One More Day

Frozen faces, brittle like ice
thawing gently in the sun,
how tentative smiles break,
lapping gently at thin lips.

Sunset Image

The first snow marks the true passing of fall; when those last few tenacious leaves are finally torn from their desperate perches and left to the wind’s mercy.

The man stood silent and alone, the dying sun sinking behind the Blackthorn Stronghold. Every day he stood on the same grassy knoll to watch the sunset and every day his breath fogged in the air just a little more clearly. Flags snapped in the chilled air behind him and he knew that if he were to turn he would see tents so numerous as to be impossible to count. And yet despite the vast numbers, his army had yet to breach the walls to which they had spent a season laying siege.

Now the cold crept slowly in, spreading delicate webs of frost and misting one’s breath in the mornings and nights. The man ran scarred hands over the creaking leather straps of his armour, his blade heavy at his side.

Just one more day. Please. Just give us one more day. It was a prayer the soldier had made every evening of the last week. As though if he willed it strongly enough it would ward away the snow and the season of gold and orange would remain eternally.

For he knew as soon as the snow set in, those gathered outside the stronghold would be far more vulnerable than those trapped inside. For even the hardened people who had lived and grown here fear the white of winter and struggle to survive it. Left exposed to the elements in naught but tents, his men would slowly fall. Much like the wind whittling away at a cliff face, chipping away at stone until it all collapses. The man took a breath and felt the weight on his shoulders as though it were a cliff. To win the campaign would be at the cost of most of his men, and the wealth waiting inside would do little to comfort the dead.

The gentle crunch of browning grass being crushed beneath booted feet, drew him from his thoughts. They were far too light to belong to any of his men.

“Remus.”

He does not turn as his wife approaches and settles at his side. Nor does he look at the small figure standing to her left or the bundled one he knows she carries in her arms. When he speaks he looks still towards the fading sun. “You should not be here.”

“And yet here I stand.”

“Gisele. The children—”

“Winter is not yet upon us. They will keep.”

“They will catch their deaths.”

Gisele shifts at his side. “Soon so will we all.”

Remus turns to her and thinks there is little difference from the sight he just turned from and the one he looks upon now. Her fiery hair weaved in intricate braids had once blended with the leaves of the trees, all a ruby so brilliant that the entire forest looked as if it was aflame. Now the red locks stand out against the stark nothing that coats bare branches. Gisele meets his gaze with firm eyes, one hand resting on the curls of their older sons’ head, the other cradling their new son to her chest. The hem of her dress is damp and the fur mantle of her cloak engulfs the delicate arch of her shapely neck. They are so beautiful. Alive and breathing. And Remus fears. He has seen too much death and he doesn’t think he can bear to witness theirs.

This was always a war of attrition. If those inside the keep could last until winter, then those outside would be doomed. It was always unsure what manner of supplies Blackthorn possessed. They could be days away from starving, or could still be weeks from it. Remus had no way of knowing and because of that was stuck.

At his feet Julien moves from his mother to pluck the grass from the ground, tearing it apart as children are wont to do. Remus wishes it were as easy to keep his son safe as to entertain him.

Gisele must read something of his thoughts on his face and speaks. “I have thought of a name.”

“A name for what?” Remus asks, though he knows already.

“For our son of course.”

“It is too soon.”

“It is a good name.”

“A good name will do no service to the dead. It is too soon.”

Remus is not wrong. There are too many dangers that could steal children from the world – sickness, cold and hunger. Many parents would wait at least two seasons before naming so as to not get attached only to have the babe die. His youngest son came into the world just as the leaves started turning gold, and only now did the last of them fall. It was too soon.

Gisele huffed, but let the subject go. Remus thought she feared their son dying without a name. But Remus was responsible for more lives than those of his sons.

“If I order these men to stay I sign their death warrants.”

“Great men are rarely good ones.”

“Perhaps I only wish to be a happy one.”

