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Saturday, 29 September 2007

Billy -- by Tonyellis


It was once said of the infant Billy Parker that he could fill the Albert Hall with emptiness. This was said by Billy’s uncle Dave, whom you are not to suppose to be an especially cruel person. He had been the only member of the extended Parker family to go to University and felt obliged by this singularity to contribute some wittily contrived conceit to any conversation he happened to be part of. Had the present discussion turned upon a more felicitous aspect of Billy’s nature, you can be sure that he would have spoken equally hyperbolically in his praise. A comforting thought for a seven year old, had he only been aware of it.

It was, in fact, something of a rarity for such a conversation even to be taking place, hinging as it did on Billy. It was generally felt, when anybody did feel anything about Billy, that he lacked personality; presence; whatever it is that makes us stand out in the world. When the family stories were relived for the entertainment of visitors, Billy’s role tended to be forgotten. The other two children, Ken and Maria, had only each other to fight for protagonism as the stories were recounted. If Billy ever raised an objection to this brazen usurping of his meagre contributions to the Parker family mythology, no-one ever heard him.

Not only were the rules of history thus violated. Even vocabulary was changed when referring to Billy. While other children’s’ existence was acknowledged by such everyday verbs as ‘be’, ‘arrive’, ‘come in’ or ‘approach’, Billy would ‘lurk’ or ‘sneak up’; his sudden coming to notice often causing no little alarm to the victim.

At school too, Billy failed to call much attention to himself. Were it not for the attendance records assiduously kept by most of his teachers, Billy could have committed the perfect truancy, had he so chosen. His form teacher, not insensitive to such behavioural problems would often offer an encouraging “speak up, boy”, echoing his mother’s kindly advice to “put yourself forward a bit more.”

Between the ages of eight and eleven, Billy became almost entirely invisible, at least to the adult world, and had begun to develop a taste for this. Other children were still aware of him at this stage, although they rejected his attempts to introduce ‘The Invisible Man’ to their repertoire of playground games on the justifiable grounds that there were no clearly defined roles left for them to play, and since neither Cowboys and Indians nor Commandos and Germans were to Billy’s less boisterous tastes, he began to slip beneath their notice too.

If I say that, by the age of fourteen, Billy could pass entire days without saying much more than “here, miss” (sometimes being forced to repeat this several times) during the calling of the register, you might think that I have painted a rather bleak picture of Billy’s existence in those days. However, not all was darkness, for three reasons.

At home his more visible and voluble siblings were far easier to find when some odious task like going to the shops or changing the cat litter was required. At school he was the only one of his male peers to leave without any personal experience of corporal punishment; an achievement almost impossible at that time. Once, stung by a classmate’s accusation of goodness, he had attempted to break this unbeaten run, launching a paper aeroplane in full view of his famously irascible geography teacher. This act of rebellion was met by a rather puzzled frown and the admonition “don’t be stupid, boy.”

Secondly, he began to develop almost supernatural powers. His knowledge of family affairs was second to none. Not only did he predict Uncle Dave’s divorce months before the shocked respondent received a letter from his wife’s solicitor, he could also advise Ken and Maria when their whining Christmas present campaigns had borne fruit, sparing them any further efforts to appear deserving. The gratitude and lionisation this brought him at home was very occasionally granted him at school, too; most famously when he became the only one to realise the schoolchild fantasy of obtaining a copy of an exam the day before its appearance on class 4E’s desks. Finally, he even gained a small group of admirers who joined in his now more sophisticated version of ‘The Invisible Man’, known as football dodgems. This game inside a game required one always to be where the ball was not, accurately judging the trajectory of each pass so as to be able to run away from the target area. Great skill was necessary since the rules stated that neither the players of the official game nor the overseeing sports teacher should become aware of the game within. Each unwilling touch of the ball would earn a minus point.

Billy’s third advantage was that he had begun to write at an early age, using the insights gained from invisibility to produce work considered by his English teachers to be extremely observant for his years. By the time he left University he had written his first novel, a fairly well received science fantasy work about a future world whose immortal inhabitants were unaware of each others’ existence, until a prince from another galaxy arrived to enlist them for a war to defend his world from annihilation.

