grief, love, masculinity, poetry, women



Where we never met

Where I didn’t message you

Or I died tragically young

Terribly old

Where I lived in shadow

Afraid to let the light touch my soul

Worlds Where I didn’t

Betray my marriage and don’t feel

Guilt and relief when I look at the space on my finger

Where I didn’t let her go

Or she never arrived

Where I was smart enough

Good enough

Where I didn’t feel like dying

Worlds other than this

But here in this one

All and nothing

Alone in a way I can’t explain or justify

This is the only world I know

And across them all


fiction, grief, short fiction, Uncategorized



My life was bare walls, no surprises in the laundry hamper, the disappointed relief when you watch porn in the standard browser without worrying if anyone else will check. The sharp relief and then the slow entropic ebb of disappointment afterwards. I’d let go of salon visits and gym sessions without care for the impact.


My phone rang.

‘Please don’t hang up.’

‘What reason is there to talk to you?’ I said.

Rage was pointless. She deployed her final tactic and my dull tone masked the contempt.

She breathed in. I remembered the sounds when we made love, all the neglected nerve endings stirred into life by my touch. Now it tasted of dust and raw meat.

My affair left me with a concrete block of guilt which sat on my chest with each breath. My anger towards her was a hammer swung into it.


‘I don’t know.’ she said.


We did things with one another we had never dared ask our partners. 

‘You are fucking dead.’ I said.

There was a choked whisper.

‘Why are you being like this?’ she said.

She came to the house whilst I was out. I imagined her, flushed with righteous indignation, telling my wife every detail of our relationship. On the drive home, I wondered if there were tears, but that’s something I chose for easing my feelings. Tossing a little compassion in her direction to mitigate my guilt is a child’s motif but panic shaves a good few years off your faculties.

Begging is distasteful when you’re an adult. It is worse when it fails to make anything better. No one showed up to make my case for me, how the comfort becomes ennui. You’re supposed to forget how they fucked you when you were an exciting proposition to them and accept tired, half hearted intercourse where they use your tongue or fingers as a sleeping pill.  The grey miasmal guilt became useful as I navigated the remains of my life.


Irritation choked my libido as I looked at myself in the mirror. Sallow and unshaven, dark smudges of fatigue jammed into the skin under my eyes.


She told me I was beautiful once. No one had done that before. The memory stung and I shoved it away.


‘Are you always this fucking stupid?’ I said.




‘Do you feel better for what you’ve done?’ I said.


My faded, ugly face forced itself into a mask of contempt. It fitted so well.


‘No.’ she said.


Her voice was small and soft.


‘Does it help you sleep at night? Hurting my wife and kids for something I did?’


She wept, but I felt nothing. It was a glass being dropped in an adjacent room for the impact it had on my emotions.


‘Never call me again. You’re fucking dead.’ I said.


I measured the time in cups of coffee and cigarettes. Blue afternoons nestling a sick misery alternating with harsh, sobbing conversations hearing my family spit their bile and pain at me.


I never thought about involving her family. We made our choices. We blocked one another on social media but I still nursed revenge fantasies but they all felt so small after what she had done. She knew where I was weakest and stuck the knife in where it would bleed the most.


Love does that better than anything. We open ourselves up to one another and alternate between ignored or derided so we go back to hiding within our lives but it doesn’t fucking stop the pressure, the skin hunger which requires novelty like a vampire needs blood. When she emailed me, Nostalgia made me weak and she promised it wouldn’t get aggressive.


She came with a bottle. Red wine, which she knew I liked.


A peace offering. It was difficult to hold in the anger so I drank the wine and walked the tightrope between civil and honest.


A wave of dizziness washed over me in tidal brushes of blackness. I tried to laugh but the muscles in my face didn’t move. I had forgotten about her work in the pharmacy. She was always industrious, a way to compensate for the lack of belief in her intelligence and with each sip she watched me succumb..


I tried to stand up but my legs went out from under me. She got out a second bottle from her handbag and straddled me as I laid there on the floor. I wondered why she was wearing gloves.


