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Marzipan Cat Zombies

Published February 1, 2017 by Naomi Rettig

Phil pushed the bookcase against the door then wiped the sweat from his forehead with the bottom of his Captain America t-shirt.

‘That’s pointless, cats can’t open doors,’ said Joe, slumping onto the bed next to Rohan.

Phil looked across at his two friends. ‘Just in case. Cats don’t normally turn into marzipan and eat people either, we don’t know what they can do now.’

‘I don’t think they’ll be able to open doors.’ Joe raised his eyebrows.

‘Well, just in case. Humor me.’ Phil paced across to the bed and kicked Joe’s foot.

‘Hey, guys, c’mon,’ said Rohan.

‘Sorry Ro, you ok?’ Joe asked.

‘Of course he’s not ok numbnuts, he just watched his sister being bitten by a marzipan cat, and then turning into marzipan herself!’ Phil pulled up his desk chair and sat down opposite Joe and Rohan.

Joe stretched out and kicked Phil’s leg. ‘I’m aware of that numbernuts, I saw it too. And old Mrs.Terry on the corner, all her five cats had marzipaned, she had no chance.’

‘What’s happening guys? What we gonna do?’ Rohan’s eyes flicked back and forth between Joe and Phil.

Phil sighed. ‘I don’t know.’

‘When will your mom and dad be back?’ Rohan threw his question in Phil’s direction.

Phil rubbed his eyes, his hands slightly trembling. ‘They won’t be coming back. It was on the TV before you both got here, it’s all over the place, the cats, they’re everywhere.’

Joe pulled his legs up onto the bed. ‘They can’t be everywhere.’

‘They’re everywhere,’ said Phil, through gritted teeth.

Rohan knelt up on the bed, surveying out of the window. He could see yellow cats, lots of yellow plastic looking cats, prowling and pacing along the hydrangea lined neighborhood. ‘What we gonna do?’

‘We can stay here? Wait for help.’ Joe nodded at his own suggestion.

‘Help won’t be coming.’ Phil swiveled left and right on his chair. ‘Everybody bitten or scratched turns to marzipan and dies.’

Joe joined Rohan looking out of the window. ‘Why aren’t the cats dying? When they turn to marzipan, why aren’t they dying, like the people?’

‘I don’t know, I didn’t create the mutant marzipan moggies did I?’ Phil rubbed sweat off his forehead again. ‘And the people, after they’ve turned and are dead, they come back to life.’

Joe spun away from the window and looked back at Phil. ‘Shit.’

‘So they are ok then?’ Rohan turned to join the other boys’ stares.

‘Yeah they’re fine.’ Phil’s fake smile turned into a glare. ‘Of course they’re not ok, they’re made of solid marzipan, doofus.’

The three boys sat silently. Joe bit at his nails, Phil rocked on the chair, and Rohan stared at his red socks. A clock in the shape of a rocket ticked behind Phil on his desk. Loud meowing and human screams fought for airspace outside.

Rohan looked up from his socks. ‘If no help is coming, we’re going to have to kill the cats ourselves.’

‘And just how do you kill them?’ Joe got up and started to pace the small room. ‘I mean, I know how you’d kill a normal cat, but one that’s made of fucking marzipan?’

‘Your mum would freak at your language,’ said Rohan.

Joe stopped his pacing. ‘My mum is probably almond paste right now, I don’t think she’d fucking care.’

‘You’re such a grown up.’ Rohan pulled his knees to his chest and wrapped his arms around them.

‘Fuck fuck fuckity fuck.’ Joe continued his pacing.

Phil stopped moving on the chair. ‘We have to eat them.’

‘What?’ Joe stopped in his tracks.

‘The cats,’ said Phil. ‘It said on the news, the only way they can be stopped is by eating them.’

‘Eating them?’ Rohan grimaced.

Joe swung his arms animatedly. ‘Can’t we just chop their heads off?’

‘If their heads are chopped off they just morph back together, same if you squash them,’ Phil mimed squishing and growing with his hands, ‘they just go back into their cat shapes. Guessing it’s the same for the people too.’

‘I can’t eat people,’ said Joe.

Rohan wiped his hands down his thighs. ‘I can’t eat cats. I’m a vegetarian.’

‘It’s bloody marzipan. Without the blood.’ Phil twirled around in the chair to face Joe. ‘Just like eating the marzipan fruits your Auntie Gayle gives you at Christmas.’

‘Eating a non-moving marzipan apple the size of my thumb is a bit different to eating a full sized marzipan cat in attack mode, or a relative,’ said Joe.

Phil stood up and walked across to Joe. ‘We can stun the cat, or person, first, by whacking them with something, then eat them quickly.’

Joe shrugged and fiddled with his belt. ‘At least we won’t have to worry about finding food.’ He attempted to laugh but just made a snorting noise and twitched his lips.

‘Maybe we can make a pact though.’ Phil patted Joe’s shoulder.  ‘I don’t think any of us want to eat our own family.’

‘No!’ gasped Rohan.

‘Gross,’ said Joe.

Phil looked across at Rohan, then back to Joe. ‘So why don’t we agree, that if we get in a ‘situation’ with family, one of us others will deal with it.’

Rohan started to cry. ‘I can’t.’

Joe slunk over to the bed and sat next to Rohan. ‘Look Ro, I know it’s hard but we gotta pull together here.’

‘No, I mean I can’t. I can’t eat marzipan.’ Rohan stifled his sobs. ‘I’m diabetic.’

‘Shit.’ Phil kicked the bookcase.

From the other side of the door there was a hiss of a cat. Phil leapt away from the bookcase and door and almost landed on Joe’s lap as he launched himself onto the bed. The cat started scratching at the door.

Joe gripped Rohan’s knee. ‘Christ, maybe it’ll go away?’ The scratching at the door continued.

Rohan swallowed hard. ‘How can marzipan make a scratching noise like that?’

Joe realized he was holding Rohan’s knee and let go. He frowned at Rohan. ‘I don’t know, shall we open up the door and find out?’

Rohan hugged his legs again and lowered his head.

‘Sorry Ro,’ said Joe. ‘I’m not feeling myself.’

Phil shuffled across the bed a little. ‘You’re looking a little yellow Joe, you feel sick?’

Joe shook his head. ‘No, just a bit spaced, like you? Don’t you feel spaced?’

‘Wired, I’m feeling wired, not spaced.’ Phil turned his head to Rohan. ‘Ro?’

‘Not spaced, hyper ventilating.’ Rohan edged away a few inches from Joe.

Phil stood up slowly. ‘You haven’t been bitten have you?’

‘No,’ said Joe.

‘Or scratched, you might not have felt a scratch while we were running over here.’ Rohan slid off the bed and stood next to Phil.

‘No, I’m fine.’ Joe clenched his hands.

‘You’re definitely more yellow now. Look.’ Phil pointed to Joe’s bare legs, not covered by his shorts.

‘It’s the light in here.’ Joe grabbed the pillow from the bed and tried to cover his legs.

‘Shit Joe, you’re turning, look at the scratch on your arm!’ Phil took a step back, bumping into the chair.

All three boys looked at Joe’s arm. His skin was buttery yellow. There was a gaping gash, about an inch long, and thick yellow pus paste oozed out from it.

‘No! Oh God no. Guys you have to help me!’ Joe cried as he stared at his changing body.

‘We can’t do anything,’ said Phil, gripping onto the back of the chair. ‘There’s no cure, we can’t save you.’

‘Then you have to kill me.’ Joe stopped crying and sniffed. He held his arms out. ‘Eat me.’

‘You’re not fully turned! I can’t eat you yet.’ Phil grimaced.

Joe lowered his arms. ‘Ok, well, get ready.’

‘I don’t think I can do this,’ said Phil, sitting in the chair.

‘You have to,’ Joe pleaded. ‘Rohan can’t or he’ll go into a diabetic coma.’

Rohan shifted slightly from side to side, sniffing.

‘There are bits of you that I really don’t think I can eat.’ Phil nodded towards Joe’s crotch.

‘Christ Phil, you can’t leave just my wiener running around after people.’ Joe rubbed the pus paste into his arm as a bit more oozed out. ‘What kind of sicko does that.’

‘What kind of sicko eats your wiener!’ Phil made a snorting noise as he laughed and stifled a cry at the same time.

Joe laughed and wiped yellow tears away with his sticky fingers.

‘Can’t you just leave?’ Rohan mumbled. ‘You could eat that cat on your way out.’

‘Wow, really finding out about my friends now.’ Joe smiled at Rohan.

Rohan limply smiled back. ‘It’s because we’re your friends we don’t want to eat you.’

‘C’mon Joe.’ Phil stood up. ‘We need to throw you under the bus.’

Joe looked to Rohan then Phil. ‘What bus?’

‘It’s a metaphysical bus.’ Phil took a step closer to Joe and hovered his hand over Joe’s shoulder, gently tapping with his fingers. ‘C’mon Joe, take one for the team, I’d leave if it was me infected. I’d push you out the door but I don’t want my fingers sinking into your fat marzipan middle there.’

‘I’d eat you if we were switched numbernut.’ Joe stood up and stepped towards the door. ‘I’ll eat the cat, then I’ll run away from the house, draw any others away.’

Rohan moved closer. ‘Thanks Joe.’

‘Sorry bud.’ Phil’s voice started to crack.

Joe nodded. ‘Get ready to slam the door shut.’ He started to shove the bookcase out of the way but his thumb mushed into the wood. Sighing, he scraped it off, remolded it, and stuck it on his head.

Phil laughed. ‘Numbnut.’ He dragged the bookcase away from the door and held the door handle. He locked eyes with Joe. ‘Ready?’

Joe nodded, and smiled at Phil and Rohan. Phil yanked the door open and Joe shot out, Phil slamming the door behind him. Phil leant against the door and closed his eyes. Rohan sat on the bed, leant forward, and held his head in his hands. The boys were silent as the wailing of a cat and scuffling outside the door took place. There was a final high pitched cat screech then the landing fell silent too.

