudy glass is criss-cross scarred in wax and masking tape from countless flickering night time hours of paste-up, slice-up, make-up. Such precision we insisted upon, points and picas, shade and balance, bordering and justification. Such perfection we’d achieved together as our lives fell into disarray around us. Such an astounding child we had nurtured here, offspring of my fertile brain, of the marriage of two minds. I always meant this room to be a nursery.

I reached into the top drawer, into the sturdy cardboard box with the torn label hinging its side, searching for a small flat paper packet. Little square flat packages – I remember them well: barrier and protection. Smoothing and moulding with sensual rhythmic fingers, I loved to build a rubber barricade and watch it stretch and grow. Pointless, even comical as I look back, those teaspoonfuls of wasted potential were beaver-dammed into a silicone bulb and flushed into fertilizer at the sewage plant. My throbbing rhythm always lagged a beat behind. He seldom noticed, or acknowledged that he did. Maybe if we’d felt each other more, our marriage would have lasted.

No, these packets sheathed rapiers of a different sort: scalpel blades, sharper than razors, fiddly to grip. My fingers fumbled, bracing a steel sliver against its malevolent will to fit into the safety handle. It slipped, spiked, sliced my fingertip. Ridiculously, tissue-wrapped, I searched through the first-aid tin, patching my body’s premature leak with a woven pink plaster.

What is an artery, anyway? Nothing more than a pulsing, blood-filled tube. So simple to open – just slice along it with a sharp blade. So why are my darker, buried female tubes so irretrievably blocked? Why have my eggs been sent to an all-girls’ boarding school when they are dripping in vital eagerness for their cherry membranes to be popped by any blindly poking male? So pointlessly, pleasurably ineffective was all that grunting, thrusting, pumping power when even Dyno-rod couldn’t have flushed my pipes clear. You entered me, you bastard grim reaper of future souls, with your dirty little fornicating disease, and crippled my femininity, my fecundity with your second-hand inter-city weekend break bacteria.

‘To cease upon the midnight with no pain.’ My wrist doesn’t hurt. It stings a little, like a paper cut. Suicide is painless. And has God ‘fixed his cannon ’gainst self-slaughter’? When I was a child, I thought as a child; I thought that meant God would shoot you if you tried to kill yourself. I’ve often wondered which would get me first. My soul doesn’t hurt much, either. To die will be an aptly big adventure; life is a dictionary of famous quotation, vicarious sensation.

I didn’t write a suicide note. And when they see that no-one asks to read it they’ll understand why I didn’t need to write a note.

I could leave a cryptic message in blood on the white squares of the chessboard floor like a prisoner. I could scrawl ‘Only you’ or ‘Calais’ or ‘Burn in hell’. I can’t be bothered, to be honest; my energy seeps. Will they burn me? They’ll need to put the coffin on a rack like a farm-bred duck and catch the dripping in a pan below, else spattering flares could set the audience alight.

‘On my count, one ... two ... three ... heave.’ The appalled bearers will invisibly grimace and slide secret glances at each other. ‘Lend us another pair of arms, mate. Need wheels with this one.’

My ex-man won’t offer to help. He’ll sit impassive in his trenchcoat and unblack tie, hiding his glittering green amusement beneath hooded eyelids. His beautiful, mobile mouth will move in silent commentary. He’ll be playing ‘had her, had her not’ at any female arse that dares to take a seat amid the sparse congregation. He always loved to watch my friends come.

She won’t be there, his swollen baby-soft gloating tricoteuse. She’s fostering a changeling, sole progeny of my heart, my art and my hands-on intellect, into her pc world with its sliding guidelines and snap-to rules. She’s emasculated it, growing out its severe crew-cut into fauntleroy curls and dressing it in designer logos. It’s too late for it now; she’s soft-focused its rigorous exactitude. I’ve exchanged my copyright for a mess of sugared porridge. No, she won’t deliberately disturb the still calm centre of her equilibrium, not for me.

