Battenburg

Published May 6, 2017 by Naomi Rettig

I can’t move. I’ve got my eyes open, but it’s too dark to see anything. I can smell cake, and I can feel the weight of something against my face. I try to recall my last memory. Sleep. I was in bed, going to sleep. I’m not in my bed now.

I can’t hear anything so I open my mouth to shout, or say hello to anyone nearby.

‘Hello?’

My voice sounds muffled and distorted. I’m not sure if that’s because my ears are covered, or if there’s something in front of my mouth. I slowly force my tongue out of my mouth. It protrudes out for about half an inch before touching a surface, then retracts quickly back in. My taste buds tell me the surface it met is sweet. I persuade my tongue to venture out again. It complies.

My tongue gently licks the object in front of my mouth. Cake. It’s cake. I move my jaw out as much as it will extend and scrape my teeth along the cake surface. My tongue escorts the cake into my mouth. It tastes delicious, a light sponge.

Am I surrounded by cake? Is that why I can’t move? I think I am. How is this possible? If it were a dream I wouldn’t be able to taste and smell the cake, and I can. Someone must have drugged me and put me in a cake. That just doesn’t make sense. This doesn’t make sense.

I feel my chest tighten as a panic attack attempts to take control of my body. I can hear my pulse rate speeding up through the blood vessels in my muffled ears. I inhale a deep breath, cake fumes filter into my lungs. I tell myself I am calm, and all is well. My body knows I am lying to it, but it plays along with me, for now.

I must eat the cake. That is how I will get free. I will eat my way up through the cake. There will have to be a surface, no cake goes on for infinity. I feel calmer, I know I can eat a lot of cake. My teeth start excavating the sponge in front of me.

The more cake I eat, the more I can move my head. My spirits are lifted. I’m feeling confident. I can angle my head back now to reach the cake above me with my mouth. I move up an inch at a time, shuffling my body up with my shoulders, arms still by my sides, my face facing to the top.

I’m starting to feel sick now. I want to take a breather and rest a little, but I don’t want to risk falling asleep and running out of air. My body keeps trying to remind me I could suffocate easily, it does this by squeezing my lungs periodically while making me want to breathe faster. I tell myself I can do this, and I will be out of here soon.

I think it will be soon. I’m starting to see now. I can see the cake above me, it’s yellow. I must be near the top of the cake for the light to be penetrating down to me. I can do this. I eat more cake. In my excitement, I bite off a bigger chunk, but almost choke on it. My legs attempt to kick out and my arms try to lash out too. I spray my own face with regurgitated cake. It takes me a few moments to compose myself. I continue eating through the cake.

Bright yellow. I can see bright yellow above me. My relief is joyous. I eat on. I can smell marzipan. A heavenly smell. Almond ambrosia. I devour the final layer of sponge between me and the marzipan. I push my face against the marzipan, attempting to break free with the force of my facial features. The marzipan just stretches with my face, and lowers back down with it. I lick at the marzipan, and try to bite at it. It just moves playfully with my tongue and teeth, keen to flow in the same direction. Marzipan, I’m finding out, is non-confrontational, eager to please, and far too flexible. I try forcing my face up through it again, but this time the marzipan, wet from my saliva, sticks to my face. The almond assassin clings to my nostrils and my mouth. I try to breathe but the overpowering essence blocks my airways. My lungs clench and scream pain I didn’t think possible. I feel myself zoning out, drifting away from my physicality. I’m going.

Air violently invades my face. My marzipan death mask is being ripped open. My mouth and nose compete for the air. My lungs stop screaming and merely shout instead. My eyes are blinded by bright whiteness. They struggle to compute my surroundings. I feel my head become free of the marzipan, and I feel hands pulling me out of the cake and place me on a hard surface. My limbs feel numb from their cocooned entrapment. I feel cold, and loose.

My eyes adjust in the harsh lighting. White floor, white walls, white ceiling. There is a man in a white biohazard suit stood stationary over me. A giant Battenburg cake is in the center of the room, crumbs scattered onto the floor, no doubt from when I emerged. A camera in the corner of the room rotates around to face me. The man in the white suit puts his hand to his ear, then nods.