After five minutes of stillness, Phil stopped leaning against the door and turned, pressing his ear up against it. ‘Joe? You still there?’

‘Yes,’ said Joe from behind the door.

Rohan lifted his head from his hands. ‘I thought you were going to run away?’

‘I was.’ Joe’s voice sounded muffled. ‘I don’t want to die out there on my own. I’m scared.’

‘He’s going to fully turn any minute.’ Rohan whispered to Phil.

Phil nodded, then talked to the door again. ‘Did you eat the cat?’

‘No. Well, I tried to eat it, but it’s very struggly. I ate its leg. It’s not happy with me. It’s just staring at me now. I’m sorry’

Phil placed his hand flat against the door. ‘I’m sorry too Joe’. He turned and looked at Rohan, and raised his eyebrows.

Rohan nodded and stood up from the bed. Phil slowly twisted the door handle and opened it. Joe was sat on the floor, not only was his skin bright yellow but his hair had turned from dark brown to yellow chunky strands. His thumb was still on his forehead.

Phil opened the door wider. He could see an angry looking marzipan cat in a crouching attack position further along the landing. ‘Let the cat come in. And put your thumb back where it should be.’

‘If you’re going to be marzipan, we will too,’ said Rohan.

‘No, you can stay safe.’ Joe shuffled to his feet, removing his thumb from his head and molding it back on his hand.

‘No one is safe. If we don’t have our families we only have each other, but if we don’t have each other, what’s the point in hiding out.’ Phil shrugged.

The cat suddenly rocketed itself into the room, hissing and lashing out in a frenzied Catherine Wheel of almond rage.

‘It got me!’ Rohan rubbed his leg.

‘Me too,’ said Phil.

The cat limped out on its three legs, tail twitching like a caffeinated cobra. Joe shuffled into the room and slumped onto the bed. His eyelashes had turned to marzipan strands.

‘Do you think we’ll know each other when we turn?’ asked Rohan. ‘You know, when our brains are marzipaned?’

‘Yeah, sure we will.’ Phil patted Rohan on the shoulder. ‘Friends and numbnuts forever.’

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New Year’s Eve

Published December 31, 2016 by Naomi Rettig

‘Wow it’s cold,’ says Patrick, stepping outside and closing the door. He puts his gloves on, and a icy mist escapes from between his lips.

Ruth raises her eyebrows. ‘Well it is winter.’

‘Funny girl.’ He crinkles his nose up at her. ‘You never did feel the cold.’

‘I’m Welsh, we’re tough and hardy.’ She dazzles him with a wide smile.

Patrick laughs, exhaling more frosty clouds. ‘I won’t argue with that.’

Ruth adjusts her woolen hat, tucking her fringe up into it. ‘Ready to go?’

‘Yep.’ Patrick holds his hand out and Ruth’s hand slides into his with ease.

They walk in comfortable silence, just the sound of shoes crunching onto snow soundtracks the short walk from Patrick’s parents’ house to the town square. A few people are hurrying from The Golden Lion across to The Three Witches, trying not to get slapped by Jack Frost. Ruth always wanted someone to open a pub in town with the word wardrobe in the name, just so a pub crawl could involve going to The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Patrick loved her so much that, if he’d won the lottery, he would’ve bought a pub and called it The Wonky Wardrobe, just to make her laugh.

They wander towards The Lion and stand just back from the window, looking in on a busy party scene. The sounds of music, laughter, and cheering, all leak out from the windows, and burst through the door when someone braves the outdoors.

Patrick squeezes Ruth’s hand. ‘There’s Rob and Danny, I think they’re trying to outdo each other in the most embarrassing Christmas jumpers.’

‘You want to go in and have a drink?’

‘No.’ He watches them downing their pints. ‘I said my Happy New Year to them earlier.’

Ruth glances to Patrick. ‘Oh yes, good time?’

‘Yep, Rob got his promotion, which is about time as he deserves it. Danny, well, Danny’s Danny. He couldn’t decide which girlfriend to go out with tonight so that’s why he’s out with Rob.’

‘Harsh.’

Patrick shrugs. ‘Rob doesn’t mind.’

‘I meant for the girlfriends,’ says Ruth, shaking her head.

‘Oh. Yes, it is I guess. They don’t know about each other. Yet.’

They both carry on observing through the window. It must be warm in the pub as Danny is taking his jumper off. He reveals a t-shirt with the slogan ‘babe magnet’ printed on it, much to Rob’s amusement. Rob keeps his reindeer jumper on, it’s quite impressive as the reindeer’s nose flashes red.

‘Silly question, but why doesn’t he just choose one?’ asks Ruth.

‘He can’t decide. He likes them all but isn’t in love with any of them.’ Patrick removes his stare from Rob’s flashing jumper and turns his head to Ruth. ‘He’s not as lucky as me finding you.’

Ruth turns to return his gaze. ‘I love you.’

‘I love you too, for eternity.’ Patrick feels tears gathering up as he looks deep into Ruth’s eyes.

‘Are you sure you want to come away with me? I can wait if you want to stay here longer.’

Patrick swallows down his tears. ‘Don’t be silly, I want to come with you. What have I got here without you?’

‘Err, family friends, work.’ She raises her eyebrows.

‘You’re all the family I need, I won’t be missed by the rest of my family, and I can pop in at any moment to see them. My friends will be sad when they find out I’ve gone without saying a proper goodbye, I couldn’t though as they would’ve tried to talk me out of it.’ Patrick looks back into the pub. ‘Not that they don’t want me to be with you, but because they’d think it was better if I stayed.’ He looks back to Ruth, who is studying his face. ‘But when they find out, they’ll know I’ve followed my heart and done the right thing for me. And as for work, I only work to pay the bills, I will not miss unblocking toilets and examining u-bends.’

Ruth does mock shock. ‘Really?’

‘Yes really, come on, before they spot me.’ Patrick takes Ruth’s hand and leads her away from the pub.

As they walk through the square, Mrs. Timpson from the Post Office is coming out of The Three Witches, carrying a bottle of wine.

Patrick whispers to Ruth. ‘Appropriate.’

‘Shh,’ says Ruth. ‘She’ll hear you.’

Mrs. Timpson keeps her judging eyes on Patrick as she walks past, her face all lemon pinched and sour. ‘Evening Patrick.’

Patrick stops. ‘Happy new year.’

Mrs. Timpson just grunts as she carries on walking away.

‘She never liked me,’ says Ruth, pulling him back into motion. ‘Come on.’

They walk out of town and along an overgrown footpath towards the river. The noise of the town dissolves behind them and the crunch from underfoot soothes once again. They reach the stone bridge, it’s high up over the river and the ice on the water far below sparkles in the moonlight like angel’s tears.

‘Our spot,’ says Ruth.

‘Yes, our spot.’ Patrick squeezes Ruth’s hand. ‘When I proposed to you here last New Year’s Eve, I didn’t think it’d be our last time here.’

‘It’s not the last time, we can come back whenever we want.’ Ruth sits on the stone wall of the bridge, pulling Patrick towards her. ‘And if you want to stay here now, you don’t have to come with me, I’ll understand, and I’ll wait for you, for eternity.’

Patrick moves closer. He closes his eyes and he can feel an icy breath on him. ‘I’m not having second thoughts at all, I’ve never felt so right about something.’

‘No one ever thinks,’ says Ruth, so quietly it’s barely a whisper.

Patrick opens his eyes. ‘What do you mean?’

Ruth smiles gently. ‘Oh, I mean, no one ever thinks things will happen to them, do they. Danny never thought he’d be stuck in a love quadrangle, Rob never thought he’d have to wait five long years for that promotion, and I never thought I’d die in a car accident.’ She sighs. ‘And the woman who caused the crash didn’t think she’d cause a multiple pile up by having a heart attack that morning.’

‘And I didn’t think I’d meet the love of my life but I did. I’m the luckiest man in the world.’ Patrick climbs up onto the wall. He balances on the edge.

Ruth stands up next to him. ‘Would you like me to hold your hand?’

Patrick takes a last look down at the twinkling icy water, far below. Even in the moonlight he can see the rocks poking out from the shallow water, like mini icebergs. At this distance, he will easily break his neck. ‘Yes.’

Ruth’s fingers entwine his and she squeezes tight.

‘Don’t let go.’ Patrick closes his eyes.

‘I won’t,’ whispers Ruth.

Patrick steps forward.

A Conversation With Myself When a Wasp Tangoed on my Face.

Published November 6, 2016 by Naomi Rettig

(Scene: sat on a bus, near the back, approximately 10 other passengers on board. Couple move from seat on my right to seats in front of me.)

Why have they moved?

I don’t know, maybe the sun was in their faces on that side.

Oh, yes, probably.

Oh no, there’s a wasp, they’ve moved from the wasp. It’s followed them though. They’ve brought the wasp over to our side!

Well if she stops waving her hands about it will go away.

They’re moving back now.

Good, the wasp is moving too.

Yay, it’s going down the front of the bus.

Can everyone stop waving their arms around, they’re making the wasp angry.

If it stings you, I bet you go into anaphylactic shock.

Don’t be a drama queen.

You’re allergic to penicillin, pet saliva and fur, feathers, and broad beans. And you have a swollen throat already because you’re ill. A sting from that wasp could make your throat swell, even a little more, and you could die.

You’re such an idiot.

It’s coming back up the bus!

Don’t panic. If I just keep still it won’t bother us. I’ll make myself invisible to the wasp.

You’re wearing the most floral blouse you have, and you’re wearing fleur de fig perfume, you couldn’t make yourself more attractive to the wasp unless you dressed as a female wasp.

Just keep still.

Christ it’s on the windowsill in front now. If it comes near us, you’ll have to kill it. No one else on the bus is going to. It’s the wasp or you. You decide.