My face burned where the liquid splashed down. She aimed for my mouth but I turned my head and she caught my right cheek, burning it away to the bone. It stunk of sweet pork and the bitter chemical bouquet of the acid.


She stepped backwards, slipped on the laminate flooring and caught her head on the back of the dining room table, under the chin which snapped her neck before she laid there. I tried to scream but my tongue melted and I was choking on the sludgy remains, feeling the lights go out in my brain due to lack of oxygen and shock trauma.


My flatmate found me and called an ambulance. Quilted grafts rebuilt my cheek and tongue, but I had false teeth and it was afterwards, I decided dating wasn’t in my future.


It made the papers and the internet. People knew me on sight, and the reconstructed cheek was a mark of Cain, a scarlet A and it inspired equal parts disgust and pity. Children cried when they saw me and their parents pulled them away, scowling and muttering under their breath as they shot me with withering looks.


I had a room in a small flat and I spent the time writing.


The horror of the story made media rights profitable. An act of literary purging brought my family to a place where they could forgive but not forget. The money was welcome, but I had no use for it, not with the sense of place my disfigurement provided me with.


There was love for myself, a reason to be alone and a relinquishment of the burden of performance. I received offers, but they faded in time. My gratitude lent a clarity which allowed me to make one final decision regarding my life.


I dedicated the book to my children. I’d arranged my affairs, given them and my former wife control over the media rights. I finished the last draft and sent it to the publisher. There were pills and good brandy, a fat joint of a good, powerful weed which made swallowing the pills a slow and delicate affair.

There were good moments, slow and replayed from different angles.


The first date with my wife. Her face flushed with excitement, the awful shirt I wore, a boy pretending to be a man.

Children. The exhausted delirium of imposing order on beautiful bundles of chaos.

Her face, when we met for the first time. Being seen and wanting it, despite knowing it was destructive.

Single moments, alone when the light would look a particular way, and there was quiet.

My children’s future was secured and it felt like a good point to stop pretending I had a life beyond being a horrible warning.


Letting go was like taking off a tight pair of shoes after a long walk.


The light faded, and I went along with it.


She told me I was beautiful once.


In dying, I felt it.


grief, poetry

Ten Years

I still smell

The air of medical struggle,

They took you in

Sudden but not a surprise,

Knowing you were hanging on,

Soul packed and ready to fly

To better skies than the night


I’d stayed a year of Saturdays,

Bore spousal displeasure,

To try and offer up a meagre

Sacrifice against the grief

Both present and forthcoming,

I tell myself he was waiting,

Trying to find greater meaning

Because as Tom Wolfe said,

Non fiction doesn’t have to

Make sense,

So for all the losses,

I’ve recovered from,

Within and without,

There’s still this,

A ghost,

A wound,

Still learning the route

To exorcism or expedition,

For all this pretty string of words,

Unplug them and hear this:

Whatever holds the keys to

This vessel we’re passengers within,

Give me back my


I won’t say it any clearer



grief, poetry

Monster in Love


He had fed

On battlefield blood,

Watched twisted engines,

Cut scars into the earth,

He had sat at the feet of

Ashen gods and beautiful monsters,

And watched the light flee,

The eyes of a million different

Beauties and when she came,

She did not fear him,

Saw through the alien actions

To the ceaseless sweet play


He had sold the castle,

Sent the brides away,

They chose matching coffins,

Planned her perfect eternity,

And the first night,

She fed him as much

As he fed her,

She left a note,

Keener on the life,

Of violent independence,

Than the eternity he thought,

He found himself pinned,

To a moment of perpetual,

Agony and when he walks,

To the park,

Dressed formal and sharp,

She made him give up

The cape and so he wears

A cravat, comb marks in

His widows peak.