‘Come with me,’ he says.

My mouth is dry. ‘Why? What’s happening?’

‘You failed. They don’t want you now.’

‘Failed what? Who are they?’ My legs allow me to stand up, but threaten to drop me at any moment.

The man walks towards a door. ‘You only had to get out of the cake. You failed so you have to go back.’

‘I don’t understand?’ I follow him to the door.

‘You should have eaten horizontally, not vertically, as there’s no marzipan on the ends of the cake.’ He swipes a card in a panel by the door with his gloved left hand. ‘You could have made it out alive that way.’

The door slides open with a faint hiss. The man steps out of the room, so do I.

‘But I still don’t understand what’s going on.’

‘It’s better that way. Believe me.’ The man walks off down the narrow corridor.

I follow.

Eurovision 1st Semi Final Rehearsal Review

Published May 6, 2017 by Naomi Rettig

I’ve watched the rehearsal footage of the first semi-final acts, and a top tip is if you want to play a drinking game and get drunk, have a shot every time a white outfit, wind machine and cape turn up in a performance. If all three occur at the same time, have double shots. Here are my opinions on the performances.

1. Sweden – I love this song, I’ve championed it from the start and it’s still in my top 5. I’m disappointed though that two of the original backing dancers/singers have been switched with replacements, I’m not sure why as I can only find references to it being due to a rule of the contest – presumably not allowing too many handsome men on stage at one time I guess. The routine hasn’t changed for the show, stylish men in suits and trainers dancing on treadmills who wouldn’t look out of place on a Milan cat walk. Is it wrong that I want to join a gym now just to dance on a treadmill? Starting off sober, zero shots.

2. Georgia – I was hoping for a Bon Jovi number when hearing the song was called Keep the Faith, but no, a belter of a song that wouldn’t be out of place in a James Bond film, complete with a Bond Girl singer in a red sparkly figure hugging outfit. She has a red cape and a wind machine. Two shots.

3. Australia – All about the singer here, his image is on the screens behind and it’s just him singing on a giant turntable. He’s wearing a grey coat, which is almost a cape, and his trousers don’t meet ankles. It might be fashionable, he might like to flash his ankles, but it does nothing for me. And even though I applaud him for singing while spinning around on the turntable, part of me, the wicked part, wants the turntable operator to speed it up faster as the song goes on just so he flies off at the end. No shots, but a sip for the cape-like coat.

4. Albania – Love the steampunk graphics on screen for this song. There is a wind machine and the singer is wearing white with silver sparkles, and starts with a veil that flings back into a skirt cape. Allowing three shots here, and that doubles to six!

5. Belgium – Blanche wears a full white ballgown for this, it looks like she’s concealing something. If doves don’t fly out from under there at the end I’ll be disappointed. I’m already disappointed with the vocals, the recorded track sounds much better than the live performance. Plus, she stands still in one spot, I know it’s not a lively song but a bit of oomph or facial expression would be good. One shot for the dress. Bonus gulp from the bottle if doves do indeed fly out from under the dress.

6. Montenegro – Distraught by this performance as it was my favourite to win, based on the recorded track. Shockingly bad vocals live, and his dancing should be phenomenal but my bowels have move movement than this. He seems to be going for if in doubt twirl your fake plait around, I was hoping it would get caught in the lighting rig to liven this performance up. No shots. Although I might have a consolation shot for wasting money betting on this one.

7. Finland – Bucking the trend here as they have gone for black ballgown, and instead of a wind machine have chosen smoke machine. The background graphics put me into a boredom trance. Another performer who doesn’t move from the spot. No shots.

8. Azerbaijan – The strangest staging so far. Singer wears a silky Columbo mac while scrawling on blackboard walls, while a man wearing a horse’s head stands on a step ladder. He takes the horse head off to reveal an Azerbaijan Rylan Clark. Good vocals, good song, but not so good that even though the song is called Skeletons there are no actual skeletons on stage. No shots.

