compassion, love, politics, women

On politics and kindness

Does anyone else feel disconnected from politics and political debate at the moment?

I don’t write overt political fiction. I used to be an activist and it’s a condition akin to a long term illness, periods of remission and infection but I’m much better at the latter, in so far I’ve focused on improving my self and making my art, but I still care. I was a socialist after a fashion, campaigned locally and was quite outspoken online, which is as pathetic as it sounds now. Self righteous and outraged, which hits the brain in the same way cocaine does and yet the stories aren’t as good.

I used to be a true believer, that if we instituted equality of outcome, then people’s innate goodness would bloom like flowers in spring. History tells us otherwise, and I was guilty of the sin in believing if ‘my version’ of socialism was implemented, it would be perfect. I used to consider myself a feminist, and wondered why I was anxious and angry, all the time, made to believe being a man was somehow a broken path through identity.

It’s not true, but it’s a controversial statement to say it aloud, isn’t it? There’s nothing wrong with being a man, any more than there is being a woman. It’s the individual choices we make, whether they come from nature or nurture and whether we accept the responsibility of their outcome. That is a subject for another time, because I have a lot to say in that regard and probably won’t because it riles people up, and I prefer to think out loud without it being seen as a provocation.

I don’t consider myself to be any one thing politically. I get why people believe what they do, even the worst things make sense to us, if we sit down and really look into ourselves. It’s part of why I write, because in the dirt of ourselves, we find the real treasure. What gets me about politics now is it is insular, with the same sins on both sides – the left have gone all in on intersectionality, where they’ve stopped empowering people to be anything other than victims whereas the right don’t come out and say ‘fuck you, I’ve got mine.’ I think the truth is somewhere between the two, but the debate is getting insular and shrill, and I watch it the same way I watch sumo. Two fat guys trying to slap one another of the ring whilst we all suffer, regardless of the outcome.

I got approached to run as a candidate once, and rejected it wholly which was the beginning of my move away from political activism towards art and working on being a better person. There are those who will say I have a long way to go in the latter, but I keep working towards it through my actions and art.

My politics, such as it is, is sourced in common sense and kindness and evidence. I don’t think someone’s origin defines who they are, but I can see how it hurts or helps. I think both sides ignore class and economic disparities because telling someone the colour of their skin or who they sleep with means they’re hobbled before the race starts is easier than trying to look at how resources get allocated and what opportunities are available. Poverty is corrosive and the scars run deep, but the left focus on nurturing a hierarchy of oppression hurts more people than it helps. I don’t believe a white male has anything close to inherent privilege. If you disagree, look at the homeless population and the suicide statistics. I think virtue signalling hides flaws which are better addressed through contemplation and therapy.

On the right, they could benefit from more empathy and listen to everything Jesus said, and I mean everything. I don’t think bombing everyone helps although the left governments are as excited about war as the right wing ones.

You get the idea, I like freedom of speech for everyone, because if someone puts an idea out there, we can talk about it. We debate or have dialectics because we are civilised and don’t have force of arms, but we hurt one another emotionally instead and wonder why nothing appears to get better.

I don’t have the answers, I used to think I did but I can do is think about how and why I behave, why I feel about certain things and issues, and vote. In this country, it’s a dismal set of choices to make come election time.

The writer Michelle McNamara, late wife of the comedian Patton Oswalt said something which makes sense to me. It applies to all points on the political spectrum.

‘It’s chaos out there, be kind.’

Raam Dass said something which I quote a lot.

‘We’re all just walking one another home.’

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not pacifist or passive, but I prefer civilised discourse over violence and direct action. I loathe antifa as much as neo-Nazi activity because all it does is hurt and frighten people. An adolescence of comic books and mythology has taught me we are capable of being better, without a power ring or a radioactive spider bite, there are millions of good people doing good things to improve the world. Shit, Mr Rogers said something which I will end on, because it’s beautiful and it sums up how I feel better than another few paragraphs.

‘Look to the helpers.’

