Wednesday, 14 October 2009


By Sam

Alice knocked and waited in the hallway lit by stark fluorescent lights. Along the lower stretches of the white walls there were black scuff marks left by rubber soles and bicycle tires. Over there a streak of ketchup from a little plastic sachet that was now stuck to the ceiling. Cigarette burns and takeaway menus littered the carpet. Alice knocked again. She had seen him cleaning his door with a J-cloth and a bottle of anti-bacterial spray the other day.

The door opened, slightly, and one half of Alan's face appeared. The cool, fresh odour of chemical fragrances escaped from his room; forest pine, summer breeze, winter fresh.

Hi, said Alice.

Hi, said Alan. Alan wore glasses, wire ones with rectangular frames that sat level on his face.

Can I come in? Said Alice. Alice also wore glasses, with swooping bright red plastic frames that tilted asymmetrically no matter how many times she adjusted them.

Alan opened the door fully and Alice went in, passing in front of Alan. Brightly coloured fabrics swished with the rolling of her hips and the hair that brushed Alan's face, wavy and thick like a lion's mane, smelled of something sweet and organic. Sandalwood and clove cigarettes, perhaps.

Alan stood and cleaned his glasses while Alice gathered her bare feet beneath her on the bed.

I love your room, she said, looking around her. Alan had many posters on his walls: Chicago skyscrapers rigid and correct, sports cars from the eighties whose lines resolved themselves into a sharp wedge. A Bridget Riley print, a mosaic of softly coloured trapezoids. The posters were evenly spaced and perfectly aligned, as though composed on a grid.

Alan's desk, arranged so that it was precisely perpendicular to his bed, held his computer monitor, engineering text books, a desk tidy and a pad of A4 lined paper. These elements too, were laid out in exact spatial proportion to one another. A biro lay a perfect inch from the pad of paper, parallel to the spine. The text books were laid on one another in descending size order, forming a neat ziggurat of mathematical principles, material behaviours and logarithmic functions.

The overhead fluorescent light was turned off, the room lit instead by spherical free-standing lamps that rendered everything cool and serene. Electronic music without lyrics was coming from the stereo, soothing and regular.

It's like a little oasis of calm, said Alice. She laughed, one fluid, shaking breast threatening to dislodge itself from her cleavage. Alan looked away as she readjusted her top.

Thanks, he said. I like to keep things a bit tidy, you know.

She watched Alan as he cleaned his glasses, his neat features sharpened by concentration. His shirt was square-cut and well-ironed. She imagined his body beneath it, taught pale skin without creases.

Maybe you could come and sort my room out for me. You know, rearrange it. Give it some Feng Shui, she said.

Alan looked up from polishing his glasses. Alice ran a hand through her unruly hair, pulled it into a certain position only for it to mutiny and spring back. A thigh was protruding from her skirt, a wild and expanding curve back towards her buttocks.

I don't really like touching other people's things, said Alan. Alice shifted position and readjusted her bra strap, a bright flash of mismatched underwear causing Alan to look away abruptly.

Oh no, it's all perfectly hygienic, said Alice. I'm just a bit messy. I just leave my clothes wherever I take them off, you know, she said. She laughed again, the warm flesh in her cleavage rolling like bathwater.

I have a laundry bin, said Alan.

That's good, that's admirable. I need to buy one of those.

Well, said Alan. You can always come in here. You know, to escape the mess.

It feels so tranquil in here you know, she said. It's so messy everywhere else. In the kitchen, the bathroom.

I don't go into the kitchen much.

I don't blame you, it's horrible. There are things growing in there. Alice stretched, her top riding up to expose a broad expanse of her belly, a small jewel glinting in the vortex of her naval. Alan polished his glasses.

Would you like to come to the pub? A few of us our going out, you know, having a few “beverages.” She made quotation mark signs with her fingers on this last word, skin tightening in the hollows of her armpits.

Oh, said Alan. I don't think so. I have a lot of work to get on with. He gestured towards his desk, its contents lying in regimented isolation from each other.

Go on, said Alice.

Next time, said Alan. Definitely next time.

Alice stood up, and readjusted her clothing, pulling down her rustling skirt and setting a bra strap back in place with her thumb. She went to the door, opened it and paused.

Next time? She said.

Definitely, said Alan.

Alice hugged him, his body remaining stiff against the warm chaos of her flesh that smelled of sandalwood and clove cigarettes.

Alice left.