9. Portugal – The singer’s sister has been standing in for him during rehearsals as he has a mystery illness that prevents him being away from healthcare for too long. His sister looks like him though so it’s easy to imagine him on stage (I think Salvador has just dressed as a female and is pretending to be his sister for japes). There is minimal staging, just the singer and the song, again not moving from the spot. No shots.

10. Greece – The singer is wearing a flesh colour dress, there are two topless Greek men dancing around her but not much movement from her and considering it’s an up-tempo track is disappointing. There is a wind machine though. One shot.

11. Poland – Not a memorable song or performance. Singer wears a white dress/weird toga and there is a wind machine. Two shots.

12. Moldova – I love this one, so much fun. The toe tapping ‘get this chewing gum off my shoe’ dance is in there, the running man dance while playing the saxophone is cool, the screen graphics are funky, the backing dancers/singers have dresses that switch from black and white into wedding dresses, and I do love a costume within a costume. One shot.

13. Iceland – Wow. If Iceland’s entry was a superhero she’d be PVA Glue Woman. She’s wearing a white PVC jumpsuit, white latex platforms, white plastic cape, and has her blonde hair scraped back into a no-nonsense ponytail. In the jumpsuit, there is a cut out to showcase her boobs, like a pornographic power ranger. There is a wind machine, but no way is that knocking her off those platforms. Three shots doubled! Six shots.

14. Czech Republic – Well we’ve just had PVA Glue Woman so now bring on Ferrero Roche Woman. This is the worst outfit so far. A metallic bronze foil boiler-suit is not flattering to even beautiful people. Background screen graphics show people dancing slowly in nude underwear, like a beginners swingers party. The most un-erotic thing I’ve seen. No shots.

15. Cyprus – Hovig reminds me of Chico. I like the song, it reminds me of last years’ Russian entry. He wears a black suit, but another ankle avoiding trouser. There are lots of balancing yoga moves in the dance routine which will give me a good workout as I dance along. At one point in rehearsals he lies down to sing, I’m guessing this will correspond with floor graphics. Or he might have just been tired. No shots.

16. Armenia – The screen graphics remind me of a lava lamp, that’s all I have to say about this performance. Oh, and she wears a black trouser suit. No shots

17. Slovenia – Dull staging to match a dull song. He wears a black suit, and the background graphics at one point look like a spaceship is going to beam him up, unfortunately it didn’t. No shots.

18. Latvia – Great staging with a punky neon set. Wind machine and weird fashion. Singer has metallic thigh high boots, which look like the Wonder Woman boots I made when I was seven out of my mum’s kitchen foil. Good song to end the night on. One shot.

Twenty shots, and a sip, in total*.
*This could change on the actual night if wind machines are added to other performances.

Cinema Crimes

Published April 15, 2017 by Naomi Rettig

I love the cinema. If I won the lottery I would build my own mini cinema, for use only by myself, and maybe any friends that have cinema etiquette. Most people these days don’t have cinema etiquette and should stay at home and watch DVD’s. But they don’t. They filter into cinemas annoying those of us easily annoyed by the human species know as ‘totalious inconsiderous twatus’. There are four main crimes that the T.I.T.s are guilty of.

Personal space invaders: These are the people who, even though the cinema is three quarters empty, will sit directly behind or in front of you. Compete T.I.T.s will sit in the seat next to you. This happened to me yesterday. Partial blame was with the ticket sales lady who acted as an enabler to the T.I.T that sat next to me. When myself and my friend bought our tickets, and were asked where we wanted to sit, I gave the usual answer: at the back away, far from other people. Imagine my horror then, in the three hundred seat cinema, when there were only ten of us dotted around, a beige couple and hyperactive adolescent headed straight towards us. Yes, the sadistic ticket lady had seated them directly next to me. Now, any normal human being would have looked at me, hogging the arm rest and with a face like a homicidal hippo on crystal meth, and would have decided to sit in any of the remaining two hundred and ninety seats available. But no, these T.I.T.s were sticking to their allocated seats. I was speechless. My friend and I moved seats, I gave my best death stare. Their faces have been saved to the facial recognition software in my brain, and when the zombie apocalypse arrives, (putting on my best Liam Neeson voice) I will look for them, I will find them, and I will kill them.

