One of Them

The faces drifted in and out of focus, twirling and spinning until they became a blur of colours with a lack of any distinguishing features.

In the end, they were all the same. Hair colour, skin colour, eye colour, lipstick, eyeliner, moustaches, beards … whatever. They were all the same.

Laying in the mud, I dared to raise my head enough to see their distorted faces. I did not need to be able to recognise any of them. It was what they said that defined them, but they never said anything I had not heard before.

Pathetic.

Loser.

Waste of space.

I did not need them to say it to me. I had learnt these things long ago. I if I wasn’t pathetic, wasn’t a loser, wasn’t a waste of space, then this wouldn’t keep happening to me. Everywhere I went, every school I attended, it was always the same. They were always there, with their unrecognisable faces and their sharp words.

It was nothing to do with them. It was me, I was the one who was wrong. As their faces twirled and span, they became part of a collective, the same group of people. I, meanwhile, was alone, recognisable and vulnerable, easy to spot in a crowd.

To change, I had to become a blur. I had to become one of them.

The mud smeared on my face hid me a little, and that was where my disguise – my process of blending in, of joining them – would begin.

111.

Curious – a wonderfully vivid poem.

february stationery

I run my tongue around the back of my teeth
pushing the perceived space underneath my gums
and being surprised when my teeth hold fast

I’ve had a repeated nightmare, intrusive thoughts
about my teeth coming out; since this started
and I know that in a list of most common dreams
your teeth falling out would come right under nudity

But hear me out as I pretend again that I am special

Do you remember the jagged edge of your teeth
as they dangled, held in only by nerves and roots?
I do. I remember pushing, prodding, twisting
cutting my tongue open on the edge only to
give up at the last second


But I would do it, constantly, until I fell asleep

and perhaps in the night too, as I woke with
a pillow full of blood, scrabbling to find the tooth

And it isn’t that I want my…

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The Best Christmas Present Ever

‘How am I supposed to look after that?’ Pip hissed. She had dragged her sister, Becky, into the hallway so that she could snap at her without anybody else noticing. One of Pip’s hands clung to the front of Becky’s t-shirt, her fingers digging into the material, so tightly that her knuckles had turned white. Becky showed no sign of being apologetic.

‘You saw how Paul’s face lit up when he first laid eyes on it. I know he’s been going on and on about getting one for a while.’ Becky’s shoulders were relaxed, her posture easy, but her eyes presented Pip with a clear challenge. ‘Don’t deny it.’

‘That’s not the point! He might want one, but he’s only seven! Who’s going to be the one who actually has to look after it, who has to train it, who has to feed it and take it out for walks? Me, that’s who!’

‘Oh, come on, sis, I’m sure he’ll be more than happy to take it out for a walk –’

‘And you’re trying to teach him what? That he can have anything he wants? Is that it?’

‘Pip,’ Becky said, her voice as smooth and calm as ever, one hand reaching up to touch her sister’s lightly, ‘relax. He’s been through so much in such a short life. This year has been tough on him, but he’s doing so well in school despite all the pain and visits to the hospital. Let him have this. I know the real reason you’re annoyed, and if you need some help to pay for it, then –‘

‘I don’t need financial aid,’ Pip replied. She released Becky’s top, and their hands fell back down to their sides. Despite the haze of conflicting feelings that buzzed through Pip’s mind, she forced herself to regain her composure under her sister’s watchful gaze. A sigh escaped her lips. She walked over to the door to the living room, and Becky followed; they stood there leaning on either side of the door frame, and looked in.

Paul was sitting on the rug in the middle of the room. His tiny frame, too small for his age, was quivering with excitement as he rolled around with the new puppy that was darting around him. The bandana that Pip had taught him to wrap around his head to disguise his lack of hair flapped around at the back with his sudden movements. The bruises from his IV seemed to have no effect on him in those moments – he would normally complain that they were sore and visible this recently after treatment.

Pip smiled.

Then Paul spotted them in the doorway, and in one movement he rolled over and caught the puppy, landing on his knees facing the door. He raised his head and looked up at the two women with a wide, toothy grin.

‘I love the puppy, Aunty Becky!’ he said. Becky turned to Pip with a victorious smirk.

‘All right,’ said Pip. ‘Maybe it’s the best Christmas present ever.’ She paused, as the puppy wriggled out of Paul’s skinny arms and bounded over to the pile of used wrapping paper, which it proceeded to pee on. ‘Maybe.’

Kindergarten

Little heads turn,
Tiny eyes widen,
Mouths hang open
It’s English time!
Language lessons
Are important here,
So English begins
At kindergarten.
There’s not much
A teacher can do:
These kids barely
Speak Vietnamese,
So songs and colours
Are today’s subjects.
Numbers, songs,
Letters, songs –
Kindergarten teachers
Can lose their minds
When every lesson
Means repetition!
The kids gather
Around their legs
Beaming, speaking,
Screeching sometimes
In Vietnamese;
Too young for school
Undisciplined
Lacking control,
Their eagerness
Is infectious –
At least for a while.
And after classes
Kindergarten teachers
Want to curl up
In a warm bed
To get some
Well-deserved sleep.
High school teachers
Tell them it’s easy,
Singing songs every day,
But kindergarten
Teachers know better:
It’s easy to teach
When the lesson
Can be planned
From beginning to end.
They run, they shout,
They play, they dream
Of a chance to rest
All while surrounded
By twenty hyper kids.