Remus gestures Julien over, face already pink from the cold. Remus sweeps his son up so Julien is hanging from his throat like a necklace. Julien buries his cold face in Remus’s neck as Remus wraps Gisele and the baby both in his arms and breathes them in. There is great wealth waiting inside Blackthorn that is true. But gold was cold and gemstones were sharp and his wife and children were warm in his arms.

Just one more day, he prayed.

Please just one more day.

 

Jayde Taylor

 

Pennsylvania

“I’ve said many, many, many unkind things about Philadelphia, and I meant every one.”

David Lynch

philadelphia

I’ve lived in this city far too long. Philadelphia is full of filthy streets and fatties. Being the home of the cheese-steak hasn’t done the people any favours. Sometimes it’s warm and muggy and pigeons lie around lethargically and your butter always softens real quick for your afternoon ham sandwich. But then, winter rolls in with spikes on its boots and cuts your cheek with a blade of ice and cuts and cuts and keeps cutting until your socks bite your toes and your skin is as flaky as careless shredding on a block of blue cheese.

And here I stand at the table with my family. Philadelphia born and bred. I’ve never put one foot into Ohio or Virginia or Maryland or Delaware. I would have made it to Arizona in October if Mom hadn’t wrapped a tight leash around the family credit card.

‘Sit,’ Dad barks at me, as if I’m our neighbour’s Presa Canario, Princess.

Poor Princess. Every Monday, I watch the yellow sunlight drift through the glass and illuminate the bristles on the legs of the Hacklemesh Weavers clustered in the corner of my room. When I hear the padlock click, I open my bed-side drawer and pull a box from the plastic wrap of the Tic Tac multi-pack. Every Monday, I watch Buck mow the grass. I sit by the window, slamming the orange box down at the perfect angle on the edge of the window sill. I place a Tic Tac in my mouth and soften it and chew it and swallow, throw one in the air, catch it on my tongue and soften it and chew it and swallow. Then I cross my fingers.

‘I said sit.’

The beauty of a collapsible cage is that it is collapsible. Every Monday, I place the last Tic Tac on the sill in the hope that one day Princess will break through the metal bars and eat Buck while he’s scratching his filthy redneck scalp. I imagine I’ll walk down and offer his girlfriend Tiffany a cigarette and offer her a Tic Tac and give Princess a scratch behind the ear. Tit for tat for a tiny morsel of entertainment in a city sucked dry by dope and derision.

‘Jacob sit, now. Next to your sister,’ says Dad.

‘Father, relax. I’ll sit,’ I say.

I lean forward towards the table snacks. The box of See’s candies feels cool in my hands. I pull it towards me and it rattles softly like a maraca. Everyone stares sharply as I pop a bubble in the wrap.

‘Not necessary,’ says Mom, shaking her head.

As Gram rambles, I pick up the brown paper from the box and sniff the nutty, Easter-like scent. I take a bite and assess the centre. The caramel is beige as bitter tea. It’s chewy. Gram finishes her speech about the Blanket Society. Now she’ll ask me about life at the burger store and history and examinations and guitar and friends and probably, girls.

‘I don’t swing that way, Gram,’ I’ll remind her, again.

Again and again and again and again. When Gram was my age she wasn’t into computers or cell phones or video games or telly but rather tennis and the pictures and young men and picnics and picnics with young men. Young men, Jacob, you and young men? No I don’t think that’s right, my dear.

I stare at the gold pendulum swinging left and right ever so slowly above Gram’s head. I study the clock’s face. It pokes a thin black tongue at me. I’ve never noticed the scratch next to Roman numeral seven.

‘Ding dong, ding dong,’ it sings.

I hope the clock doesn’t unhinge and peel itself from the wallpaper.

‘Ding dong, ding dong,’ it sings again.

I hope it doesn’t drop from the wall and fall onto Gram’s head and make her stop yapping like a Chihuahua in a tiny crochet jacket. The wallpaper really is ugly. It looks like frothy Cool-Aid. Mom had puffed out her chest at every wallpaper store in the city back when they were renovating and looked more than deflated fumbling at registers and stuffing rolls of old stock into the back of her grey Ford Escort.