Alan stood by the door, and looked around his room full of right angles. He walked over to his bed and examined the rumpled crater on his duvet where Alice had been sitting. He ran his hand over it, gently and comprehensively, drawing from it all of the heat left by Alice's body.

Saturday, 3 October 2009


By Ben

You have your back to me. I watch your back become smaller as you recede from me, towards the vanishing point indicated by the street’s parallel lines. One point perspective. The further you go, the more objects interrupt my view of your vanishing back. Lampposts, trees, cars, until eventually, you will disappear completely. I think about how if I were standing at the other end of the street, I would be watching your face growing larger. But I am here, outside my house, watching your back becoming smaller.

I have already learned not to bother trying to read anything in anyone’s face. We have become experts in controlling, to the millionth degree of subtlety, what our faces show, and what they hide. If I could look into your eyes now (which I can’t) or study the tension in the muscles around your mouth (which I can’t), I’d see whatever you decided to allow me to see. If I want a window to your soul, I’ll look at your back.

Example: The fullness of the backpack that you are wearing is unbearably eloquent. Your shoulders, I can see, are straining up against the weight of it. Whatever mementoes you decided to keep from these past few years are weighing you down. I don’t want to carry that kind of weight around, so whatever you’ve left behind, I’ll probably throw away. Most of it, anyway.

Next week I will be at a concert with two of our friends. In my rear pocket I will have your now unwanted ticket. Between now and then, the band will travel across a continent, growing larger and, presumably, more audible as they approach. In the time it takes them to do that, and to arrive on this island, to unpack their instruments and their gear and perform their sound check and strike the first notes of the evening, in that time, you will have receded entirely out of sight.

I will stand a little bit behind my friends, and I will read their backs. I will study the spine of my friend, a sharp-peaked mountain chain visible through the fabric of his impeccably cool t-shirt. I will see the back of my other friend, a back which hurts so badly she wants to cry, all the time, and yet she spends her time taking care of the people around her. Perhaps other people will look at my back, and if they do they will notice an imbalance, a terrific weight centred around one rear pocket.

As we watch the band and listen to their music, we will see other things retreating into the distance. Something in the music will remind us of science classes, when we were fourteen, learning about the inflation of the universe. We will remember something vague about every point accelerating away from every other point, and we will start to see it happening. I’ll see my friends accelerating into the distance, on their own unique trajectories and I’ll look down at myself and see every part of my body growing further and further apart. An arm vanishing over the horizon. A thought and a word going in opposite directions, becoming ever more remote from each other. From this point, in the middle of our twenties, we will even be able to see time becoming bigger and further away.

All that is still to come. I am still standing outside my house, still watching your back disappearing, and waiting for myself to start dissolving.


By Emma

Later, when the sun crashes gold through the leaves of this tree, he is going to kiss you. If you think about it now, it will seem utterly ridiculous. For one, he’s your best friend. And two, he’s infatuated with someone else. But three hours and eight minutes from now, he is going to kiss you.

You will climb the tree, putting your hands and feet the same places he does, shadowing his ascent. When he reaches his branch he will shift around on it and offer you a hand. You will let him steady you until you are safely wedged between the branch and the trunk, your legs dangling against the bark. As you lean back you will look up, and see the sky blue and white through the gaps. You will feel out of reach. Sunlight will filter through the leaves giving everything a citrus glow. Horse-chestnuts are the palest green this time of year, their spikes conical and comic-like. He will close his hand around one, then open it and test his fingertips against the spikes. At this point, you will only be thinking about his blood, and how red it will be if he pricks his finger. You do not know about the kiss that is going to happen in a few hours’ time. He will not prick his finger.

Your breathing will slow as you make contact with the tree. You’ll feel your spine melding with the trunk. Every time you look at him, his arms will be at a different compass point. They’ll be on the leaves, the branches, his knees, scratching his head, then up again, reaching for conkers. You will keep your own arms down at your sides, slightly back so that they are hugging the trunk behind you. You’ll feel safe. You’ll feel like nothing bad can happen while you’re there.

In twenty-four minutes’ time, he is going to look at you, and when he does, it will feel like you’re the centre of the universe, the horizon point that every line leads to. You will not understand this. You will think you’ve been mistaken. You will tell yourself you love each other because you are friends, and this will make things make sense.