What can I kill it with?

Your kindle is in your bag.

Don’t be stupid, there’s a note book in there too I can use.

Well slide your hand in and get it out ready. The wasp is getting closer. That’s it, nice and slowly.

I’m ready for it now. Where did it go?

I don’t know, we share the same eyes, I was looking in the bag with you. Everyone else is looking around for it too.

Maybe it went out the wind-ohhhh…IT’S ON MY FUCKING FACE!

Don’t swear!

It’s on my fucking face!

Follow your own advice, keep perfectly still, don’t make any sudden movements to scare it.

I’m not even breathing. It’s on my face. It’s doing a fudging tango on my cheek. I can feel its tippy-tappy feet. Bastard.

Keep calm. Don’t cry, your salty tears will only aggravate it.

I don’t think I can keep my silent screaming silent for much longer.

I can’t believe the man over there just told you to keep still because it’s on your face.

I know! Does he think I don’t know this! Fudge Womble!

Ooh.

Hallelujah!

You’ve got quicker reflexes than I thought.

That didn’t seem quick, that seemed to take forever to buzz from my cheek to the headrest in front.

Are you sure he’s dead?

When I whacked him, his head propelled two seats forward, I’m pretty sure he’s dead. Even if he was a zombie wasp, he’d be dead.

Did that lady really tut at you because you killed the wasp?

I think so yes.  Numpty nugget.

 

 

 

 

 

CHAMELEON

Published September 2, 2016 by Naomi Rettig

 

‘Argh! Jesus fucking Christ Jemma!’ Carl screamed. ‘What was that!?’

‘That, my love, was me injecting air into your vein, sixty millilitres of it to be precise and you have approximately fifteen minutes left before you die.’

‘What!?’

‘The air bubble will work its way up your body and when it fills the chambers of your heart it will cause a cardiac arrest.’ Jemma slid the silky black blindfold from Carl’s eyes, smiling sweetly as he blinked in defiance of the light. ‘A post mortem will reveal just that, a plain old boring heart attack, brought on by an energetic afternoon of sex and alcohol,’ she continued smiling at him, ‘a lot of men would think that was a good way to die.’

Carl attempted to move his arms and legs but he was still securely handcuffed and tied to all four iron bedposts with Jemma straddled across him. ‘Is this part of the game? Jem?’

‘No silly, I’m not playing games now, this is real and your time is ticking. Tick tock.’ She tossed the empty syringe to the side of the bed and ran her hands through her hair.

‘I don’t understand?’

‘I know you don’t, that was my plan. If you’d understood you wouldn’t have been so easy to manipulate. I’ve had an unfair advantage, like playing chess with a monkey, and now its checkmate to me.’

‘You’re not making sense.’ Carl tried to move his arms again. ‘C’mon Jem, unlock these. I love you.’

Jemma leaned forward and kissed Carl’s forehead gently. ‘I know you do baby, I made that happen. But I don’t love you, I just pretended to.’ Her smile dropped, leaving behind bitter cold eyes boring into him.

‘For eight months?!’

‘Yes, for eight months. I’ve hated you for eight months. And loathed you for longer.’ Jemma reached over to the bedside table. Sipping champagne from the glass her breasts in their cream lace cups lingered teasingly over Carl’s face. She felt his body respond below her and she sat back, adjusting herself against his naked sweaty flesh. ‘So predictable.’

He bit on his lip, struggling to reverse his primitive reaction. ‘You never loved me?’

‘No. Now baby you need to be thinking quicker than this to work out why I’m murdering you. I’d like to see the realisation on your face when you do, that would be an extra thrill for me, but your death is the end goal of my project. Tick tock.’ The icy eyed smile manically returned.

Carl squirmed and the metal circling his wrists cut in causing him to recoil into the bed. Jemma steadied herself with her hands on his chest. She smirked at him. ‘Steady there bucking bronco, you know, I’m actually getting turned on knowing that you are about to die. Up ‘til now I’ve had to fake every moan and groan that I made when you touched me. I wanted to vomit and scrub myself with bleach after having sex with you…’

‘But you were…’

‘Lubricant. If you cast your tiny mind back to every time we’ve had sex you’ll remember I always excused myself first to “freshen up”. What I really meant by that was that I had to prepare myself with lubricant because the thought of you touching me made me as dry as the Sahara.’

‘Didn’t know I was screwing a psycho,’ Carl’s confused face morphed into anger, ‘you’ll get locked up for this.’

‘I won’t get locked up silly, everything has been planned. A post mortem won’t show up anything other than a tragic accident of nature. A tragic accident that happens in about,’ Jemma glanced at the clock on the wall, ‘ten minutes.’ She pursed her lips and blew him a kiss, ‘tick tock.’

‘What about where you injected me you stupid bitch?’ Carl sneered.

‘Oh, you mean the injection hole in your arm? The same one where you gave blood from this morning?’ Jemma fluttered her eye lashes and spoke in a high husky voice, ‘Oh Carl, there’s a blood bank outside Asda, you could be a hero and donate, and then I could reward my hero with fun and naughty games.’ She focused sharply into his eyes and dropped her voice back down, ‘I think those were my words to you. A rattle of handcuffs and your brain sank to your dick. Sadly predictable, again, but simple for me to work with.’

Carl’s sneer had gone. ‘You fucking bitch.’

‘Yes, I suppose I am. I’m going to take that as a compliment.’

‘Why do you want me dead Jemma? What have I done to you?’

‘You ruined my life. So now I’m taking yours,’ she pressed herself down, her lips just millimetres from Carl’s, ‘and my name is not Jemma.’ She winked and stretched across for the champagne bottle. ‘We’ve drunk it all. Oh, there’s a little left.’ Holding the bottle above him she poured the last drops onto his mouth, arched down and licked his bottom lip provocatively.

‘What the fuck?!’ Carl wrenched his head away from her, ‘you’re crazy! Who are you?’

Jemma laughed. ‘I’m totally sane. And I created Jemma just for you, you should be flattered really.’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘I know. Poor baby. I’ll tell you more. Do you think we have time to open another bottle? Shall I risk it? Yes I think I will. This is definitely a celebration moment.’ Jemma dismounted Carl and sashayed out of the bedroom in her patent stilettos. For a brief moment Carl’s eyes strayed from her heels to her suspenders and bare bottom before she disappeared from view. He frantically tried to sit up, twisting his legs but they were firmly tied with rope and his wrists were not going to slip free of the handcuffs. Lying back despondently Carl shut his eyes.

His mind drifted back to when he first met her. Eight months ago, a hot August day, he was wilting, selling flowers on his stall when Jemma breezed by to buy some. She was as fresh as a daisy, smooth blonde hair perfectly in place, a thin blue dress that hinted enticingly at her not so hidden underwear, bright blue mesmerising eyes, red stilettos and a killer smile. That smile. She bought yellow roses to celebrate moving into her new flat, which happened to be just around the corner from his, he asked her out for a drink to celebrate properly, ‘can’t have a celebration without a bit of bubbly’ he’d said. How could she have played him when he was the one who chased and caught her?

The pop of a champagne cork shocked him back to the present. Jemma emerged back into the bedroom with the bottle fizzing over. She looked slightly different, he squinted at her trying to work out why.

‘Good, you’re still alive,’ she strode back over to the side of the bed, watching him study her, ‘oh, yes, I’ve taken my lenses out. No need for me to pretend I have blue eyes anymore. Quiet a relief really, they make my eyes tired and itchy.’

Carl’s voice was almost a whisper as he frowned in confusion. ‘You’ve got green eyes.’

‘Bingo. We have a winner. I’ll let you into another little secret Carl, I’m not a natural blonde. But I think you might have guessed that already.’ She gestured to her pubic hair which was on full display to him.

‘Who are you? What do you want?’

Jemma placed the bottle on the table and sighed. ‘Carl, you are wasting time, your time, not mine, I have all the time in the world but you have limited minutes to work it out.’ She sat to the side of him on the bed and stroked his hair. ‘You know what I want, I want you to die. That is going to happen. And you met me before, before I became Jemma.’

‘I’ve never seen you before, when you moved here that was the first time I saw you, I swear. Maybe you’ve mixed me up with someone else?!’ He swallowed hard and his eyes pleaded.

‘I would never get you mixed up with anyone else. I introduced you to Jemma last year but you saw the real me two years ago.’ Jemma studied Carl’s eyes as they flickered with thoughts and questions. ‘As well as my green eyes my hair was brunette and short. And I dressed quite plainly. Not a girl you would’ve looked once at.’

Carl’s breathing grew more rapid and his hair was wet with sweat. ‘I’m not feeling good. Phone an ambulance Jem. Please.’

‘If you say my real name I might phone for help.’ She poured champagne into her glass.

‘I don’t know who you are.’ Carl closed his eyes.

Jemma clenched her jaw, her cheek pulsing with rage. She downed the contents of the glass in one gulp and hurled it full force at the wall. A startled Carl reopened his eyes, he’d never seen her angry before. She scrambled back on top of him, grasping his hair tightly in fierce fists, pinning his head down savagely. She thrust her snarling face into his.

‘You do know who I am! Say it!’

Carl trembled beneath her. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘Sorry for destroying my life?’

‘No, I’m sorry, I’m sorry I don’t know who you are.’

Jemma’s hand released Carl’s hair and swung out and back slapping forcefully across his face. He gasped, wide eyed. She took a deep breath, closing her eyes for a few silent seconds and then gently placed her hand on his cheek where a red imprint was already rising up. ‘I shouldn’t have hit you. There’ll be a mark there when they do your post mortem. I’ll say I slapped you during sex because you asked me to.’ Jemma’s hands trailed lightly down Carl’s torso and she gazed at his chest lost in thought, her shoulders now rounded forward.

Carl was hesitant to interrupt her eerie trance but the ticking of the wall clock in the silence mocked him. ‘Why Jemma?’

