Banana Bread (1/2/16)

I haven’t been posting poetry as I’ve been writing new material and editing for my poetry collection, but here’s a quick short story I wrote as an exercise for my Art and Craft of Fiction class.

“You have another letter from your sister,” your mother says as I close the door behind me. She hands me a beige envelope, her eyes glazed, and I go to my room with it, glancing at the front of it as I do so. Postmark says it’s come from Berlin, over a thousand miles from your last letter. No return address.

Your mother’s been baking banana bread in the kitchen, and I can still smell it even with my bedroom door shut. I wonder if you miss banana bread. Surely you must. You made your mother make it for you all the time way back when, and you were the worst at baking, so making it for yourself is out of the question. It’s not like they sell the stuff in stores, not your mother’s kind anyway – you’d make quips about the amount of cinnamon that your mother uses in her baking. You’d say that if you went to the border with it, you’d get stopped for trying to smuggle spices. Maybe that’s why you didn’t take any with you when you went off to the train station that night. Well, maybe.

I have not opened your letter yet. It took me three days to open the last one, trying to prolong it for as much as possible. Your mother has turned on the radio in the kitchen and I can hear her singing off-key to that Sinatra song she loves so much. If you were here, you’d turn it off or change the station to some incomprehensible rave music, or whatever that weird electronic stuff that you like is. I’ve never been good with music, but I still have all those CDs you left.

But I haven’t got as much self-control this time.

Max, you have scrawled in your gigantic loopy writing. Everything has been a whirlwind. How’s Mum doing? Wait, don’t answer that. Not that you can. I tried spätzle today. It had sausage and lentils with it – tasted like ass. I can see why we don’t eat German food more often. Aaron said it was brilliant but he’s a tool.

If he’s such a tool, leave him.

We’ve got a couple of other places planned. Say hi to the old fart for me, will you? I know he doesn’t want to hear from me but it’d make me feel better to know that I can still piss him off.

Love you. Savannah xx

Short and simple like always. I toss it on my desk and sit down on the corner of my bed. I think about what Dad’s face would be like if I could tell him that his step-daughter had sent her regards. I keep a picture of you and me and him on my desk, when I was ten and you were twelve and Dad was less angry. You still have scabby knees and pigtails.

I try to imagine your face as you wrote this letter. Your writing wobbles at times, German almost illegible, and I see you sitting on a bus, huddled in your winter coat as you lean on your backpack and scrawl the letter with a biro. Maybe you posted it on your way to the airport, with Aaron by your side, wittering on as he always does. I wonder if he still has that stupid goatee. I bet he does.

Your mother sticks her head around the door.

“I made banana bread,” she says, like I don’t know this already. But that’s not why she’s here. “How is Savannah?”

“She’s fine. Like always.”

“No address this time?” your mother says hopefully, approaching my desk. Her fingers are inching towards your letter. If she was smarter she’d have steamed it open before I got home, or she could even have just read it herself and never given it to me. I twitch it out of her reach, not trying to hide that I don’t want her hands on it.

“She’s always on the move.” I pick the envelope up and shut it in my drawer. There’s a slight slam as it closes, and your mother blinks.

“Well. I wish you’d be a bit nicer, Max,” she says, her pale eyes watering a little. She doesn’t look like you. You’re prettier than her. “We’ve only got each other now.”

She leaves the room before I can tell her, I never asked to have you.

I didn’t ask for her eight years ago and I didn’t ask to be left with her when you boarded a midnight train. I didn’t ask to spend the rest of my college years in a cramped apartment because I can’t afford to move out after I quit my job at the drive-thru and I let your mother use half my college fund to pay the medical bills. I did it for him, not her.

I did it because you weren’t here and you should have been.

I yank open the drawer again now that your mother’s gone back to her Sinatra, and flick through the envelopes I’ve put there. You write often, I can’t fault that. My fingers skim over faded postmarks. Canada, Argentina, Mexico, Germany, France, Russia, Australia. You always said you’d be an explorer but I thought you’d take me with you. But you ran away with a rich boy who stole from his parents to fund your great escape, and you left me behind.

You never got on with Dad, I know. He wasn’t yours and you weren’t his, and your mother wasn’t mine and I wasn’t hers. But they loved each other for some inexplicable reason, and we were friends and that made perfect sense. I knew it was his fault, he got so mad at you and Aaron after you stayed out half an hour past your curfew even when you called to say you’d be late. And it was the last straw for you, wasn’t it, you slammed the door behind you with the finality of I’m never coming back.