We’re all in this together, surrounded by miracles and horror. I write stories and poems which qualifies me towards nothing and I read a lot of books, trying to synthesize together all the information into some form of knowledge. I mispronounce words I’ve read but not exclaimed aloud, but I laugh at myself about it because it reminds me I’m human and as flawed as the rest of you. We make our own heaven or hell, and sometimes I can’t choose between horns or the halo, so I have fur and friends instead.

We all want to love and to be loved. It’s an elegant idea but difficult to express in action but we try.

Thank you for reading.

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politics, short fiction

The Man Who Sold The World

The town I grew up in died slow. Large stretches of land where people used to live and work, made their dreams, small as they were, into something you could reach out and touch. Each boarded up window was a headstone for a dream and soon we were experiencing the acute joy of adolescence in a dying town.

 

Places which make you angry as you grow older.

 

My mum would rather suffer in silence before asking for help. There were days she didn’t eat so I could. She pretended she wasn’t hungry, but it was the same day every week and I was not a stupid child.

 

She worked two jobs and fasted one day each week so I had a hot meal every day.

 

Does that sound like an economy which works for you?

 

This is the point in the story where I tell you a goofy anecdote about an early science project which caused widespread panic, like an electromagnet which kills the electricity to everyone on the street, something like that.

 

It would illustrate I am smart and also human. Everyone relates to a child, don’t they? I mean, there’s the Macaulay Culkin movie, where he is an evil kid and even when he dies, you’re led to feel upset about it, aren’t you?

 

It also establishes my credentials as a scientist. The mad variety, which if you’ve read a book or two, you might learn is more common than you think.

 

Harry Harlow raised rhesus monkeys in isolation chambers and made surrogate mothers out of wire to test maternal separation and dependence needs.

 

Sidney Gottlieb slipped LSD into people’s drinks without their knowledge and recorded the results.

 

Giovanni Aldini electrified corpses for large crowds via a metal rod inserted in a place you never want a metal rod.

 

Well, some of you anyway, I’m in no position to judge.

 

I did nothing like it.

 

You’re welcome.

 

If you say the s-word again, I will have you killed.

 

Not socialist.

 

I’m not anything you can quantify. I am, post-political, not post-modern. I grew up looking at these people who got into power and did nothing but get elected, get rich and leave office. They started wars to be fought by people I grew up with. Jeff Gulliver lost his leg in Fallujah and he couldn’t tell you what he was fighting for. He shot himself last year and I went back for his funeral.

 

Anyway, I’m qualifying myself.

 

My girlfriend says I do it when I am nervous.

 

Plus if you built crazy giant shit, you had people come after you.

 

I’ve never been to The Sphere. It is a prison designed to use people like me. It is seldom at maximum occupancy because the mortality rate for our kind is high. You don’t get the luxury of due process when an eighteen-year-old who can phase through walls traps your head inside a metal railing.

 

That was the fate of Mickey Francis also known as Proton.

 

When you’re exposed to a blast of two thousand degree celsius from the eyes of a thirty three old failed actor and your head melts in a pink and black torrent down your shoulders.

 

Adios, Lady Death. Poor choice of name.

 

They got sponsorship deals, spoke at the united nations and got television shows. We got murdered, crippled or sent down for life. I decided I would not go down either path.

 

The s-word I hate is super villain.

 

I could breed giant lizards or build death rays but it changes nothing.

 

I rigged an election so things could be better. I didn’t corrupt democracy.. I came from the places it fucked over repeatedly.

 

Free will is a measure of incalculable value.  I did not want to invent a cure for cancer or develop free energy. I wanted more opportunities for those things to happen regularly. There was no such thing as a free lunch in any capacity, everything had to be paid for and I knew my efforts in those directions would change nothing for the people I grew up amongst and the town I lived in.

 

I studied the great engines of our society.

 

Ah, you thought I would say physics or chemistry. The latter would have been smart. I watched Breaking Bad, figured out the recipe from what they left out in the cooking scenes in five minutes.

 

Marketing.

 

Advertising.

 

Social Media.

 

Business.

