friendship short fiction women

Friendship is Forever



You last saw her on the corner of Garden Street, just before the stretch of wasteland which became a stretch of motorway ten years later.


You had been arguing about something. Someone.


Terry Yates. The first time anyone or anything had come between you, and it was a bloody boy.


You remembered the way the conversation slid out of control, all the little resentments building up like the start of an infection, making you flushed and shaky as you screamed at one another. No one stopped to ask what was wrong, because back then, as a child, you could wander off and have adventures.


Earning scars to build armour with.


But you were giving them to one another.


Mary Paul.


Twelve years old and the best friend you ever had.


Your cheek tingles when its cold. The doctor never explained it but you think its a sense memory. The crack of her palm against it when you spat how her brother was a queer.


Her eyes bulging with shock and her hand coming up, faster than the fading light.


You rocked back, hand pressed against it as you hiss at her, wishing she was dead.


You remember it as hissing, but late at night, you remember how you screamed it at her.


She ran off, and you watched her leave as something sat on your chest, made you sit down and put your head between your knees and cry yourself sick.


In a kinder world than this, you would have seen her at school the next day. You would laugh about it, or at least make things right again.


She did not come to school. The policeman in your parents kitchen, he looks too big for the house and he asks you, in a voice which booms even as he tries to whisper, questions about where she might have gone.


You don’t lie to him but you make yourself forget. Part of you is still angry at her, and if she’s missing, then it’s her own fault. You learn something ugly about yourself then, which remains at the back of your throat forever, a scar which makes it difficult to swallow sometimes.


They never found her.


There are appeals.




Her parents on television, blinking into the harsh lights and struggling not to cry as they tell her she’s not in any trouble.


At night, you think about where she could be.


Sometimes you let yourself remember.


A copse of trees tucked into the corner of the caravan park. Sneaking past the caravans, and through a hole in the fence, brambles and thorns to slash at your legs.


The silver bark of the tree, cool and smooth, and the knot of roots. It is cool and quiet there, and you played there, silly games which made sense to you both. The language of a friendship learned in private.


They never found her.


Your decision stays with you.


It whispers in your ear on your wedding day.


It’s there in the delivery room when you give birth to your first child.


It stands by you at the funeral. Two coffins. Not too big and another, too small to look at without wanting to die.


It sits next to you on the train ride. Mute with loss, and going home to your parents after a stay in a place with clean white walls and a regime of pills to stop you from opening your wrists again.


You go for walks each day, and have to reconcile the changes with your psycho-geography. Your mum’s terrier, Bobby, has never known anything like it.


It is when you find yourself at the caravan park, that Bobby refuses to go in. It whimpers, pulling away but the terrible gravity of your guilt pulls you in.


Bobby comes with you. The caravans are empty this time of year, but you wonder if you’ve ever seen them occupied.


The gap is still there, but you have a job of getting in, although Bobby pulls away, you manage to get inside.


The effort and the humid air have brought you out in a sweat, but here it is still cool and dark.


You hear the ragged breath of someone with you.




Movement to your left. A palsied hand, with long black nails ragged and sharp against the bark. She does not move like a person, alien in the way a bird pecks at the ground. The face, frozen in youth but the skin is mottled and loose, like a mask too big to fit.


‘Hello, my friend. It’s good to ssee you.’


She steps out, the dress hanging off her shoulders, a black stained rag as she scuttles forward.


Bobby barks at her and she snatches it up. You shut your eyes and try not to throw up at the wet, crunching sound like someone opening a bag of crisps and the wet slap of something falling on the ground.


‘Oh god, Mary, I’m sorry.’


Her breath is cold at your cheek.


‘She was your best friend and you betrayed her. Terry had not even looked at you, but his hair turned white and he had a stammer which never went away. Her touch burns like frostbite, but its the first time you’ve felt anything in years.


Her fingers close on your throat, sudden and impossibly strong. She smells of rot and secrets, and you try to say how sorry you are before you run out of breath.


Friendship is forever, you tell yourself before the world goes dark.


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Two Pages (16/10/16)


Today’s date almost looks like a palindrome.

I’ve finished the last draft of Until She Sings. I have also started editing She’s Here. Lawful Evil is going well, and am now some 250 pages into the first draft.  I’ve been doing a lot more reading the last few days, and have ploughed through quite a few books inbetween chores and general day to day stuff. There’s been a lot to think about and certainly my reading has had a stoic focus on the work of Joyce Carol Oates, with three of her books devoured in a weekend when it was too wet to be out amongst nature.

I also got stung by a dead bee but that’s a story for another time.

