Unlocked: final three audio tracks from Let Me Tell You A Story

So go on, let us do that – we’re ready and waiting.

‘Terminus‘; descent into a room of sly eyes.

‘Puddles Like Pillows’. When gravity stops holding things down & litter fills the skies.

Phillippa Yaa de Villiers exceptional poem, ‘Origin’. 

From Let Me Tell You a Story available from Amazon.

‘Drop Dead Gorgeous’ – a Halloween(ish) tale of a ghostly (maybe) gran

drawing of people on a sofaDrop Dead Gorgeous – a Halloween(ish) tale of ghosts (maybe) and quantum phasing (your guess is as good as mine). Bit sweary so don’t let the kids loose.


I first met Dillon when my dead Gran tripped me up in front of him. There was me, meandering along the sea front watching small dogs on extending leads crochet themselves into yapping compounds each time they encountered others of their ilk; and there was he, arrowing through them, the sleek lycra-ed warp to their woof. I was ok but he landed up in hospital with several broken bones and his bike was a write-off. Gran beamed like it was her birthday and she’d knocked back her celebratory bottle of whisky all in one go.

I wasn’t planning on visiting him; after all he’d reason to be mad and maybe even to monetise that. Can you sue pedestrians? But Gran had other ideas; I got the train to uni, it broke down and the replacement bus dropped me outside the hospital. I walked, there was an incident and a diversion that went right past A&E. I tried taking a taxi; the driver had a heart attack. So to avoid any further disasters befalling the largely innocent public, I gave in. Five minutes tops should do it, I reckoned.

‘Ok, I’ll go,’ I said. ‘But I don’t need an audience, right?

Fat chance. ‘Lovely, innee?’ Gran said, breathing pickle fumes over my shoulder.

‘Shut up,’ I said, trying not to move my mouth as if this somehow compensated for the conspicuous absence of a third party. It didn’t. Dillon looked around the room and started to reach for the call bell. I could see his point.

‘No, not you,’ I said, and fiddled around with a fantasy earpiece under my hair. ‘Bloody signal’s gone,’ I said, palming the non-existent device and shoving it in my pocket. I gave him one of those modern technology, what can you do? looks and shrugged at him.

Gran continued her onslaught. ‘Physicist,’ she said, picking at teeth that would be at least a hundred years old if she’d managed to haul her liver past eighty-six. ‘Should suit you, with all your book-learnin’ an’ that.’ She gave me a shove, ‘Go on, sit on his bed.’ I was propelled forwards and alarm spread across Dillon’s face as the woman who had put him there in the first place threatened to flatten him all over again. I grabbed at a drip pole. It was on wheels so we took each other down, along with a vase of flowers, a jug of water, and a box of tissues. The almighty racket drew the attention of a frosty-looking nurse in pink scrubs who rushed first to Dillon to inspect him for injury, and then turned her rather less solicitous gaze on me, sprawled on the floor at her feet.

‘And you are?’ she said, like we were at a posh party and I wasn’t on the guest list. I opened my mouth preparing to kill two birds with one F-bomb but …

‘My girlfriend,’ said Dillon, into the gap.

‘What?’

‘Yes,’ Gran said through my teeth, tittering in my ear and making kissy-kissy noises.

The nurse glared at me, then at Dillon, ‘Well, in that case …’ and she stomped away to find a cleaner she could terrorise.

‘Jeez!’ Dillon said, rolling his eyes. ‘I owe you; bloody woman’s been ogling me since I got here. Never seems to be off-duty. Have you seen that Stephen King film?’ He smiled one of those crooked smiles you read about.

‘Look look look!’ Gran whickered at me, ‘Drop dead gorgeous!’

I cocked an appraising eye, ‘Well, actually …’

‘You saw it, the movie?’

‘No, I meant – anyway, how are you?’

He told me.

We laughed.

I stayed two hours.

I promised to pick him up and take him home when he was discharged, and cook dinner as he couldn’t use his hands that well. Turned out he could. Whole other story.

I moved in.