Bitch-sister might come. Black always did suit her. She’ll languorously drape her length along the blind pew, twanging her thong between her cheeks and twisting her high-skirted black stockinged legs into unanatomically becoming positions. She knows how to angle. She’s always nicked stuff out of my bedroom. Maybe they’ll glance at one another in sympathetic mock-sorrow. Maybe they’ll go gladly together to a hotel where he can forget the rounding cherub left at home and turn her into his latest silk-tied arched angel, wings spreadeagled from the iron bedhead, singing out in seraphic ecstasy. Just hear that heavenly organ blow; celebrating life, of course.

I yearn. If he would stop and turn and look at me with yesterday’s eyes, even now I’d dam this welling tear. I walk the fields alone forever gloved, loveless, missing so much. Nothing remains but choice, ultimate autonomy. I offer up my arms for oblivion; Lethe accepts me as I am.

There should be music, beautiful music. There should be a full moon mirrored in the black clotting pool, metallic like the bonnet of his Porsche, a headlight dipped into the darkness. Moon River? The Pathètique, perhaps, Beethoven or Tchaikovsky? While my Guitar Gently Weeps? I Know that my Redeemer Liveth? Angels? From the sublime to the anodyne, the slowing beat pulses vacantly through my skull.

I’m on quite a pleasant high now. There’s a frilly vagueness to the edges of things, and tiny targets keep floating in front of my eyes. Pot shots at a fairground, cross-hairs sighting the lambent end of the long littleness of life. My arm is marble white, blue veins deflating. My fingers feel only a weary cold detachment, a blessed inevitability. The bloody waterfall has stayed tidily between its banks, no meanders, not an ox-bow lake in sight. It’s slowing now; the well-spring must be drying up, but where it flowed from is an Easter scene: pouting, puckered open beaks of flesh, a row of three white crosses standing proud.

That young doctor was right about the stuttering. The blade went in easily. It was like slicing a tomato – start with the point of the knife; make an entrance. It was the scar tissue that held matters up, prevented the single samurai slash that would have proclaimed its purpose. It was a drag. First I tore across the oldest scar, the kitchen devil cut, the impulse bite, the only one I did in front of him. Yes, of course it was a hopeless cry for attention, for sympathy, for anything but indifference.

The second attempt was vodka-fuelled, sad, pathetic; I took myself to hospital with that one, driving one-handed, the other swathed in perforated sheets of bounty. I only did it so I’d fit in with their common statistics, pandering to the mean. The third – that was a look back in anger moment. It wasn’t enough that he’d stolen my youth, my sanity, my fertility, he had to take my work as well, and win our prizes in their name. I saw them smirking on the telly, saw that fruitful, burgeoning belly, and the monstrous green-eyed life director called out ‘cut’.

A row of white crosses. Three graves – faith, hope and charity; the weariness, the fever and the fret; Conley, Weightwatchers and Atkins. Three cold preprinted rejection slips when I first tried to write alone. Three little deaths of hope when my pee left the wand blue. Three times I knowingly took him back inside me, basted with the juices of an earlier bird. That intolerable, fatal betrayal as his cock crowed for the third time.

One for sorrow, two for absolution, and three for me.

Alexandra Fox

Seventh Quark actively seeks prize-winning material to reprint. Gethseminal was First Prize Winner, The Momaya Prize 2004 and printed in the Momaya Anthology before being reprinted in Seventh Quark Magazine.

Photo by Hazera Forth


The picture of 7Q1, the only jpg I had handy, has the name Simon Brett" on the cover. In fact, when the issue went out, there was no Simon. But we had some incredible help from top authors including Steve Almond, Alice Elliott Dark, Peter James, Gina Ochsner and Jim Crace.

You can read the following on my personal blog:

Seventh Quark Frantic Flashes!

In 2005 Seventh Quark ran Seven "Frantic Flash" competitions. These were originally scheduled for the first Sunday of the month but then we added the day before! That is NOT "The first Saturday and Sunday of the month because we might have 31st and 1st.

We missed the beginning of January so we are running a Frantic Flash, FF8, on January 14th and 15th.

There will be six available time-slots 0900, 1800, 2100 on both days (Saturday & Sunday) - UK Times.

Interested parties register that interest with AK and then go on the mailing list. At the six appointed times all "entrants" receive a set of flash prompts by email, plus they will be displayed on the 7Q Web Site, here, and in the Public Area of Boot Camp.