‘Aint that right, Jacob?’ says Dad, nostrils flaring.

‘Huh? Ah yep, Dad,’ I say.

Roman numeral three looks like a little cage.

‘Jacob has a friend called Jess,’ says Dad, making twitching rabbit ears with his sausage fingers. ‘She’s here all the time.’

I try to roll my eyes as far into my head as I can without detaching an eye-string.

‘Is it cherry pie for dessert, Mom?’ I ask.

Mom plays with her necklace.

‘Jess is lovely,’ continues Dad. ‘She’s sophomore at Jacob’s school and I’ve heard she’s top of her volleyball team.’

‘Dad, shut up,’ I say, looking out the window.

A maple brushes its fingers against the glass. A distant tree sags under the weight of a thousand red ants. Ants, scuttling and smothering. I imagine a leaf snapping off in fall and floating in the warm breeze and floating down the street, past the main drag of stores and past the power station and all the way to the Atlantic Ocean where a current could carry it to somewhere distant like Israel or Italy or India. Escape this hell-hole little leaf, while you can. Have a say in your own damn life, while you can. I’ve said many, many, many unkind things about Philadelphia, and I meant every one.

 

Carmel Purcell

The Cringe welcomes Carmel Purcell, the newest addition to our writing team. Look forward to a variety of articles and short fiction from Carmel in the coming months.

 

A Family Of Wolves

My family is loud. They’re the ones you hear howling across the restaurant, spilling drinks and laughing at their own jokes. They’re the ones who growl in movie theatres, and feel the need to yell during phone calls. No emotions are held back in my family. If you are upset you explain why and crying is done in waves, not ripples.

My mother is the loudest of them all. Her laugh can be heard through oceans, her voice strong, not shrill. But by some strange fate I was born an introvert into this family. My heart grew in a box, and my voice slid through my throat like a rusty piece of wire. In large crowds I would shake and stammer while my feet sunk into the dirt.

When I was young with a stutter my mother was my guide. She would finish my struggling sentences with a confident string of elegant words. She wouldn’t consider herself a poet yet in my young eyes she was.

But shame crawled under my skin when I was forced to speak on my own. I was not one to pull words together quickly, and when I struggled I could see people’s eyes glaze over. Most of the time my silence and short sentences were mistaken for idiocy.

I still have rust in my stomach. I still can’t howl. Where did this weak blood come from?

My dad is not the loudest of the pack, but when he talks, people listen. He knew mum couldn’t be my poet forever, but he didn’t want me to learn to howl the way she had learned.

So dad told me a story.

When he was growing up he saw a man get stabbed outside a coffee house in broad daylight. Dad was 15 and had never ridden his bike so fast home in his life. But he said that still wasn’t as bad as what my mum had been through.

Your mother wasn’t always loud, dad said, she wasn’t always a poet. Her voice, too, was once confined by vines, and other voices had choked her own words in her throat.

Animal-Black-Wolf-Extinct-Pennsylvania-AnimalsDad said while mum never saw a man brandish a knife, she knew a man that was similar in character. At the time she had called the relationship complicated, like oil and water. She loved to preserve peaches and cherries and artichoke hearts in mason jars, but she hadn’t known how to preserve herself. She would tiptoe over eggshells to be the Rose for this man, but this man only offered up thorns. My mum was lost in a pit of despair and false love but it was not my father who pulled her out of it. Dad said there was only one other in our family who had smelt the oncoming storm. She was the only one who had intervened.

I used to hide at the very end of tables at big family gatherings. But there was another who hid at the other end. My grandma was always under a shadow. My proud Welsh grandpa would always growl a comment on everything in the conversation. My grandma would just nod and sit in silence. I didn’t know that she had a howling bone in her at all.

But my grandma snapped when she saw the bruises on my mums face. So my grandma began to hunt at dusk, stalking the man through the back streets and searching for weaknesses in his house of thorns. She spent many nights creeping in her familiar shadows. She was the one of the best, dad said.