But that was over a year ago now, and you weren’t here when Dad got cancer of the bile duct, and I know you’d think it as stupid as I did, but stupid diseases with stupid names take lives too and you didn’t have to quit your job and comfort your step-mother while your father wasted away. And I could never let you know that he asked for you nineteen times (I counted) in his last week because you never leave a damn address, you never stay in the same place. You don’t even know he’s dead and I can’t tell you because you won’t let me.

The door opens.

“Here you are,” my step-mother says, and hands me a plate of banana bread. It’s still warm, fresh from the oven, smells like cinnamon. She shuts the door behind her so quickly that the draught ruffles my hair.

I look at the picture of you and me and Dad. I close my drawer again. I pick up a piece of the banana bread.

I eat it.

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Darren (26/12/14)

The zombie apocalypse genre is one of my favourite media genres – I love The Walking Dead, World War Z, Zombieland, all that stuff – so I wrote my own short zombie apocalypse micro-story. This is a little old, found it in my notes.

Darren isn’t listening. He hasn’t listened for a long time.
I’ve been clawing at the wood for hours, and now my fingers are all bloody. Or maybe they were already bloody. I don’t even know anymore.
Why won’t you let me in?
Mum’s gone now. So has Dad. I don’t really know what happened. All I know is that Mum never came home from the supermarket and Darren put an axe in the back of Dad’s head one Sunday afternoon. It wasn’t long after that that Darren stopped talking to me.
But I’ve got to try. He’s my brother, for God’s sake.
Fists pounding on the door. I can’t turn the handle, my hands are too slippery with blood. I don’t know whose blood it is.
I try screaming for him, but he won’t respond. I know he’s in there, he’s trapped, maybe, and I need to help him. I need to get him out. We both need to leave; this town isn’t safe anymore.
My throat is sore now. I’ve been wearing the same clothes for days, and I know that I stink. There’s crusty brown stuff on my shirt, and the bottoms of my jeans are ripped. I haven’t been able to change. I went out to get supplies a few days ago, and there was an attack. I only just made it home. I know he’s in there. I can hear the music playing. Angry rap stuff, like he always likes to play.
But he won’t answer me.
I fear the worst. Maybe one of those things got in. Ripped his throat out and now he’s lying in a pool of his own blood. No. I heard someone moving around inside, but now there’s nothing. Maybe he became like them. Like Dad did.
Dad went crazy pretty quickly. He’d been attacked on the way home from work – muggers, he’d said – but it didn’t take long for death to claim him. And what happened next was even weirder – he’d been officially dead for about five minutes and then it was like someone had plugged him into the mains. He went batshit. Kicking, grabbing for us, biting at me and ripping out the doctor’s intestines before Darren grabbed that fire axe and nearly severed Dad’s head from his neck.
There’s a shuffling noise, and I know Darren’s by the door. I can smell something. He’s got food. I’m so hungry – I haven’t eaten anything for a day and a half. It smells like meat. My stomach growls.
I slap my palm against the door, hands slick with red stuff, and I try the knob again, but I still can’t turn it. It’s only when I give up and let it go that it starts to move, and there’s a click as the door starts to open, and I almost throw myself inside.
He looks like death.
Darren stands in the doorway, his face white as a sheet. There’s dried blood matted in his hair, and his clothes are dirty and torn. The rap music blares, disorientating me for a second, but not before I notice the axe raised in his hand.
“I’m sorry, sis,” he finally chokes out, before he buries it in my skull.

The Island of The Tempest (19/11/14)

Another old Shakespeare-inspired piece, though this is a piece of prose about the magical island of The Tempest.

The beach shimmers like a mirage, with a gentle golden haze about the sand and the softened sharpness of pine leaves. The seawater creeps along the shore, depositing shells when it recedes, coming in and out like air into the lungs and just as naturally. White foam bubbles up on the rocks, reaching longingly for the trees that pepper the beach. Castles of clumped sand are built by the sea, with human hands never touching them. There are no footprints on this shore.

Sunshine blistering hot and bright, and something whispers among the trees. Ghosts of the woods or ghosts of the mind? The sand soon fades into luscious green, and sometimes Miranda stands in it, alone, the blades tickling her ankles and her toes sinking into gravel. The scent of salt reeks in the air. No-one here notices it anymore. There are so very few people here and there has been no-one new in an eternity.