Entrants will have 75 Minutes to write a flash and submit it to AK and/or the competition secretary.

We ask entrants to confirm they are "in" as soon as they have received their emailed prompts. In the event of a blow-out and no story we would stil like the £5 please!

Finalists are announced by midnight Monday. Winners & Places within 2-3 days.

Entry is £5 by UK Cheque, £5:50 by PayPal.

Entrants can enter 1-2-3-4-5- or 6 slots but a payment is due for each time. Because some people enter 4 or more times we do NOT limit entrants from winning more than one prize.

Unusually, all entrants can meet up after the sessions and on the Monday in a private forum and discuss the stories and the process. This will be a non-public annexe of Boot Camp.

Prizes will be at least 50% of the entry pool and are expected to be £50-£100 in the first few competitions. Winners and places are eligible for publication in Seventh Quark Magazine ans shortly you will be able to see some early winners/places on our sister blog, "Seventh Quark Mag On Line".


Welcome to 7Q On Line

Issue One was January-February 2005. For a full table of contents, scroll down past the white space I can't get rid of!

While I wait for permissions to republish various stories, here is one from me.

In 7Q we try to publish at least one competition-winning entry from without 7Q. Mother, Questions was a Joint First Prize-Winner in Buzzwords (along with John Ravenscroft's Watch With Mother and an article by Buzzwords Editor Zoe King.

Such comparisons and editorial commentary are typical of what we aim for in 7Q.
To entertain, yes, but to teach at the same time.

MOTHER, QUESTIONS (Seventh Quark, Issue 1)

Mother, can I ask, with you and Dad, my father, how did it happen, how was it? Were you frightened, excited? Was he strong, was he clumsy?

You told me once, before you died, you said, "We walked out for almost a year and then, one day, on a bridge over the canal, he asked if he could kiss me." You said you laughed, couldn't help it. He ran home.

So Mum, how did you get from there to being my mother? How did that shy young man learn to make love? Was he your first, Mum? Nellie said to me once, (she was drunk on gins), she said you had a beau everyone wanted, but he was "a bit of a lad, a heart-breaker", wouldn't take no for an answer.

I always wondered, wondered how I happened. I'm here, some kind of me, and I'm you, the bridge across the water, my hopeless father. Am I my sisters too, am I my brother? If they hadn't come before me, you would have been different, things would have been different, nothing, nothing, nothing would have happened exactly as it did. I wouldn't be this me, I wouldn't be able to ask these questions. How can it be that I exist without it being necessary that I exist? But how could these loves, bridges, kisses, how could they have all made my history, made me this, put me here?

You said once, you said Bill and Nellie were going to get married. You said you were on a tram going up Cambrian Road. You were opposite sides of the aisle and Dad shouted across at you, "We could make it a double wedding!" You told me that you laughed. You told me you said yes, but you didn't know why. Mum you could have said no.

I remember you talking about the trams, the way they were always full, the way they clanged. You said they were big and solid and real. Your eyes were always alight when you talked like that, I loved that look, but it wasn't there when you talked about saying yes to Dad. On the day of the wedding, on the day of the wedding, you wanted to be anywhere on earth rather than St Mary's. You said that. Mum, how did it happen? How could you have let it happen?

My memories of you don't come in a line, Mum. They're like flashes of sunlight through trees, but I'm on a train going in circles, I'll maybe get to come round and see again. I have your photograph, the one from the war when you were in your ATS uniform and still had puppy fat, but I could see the woman in you, the deep heat men seek but can never understand.

It's black and white - well, brown, more like, and you and the other two girls, all that life-power, and yet the three of you look so soft, so quiet, just waiting. Did all women wait then, Mum? Did they just contain? I don't know how else to say it - you know I missed a lot of school - I don't always find the best word… But contain feels right … but I can look at your picture and see you with history waiting in your belly. I can look at that picture and I can see my life, all of it, see your grandchildren, your great-grandchild (Pat's Jackie had a baby boy - pretty little thing), I can see everything, all the good things, everything.