Jemma lifted her head up. ‘Hmm? What?’

‘Why did you come to me as Jemma and not the real you?’

‘To snare you. I stalked you for months before. I followed you to pubs and bugged this flat.’

‘You bugged my flat? Is it still bugged?’

‘No. I don’t need it anymore. It served its purpose.’

‘Which was?’

‘To find out what you liked, what made you tick. I needed to be the perfect woman for you. And I was wasn’t I?’ She searched deep into his eyes for confirmation.

‘Yes. Was it all lies?’

‘Yes.’ Jemma seemed to re-inflate herself with a large nasal breath, shoulders back, simulated smile reapplied. ‘You prefer blondes with blue eyes so I dyed my hair and started wearing blue contacts. You like long hair so I grew mine. You like your girlfriends feminine and sexy so I changed my fashion choices. You love girls wearing killer heels, a challenge for me as I have always just worn flat shoes, so I had to teach myself to walk on four inch spikes. Am I correct so far?’

‘Yes.’

‘I listened to your boring chat with your boring friends, Dave and Paul have got to be the most infantile jerks ever, and discovered your favourite films, music, football etc… did you really think I watched football let alone supported the same team as you?’

‘Yes.’

‘I even learnt what you liked in bed by listening to you having sex with the random slags you brought back from the pub. Did you really think I enjoyed doing that?’ Jemma raised an eyebrow at the question but Carl just stared at her mutely. The sadistic smile spread like a stain across her face. ‘You really are so gullible. Are you ready to tell me who I am yet? You only have a couple of minutes left.’

Carl started to sob. ‘I don’t know your name. If I did I’d tell you so you’d phone the ambulance.’

‘See, you really are gullible. I won’t be phoning for an ambulance. Well, not while you’re still alive. I’ll phone when you die and do my best acting, I’ll be hysterical when I beg for help because my boyfriend has stopped breathing. They’ll talk me through CPR while the ambulance speeds towards me, I will of course convincingly pretend I’m doing it, but really I’ll be finishing off the champagne, toasting your death.’ Jemma looked across to the smashed glass on the floor. ‘I’ll have to clean that up before I phone, I don’t want anything niggling at an over-zealous policeman. That air bubble must be nearly at you heart.’

‘Just tell me who you are. Please.’ Carl wept.

‘You first saw me two years ago. Two years ago today actually. It’s an anniversary.’

Carl’s eyes dilated and fixed on to Jemma’s eyes with tortured recognition.

‘I was sat in a car, travelling home from my honeymoon. Buzz in when you know the answer by the way; that air bubble must be knocking on the chamber door. I was in the passenger seat, my husband of seven days was driving. His name was Jake. Jake Jones. Do you remember that name?’

Tears plummeted painfully down Carl’s face.

‘I thought you might. Well, I hoped you would. You do don’t you?’ Carl didn’t speak. ‘Just nod if you remember his name.’ Carl nodded. ‘Good. I assumed if you kill someone you remember their name. I’m disappointed that you don’t remember me. But after all, you weren’t even looking at us when you hit us were you? Texting on your phone the judge said. You didn’t even realise you had drifted over to the wrong side of the road as you were so busy telling a girl what you’d like to do to her later. We didn’t stand a chance the speed you were doing. I was told I was lucky that I didn’t die too. Well I did. I died that night too.’

‘I’m so sorry.’ Snot and saliva mingled with Carl’s tears.

‘Did you know I was pregnant?’

Horror swelled in Carl’s eyes.

‘I was fifteen weeks pregnant. I miscarried two weeks later. On the day I was burying my husband. You killed her too.’

Guttural sounds came from Carl, he closed his eyes but the tears still surged.

‘Do you understand now? Do you understand why I want you dead?’

Carl’s voice was barely audible. ‘Yes.’

Jemma slid off Carl’s body and retrieved her skirt and blouse from the floor. She pulled the skirt on, zipped it up quickly and started to button the blouse. ‘I’ll leave the door on the latch, someone will find you.’

Carl observed Jemma with confusion, a heaving chest and stuttering sobs. The stench of urine filled the room as the sheet below him darkened. ‘Don’t go. Please. I don’t want to die alone.’

‘You won’t.’ She fastened the last button and smoothed down her skirt. ‘I didn’t inject air into your vein. I just stuck the needle into you.’ The painted on smile had been erased from Jemma’s face, she was now expressionless and detached.

Carl’s crying had ceased, a baffled snotty mess focussed on Jemma. ‘What? I thought you wanted me dead?’

‘I do. But I’m not a killer. Like you are. I want you to suffer as much as I do every day. I will make your life a living hell. I will make you wish you were dead too. I will make you kill yourself. This is just the beginning.’ She scooped up her handbag and the syringe in one swoop from the floor and headed out the door. ‘Tick tock.’

COUNTDOWN

Published September 2, 2016 by Naomi Rettig

Sunday.13 days to go.

I haven’t written a diary since I was fifteen. I found it the other day and was transported back to those carefree days, the summer of eighty-five, cider by the river on a hot day, Simple Minds on the radio, ‘Don’t you forget about me’. Except, I had forgotten about me. Reading the teenage me I sound so vibrant and hopeful. Here I am now, anything but. I don’t recognize myself.  I don’t know why I’m writing this now, maybe I need a friend to talk to, but I haven’t got one. Diary, I will call you Claire. Claire is a nice name for a friend I think, someone who would listen to my ramblings over a glass of wine. I will obviously have to drink your glass of wine for you though, and I will chat to you every day. And chocolates, I think you’d be the type of Claire to share chocolate with me.

Monday.12 days to go.

I’ve had a shit day, Claire. I think maybe we can take it that every day is going to be a shit day so I don’t need to keep telling you that. Work was the usual. Vanessa was her top bitchy self, she ordered cupcakes for everyone in the office except me, because she thought I was on a diet. She didn’t need to say it as loud as she did. Becca squirmed on my behalf, then took her cake and retreated. I don’t blame her; I would have done the same. The urge to squish one of the cupcakes into Vanessa’s flawless make-up was high. I did it in my head. Slightly satisfying.

No sign of Malcolm when I got home, no take-away cartons, so he is eating out after work again. Or at his slag’s house.

I’m sat by the fire now, having our wine, LaVis Storie di Vite Pinot Grigio. It’s Italian and apparently is fruity with hints of ripe pear. I can’t taste any pear so they are very vague hints. It hits the spot though. Accompanied by a bag of Malteasers, standard size. Do you crunch or let them melt? I like to suck and melt myself.

Tuesday.11 days to go.

Vanessa ‘accidentally’ spilt my coffee over me today. She saw me coming through the door carrying it even though she said she didn’t. ‘Thank goodness you don’t wear expensive clothes’, she smirked and sauntered off. Bitch.

No Malcolm again this evening. His bed had been slept in when I checked this morning, so I know he came home at some point. I don’t know why he doesn’t stay at hers. He must think I’m stupid, or he doesn’t think about me at all. I should have left him years ago Claire, but falling out of love with someone doesn’t just happen overnight, it kind of erodes away, revealing layers you didn’t want to discover.

Our wine of the night is Cuvee des Vignerons, Beaujolais. A fruity style that goes well with chicken, lamb or cheese. I’m accompanying it with a Curly Wurly.

Wednesday.10 days to go.

Vanessa was on a training course today, hooray. The boss was in full perv mode, boo. He managed to collar me as I was photocopying in the stationary room. I offered to pass him down the staples but he said he didn’t want to interrupt me and he’d ‘just squeeze by’. A paralyzing smell of Jovan Musk assaulted my nostrils as he far too slowly rubbed his crotch across my backside, and then back again, as he retrieved the staple box. Either he didn’t have an erection or his cock was so tiny I couldn’t feel it through his non-iron polyester slacks. I’d punch him in the bollocks. If I could find them.

Talking of men with no balls, I saw Malcolm this evening. I was eating my microwaved Mexican rice when he came into the kitchen, said he had come home to freshen up as he was taking a client out to Oscar’s up town. Told me not to wait up. I didn’t speak, I wasn’t going to play along with his game of let’s pretend. I just finished my rice slowly. Years ago I would have been on his arm at a business meeting. Either he didn’t think I was an asset anymore, or he was lying and was going for a passionate night with the slag. Judging from the trail of Joop Homme left behind on his exit, it’s the latter. She bought him that for Christmas last year and he’s overused it since. I knew they were having sex when she bought him that, who buys their boss eau de toilette? Yes, Claire, a slag.

Wine of the night is Champteloup Rose d’Anjou, a perfect match to charcuterie. I’ve matched it with Galaxy caramel. The ‘sharing – but I’m a greedy bitch and not sharing’ size.

Thursday. 9 days to go.

Vanessa was back in full gorgon mode today. ‘I envy how you can wear sensible shoes and not care what anyone thinks. Although I guess because you’re so tall and broad you’d look like a transvestite if you wore heels.’ I’m now torn between a cupcake to the face or a stiletto in the head for her.

Malcolm graced me with his presence this evening. We ate separately, sat separately. I watched people competing to make the best quilt on TV, he did Sudoku. I’d forgotten how much his raspy breathing annoyed me. At least I won’t have to listen to that for much longer.

Wine of the night is Torres Vina Esmeralda, apparently it has delicate honey and fresh grape characters. I can taste the honey. Or that might be coming from the Toblerone accompanying it.

Friday. 8 days to go.

Vanessa was training a new girl today, Anna, she’s temping for Mandy while she’s off having baby number three. Vanessa introduced Anna to everyone in the office except me. How petty. Bitch. I was the invisible employee today, no one spoke to me all day, and even the boss didn’t stop to look down my blouse while walking past my desk. I don’t know what’s worse, being the target of nasty comments or being ignored.

