Casual Narrative

Fiction, musings and photography. Maybe even some paintings.


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The Rhythm is Going Get You

“Come on Al,” she gave me the patented Lenora Yanowitz puppy dog eyes. She only ever called me Al when she was asking me for a favour. “Jamie told me about this guy. You said George Michael used to make you swoon, Jamie said he’s a dead ringer for George.”

“Everyone swooned for George in the 80’s, Lennie. For me, it is only Faith George who counts.”

“I have no idea what any of that even means,” she waved her hand in dismissal. “Jamie said he’s a nice guy who loves music and he’s just having trouble finding the right woman. He wants a date; you need a date. It’s done, Alice.” She crossed her arms, but I wasn’t going to give in.

“I do not need a date. I’m perfectly capable of finding a man if I want to, I’m just taking a break after the whole Derek thing.” I mirrored her determination.

“He’s gonna feel really bad if you don’t turn up.”

#

“This is a terrible idea,” I mutter to myself. “Stupid Lennie,” I smooth the hem of my shirt and stared out of the window. He’s 10 minutes late, and I’m starting to hope I can still get out of this. Two more minutes and I’m out of the door, happy in the knowledge that I wasn’t the bad guy.

“Alice?” A pair of incredibly tight white jeans presented themselves to my view with a crotch bulge that would have made Labyrinth Bowie blush. I draw back for fear of brushing it with my cheek. Craning my neck up I take in a salmon pink sweater and a perfectly angled, clean-shaven jaw.

He’s too close. If I tilt my head any further I’m going to fall right out of my chair. I stand and stare into brown eyes topped off with a fluffed up mop of bouncy brown hair.

Oh lord, it’s Go-Go George! Wow, right down to the gloves. I had no idea how I missed the dayglo yellow, fingerless gloves on my first glance. They are all I can see now as I force my hand in the space between us to shake hands. “Uh, hi. Yes, Alice. I’m sorry, my friend, Lennie, didn’t actually get your name from Jamie.”

He clasps my hand by the thumb and pulls me into an enthusiastic chest bump which knocks the air from me in an undignified Ooomph and gives me what I am sure is an accidental brush of ‘the bulge’ against my hip. “Ha, that’s funny man. The name’s Nigel. Call me Nige.”

I disengaged in an awkward flailing of hands as he seemingly got his fingers entangled with mine somehow. The back of my knees pressed uncomfortably against my seat, I lean as far back as possible to gesture to the other side of the table, unwilling to sit until the denim-clad protrusion will no longer be at face height. “Please, take a seat with me.”

He grins and bops, flouncing hair and all, to the other side of the table, where he promptly reverses his chair and straddles it. Lennie is a dead woman. “So, Nigel…”

He holds up his hand, “No, Nige!”

“Erm, Nige,” the name makes me grate my teeth as I say it but I hate to be rude. “So, what do you do for a living?”

“I work with the J-man at the call centre.” He flashes excessively white teeth at me. They glisten like freshly formed ice in the moonlight, the sight is quite intimidating. I can feel in my gut that in the next five minutes I’m going to end up with a ridiculous nickname. “My real love,” he continues, “is my passion as a Wham! Artist. I’m currently looking for a new partner; the old Andrew just didn’t have the right  je ne sais quoi, you know?”

I try to look interested. “A Wham artist?”

He shakes his head, “no, Wham! You have to express it right, or it just doesn’t mean the same thing. Some people would think it was just a tribute act, but it’s more than that. It’s like I am the embodiment of the real spirit of Wham! The quintessence, if you will.”

“Right…sure.” I was struggling here. I look around, desperate to catch the eye of a waiter, anyone. It was as though the entire room was determined to avoid our table, we were in an 80’s time vortex and had ceased to exist in the modern world.

“Now tell me A-list,” there it was, the nickname. “J-man said your friend told him you liked George so I know I’m your man, I figured we could do away with the niceties and get down to a bit of Georgie-Porgie, if you know what I mean?” He shifts in his seat and I realise with horror that he’s grinding ‘the bulge’ into the back of his chair. That’s it. I’m done.

“I’m sorry Nigel, I’m not feeling very well and I hate to waste your time, but I don’t think I’m what you’re looking for in a date.” I had pushed my chair back so hard that it almost fell over. I catch it just in time and garble the rest of my words out. “Good luck with the Wham thing, it was nice to meet you,” I say the last over my shoulder as I rush for the door.