Gran stayed away for quite a while, probably to focus on another deviant descendant, then suddenly, back she came.

‘Cheating gigolo,’ she announced from behind the sofa. I nearly lost my takeaway. ‘Quantum research shove-it-up-your-jacksie conference, my Aunt Fanny,’ she said. Gran liked an expletive or two, albeit somewhat retro ones.

‘What do you mean?’

‘So-called research assistant – more bosom than brains,’ she said, ‘And the bosom’s not much to write home about, if you ask me.’

Gran was right; Rihanna, her name was, and I met her at the faculty Christmas do a couple of months later. There she was, goggling at Dillon, passing him wine and nibbles, chirping about quantum entangled whatnots and superstring that apparently has toes, and Dillon mesmerised by her heaving chest. Gran dug me in the ribs then grabbed both my ears. This, apparently, was a way of establishing a conduit between her plane of existence and ours. She shrieked at Dillon, ‘You cunning, conniving, slippery little wormhole, you!’ Then she rose into the air and loomed over Rihanna, ‘And you should know all about quantum, with your itty bitty IQ and your Schroedinger’s now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t brazz-ee-ere!’ Gran had evidently upgraded her vocabulary since our last encounter; she embarked on a cackle.

Then somebody with a beard that looked as though it might house a decent sized lunch, and a T shirt bearing the periodic table in swear words said, ‘Quantum phasing,’ in hushed tones like he was in a church. He gawped, simultaneously awestruck and terrified and Gran turned on him, treated him to a blast of old onions and fried liver right into his face. She clacked her teeth, ‘Phantom,’ she hissed, and hovered yellow fingers over his throat.

‘Cobblers,’ said Dillon. ‘No such thing as ghosts. Quantum phased reality shifts though, there’s mileage in that.’ His face went into intellectually distracted mode. It was short-lived. Gran loomed back in Dillon’s direction, ‘Quantum reality shift, my arse,’ she said. ‘Tell you what, though, let’s put it to the test.’ And she dropped the ceiling on him.

Some days it’s just Dillon sitting behind me on the train; sometimes it’s Gran; other times it’s the pair of them. They’re still arguing the toss about ghosts versus quantum universes and they can’t agree on suitable boyfriends for me, which threatens the long term survival of potential suitors. So Gran borrowed me a part-time dog for company. ‘Big bugger,’ she said, handing me his collars, ‘And he’s got what you might call ongoing duties elsewhere, but he’ll keep the riff-raff away; happy clappies, dodgy roofers, Tories.’

He is and he does because he’s got one helluva howl on him, but he’s a poppet and when all three of us are indoors together, we each have a head to pat.

(c) suzanne conboy-hill 2017

Collections in Progress: Fat Mo and a flock of tiny tweet tales

Fat Mo’s Taxi to Huddersfield and other stories of resistance. [working title]

Excerpt:

Mo considers the price she has paid, learning to be right. Merv would call it an investment – a cost for a benefit – and it occurs to Mo that in fact she has quite a portfolio of these. Most she has kept in her head, but there are others in the backs of filing cabinets and the bottoms of drawers. Mo reviews some of them: there are letters Merv does not want sent on; the envelopes he does want sent on, and the girl at a house in Huddersfield who pitied her but said nothing. These things are devious, subversive, and wrong; but they are wrong in a way that puts Merv in a different light, one where he is doing the paying.

Linked stories, The Mother’s Son and Home for the Queen, shine a light into some of those around her, including Merv.

Excerpts:

They only half do Christmas, he and Sam; maybe because they only half do their own origins, but he has presents for her and the first, safely concealed earlier in the day, is the one he really wants her to like. The others are backups in case she does not. He heads out to his car, a midnight blue Jaguar with leather upholstery, a built-in radio, and just enough of the right paperwork to fool the local idiot constabulary. He walks around it – twice clockwise and twice counter-clockwise – checking as best he can in the ditch water dribble that passes for street lighting, that it bears no sign of the night’s activities, runs a finger over the passenger door handle and peers at it; it seems clean. Then he unlocks the car and opens the door. The interior light comes on which makes his job easier but also picks him out should anyone be passing and not in enough of a bone-chilled hurry to just keep going. He judges the likelihood to be remote, given the derelict nature of the environs; nevertheless he needs to be quick. Merv looks around inside, practiced and expert, he has done it often. The Mother’s Son.