As the fashion of the day sent thousands of his generation scurrying to therapists, where they found themselves to have been the victims of all manner of abuse, Billy stayed home and continued writing, gaining a wider audience for his now more serious works; so serious that he had to change his name to William for his public appearances and his wife.

Sadly, as his reputation waxed, his powers waned; until one day I discovered that they had disappeared altogether. I went to ask him for my pocket money. “Jesus Christ, Billy, don’t ever sneak up on me like that again!”


Thursday, 27 September 2007

Poems Not To Be Read Aloud: 6 -- by File



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Saturday, 22 September 2007

Poems Not To be Read Aloud: 5 -- by File



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Friday, 14 September 2007

Lullaby -- by File


He peered into the musty room, he’d forgotten how dark it was, how small.

“Hi Mum” he called.

“Andy!” The shrill reply, she came rushing in.

“Andy! Oh!” She fussed and flapped around him, quivering with nervous excitement.

He’d known it was going to be like this, he didn’t mind, he’d been away in the city for over a year now and hadn’t been back in all that time.

“Alright Mum, enough already” he laughed and so did she, her red rimmed eyes glistening, overflowing.

“How are you? What have you been doing? You must tell me everything…tea’s almost ready, there’s a bit of your favourite cheese, your Dad’ll be back in a minute, oh Andy…” she hid her face.

“Oh Mum, give it a rest” he went to hug her this time and when they parted she examined his face and could see now how much he’d changed.

“Are you eating enough Andrew, you look thin.”

Life was hard in the city in those days, you had to keep your head down, you took any scraps you could get and you were grateful for them.

“I’m fine Mum, cheese you say?”

He knew she’d feel better if she was doing something and she pottered about getting everything ready for tea and never let up with a scattershot barrage of wonderings and daintily loaded questions. He stretched out in the warm living room, nestled in the familiarity, only half listening, half just being there.”


A little later, he’d turned to see his Dad standing in the passageway, a study in firmness.

“Andrew.” He’d said with a perfunct nod, eyeing him carefully.


He got up quickly and went over, paused, was it still ok to hug?

There was a moment while they sort of touched each others arms and Mum looked on, her head on one side, smiling, it felt like all the pieces were back in place.

They talked non-stop over tea hardly noticing their fare. As evening settled and the questions had been batted about for long enough their contentment had spilled over into nostalgia. They sat back with their full bellies and reminisced about the time of the floods, Bo the old black cat and when Aunt Beatrice had come to visit.

“Hmm, that old trout” Dad had said with tight lips and Andy and his Mum had shared a complicit glance and restrained chortle.

“Ooh!” said Mum “I’ll never forget that day you came running in here like a bolt out of the blue. That mean old cat was hot on your tail shrieking and spitting. You looked like you’d seen a ghost! Ha ha ha!”

Andy straightened for a second as the sudden memory slapped him hard in the face.

He’d been shocked to the core, he remembered now burying himself into mother’s warmth and shaking for a good while after, but he’d forgotten all of that.

She reached across now and tenderly ruffled his brow.


Dad woke up with a snort, he’d been dozing off easily of an evening these days. Mum was shelling peanuts; crik crak, and Andy was lost in thought, humming.

“Orr Oww Eee Oww Eee O” he kept repeating the same slowly lilting bar over and over, trancelike in the dim light.

His Dad cleared his throat a bit “Hgh, what’s that tune you’re singing Andy?”

“It’s your song Dad.” He sang up a little.

“Orr Oww Eee Oww Eee O.”

“It’s nice, but it’s not my song, I don’t know that one.”

“Come on Dad, you sang it to me every night, every night before sleep, I remember you know!”

“Not me, must have been your mother.”

“Not me love, it’s nice though.”

Andy pricked up, starting to furrow between his eyes.

“Oh, very funny ha ha.”

“Don’t know what you’re talking about” said his father “I used to go out for a check around after you’d gone to bed…”

The son looked between his Mum and Dad in consternation, jaw slack and wobbling…


“Perhaps it was your imaginary friend dear?” suggested his Mum kindly.