The blast of frosty air as I head across the carpark feels like it is trying to blow me home, to safety. There is no amount of grovelling that will ever get Lennie out of my bad books. There is no way she vetted this guy. Jesus! I hunt through my bag for my car keys. The soft sound of a shoe scuffing behind me makes me cringe. Please don’t let me have to try and get rid of him. I half turn when a strong chemical smell fills my nose and mouth, and I’m choking and falling. Hands catch me and I want to thank their owner for the help, but my brain and mouth are so woolly and slow.

“I already told you,” whispers a voice in my ear, “it’s Wham!” My heart pounds as the night fades from view.

#

There are lights flashing. I try to turn over and go back to sleep, but I’m stuck. There is a pounding in my head that beats in time to the flashing lights. What the fuck is flashing? I pry my heavy eyelids open and peer groggily into the near dark. The flashing is coming from disco lights.

Urgh, Alice, you’re in a nightmare disco.

The hiss of speakers, then a disembodied voice fills the room and echoes around the space inside my skull. “Testing. Two-one, two-two one. Is it working? Hello, yes! Ok, this is for my special lady out there tonight. A-list, I know that you’re probably a little uncertain about this right now, I mean you are tied to a chair.” He chuckles to himself.

What the fuck! He wasn’t lying. Suddenly I’m not feeling the least bit sleepy and the memory of the night rushes back to me. Adrenalin spiking through my veins like electricity through power cables. I grope for the knots in the ropes that I now feel chafing my wrists and scrabble for a loose fibre. “You’re gonna need a doctor when I get out of these ropes you walking hairdo!” My voice is croaky and entirely unthreatening.

“Ah, you are awake.” His voice croons over the sound system. He spoke too close to the mic so the huff of his breath also echoes through the room. “I know our date hasn’t gone to plan, but I’ve prepared a little something that I’m certain will change your mind about me.”

“Come anywhere near me you little freak and I will plant my foot so hard in your sock padded nethers you’ll need to go back in time to find your goddamn penis! LET ME GOOOOOO!” I scream the last and my throat feels raw. I gasp for breath.

The wall rustles and shifts in the dimness at the back of the room. He’s behind a curtain! “Come out right now and untie me, NIGE.” I let him hear the grating of my teeth as I say the name. Instead of emerging to release me, the disco lights are suddenly joined by a spotlight where the rustling had been, and I realise it’s a stage. The curtains are the back of the stage, and I am at the end of a long catwalk. What the hell is going on here? “HELLLLP! ANYONE???”

Noone answers expect the curtain which twitches and is then tossed aside by the poofy-haired psycho himself. He’s changed his clothes. Blue denim, just as uncomfortably tight as before, a grey vest and fringed jacket with leather gloves. What in the name of holy fuck is going on? Has he painted on stubble? Maybe it’s the drugs? I know it’s not the drugs when he starts to click his fingers with enthusiasm.

“Dum dum duh-da-dum dum duh-da-dum-dum-dum la da da da da nah. Yeah yeah yeah!”

“Oh god!” I struggle with the ropes more frantically. He’s going to sing while he murders me, or worse!

He began Edge of Heaven in earnest and was suddenly accompanied by the blast of trumpets and guitars from the sound system. He points, winks and claps across the stage, for my eyes only. “I would lock you up, but I could not bear, to hear you screaming to be set free. I would chain you up, if I’d thought you’d swear, the only one that mattered was me, me, me.”

“HEEEEEELLLLLLLLP, HELP HELP HELLLLLLLLLLLLLLP!”

The irony of the opening lines is not lost on me.

Hips gyrating, ‘the bulge’ protruding towards me like a sinister tumour, fringe flying against the backdrop of the flashing lights he prances back and forth across the stage as he embraces chorus and then verse.

He moves down the catwalk in a thrusting, finger clicking walk that is terrifying in its intensity. I am not dying as the climax of a shitty tribute act! I am going home, and I am going to murder Lennie instead! Terror and rage flow through me in equal measure. I give up on the knots that bind me to the back of the chair and wait for my moment instead.

His frightening approach halts part way down the catwalk as he claps from side to side like a demented fanboy. “You take me to the edge of heaven. One last time might be forever. Don’t you tell me lies, because believe me baby, one day you’ll wake up on your own.” As he belts out the last line he sinks to his knees, arm wide and eyes closed in rapture at himself.

“ARRRRGHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” I release the explosion of emotion that has built inside me. Surging to my feet, chair and all, I rush at him as best as my stunted gait will allow. His eyes open a second before I make contact and the surprise in them gives me the briefest spark of satisfaction as I crash into him, and we both plummet from the stage, the remote for the sound system flys from his pocket and the song falls blessedly silent.

I lie for a moment, stunned by the fall and slowly bring my hands to my head. My hands!  I’m loose! I rolled to the side. Nigel broke my fall and my chair. He lies in a heap under the broken pieces. I pick up the chair by its front legs and bring the remnants down as hard as I can on his prone form.

“You creepy son-of-a-bitch!” I hit him again and again. He groans in response and curls in on himself. “Wham! There! Am I saying it right? Wham! Wham! Wham!” I punctuate each word with a blow and a groan, “You. Fucking.Schizoid.Mother.Fucker!!!”

The chair legs snap off and Nigel does not get up.

I keep hold of one of the chair legs. Just in case. I throw the other at Nigel as hard as I can. “Bastard!”

Stairs!

The stairs were behind me the whole time. I run up them two at a time. Thank you! 

At the top of the stairs is a door with a key in it. I slam and lock the door before the adrenalin floods out of me and I sink to the floor in exhaustion and drugged fatigue. My bag is on the bench. With amazing effort, I snag the handle and pull until the bag spill to the floor, my phone with it, and I call the police.

As I wait for help to arrive, I hear a brief Bang! as a hand hits the door behind my head. I gasp and jerk away. “Alice? Alice, are you there? I’m hurt, I need help.”

No shit you need help, psychological help you wannabe. I say nothing in return just listen with every fibre of my being in case he tries to get out.

His voice stays low to the floor and he starts to sob. “I’m sorry I frightened you, Alice. I like you. Maybe we could forget this whole thing ever happened and I can take you to the movies or something? They said you liked George, so I figure we’re perfect for one another.”

The sobbing makes him infinitely less terrifying and as I see the blue lights flooding through the window, I find my voice. “Nigel, George Michael was a gentleman. You are no George. Not even 90’s drugged up George.”

His sobs intensify but I can feel no pity for him. I pull out my phone, find my playlist and select a song. “Move into a new decade, arsehole.”

The police burst through the door and I hit play on En Vogue, Never Gonna Get It.


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NYC Midnight FFC – Round 3: The Bear Un-Necessities

This round I landed in what is now known as “the infamous toilet group”. Our prompts, Rom-Com / family restroom / rubber boot. Lord help us all.

 

The Bear Un-necessities

Girl meets boy, meets bear?

 

Erica gave a small sigh of pleasure when she spotted the little cabin that was now a family restroom. It was rustic, but after a weekend of hiking the Colorado Ice Lakes, any working toilet and sink seemed luxurious. The door made no sound as she pushed it inward and headed for the second of the five stalls. Setting her backpack on the floor, she slid the latch. “Hello indoor plumbing! I’m sorry I stink so bad!”

“Hello?” A British sounding male voice called from the next stall.

Cringe! “Hi, stranger who talks to young women in restrooms. How you doing?”

The guy gave a weary sounding laugh, which had a distinctly sexy timbre. “Not great. I don’t mean to alarm you but, are you alone and have you locked the door?”

Warning bells sounded in Erica’s head. Sexy sounding or not, he’s a stranger in a restroom. “I’m hiking with my university lacrosse team.” Ha, that will put him off.

“Thank God. HEY OUT THERE!” he bellowed, “WE NEED HELP. THERE’S A BEAR IN HERE!”

This guy is nuts. “Woah toilet dude, stop yelling. All the bears are hibernating. There is no bear.”

“My name is Nathan, and I’ve been trapped in here for three hours. I can assure you; there is a bear in here with us. HELLO? ASSISTANCE NEEDED! Why aren’t your friends coming?”

Sexy sounding British guy is clearly insane, time for me to leave.

While the toilet lunatic continued to yell for Erica’s imaginary friends, she hefted her pack and slipped out of the cubicle. As Nathan drew a breath for his next round of hollering, she heard a sound behind her. A soft grunting which drew her eyes to the closed outer door. There, behind the very door she had walked through, in all its hairy and clawed glory, was a bear. The fur was deep blue-black and the eyes, two dark pools of sleepy confusion. It huffed at Erica and cuffed the ground with a massive paw.