 

The pavements in the back streets are slippery with a layer of ice crusting the snow that has lain untroubled there since it fell two days ago. Pauline’s little ankle boots, zipped up at the front and with ridged rubber soles, cope nicely. Unlike the maroon patent sling-backs the girl over the road is wearing to totter along on goose pimpled blue legs like a frozen stork. Her skirt is nothing but a flimsy pelmet, a tiny wrap-around no more substantial than a bit of nylon curtain. Pauline tuts to herself. Where was this lass going, dressed like this? Home to her family is where she should be going. Probably she has been out all night at a Christmas party, drinking lager and lime or rum and coke, and ending up in a back bedroom under the coats with a complete stranger pulling at her pants. Pauline thinks she can even see the pants in question. Girls these days, no good would come of it, you only had to look at Mo. Home for the Queen.

A second group, set in The Royal Hospital – an asylum for the mentally defective that becomes an institution for the mentally handicapped, a repository for people with learning disabilities, and finally a crumbling warehouse about to decant its residents into the ill-prepared towns and villages nearby.

Excerpt:

Jeff’s feet were turning pink; the kind of pink where you couldn’t feel the floor any more. He lurched a heel forwards and rode it like a ballerina – arms out, trailing leg arabesquing behind him. For a moment, Jeff was an alabaster frieze, a pallid silhouette against tiles the colour of dirty bottles; and then he wasn’t. Fire broke out in Jeff’s knee when it hit the lino. A million volts lit up his cramped-back toes, two million went through his hip with its cracks and runnels no one knew were there, and knives chopped at his deep-freeze sausage fingers. ‘Big boys don’t cry,’ he said through a mouthful of gnarly bangers like you would never get from a shop. The Smell of Hollow Water.

The third group; less linked stories, more resonances of each other: an unnamed nurse plots revenge for half a lifetime, a deaf woman finds God on a beach, powerless Rosa retreats into dissociation and lets her hands take the responsibility, a young couple constructs a truth about the death of their baby.

Excerpts:

We’re placing bets again today; and Eric is jangling change in his pockets, like a showman at a travelling fair. Our plastic ducks are the inmates in solitary. They don’t come around often because, frankly, they’re a bit tame. All that ECT and chlorpromazine, aimed at curing what they didn’t have in the first place, rots their brains, eventually. Anyway, Eric is scrawling names on the board with a stub of white chalk; and we’re drinking tea that looks like stew, while he parades his contestants.

 

‘McTaggart,’ he says. An arm goes up, and Eric writes a name next to McTaggart.

 

‘Straker,’ says someone else; yuk yukking buddy-bravado. Suddenly, my idea starts to twitch in my head; a wick little grub, flick flicking its new body this way and that. I don’t know what to do yet; or how, but – ‘Give me Boothroyd,’ I say. ‘Two bob to kick off by lights out.’ The Justice Box.

 

Alice liked how the sea here didn’t just look bright, it felt bright too. As if every part of it were a little crystal that jiggled and jostled its neighbours as the wave went tumbling towards the shore, a chandelier on the move. That other sea was not bright at all; it rolled and heaved, smooth and dark and secretive. It drew you in with its slow thunderous mountains. One slip and you’re mine, it said.

Alice rummaged her toes through the shingle, exposing a scaled-down world of rivers and streams that hurried its cargo of sand grain boulders down the beach. How did this miniature sea feel about being so far away from home? Did it still jostle and jiggle down there between the pebbles, or did it try to stay silent and not be noticed until it was whole again and safe? The tide was on the turn, it would not have much longer to wait. Dancing Her Black Bones Home.

