By Mirabel Lavelle
Welcome to the fourth November Showcase. This week we have three very different Northern writers: Dr Tracey Iceton, debut author Helen Aitchison and Kylie Dixon, illustrator and children’s writer.
Helen Aitchison wrote The Dinner Club during lockdown and her talent for observing and writing about people’s behaviour is exquisite.
The Dinner Club
That Woman – Violet
“For the love of God, Violet, do you have to bloody cremate everything?”
Violet sat across the table, barely four feet away from Ben, yet his words didn’t even register. She had stopped trying to listen to him a long time ago. She heard every word but listening was pointless. She could never win, and words always meant something different when they poured out of his abhorrent mouth. Violet had been on the receiving end of “not listening” dozens of times over the years. Now, it was as if her spirit couldn’t stand listening anymore as her soul slowly eroded like cliffs from the salty sea.
“I followed the instructions, Ben, mine is fine,” she said in deflated monotone.
“Well, you must be stupid as well as useless then,” he sneered. “How am I meant to eat this pigswill when you could tarmac roads with it?”
He picked up his plate, and even though she knew what was going to happen, she made no attempts to avoid it. Smash and splat. The sounds, the sensations. She had heard, felt, seen and smelt this event so many times before. Another plate broken on the floor. Another pile of food smeared onto the beautiful porcelain kitchen floor tiles.
More brown marks splattered up the white paintwork, More sprays of food landing on Violet. Her face, clothes and hair full of raindrops of gravy and herbs.
Dinner Club Premier – Derek
Derek had to remember that not everyone ate one more potato than a pig like he did, meaning he had to be mindful on the night to not shovel ten tonnes of food onto everyone’s plates. Brenda could put it away for a woman of average size, but he imagined Violet and Florence didn’t quite have the appetite of a WWF wrestler.
He would, of course, make extra in case people wanted more, doggy bags and all that. He would take any leftovers to work the next day. He hated waster, especially in this day and age where there were families who couldn’t afford to feed their children and people who went to bed hungry.
Social Butterfly – Florence
Florence often talked about how lucky she was to have her carers, but she still felt the pain of loneliness. As she climbed into bed each night, the empty side always seemed so big. She would look over to the bedside cabinet that felt a million miles away from her and wish with all her being that she would see her Ernie’s mug of cocoa resting on its coaster, like it had done for so many years. She would read, trying to tire herself out, and always kiss his photo goodnight, which was preciously resting on her bedside cabinet.
“Goodnight, my love, please visit me in my slumber,” Florence repeated every night, willing Ernie to enter her dreams. A sign, a thought, a feeling. Anything. The flame of her love for her soulmate had never dulled. Decades later, she still felt the crippling void.
© Helen Aitchison, 2022
You can connect with Helen on Instagram: @helen.aitchison_writes, Facebook: @helenaitchisonwrites, Twitter: @aitchisonwrites and at her website: www.helenaitchisonwrites.com
The next submission ponders the question: Can music help us reconnect no matter where we are?
Rock God Complex: The Mickey Hunter Story
Although Mickey Hunter’s band, Crown & Kingdom, achieved a phenomenal amount of success, as with many rock artists of the 1970s, there were tensions between the members and the life of the band often hung precariously by its guitar strings. Here, Mickey and Philip attempt to reconnect over the very thing that brought them together in the first place: music.
The car crunches over the gravel drive that lies twisted round the front of my newly acquired three storey Georgian manor house. We get out. Philip admires the mansion, its floodlit turrets, gothic architraves and double-fronted oak entrance.
“Every king needs a castle, eh?” I joke.
“Your own private Kingdom, capital K.”
But I don’t give him the tour. The sight of my life in packing crates is not majestic. Instead we settle down for the night, what’s left of it, in the drawing room, huddling around the stone inglenook fireplace. I draw the heavy brocade curtains against the black rain, light the fire and some candles.
We smoke back and forth in silence. I remember doing this before but it was so long ago I can’t be sure it was really us. Philip reclines on the sofa. I stay on the floor, feeling the solid seventeenth century floorboards beneath the carpet, hundreds of years old and still sturdy. Down here I can’t fall.
“What’s been your best moment so far?” Philip asks, propping himself up.
“All this, you dick,” he says, laughter on the edge of his words.
“Come on. Six years of fame and glory. The adulation of thousands, maybe millions. Money coming out of our bloody ears.”
“It’s all been good.” Liar.
“Yeah, but the one thing that, if this went away tomorrow, you’d mourn? What would it be?”
I think back. See a blur of images, flicked over so fast I can’t tell one frame from another. The flicking only stops when I’m right at the beginning.
“The first time we played together.”
“You mean that shitty blues club north of the river?”
“Nah, the first time we played together.”
“Christ, that draughty warehouse?” Philip sees it too.
“We did ‘Baby, Let’s Play House’.”
“All I remember about that was driving around for three hours, trying to find the damn place,” Philip complains, “and being abso-bloody-lutely terrified.”
I snap my eyes onto his. “Why?”
“Jesus, I wanted it so badly and it felt like that was my last chance at it but you and Pete had already done so much; I was worried I wouldn’t be in your league.”
“If I’d thought you weren’t I wouldn’t’ve asked you.”
“I was too dumb then to think logically.” He laughs at the memory of his younger self. “So why is it that?”