“Holy fuck!” Erica backpedalled as fast as she could, slammed the cubicle door and latched it. “Toilet dude, there is a fucking bear in here!” How did I miss a bear?

“It’s Nathan,” he grumbled, “and I already told you that.” The bear made curious snuffling noises outside Erica’s cubicle door, and she let out a small hysterical laugh. “What is so funny?” he demanded, starting to sound as disgruntled as the bear.

“Sorry.” Erica stifled her giggles. “I’ve locked myself in a toilet cubicle to save myself from a bear who could eat this door if it felt like it. Oh, and I lied to you about having friends outside.”

“What?! I’m angering this bloody beast by yelling, and there’s no lacrosse team coming?”

“Hey!” snapped Erica. “When an unknown man in a toilet, in the wilderness, asks me if I’m alone, I’m going to lie. Y’know, so I don’t get murdered.”

“I suppose when you put it that way,” there was a scuffling sound from the cubicle next door and a moment later a head appeared over the partition.  Erica felt her insides flip-flop, in a way which had nothing to do with her current bear-related circumstance. Shaggy brown hair, a few days of stubble and deep brown eyes, he was every inch as sexy as the accent and laugh had suggested. He reached down a hand, “Pleasure to meet you…”

She laughed and shook his hand, “Erica.” He smiled at her and she groaned internally, I’m going to be eaten by a bear, in front of the hottest man alive.

“Ok, Erica. How about this bear? It seems to have wandered in here and can’t get back out. I think it’s confused but not too annoyed. It hasn’t tried to eat me. Yet. If we could lure it over to the other side, next to the baby table bit, we could make a run for the door. If Paddington makes it out before the door closes again, he’ll probably just run away, right? Do you have any food in your pack?”

Erica reached down and scrabbled about but came up empty, “There’s nothing left, I’m headed home. What if we throw some things behind it to get it away from the door?”

Nathan thought for a moment. “That might work. Pass me some stuff from your bag.”

Erica delved into her backpack and began handing Nathan her gear. Sleeping bag, flask, tent, raincoat, a pink rubber boot. Whatever she laid her hands on was passed to a precariously balanced Nathan, who in turn lobbed it in the direction of the bear. “It’s mad at us, but it’s moving out of the way,” called Nathan. They both unlocked their cubicle doors. With a final clang from a saucepan Nathan leapt down, bellowing “NOW!” and they sprang from their cubicles, yanked open the outer door and raced over the grass.

Erica glance behind them. The bear had also made it out of the restroom and was now chasing them. Pulling the final item from her pack, the remaining pink boot, she did the only thing she could. She hurled it as hard as she could in the direction of the bear. The boot arched magnificently through the air and smacked the poor beast square in the face. It skidded to a halt, blinking in surprise. Probably not wanting to contend with another item of pink footwear, it gave an annoyed “prrruffff” and ambled towards the treeline.

“Yeah bear, you better run!” yelled Erica.

When she turned, Nathan was staring at her. “I’m impressed. You just welly-wanged a bear!”

Erica shrugged. “No idea what that is, but sure thing toilet dude. Survival of the fittest. Now, I think we need to go back to civilisation. You can buy me a drink for saving your ass.”

Nathan smiled warmly, “It’s a date, on one condition.”

“What’s that?”

“Stop calling me toilet dude.”

She smiled, “I’ll see what I can do.”

 


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Jimmy

I curl my toes into the dirt and use the gritty texture to anchor myself, pulling my mind to feel the cool of the ground at my soles and the wind on my face. I hear the sound of his clothing rustle as he shifts uneasily in the doorway.  He doesn’t know what to say. He wants to comfort me in some way, but he knows me well enough to know that his efforts acknowledge my tears and actually make me more uncomfortable. He shifts again, and the weight of his expectation that I do something begins to press on me.

Annoyance flickers through me, I welcome it for the reprieve of my other emotions, but the weight of my grief smothers the flames all too quickly. I give in with a sigh. Pushing the heels of my hands roughly against my eyes, I crush away the tears.  I turn to face him and pretend as though the tears were never there. He doesn’t comment on the red eyes or anything else, he just moves aside to let me back into the house, brushing his arm against mine in the process. I lean into him slightly to acknowledge the great effort this is costing him.

I married a man who likes to talk about his emotions. He faces them head on, expresses them and is ever hopeful that I will be an adult and do the same.  Instead, I curl myself up on the couch and refuse to make eye contact. I know he’s sad too, but he doesn’t feel the way I do. He wasn’t there, and he didn’t make the decision.