 

I stole identities and gathered intelligence., Hired people to run departments,  with legitimate jobs and established places of business where they worked on the project. I achieved more tracking social media metrics than I ever could with a death ray. They had health insurance, performance bonuses, generous vacation packages and college funds set up for their kid.These things made their lives comfortable and when you looked at Julian Assange living in a cleaner’s cupboard in the embassy or Edward Snowden hiding in Russia, comfortable is a good reason to keep your head down and not ask questions.

 

I made groups on Facebook. Muslims For America. U.S Pride. The South Will Rise.

 

In one room, I had groups of people having arguments with each other across the internet as they talked about their plans for the weekend. Real people joined in and we put our messages across.

 

I bought space on US servers, installed VPNs and studied the metrics like they told the future. We learned what content causes people to react, the semiotics and images which provoked the responses we needed to generate.

 

You saw our advertisements and sponsored content, read the stories and posted something insulting to a comment one people made. We hid in a haystack of LLCs, moving the money between them and spending it where we needed it to go.

 

I put adverts online for actors to stage protests and got footage online within minutes. Above my head, men with capes and bulletproof skin punched one another whilst I sat in a massage chair and watched the country bend to my will.

 

My strategy came from the one game Mom and I played all the time.

 

Even when she would fall asleep during the games.

 

Go was a game invented by the Chinese. It’s been played for two and a half thousand years on a continued basis. We played on a 9 x 9 board but my mom taught me the same principles I used now to build a world where she wouldn’t have had to work herself to exhaustion.

 

She nodded off at the wheel driving home from her third job. She wouldn’t take my money because she figured out where it came from and it felt worthless if I couldn’t make her comfortable.

Go has several strategies available to it. The opening one is the hardest for professional players which is why I spent time on it and then let the tao of the internet do the rest. I nudged them along.

My achievement was in using what was already there.

I didn’t weaken your press so everything they said was mocked over being investigated.

I didn’t make you dependent on marketing and advertising.

I didn’t make you derive validation and identity from social media.

Our democracy was corrupt and money-serving long before I was born. The big crimes they committed were nothing compared to what I did.

I was Jesus kicking the moneylenders out of the fucking temple.

 

Except people were paying me for advertising space on the social media pages.

 

I had people fighting in the streets over the opinions I gave them.

 

I chose the presidential candidates. Eliminating the ones I had no interest in was easy enough People can be talked out of their vote, and third party candidates were sinkholes  people poured their votes into.

 

I chose the president.

 

I’ve never met her. It would be pointless when she knows what her agenda is for the next four years.

 

Eight, if she can get Universal Basic Income in before the Christmas break. Weed is the next one after it because I’ve got plans to establish farms for it back home. I can generate jobs and rejuvenate the economy in six months. It was too late for my Mom and Jeff, but I decided it was worth trying to get someone in charge who would do what they promised to do.

 

Ecbert the first King of England united all the kingdoms in twenty five years. I did it in twenty five months.

 

I’ve seeded both House and Senate with enough votes to ensure the bills pass with enough resistance to look plausible.

 

The Mighty Tiger can’t fight legislation which requires mandatory training or face incarceration. I’ve established a new market for superhero insurance which is why Proton and Lady Death’s families are living well. The CDOs on it were unpleasant but there are people doing serious time for it now so that’s good. There’s only room for one bastard here and it’s me.

 

I built a house on a large stretch of land. I have room for animals, my own water supply and grow vegetables, keep some livestock. I have a converted barn where I run everything although these days it is more massaging than running. My girlfriend isn’t ready to move out here yet, so it’s me and the dog as I point my country to a finer world on the horizon.

 

They blamed the Russians which is a change from the usual targets when things go wrong, immigrants and poor people. I grew up one of the latter and for once; I wanted to give the fuckers a reason for it.

 

Just once.

 

Up in the sky, I see figures flying towards me. I pet my dog and send it back to the house as the black helicopters emerge behind them. I hear the vehicles driving down the dirt track and put my hands behind my head as the end game begins.

 

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politics, short fiction, women

A Walk In Winter

dark_winter_by_baxiaart-dc0llaj.jpg

 

https://baxiaart.deviantart.com/art/Dark-Winter-726601483

 

They watched her through the glass.