Sometimes it flickers, like a dream about to be forgotten in waking, and for a moment there is nothing but darkness and the chaos of nature; but then it subsides and the tranquillity returns. The sun always burns like the devil’s eyeball, and there is escape from it in the dank holes in the rock. The great lake offers no relief, it only stinks more in the blazing heat. There is little fruit to be found, and it is sour. It was not always like this; the leaves in the breeze whisper a wistful tale of life before magic warped the world. Once in a while, one leaf drops; it slides on the gusts of wind down to the sea and bobs along on the crested waves until it escapes this land once and for all.

There is a flickering amongst the waves, bright green and red and silver. It is the fishes who come to spectate, an audience to Prospero’s golden world.

Gold (10/11/14)

I have made the decision to let you go. I don’t think you’ll even notice. I think you stopped caring on the day I stopped hiding. You tried to tell yourself otherwise and so did I. But it wasn’t a façade we could keep up, especially you. I pushed for it, tried my best, but it wasn’t enough. You gave up before I did, I think, and now I know that I should let you go. I couldn’t, before, because of all the pretty things you’d said to me – I couldn’t let go of them and I couldn’t believe that you would let them go – but now I know. What was gold to me was spare change to you, and I’ll bury that treasure in the garden with all the other things I long to forget. Gold is hard, and cold, and it means nothing. I cannot do anything with it, and nobody will take it from me. You don’t want it back. People don’t usually ask the poor to give them back their change, and neither will you. Even if I pooled all my riches together you wouldn’t take them, you wouldn’t want even one piece of my treasure, because it means nothing to you. I am sad and wasteful and too generous, and this scares you. I can only stare at cold gold coins until I bury them in the backyard, and maybe one day you’ll want them back, but I doubt it. They’ll always be there, though. What was made cannot be unmade, what was said cannot be unsaid, and what was done cannot be undone. But God, I wish I could.

Things You Realise at Two in the Afternoon (5/11/14)

Your mind wanders to him when you are doing the washing-up, and you cannot open your mouth for fear of the words falling out. You are in love, you have never been this much in love, and your heart is so swelled with it that it stoppers up your throat and turns your hands sweaty. You wonder what he would say, that sweet boy who makes you shiver, and you know that the moment you confess, your sky will crack open and your world will burn. He has taken hold of you without even noticing, his fingers clenched around that sorry organ in your chest that struggles to beat against his palm, and he can let it go or crush it to pieces. You hope, you hope to God, that he will let it go, so that the pain might end and you can finally breathe again.

Red String (14/11/13)

It led to you.

I was so sure. I followed the string, blind and hopeful, and I thought it would end at your hand. I clutched at it and it slipped through my fingers and sliced my skin, but I gripped it tightly anyway, and I pulled myself towards you and climbed that cliff. I’m scared of heights but the thought of you kept me going, and I kept looking down and I knew I would end up at the bottom but I kept my grip tight and prayed for a helping hand. I wished so hard, I kept my eyes on you, and I never noticed the great knot in the string, the one that jammed my safety harness, and I wondered why I was stuck. It was only when the string frayed and I fell and broke my back that I saw you clearly, I saw you through eyes more open than ever, and I saw the remains of the knot and I understood. I’ll lie here for a while, while you call down to me and ask what’s wrong, but I won’t tell you, I’ll just pretend that I pulled a muscle and that it doesn’t hurt as much as it does. I’ll heal one day and I’m so glad that I never climbed that extra ten metres and got to you, because I know you’d push me off without even realising and I’d break so much more than just my back. We got our strings crossed, and I thought I was meant to follow mine to you, but now I see that it just got tangled with yours and it’s stretching far, far away into the distance and I can’t see the end.

Product of Insomnia (5/11/13)

I dream of getting lost with you. I paint the walls of my mind with pictures of us, but they fade and blur, the paint smudged and streaked. Maybe someday we’ll sit on the kitchen floor and eat ice-cream straight out of the carton. Maybe I’ll lose myself in the hidden parts of you, and every time I breathe I’ll inhale the essence of what we are. What if we laid on the bed fully clothed while the rain poured down outside, and we said nothing because nothing needed saying, and I bit my nails down to the quick the night before in mad excitement at the thought of seeing your face again. I could make the tea black and clasp the mug while you read me a stupid story that you found the other day and I’ll play music on the stereo, including that song that always reminded me of you but of course I’d never tell you that. The movies lie, they say that you’ll just know when I’m dying inside and hiding it with a smile, but you won’t, though you’ll always be there and I’ll mend myself while you sleep next to me. I’ll touch your hair while we watch that TV show that makes you laugh and maybe, just maybe, you’ll take my hand in yours.