© Laura Marie Clark

Excerpt from the book “City Of The World”

Please visit my author page and share in my adventure:
http://www.ctupublishinggroup.com/laura-marie-clark.html

Button Eyes

I understand, you know. And I don’t blame you. I’m not one to lay blame on others, and you know it. Whoever they are, whatever they want – I’m always there, smiling politely, two shining button eyes staring ahead at everyone and anyone who looks my way.

You used to play with my hair. Sometimes, you’d get your fingers tangled in it – but I wouldn’t complain. Not ever. All you did was pull a bit. I just kept smiling. You never pulled hard enough for any of it to come out, because you loved me. And I loved you.

I still do, and I know that you love me too. I realise that it was an accident. You’re probably up on that aeroplane now, forcing Mum to search through her hand luggage again and again to find me. I can imagine you now: red faced, tears running down your cheeks, flapping your hands around as you desperately tell Mum that you have to catch the next flight back after you land at home. She won’t let you come to collect me – and that’s fine. I know it wasn’t deliberate.

Perhaps if Mum calls the hotel, they’ll be able to send me back to you. The housekeepers will find me and hand me into lost property – a pretty, well kept dolly like me, they’ll be able to tell how much I’m loved.

It wasn’t your fault that I fell down the side of the bed as you were packing your case and you missed me. I was hidden between the bed and the bedside cabinet, so you couldn’t see me. You’ll get over it, in a while – and, maybe if we’re lucky, we’ll see each other again. You’ll find me in the post, delivered by a faceless driver, and we’ll cling to one another in happiness of our reunion.

But don’t worry if it never happens. I know it wasn’t your fault. I know you don’t care for me any less. I’ll always be your little dolly, smiling politely, staring with my shining button eyes.

Savage Country by Anderson Ryle

“Do you want to play guns?” he asked me.

This was a complicated question, and while I stood not knowing what to say, the summer heat beat down through the cloudless Virginia sky. Twenty years has gone by now, and each summer heat wave brings back this vivid memory. It will forever be with me, as clear as it was that day when I was eight.

A dozen or so boys watched me, waiting to hear my answer, and not one of them seemed to notice the oppressive humidity hanging thickly about us. The leader of the horde stood out in front, eyes fixed on me, with a toy cap gun in each hand.

The first part of the question that my eight-year-old brain had to address was this boy’s use of the word ‘guns’. He said it like ‘guns’ was an activity. In my universe, guns are not an activity; guns are things, guns are objects, guns are weapons, and guns can be used for many activities, but they are not activities. They can be used for hunting, or warfare, or even the occasional wild west duel that takes place at high noon on a hot summer day with the hero only seconds faster than the crooked sheriff who finally, finally got what was coming to him, but guns, in my universe, were not an activity.

In my world, as an eight year old boy who grew up playing games like, Boggle, and Scrabble, and the magnificent Trivial Pursuit, ‘playing guns’ did not compute. So I stood there silent for a moment as this other eight-year-old boy watched me, his mouth held open slightly, and all the other boys crowding in behind him also brandishing toy weapons of various kinds. They looked for all the world like a tribe of savages. Some were shirtless, some had skinned knees, and one even had an unnoticed booger hanging from his nose. But every one of them burned by the sun under which they played each summer day. They all looked at me like they didn’t understand why I wasn’t responding, as if they couldn’t have asked a simpler question.

But as I mentioned before, his question was multifaceted. I tried to step out of my universe and into some crazy parallel universe where ‘guns’ was an activity. The question then hinged around the rest of his sentence, ‘do you want to…’ Now that was a loaded question, pardon the pun. Did I want to…what? What did ‘playing guns’ entail? I had no way of knowing what I was signing up for. If I said ‘yes’, would I be resigning myself to an afternoon of getting stung by humming steel pellets fired from the smoking mouth of Red Rider BB guns? Entirely possible. I didn’t know what these booger-nosed hooligans were capable of. The mere savagery of that undetected booger was simply beyond my comprehension. A boy who can look another human in the face while standing there in such a state, well, he must be capable of anything. Saying ‘yes’ was right out of the question.

But to say ‘no’, now, there was another conundrum. If I said ‘no’ to the prospect of ‘playing guns’ without knowing what in involved, well I could be passing up on the greatest event of my life. The day I kissed Sally from School was good, but ‘playing guns’… that could be monumental. An eight year old goes to play with savages; he leaves a boy, he comes back a man. I could see the headlines already! The radio broadcasts! The cinema posters! I was sure that to say ‘no’ would be closing the door on one of life’s great opportunities… forever.

“How do you play guns?” I asked back at him.