~8~

This morning my boy was still happy. So eager to greet me when I walked through the door that for a moment you would be forgiven for realising that it was the end because despite his enthusiasm he couldn’t walk. So thrilled to be close to me he was dragging himself along the floor to be by my side. That was the moment grief started to take hold.

The seed was planted in my heart months ago. My boy was wobbling on his hind legs while he walked and a trip to the vets revealed a degenerative spinal condition. He would feel no pain, but he would be gone within the year. I ignored it. With no cure I did the next best thing, I loved him more. We walked more often, and I fussed him whenever he wished, which for a dog is more often than not, always.

We spent the day my boy and I. Curled on the living room floor together we cuddled, I petted him without a break, fed him his favourite treats and held his water bowl while he quenched his thirst. He leaned into me and covered me in his fur and the smell of dog.

Three o’clock came faster than I wanted, I would have drawn the hours out for longer if I could have but I have no power over time. Dad has come home, and our appointment is at three thirty. He carries my boy to the car, and we sit through the half hour of traffic to get to the vet. I reach my hand behind me for the whole journey and keep my hand buried in the thick fur of his neck. My arm aches but I can’t bear to let him go. When we arrive mam and the vet are waiting for us.  We are rushed through the reception, no lingering to feel the sting of seeing others who have brought their loved ones to this place and will leave feeling better than they arrived.

Dad places my boy on a blanket on the floor and I am instantly by his side, his head in my lap. I haven’t looked at a single person in the room, only my boy. I try and absorb the patterns of his tan and black fur, the sprinkling of grey on his muzzle. I study the exact way his ears flop and give him a broad forehead, the reason he came to me all those years ago, his ears wouldn’t stand up to make him good enough to show. I feel the softness of those floppy ears and press my face to his broad forehead. He licks my hand and I almost want to laugh for a moment as I look into his brown eyes and tearfully call him a slobbery mutt.

The whole time the vet has been talking in a soft voice. I think she is supposed to be soothing but it’s grating. She brings help, my boy is a big dog, and as I hold him steady, they shave a small area of his fur. He whines and licks her hand. I hold him tighter, head tucked to my chest, and tell him what a good boy he is as they place the cannula. She picks up the syringes, two of them, both filled with red liquid. She’s talking still but I don’t try to decipher the words. I can barely breathe as she starts to push the plunger.

My throat is aching and tight. I whisper to him that he is my beautiful boy, he is such a good boy, I love him so much. He grows heavy in my arms and the grief explodes a ragged hole in my heart. I know the instant he has gone, I don’t need the vet to bring her stethoscope and check for a heartbeat I know won’t be there. Mam has her hand on my shoulder, asking me to let my boy go. Dad’s face is tear-stained as he collects my boy from the blanket and we leave to take him home. He will dig a hole in the garden and put my boy there in the soil where his two brothers have gone before him.

~8~

That was hours ago now, I am home again, faced with a loving husband who wishes to make me better but cannot. I killed my dog because I loved him and the world makes no sense to me.


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Only Blue – NYCMidnight FFC 2017 (Round 1)

Three prompts, 1000 words, 48 hours.

Genre: Horror

Location: Dog show

Featured object: Pasta

 

Only Blue

I wake to the rhythmic thudding of an epic hangover. Rasping a thick tongue across chapped lips, I force my groggy eyes to focus. Green carpet and the edge of a grooming table swim into view. I’m in the show ring: the sturdy bench and canine smell are unmistakable. Small dogs with big egos had sat atop tables like this earlier as I cast critical eyes and hands over them to determine who was best. Bichon, Poodle and Papillion in an endless parade of fluffiness.

I do not feel Best in Show. How much wine did I drink?

I’m draped unflatteringly over something on top of the table.

Not my finest hour.

Someone sniffs. It sounds like Nancy, our show secretary. She has a very distinctive sniff; stiff and scratchy like the tweed skirts she wears. We had pasta and wine after the show, apparently too much wine.

Welcome to regret Nancy!

Time to get up.

My brain is suddenly awake.

I can’t move.

I’m bound at the wrists and calves. A metal arch on the table presses against my naked torso, holding me in position on my hands and knees.

I’m naked!

My alertness slips towards panic. I’m defenceless and exposed.

Who did this?

What do they want?

Am I hurt?