I am also now on Facebook. So please feel free to add me on there.

I hope this finds you all well, appreciating the beauty and sadness of everything around us and within us. There is a lot of both, and sometimes the latter drowns out the former, but it’s there.

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The Burden of Law.


We had been in country for six months now, making friends was a thing of necessity and all of us in the unit had developed friendships in different layers. Imogen, who had dropped out of Stanford to be here was tight with Lorraine, who had been about to start beauty school before she got drafted, giggled like she was sucking down helium and liked to do our nails and hair when we were back at base. Olive had been on a scholarship to run track at LSU and she would work out with Patsy, who had been running her dad’s hardware store when he took ill, had resented handing it over to her younger brother, and took it out on the rudimentary weights and track they had ground and welded out of jungle dirt and brush. My BFF out here was Kelly, because of the fact that we had come from the same town and signed up together. It was that or get pregnant, get married to someone who would become an obese stranger to us over time and watch the years fly by. Safety is an illusion, and it just didn’t feel right to stand by and let other people stand a watch for our safety.

It’s strange what you believe, and your reasons for doing things. They weren’t lies as such, but we believed them at the time. Boot camp didn’t abuse us of that notion.

War did.

We dealt with it in different ways. Some of us retreated back to habits that engendered comfort, like Olive running track and Lorraine doing our hair.

Then there was Laura. Law, she shortened it to that and even spelt it that way, had it stencilled on her helmet with a skull and crossbones underneath. She was married, apparently, no kids, volunteered at the church in the small town where she had been born and lived before she got drafted.  No more than 5 feet tall, about a buck ten soaking wet but she had muscled through training. She was good at it.

Too good, but we never said that aloud. It was a feeling that could only be captured in the language of friendship’s whispers.

Law was the member of the unit who was appointed to kill children. It was not an official order, nothing written down or anything that would put a five star general in front of a sub committee but it was there.


It did not sit well with us, a callus against the skin of our souls, a cut that would heal if we could stop touching it. Law bore the burden quietly at first, but that changed.

It was the enthusiasm that she showed.

She started to take trophies. Fingers or ears because they kept better. No one else needed memories of their kills in country.

Once you’ve shot a grandmother in the face, it tends to stay with you. At least, I hoped it did. It reminds you that you’re still human. Still a woman.

So, when I tell you about how it ended, you have to understand that we were thinking about a lot of different things.

The village was supposed to have been cleared by the 101st

Law, by then, had settled on fingers, tied onto her bandolier of shotgun shells with neat loops of string, each one woven through one of the canvas pockets where each shell nestled, snug like a baby at a breast. Her bright red hair had been shaved down to stubble, bursts of cinnamon freckles against white skin that either burned or resisted the sun. Droopy-lidded brown cow eyes that saw everything with a quiet acceptance. She worked the pump action shotgun with surgical skill. Whatever she aimed for, she hit.

So when the little boy emerged, cheap Russian AK shaking in his arms, she was already in motion. Olive shouted but it was too late.

He flew backwards, at that range, his unformed, tan chest blew apart like a pound of meat dropped from a great height. Law had done it with no more expression than flitting a bug from her eyeline. We stood there, as Hillary, our lieutenant came over and touched Law on the shoulder, as though waking her from a pleasant dream.

‘What the fuck?’ I said.

Hillary raised her eyebrows and strode over to me. Her face had tightened into a harsh scowl, the same one she had probably used as a wedding planner to deal with an errant tent rental company error.

‘Sargeant, you do not get to question operating procedure. Stow that shit for base camp.’

Law knelt in front of the cooling corpse, looked around and giggled. It was a sound that stayed with me for as long as I lived. She already had the knife in her hand, ready to take a trophy.

The next sound was the shot.

It took her between the shoulder blades. Kelly lowered her rifle, then knelt down, placed it ground in front of her and knitted her fingers at the back of her head. She looked at me, tears budding in the corners of her eyes.

‘It had to be done, lieutenant. She can’t go home with that inside her.’

We retreated at the same pace we had arrived. Kelly was by my side, relieved of her rifle but not her duty. Hillary could have shot her there and then, but there would have been enough paperwork with Law already.

When the MPs came and took her, she smiled at me. I could not bear the weight of it and as she waved at me, she had the same expression as Law, but it was overlaid with the patina of friendship. I never saw her again, but when I went home, resuming my bachelors degree, I thought of her often.

I thought of Law too, but those were done by the time that I awoke. I would wash the sheets and shower a little longer than normal.