Noisy eaters: Most films are an hour and a half or two hours tops. For Satan’s sake can people not go ninety to a hundred minute without stuffing their faces with food. But not just any food, noisy food. Nachos are not a good cinema food. Sitting in proximity to the replicated noise of a hamster annihilating an acre of Ryvita raises my blood pressure greatly. Suck your nachos, this will make you a better person. Actually, scrap that, all food should be banned. Because if you’re quietly devouring a hot dog I’m being distracted from the film by the smell of reconstituted meat and onions. Pick’n’mix may be acceptable if you tear along the paper bag before the film starts, so there’s not that annoying rustle every time a hand is dunked in and swooshed around. Why are people searching in their bags of pix’n’mix? They chose the sweets that are in there themselves, so just grab the first one you come to, it’s not going to be a complete surprise. What will be a complete surprise is when I track you down after the zombie apocalypse and ram twenty-six chocolate mice down your throat.

Mobile phone addicts: People, please turn your phones off before going into the cinema. Don’t be a T.I.T. You’ve paid money to watch a film, why do you want to miss chunks of it by checking your Facebook, emails, and Twitter feed. Watch the film, not your phone. Do you not realise that when you swipe your screen on, it’s like the Blackpool illuminations for people ten rows back and beyond, for everyone closer it’s like staring directly at an eclipse. And if you are sat within my eyesight range I will see your name as you browse your Facebook, and this will make tracking you down during the zombie apocalypse much easier for me.

Talkers: When I’m watching a film, I like to go into ‘cinema trance’ and get totally absorbed into the film. Having to listen to people talking about completely irrelevant drivel drains my patience. I don’t know your friends Adam and Laura, therefore I don’t care about or want to hear about Adam’s latest STD or Laura’s new juice plan diet. I certainly don’t want to hear this while I’m trying to transport myself into the film. And if you’ve brought someone to the cinema with you that needs the film plot explained to them in minute detail, is this not irritating for you? It’s blooming irritating for me, listening to: Who’s that? Why are they pressing that button? Why is she wearing a green dress? Just shut up and watch the fudging film, because when that zombie apocalypse happens, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you. Unless I’m too busy killing zombies. Or hiding. Or eating nachos and pick’n’mix in my private cinema, while checking my phone for Instagram zombie pics.

Imaginary Spider

Published March 27, 2017 by Naomi Rettig

I saw a spider that wasn’t really there,
It made me jump, it gave me a scare.
I saw it sprint across my wall,
It gave me the creeps and made my skin crawl.

Imaginary spider hiding in my head
I will hunt you down until you are dead.
If I don’t, you will eat me alive,
Survival of the fittest, I will survive.

Eight eyes watch me from a secret hidey hole,
Far from cuddly like a velvet mole,
Waiting, you plot my grim demise
As you stomp across my petrified eyes.

Imaginary spider keeping me awake,
Trying to tell myself that you are a fake,
Can’t shake the feeling that you are really there,
Waiting to use me as a breeding lair.

My Eurovision 2017 Top Five (Six really)

Published March 17, 2017 by Naomi Rettig

My winner is Montenegro. Unfortunately, this is the kiss of death for the Montenegro contestant Slavko Katezic as my favourite songs always come last. I love this song though, it’s called ‘Space’, and I dance like I’m on another planet when I hear it. In the official video, he dances topless and has a plait Rapunzel would be jealous of. I find the plait distracting though as he swings it around with gay abandonment, health and safety officials will be having kittens on the night watching it doesn’t get caught up in any stage paraphernalia. I’m presuming there won’t be a wind machine in the mix for the live performance, far too many ‘Final Destination’ possibilities. The song is disco deluge of high energy, jiggly rhythms, and sweat. And the more I listen to the lyrics the more double entendre they seem. 10/10 from me.