Malcolm announced he was going away for the weekend on a golfing break with Jeff. I happen to know Jeff is on holiday in Portugal with Marie, there’s a photo of them both with green cocktails by the beach on Facebook. We spent the hour before he left in silence. Him packing, me reading Take a Break magazine. I had red lipstick on and wore the navy polka dot dress he once liked. He didn’t notice.

Our wine of the night is Beronia Reserva Rioja, with earthy notes of leather and coconut – thankfully not too leathered. Me and the wine. Accompanied by a Snickers and the crackling of the fire.

Saturday. 7 days to go.

The sun was out today so I wrapped up and went for a walk along the river. It was so relaxing. I felt like I didn’t have a worry in the world. I wish I didn’t have worries Claire. I know other people have worries too, maybe I could cope with their worries better and they mine. My serenity bubble was popped by a family enjoying a day of sunshine in the winter. It’s crazy how someone enjoying life can expose how much you’re not. I watched this young family, laughing and playing, and I started to crumble inside. I always knew Malcolm didn’t want children, I fooled myself that I didn’t either. I indulged in crying when I got home. I’m not a pretty crier. My eyes now look like I’ve had an allergic reaction to shellfish.

Wine of the night is Valdo Oro Puro Prosecco, fruity and bubbly. Accompanied by a Toffee Crisp.

Sunday. 6 days to go.

It rained today so I went and sat in the National Gallery. I didn’t look at the paintings, I’ve seen them many times before, I looked at the people instead. I spent the day seeing the stories of people passing by. An old lady was sat looking at ‘The Fighting Temeraire’ by Turner. She dabbed her eye with a tissue, I sat next to her and chatted to her about the painting. It was her husband’s favourite, he died five years ago but she came every year on his birthday to visit his favourite painting. Her husband was dead, and I envied her grief.

Wine of the night is Oyster Bay Merlot, an elegant wine apparently. What is an elegant wine? Elegantly paired with a box of Matchmakers, mint flavoured. An elegant chocolate.

Monday. 5 days to go.

Nauseous start in work today, I caught the lift at the wrong time. Morning rush crush. The boss was stood behind me and groped at my backside for four floors. I stood on his foot but I think he liked that as he squeezed harder.

Malcolm spent the evening working in his study. I heard laughter at one point. I haven’t heard him laugh like that since, well, I can’t remember when. That felt more of a betrayal than the sex. How dare she make him laugh like that. Slag. I turned up the volume on Bake Off, I’d rather listen to Mary Berry talking about soggy bottoms than listen to Malcolm laughing about pert bottoms.

Wine of the night is Brazin Old Vine Zinfandel Lodi, best served with saucy ribs or spicy, meaty pizza. Or Thornton’s chocolate covered toffee, as I am.

Tuesday. 4 days to go.

The boss commented ‘nice blouse Jane’ as he walked past my desk today. Vanessa said he was being sarcastic, then gave me death stares all day. How can she be jealous of me having the attention from a lobotomized sweaty octopus?

No Malcolm this evening, just a text informing me not to wait up, ‘tied up in work’. I bet they laughed at that pun.

Wine of the night is Vignale Pinot Grigio, it has a refreshing finish apparently, so I’d better finish it. Accompanying it with a Crunchie.

Wednesday. 3 days to go.

I spent all morning working on a client’s proposal, and I know I definitely saved it before I went to the toilet, yet when I got back it had been deleted and the recycle bin had been emptied. Vanessa looked very smug with herself all afternoon.

No Malcolm this evening, apparently a client wanted to see Mamma Mia. A co-incidence that the slag loves Abba I’m sure.

Wine of the night is The Hedonist Shiraz, voluptuous and silky. Just like me. Maybe not silky as I have stubbly legs today. Having a bar of Aero. Mint flavoured. Family size.

Thursday. 2 days to go.

Vanessa went into photocopy just after I’d come out. She made a huge song and dance that she couldn’t use the machine as I’d broken it. We both know full well I didn’t. An engineer had to come out and fix it, he said it looked like someone had shoved a pencil where they shouldn’t. I know where I wanted to shove a pencil.  The boss had me in his office for an informal chat, said I needed to start impressing him more if I wanted to keep my job. He licked his lips slowly as he told me this, while staring at my chest, I wanted to be sick. After dry heaving in the toilet cubicle, I heard Vanessa and Anna come in. Vanessa was telling Anna, ‘Jane does things like that all the time, any excuse to spend time with Mr. Warren, it’s disgusting really. Throwing herself at a married man all the time, as if he’d be interested in a frump like her.’ Bitch.

More laughing in the study tonight from Malcolm. I can’t listen to it anymore; I’m going up to bed to listen to Puccini’s Madame Butterfly instead. It’s ok to cry with opera.

Wine of the night is Cuvee Chasseur Vin de France, an easy drinking wine. I can confirm this. Paired with Ritter Sport marzipan. I will finish it in bed.

Friday. 1 day to go.

Best day ever in work. I bought a coffee and walnut cake from the W.I. stall in the library on the way to work. I chose one with the thickest buttercream on top. I deleted all my files and contacts from my computer, then retrieved the cake from the drawer I stashed it in. I had such an adrenalin rush carrying it over to Vanessa’s desk. ‘I have something for you.’ Her face was surprise/confusion/pleased, until I planted it full on in her face, then it was shock/horror/disbelief. I’m not completely mean though; I’d removed the walnuts from the top first. Seeing thick buttercream clinging to her false lashes was very satisfying. I licked my fingers then sauntered back to my desk, I picked up my handbag and coffee. It had gone cold as I wanted it. I walked back to the still shocked Vanessa and poured the coffee slowly over her expensive hair extensions. The rest of the office seemed to be in mid game of musical statues. The boss had stepped out of his room on hearing Vanessa’s shrieks and stood motionless, joining in with the game of statues. I walked up to him, adrenalin running on ahead. ‘You disgust me. Don’t ever touch anyone again without their permission.’ I grabbed his crotch and squeezed as hard as I could. I obviously hit the mark as his eyes watered and he let out a guttural cry and crumpled like a string less puppet. I let go of his sweaty groin and he dropped to the floor. I didn’t look back, I just walked to the lift, smiling.

No Malcolm this weekend, my choice though. I told him I had a friend coming to stay and we were having a girlie weekend of DVD’s and face packs lined up, so was there any chance I could have the house to myself?  He was so keen to get a free pass for the weekend it didn’t cross his mind that I’ve never had any friends visit or even mentioned any friends before. He smiled at me. A genuine smile. Oh how I wanted that smile to be for me, not just at me. He will never smile like that about me again.

Wine of the day is Jackson Stich Sauvignon Blanc, a punchy wine I am teaming up with Terry’s chocolate orange.

Saturday. D-Day

I treated myself to a pamper morning at Chiltern Spa. Manicure, pedicure, facial, hot stone massage and some reflexology. Maureen doing the reflexology was concerned at the amount of blockages in my body, I reassured her I was aware of them and it was being dealt with. She gave me a complimentary Indian head massage. She knew.

I started to feel tearful, maybe all the sessions released emotions I didn’t want freed. I escaped to the cinema to be distracted by someone else’s story. I was distracted by Captain America. After being amazed by superheroes I dined at the Ivy, feeling like a film star with my freshly manicured hands and glowing skin. I enjoyed an exquisite meal of rocket soup with walnut and apple salsa, fillet steak with a green peppercorn sauce, and burnt banana & butterscotch tatin with rum and raisin ice cream. I had a sedate stroll home and watched day turn to night. A curtain coming down on the final act.

Wine of the day? Hell no, Claire we’re having champagne of the day! Louis Roederer Cristal, with notes of apricot, hazelnut and Danish pastries! Blew £150 on this, it better be good.

My letter to Malcolm is written and placed on the hall table. It’s complete bullshit, in it I blame him and his affair for my suicide, declare my undying love for him and saying I can’t go on anymore knowing he is with her, blah blah blah. I know the guilt will eat away at him and slowly sink their ship of passion. It’s bad of me I know. I’m choosing to die today because I don’t want to die a slow and painfully lonely death as the cancer consumes me, but I want him to suffer too. I’m a horrid person. Although I’m not really that horrid, otherwise I would have made my death look like murder and framed him. See, I’m not that bad Claire. Just lazy.

I’m sat by the fire now, black and red negligee on, hair and make-up perfectly done. I have the one hundred co-codamol I’ve stashed by my side, and I’m washing it down with the champagne. I’m sharing my last moments with you Claire, but I’d rather be dying in the arms of someone who loves me. No offence. Would that make this more difficult though? Probably. No one is going to miss me, no children, no friends, and no loving husband. I wonder how long it will be before she moves in here? If haunting is possible I’m going to stay here and scare the shit out of her. Every day. Slag.

So here I am, D-Day. Death day. It’s our wedding anniversary today. I knew he’d forget. Twenty years ago I said I do. Now I’m saying I don’t. I have to throw you in the fire now Claire, our conversations over wine are not for anyone else’s eyes. You’ve been the best friend I’ve had. I’m sorry.

 

 

ONE HOUR

Published September 2, 2016 by Naomi Rettig

Bournemouth: 1.09 pm

Barbara switched off the radio and looked around the room. Her lounge didn’t appear to be any different. The blue and cream striped sofa, with non-scattered scatter cushions, took up most of the space. A cream rug was positioned perfectly in front of it, all of its fringes fastidiously aligned. Aromas of furniture polish and potpourri lingered placidly. The soft ticking of a brass carriage clock, marooned on a circular lace doily, on the sideboard was the only sound in the room.

Barbara noticed her hands were trembling, she grasped them together, squeezing to keep them steady. After hearing the news on the radio the stillness of the room was no longer a comforting calm to her. The news reporter’s voice, which was being broadcast on a repetitive loop, still played in Barbara’s head. ‘In approximately one hour an asteroid will collide with our planet. The asteroid is so vast in size it will obliterate Earth from existence. There is nothing we can do to stop it.’