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Raise your shield high

Silence has a weight


A rock worn smooth

By time

A delicacy as raw silk

Sliding over my rough, dark hands


The screams – outrage, pain disguised

As signals of virtue

I stand askance

My path takes me through

These places

Once walled gardens of enthused discourse

Now the flowers drip blood

I hold my own counsel

Keep making my art

As though casting a suit of armour

Against the fragile, vicious beasts



My silence is my shield

And I raise it high

I raise it high


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A Quiet Invasion

We sit over coffee

She looks at me wide-eyed

Tells me that New York is an alien city

I laugh, nervous,

Afraid to ask if she’s stopped

Taking the pills

But she smiles, almost nervous

Hear me out


Her use of the word is a songbird at dawn to me.

In love with her in a neutered, sorry way

Not like the guys she takes home

As small boned as she is,

She likes the bull, the bear

Dark with tattoos and beards

All my poetry looks weak

Compared to the sullen prose

Of her lovers

But New York, she continues to tell me,

Is an alien city

That what comes from the skies

Isn’t acromegalic heads and black eyes

Plants and insects

Mineral intelligences

Why not a city, she offers up,

The way it’s laid out

How we are when we’re here,

That’s every city though

A place for people too odd for their homes

An asylum and a carnival all at once

She’s been having dreams

Woke up three miles from

Her bed, she offers

And yes, she says,

She’s taking the pills

My love for her

Makes me vulnerable to her

It shouldn’t but it does

And so I kiss her

Dry on the cheek,

Close my eyes to the tremble

And I turn a corner,

She makes me wonder

Where it will lead

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Create Your Own Religion by Daniele Bolelli



CREATE YOUR OWN RELIGION is a call to arms — an open invitation to question all the values, beliefs and worldviews that humanity has so far held as sacred in order to find the answers we need to the very practical problems facing us.

Writer, philosopher and professor of comparative religion, Daniele Bolelli, leads the reader through three thousand years of mythology, misogyny, misinformation and the flat-out lies about revealed truth that continue to muddle our ability to live a peacefullife, free of guilt and shame and the ultimate fear of death.

Our worldviews are in desperate need of some housecleaning, says Bolelli. We enter the 21st century still carrying on our backs the prejudices and ways of thinking of countless pastgenerations. What worked for them may or may not still be of use, so it is our job to make sure to save the tools that can help us and let go of the dead weight. In CREATE YOUR OWN RELIGION, he examines a variety of answers pushed forth by many religions to address the key questions of human existence and, on the basis of this knowledge, he encourages us to come up with our own answers.

Irreverent and illuminating, CREATE YOUR OWN RELIGION challenges readers to re-examine what it means to be human and bring a better way of life into existence.

Atheists can be as intolerant and strident as fundamentalists. Thankfully Bolelli has such a warm and inclusive love of life, passion and humanity that he presents a call to arms that doesn’t lead to the guillotine or the rack, but to the sadly radical idea that we’re all on this planet together.

He writes with a musical sweetness, bringing together disparate ideas and stories that reveal the savage excesses and commonalities of fundamentalists as well as clear and cogent insights into a way forward for us. He’s too passionate and smart to punch ideas into us, rather he points out the flaws and encourages us all to forge our own relationships with the world around and within us. No cultist nonsense, no sticking the knife in, just a lot to think about and it was a pleasure to read this book. There’s enough there to make me ponder a few things, mostly that I’m grateful there are people like Bolelli around to put a hypothetical arm around us and reassure us that there is hope and joy in the world.

Also he quotes Tom Robbins, which is never a bad thing. Regardless of your religious persuasion, this is a great book that I would like to see better known. There’s a measure of partisanship that I think stands in the way of our collective evolution but thinkers like Bolelli offer another way, one where we can all be friends.

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Taste In Men

Vanessa looked up from the notebook that she wrote in. The HB pencil she used bore the indentation where she thoughtfully chewed between each line, sometimes each word. Her handwriting reflected her enthusiasm. Shopping lists and thank you notes were geometrical perfection. Her poems and short stories were sprawling and drunken in contrast. By that logic, she surmised, her love letters would be children’s drawings. Pinned with maternal pride to the fridge of her life.

She had not sent nor received a love letter in such a long time that it was an atavistic impulse to her.

She had offers. They ranged from the blunt infant impulse, unsolicited pictures of lonely genitals and poorly worded come ons written in dense upper case, through to tepid indirect enquiries designed to avoid disappointment and to allow for evasions that would impress the most slick politician. In person, hungry looks and whispers, or boorish and crude come ons without any real balance.

