Carolyn Meredith loves exploring the world through the lens of a camera and sharing her stories. She is a travel and photo opportunist and hopes to stimulate others to adventure and creativity through her work and her relentless tales of personal exploits. She grew up in England, and now lives and works in America.
– By James Claffey
Under a split infinitive sky where the frozen bodies gather dust in early mornings, there’s a strange bird doing a dance. It’s feathers ruffle and the tips of its wings rotate in opposite directions. This is not a mating dance. This is not a love song. This is not a train wreck by the side of a sinewy river of muddied water. The bird takes a short hop towards a mound of rock, only to find a waiting snake inside a discarded bag of toasted croutons. We are the snake and the bird, my love. The dance of death reminds me of the day we sat on the grass at Dolores Park, the fog slowly burning off, your sandals wet with dew, and fresh from your lips, the accusation that I’d been stringing you along. I fingered the lint in my pocket, the lump of ring in tissue paper, too. Right when I was about to ask you a serious question the brakes shifted on a child’s stroller and the mother screamed as her baby gathered speed and put some distance between them. Back to the present cold circumstance, and your accusation is only a memory, less real than the coiled snake, less painful than the frozen dead.
James Claffey hails from County Westmeath, Ireland, and lives on an avocado ranch in Carpinteria, CA with his family. He is the author of a collection of a short fiction, Blood a Cold Blue. His website is at www.jamesclaffey.com.
– By Shaunagh Jones
On a street, there’s a lamp that saturates the pavement with a hazy, gold light. The cobbled road is lined with townhouses, each with a different coloured door and an elegantly looped number. You stop under the lamp and notice the house in front of you has a burgundy door. At the window, two suited men are talking animatedly and you’re sure one was in a film you saw the other week. Leading man handsome. They’re too immersed in their conversation to notice you. Behind them, a waiter hurries from group to group with long stemmed glasses and squat crystal ones with whisky sluiced into them. A child sits in the corner of the room, rolling a toy car around the floor, largely ignored. You notice a woman who has her back to the window and her flash of red hair. You think it’s her, but when she turns around you realise your mistake. To calm your heart’s quickening thud, you focus on a group of women in dresses of onyx velvet and ruby silk who are laughing. From where you’re standing it’s like watching a silent movie.
The doorstep has a row of empty champagne bottles beside it. You remember Sarah, and how she insisted on placing a brown sugar cube in her glasses of champagne; mostly because she liked to watch it eaten up by the bubbles. You tried it because she wanted you to, and because everyone in her circle was drinking sugar-infused champagne. You said you liked it so you could be one of them, but really the sugar and cold made your teeth ache. You excused yourself from speaking to a heavily perfumed Chanel-suited woman and walked endless corridors in search of the bathroom. On the way, you noticed a porcelain vase decorated with copper red flowers and remember the newspaper reports that detailed the vase’s heritage and the vast price it fetched at auction. You opened various doors and found rooms decorated with diamond embossed rugs and rococo paintings. The low hum of conversation could be heard through the corridors so, not wanting to be caught intruding, you hurried along. Finally, you locked yourself in the bathroom before pouring the contents of the champagne glass into the toilet.
Returning, you noticed Sarah had a lopsided drunken smile and knew it was time to leave. At home, you tried to recount a joke told to you that night, but you couldn’t remember the punch line. Sarah laughed anyway and whispered ‘Oh, you,’ onto your lips.
You concentrate on the icy cold, trying to halt your thoughts. It’s eleven o’clock and it went dark hours ago. The windows of the house with the burgundy door are illuminated and none of the revellers inside pays you any attention. It must seem strange though: a man standing outside a house just watching those within. You look on the wrong side of dishevelled.
The door of the house opens and a woman stumbles out. Her dress is sequinned and her legs look too bare. Her make up is smudged; purple lipstick is plastered outside the lines of her mouth like a child’s drawing. She places a cigarette between her lips and fidgets with the clasp of her bag. She fishes for a lighter but can’t seem to find one. Then she looks up and says:
‘Hey. Got a light?’
You’re startled and Sarah’s face floats before you once again. The simplicity of the woman’s greeting and the sense she has somewhere better, more exciting, to be reminds you of Sarah. Every time there’s a jolt behind your rib cage. You say you’re sorry because you don’t have a lighter. Sarah made you quit smoking. There’s arsenic and formaldehyde in those things.
The woman in the sequinned dress nods and then points upwards. ‘That’s like an eye,’ she says and walks shakily away into the December night. You resist the urge to run after her to give her your coat or ask her name. There’s frost crystallising on the windows and the coat was a gift. Something you want to hold on to. Then you glance up to see what she was referring to and it’s the Victorian lamp post. The beam it omits is like a spotlight on you; a halo on the ground. Not quite an eye.
You aren’t even sure how you came to this street, looking in on a scene that used to be so familiar. But you’re not one of those people anymore. You can’t forget the day your manager called you into the office and hissed: ‘There’s been some indiscretions in the accounting. Could you perhaps explain them?’ Sarah was long gone by the time they announced the verdict in court, but you still looked out at the benches hoping to see her one final time, not really listening to what the judge said. Now, the whisky you drink is blended and when you swallow it down, you hear the guilty verdict clearly. You force yourself to empty the glass and then another, because it makes you sleep. The only time you can’t think about what you’ve lost.
You urge yourself to move your numb legs. So you start to walk away and after a few steps you hear the door opening again. You try not to look back, but you can’t stop yourself. You want one last glimpse into a world that’s forgotten you. Two people are standing under the lamp post. There’s a woman with bobbed black hair and she’s clutching a bouquet of winter flowers to her chest; red roses with sprigs of holly intermingled amongst them, stark against her white dress. She has a man’s tuxedo jacket draped over her shoulders. The man who owns the jacket clasps her face in his hands and says something you can’t hear, although you find yourself trying to. She laughs and flicks her hair in a move that’s both rehearsed and charming. They start to make their way up the street towards you.
The woman with the black bobbed hair stumbles slightly and grasps her companion’s arm to steady herself. He gently swings her round to face him and she brings her mouth to his. You hope the man knows he’s lucky.
The pair untangle from the warmth of each other and they walk in the direction of the city centre; towards the bars that serve cocktails consisting of exotic spirits; towards the nightclubs that need a membership to enter; towards those streets that you used to walk along in your bespoke suit while Sarah grasped your hand. There’s small part of you that thinks you will again someday. You cling to that hope like it’s a ledge of a building you’ve slipped off. Aware of the weight of your worn cashmere coat you take one final look at the house with the burgundy door, and then you too walk towards the city.
Shaunagh Jones is a short story writer. She recently completed a Creative Writing MLitt at the University of Glasgow. Follow her on Twitter @JonesShaunagh.