 

Her eyes were red from the gas and a livid bruise had spread across the bridge of her pert nose, but she sat with a quiet smile on her face, as she slipped her spectacles onto her nose. The minute ghosts of old piercings around her nose and lips lent her face a ruined grandeur but Newman and Peterson paid more attention to her wide shoulders and posture. A predator posing as a housepet, Newman thought as she looked at the file on the tablet.

 

‘Thank god for the Matriarch Act. She’s here until we decide otherwise.’ she said.

 

Peterson pinched the bridge of her nose and straightened her back. Her green eyes were dull with fatigue as she stared at the woman. She muttered something under her breath. Newman asked her to repeat herself.

 

‘I don’t like it. Too convenient.’ she said.

 

Newman, with her blonde curls and chipper, can do smile resented Peterson’s inability to see a good thing when it happened. Activists seldom lasted without psychological damage or, as in this case, arrogance, both of which ended in someone’s ass in a chair, blubbering and naming names. Why should this one be any different?, Newman thought as she considered how to respond.

 

‘She got sloppy, they always do. Look, the law backs us up, all we have to do is get her to talk.’ Newman said.

 

Peterson sighed and shook her head.

 

‘Sedition got tossed out of common law, back when I was in school. Do you think that’s a good thing?’ she said.

 

Newman grimaced, hiding her concern at Peterson’s rhetorical questions. Their cases were made easier by the Matriarch Act, and women were safer for it,but all Peterson could do was pick at the loose threads of things and pull them apart. It made her a great agent but prickly company, which was why they never spent time together outside of work. Newman wondered if Peterson went home and hung herself on a hanger in a cupboard, waiting to be called into service. She had been active in SocJus for decades and her reputation was impeccable, but Newman noticed the tea stains on the sleeves of her blouse and the lipstick on her mouth more than she used to. Peterson brushed a lock of hair from her eyes and peered at Newman.

 

‘Let her stew for a minute, I could murder a cuppa.’ she said.

 

Newman prickled with an indignant surprise.

 

‘We’re going to have her sit there?’ she said.

 

Peterson pouted and raised an eyebrow.

 

‘She’s not going anywhere. Plus you need to read the file before we go in there.’ she said.

 

Newman turned to hide the blood rising in her cheeks. She admired Peterson but could not say she liked her, all the observations had begun to overwhelm her respect the way carbon monoxide overwhelmed oxygen, and the inconsistency of her approach riled Newman in ways she could not quantify.

 

‘OK, but I’ve read the file. Some of us do our homework.’ she said.

 

Peterson sniffed as she reached into her jacket for her cigarettes.

 

‘Some of us don’t need to, dear. You’ll learn that once you’ve been around.’ she said.

 

Newman walked behind Peterson, glaring daggers at the back of her head as they left their prisoner in the room.

 

Peterson smoked to offend, and Newman stood in the doorway, leaning out to talk to her partner but unable to bear the acidic tang of the cigarettes. She had left leaflets on Peterson’s desk about stopping, but they had gone in the bin and so Newman endured this as part of the price of Peterson’s mentorship.

 

A few months and she could apply for Debate Enforcement, with a corner office and a driverless car. Peterson would stay in SocJus, a wizened, nostalgic fish in a small pond.

 

‘Look, she’s clever, but who gives a shit? I remember the antifa professor who twatted someone with a bike lock, this is just the other side of that, isn’t it?’ she said.

 

Peterson puffed on her cigarette and shook her head.

 

‘Read it again. It’s not a series of qualifications, look at the gestalt of it.’

 

Newman read through it again.

 

‘So she was into the holistics, big deal. Meant she had another source of income.’ she said.

 

Peterson inhaled, fought the cough which seemed more common as the years went on and exhaled smoke in two grey plumes through her nostrils.

 

‘Hypnotherapy? Clinical psychology? Did you see anything related to gender studies in there at all?’ she said.

 

Newman shook her head.

 

‘Wasn’t it mandatory back then?’ she said.

 

Peterson chuckled and shook her head. Newman returned her attention to the file rather than confront her on the perceived slight.

 

‘Ah, no it wasn’t. Bet it was like the stone age.’ she said

 

Peterson glanced across at Newman and felt her chest well up with a piquant nostalgia, grateful for Newman’s capacity to take umbrage and return insult at every opportunity to hide what she felt.