The sun hasn’t forgotten him,

And as he folds his hands

In his lap,

He finds the flames,

Hurt less than her


The sun washes him away

Like chalkmarks

But the chocolate labrador,

Sniffs the sadness and cocks his leg

Against the bench

Smoke coils into

A fresh park morning,

The dog told no one

But listen,

Don’t tell the cats,

They’ve no restraint

For the inherent privacies

Of tragedy



grief, short fiction, women

Last Train To Salvation


Casey shoveled coal into the furnace until his shoulders throbbed and he could not see for the sweat dripping into his eyes. He stood up and wiped his forehead with the bandana and looked over his shoulder as Nicola handed him a canteen of water.

‘Will it be enough?’ she said.

He unscrewed the canteen, poured some on his face before gulping it down and then poured some onto the bandana, rubbed it against the back of his neck. He glanced up and smiled at her.

‘So long as the tracks aren’t screwed, we’ll make it to the settlement.’ he said.


Nicola had found him at the border, repairing engines in return for food and equipment. She stood outside his workshop and watched him hammer an edge into a spade and weld on a second handle like a scythe. He looked up from what he was doing, narrowing his eyes as she came in, shook the water off the brim of her hat.

‘I have a job for you.’ she said.

He grimaced and wiped his hands on a towel as he walked over to her. He folded his arms across his chest and looked her up and down with care.

‘What are you thinking? I’ve got a good gig here.’ he said.

She looked at the workshop and took her hat off to fan herself with it.

‘I know, but I need someone who can fix things. People say you’re it.’ she said.

Casey scratched his chin and smiled to himself.

‘It is nice to hear, but what are you proposing?’ he said.

She told him. A supply run to Salvation, a small settlement two hundred miles east of here, but there was a train which could be repaired. An old steam engine, built as a hobby but still in good condition.

He smiled.

‘You still think there are tracks to run on?’ he said.

She retrieved a map from inside her jacket. The revolver hung from a holster on her left hip, the oversized sight welded on with care. Casey knew his guns and she had a good piece of iron on her hip.

‘I’ve seen them for myself. On the Eastern Plain which the train runs on.’ she said.

Casey coughed and leaned on a scarred worktable.

‘How much of a load are we carrying?’

She took out a notebook from her coat pocket and flipped it open.

Six months of medical supplies and engineering materials, some ammunition. Food and seeds.’

He clapped his hands together and grinned.

‘Well, so long as I can fix it, I’m in. How long do I have to get it working?’

She told him and he rolled his eyes.

‘You’re fucking kidding me.’

Nicola wished she wasn’t.


The infected lacked the higher functioning to register their passing. The noise drew them but they could not gain purchase and Casey had overhauled the engine as much as its age allowed. Nicola had asked for more men but they were stretched so thin, she took enough to divide funds for the repairs of the train.

Three hundred people waited for them.

They took turns but Nicola noticed how Casey shoveled twice as much so she watched the train eat the distance in slow bites, looking at the infected as they staggered towards them. It was a waste of bullets in the dark but she kept one hand close to the spade as Casey slept for a few hours.

He had been a husband and father. He lost them all when the commune at Portland was overrun and spent three months wandering around, looking to die.

When it didn’t happen, he made himself useful. Casey spoke about them with a quiet warmth which made her eyes prickle, grateful for the night to hide her emotions as he talked about how he had cared for them. Five years a widower and he spoke of them with a gentle awe.

Nicola had been a police officer, uniformed but studying for her detective’s exam when things fell apart. She had been dating, but they were boys grown older but not up. She wept for herself as much as Casey and his loss.

She felt his hand clap her on the shoulder.

‘We’ll be there by dawn tomorrow. Not much coal left, but it’ll get us there.’ he said.

She rested her hand over his and looked up into his eyes. They were soft, brown and gentle set into a face made hard by circumstance, ingrained with dust and oil until his skin was dark no matter how much he washed. His hands were horned with callus but she liked how they felt. She looked into his eyes and he brushed her hair back over her ear.

‘What happens then?’ she said.

He tilted his head and grinned at her.

‘That’s your department not mine.’ he said. ‘I’ve got ideas.’