“No, Mum it was real. Every night for years, I remember every one… Orr Oww Eee Oww Eee Oooo, just like that, on and on and then it would go all dark and …and…I’d wake up in the morning.”

He was awake now, his head cocked, could he have imagined it, so much of it?

“Hm” said his Dad “Well, I’m gonna check around outside before bed, it’s getting late you know…”

After his Mum had said goodnight he lay awake for a long time in the silence and the dark, counting breaths, remembering. Slowly fatigue spread, soothed him and he started to loosen, to drift….


“Eee Ooo Orr ….”

Andy’s eyes snapped open. Darkness.

He blinked and listened furiously till his ears rang.


Eventually he smiled slightly to himself, a wan smile, he turned over keeping his arms in tight.

Very slowly the nothingness seeped back into him, lazily his thoughts began to roam again, to fade, his breathing calmed, his arms relaxed he fell back to still sleep.

“Oww Eee Orr, Eee Oww O” gently phrased melody recycling “Eee Orr Eee”

A carousel turns in the shadows, a ballerina pirouettes alone on stage, an open music box on an old dresser. Spiraling …

“O Oww Eee Orr Eee” simple notes dancing slinking, smoking…

Smoke! He flashed awake again, heart pumping, sniffing keenly. Fire?

Nothing again, but a closer nothing. The walls seemed to be just inches from him, he could feel his reflected breath on his face. This room was too small for him, now oversnug, he’d grown, he’d claimed every corner a long time ago, sucked out all the air.

Hot, but there was no fire, the heat was inside trying to get out. Burnt memories surfacing, something…

And nothing, in spite of the whirling searching it was the lack of anything that kept bringing him back to the sparse bedroom. The pointed silence and the weight of the dark air pressing…

He turned over and over, fretting,

The mustiness here had acrid tones settling on him like floating embers. The black specks making layers on him as he lay, a warm blanket, the still air, heavy air, heaviness pressing him into his bed. Heavy eyes softening the dark, a plume of shadow…

A dark net; hung in slow moving water, black silk dancing sensuously in the corner by the door.

“Eee O Oww Eee”

Part of him could feel the sound as vibrations in the walls.

“Orr Eee O Oww Eee”

Part of him was washing, waving with the undulating whisp.

“O Oww Eee Orr”

He saw a thin green crescent glint on one side.

A blue crescent on the other side split a little. Andy was weightless in mist, blue crescent…

The crescents widened, wings on black holes, two black slits, the softly billowing background, the waves…

Suddenly Andy was wide awake.

The blue, the green, looking at him. Old rotten flesh snagged in sharp white teeth. The low growl that subverted the little room, the dizziness, the stench of intensity …CAT!!!

Eyes almost popping out of his head, nostrils wide straining, an ancient terror dragged barbed claws through Andy’s sinews, his lungs. He tried to breathe and couldn’t, felt the rushing blood in his head. Frozen, looking directly into those evil eyes, looking back at him. The tune still echoed patiently but the growling was growing, seeping, filling…

“Eee O Owww…”

…getting hard to hear, building, throbbing, spreading...

Andy choked and gasped a pocket of air, immediately snapped his body out of bed and into the corner, eyes locked in front of him.

He stayed very still, there was nothing there.

He waited and waited. Then he took the step over and looked all around, under the bed, twice, three times. Nothing again, he was going insane, he’d smelt its breath on his face, tasted it, could still taste it.

After a long time he sat down on the bed with acid burn in his chest like voices from the grave.

He thought around and around it all, he’d remembered that cat from his youth, with the one green eye and the one blue, Bo. But he’d not been seen for years, how did he get in here? Why didn’t he just attack me?

Andy shuddered and twitched and kept a vigil through the rest of the long flat night. He’d heard the song again a couple of times just as he was starting to nod, each time he’d switched on again immediately and it had stopped.


Eventually he’d heard his Mum shuffling about getting breakfast ready.

He emerged from his room without a word and went to sit down. He was exhausted pale and still shaking nervously.