 

‘No, I always thought we’d figure it out. We’d follow the evidence and make things fairer.’ she said.

 

Newman looked up and stared at Peterson. The balance of power tilted towards zealotry now, and everyone was cautious of saying the wrong thing to the wrong person. Newman tolerated Peterson’s cynicism like her smoking, because she had to but things like this had a way of getting misinterpreted.

 

‘Things are fairer, and that’s a conversation for another time.’ Newman said.

 

The twelfth of never, eleventeen o’clock, Peterson thought as she ground the cigarette out under the toe of her shoe. Her back hurt and Newman’s enthusiasm had worn into belligerence and arrogance like a callus on her soul, inflexible to the nuances which made cases stick outside of heavy-handed legislation.

 

‘Let’s go see what she’s about, shall we?’ she said.

 

Newman backed up to allow Peterson inside as she studied the file again.

 

‘Funny.’ Newman said.

 

Peterson asked her what she meant. Newman chewed the inside of her cheek before she looked up.

 

‘Says she’s a black belt in a couple of martial arts, but Cradle Team swooped her up whilst she was sloshing milk all over her face for the gas. Thought she’d have put up more of a fight, wouldn’t you?’ she said.

 

Peterson winked at Newman and grinned.

 

‘See, few more years and you’ll be handling cases on your own. None of that Debate Enforcement bollocks for you, my dear, I think.’ she said.

 

Newman smiled but it did not reach her eyes.

 

A few fucking years, she thought as they went to start their interview.

 

3.

 

She knew the qualifications would arouse suspicion. They were genuine, and had been a source of great pride for her but she trusted to the suspicious nature of her gender to tease the covert nature and placement.

 

It had been a simple act of will.

 

Noor Inayat Khan had studied child psychology at the Sorbonne but she had also served as one of the few wireless operators in occupied Paris.

 

Nancy Wake had been a nurse before being recruited to the SoE. So had Sarah Emmons.

 

Mary Bowe had been a slave.

 

What united them was a decision to set themselves apart.

 

She had done the same thing ten years ago, after watching the queues of broken men receiving their implants in return for receiving basic income.

 

They thought her name was Catherine De Sauve and she would maintain it under pain of torture. It was no more representative of her than the knitted pink sweater and the leather jacket she had worn to the protest.

 

She smiled as the two agents entered the room. One of them had the faint diesel perfume of cigarettes clinging to her, and the worn, papery skin of a career in SocJus. Her eyes were green but dull, stained with too many sights for them to sparkle. The other was petite, blonde and held her zealotry behind an air of professional enthusiasm which verged on the indecorous. She had a tablet in her hands, loaded with Catherine’s file.

 

Catherine sat back in the chair

 

‘Any chance of tea at this juncture?’ she said.

 

The elder woman sat down and shook her head.

 

‘All in good time.’ she said.

 

Catherine guffawed and folded her arms, enjoying the differing levels of irritation her bonhomie evoked in the pair of them.

 

‘Look, I know you can keep me here, and you’re both itching to kick ten bells of shit out of me, but we’re still British, aren’t we?’ she said.

 

The elder woman tried to hide her smile but the younger woman leaned forwards, shining with a professional zeal which told Catherine everything she needed to know.

 

Catherine focused her attention on the older woman, turning to face her with a degree of theatre which prompted a snarl from the younger agent.

 

‘In a minute, Catherine, let’s talk about today for a bit first then we’ll sort you out a cup of tea.’ she said.

 

Catherine shivered, restrained herself from wiping a stray snowflake from her cheek as she made eye contact with the older woman.

 

The woman shivered and repeated the gesture. Peterson, Catherine thought with a quiet sense of triumph. Yvonne.

 

‘I can’t place your accent. Not local, are you?’ Catherine said.

 

The agents exchanged a questioning look before the younger woman slid the tablet across the table.

 

‘Don’t pull the hocus pocus shit here. I’ll give you something which will make the stun gas feel like a spa day.’ she said.

