Edited by Helen Aitchison
It’s a pleasure to continue with our January Showcases and our theme of ‘Beginnings And Endings.’ In what always feels like a long month, we can reflect on opportunities around us and perhaps you have already considered your own thoughts on what you may wish to achieve this year, which might include your own writing journey. Hopefully, this week’s pieces will inspire you!
We start with First Meeting by Viv Fogel, taken from her poetry collection Imperfect Beginnings. This beautiful piece is, sadly, a situation many of us have experienced. The expression portrayed in the ending of a life, a legacy, and the start of possible new relationships feels raw, endearing, and relatable. A stunning poem.
For my birth mother, Jennie
Unconscious in a hospital bed,
she grips my finger, as one tear, from the corner of her eye,
Rolls down when I whisper who I am.
“I’ve made good my life,” I say,
And comatose she responds: One squeeze for yes, two for no.
I hold onto her hand.
I had imagined this moment, seen her draw back.
Hesitate to rejoin what she was made to sever, both of us wavering.
I meet her friends, her sister—and her son, (WOW—a half-brother!),
Who tell me how alike our gestures, our goofy teeth.
I tell her about Jo, her grand-daughter—and, “I look forward to seeing more of you”.
A squeeze. “No blame, no regrets”—and, “I love staying in your flat.”
The cartoons tacked inside her kitchen cupboards,
Remind me of mine;
I am proud of her hidden awards, (for services to the community),
Those shields, those plaques, tucked out of sight, swaddled in soft towels.
On this no-one-else-but-us shore, this then becomes our beginning.
The space between hovers liminal—there are no memories to replace what was lost,
Yet, emptiness longs to be filled with what it once knew—
Isn’t that enough?
© Viv Vogel, 2023
Connect with Viv via flyonthewallpress.co.uk
Next is Incognito Mode by James Marshall. This short story depicts new situations and our need for acceptance; something that never quite disappears, despite our age. The pressures of ‘fitting in,’ within a new educational setting and never feeling quite up to the mark is balanced beautifully by the advancement of kindness. A wonderful, heart-warming piece.
It’s my first day of college and I’m already crying in the toilets. My stomach spasms as I sob over the sanitary towel bin. I made it through the first induction class but only by shredding my hang nails. I hid the bloody stubs up my sleeves.
We had English next and our teacher asked us to describe one part of our summer holiday to the class. I shrivelled into my hoodie and wished, once again, that I could turn on ‘Incognito Mode.’ Instead, I stuttered and stammered and fumbled with my sheet of paper that was twitching between my fingers like a cardiac patient under a defibrillator.
That was it. I couldn’t face chemistry, so I ran for the toilets.
I smell blueberries. Someone must be vaping in the cubicle next door.
“It’s a shithole, isn’t it?” a voice says.
I presume she means the college rather than the toilet. I stifle my sobs and curl my toes as if that will conceal me.
“Are you all right?” the voice says. “I heard you crying.”
A blue plastic vape waggles under the door, held by long fingers tipped with black nails. “Try this, it will help you relax.”
I reach for the black handle of the vape. I’ve seen some of the bad kids do it after school but I’ve never tried. I put it between my lips and suck. The blueberry smoke washes around my mouth until I cough. How’s this supposed to help?
I stagger out of the cubicle, thrust the vape into the girl’s hand and lean over the brown-stained sink. I rinse my mouth with lukewarm water and spit. The corners of the mirror are unreflective where the plastic has peeled away. My eyes are red, my mascara has run and my zit concealer has smeared, revealing an angry-looking whitehead. I look like an extra from The Evil Dead.
The girl stares at my reflection; her black lipliner matches her nails. She’s wearing a tartan mini skirt with black stockings ripped over one knee, Doc Martens with red laces and a denim jacket. Her hair is short and peroxide blonde. Despite that, she has soft features and the smile in the cracked mirror seems genuine.
“First time?” She puts a hand on my shoulder. “Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.”
“Thanks.” I force a smile and then reach into my bag for my emergency make-up kit. I mask the zit with my concealer pencil before turning to the girl. “It all got a bit heavy first thing.” Adding, “You know?” to fit in.
“I hear you,” the girl said. “Fancy coming for a coffee?”
“Sure,” I say.
I could do with a friend today.
© James Marshall, 2023
Connect with James on Substack: substack.com/@JAMESRMARSHALL
The third offering is a beautiful poem by Alex Mayberry. Day After Day spoke to me of healing, inner strength and support at a time where we may need it the most; an ending.
Day After Day
From earphone to heart,
In words soft yet bold,
Coated in gravel, her voice,
Got me over the threshold,
Day after day.