 

Ambiguity is the common thread; victims have lives and strengths, they’re not all sympathetic; perpetrators are sometimes also victims; contexts and the actions or inactions of small players can have undue impact, institutions bear responsibilities they do not always acknowledge. Nothing is wholly one thing and never another.

 

Tales in a Tweet [working title][illustrated]

Prompted by Edinburgh [Book] Festival’s regular twitter challenge; a word or phrase issued each morning and a tale-in-a-tweet to be posted by evening. Small triumphs of concision composed on the hoof.

Opening

A rip in the sky, an eye. Whose God was this? Whose prayers would condemn & whose exalt? New priests find opportunity amid fear.

 

 

 

Stone

Birthed in superheated majesty, pounded & shaped by tectonic tides; in modern ignominy it murdered a girl who loved the wrong man.

 

 

This tweet has only a placeholder for now:

Bone

There are 5 metatarsals in the human foot. In 2002 one of these damn near brought a country to its patellae. No sense of humerus.

Tales in a Tweet  currently totals sixty or so stories and is likely to be boosted by a further twenty plus during this year’s festival. Images take a little longer than twelve hours and will probably change. I have our local Creative Arts Group to thank for the imaginative stimulus and thinking space for these.

Post may be edited or amended over time as required.

Free Audio – poems & short fiction

Rapture by Phillippa Yaa de Villiers, notable South African poet, performance artist, and PhD candidate with Lancaster university. Rapture was First published in the 2013 anthology For Rhino in a Shrinking World (Ed Harry Owen).

Shadow by Lyn Jennings, poet and past Educational Psychotherapist for children with learning difficulties. Shadow is ‘dedicated to our neighbours at Shoreham with respect and sympathy for all who died or suffered in the Air Show disaster [West Sussex 2015]’.

Ducks in a Row by Suzanne Conboy-Hill, short story and flash fiction writer. This was also written after a Hawker Hunter jet ploughed through traffic waiting for the lights to change or standing on the verge watching the display.

Wood by Tracy Fells, short story and flash fiction writer with novels on the production line. Wood is a relationship story that sheds a different light on the idea of going back to one’s roots.

 

All material taken from the Anthology Let Me Tell You a Story (contributing editor, Suzanne Conboy-Hill) available from Lulu (print and ebook) and Amazon (print only). Listen to Ian McMillan’s foreword:

Green Buses: a story and an appeal

The four year old girl crouched in the footwell has never heard of christmas and wouldn’t care if she had. She stares at her hands and wipes them on the pink anorak that used to fit but now hangs more loosely from her shoulders.

 

The twelve year old boy next to her is angry and feels himself uprooted and displaced. He has heard of christmas but he blames the westeners who celebrate it for where he finds himself. His eyes tell simultaneously of a child’s dark despair and the blazing hatred of the adult he will become. He is already conjuring revenge in his head.

 
Their grandmother strokes his hair and nuzzles the girl closer to her feet but cannot be their mother. She too knows about christmas but finds it impossible to disentangle her feelings about it from their current plight. The flags of the people who mark it are often the ones which bring destruction, or which hesitate and do nothing to stop it. But some of those same flags fly proud at their destination which promises relief. Those people will be celebrating soon and what will that mean for her and the little ones?

 
Her son crashes into the seat next to her, scarf around his face, weapons bulking his khaki jacket. ‘We’re leaving,’ he says to his children, ‘Stay down.’ The gunfire stops, then starts again. The green bus starts then stops. There are two more starts and stops before the convoy eventually inches away along its assigned corridor of broken, bombed out buildings, abandoned family cars, and three blackened buses once as green as their own.

 
While his mother sobs silently into the chill air, the young father hunches over his children, a futile shield against snipers. He breathes them in and prays not to see their blood, but at least if they die today, the world will be watching. Soon it will be christmas day and then the countries of the puppet masters will be looking elsewhere. Their TVs will be full of joy and fun, their fridges stuffed with food, and their minds wiped of far-off troubles. No news is good news and they will not look for news.