 

Catherine felt the vibration of the bottle breaking against the bricks travelling down her hand. The group holding the man down, giggling as they pulled his trousers down and an ophidian uncurling of resentment and fear tasting like a stolen kiss on her lips.

 

Newman, Erika.

 

‘What hocus pocus, Agent Newman?’ she said.

 

Catherine revolted at Newman’s disgusted snarl before it was slipped back behind the cheerful mask of authority again. She returned her attention to Yvonne Peterson. Her synapses hummed with recognition as she smiled and rested her chin in her hand.

 

Peterson coughed into her hand and rested her forearms on the table.

 

‘No, I was born in Burnley. You’re clever, Catherine, we all know it.’ she said.

 

Catherine heard the change in her accent and wondered if she noticed the drifting vowels coming to her words.

 

‘You got some weather up there, didn’t you? When it snows, it really fucking snows, doesn’t it?’ she said.

 

Peterson shivered and sat back, her face was pale and taut with unresolved tension.

 

‘Stop it. Cold reading is one of the first things you spot. It’s something people use to grant themselves unearned status, and it doesn’t intimidate me.’ she said.

 

Newman swallowed and tapped the table.

 

‘Drone footage shows you directing a group towards the Cradle Team, and passing them harmonic batons. On that alone, you’ll be on a zimmer frame before you get out.’ she said.

 

Catherine glanced at the footage with a smirk and returned her attention to Peterson.

 

‘You look like you get your best ideas when you go walking, would you agree?’ she said.

 

Newman smacked her fist against the table. Catherine turned her attention back to her.

 

‘I bet you were part of a Grrl Squad, weren’t you? You look the type.’ she said.

 

Newman scowled as her cheeks reddened and she sat back.

 

‘Grrl Squads were a legitimate expression against patriarchal misogyny.  There were a lot of scare stories, but most people know they were bollocks.’ she said.

 

Catherine ran the tip of her tongue over her lips and smiled.

 

‘Bollocks.’ she said.

 

‘What was it like slicing open his scrotum?’ she said.

 

Newman narrowed her eyes and slid the tablet back into her hands as she looked at Peterson.

 

‘You called it. Fake scares and attitude.’ she said.

 

Catherine rolled her eyes and chuckled.

 

‘Yes, that’s me. I bet, if you tell anyone, you say you were surprised by the amount of blood but really you were delighted, weren’t you?’ she said.

 

Peterson coughed into her fist.

 

‘Tea sounds good, Newman.’ she said.

 

Newman pushed her chair back and stood up, passed the tablet to her and left the room, not before she glared at Catherine with loathing.

 

‘Everything’s recorded anyway, so talk all you want. You’re fucking done.’ she said.

 

She strode out of the room and Peterson shook her head.

 

‘She’s not wrong, you know. I’m disappointed, if I’m honest.’ she said.

 

Catherine folded her hands over one another.

 

‘Me too. Not with her, though. She was born to this.’ she said.

 

Catherine turned and stared into Peterson’s eyes.

 

‘You weren’t though.’ she said.

 

Peterson shuddered and brushed something from her cheek again.

 

‘You can stop. It’s pathetic without an audience.’ she said.

 

Catherine stared into Peterson’s eyes.

 

‘You would walk for hours, out in the snow so you could think. All those ideas and they kept you warm.’ she said.

 

Peterson brought her right hand up and smacked Catherine across the face. She wiped her nose and sniffed.

 

‘All those ideas and what did you do with them?’ she said.

 

Peterson swallowed as her stomach churned with discomfort.

 

‘Fuck off. The next time, I’ll use my fist.’ she said.

 

Catherine stared at her, and Peterson was mesmerised by how her pupils shifted colour and size, in perfect synchronicity with the pounding in her temples.

 

The pounding grew in volume and substance. Peterson tried to stand up, but her legs would not respond and all the world was reduced to Catherine’s gaze.

 

She had treasured the walks. Her lumpen father had no inner life, and her mother was a grey, exhausted ghost long before she took ill so she would take to nature and think about the world around her. The cough, she realised, had started there but it used to be a badge of honour, a feeling she had put herself out there, even if it was into herself.

 

Her thoughts slid away as the edges of her vision went black.

