Sunday, 20 October 2013

The Curse by Maria Hummer

Read by Ann-Marie Taaffe
If you kiss me, I said to him, I become beautiful. I swear it.

He looked at me across the bar table. Hundreds of men I’ve told this, hundreds of old, young, fat, skinny, brave, hopeless men, and he was the first to look me in the eye and not say a thing. His eyes didn’t linger on the warts in the corners of my mouth, the sores on my cheeks and my neck, the dull and thinning hair I tried to hide under wide-brimmed hats.

What do you mean? he asked.

My heart sped. I’d never gotten this far. I scrambled through my purse for a picture taken of me on my sixteenth birthday, carried with me these seven years since. I passed him the picture, proof that my hair once shone like honey on toast, that my lips had sparkled like freshly washed strawberries, all on their own, without the aid of makeup. Now I have a closetful of cosmetics and spend hours each morning trying in vain to make my appearance less shocking.

This is you? he asked.

I braced myself for laughter, for horror, for embarrassment. Some reaction. But he just looked at me.

Petra by Brindley Hallam Dennis

Read by Sean Hebert

They say there are two black spots, right in the centre of our circle of vision, that we never see: where the optic nerves join the back of our eyeballs. We overlook them, don’t notice them, fill in the detail from what we can see all around.

When Steve told me that he and Jenny had parted I got straight into the car and drove over to see him. I could have phoned; I could have e-mailed; but I wanted to hear it from his own mouth. I wanted him tell me. I wanted to know what had gone wrong.

There was a For Sale sign on a post in the front garden. I said, you're selling the house. He said, yes, that's why there's a For Sale sign in the front garden.

I began to think maybe the e-mail or the phone call would have done as well. I said, where's Jen? He said, she's gone to stay with her mother, until things are sorted out. I wanted to ask what went wrong, but I wanted more for him to tell me without asking. What he didn't tell me was that he was planning to go away. The first I heard of that was about a fortnight later, when Jen called.

Steve's body had been found in Scotland.

A Kind of Mercy by Matthew Brolly

Read by Hin Leung

When the beast calls, one must follow.

It was cold before the snow, that I do remember. Mummy would snuggle us warm with knitted jumpers, frayed scarfs and mismatched woolly hats then send us to school. It was cold then but now; now there is no school.

When the beast calls one must follow.

We learnt this early on. What you must remember about the snow is that there was no prelude, no warning. One day there was the world, the next the snow.

It started like any snowfall does, miniscule flakes littering the ground. Mummy said, ‘see how they drift like tiny ghosts?’

‘Friendly ghosts,’ I asked.

‘Of course.’

A week later and the ghosts were still falling. Six months later and the world was a vast, white snowscape. There were over a hundred of us then, a small compact community working together in relative harmony. The snow was a hindrance but manageable.

God Hates Alcoholics by John Robertson

Read by Michael Rogers

My campaign to rid Hong Kong's streets of drunks was inspired by Pastor Fred Phelps. Phelps, you may know, is the man behind the Westboro Baptist Church's infamous “God Hates Fags” campaign in the US. Aided by members of the church as well as those of his large family, he's made a name for himself over the last two decades by leading anti-gay protests across the nation. He and his followers obsessively show up at any event that they deem to be linked to homosexuals and picket it with signs bearing slogans such as “No Tears for Queers”, “Turn or Burn”, and, most frequently, “God Hates Fags.” Their self-described mission is to alert everybody to the evils of homosexuality as laid out in the Bible and “spread God's hate.”

After reading about the Westboro Baptist Church's activities, I decided to start a similar campaign directed at an issue closer to my own heart. You see, I was an alcoholic in my younger years, before finally being born again and swearing off booze at the age of 35. Since then, I've come to hate the sight and smell of alcohol anywhere. But more than that, I hate the sight of drunks. For a long time I couldn't enter the streets of Lan Kwai Fong or Wan Chai without wanting to vomit. On any given visit there, I'd have the rare distinction of being the most sober as well as the most puke-prone person around.

The Ties That Bind by Liam Hogan

Read by Dan Levia

Every morning, Margaret – Maggie – Henderson, would stand in the hallway of their apartment, knot her husband's tie, and send him out into the Wicked World of Advertising. Every evening, she would cheerfully greet him home with a hug and a kiss and a careful inspection of the tie for any tell-tale signs it had been removed or loosened.

Maggie had made it quite clear the day she consented to be Alfred's wife that she did not trust him - or indeed, any man - to be faithful. That she consented nevertheless was in large part due to the promise she made that day, and the glimpse of fear in Alfred's eyes when she solemnly told him of that promise.

Alfred's colleagues would tease him and his refusal to remove his tie, whenever they managed to cajole him down to one of the many local pubs and bars for an after-work drink. “Who wears the trousers?” they'd ask, but it was a question he was in entirely no doubt as to the answer of. He would calmly put up with their ribbing, and they would look for loopholes in his domestic arrangements. This was not with the intention of convincing Alfred to be unfaithful, but merely the sort of good humoured banter that any group of men might engage in over a few pints. They would suggest he really ought to be able to tie his own ties. He'd say he could, but he couldn't tie the ties his wife could tie. She knew, apparently, 85 distinct knots, whereas he knew a mere two – the Half-Windsor and the Schoolboy. And his wife was very careful never to use those.

Faith by Lizzy Harries

Read by Sin Gwamanda

Faith was not an ordinary child, for she did not possess that fearlessness inextricably linked to childhood. Faith was afraid and fear pursued her like a dark cloud.

Faith was not an ordinary child. A calm, if colic baby. But colic turned to melancholia. Calm became concerned. Her disconsolate eyes and downturned mouth betrayed the weight of apprehension on her slight, sloping shoulders.

It became manifest that Faith’s quirks were compulsions, her habits obsessions. I met Faith when she was four. A curious patient, erroneous and anxious.

She feared the sun and on the brightly lit days of her childhood would go outside only if forced and only when shrouded in duffel coat and balaclava and clutching an umbrella. This was how she was clothed upon entering my office on the hottest day of the year. That morning she had left the house with her mother. Reaching the front gate, she had turned and walked back to the door, carefully trying the handle, first with one hand, then with the other, as she did every time she went out.

Faith came in and hovered by the door, clasping the handle with alternating, nervous hands. She edged her way around the square of light cast onto the floor through the window to settle on the green beanbag in the corner, away from the wide reaches of the sunshine. Faith was frightened.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Pain & Pleasure - chosen stories

Lineup below! We've got 8 thrilling stories for you on October 28 - venue has now been confirmed as XXX Gallery. 8pm start time. Don't be late - there are only 40 chairs this time (of course, you're welcome to bring your own too, it's all the rage with OAPs).

Costumes not mandatory (but appreciated).

A Thursday by Erika Ainslie
Afterwards by Vishal Nanda
Painhood by John Robertson
Inverto-emo-intergaugearia by Daniel Bird
Payment by Alison Willis
Splosh! by Paul Blaney 
The Effects of Late Winter Morning by Melissa Bertolino