Now you know what life is Mum, was it all to come, was it pre-set, was it laid out, was it a book and we just flicked pages? Does he talk about it as if it was all so obvious, what else could have happened, does he, do they? What is it Mum, I mean what's there, I mean do you now think it was all a landscape and we just felt our way forward, we weren't doing anything? Does that excuse the things we do, things you did, Dad did?

They probably knew about DNA when you were still alive Mum but we didn't talk about it. Now we do, we talk about it, about inevitabilities, about tendencies, predispositions. Some people say there's no free will, not really, even choosing or not choosing is wired into us. That's what I mean when I say contains, it's all in the belly, it was all there in your picture, you, and I guess my father, his father, your father, mothers and fathers, all the way back as far as we can imagine. Someone made my father my father, he didn't. Someone made you, you didn't. You could have said no, but you didn't. That was wired in too, I guess.

I wish sometimes I could get at my DNA. That would be something, eh, Mam? I could go in there and tinker. I could give myself cancer or make myself big enough to fight. Imagine I could have done that when I was ten, before you left us and ran away to London? Imagine if I'd been big and strong.

They tell me what happens, happens and it's not our fault, but that how we are made, that makes a difference. It's whether we're built to withstand things or whether we are soft. I guess they'd say I was soft, but Mum, when you say something, people should believe what you say, not decide your DNA has some wrong bits, not decide to rush volts into you while you bite a piece of wood, make you eat pills until you're someone else.

I know you ended up here once, Mum. They said you had a nervous break-down, didn't they? They said you lost your purse and couldn't cope, that you started crying on the number three bus and they stopped the bus and rang for an ambulance. But you just rested here a bit, didn't you? Got away from the house for a while, from Dad. And I know what really happened to the money. I don't blame you, Mum. Dad used to bet on the horses.

They brought me here the first time when I was thirteen, Mum, thirteen. Now I'm forty-eight and how far have I got, just round and round on that train, looking for the light through the trees. I was here three years, meat, and they took away someone from inside me. When I looked in the mirror I was old, old as a child, Mum, grey and sick with sores round my mouth.
And it's all to do with you, Mum, my mother, and Dad, my father, and DNA, and fathers and mothers and monsters, way back to when there were caves and we made things out of stones. Mum, have you ever thought, all those deaths in childhood, diseases, wars, tribal sacrifices, fires, people falling into pits, and yet my father, his father, his father and fathers, fathers, fathers, not one died before he made a child. Here I am, forty-eight a mother and a child and I connect to when we were worms. It's amazing, Mum.

Pictures are funny things, Mum. If you look at them they move, they swell up and then they go back again. People in the jungle say pictures contain the soul. Oh, I've said contain again. There's a picture contains your soul, your you, and your you contains everything, including me, and my little Jenny, she would be in a picture of me, in my belly, in our histories.

You would have liked Jenny, Mum. She's dark like you, has the Irish in her, the light. How, I'm not sure, but I think it's real enough. I read once that genes only pretend to divide themselves up, that sometimes they leap about in packs. If that's true I can understand it. Mum, sometimes I think my Jenny is you.

Here, when they go on at me, one of the things they talk about is circles, things going round, things repeating, me saying the same thing. Were they like that with you, Mum or did they just know you were resting? They go on at me as if circles are bad things, as if me noticing the way things come back round is bad, but I don't see it, Mum, I really don't. We are mothers and daughters, that's a circle, and we're pictures, and we contain, don't we? You were a picture, I was a picture. Then Dad came along for you, and Jimmy, Pat, Sharon, me, we all happened, it's all circles; then I found myself a mother and back there again, round and round and round.

But why do they think I'm a liar, Mum? Why do they think way back then, when I was still just twelve, I was a liar, why now do they think I'm a liar? Did they think you were a liar when you said you'd lost your purse? Did it matter? You needed a break, so you started crying and wouldn't stop, and they pulled the bus over, called an ambulance, took you away for a rest. Nobody said, "Stop crying, you liar! We don't believe you, pull yourself together!"

Mum, I guess you know now. I never lied.

I remember something. the Lido. I remember your fat shoulders covered in freckles, the easy blubbery way you swam.