 

Bermondsey: 1.09 pm

Stephen dropped his empty mug into the kitchen sink and bowed his head. ‘Shit.’

‘Stephen, hush your mouth.’ Coral said as she placed her hand softly on his tense shoulder. ‘The kids’ll hear you. You gotta pull yourself together, now.’

Stephen snorted and shrugged her hand away as he turned to face her. ‘We’re all gonna die in an hour, a bit of cussing not gonna hurt no one.’

‘Now listen here baby brother, I got three kids through there and I don’t want them cryin and scared, so get yourself together and be funny Uncle Stephen ‘til the end. OK?’

Stephen’s nostrils flared as he stared at Coral. ‘I aint your baby brother, I’m twenty one.’

‘Well then be a man, baby brother.’ Coral raised her eyebrow before she turned to take a container of milk out of the fridge.

Stephen sighed and walked past her towards the lounge, stopping in the doorway. ‘Glad I missed my bus home last night y’know.’

‘I know. Me too.’ Coral kept her back to him, avoiding eye contact. ‘Now scoot, get from under my feet.’

Stephen hesitated a moment, watching his sister preparing drinks like she’d done so many times before, he took a deep breath and left the kitchen.

 

Brighton: 1.09pm

Tom flicked the radio switch to ‘off’ and looked across the room to Sophie. She was already gliding across towards him. They drew together like magnets, Tom wrapped his arms tightly around her, her face nuzzled into his neck. She inhaled his musky scent and squeezed him tightly in return. His hands moved slowly to stroke her hair, her beautiful golden hair that smelled of succulent green apples, and then he cupped her face, her perfect elfin face, in his reliable calloused hands.

‘I love you so much Soph.’

She searched deeply into his watery eyes and smiled. ‘To the moon and back?’

‘To the moon and back a million times over.’ He returned her infectious smile.

Sophie raised her eyebrows. ‘A million billion?’

‘A million zillion.’

They kissed tenderly, their eyes continuing their conversation. They hugged each other tightly again.

‘Our tree?’ whispered Sophie.

‘Yes, our tree.’ Tom softly wiped away the tears from under Sophie’s eyes with his thumbs.

They silently and calmly gathered up items from the hut; some bottled water and a fruit salad that Tom had just been preparing. Tom held up a dusty bottle of champagne but Sophie smiled and shook her head so he placed it back in the cupboard. She carefully slid her knitting off its needles and put it into a hessian bag along with a tartan blanket and the water and the fruit. They slipped their sandals on before taking one last glance around their homely hut. Tom carried the bag in one hand and held Sophie’s hand in his other, their fingers snugly entwined.

 

Blackpool: 1.10pm.

The Jack Daniels bottle was a quarter empty on the passenger seat. The stench of whiskey and sweat hovered thickly in the confined space of the car. Tom Petty’s ‘I won’t back down’ blasted out from the Chevelle’s stereo. Jason’s head was reclining on the leather head rest and his eyes were shut. A blast of a horn outside whipped them open, revealing a bloodshot left eye. Jason looked out of the window but whoever had disturbed his melancholic meditation was already moving away at speed. ‘Tosser.’

He had watched people rushing away on foot and in cars, all trying to get somewhere, be somewhere else, escape. There was no escape though. Jason laughed at their stupidity. He had parked up in the small car park overlooking the sea front. He’d grabbed the bottle of Jack from the off licence in the high street when he’d heard the news, it had felt good just helping himself to it and walking out without paying, he now knew how the thieves he arrested felt. An hour didn’t give him enough time to drive over to his kids at Leeds so he’d chosen to park up, watch the sea and drink.

 

Bournemouth: 1.13 pm.

Barbara closed her eyes and recited the Lord’s Prayer. On opening her eyes she kissed the cross hanging around her neck and took her telephone book out of the sideboard. Finding her daughter’s number she picked up the phone. There was no dial tone, nothing, just dead air. Barbara sighed and replaced the handset in the cradle. She felt a guilty relief. If she’d got through to Kirsty she wasn’t sure what she would have said.

Barbara put the telephone book back in its correct place and took out a small photo album. Sitting on the sofa she slowly turned the pages, watching Kirsty grow up, laughing and smiling with her dad, Barbara herself always happy to be a spectator behind the lens. They’d never had a close bond. Barbara had provided all the practical things Kirsty needed but just couldn’t give emotionally. Kirsty had been a ‘Daddy’s girl’ and her distance widened after he had died, emotionally and then physically when Kirsty had moved to New Zealand. Barbara gently touched Kirsty’s face in the photo.

 

Bermondsey: 1.13 pm.

Coral bustled into the lounge with a tray of drinks clinking together, she set it down on the table in the middle of the room.

‘Milkshakes!’ said Kyra clapping her hands, she was next to her sister Michelle on the brown leather sofa. Stephen was on the floor with his nephew Jerome playing with a fire truck and Gary was pacing slightly, hands stuffed into his jeans pockets, by the television.

‘I shut it off.’ Said Gary looking at Coral. ‘Just kept sayin the same thing. And the phone’s dead. Can’t get hold of no one.’

Coral nodded, ‘I ‘spect everyone is tryin to call everyone else and it’s got jammed up. Everyone’ll know we’ll be thinkin of them.’

‘Yeah.’ Gary frowned. ‘I feel like I should be doin somethin,’ he shrugged his shoulders, ‘but I dunno what.’

Coral moved closer to Gary, stepping over a police car on the floor. ‘Do what you do best, carry on bein the best dad and best husband.’

Gary bit his lower lip and nodded his head. Coral glanced around. Michelle was fiddling with her charm bracelet, Jerome and Stephen were still toying with trucks and Kyra was blowing through her straw to create large bubbles in her pink milkshake. Coral took a deep breath. ‘Right then. How about a movie afternoon? Who wants to watch a film?’

All three children put their hands up in a chorus of ‘yeses’ and were instantly chatting amongst themselves.

‘Coral baby?’ Gary frowned. ‘There’s less than an hour…’

‘Hush now, we’re goin to have a movie afternoon for the children.’ Coral raised her eye brows at her husband. ‘I need us all to be happy and be havin a good time, when we…’ She swallowed hard and Gary pulled her into a tight bear hug.

 

Brighton: 1.13pm.

Tom and Sophie strolled quietly up and along the dirt lane just like they were sauntering off on one of their regular picnics. Birds were quieter than usual and a light breeze tickled through the leaves on the trees. Open fields of lush green peeked through hedgerows enticing them to stray from the track and enter. They did so near the top of the hill. Squeezing through their gap in the hedge it was only a short walk through a buttercup dotted field to their tree.

A magnificent oak stood alone and confident in the field. It had become their tree from their first picnic date here two years ago. For every occasion since then their tree had featured, even in their hand-fasting wedding last year, where a few friends had gathered with them to celebrate love and life. Tom spread the blanket out and they sat on the ground in symmetry beneath their tree.

‘It’s so peaceful.’ said Tom. ‘It already feels like we’re the only people left on the planet.’

Sophie’s hand gently rested on Tom’s. ‘Do you think they’ve got it wrong? Do you think maybe we’ll be ok here?’

‘I think they sounded pretty definite.’ Tears trickled down Tom’s face and he wiped them away with the back of his hand, turning to Sophie. ‘I love you so much, and if there is another life after this one I will find you again.’

‘I know, I love you too, and we’ll be together for eternity.’ Sophie’s lips rose in a smile but the smile failed to reach her eyes.

 

Blackpool: 1.15pm.

Jason pulled the phone out of his jeans pocket and pressed redial for his ex-wife. Expecting the engaged tone again he was surprised to hear it ringing. After four rings it was answered.

‘Hello?’

Jason sat up straight. ‘Amy it’s me, Jason.’

There was a moments’ silence. ‘What do you want?’

‘I want to speak to the kids.’

‘Not happening.’

‘C’mon Amy, don’t be like that.’ Jason sank back in the seat.

‘I’m not being like anything. The kids don’t want to talk to you. I told you that last week when I had both of them crying cause you didn’t take them bowling like you promised. You preferred to shag some slag off the estate.’

‘It wasn’t like that.’ Jason rubbed his forehead. ‘Look there’s not much time left…’

‘Time ran out for you ages ago. You’re too late.’

‘Please Amy, don’t be such a bitch, just let me say goodbye.’

‘Piss off.’ The phone beeped as Amy hung up.

Jason pressed redial. It rang once then went to voicemail. He hit the end button and dropped the phone onto his lap. ‘Fucking bitch.’ Grabbing the bottle from the passenger seat he unscrewed the top and took another huge swig from it. Some of the whiskey spilled down his chin and he wiped it away with the back of his hand. Putting the bottle back on the passenger seat he picked up his phone again and scrolled through the contacts list. Stopping at ‘Beth’ he hesitated and then scrolled down to ‘Claire’.

 

Bournemouth: 1.19 pm.

The images in Barbara’s album flowed onto Kirsty’s children. These photographs had arrived in birthday and Christmas cards. She’d never really looked at them closely before, just filed them into the album after a quick glance. She’d had yes/no conversations on the phone with them when Kirsty made the dutiful birthday and Christmas phone calls, but knowing now she’d never meet them compelled her to study the pictures.  Kirsty had suggested chatting via Skype with them all but Barbara had kept putting that off, protesting that she didn’t like technology.

A flutter of ‘why’ butterflies filled Barbara’s mind. Why did she always wait for Kirsty to phone her? Why didn’t she just pick up the phone first for a spontaneous chat? Why hadn’t she visited Kirsty and her family? Too late for why’s now. Closing the album she looked at her hands rested upon it, mottled and plump, her nails painted a perfect shade of coral. She sat eerily still with the sound of the ticking clock counting down.

 

Bermondsey: 1.21 pm.

Coral pulled away from Gary. ‘I’m fine. Let’s not fuss.’ She wiped her eye with the back of her hand. ‘I got somethin in my eye, that’s all.’