One night with a full moon above her head, my grandma crept out of her shadows. The man was limping home and smelt all bloody and bitter. Although my grandma’s howl was quiet, she was efficient in snapping bones, slashing tendons, and tearing flesh. She torched the house of thorns and growled at my grandpa until they moved across the country.

Even though my mother was safe, she still had thorns in her. It took a long time for her to heal. But my grandma never let her forget that she was a wolf and that she should howl like one.

Your blood’s not weak, my dad said. You can howl loudly or you can howl quietly, but you always have the choice. He said, don’t ever forget you’re a wolf too.

 

Ashlee Poeppmann

 

The Cringe welcomes writer Ashlee Poeppmann to the team! Look for more of Ashlee’s short fiction in the coming months.

A Day in the Life

alarmAlarm vibrates. Sensation before first thought. Cold. Am I coming down with the flu? No. Um, possibly. I need to be strong, fight through. Check phone. New emails. Refresh podcasts. Work emails? No. I’ll be there soon enough. Will I write today? Yes, when I get home. What will I have for dinner? How long will it take to prepare and cook? How much time will that suck out of my evening?

Wash. Get dressed. Pack my bag. Will I bring my book today? Yes. Don’t waste time sleeping on the train. Pack notebook. My battered and scribble-filled notebook. Damn, I forgot to read those research articles I printed out at work yesterday. I’ll get to them another time.

Driving to train station. I wonder about my main character. How will he react when demands are made of him? Where will the drama come from? What is his truth? Can I write it well? A reminder to write something down when I get on the train: Rylin Webster wants to tell his story, his way, on his terms. A scene forms fast in my head. I watch the odometer. I check the clock. Train leaves in five minutes. I’m two minutes away from station car park. Trying to hang onto a thread of thought. The scene gets vivid and intense. I speak a line of dialogue out loud.

“Don’t make a promise you can’t keep.”

Who says this?

trainPark car. Hustle to platform. Train comes. Find seat. Flip open notebook. Scrawl and scribble. Thoughts come quicker than I can write. Words are illegible. Will I be able to read this later? Will it make sense or will I lose the gist? PA announcement. Thoughts exhausted. The distraction of landscape speeding by at 100kmph.

Read my book. Can’t focus for more than a page or two at a time. Thoughts beget thoughts. Ideas form but have no place. Context is elusive. Open notebook. Scribble. Empty my brain. Close notebook. Take a few deep breaths. Read some more but don’t absorb what I’m reading.

WTFTrain reaches its destination. Earphone in. Podcasts at the ready. Maybe NBA’s The Starters. Maybe Marc Maron’s WTF. Maybe TOFOP. Twenty minute walk. My mind remains active. Plot lines weave in and out of the audio flowing into my head. Traffic noise on Broadway coming from Harris St drowns out everything.

At work. Put all thoughts of writing and being a writer to one side. Really? Good luck with thtrafficat. Do my job. Earn my keep. Read occasional online articles of interest. Send quotes, links and ideas to myself via email throughout the day. Making a cup of tea, wonder about Rylin Webster’s marriage. Why did his supermodel wife fall in love with him in the first place? Make small talk with a colleague about the upcoming weekend. Day’s end is getting closer.

inceptionWalk back to train station. New thoughts emerge. Links connect. Links miss their mark. Kill the podcast feed. Need music instead. The National? The Shins? No. This story feeds off the energy from movie soundtracks. Hans Zimmer. Interstellar? I know, Inception. Traffic noise. The roar of a motorcycle. The pang of hunger and the yawn of mental, if not physical, tiredness.