Sweden is my very close second place. The song is catchy and bouncy. Robin Bengtsson ticks all my boxes but I’m not sure if a song called ‘I can’t go on (coz you’re so fricking beautiful)’ will go down well. Will the people of Europe be offended by the word fricking? I’m looking forward to the stage performance as in the video Robin and his merry men (four male backing dancers, all looking dashing in suits and sneakers) dance on treadmills. I’m presuming the stops and starts of the treadmill in line with the dance routine are automatically programmed in, otherwise it’s a lot of pressure on the treadmill operator. This song is fricking awesome and I give it 9.5/10.

Moldova get my third place. The Sunstroke Project (no it’s not an ad campaign from Boots the chemist) have been Moldova’s entry before, but this is their best. ‘Hey Mamma’ is again a catchy upbeat song with funky saxophone and violin bits. The dance moves are easy enough for me to follow along with; the main move being tapping your right leg up and down as if trying to free your shoe from unseen chewing gum or dabbing down a bit of lifting loose linoleum. And anyone that can dance ‘the running man’ while playing the saxophone gets my vote. 9/10 from me.

Francesco Gabbani for Italy gets fourth place from me for his song ‘Occidentali’s Karma’. This song has been a grower for me. He sings it in Italian so I find it difficult to sing along to (it doesn’t stop me), but it’s got a groovy melody I can dance to. Francesco does his best with dad dancing but his infectious smile makes up for his lack of smooth moves. His voice is heavenly, like granulated sugar swirled with honey and rubbed all over your body with soft warm hands. Oh, did I mention there was a dancing gorilla? Not a real one, a person dressed in a monkey suit dancing alongside Francesco. Maybe they’ll have a real gorilla for the live contest. I look forward to seeing what suit he wears on stage as I’ve seen him singing this song in a couple of different swish suits. 8.5/10 from me.

Fifth place is a tie. Both these songs scored 8/10 from me. F.Y.R Macedonia has a club-feel dance track by Jana Burceska called ‘Dance Alone’. And it does indeed make you want to dance alone. Or in company. The video is a clever concept, an older lady puts on a 3-D headset and is transformed into the younger version of herself as she dances. That’s how I feel when I dance, twenty years younger. A feel-good song, it will be interesting to see what the stage arrangement will be.

Joint fifth for me is Romania. Ilinca ft. Alex Florea sing ‘Yodel It!’ That kind of gives a clue. It’s a rap/yodel fusion. Yes, from Romania. (Apparently, the song was written for the Swiss but they didn’t want it, but Romania did and have certainly embraced it). On first hearing this song I was confused to whether I liked it or not, having listened to it many times now I can confirm it’s a yay from me. A yodelyay. And yes, I have tried yodeling but I sound like a llama on helium and crack cocaine.

Only fifty two days until the first semi-final! Do you have a favourite yet?

My Best Friend is a Unicorn, called Neville.

Published February 25, 2017 by Naomi Rettig

Neville has been my best friend since as far back as I can remember, in fact I can’t remember life without him. When we were both little we would share the same bed, I’d stroke his soft purple mane as he snored blissfully next to me. Logistics got in the way as we both got bigger. A man and a fully-grown unicorn just don’t fit into a bed together. Even the king size bed that I have now. Neville has his own room, but I have the en-suite. Neville prefers the great outdoors for his ablutions. I’ve fitted a latch on the back door that Neville can unhook with his horn, so that he can venture out to the garden whenever he wants.

It’s so much easier now we live by ourselves. When we lived at Dad’s it was a nightmare having to go out to the garden every time Neville needed to do his business. Dad was always suspicious why I needed to keep going outside, I’d regularly get my pockets checked for cigarettes when returning in from Neville’s toileting. Nev would find this highly amusing, suggesting I bought a packet so my dad could ‘find’ them on me and feel vindicated for the prison search.