Stephen stood up. ‘I’ll close the curtains, make it dark like the cinema.’ As he drew the curtains he paused and looked down. He could see others running, walking and driving off from the estate. From nineteen floors up they looked like ants. Where were they going? To try and get to their loved ones? He was grateful that he wasn’t in his own flat alone. He quickly closed the curtains, his hands trembling slightly.

Gary plonked himself down on the sofa between the girls, the leather releasing some air that made them laugh with its rude noise. ‘C’mon then, what film we watching? Stephen get them DVD’s out from under the telly.’

‘Frozen!’ said Kyra.

Michelle rolled her eyes. ‘We’ve seen that a million times.’

‘A million million times.’ Jerome said, abandoning his truck. ‘I wanna see Teenage Mutant Ginger Turtles.’

‘No way!’ said Michelle. ‘And its ninja not ginger, stupid head.’

‘Hey hey, that’s enough.’ said Coral, she looked across at Stephen. ‘Little brothers are never stupid heads, annoyin and silly, but never stupid heads. Why don’t we let Uncle Stephen pick the film?’

Stephen cocked his head to one side and raised his eyebrow at Coral. ‘Armageddon?’

‘That’s why.’ Gary glared across at Stephen.

 

Brighton: 1.21pm.

Sophie unpacked the fruit salad and ate a small chunk of melon. ‘This is the juiciest and the sweetest melon I’ve ever tasted, here, try.’

Tom leant forward and Sophie held the melon to his lips, brushing it lightly across then she giggled as she fed it to him.

‘Delicious.’ Tom smiled. ‘You’re correct as always.’

She leant forward and her lips brushed his hungrily. The passion in their kiss was intense, just like the one on their first date, when they both realised fate had gifted them to each other.

 

Blackpool: 1.22pm.

Jason touched his phone screen and listened to it ringing. He was about to hang up when she answered.

‘Hello?’

Jason smiled and rested his head back. ‘Hey Claire.’

‘Jason?’

‘Yep it’s me.’ Jason’s smile broadened. ‘How you doing?’

‘How am I doing? Are you kidding me?’

He laughed. ‘Yeah I know, crazy shit going down.’

‘Oh, do you mean the end of the world shit or the fact you used me for sex and haven’t called for months?’

Jason’s smile dropped. ‘Aw Claire, don’t be like that, we had fun, you know I had a lot on my plate with work and my ex…’

‘Tell it to someone who cares.’

Jason’s voice grew louder and snappy. ‘Look, I’m calling you now aren’t I, I want to be with you when it all goes tits up.’

‘I don’t believe you. I bet I’m just the nearest person to you.’

‘Don’t be stupid, I want you, I can be there in, like, five minutes.’

‘Well I don’t want you here, I’m with my family.’

‘C’mon, you know you really want to be with me.’ He laughed. ‘We can have some fun.’

There was a short silence on the other end. ‘Have fun by yourself you wanker.’ The call ended.

 

Bournemouth: 1.25 pm.

Barbara placed the photo album away and opened her writing bureau, where she retrieved a small round box of violet creams. Taking them out to the hallway with her she put on her beige brogues and cashmere coat. She checked her reflection in the mirror, smoothing down her silver bobbed hair and she reapplied her coral lipstick that matched perfectly with her nails.

Carrying the chocolates and hanging her handbag over her wrist she left her bungalow and locked the door. Barbara was the only person in sight and she noticed that the birdsong that usually greeted her outside was absent. Taking in a deep breath of air she took ten steps to the bungalow next door and knocked. There was silence from within and Barbara was about to turn away when she heard someone unlocking the door. It slowly opened about four inches.

‘Hello?’ Said Barbara.

‘Hello? Said a voice from within.

‘Hello, my name is Barbara Maitland. I live next door.’

The door opened a little more to reveal an elderly lady with fuzzy white hair and startled eyes. ‘I don’t know you. Have you just moved in?’

‘No, no I’ve lived next door for ten years.’

The old lady looked Barbara up and down while pursing her thin lips. ‘I haven’t seen you before.’

Both ladies just stared at each other. Barbara broke first. ‘Well, yes. Have you heard the news?’

The white haired lady looked blank. ‘Do you mean the explosion? Or has there been more news? My television stopped you see.’

‘No nothing new.’ Barbara shifted her weight from one hip to the other.

The white haired lady blinked a few times, as if she was sensitive to the daylight sneaking in through the slightly ajar door. ‘Righty oh’.

The ladies stared once again at each other, like two cats who had wandered into a garden at the same time.

‘Are you on your own?  I have these lovely chocolates you see.’ Barbara held up the violet creams. ‘And I didn’t want you to be on your own when, well, when the end comes, so I thought we could maybe sit together and share them?’

The startled eyes brightened and a smile spread across the fuzzy haired lady’s face, the door opened wider. ‘I’m Margaret, come on in, I’ll put the kettle on.’

 

Bermondsey: 1.25 pm.

‘Frozen it is then.’ Said Stephen. ‘I got a mean voice and can nail those songs. I think we should see who can sing loudest.’

‘I love you Uncle Stevie.’ Kyra gave Stephen a huge smile that revealed her two missing teeth.

‘I love you too Titch, and Chelle and my main man Jerome.’ Stephen looked across to Gary. ‘And your dad.’

Gary glared again. ‘Don’t be a muppet.’ A slight smile flickered on his lips then disappeared.

While Stephen set up the DVD player Coral went into the kitchen and when she returned she had a huge bowl of crisps and a packet of treat sized chocolate bars in her hands. The kids’ eyes widened like Jaffa Cakes when they saw.

‘What!’ squealed Michelle. ‘Where did they come from!?’

‘I have a secret hidin place. Or two.’ Coral squeezed the bowl and chocolates onto the table next to the drinks and sat on the sofa next to Kyra, Gary and Michelle.

Jerome scrambled up onto his mother’s lap and squished in beside her. ‘No room Uncle Stevie!’

‘That’s ok lil man, I’ll sit in front of you, like we’re in a for real cinema.’ Stephen pushed the table out a bit and sat down on the floor. Jerome plonked his feet onto Stephen’s shoulders and Stephen sniffed at the little feet in their blue socks. ‘Pooh! Stinky feet!’

Jerome giggled. ‘Stinky feet.’

‘Right then.’ said Coral. ‘Everyone tuck in, Gary press play. Are we all ready to ‘let it go’?’

 

Brighton: 1.28 pm.

They lay back on the blanket and Sophie took her unfinished knitting out of the bag and nestled close at the side of Tom. They linked hands and studied the sky.

‘It’s such a beautiful day.’ said Tom.

Sophie squeezed his hand. ‘Yes, it is.’

‘Elephant.’

‘Where?’ said Sophie searching the sky. ‘You can’t see an elephant.’

‘Yes I can, there.’ Tom pointed with his free hand. ‘Next to the lopsided butterfly.’

‘I think that’s a moth.’

‘Really?’ Tom laughed. ‘Ok’.

Sophie smiled. ‘You know I’m right.’

The clouds swirled and teased with different shapes as Tom and Sophie lay peacefully.

‘Bunny!’ said Sophie, then gasped slightly and reached to her tummy. The unfinished knitted baby blanket was resting where she had placed it not long ago, it moved slightly. She placed her and Tom’s interlinked hands on her tummy.

Tom felt a small kick too. ‘I think she likes the name Bunny.’

‘Bunny it is then.’ Sophie started to cry as Tom held her. He kissed her forehead and kept his hand protectively over Bunny. His tears followed and flowed with hers.

 

Blackpool: 1.28 pm.

‘Crazy bitch.’ Jason lurched for the Jack Daniels but knocked it over, the brown liquid started spilling out onto the seat. ‘Fuck’. He picked the bottle up but there wasn’t much left, knocking it back the alcohol clawed at his throat. Opening the window he tossed out the empty bottle. He shook his head and grinned at the thought that he was worried about the interior of his car when it was going to be blown up along with him. The grinning turned to hysterical laughter. The laughter turned into wretched sobbing.

Jason lifted his t-shirt up and used it to wipe his face, tears and snot were blotted up by Bon Jovi on tour. He stared at himself in the rear view mirror. Both eyes were now bloodshot and his face was red and blotchy. ‘Loser.’

 

Bournemouth: 1.31 pm.

Barbara stepped into Margaret’s home, hung her coat up in the hallway and was seated in a wing-backed pink chair, with floral embroidered headrest. Margaret shuffled off to the kitchen to make the tea. Barbara surveyed Margaret’s lounge. It was a cluttered room of ornaments and dust. China cherubs and a ceramic spaniel were staring at Barbara from the table to the side of her. The paint on the spaniel was worn away giving it a look of alopecia. A row of Victorian dressed dolls were on a shelf jostling for attention but Barbara’s eye kept getting drawn to a faded black and white photograph hung over the electric fire in the middle of the room. The subject of the photograph was a little girl with curled hair tied in ribbons and a broad dimply smile. The rattle of china cups heralded Margaret and the tea.

‘I thought I’d use my best cups, not often I get a visitor.’ Margaret’s eyes sparkled and her smile took years off of her.

Barbara opened the chocolates and placed them on the ring stained table in front of them while Margaret poured the tea.

‘Help yourself to milk and sugar.’ Margaret sat down in the chair next to Barbara taking a sip of tea. ‘Ah lovely, if I do say so myself. Can’t beat a good cuppa.’

Barbara poured some milk into her tea. ‘Thank you. Please, have a chocolate.’

Both ladies took a chocolate and popped them into their mouths.

‘Mmm.’ Said Margaret. ‘That’s lovely, I haven’t had one of those in years.’

‘They’re my favourites.’ said Barbara smiling, she looked up at the picture again. ‘That’s a lovely photograph, who is it?’

Margaret beamed. ‘My daughter Pamela.’