The tribe’s leader looked at me like I was an alien from outer space assuming the form of an eight-year-old human boy. His eyes scanned my tucked in polo shirt and my khaki pants, and it was as if a realization dawned on his face. He knew right then that I really was an alien from outer space, at least an alien from a different city, a different suburb, and a whole different way of life. He realized that I had a whole different culture, and he didn’t hold it against me for a minute.

He just held out a Smith and Wesson replica cap gun and said, “You take this one, and shoot at me, and I’ll take the other and shoot at you.” He paused for a moment, looking at me to see if I understood, and then finished with, “It’s every man for himself.”

I took the toy six-shooter in my little hand, and I swear I grew six inches taller. My universe turned on its head. My world flipped upside down. But never for one minute did I want anything else. In my old universe there was order, there was reason, there were games that have boards, and rulebooks, and winners and losers. But here, out here in savage country, there were no rules; there was mayhem. Glorious mayhem. No winners. No losers. Just endless hours of joy serenaded by the pap-pap-pap of the cap guns, and the happy hollers of eight year old boys. Eight-year-old boys being eight-year-old boys.


About Anderson

Anderson Ryle is an engineer living in Fort Collins Colorado. He enjoys writing noir fiction, and has recently published his first noir short story “The Back Doors of Fancy Places”. He loves a good adventure, a dim jazz bar, and a smokey glass of single malt scotch.

Check out Anderson’s blog, where he posts stories, discusses writing tips, and allows guest posts via the Contact page: https://andersonryle.wordpress.com/

In Days of Innocence

Dandelion seeds drifting on a summer breeze
Destined to be forever free, to swirl around
Above fields of multi-coloured flowers;
I cupped my hands together, tried to catch you,
Floating on my cloud of innocent wonder:
Rosy cheeks, baby teeth, eyes wide open in awe
At nature’s dancing pattern in the air.
How beautiful the simple, the ordinary can be
To children chasing dandelion seeds.

Creators

We were there in the beginning
Before your universe was made
We formed you from nothing
Though not fully formed ourselves.
We are not what you believe –
There is so much more to us,
To our story, to our being,
Than what you have seen and heard:
Once, before time as you know
It began, I was the centre
Of everything; the universe
Bowed to us in worship and obedience
Like no one since has been respected
For we are the Creators,
The ones who have made all
As you know all, and built the world
That you experience around you.
If others helped to make you,
Or donated some part of themselves
So that you could be, develop,
And learn the ways of the world,
Then they were only our assistants:
It is us two who deserve praise
For who you have become,
But children can be fast to forget
And good parents ask for nothing.

New Recruits

‘All right you filthy maggots! Line up, go on, get in a line! What’re you doing there, sonny? Get in line – no, no, don’t push in there, go to the back! I said go to the back! You’ll be the last to get food tonight, so you’d better ‘ope the rest of the brats leave you something to chew on!

‘Now then, let’s ‘ave a look at you all. Oh, they’ve brought me a right ‘orrible lot this time, ‘aven’t they? No wonder nobody loves you lot – oh, look, tears! Wipe your eyes and get to the back of the queue, go on. Move it!

‘Listen up! My name is Mister Whitaker, but you’ll call me “Sir”. When you answer my questions, you’ll say “Yes, Sir” or “No, Sir” or “Sorry, Sir”. And if I ‘aven’t asked you a question, then you’ll keep your trap shut! Are we clear, hmm?’

‘Yes, Sir.’

‘And let’s keep it that way! Anyone ‘oo doesn’t know ‘ow to stick to the rules’ll meet the end of my belt. Is that clear?’

‘Yes, Sir.’

‘Well, thank goodness for that. The last lot were a disaster! Mind you, some o’ you lot don’t look much better. He looks a mess. Look at him! Are you still crying at the back there? Dry those tears and get inside, come on, all of you, stay in line and head over to the table for some soup.

‘Now, there’s a lot o’ you here, and there are two things that I ain’t made of: money and soup. So it’s half a bowl each and a roll of bread. Hold up your bowl, now, sonny … and move along and take your bread from the end o’ the table. Jeez! Do you even know ‘ow to use a spoon? People’d think you were raised in a zoo! Go on over there, sit down on the floor, and let the next one get some.

‘Oh, look here, look here now. It’s Mister I-Can’t-Stand-In-A-Line and Miss Crybaby. What a shame – no soup or rolls left for you two! You can lick the pan and spoon clean if you want – go on then, take ’em. Well? What’re you looking at me for? Go and sit down with the others.

‘Well now that you’ve all eaten, you can get off to bed. Go on, lie down there – here, there’s a few o’ these blankets for you. I guess you’ll all have to huddle together if you wanna keep warm, won’t you? Go on kid, like I said, I ain’t made o’ money. And I ain’t made o’ blankets either!

‘What. Is. This? What’ve you done? Nobody ever taught you to go to the bathroom, huh? Had to wet the bed, did you? Get up, get up, go over there and lean over the desk, looks like it’s time to take off the belt and teach you a lesson already …’


Author’s note: this was how the teacher greeted the class at the beginning of my first drama lesson.