 
Later, when they come back to pick up where they left off, believing somehow that the world will not have moved on while they were otherwise engaged, the father of children, widowed husband of a young wife, and son of a weeping mother, wonders what there will be of this fragile caravan for them to see. He hopes not ghosts. His son glances up at him and the father sees a ferocity burning in his eyes that he recognises. He bends to soften it, to say that there are good people everywhere in the world, but he cannot bring himself to promise it.

 

My thanks to an activist friend, who has spent much time volunteering among refugees at the Calais Jungle camp, for her comments on an earlier draft. She said no one she had met blamed Christians and so I have softened that reference. They do blame the West though, and I have taken licence to push that to the front in service of the message, which is that refugees and evacuees will still be in huge peril while most of us will be looking elsewhere until after the new year. If bombing and injury were not enough, starvation damages young brains, and emotional insecurity damages young minds. How can we hope for positive change when the next generations are so physiologically and mentally vulnerable? If you have a moment and a spare pound or so, please consider a donation to Save the Children for Syria or DEC’s Yemen crisis appeal. Thank you.

Four Twinkly Christmas Stories

CHRISTMAS CHAOS

fairy in cloudsClarice puffed out her cheeks, pink with the cold, and screwed up her eyes against the chill wind. She turned her face to the sky and peered through frosty lashes at the heavy clouds lumbering in from the coast.

‘Where are you?’ she called, hot breath forming its own tiny weather front above her nose as it hit the freezing air.

‘Come on in, Clar, you’ll catch your death.’ Mother.

Clarice stamped her feet, chilly in her spotted wellies despite the thick Huggy socks that hung pinkly over their tops.

‘But she promised!’

‘I know sweetheart, but you know fairies. I expect Santa’s got her working double shifts on all that last minute wrapping.’

Clarice knew when she was being sold a dummy. Seven she might be, stupid she wasn’t. She tugged at her hat and covered her ears, and then she tugged at the rope on her red plastic sledge and marched it across the tarmacked drive onto the lawn. The grass was flat, defeated by the wintry cold, and had scuffed up patches where Bugs, their scatter-brained Springer, had been excavating. The patches scraped the bottom of the sledge, making a screeeeek sound so Clarice picked it up, polished it off with her sleeve, and carried it to the centre of the garden. There, she positioned it so it was facing down the long slope to the trickling brook, sat herself on it with the rope in her hands, and waited. It would snow, Demelza had promised.

Demelza was a sprite, a wisp, a flitting insubstantial thing that Clarice could see, or sort of see, if she was looking a bit sideways and a bit upways but never if she was looking frontways. If she looked frontways, Demelza vanished and so did her drawings but luckily, Clarice could capture drawings in her mind, see them in the air, curling and glowing like neon after images. She could move them around, and she could make compositions with them. That’s how she knew it would snow today, even though it never snowed in Sussex on Christmas Eve. Demelza had given her a drawing that said so and she had copied it down and put it with all the others for proof.

Clarice sat making little dragon puffs into the air and recreating Demelza’s drawing around them while she flicked back and forth through her catalogue of inky designs and rocked in time on the plastic sledge . Now, any minute.

‘Clar, that’s enough, in you come.’ She heard the crunch of booted feet on the newly frosted grass, the scrabble of other feet skittering excitedly alongside. Dad had brought Bugs to soften the blow of denial.

‘But …’

Just then, three things happened.

Demelza returned so that Clarice stopped dead, her eyes rolled up, her grip on her small sheaf of papers loosened so that they fluttered onto the grass under her dad’s astonished gaze.

The wing of a butterfly in Rotorua also fluttered in its own time on a breeze that caught the world in its net.

And high above, the physics of winter magic built fractals out of raindrops and began to float them gently down to earth.

©suzanne conboy-hill 2010

 

 SANTA’S IQ TEST

lines of assorted xmas items‘If Santa really exists,’ Gary announced in the professorial monotone of his Asperger’s, ‘he will be able to read it.’

Trevor looked into the serious blue eyes of his nine year old son and took delivery of the bundle of papers. They were going shopping tomorrow; this had better be easy to figure out.