Make train ten minutes early. Open notebook. Scribble quickly, furiously, illegibly. Smile to myself that the adverbs I’m using in my notes will not make my manuscript. Why do I care what Stephen King thinks? Bret Easton Ellis, a writer I love, embraces adverbs. Look at Glamorama?Glamorama

As the train pulls out of the station, close notebook. Take out earphones. No music. No novel. No writing. Sydney’s inner-west suburbs slip by. Macdonaldtown. Newtown. Stanmore. Petersham. Lewisham. My eyes start to get heavy. I sit up, get out my book. Red or Dead by David Peace. Read a page. Battle tiredness. Read half-a-page more before my head drops. Strathfield, Epping, Hornsby don’t register.  I wake up with my finger between pages like a bookmark. Read another page. Then jack into another podcast. Pete Holmes laughs then gets deep, questions our understanding of the universe, then asks his guest whether success can come too soon?You-Made-It-Weird

Its six’o’clock. Hunger has full sway over me. That means I won’t be writing until at least seven, maybe eight. I already know what scene I want to write, need to write, if I’m to drive the story forward.

Walk in the front door. Hello to my wife, bear-tackle my son. Get changed and play dinosaurs for half-an-hour. Hunger lingers, distracts me. The desire to write lingers, distracts me. Cook dinner alone. Use the process of flouring a chicken breast, dipping it in egg and covering it in breadcrumbs, to untether my mind from now, from the day that’s been, from myself.

Too full afterdeadmau5-Superliminal-300x300 dinner, I shower and shave. Wash the day away. Start preparing for the day to come. Clothes laid out. Shoes polished. Top up Opal Card. Check work emails. Flick a few away. Exclaim in frustration over a client who is beyond demanding. Turn off phone’s WiFi. Mac on. iTunes is a ‘Go!’ Deadmau5 – Superliminal. Google Docs open. Here it comes. The manuscript loads up. I scroll down to the last page and read the notes I left from the previous day.Timmy-Mallet-with-Malletts-Mallet

I’m writing. Dialogue flows. Too much dialogue. Go back. Insert thoughts, description. Maintain tone. Not enough tension. Too much conflict? Where’s this scene going? Oh, wow. Yes, that works. I could never have planned that. There’s a knock on the door. My son comes in, jumps on my bed. ‘Let’s play Mallet’s Mallett?’

‘Ten minutes, Buddy.’

Where was I? Oh, yeah. Lots of dialogue to finish. Lots of red squiggly lines under misspelt words. Rylin Webster is angry but doesn’t know it. He’s pushing everyone around him away. He thinks this is normal. A lightbulb moment. A new scene. Not the next scene. File it away. The door opens. My wife brings a glass of wine. ‘House of Cards is starting.’

The manuscript automatically savhouse-of-cardses. I shut down the computer. Frank Underwood, my wife and a glass of wine awaits.

Later, sleep beckons. I hold on through a nothing episode of Game of Thrones. I wonder about tomorrow? What will happen? What will I achieve? How long will it be until I get to write again? In bed, before sleep fully takes over, I imagine Rylin Webster on the basketball court. He’s hurting his defender. He’s hurting his team. He’s hurting himself. An idea teases, never fully settles and then, nothing.

Sir P Speaks: That vain stab at immortality

Dear Sir Partridge

My husband and I have 10 children. Should we have another one so we can field a complete cricket team? Or should we get a pet? If so, which species and breed? Seven of my children want a border collie; two want a cheetah; one wants a meerkat to feed to the cheetah.

Yours in desporation (desperation and adoration)

Beatrice S

vintage family

It’s funny you should mention this, Beatrice, because of late my legion devotees have been hounding me to breed (usually with them). “Do it for the sake of humanity!” they wail. But I refuse. Here’s why: my cleaning lady told me she once walked into her bathroom to find her two-year-old ‘cleaning’ his teeth with the toilet brush. She took this incident in her stride; I have entirely failed to do so.

Yes, having children passes the baton of your title and/or surname to another generation in the great spiralling relay race our DNA makes us run. But in exchange there is much to be endured. One analogy is that children are hugely demanding, wildly expensive pets it takes years to house train. Another is that they are helpless, fickle, merciless, deranged masters who are as unwilling to pay you as they are unable.