After he looks at you, and after you’ve convinced yourself there was nothing in it, he will start a conversation about how long you’ve known each other, and will tell you things you did together that you’ve forgotten about completely. Like the time you broke into number four’s cellar through the coal hatch, and sat terrified in the dark for half an hour, your fingers pretending to be spiders. And the time you hid under your bed for so long that you both fell asleep, and he had to sneak out through the window to avoid being caught by your Dad. And the time you rode your bikes through the Nook and that cow just stared after you, and you pedalled with your hearts in your chests, pedalled for your lives.

In the course of this conversation, he will tell you things he felt at the time that you couldn’t have known. About how scared he was when he tested the bridge you made from twigs and the washing line. And about how he followed you home after a row, at a distance, just to make sure you got back safe. He will tell you all sorts of things that will make you realise there’s always been something there. That there is the shape of him in your life and vice versa. He will tell you all these things, and you will lean back against the tree and you will allow yourself to smile. You will tell yourself you are not entertaining any ideas about anything, just that you are having a nice time. And then you will rest your eyes on his face, and watch the lines change when he notices this, into a mass of upward curves. There will be something about his eyes that will hold you there, and as you’re held, you will be thinking about how his new haircut makes him look different somehow, and how you love that band on his t-shirt, and how when he put them on the mix-tape for you, he must’ve been scanning your brainwaves for all the feelings you’d been trying to find words for.

An hour from now, his hand is going to press flat against the tree just left of your temple. You will feel the heel of his hand against your hair, pinning it to the bark. He will be oblivious to this, and will keep his hand there for what feels to you like a long time. In this time, you will glance at his wrist and follow the blue veins as they disappear inside him. You will imagine his heart, seeing it as a diagram of four chambers beating quietly inside his chest. You will think of the chambers as rooms, and you will shrink yourself down into one of them and lie still, surrounded by oxygen. You will stay there, unnoticed, for what feels like forever.

An hour and fifty-two minutes from now, a bird will land in the upper branches of the tree, and you will open your mouth to say something about it, but he will press his index finger to your lips and silence you. You will watch the bird like that, his body angled over you, your breath condensing on his finger, for the entire four minutes, thirteen seconds it is there. When it flies away, the flapping of its wings will sound to you like your own heartbeat, and for a moment you will be afraid that your heart has been beating out loud all this time. He will catch that look and misread it, and will move his hand away from your lips and up over his head into a fake stretch. You will want to tell him it wasn’t that, but instead you will stay quiet. You’ll feel awkward for a minute, and then he will pull you into another reminiscence and you will both relax again. After twenty minutes has passed, he will find an excuse to rest his arm against you, his elbow touching a circle of skin on your knee the size of a two-pence piece, and you will not blink, you will not move.

He will say, two hours and twenty minutes from now, that he likes spending time in trees with you, especially this tree, and especially in conker season. And you’ll say ditto, and then add something like, how you like spending time off the ground with him, and you’ll hope it sounds like you’re being swept off your feet. You’ll both be aware that there are words underneath your words, that the things you are saying contain a secret code. You will try to unlock this code through the semaphore of your bodies. You will notice your limbs slowly migrating towards him, millimetre by millimetre, closing up the distance. His body and yours will be in a constant state of overlap. And him kissing you will start to feel like a possibility. You kissing him will be your pervading thought.

You will think about hearts again, trying to remember the names of the different sections. You’ll hold the word Ventricle on your tongue, and it will feel like a cross between honey and a sherbet sweet. You will think about the relation of things and of the shapes you make in each others days. You will try to remember the last time he mentioned the girl he has a crush on, and will realise he hasn’t spoken about her in a long time, and this will send a jolt through your chest which will become a smile.

Three hours and six minutes from now, he will ask you what you’re smiling about, and you will just shrug and tell him you have no idea. He will be so close to you that you will feel the tension of his out-breath. It will be like he is trying to say something, but all you’ll hear are body sounds; the soft push of air through his mouth, the quiet wetting of lips. He will smell of salt, and strawberries, and wood, but you will not be certain if the wood is him, or if it is the tree. From the angle of his limbs, it will seem to you that he is part of the tree, and an image will come to you of him with leaves in his hair that will cause you to reach out your hand to touch him.

He will not respond, at first. You’ll bring your arm back down to your side as slow as time-lapse, hoping the movement won’t register, hoping he will think you’ve been like that all along. A minute will pass, and you’ll still be thinking about the feel of his hair between your fingers. You won’t notice the acceleration in the rise and fall of his chest. You won’t see the sparks firing deep inside his ribcage, in the very top corner of a knot of muscle you have drawn a thousand times, but are only just beginning to understand.