I wished that I could’ve told him the real reason for my garden visitations, but the word unicorn was banned in our house when I was seven. Up until then I had included Neville in our family conversations and no one had seemed to mind, then Mum and Dad got divorced, and life got complicated.

It was an upsetting time for me, not Mum and Dad splitting up, but because they both said I had to stop pretending that a unicorn lived with us. They might as well have asked me to pretend the grass isn’t green. So I had to do the opposite, from that day on I had to pretend I couldn’t see Nev. He was upset of course by this, but when I explained it was necessary for him to stay with me, he stopped crying. Which was good because unicorn tears are tricky to get out of clothes, it’s the glitter in them. If Neville has had a cry on my shoulder my shirts always need a prewash, once when I was about ten I forgot to prewash and Dad wasn’t over the moon with his glittery pants. I blamed the school’s art department for glitter sticking to my school jumper, but Dad complained about his glittery pants for months.

I should point out that I did the washing at home as it was just me, Dad and Neville living in the house. Mum had moved to a flat across town. She’d wanted me to move with her of course but it was a tiny two bedroomed flat on the fourth floor. That would have been no good for Nev so we stayed with Dad. I also didn’t like Mum’s new boyfriend Warren, he smelled of herring and smoked, and that would set off Nev’s asthma. The smoking that is, not the herring smell. Did I mention Neville has asthma? When I used to visit Mum, Nev would stay at home in the garden. A few times he came with me and waited outside but the fumes from the traffic would set the asthma off too.

Mum visits me now in my house, but not that often. I think she senses Neville here and doesn’t want to admit to herself that he’s real. He stuck his hoof out once and tripped her up when she walking to the door and telling me I should get some friends. She blamed the rug. Neville laughed externally while I laughed internally.

I’ve mastered the art of laughing internally while keeping a neutral face over the years. When I had to pretend not to see Neville because we were in others company he would always relish acting the fool to try and make me chuckle. He got me a few times, usually when he stood on his hind legs and did demented disco dancing. On those occasions I would feign a coughing fit to leave the room for a glass of water.

It got tiresome though pretending I couldn’t see Nev and whispering when I wanted to talk to him, so I moved out last year on my twenty first birthday. I’m a postman and Nev comes out on my rounds with me. We’ve learnt which gardens to avoid, there are a few dogs that go nuts when they see him. Mrs. Jones in Laburnum Terrace has a poodle called Binky that poops on her lawn when he sees Neville. Nev either waits at the end of the road or crawls commando style past Mrs. Jones’s house, it depends on his mood. He can be quite moody at times.

Except on Sundays. On a Sunday Nev is buzzing like a bee in a florist shop. We go to the park every Sunday, even in bad weather. There’s so much space for Nev to gallop about in and he loves swimming in the lake. It’s our highlight of the week, and even more so now.

Two Sunday’s ago, we did our usual routine. I sat on the bench eating a strawberry ice-cream watching Nev frolic around the green. He was taking a longer and slower route than normal so I observed the rest of the park goers. There weren’t that many, a family feeding the ducks on the other side of the lake, a couple out for a romantic stroll who were holding hands and giggling as they ambled along. There’s another bench further along from the one I was sitting on, a young woman in a blue cardigan and jeans was sat alone, the sun highlighting her red hair. She was looking across the green, intensely watching something. I followed her line of vision, there was Neville, prancing about like a parade horse.

I looked back to her and then back to Neville. She was still staring at him. My heart started galloping alongside Nev as I tried to think what to do. I wondered if suddenly everyone could see him now or just this mysterious woman. The romantic couple and family didn’t stare though, which I’m sure they would have if they could see a purple unicorn. My ice-cream drew my attention back to myself as the coldness of it dribbled down my fingers. I dropped it into the bin next to me, having lost my appetite with nerves, and licked off the sticky strawberry from my knuckles.

Before my brain could work out what to do next my legs were walking towards the other bench.

‘Hello,’ I said, as I sat down next to the blue cardiganed woman.