Kiddy-winks are diametrically opposite to how they should be. These are the phases a child, in an ideal world, would pass through:

  • 0–12 months: lounging about in their cot, sleeping more or less constantly and making charming gurgling sounds when required
  • 1–5 years: impeccably behaved, self-vaccinating creatures of delight who excel in all sporting and quasi-academic endeavours, putting all your friends’ kids to shame
  • 6–12: perfectly capable of managing your tax and other financial affairs, mixing you a decent cocktail, and capable of and inclined to cook and clean without any expectation of payment
  • 13–18: never surly, sullen or in any way inclined to interact with the wrong type of boy/girl or express any interest in becoming an actor, dancer, poet, artist, writer etc.

There is also a need to interrogate your ancestry and ask yourself what it really has to offer. I am the eldest of the Gormley mass spawning and neither I nor my six siblings are terrific advertisements for passing on our genome. They are all in varying degrees deranged, profligate and perverted:

  • Pemmican – buffoon, male palm-reader, thinks he’s a hipster
  • Petunia – the brains of the outfit but a bit dry and tiresome, truth be told
  • Puddock – amateur mortician and professional taxidermist (or possibly the other way round), Internet troll and general shit
  • Plenitude – psychopath and femme fatale (sorry, Plenny dear, but it’s true)
  • Prunella – lady drunkard; cockatiel-fancier; psoriasis-sufferer
  • Picaroon – diminutive gigolo and all-round Queenslander

So, my dear, ditch the Beatrice XI idea and opt for a pet. Forget the border collie though. Offer your kids either a stick insect or an orang-utan. If they plump for the former, your troubles are over. If they select the latter, don’t be dismayed. These excellent apes are fantastic animal companions for two reasons: a) they make cheap, if mediocre, butlers, and b) when the time comes, their pelts make exceptional throw rugs.

Luv-dubs,

Gormley

Conan Elphicke

Sir Partridge Gormley’s emissions are rendered as coherent as they can be by the ever-patient @ConanElphicke. If you are confused and bewildered, and we suspect you are, by all means send your queries to thecringeblog@gmail.com.

Sir Partridge Gormley Speaks

Hello blots,

When The Cringe begged me to become an agony uncle for them, I sent the word out to my enormous fan base. Naturally, I was subjected to a veritable blizzard of need, most of it drivel. Only this missive struck a chord:

Dear Uncle

Firstly, let me say that I worship you like a god.

Now, listen to this. When I got married seven years ago, a distant relative was charged with videoing the event. He has since returned to his native Fremantle and not a peep has been heard from him since. I’ve emailed him frequently asking for a copy of the video but to no avail. I even sent him a crisp $50 note to cover the cost of postage but the bastard simply trousered it.

I’m going to Perth soon for a mutual relative’s wedding where I will surely bump into him. Rather than endure a ‘scene’, is it reasonable for me to simply lift the money from his wallet, should the opportunity present itself?

Yours in righteous indignation

Egbert T

Well, Egbert, you have been betrayed. I can visualise this strange relative of yours. Perhaps he is in advanced middle age, corpulent, fancies more than the odd tipple and is not averse to leering at the young and winsome. He is a cad, and as such the usual rules of human conduct do not apply.

Of course there may be an entirely reasonable explanation for his failure to provide you with what is rightfully yours. Perhaps he has died. Perhaps he never received your funding, or has been forced to hand it over to a bookie. Who knows or cares?

Therefore the simple answer to your question is yes, by all means slip the bugger a mickey, rummage in his hip pocket, restore the cash to its rightful owner, and why not lift an additional crafty fiver for your trouble? After all, you shelled out 50 of the hard-earned and whether he received it or not the bastard owes you a wedding video, which he has presumably either lost or taped over with something unsavoury.

Huzzar!

Sir P

A man who has long needed an introduction, Sir Partridge Gormley is a baronet, raconteur, bon vivant and genteel nutter. With plenty of time on his hands he welcomes queries from anyone who’s confused and dilemma-ed. Sir Partridge’s verbal emissions are rendered as coherent as they can be by the ever-patient @ConanElphicke 

Conan Elphicke

Have a question for Sir Partridge? Email your query to thecringeblog@gmail.com.