She raised her eyebrows and he clapped her shoulder again instead of something he wanted but was afraid to risk speaking aloud.

‘We’ll see. Salvation needs help that’s all.’

He nodded and walked back to the front of the train, ready for his turn to keep things running.


They were six miles away when they ran out of track. Someone had taken up the tracks for the metal and Casey swore as he gazed through the binoculars before he handed it to her.

‘One of us will have and see if we can raise anyone.’ Nicola said.

Casey glanced at the stretch of land ahead, studded with small groups of infected who wandered around with no will beyond appetite.

‘I’m faster.’ he said.

She patted the butt of her gun.

‘I’m a better shot.’ she said.

He looked down at her gun and her eyes followed.

Before she could look up, his hand came around and caught her on the side of the side.

Everything went black.


She woke up in the container, a folded coat under her head and she found her gun still in the holster as she put her hands to her head and groaned.

‘Stupid asshole.’ she said.

Nicola tried the door to the container and found it locked. The toe of her left boot scraped on something and she saw he had left the key for her. She was about to unlock it when she heard the guttural moan of someone infected outside.

She put the key in the door and turned it as she drew her gun.

The infected was a young woman, a camisole top hung from her skeletal shoulders and a fist sized clump of flesh had been chewed from her neck, making her head loll forwards as she reached out for Nicola.

Nicola fanned the hammer on the revolver and took the top of its head off with a shot as she charged outside. She saw a group of eight converging on her as she turned and climbed on top of the carriage. She had three speedloaders of ammunition but she knew the noise would draw more of them.

Had he deserted her? She did not want to believe it but stranger things had happened in the world and she knew if help didn’t come, she would die six miles from achieving anything. She looked over and saw another group of five in the distance coming towards her. Nicola sucked in a deep breath and gritted her teeth.

Salvation had no transport to speak of, but she heard the thump of hooves against the earth as a cloud of dust billowed towards her from the the settlement. She looked down at the blank, hungry faces and saved the bullets.

Four horses with riders, aiming long rifles as they took each one of the infected out with the precision of a metronome as they approached.

They came over lowering bandanas from their faces as she climbed down from the carriage.

‘I’m glad he found you.’ she said.

One man, in his fifties grimaced and shook his head.

Nicola’s chest hurt as she holstered her pistol and asked him what had happened.


Casey fought the ache in his chest as he ran from the train. He knew Nicola had been out here and survived, but her courage was leavened by a belief in her own talents which ran counter to his experience of surviving out here. He had the sharpened spade strapped to his back but otherwise he ran light and fast

A lack of willingness to care if you lived or died.

People forgot how the world had been before, how much they took for granted. Sure there were people who spoke about hierarchies and the cruel, causal nature of the world but most of them had ended up meat between a walking corpse’s teeth. The same as those cosseted children, grown older but not up.

His wife and children, for one.

He had chased oblivion and the world had took one look and decided it had other uses for him. Casey’s aptitudes were salvation, but they did not keep him company at night. He saw people in love, cradling tiny flames of comfort from the harsh wind of the world as it was and it made him want to curl up and weep for the want of it. There had been women, but after the damp spurt of release, they would turn away and it redoubled his loneliness. As a man, he felt disposable, a set of skills people needed but gifted to a man no one wanted once the work was done. Running over open land, watching the infected shamble towards him, Casey felt the burn in his lungs as he saw the lights of Salvation.

Which was when he tripped over the corpse and fell on his face. He tasted blood and soil in his mouth as he sought to get up despite his arms trembling with fatigue and the unresolved grief and rage which had him seek then reject death before it all came full circle.

Until Nicola and the promise of a chance to be noble. He ran the gauntlet towards Salvation, over open land and someone seeing him for more than what he could do, as faint and inconstant an idea as it was, still lent energy and drive to his efforts. He rolled onto his side and pulled the spade free, swung it in an arc to gain distance.
Which was when the corpse he fell over, turned and sank a mouthful of broken teeth into his hand. He reared back, lost a plug of tissue as a reward and stabbed the beveled edge between the eyes of the corpse where the nasal cavity and forehead met. The impact traveled down his arms but it was something to mitigate for the awful mistake he had met.