“Oh!” his Mum was surprised to see him there; she hadn’t seen him come in.

“Morning dear, did you sleep well?”

Andy opened his mouth but had nothing to say.

“Er..well, let’s get you something to whet your whistle, won’t be a moment.” A little bleary herself she hadn’t noticed her son’s full body bed head, his staring eyes or the twitches.

He sat there drained, let, feeling like a snake skin.

“What ever happened to Bo Mum?”

“Bo? That mean old cat?”


“Well, he … well the man… that was a long time ago Andy, what made you think of him again? Do you still get those nightmares?”

Andy saw her for the first time that day,


“Oh, when you were very young you used to have the most terrible nightmares about him, don’t you remember? It was just after …well, just after…when he’d been bricked up…” she tailed off.

A shiver cracked down Andy’s spine, something long forgotten, something sharp remembered, something darker.

“I always felt bad about not going in to you, you know, but your father said it was for the best…”

He suddenly felt the air empty around him, the real distance.

Not just now or last night but all those long nights, a trembling shoot before that primal terror. He realized he’d forgotten them, the solitary nights when he’d learned not to hope, abandoned even by memory, till now.

The toll of the legion feverish minutes came crashing back down on him. He slumped.


He’d planned on spending another night with his folks but he just couldn’t go through it again and strangely this didn’t feel like home anymore, or not his anyway.

“Are you sure you and Dad will be alright here, Mum?” She’d given him some Cheddar to take back with him, he was taking his time looking around the place.

“Oh we’re fine here Andrew” she beamed, a tear on her cheek “We’ve always felt at home here, like there was a sort of presence, you know?”

He held her in a long blank stare then held her very close for a moment, told her to say bye to Dad for him.

Outside, sitting in the gutter, looking back up at the old house, his long white whiskers fluttering in the breeze, pink tail flat out behind him, he tried to come to terms with it all and couldn’t. He thought he caught a dark shape moving in one of the dark windows, he shivered and quickly averted his gaze. He shook himself briskly and the cool morning dew flew off his mousey fur.

He set his pink nose towards the dirty city and started at a good pace.

It was time to get back to his future, he’d decide later what would happen with his past and as he thought that, he felt an awful sense of déjà vu.

for George


Monday, 10 September 2007

Poems Not To Be Read Aloud: 4 -- by File



[Yep, you'll need to click on the pic to read it]


Friday, 7 September 2007

The River Road -- by Zephirine


“Ellen, Ellen! Come here, look!”

Ellen looked round from cleaning the stove. Her mother-in-law’s tone and tension made her move quickly across the room, her long skirt catching the little stool and nearly knocking it over.

The clock struck four as they stood together and looked out of the kitchen window towards the dusty road which ran alongside the river and past the back of the house.

They watched the figure walking slowly up the road towards them.

“It is him.”

“It must be.”

“He must have got leave.”

But although as the figure got closer it was unmistakably her husband, Ellen didn’t run out to meet him. Something was wrong with him, the walk was different, the brisk farmer’s vigour gone from his movements. She watched.

Albert walked slowly, steadily, up to the open back door, paused on the threshold. Brown-haired, solidly built, his khaki uniform discoloured with dust from the road.

His face was blank.

“Well, we didn’t expect to see you,” said his mother, trying in vain to keep the fear from her voice as both women looked at him with the same thought: he was back, but he was mad. Or at any rate, absent in mind.

Ellen went over to him, put her arms round him. He was reassuringly solid, his cheek rough with stubble, but he stood still in her embrace without responding. She stepped back.

“Sit down, have a cup of tea,” she said, for lack of anything else to say. “You must be worn out.”

Mrs Martin thought as she poured the tea that perhaps this was what they called shell-shock. He must have seen terrible things, it had affected his mind; he would heal, now, in the country.

Still he had not spoken, or kissed either of them, and now he went, not to a chair, but over to the wall and sat down on the floor, forearms propped on his knees in the ancient pose of the soldier resting on a march.

Ellen took his tea, but he made no movement to take it. She bent down and put it on the floor between his feet.