I shake my head. “Don’t think I’m gonna explain this well.” I struggle up off the floor. Reach across the table, sling more whisky into our glasses. “I knew then that we had it. I could see it, hear it: feel it. I knew we were going to be… this… fuck… whatever it is we are. This amazing potential unrolled at my feet, stretched way off. I saw us standing on the edge of a wide green field that went beyond the horizon, knew we could walk the whole way across it and there wasn’t a single thing to stop us unless we stopped ourselves.”
Philip’s face is pouted into a frown. Slowly it relaxes.
“Yeah.” He breathes the word all the way out, pressure escaping. “I’ve got it.”
We don’t say anything else ’cos there’s too much to say.
“Man, it’s quiet here,” Philip says.
“You want some music?”
I fetch my old acoustic from the other room. Philip raises his eyebrows.
“Aren’t you sick of playing?”
“Nah. Make yourself useful and roll up again.” I perch on an armchair, check the tuning and start to finger-pick a handful of notes. They come gracefully, a melodic blend of honey-sweet sounds with a gently rising tempo. After four bars Philip turns his ears to me, the unlit joint abandoned. I let the music build, taking the notes higher, making them sing, picking double strings, rolling a low burbling open E that provides a soothing drone. I’ve played this through thousands of times but never found my way to the end, the notes always vanishing like melting ice. But this time, after I pass the last familiar point, from somewhere outside of me the rest of the song emerges. It rises and rises, pitching up, fine rich flavours melding together on my auditory taste buds. I stop picking. Start strumming, harder and faster, the notes crammed together, crushing against each other. I climb on. And on. And on. Reach the top. Slide slowly and fluently back down.
Philip’s eyes shine.
“Have you got some paper and a pen?”
I find some. For twenty minutes he scribbles. He hums the tune I’ve only played for him once as he writes. Three pieces go into the flames; four others survive. He finishes with a flourish.
“Ready?” he asks.
Maybe this is the real way to fix things between us. I play it again. Philip sings. The song is born.
© Tracey Iceton, 2020
You can connect with Dr Iceton at her website: trywriting.co.uk
Kylie Dixon is the author, illustrator and creator of The Magical World Of Mushroom Marvellous. A secret world of tiny mushroom friends living in her dad’s allotment in the North East. Kylie has a passion for inspiring children to be who they want to be and is touring local primary schools, helping them to unlock their own magic.
Inkcap & The Nethers
‘Down in the allotment, where wonderful things grow, there is a world. A magical world we cannot see. There are teeny-tiny mushrooms living amongst the undergrowth. A marvellous bunch of mushies helping the vegetables and plants to survive.
There’s a broken old plant pot behind the poly tunnel right in the corner of the allotment. It was once a seedling spot for gigantic, wondrous vegetables, being moved into much larger spaces. This is Inkcap’s house. The crack in the side is just the right size for him to crawl through at night as he rests between his daily tasks.
Inkcap is a marvellous mushroom. He is thin, slender and nimble, and is quick on his feet. And he can outsmart any of the other mushies in this magical world. Inkcap is light grey in colour. He wears a blue cape edged with a silvery-white band. And who wouldnt be impressed by his wide, white cap full of tiny glistening ink capsules, balancing on his little head?
Inkcap sat bolt upright in his soil bed. He’d been snoozing after a day of lookout work ion the new pear tree that The Grump had planted a few weeks before. We’ll get on to The Grump later but for now, we must find out what this noise is…
The little mushie had been suddenly woken by loud thumping sounds on the top of his plant pot roof. Moving his head from side to side, he flinched with a puzzled look.
‘There they are again,’ he thought to himself, as two more thumps, one after the other, came from the top of his house.’
(c) Kylie Dixon, 2021
Inkcap & The Blight Of The Bonnets
At the bottom edge of the allotment, right next to the outer fence, there is a pile of fallen branches. The Grump is often to be seen carrying these branches as he clears the ground around the old oak tree that leans over the allotment fence. Back he goes throughout the season, taking some of the more rotten wood to the compost heap.
Inkcap is often amazed how that one little branch nestled under the hedge is always left behind. He can never work it out. It’s as if The Grump knows about their secret world and is somehow protecting it. Just like the mushrooms protect his garden.
This decaying branch is where the Bonnet family live. It’s known by the mushrooms as ‘The Tuft’.
The Tuft is home to many other mushroom families too. If you look closely enough, you can see weeny windows of light and colour amongst doors of all shapes and sizes. There are higgledy-piggledy chimneys piping out smoke and steam from the welcoming warmth within. Yes, a bustling little network of mushie homes all connected within the wood. It may not sound very homely, but old rotten wood, rich in nutrients and moisture, is the perfect spot for mushrooms to live.
It’s hard to imagine, but inside Inkcap’s plant pothouse, it’s dry, cosy and warm. The perfect place for little mushies to rest after a hard day’s work. Through the cracked hole in the side of the plant pot, you’ll find seats carved out of soil in the walls.
Inkcap and scales had been sitting, huddled together. They were wrapped inside a fallen leaf from the big old oak tree. It was an Icy-cold, wintry afternoon and they’d fought to keep their bodies warm. There, they’d watched, with chattering teeth, as The Grump had ferried small black stones backwards and forwards into the greenhouse.
‘W-w-w-what’s he up to?’
(c) Kylie Dixon, 2022
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