You’re not dead yet, he thought as he got up and swung at the gathered group of them. The edge sliced into the skull of a ten year old with grey skin and dry, flaking lesions before he pulled it free and jammed it into the head of a balding man with the dessicated remains of a moustache. He tugged it out as his hand bled onto the dirt. Casey ran on with his spade by his side.

The walls of Salvation were a hum of activity and he heard warnings echo to him as he ran. He waved the spade above his head, hoping someone had not cut the knot and reward his efforts with a bullet in his head.

He shouted and waved his arms, waiting for the curtain to fall on his performance but when the guns rang out, he found he was still alive. Casey saw the gates opening as he fought the waves of exhaustion which beat down on him like rain.

I hope it’s enough, he thought as he fell forwards and warm, human hands caught him.


They took her to him. He had his own bed in the infirmary and tried to get up when he saw her but the effort took too much and he collapsed against the pillow. He was shining with sweat and jaundiced which was where she noticed the stump where his left hand used to be.

She sat down and put her hat in her hands as she sighed and shook her head.

‘You stupid old man. You weren’t that fast.’

Casey raised the bandaged stump, yellowing and damp with the antiseptic.

‘I got here, didn’t I?’ he said.

She looked away and wondered why she hadn’t kissed him.

‘Are you going to get better?’ she said.

He sighed and closed his eyes.

‘They think they got it off in time but you know how bites go.’ he said.

She looked around before she leaned over and kissed him on a whiskered cheek.

He shivered and brought his right hand up to the back of her head and stroked her hair.

‘We got it here. I think I’m done after that.’ he said.

She wrapped her arm around his neck and pressed her cheek to his for a second before she stood back up.

‘They better make sure they treat you right, Casey.’ she said.

He nodded.

‘Don’t think I didn’t see we brought antibiotics to these people, think warrants me a shot, don’t you?’ he said.

She smiled but saw the purple bruising under his eyes and the sweetness of impending decay.

‘Casey, you know it doesn’t happen like it.’ she said.

He smiled and raised his stump again.

‘I have to hand it to you, you cut to the quick, my girl.’ he said.

She laughed as tears fell and she hugged him again. With his mouth to her ear, he whispered one last question and she nodded her agreement. She kissed him on the mouth, a chaste final kiss before she fixed her hat, pulled the revolver and fired into his forehead as he closed his eyes and smiled.

Men came running but Nicola had replaced the gun and turned to face the gathered men. She stared at each of them.

‘This man helped me get the supplies here. You bury him with honours and you get the track fixed. It’s what he wanted.’

She walked out of the room so no one could see her cry.


Nicola rode with a group of scouts back to the border. When she checked in with her commander, he saw the hard, brittle look in her eyes and the streaks of white at her temples. He told her to take the day off, but she shook her head.

She told her commander there was work to be done out there and getting the tracks fixed. Nicola looked at him with such pain in her eyes he could not meet her gaze for long. He dismissed her and she saluted before leaving his office.

It was sunset outside, people were doing final checks before the guards went up and they settled in for another long night. She wandered over to the rail yard, saw there were carriages and engines in various states of disrepair, but tried to see it through Casey’s eyes. She took until dark but she got there as she made a list of what she needed.

animals, grief, poetry, Uncategorized

Good Dog


All dogs have a Buddha

Mind so you’ve

Barked your last mantra

And intellectually

As comforting as it is,

You’ve transcended

Your suffering,

It doesn’t make the

Silence when I walk into

My old house any easier

To bear, old friend,

And the paths we walked

Night and day,

Will miss us both,

But you’ve ran long enough,

And the pain is over,

And I will walk around,

Remembering how

You’d rush to greet me,

When I got home,

And now neither of us

Are there, are we?