Later, Gary in bed and ritually counting the fluorescent stars on his ceiling, Trevor unfolded the letter.

‘Dear Father Christmas …’ it began, then nothing – just rows of black lines, some thick, some thin, some spaced out and some close together. Gary had spent hours doing this and he was meticulous so it definitely had meaning but what? Maybe there was a clue on-screen. Trevor called up Gary’s account, pushing aside some wrappers and labels stacked neatly next to the monitor. There it was, four pages, all lines. He zoomed in; Gary was a demon for detail, he could have hidden something in the lines. Trevor squinted at it. Nothing. Zoom out then; whoops, way too far. Hang on though, it seemed familiar. Trevor looked at the page, the stack of labels, back at the page and dawn broke – bar codes!  Gary had produced, with photographic accuracy, a bar coded present list as a digital challenge to Santa’s authenticity. Trevor checked the labels; a USB stick, a DVD of British birds, a Dr Who annual. Repeats for now but maybe not next year and he dreaded to think what fiendish tests his son might have devised by then.

©suzanne conboy-hill 2010

 

TIME LIKE THE PRESENT

photo of RAF cadetArthur inspected himself: shirt, pullover, trousers (with belt), and sock. Just the one sock. The other was stranded on the end of his foot like a piece of flotsam at high tide, a pixie hat of ruched wool with a holly pattern woven into it. Bugger! Arthur took a deep breath, coughed rousingly, and geared up for another assault. Rocking himself forwards in his seat, he rode the impetus towards his target, now illuminated by a sliver of sunlight angling in between the still closed bedroom curtains.

Aha – a bomber’s moon! Got the bastard in my sights, slight course correction at Knee Joint, Danny giving it everything in the rear gunner’s bay, RAT TAT TAT! Old girl had better hold out or we’re done for. And it’s a direct hit! Back to Blighty in time for tea!

He pinched the recalcitrant sock between finger and thumb and hauled it downwards and then upwards to dock with the cuff of his long johns. Three Six Three squadron counted home, all present and correct, Sir! He dropped back into the chair, huffing a little from the exertion, and closed his eyes for a moment, half a salute hovering in the air.

‘You decent, Arthur?’ It was Allie; cheery, bustly, and somewhat rotund due to her having a face like a starved puppy around people’s chocolate supplies. ‘Sarah’s all dressed up and ready for her date,’ she said, pulling back the curtains and eyeing up the biscuit tin Arthur kept on his dresser. He noticed but said nothing. Often, she would bring her tea in with his and they would share a dunk on a Saturday morning, but not today. Today was special. Arthur’s thoughts flickered like an old film, re-winding, cutting and splicing, bringing up the colour. A soundtrack crept in on syncopated soft shoe shuffling patent pumps. Jazz, boogie, jitterbug; all the girls in ration-shortened dresses and glowing with excitement at the prospect of meeting a handsome sailor or a soldier, or even an airman.

‘Need a hand out of that chair?’ Allie was standing, hands on ample hips and head cocked over to one side in professional evaluation.

‘Got rope and tackle?’ Arthur winked back. ‘Thought not. Right then …’ and he began rocking back and forth to gather momentum.  ‘Let’s see. How soon. I can reach. Take-off speed!’  And he was upright. Allie slid a hand under the blue blazer that had been laid out on the bed, military insignia neatly pinned to the lapel, and held it out behind for Arthur to slip his arms into.

‘I bet you were a right looker in your day,’ she beamed, turning him round and fussing like a proud nanny over a child in his new school uniform. She smoothed down the pockets and pulled the shining buttons towards their targets.

‘I bet Sarah had to fight off the competition, alright’. Arthur raised an eyebrow and mustered a twinkle. ‘Ready for your Christmas lunch then? Table for two, Sir, right by the window.’ She offered her arm.

‘Thank you, Allie, but not today,’ Arthur replied, looking not at her, but at the man in the mirror. ‘Today I will get there under my own steam.’