I didn't want to go in the big pool but Dad laughed, grabbed me, and took me in. It was cold and there were leaves in the water, twigs. Someone had burst open a packet of crisps and they floated on the water. At first I held on the side of the pool. You were in a good mood, it was a sunny day, and you said something and swam away. That was when Dad pulled my hands from the edge and took me out into the middle. I cried and he said if I didn't shut up, he'd drown me. You swam back. You said something and then Dad let me off. I went in the kids' pool with the others.

You were such a good swimmer, Mum. I only ever remember you as big and brown, solid and safe. You looked like a whale, a ship, a raft. Like when you said the trams were huge and warm for you, well that was how it was with me and you. Nothing is solid now Mum, nothing has been big and safe, not since just before I was thirteen.

I know you had to go Mum, you had to run away. I don't know exactly why, but I do understand. I understood. Even then I could feel things, know things, see circles of life. I knew you were spiralling down, down and something had to happen. I don't mean I could say that, then or that I can tell you now what exactly I knew. But I knew.

When they go on at me here, they tell me this kind of knowing isn't a proper kind of knowing and that's why I'm here, but it's easy for them, they have their trams, their fat mothers, churches, mountains, they aren't like I am. They have to be here to know. I don't mean just here, I mean here, where I am head-wise, in my sad shoes - well slippers, they won't allow shoes. They were never thirteen, taken to the room, sent black in a second. They never woke tasting wood and blood with the world in a cupboard.

It was just before bonfire night when you suddenly weren't there. One of the flashes is Barbara and me, coming down Gaer Hill and she's telling me and I wouldn't believe her. Dad cut himself shaving and hit Pat. We had burned toast with the black scraped into the sink where dad's blood was.

Porridge and burned toast. We had porridge as well, Quaker Oats. You did porridge usually, soaked the oats overnight, let them get fat and soft. I remember fat and soft. You, I think of fatness and softness and roundness and you big in the pool, swimming away, then coming back to rescue me with a light laugh.

When dad was on six till twos he'd do some overs, come back through the park at Mendalglief. We'd run down when we saw him coming. If they made a film of dad now they'd show him coming up through the trees (the monkey-steps short-cut) dark with oil and steel, a dirty paperback under his arm. It would be sunny, there'd be Hovis music playing and we'd rush to him, he'd pick one of us up. His smell! He was darkness, tobacco, the steel, and some man-thing men don't smell of now. Pick me up, fly me, Dad.

On six-'till-two.

On ten-'till-sixes, the housenight was colder, echoey, but we just got used to it. Kids can get used to a lot, Mum, you'd be surprised. They didn't take us away because Pat was old enough to do stuff and I was able to help with bits and pieces, but then she went too, off to London to be with you. But the ten-to-sixes were OK.

When dad worked two-till-tens he never worked overs because he wanted to go up the Plough before they closed. He used to go to the Plough, have a few Ansells before coming home. Sometimes he'd bring us all chips.

I think of you Mum, when I think like this, I think of you, how you were big and brown, a house, a tree, a river, safety. I want to be with you, why can't they understand that.

2,287 words.

Previously published in Buzzwords

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From Seventh Quark 7Q
Finding the Story Alex Keegan
How to Leave Iraq George Saunders
Maura's Arm Emma Darwin
Annie, California Plates Jim Crace
Letters 7Q
Like it Was Vanessa Gebbie
Heirs to Munch David Prescott
Punctuation; a Lexicon circa 1999 Gina Ochsner
Picture Me Resplendent 7Q
The Falls George Saunders
Another Day in Paradise Mark Watkins
Watch With Mother John Ravenscroft
Mother, Questions Alex Keegan
The "Mother" Question Zoe King
Why They're Not Talking to Me Cedric Popa
How to Write Sex Scenes Steve Almond
Gethseminal Alexandra Fox
The Carpenter's Wife Katherine Pirnie
Pictures at An Unattended Exhibition Martin Roxby
Dead Simple Peter James
Green & White Chris Bleach
Young Writers Section Nicky Singer
Embodiments Alice Elliott Dark
Angel Bridie Peejay
Hair Manners Nancy Saunders
Sensitive New Age Cripple Glenn Fowler
Cheese Penis 7Q
Inside the Back Page "Mary Trafford"