Pieces perhaps,

But pieces are all we have




grief, love, short fiction, Uncategorized, women

Customer Complaint


Ivor walked out of the mall, putting more weight on his cane as he adjusted his cap to alleviate the thin layer of perspiration. The canvas shopping bag was gripped in his left hand, swollen knuckles turned pale from the pressure of his grip. It swung with the weight of its contents as he looked up at the restaurant.


He ran his yellowing tongue over his cracked lips and said a name. The association raised the hairs on the back of his neck, gave him a boost which alleviated the pains which came from the simple act of motion, deepening as the years went on.


People milled around him as he made slow progress.


They had come for their anniversary. Katya, their eldest had warned against it, said the food was made like play-dough, preformed and packaged. She chided her mother, telling her she could make a better meal at home. Bettina’s eyes had narrowed, a flush of blood rising in her soft cheeks as she folded her arms.


‘Your father never takes me out. It has movie star pictures on the walls and impersonators.’


Ivor overheard from his position on the recliner, reading the scarred, leather bound book with his spectacles perched on the end of his nose, muttering words in a language thought lost to time and decided to make the reservation after all.


They played music at an ear splitting volume, served with a desperate theatrical quality which made his blood pressure go up and the food was late and cold.


She had cooed and pointed at the pictures and the staff, dressed as movie stars or characters. Ivor remembered their server had been the drunken pirate and how Bettina had mistaken his sloppy stoned attitude for attention to detail. Ivor sipped his cola and fought the rising indignation like a dose of indigestion, smiled at his Bettina and took her hand.


The server, Jay, had smoked a blunt on his break and it got him through his shifts in a warm, bubbling haze of intoxication. Sure, he missed details but most people wanted to eat or stop their kids from ruining the entire evening and he was convinced of his charms with people.


Sure, he missed details.


Bettina’s allergy.


Ivor told people his last memory of her was lifting the dripping burger, giggling as something warm broke across his chest with pleasure. All these years and he never loved her more.


He lied to people.


His last memory was watching her seize up with anaphylactic shock. Clawing at her throat as her eyes bulged in their sockets, disbelieving and watching how her brilliant, magical Ivor could not save her. When he lurched towards the idiot server, barking curses in a language which made people ill to hear aloud, it became an awful cartoon.


The lawyer explained it. They were a franchise with money and an army of lawyers. One stoned server doth not make a summer, he had quipped and regretted it for the rest of his life.


It was two weeks.


An embolism in the pool of the motel he had been living in since his divorce. Ivor had dropped a pebble into a bowl of water on a night his grief whipped his soul into action.


Jay, the stoned pirate threw himself into traffic after giving his deposition to the franchise legal team with something of a smile on his face. Ivor twisted the bandana he had snatched from the idiot when he had rushed at him.


It was not enough.


The items he needed were available in the mall, although his disdain for the commercial was mistaken for the simple awkwardness of an elderly man but he muttered something about standards as he left.


The restaurant had not closed. It bulged on the corner of the main street, and he felt offended by its existence. It was not open for business at this time of day though, which suited him and soothed the small voice, a perfect impersonation of his Bettina which asked him why he had gone back to practicing again.


Because you were my reason not to, he told her.


He stopped on the kerb opposite and set the bag down, reaching inside for the snowglobe and the hammer as he shifted his cane from one hand to another, gritting his teeth against the pains in his hips and knees.




His voice was low and rich, bristling with operatic power. It made people stop, turning towards the source with a bizarre curiosity, like they had seen something take wing from the ground.


The hammer took out the globe and Ivor watched the air twist and shimmer above the building before he raised his hand and scattered the spray of blood, water, glitter and glass onto the road. It had been a warm, sluggish day but people stared at the building, now encased in ice. Its garish, plastic logo was now lost behind thick opaque ice, razored chandeliers hanging from everywhere and all of it making people lose their minds with shock and disbelief.


Ivor felt the first twinge of pressure in the base of his spine, how it sent a million love letters imploring him to give up and as the pavement rushed up to meet him, he felt his Bettina’s breath at his cheek and smiled for the first time in months.