Face, shaved, no nicks. Check. Collar, crisp. Check. Tie, neatly knotted and centred. Check.

He felt in his pocket for the little box with its smooth edges and precious cargo. ‘You get on, I’ll be there in a minute.’ The man in the mirror looked back; blond hair slicked and brylcreemed into place under his precariously balanced cap, eyes ready to burst into life with the telling of a rambling story that might or might not be true, the faintest of smiles threatening to crack the carefully assembled military carapace supposed to add gravitas to his bare eighteen years. ‘Time to go.’

The young airman straightened his back, tugged down his uniform jacket, and patted his pocket for the twentieth time. Then, cap tucked under his arm, he made his way down the corridor into the hall with its flags and bunting, and across the crowded dance floor to the little wooden table for two hunched under the window. Good thing there was a decent blackout curtain; those eyes were surely the most sparkling he had ever seen.

©suzanne conboy-hill 2010

 

NORTH STAR

blurred lights‘Come on, prezzie time.’ Stella’s mother slapped a hat on Stella’s head and held out a tube of sunblock, ‘You’ll need it to go outside.’

‘I won’t because I’m not going outside.’

‘Please, just stop grumping, see if you can’t crack a smile?’

Stella crossed her legs in front of her on the bed and then folded her body on top of them.

‘Come on Stella, it’ll be fab.’

‘I hate this place.’

‘You don’t want your presents then?’

Stella’s foot beat a rhythm in the air like the tail of an irritated cat, ‘Not fair.’ Presents were all that was left of a proper Christmas. One that was cold and you could switch on your Christmas lights in the middle of the day, walk down the street at half past three in the afternoon and see everyone else’s trees twinkling through their curtains. Australia was stupid, it didn’t deserve to have Christmas. She crossed her arms over her head and hugged her ears.

‘Why did we have to come here?’

‘It’s where your dad and me are from.’

‘It’s not where I’m from.’

‘You don’t know that; what if it is? What if your birth family’s here, wouldn’t that be a thing?’

Stella thrust out a pair of raw-pastry arms and puffed an escaped strand of near-silver hair in her mother’s direction, ‘Because obviously, I’m a natural beach babe, said nobody ever.’ She retracted her arms and her mother waited, letting the heat of the moment dissipate before baiting a new hook, ‘There’s a package that looks like it’s from Mrs M.’

‘Ursi?’ Stella groaned, raised her head and leaned it back against the wall; now she’d have to give in, drag herself outside to where summer was ruining Christmas by being in the same place at the same time. She groaned again; was that even legal?

A few minutes later, hat rammed low over her forehead, sunglasses crammed like black bottle bottoms onto her face and a scowl leaking out from underneath, Stella scuffed onto the patio and slumped into a lounger near the table with the presents on it. The table was draped in red cloth with Ho Ho Ho printed along the white edging, and some flickering fairy lights, strung among the gifts, battled with the glare.

Stella rolled her eyes – Ursi would hate it. Her house was squat and dark all year, looking more like a derelict hovel than a home, but from the beginning of Advent right through to Twelfth Night there were lanterns among the tangled shrubbery, her front path was covered in frosty sparkles, and the windows glowed like hot honey. Most kids stayed away though, freaked by Ursi’s bright white hair and eyes that looked like they went all the way down to the bottom of the Arctic ocean. They called her a witch but Stella liked her so they called her a witch too which made Stella feel a kind of kinship. Ursi said Stella had an ‘old soul’ and they got on.

Hearing about the package tied an unexpected knot in Stella’s stomach, driving her eventually to get up from the lounger and mosey over to the table. She trailed a desultory finger over the gifts: several bore tags with her name on them; some large and boxy, others small and boxy, and a big thing that had ears individually wrapped in shiny red foil. But the one that drew her, that stood out from the rest, was a small package done up in bright white paper that had a blue tinge to it, making it look like a slab of ice. She picked it up; she didn’t expect it to be cold but she was disappointed nonetheless to find it was warm. Her name was clearly printed on the front.