 

4.

 

Newman was holding the chipped SocJus mug in her hand, as the kettle boiled, wondering how it would feel to crack it into the middle of the smug bitch’s face. The alien nature of the thought did not shock her at all.

 

The alarm did.

 

She tossed the mug down and ran back, shoving past colleagues and security as she barrelled into the room.

 

Peterson was stood up, her hands covered in blood as Catherine laid across the table, staring out at nothing with a final smile on her face. They pulled Peterson from the room and shouted for medical but Newman gauged the horrible angle of Catherine’s neck and knew it was too late. She envied Peterson, but the atavistic thought was stored away. She was too close, too shaken by Catherine’s conceit, and despite her warnings, Peterson had been taken by it too.

 

Newman wondered how this would impact on her career as she stared at the body.

 

  1.  

 

Yvonne sat in the holding cell. They had taken her clothes and given her a unitard to wear as she sat in the corner and looked at her feet.

 

It had gone well, she told herself. She had adored Catherine De Sauve, but she had been a cartoon, useful to a point but neutered by position and reputation. It was a suit through which to encounter the world and discarding it was a bittersweet experience.

 

A death in custody was an inconvenience when filtered through the Matriarch Act. The crime of sedition was pinned to a corpse and held no consequence. Yvonne Peterson would undergo a psychiatric assessment and a board review, both of which had been accounted for when she had sat with Matt all those years ago, watching what was happening and deciding to go to war over it.

 

A year later they were in Tibet, sat in an ancient temple learning things which were inconvenient to the world which was being built.

 

Yvonne Peterson had been recruited into a war being fought on a scale her previous personality had begun to contemplate on her long winter walks. It was enough for Catherine to force a connection then a transfer. In the dark of the cell, she smiled to herself.

 

She was looking forward to getting back to work.

 

(https://ko-fi.com/mbblissett if you enjoyed this, and are feeling generous.)

 

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fiction, politics, short stories

A Thanksgiving Guest

Paul sat on the kerb, staring out at nothing, shuddering despite the blanket wrapped around him.The African medallion hung from his neck. There was a single drop of blood splattered across it. Detective Harris stood across from him as she kept an eye on the CSUs processing the scene. He glanced up, brown eyes watering and bulging in their sockets before he ran his tongue over his lips.

 

‘You got a cigarette?’he said.

 

She handed him a soft pack of Marlboro Lights. He took one but his hands shook too much to light it. Harris lit it for him and he inhaled with a junkie enthusiasm. When he thanked her, his voice was soft and mannered.

 

He told her what happened.

 

He put it as a joke tweet. A list of priced services to provoke reactions. Running up on your creepy uncle cost twenty dollars. Mentioning Black Lives Matter and giving hard stares at anyone who challenged him was ten dollars. He said he would bring a plate and microwave it. He referenced Ving Rhames in ‘Baby Boy’ over Sidney Poitier in ‘Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner’.

 

Erin Mayhew sent him a direct message and a few messages later, dropped a chunk of change in his bank account. A photo of her made the prospect appealing. Paul thought she was pretty with curled blonde hair and a full, soft build running to fat although her social media feeds were a little confrontational, even for him.

 

Harris noted how he paused afterwards before she asked him to continue.

 

He picked her up from her dorm, driving an SUV and she kept touching his knee on the drive down. Paul looked away and Harris asked him what happened.

They had fucked in the back seat, and Paul felt a little objectified even as she came three times. It was, he admitted, the only time she stopped talking about how awful her family were.

He took the sealed plate of ribs, chitlins, collared greens and cornbread in and adopted a rolling, beligierent swagger as Erin giggled and whispered how he should go all in on Trump. The money was good and it would be a good story to share online later, he told himself.

 

The table was heaving with food and a centrepiece which was a clamshell draped with twigs and dried flowers sprayed silver and gold. Erin’s parents, David and Maria were soft, polite people who struggled to make eye contact and when Paul passed his plate, his stomach soured with distaste as he stared out David without speaking.