“One foot in front of the other babe”.
Day after day,
Of an autumn spent alone,
Elder trees, being rapidly stripped of their leaves,
Becoming as exposed as I,
By changing winds, sympathised.
Stoically, they reassuringly stared,
With puffed out chests and hearts bared,
Approving of my attempts,
To navigate paths they had mastered.
“One foot in front of the other babe”.
Each shaky stride towards taking stock.
Each ever-more confident step towards awareness.
Each grateful glide towards healing.
Each tear-filled limp towards forgiveness.
“My love, keep on running”,
She and they whispered,
Assuring that getting through today,
Was all that was required of my growing.
Until acceptance was found in the knowing,
That tomorrow would be better.
© Alex Mayberry, 2024
Connect with Alex on Instagram: @alexmayberrythefirst
After an education background taking in Saudi Arabia and North Yorkshire, Alex earned a degree in Business from the University of Sunderland, and now lives in Durham. He began writing in 2020 and has self-published two short stories and works of poetry, including Letters To Madame series and his first chapbook, Are You Having Fun?
Lastly, we have The Middle by Maya Snow. A powerful, personal piece that tells a story of trauma and recovery. Not just beginnings and endings, but also middle; empowering and thought-provoking!
I woke up in a room, iridescently lit — too bright, too harsh. It wasn’t my home, with lamps glowing warmly from every corner of every room, candles flickering and cosiness enveloping everyone who entered. I felt around me, trying to find the recognisable feel of my pillow, my duvet, my cat curled at my feet. As my eyes adjusted to the light, I found nothing comforting, only the familiar sense of being chained to the bed by a drip and a canular, and the recognisable clinical smell I’d too recently come to know far too well.
A distant and unfamiliar voice floated in the room: “Were you trying to end it all?”
I think he’s talking to me, but he could just as easily be a voice in my head. I try to ground myself, be present in the hallucinogenic room I appear to be in. I turn to see him, a kind-faced, sympathetic doctor, almost at the end of his shift, pasted against the sickly green walls that are unmistakenly those of a hospital. He’s looking at me, unsure whether to place a comforting hand on my arm, unsure what he’s faced with, unsure of what he’s doing.
I couldn’t answer him; I wasn’t sure either. Was I trying to end it? End what? Slowly, I began to ease myself back into the reality I had created. Fog clearing, I didn’t think I was trying to end it. Should I say that out loud? To him?
“Why did you do it?”
You’re asking me? He is asking me. I don’t know. I just needed a way to end the pain. Did I say that aloud? I need to stop talking or thinking! I’m not helping myself, here. I’m not sure what’s in my head and what I’m verbalising. Best just to shut up.
“You don’t seem fine.”
“OK. I’ll have a chat with a colleague and come back in a bit.”
He won’t be back.
It’s fine, though. I’m fine.
I know I’m not.
I didn’t end it.
But there was no epiphany. No realisation that the world would be better with me in it, but there was a gradual realisation.
My ending won’t be the quick slash or swallow that I thought it would be. From the beginning, we are ending, but my ending will come with less violence and violation than the beginning.
I’ve begun to learn — since that room, since that doctor, since that gradual understanding — that perhaps I might actually just be somewhere in the middle. It’s important to note that I’m in the middle, because as much as I want to restart from the beginning, I can’t.
The middle is the most important. It isn’t the end, nor is it a new beginning. The middle is the learning, the awakening, the understanding that the beginning didn’t break me or destroy me. The beginning scarred me, shaped me, and made me. In the middle, the beginning still haunts me, it still shames me, it still disturbs me. But the middle is where I am now: hopeful, brave and never more vulnerable.
Christmas, a birthday, a special occasion, something along those lines. I was probably around five (Middle me will never remember, and that’s OK. End me will beat myself up about it, but that’s not the real and future End me). He was there. He told me not to say anything. Dreading the lights going out, the tickle on the neck, the quiet violence of the belt unbuckling and the zip pulling down. The beginning was a silent voice of shame.
The (Future) End
We sit, can’t stand like we used to be able to. We leave the pits to the kids. We hold hands, sometimes, not all of the time, depending on how the arthritis is that day, but always if it’s Freebird. The fluorescent lights shine down on us and we absorb the energy, the life from the crowd. We still wear black, leather, and studs (we know it’s 2064, but who cares!). We rock just as we used to 40 years ago, but a bit slower. Devil horns unite us with those who have come to their end before us. We fondly remember those we have lost. We look forward to the future.
© Maya Snow, 2023
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