Fear pierces me like needles pushing through my skin from the inside. Every atom in my body screams.

Throbbing in my head from the wine, or drug? Pain in my knees from pressing on the hard table. Wrists and legs? The restraints. Nothing else hurts.

I swallow the fear. It settles like a weight in my stomach.

It’s quiet. The people and dogs are gone, and it’s dark except for the lights in the ring. To my left are two more tables like mine. On the nearest is Gerry. Hours earlier I had pinned a blue Best in Show ribbon on his well-pressed shirt. Now he lies next to me, slumped like a flabby and wrinkled baby. Beyond him is Nancy, bereft of tweed.

“Heaaaaahg.” I try to speak but pain bites at my jaw and the sound becomes a useless gargle.

“No, no, no,” admonishes a sing-song voice.

Cynthia?

She steps into view. A platinum blonde perm and a cloud of pink chiffon. Phoebe, her beloved Pekingese, glares at me from her arms. “Whatthefuarrrgghhhhhh!” My brain feels like it will burst into flame.

What is happening?

“Shock collar dearest. Noisy puppies get punished.” Each word punctuated by a manicured nail tapping my nose.

“Right Snuffikins, time to start the show.” The sound of her voice skitters across my skin like cockroaches. She nuzzles Phoebe, allowing the dog’s tiny pink tongue to lick her lips before placing her on the ground. “Lets begin.” Cynthia taps her clipboard. “Eyes? Bright.” Bony fingers grasp my chin. “Strong jaw and nose.” She pinches my ears. “Acceptable.”

She has my judging sheet.

She moves out of sight. My body tenses, pulling inwards trying to avoid her hands on any part of my nakedness. With firm presses from the heel of her hands and a brisk raking of nails, she feels my body anyway. My mouth fills with bile but I can’t scream for fear of the collar.

God, make her stop touching me!

It is silent save for the scratch of pen on paper, Cynthia’s murmured comments and Nancy’s plaintive sniffling. I almost choke to death on my humiliation.

Hands grope my breasts and squeeze my ribs. They pinch the flabbiness of my belly and then my thighs. I struggle but can’t move. There is no escaping her probing fingers as they lightly spread my buttocks. “Pleaseeeeeeggggh.” I start to weep.

Phoebe dances below my table, tongue lolling with joy. I realise that this is all about her losing the blue ribbon to Black Diamond, Gerry’s glorious poodle. I glare at her scrunched little face with hatred. She doesn’t care.

Then the hands are gone and Phoebe is trotting away. I watch Cynthia with her pink ruffles and botox-pout inspect Gerry in the same horrendous way. His eyes remain fixed on a black bundle below his table. Cynthia moves on to Nancy, but now I’m fixated on the bundle too. It shouldn’t matter in the circumstances, but for some sinister reason, it does. I need to know.

What is it?

I finally make out a dainty foot and a curled coat. The body is so broken and mangled I barely recognise it as a dog. Diamond!

“The judging is over!” declares Cynthia. “Third place!” She slaps the yellow ribbon against Gerry’s cheek. The pin pierces him, but he doesn’t move except for the rise and fall of his chest. He isn’t dead, simply indescribably broken. “Can’t win them all.”

Cynthia’s eyes dart between Nancy and me. She plays to the empty room. “Second place!” She skips towards Nancy who tries to shrink away. “You know what they say, red ribbon for the first loser.” Her lip curls as her eyes dart to me, “Isn’t that right dear?” Mania pours from her in waves now, and Phoebe is yapping excitedly. The ribbon draws blood as the pin forces its way into Nancy’s flesh. She can’t help but scream and electricity is her reward.

Cynthia moves toward me, brandishing the coveted blue ribbon. “Best in Show,” her eyes blaze with a fiery hatred.

“You’re going to make this right.” She speaks in a rush, face so close to mine I can see her lipstick stained teeth, “You’re the best, my Phoebe, she deserves the best.” Pain burns through my hand. I scream and lightning claws at my jaw. I watch as Phoebe triumphantly snatches my severed finger from the floor and grunts merrily through each sickening crunch.

“Snuffikins needs more protein in her diet,” Cynthia coos as she begins to wheel my table towards the darkness.