‘When did you give her our address?’ she said, turning it over in her hands. The FROM label was a join-the-dots puzzle; a box with string flying off one corner and U.M scribbled in the centre. She squinted at it.

‘I thought you told her.’ Stella’s mother squinted at the label too.

‘I didn’t see her before we left – you never see her in the summer.’ Stella found the edge of the wrapping and pulled it open. There was a box inside which she set down on the table and opened. In it was an old iPhone, slightly battered looking but with all its bits and pieces. She switched it on; it said Hi, and it loaded a screen with just one app showing.

‘What’s that?’ Stella’s mother leaned in to take a look.

‘It’s that astronomy app, the one that shows you all the constellations and the space station and stuff.’ Stella thumbed it, tilted it up at the sky without thinking. Her mother tilted it down again, ‘Best try it tonight,’ she said.

Stella looked back at the downturned screen, it was barely in shadow but the display was astonishingly bright and clear – digitally penetrating the patio, the top soil, the earth’s crust and core, the ice and the tundra of the north, to show the night sky on the other side of the world arcing across it. She peered closer, shaded the screen a little; one of the stars was pulsing – the North Star, the beacon to homecoming sailors.

Stella pressed it, it expanded to fill the screen and kept expanding with dizzying acceleration; larger and larger, the world encompassed within the screen and the screen bearing down on hot suns, cold suns, comets and planets; then just one sun and one planet.

It plunged through the blue atmosphere, past snowflakes the size of islands, skimming the frozen waves, swooping alongside singing glaciers, and racing through glittering valleys, stopping only when it arrived at a small house, drifted deep into the snow but with a crisp clearing out at the front. There were lanterns all the way along the frosted path, and its windows glowed the colour of hot honey.

First published by EDF, December 2015 © suzanne conboy-hill 2015

Audio is here

‘Let Me Tell You a Story’ – the eBook version

book coverOut today in ePub format, Let Me Tell You a Story is now a download for eReaders with additional links to sound files.

Problems with the ePub format? Try Calibre’s free converter to make a MOBI file and email it to your Kindle account. 

‘God’s Scrubber’

“Valerie’s mother is nagging and she’s doing it, frustratingly, from under the screwed-up paper towels and muddy-looking wipes in the sluice so Valerie can’t dig her out. She’s doing her best with the unfinished business but it isn’t easy with the constant interruptions. This time though, despite the noises, she hopes she has succeeded because, a few yards away in the communal dining room, Pete is turning blue.”

Excerpt from ‘God’s Scrubber’, finalist in the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities’ Pen2Paper competition and free to read as a PDF from their site http://www.txdisabilities.org/pen-2-paper. Winners to be announced on October 30th.

A Soft Day by Anne O’Brien

“THE RAIN RUNS in muddy rivulets off the pile of earth beside his grave. No softening of the edges of this funeral. No fake grass discretely covers the mound, just a heap of mud, a pair of dirty spades, and two reluctant gravediggers in fluorescent jackets leaning against the neighbouring gravestone, silently willing us to move on so they can get the job done and head to the pub. Of course nothing will do the Ma but she has to wait until the last shovelful is put on. They pat down the soil with the backs of their spades as though they’re on a building site.
‘Don’t worry that it’s a bit high Missus. It’ll settle down grand in the next few weeks…’
Settle down on top of him and in time, when the wood rots and the earth seeps in, settle down until it kisses his face. I wish I’d kissed him now.
We place the wreaths on the grave as the rain buckets down,
‘Sincere condolences from all at Fahey’s.’ I tear the card off and stuff it my damp pocket before she sees it.”

Read on in ‘Let Me Tell You a Story’ where you can also hear Anne’s own narration by scanning a QR code.

Available from Lulu and Amazon

 

Meet the Anthology Authors: embarrassingly, it’s my turn

This anthology began as a small local project, which is why I find myself both editor and contributor, and it grew. The reasons behind it are here and they have to do with literacy and privacy, and the indignity of having things read to you when you’re an adult. This book provides a model of what could be done to alleviate those problems. More.