She glanced at me quickly. ‘Hello,’ she said, before looking back across to where Neville was still showboating.

I watched Neville and from the corner of my eye could see the woman looking back and forth between me and Neville. I turned my head towards her and caught her in full stare. ‘I’m John.’

She held my stare gently, her green eyes sparkled. ‘Emma.’ She smiled a smile that would have morphed my ice-cream to a milkshake.

I felt myself blush so turned away, Neville was trotting back towards us. Emma was watching him. This was just too weird. Neville stopped trotting when he reached the bench and shook his head, fluffing up his mane.

I took a deep breath. ‘You look like you’re having fun,’ I said, raising my eyebrows to Nev for some help.

‘You can see her?!’ Emma’s eyes widened and she moved forward on the bench.

My heart bumped repeatedly against my ribs. ‘Him. He’s a he.’

Emma frowned. ‘She’s a she.’

‘Neville is definitely a he.’

Neville was looking back and forth between us and was unusually quiet. I thought he was upset being mistaken for a female so I stood up and started to pat him for reassurance.

Emma squinted. ‘What are you doing?’

My stomach knotted. ‘Stroking my unicorn.’

She laughed. The knotting tightened.

‘You have a unicorn with you?’ Her smile radiated through every pore in her face and her shoulders relaxed as she leaned back into the bench.

The knot in my stomach started to unravel. ‘Yes.’

She nodded. I was confused. I thought she could see Nev, but then it was obvious she couldn’t, yet she didn’t run for the hills. And there was no pity in her eyes, still just the vibrant twinkle.

She stood up and started to stroke the air next to Neville. I thought she was humouring me by pretending to stroke him.

I rested my hand on Neville’s back. ‘He’s here.’

She nodded, still stroking the air. ‘This is Moira.’

My eyes tried to analyze hers. I couldn’t speak, I didn’t know what to say, so I just stared at her like an idiot.

‘Moira is a unibob,’ said Emma.

I looked at Nev and he nodded. I swallowed to moisten my throat enough to speak. ‘What’s a unibob?’

Emma glanced at the air she was stroking. ‘A unibob is a magical llama with a horn, but it has a little bobble on the end of the horn, unlike a unicorn’s pointy horn.’

I nodded.

‘She’s pink, what colour is your unicorn?’

‘Purple, he’s purple.’ I smiled at Neville, he just looked embarrassed by me.

‘They match well then.’ Emma stopped petting the air and relaxed her arms down.

‘Yes.’ I nodded again, like a goofball. ‘We come here every Sunday, I’ve not seen you here before.’

‘We’ve just moved to the area, I inherited my grandfather’s farm, up by The Grange.’

I nodded again. ‘Will you be here again next week? I’d like to see you again.’

‘I can be, I’d like to see you again too. And judging from how much Moira was leaping about on the green I think she’d like to see Neville again too.’

He did, and we did. The Sunday after was just the best. I’d never felt so relaxed in my life, and for the first time I felt I belonged in the world. That sounds corny but it’s true. I guess what I’m trying to say is that just because someone can’t see your unicorn, they know that you can, and someone accepting you for you is the best feeling in the world. No pretending.

Nev wants to move to the farm today, but I’ve told him it’s too soon. We’ll go next week, that’ll give me time to pack. Neville is a useless packer as he just packs snacks.

The Verdict

Published February 9, 2017 by Naomi Rettig

Leukemia, a word that sounds softer than cancer. Cancer sounds hard and abrupt, leukemia sounds more chilled out, like Bohemia. But the verdict of it still slams at you full force like a charging rhino. What do you do when you’ve just been told you have it? I went and sat in an empty church for an hour. I’m not religious, I just wanted to sit quietly somewhere. I needed time to compose myself before bumping into anyone I knew, I didn’t want to blurt it out to the first person who said hello to me. Someone’s innocent ‘Hi Tom, how are you?’ being met by a babbling mess of ‘Pretty shit, I’ve got leukemia.’ Nobody wants that answer to a rhetorical question.