His mother said: “You just sit there, then. We’ll get on.”

She went back to the dishes and Ellen started cleaning the stove again, but neither of them had any idea of what they were doing. Their whole awareness was concentrated on the still shape sitting there, leaning back against the wall, the untouched mug of tea growing cold on the floor.

The dishes clattered as Mrs Martin finished washing and began to dry them. Ellen finished the stove and began, unnecessarily, to polish the kettle.

After what seemed like a long time but was actually about ten minutes, Albert got up, carefully, as though he ached.

Then, as he walked past her without expression, Ellen saw the bullet hole in the back of his tunic, surrounded by a little cloud of blood. About where his heart would be.

And then he walked slowly out of the door and disappeared.

Mrs Martin had seen it too.

She was in time to catch Ellen as she fainted, and help her onto the big chair by the stove.


Both women cried for most of the rest of the day. He had been Mrs Martin’s only surviving child, the man of the house since his father died when he was thirteen. Ellen had known him since they went to school together at six years old.

“What will we do without him?” she asked. Meaning not: how will we run the farm and make money? but : how will we get up in the morning and put one foot in front of the other?

“I don’t know, love. I don’t know.”

Eventually, exhausted, they went to bed early. They were tired enough to sleep. They did get up in the morning and put one foot in front of the other, sustained by the routine of work which had worn them both down since he went off to the war. Cows to milk, chickens to feed, horse to muck out, house to clean.

Ellen felt weak and confused, Mrs Martin felt disconnected from her own body carrying out the daily tasks. By the afternoon they had both run out of strength and had to stop.

They sat in the big kitchen and had some tea, and a biscuit. For the first time they spoke about Albert’s appearance yesterday. He must have been shot, then, at about the time they saw him. Mrs Martin had heard of such things before, the bereaved having a vision of their loved one coming to tell of his or her death. But how had he been shot in the back? Perhaps the Army would tell them, though Mrs Martin doubted it. He would not have been running away. Albert would never have run away.

The clock struck four as Mrs Martin took the cups and plates to the sink. Out of habit she glanced out of the window, and Ellen, who was by the always-open back door, heard her gasp as she dropped the crockery into the sink. She looked where her mother-in-law was looking, out along the river road.

They watched the figure walking slowly up the road towards them.

This time they did nothing.

They stood still, together, clutching hands tightly, and watched Albert walk up to the door, pause on the threshold, come in, sit down by the wall and rest his forearms on his raised knees.

They waited. He sat, for about ten minutes, and then got up carefully, painfully, and walked to the door, his bullet-hole still there red on his back, out of the door and disappeared.

After a long time Ellen whispered: “Why did he come back? We know, now. Why?”

Mrs Martin shook her head, uncomprehending.


That evening they were silent, beyond tears and filled with a new fear that neither of them expressed.

Neither slept, and the next day they avoided each other’s eyes, working harder even than usual, trying to get tired so they would stop thinking, but making clumsy mistakes and dropping things, bumping into furniture.

As the afternoon progressed, they were in the big kitchen as always, and both trying not to look at the clock.

As four o’clock struck, there was a long moment of stillness between them, and then it was Ellen who walked decisively to the sink and looked out of the window. She stood very still for a moment, and the blood had drained from her face when she turned back into the room to Mrs Martin.


The older woman stared back at her, the fear realised. Now both of them somehow knew that, for some reason, they - the three of them - had been sentenced.

“It’s going to be every day, isn’t it?”

Ellen nodded mechanically. “Yes. Every day.”

Every day.

Mrs Martin saw her own emotions reflected on her daughter-in-law's face. She went to join Ellen by the sink, putting an arm round her but feeling her own lack of strength or reassurance.

And could not prevent her gaze from moving out of the window to where the dusty soldier trudged lonely up the river road towards the house.


Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Poems Not To Be Read Aloud: 3 -- by File

Indefatigable Packaging - Fatigable I


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Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Poems Not To Be Read Aloud: 2 -- by File


No Credits


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Sunday, 2 September 2007

Poems Not To Be Read Aloud: 1 -- by File



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