‘Oh, I bet she looks a lot more grown up now.’

‘No.’ Margaret’s smile faltered a little. ‘She died not long after, that’s the last photo we had taken of her.’

 

Blackpool: 1.33 pm.

Jason phoned Amy again. As he thought, it rang twice then went to voicemail but instead of hanging up he left a message. ‘It’s me. I know you don’t wanna talk to me and I get that so I just, like, wanna say I’m sorry for being such a crap husband and I wish it could’ve been different, I wish I could’ve been different. I just wanna say goodbye to the kids, and you, I love you, I never stopped. I’m just a loser.’

After hitting the end button he typed a text message to Claire. He read it back, his uncoordinated fingers, disorientated by Jack Daniels, made the words practically unreadable. He deleted it all apart from the word ‘sorry’. He then changed the recipient from ‘Claire’ to ‘all contacts’ and pressed send.

He cranked the stereo up to its highest volume and opened his glove box. Tom Petty was now singing ‘It’ll All Work Out’. Jason took out the handgun he had confiscated illegally in raid a few months ago. He should have handed it in but decided to keep it. It made him feel powerful having it close by. The cold metal felt comforting in his hands. He looked at himself in the mirror. Instead of seeing a puffy faced middle-aged man, red and tear stained, he saw Robert De Niro. ‘You have to think about one shot. One shot is what it’s all about.’ He ran his fingers through his heavily gelled hair. ‘I’m in control. I say what happens.’ He sat back. He released the safety catch. He closed his eyes. He held the gun under his chin with both hands. He pulled the trigger.

 

Bournemouth: 1.33 pm.

Barbara put her cup and saucer down. ‘I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.’

‘Oh you haven’t, we were blessed to have had her for the five years that we did. My husband’s already with her and I’ll be with them both very soon.’ Margaret placed her hand gently onto Barbara’s arm. ‘Have you got anyone waiting for you?’

‘My husband Gerald.’ Barbara looked down to the floor. ‘My daughter lives in New Zealand.’ She looked back up at Margaret with tears in her eyes. ‘I haven’t been a good mother to her.’

Margaret moved her hand down to Barbara’s hand and squeezed it tightly. ‘Don’t be hard on yourself. Mother’s aren’t perfect. I let my daughter play by the river on her own. You have to forgive yourself.’

Tears escaped from Barbara and she nodded her head, squeezing Margaret’s hand in return. ‘Thank you.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Breakdown

Published August 14, 2016 by Naomi Rettig

I’m aware of someone looming over me. I feel the weight of their shadow hover across my chest. I hear the someone swallow, a natural reflex, but alarmingly sinister as I hide behind the dark of my eyelids. I try to steady my breathing. Whoever, whatever, lurks, seems to be in no hurry to attack. The presence sits on the end of my bed. I don’t know what is going to surrender first, my heart or my bladder.

I launch open my eyes. Judd Nelson is perched on the bed by my feet. In navy blue pajamas. Sexy navy blue pajamas. He smiles. I don’t smile back, this is a dream, there is no other logical explanation. I study his face closely, I’ve never had such a high definition dream before, every wrinkle, every handsome, gorgeous wrinkle…

‘Hello.’ He smiles again.

I am mesmerized by his eyes, his deep dark brown eyes like pools of delicious chocolate…

‘Oh, this isn’t a dream.’ Judd interrupts my thoughts again.

I play along with my dream. ‘I’m struggling with this being reality.’

‘It isn’t reality.’

I sit more upright in my bed. ‘Hallucination?’

‘Nope.’ He shakes his head. ‘Nervous breakdown.’

‘I’m having a nervous breakdown?’

‘Yes.’

I smooth down the duvet covering my lap. ‘I feel quite calm for someone having a nervous breakdown.’

‘That’s because you’re in your breakdown assessment zone. Or BAZ.’

‘Are you sure this isn’t a dream?’

‘You’re definitely having a breakdown.’ He smiles again. ‘Your physical body has gone into a coma, only your mind is functioning.’

I survey my body and my surroundings. Everything is clearer and in more detail than a dream, but I can’t feel the duvet as I’m touching it.

‘You can’t feel anything physically,’ says Judd, ‘but you can feel emotions.’

‘So what happens now? We stay here in my bedroom until my body repairs itself? You are staying with me aren’t you?’

‘I’m staying for as long as you want, you created me here. And it’s not your body that needs repairing it’s your mind.’

‘How do I do that?’

‘You just need some time out, to refocus your mind, it’s a very powerful tool and can correct itself. If you want it to.’ He stares intently at me.

‘Well of course I want it to,’ his gaze is melting my internal organs, I can’t feel this physically but I know it’s happening, ‘although being trapped in my bedroom forever with you is quite tempting.’

He laughs. Loudly.

‘Oh, obviously not for you then.’ I know I’m blushing. ‘Are you even allowed your own opinion? I mean if I’ve created you shouldn’t you agree with me?’

‘I’m here as your voice of reason, subconsciously you’ve created me that way. And I didn’t laugh at the thought of being with you for eternity, that would give me the greatest pleasure.’

I don’t even care if he’s saying that because I’m making him say it. My internal organs are continuing to melt. I think I just lost a kidney.

‘I laughed because we’re not trapped in your bedroom.’ He stands and pushes his arm through the wall. It just glides through and back, like a plane through a cloud. ‘We can be anywhere you imagine. Just concentrate and focus.’

‘Concentrate and focus?’

He stands by the side of my bed. ‘Yep. Try it. Where do you want us to be?’

‘A beach.’

‘Great. Now think about the beach you want us to be at. Is it deserted or are there other people there? What season is it, hot or cold? You won’t be able to feel the temperature but it will affect the look.’

I start to imagine. My pink carpet subtly undulates. The carpet fibers change into sand, the palest beige sand, almost white. ‘Oh wow.’ The walls of my bedroom slowly dissolve revealing a beautiful blue skyline meeting an equally majestic turquoise sea that I can hear gently lapping close by. My bed morphs beneath me and I’m reclining on a padded wooden sun lounger with an identical one next to me. ‘This is amazing.’ I see a figure in the sea. ‘Is that Jenson Ackles waving at me?’

‘It is if you want it to be.’ Judd is still stood next to me. ‘Can I suggest you imagine me into beach wear, these pajamas are a bit warm.’ He winks at me.

I concentrate and imagine him to be wearing a pair of shorts and a kitsch Hawaiian shirt, bright pink and yellow. He is instantly transformed. I will save the speedo look for later.

He looks down at himself. ‘That’s better.’ He gestures to me.

I glance at my Minion pajamas, hardly suitable for this beach. I imagine a black swimming costume with a pretty floral sarong wrapped around me. I am instantly wearing this. I rearrange to sarong over my legs.

‘You look a bit self-conscious.’ Judd sits on the spare lounger. ‘I should point out that you can imagine yourself to be any shape that you want, and alter yourself in any way if it makes you feel better.’

‘Really?’

‘Yep.’ He shrugs.

I imagine myself thinner. I watch as my body neatly deflates to a smaller size, but stays taut and reveals nicely defined muscles. ‘Oh wow!’ I convert my black swimsuit into a gold bikini. I inflate my breasts a little. And a little more. ‘Is this what heaven feels like?’

‘Yes,’ Judd stops looking at my chest and makes eye contact with me, ‘I mean I don’t know, I’ve not been there.’

‘It must be. I am in heaven right now.’ I lie back on the lounger.

‘You are feeling happy? Content? Relaxed?’

‘Yes, yes, and yes. And we can stay here for as long as I want?’

‘Yes. Well…’

I sit back up. ‘What’s the well for?’

‘Well the longer you are not mentally connected with your physical body, I’m not sure how easy it will be to go back.’

‘I’m on a beach with you, Judd Nelson, why would I want to go back?’

‘For all that you have in your real life.’

‘Let me think about that. I’m a waitress in a dingy bar surviving day to day on tips, I’ve been single forever as I don’t trust anyone, I have no family that I speak to, and my social life consists of playing online scrabble with strangers and posting photos of food on Instagram. It kind of seems like a no brainer. What am I going to miss out on if I stay here?’

‘Food. You can create whatever food you want here but you can’t taste it. You can give us cocktails here but you can’t drink them.’

‘I can live without that.’

‘Ok, Smells. You can’t smell flowers, coffee, the sea.’

‘So, I also can’t smell nasty smells. Not a problem.’

‘Touch. You can’t feel physical touch here.’ He touches my arm, his fingers caressing my skin. ‘See.’

‘Yes, exactly, I can see you touching my arm, that makes me feel emotions, and that’s enough for me.’

‘For the rest of your life? No touching, tasting or smelling?’

‘I can see and I can hear and I can go anywhere I want and imagine anything I want. That is enough for me. This is the reality I want now.’

‘Shall I flick the switch then?’

‘What switch?’

‘There’s a switch that will cut off your mind from your body permanently, you will remain physically catatonic in hospital but exist permanently here.’

‘But won’t the hospital switch life support off?’

‘No, they will still detect brain activity so keep your body plugged in.’

‘Ok then, let’s do it.’

‘You sure?’

‘Never been surer.’ I settle back down on the lounger. ‘Flick that switch, let’s get this adventure started with a bang!’

Judd clicks his fingers. ‘Done.’

A cascade of pretty firework explosions fills the sky, but silently as I don’t like the loud noises that accompany them. A Caribbean steel band plays in the distance. I jump up to dance. My toes fall off.

‘What the…?’

Judd looks at my feet casually. ‘Ah, you’d forgotten your imagination can be a bit of a prat sometimes.’ He smiles. ‘Put them back on then.’

I look down at my feet stumps and scattered toes. I imagine them back on. My toes wriggle through the sand and back into place.

Judd stands up and moves in close to me. He wraps his arms around me, I can’t feel them but it feels good. ‘Can I kiss you?’

‘Of course.’

Melt. There goes my spleen.