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The Heart of Pluto

It was snowing the first time we met there. Not a wild flurry of white, but a lazy drift of flakes that gave a gentle kiss of cold when caught. It shouldn’t have been a surprise that it was snowing, the heart-shaped crater of Pluto was always filled with snow, but not snow like you know. Snow on Pluto is special. Scientists say its nitrogen and methane but it’s not. They only think that because they’ve never been.  Snow on Pluto is its own thing. Cold in the sky and warm as a bed of feathers on the ground.

That’s where we sat, my best friend and I. Lounging against a pillow of Pluto snow with moons, planets and stars shining above us in the glorious silence and a gentle flurry of snow, just like the first time.

“Look,” he said, arm raised to point at the left side of Charon. I followed his gaze and watched the plumes of ice spilling down the sides of the moon volcano like an unfurling flower. The heart of Pluto was the best place to watch ice volcanoes on the moon erupting, we did it often and tonight, Charon looked so close that we might almost be able to touch it.

“You know, Charon isn’t my favourite moon,” I said. He looked at me the way he always did when I announced these random facts, with mild interest. I did it often. He started conversations with thoughtful questions and a will to learn the world better, all the worlds. I blurted out whatever nonsense burst into my head at that moment. As the older of us, surely I was supposed to be sensible and worldly, but I wasn’t. He was waiting, eyebrow raised, asking me to finish my thought without words. “I mean all of our moons are special,” I let my eyes pick out Pluto’s satellites one at a time. Tiny little Styx, the baby moon. Kerberos, the moody moon who likes to hide in the dark and Hydra with her strange and bumpy surface, “but I like Nix best.”

“I knew it!” he declared and I couldn’t help but laugh. He dramatically flopped back into the snow bank and sent a cloud of Pluto snow billowing into my face. “How can you love Nix over beautiful and majestic Charon? Nix, the space potato!”.

I sputtered as I was covered in tiny chills until the flakes warmed and fell away. I took my revenge by dumping a flurry on his bare arms, much to his dismay. “Quit calling my beautiful moon a space potato!”

“Are you saying she isn’t a space potato?” He waved his arms at Charon, the eerie glow of starlight shining across the icy crust of her surface as though she was lit from within, like a diamond made with a core of fire. Volcanoes of ice erupting on her surface and swirls of crystalline air that could be seen with the naked eye. She was breath-taking. There was no denying it.

Then he pointed to Nix. Eyebrow raised again. I swore he used it just for me when I was being dense. Nix with her dusty red looking colour and distinctly potato-like shape that made her wobble and jitter through space, unable to find an axis on which to spin. Like me, she was dancing to an entirely different tune to the rest of the universe. A little weird and out of place but comfortable in her strangeness. Yep, that was definitely my moon. “Fine, I admit, she is entirely a space potato, but she is my space potato. She’s a dancing moon. You can have the big flashy diamond of a moon and I’ll keep my weird little space potato.”

“You think I like Charon because she’s pretty?” He looked a little offended, hurt even.

“She is very beautiful. You can’t deny that.”

“She is, but that’s not what makes her special.” He looked at our beautiful moon and smiled. “Do you know that she is the only moon in our universe that doesn’t spin? She stays facing Pluto all the time.” He slipped his arm through mine and gestured with his other hand to the glittering sky. “Like in the whole of the universe these two beautiful bodies have found each other in the darkness of space and suddenly can never bear to be parted again. So they spin through space together, like dancers. Never able to turn their faces away from one another. I think Charon is the best moon because she fell in love with our Pluto and our Pluto fell in love with her. I think that’s why Pluto has this heart that always faces Charon. Because Charon has her heart.”

I shouldn’t have been surprised. In all the time we’d known each other my friend had shown time and again that he never took the obvious beauty. He sat quietly and then without warning showed you the softer beauty that was the very soul of a thing. It’s why Pluto suited him so well. Here he was safe from a messy and loud world that often took too much and gave back too little. She was a haven made just for two. A world where the sun, normally blinding on earth, was a distant glimmer in a sea of other distant glimmers and the infinite possibilities of all the other stars had a chance to shine.

But it’s temporary. One day we would be able to live on Pluto, but for now, we visited in brief moments when the quiet was needed by us both. In a few minutes, we would both close our eyes and when we opened them again we’d be back in a busy office or on a crowded street and only seconds will have passed. The world will once again be loud and full of people who are all too close and too coarse.

But Pluto and Charon would be out there, waiting. Dancing through the stars with their quirky little friends, one of whom jigged quietly in a most peculiar way and basked in the warmth of the love from a small snowy planet and her diamond moon.