She had been on the front lines of the battle of the sexes and had been quietly cheering for the other side to develop anything close to a worthy offense. This one, though had possibilities beyond her wildest dreams.

Abigail sat down with a grand flourish as Vanessa put away her notebook. She was visiting family a few towns over and had suggested a coffee. Complexion of a vegan toddler, a body that had cowed the very idea of the freshman fifteen into retreat, and a life plan that would have made a Japanese corporation look like a stoner wedding.

‘You look awful.’

Vanessa brought up her right hand to shield her hair. It was the longest she’d had it since Gregory left. The flash of scissors was defiant with brown clouds billowing to the hardwood floor as tears fell in relief and regret. It took friends and lovers to show you where you hurt the most.

‘I’ve rejected patriarchal notions of beauty, I’ll have you know.’

Abigail laughed as she gestured for the attention of the waitress.

‘Ugly people and victims say that, darling. You’re just playing around.’

Vanessa shook her head but blushed like a teenager.

‘You can’t say that, Abi.’

She waved her off as the waitress came over to their table. They ordered. The food here was wilfully frugal portions presented in intimidating displays of OCD. Vanessa liked cooking at home, but doing so alone was like singing in a mausoleum. So she ate in places like this because she could afford it and never because she was actually hungry.

As they drank, Vanessa used the cheerful brutality of Abigail’s observations to test herself. The flesh and blood version of those tests you pretended to sneer at in the magazines.

Abigail had a doting husband who worked sixty hours a week for a house he barely saw and a wife he hadn’t touched in months. Vanessa cringed at the idea. She recalled her increasingly desperate attempts to retrieve Greg’s libido with some amusement. Tottering on lucite heels against the doorway with a look that she hoped communicated lust but, as she caught her reflection, merely resembled agony.

Abigail had snorted as she’d fished an olive from the martini glass.

‘God. It wasn’t like you didn’t know.’

Vanessa had been too shocked to find a suitable retort at the time, but in hindsight she had mulled over it. When Gregory and his sensitivities had stopped being a refreshing alternative, they’d started being a joke about her politics overwhelming her needs.

Abigail spoke about men with a thousand yard stare that Vanessa held a morbid fascination about.


She raised an eyebrow, a fig wrapped in prosciutto held inches from her beestung lips.

‘Do you actually like men?’

Abigail’s forehead was as smooth as an egg. She smiled but it didn’t meet her eyes as she popped the fig into her mouth and chewed slowly.

‘Of course. I think every woman should have one.’

She chased the food with a sip of her martini.

‘You are still in love with an idea of men that we’ve evolved past any need for.’

Vanessa gasped as she reached for her glass.

‘You can’t mean that. Tom’s a rock.’

Abigail’s titter made Vanessa swallow a burst of discomfort.

‘Tom is a pet with a masters in finance and he lives to play fetch.’

She leaned forward and Vanessa had to lower her chin to avoid inhaling the fetid warm blast of her breath.

‘You aren’t prepared to make hard choices, Vanessa. You think that it’s all possible but it’s not.’

Vanessa shook her head, appalled by the notion, but Abigail kept speaking.

‘Tom doesn’t love me. He loves the idea of me. I’m his purpose and it keeps me in a lifestyle that allows me to indulge my every whim.’

Vanessa’s hand went to the notebook on an impulse, seeking reassurance and she gave a small conciliatory smile.

‘Perhaps I do ask too much, you’re right.’

Abigail smirked, satisfied with Vanessa’s deference, and the conversation meandered onto less passionate subjects.

Vanessa left the restaurant and retrieved her phone. A polite but firm order to make sure she wore the heels he’d bought her. That he liked her hair long so he could pull it when he entered her from behind. Knowing that there was contempt for his efforts assuaged Vanessa’s guilt somewhat. With Tom’s hands tearing off her panties as the heels caught the afternoon light like a prism, the guilt was completely gone. How beautiful he looked as his face grew smooth with his pleasure and hers.

Vanessa remembered reading something that H L Mencken said about misogyny. That it was defined as a man hating women as much as women hated one another. She was certain that Tom was not one.

She couldn’t speak for Abigail.

Or, it occurred to her, herself.

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canine gravity


Stroking his scars

Head on my lap

As his carrion breath

Warms my thigh

His simplicity

Has always been constant

Through broken times

He’s borne witness to the worst

My angry tears when the pain

Was so great that only loneliness

Soothed and i could not articulate it

To anything more conscious

Than trees and sky

But the limp in his front paw

The quiet acceptance of time

And how grateful I am

For his kindnesses

We shelter one another

We feed one another

A dumb love

That I could no more

Doubt than gravity