I contemplated all the funerals that had taken place there in the peaceful sanctuary. Hundreds of bodies over the years being carried in and out via a wooden box, loved ones crying tears of goodbyes and guilt, sorrow and sentiments. This would be me soon.

Well, I say soon, between now and about five years, that seems soon now to me, too soon. That’s the estimate of my life expectancy. Science isn’t that accurate yet. Five years if I’m lucky, some fortunate people managed to drag out their existence by eight years. With medication, I might even make ten more years. Or I could get hit by a bus tomorrow. I assumed that I’d get to old age, stressing about pensions and whether I’d be able to afford my retirement barge on the canal. I know we’re not immortal, but when your life sentence is reduced, plans and thoughts crumble quickly. Just five more Christmases, five more birthdays, five more holidays. These bubbles of time are going to rapidly pop.

I sat in the cold church wishing I had a faith, maybe it would be easier to live with this death sentence if I believed a higher being was looking after my soul, or that I would be reunited with deceased family. Instead I know I will just simply die and everything will end. Game over. I want to scream, I want to cry, I want to laugh. Laugh at the irony, the irony of living with depression and fighting to stay alive every day, but wishing I could disappear, and now finding that my cosmic ordering has worked. I get my wish. But now I don’t want my wish. I want to send it back. I am ungrateful. There’s too much left for me to do.

I want to watch my son’s life unfold, see him enjoying life and having his own family. I want to have grandkids and be that fun Grandad everyone wants, a pocketful of sweets and a twinkle in my eye as I teach them poker and blackjack.  I want to laugh some more with my friends, grow old disgracefully with them. I want to explore the world, see beautiful sights across all continents, dip my toes in the oceans and seas. I want to watch more seasons of The Walking Dead.

I want to fall in love one more time, and feel that person’s love wrapped around me always. I want someone to hold me and know that I am their whole world. But that’s not going to happen, I’m going to die alone, I’d better get used to that and not wallow in a pity pool. I want someone to hold my hand as I take my final breaths. But that’s selfish isn’t it, I should be grateful I am single and therefore sparing someone that loves me the agony of watching me ebb away without them.

I haven’t told anyone yet. How do you tell people you’re a ticking time bomb? Do you tell people? My first instinct is to tell everyone. This is big news, I need to share, to get support, to get help making sense of it all. A Facebook status maybe, ‘Make the most of me, I’m not going to be here for much longer.’ Too dramatic? How about just simply ‘I’m dying.’ Too basic? After all, aren’t we all dying in various degrees? I’ve just moved up a few gears and I’m speeding along in the fast track lane. Typical, the only race I’m going to win is the death race.

If everyone knows I’m fast tracking death I’ll get sympathetic looks everywhere I go, do I really want people in my local Tesco’s looking at me thinking ‘oh that’s the man that’s dying, how sad’, and then carry on deciding what shade of toilet roll to buy. Do I just tell family? I have to tell my family. How do I do that? To see their faces try and grapple with emotion, to see their pain, to feel responsible for their grief. They need to prepare though, if you can ever prepare for someone you love dying. I’ve lost two people suddenly that I loved from heart attacks, I didn’t have chance to say goodbye or tell them I loved them. That haunts me. I don’t want anyone else to feel that.

There are too many emotions pin-balling around in my head. It’s like my brain doesn’t know what it should be feeling so it’s throwing everything out there, hoping the right one sticks in place. I’m going to just have to take each day as it comes. Find out what emotion my brain tries out each morning.

Today I woke up wanting to make the most of the day. I’m going out with Dave and some other work mates after our shift has finished, Murphy’s getting married so we’re off to celebrate his future. I’m going to have about six pints to celebrate mine. It’s worth celebrating. Some people have heart attacks or get hit by a bus, they’re gone instantly, I’m a lucky one getting notice to go. I can do my goodbyes and tie up my loose ends, closure. And if I’m really lucky a fiftieth party that will rock everyone’s socks off. And maybe their pants.