Erin grinned with an awful mania as they sat down. Paul told the detective how her uncle wore a MAGA hat at the table, and spoke to Paul about the last Kendrick Lamar album. They were polite to him and every cent he earned came up to haunt him. It was awkward and his nerves made his performance halting and inconstant but he believed things would pan out for the best.

 

Which was when the jar of vicodin came out. Erin’s aunt Laura had a back injury and good insurance, dished out the pills from her purse and Paul shook his head when she offered. Erin took two and frowned at Paul before she said something to her uncle Eddie about Roy Moore.

 

Paul cringed at Erin’s zeal before he noted how much it was reflected in her uncle and father’s arguments. They repeated talking points gleaned from the internet, their voices rising and falling as they scored points off one another. Paul saw sympathetic glances thrown his way from Laura and mother but he kept moving his stale cornbread around the plate and kept silent.

 

The hairs went up on the nape of his neck when he heard three words which haunted him.

 

Black lives matter.

 

All lives matter.

 

He studied his plate like a midterm and wished he had been anywhere else than at the Mayhew Thanksgiving dinner.

He asked Harris for another cigarette before he carried on. His hands shook harder and tears ran down his cheeks as he continued.

What broke the moment was Erin mentioning the Trump admission recorded by Billy Bush, which was cue for Laura to defend Kevin Spacey and her sister turned, indignant and spraying flecks of turkey and sweet potato as she stated how her sister always resented her theatrical talent.

Paul said he was relieved when the argument became personal rather than political but the observation lasted as long as it took for Laura to reach into her purse and take out something other than pain medicine.

Just pain, he said.

The Walther had a lady grip and it looked small in her hands as she lowered the barrel at her sister’s chest and pulled the trigger.

Mrs Mayhew’s mouth formed into a perfect oh as she fell backwards, clutching her chest. Paul flew back from the table as Laura turned and fired at her husband, his red MAGA hat popped off his head with the force of the bullet.

Erin smiled as her aunt shot her in the forehead.

Mr Mayhew wrestled with her, his thick hands dwarfed hers before she fired into the rounded bulk of his midsection and he slumped forwards, making choking sounds as he bled over the table.

‘Did you like the centrepiece?’ Laura said.

Her voice was a rasping screech as she pointed the gun at him. He nodded with as much enthusiasm as his terror allowed him. She had borrowed it from a picture Ivanka posted before she turned the gun on herself.

 

He butted the cigarette out and looked up at the detective. The best ideas start as jokes, and so do some of the worst.

Harris sat down on the kerb and asked about his family. He said they argued and loved with the same volume and his father had voted for Trump but he had his reasons.

‘Families are fucking weird.’ he said.

 

Harris smiled and nodded. She’d left her house after her husband had let their daughter pull down a tray of brownies from the kitchen table whilst he was playing with his phone and she had read him the riot act. She gave him the rest of the pack of cigarettes and gestured for the paramedics to come back to him.

‘Happy Thanksgiving.’ she said.

Paul wept as she walked away.

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love, politics, women

a good soldier

John had put the no phones rule in place from the start. It was odd at first, like a missing limb and feeling a strange obligation to be present with people. The drinking helped and when he passed a thick joint, his staff smiled and they relaxed.

 

It was useful to talk off the record. He listened more than he spoke, but all the staff enjoyed the warm purity of his attention. When he spoke, his voice was low and cultured. Cassie, the speech writer enjoyed how he spoke like that all the time. She told him too, and he chuckled as he lifted the tumbler of scotch to his lips.

 

‘I curse like a sailor, Cassie, just not in public.’

 

She giggled and leaned forward, squeezing her thighs together beneath her pencil skirt as she blushed, aware of the blood rising in her throat.

 

‘What’s your favourite swear word?’ she said.

 

Harry glanced around the room, nervous. There was always the fear of someone recording.

 

He raised his hand and nodded.

 

‘Cunt.’

 

The room fell silent before Cassie giggled and put her hand over her mouth. The laughter was like crystal being rung. She giggled so hard it became difficult to breathe. It wasn’t made any easier when he leaned forward and put his hand on her forearm. He had big, strong hands and she stared at them before another ripple of giggles bubbled up in her.

 

‘Cassie, are you okay?’

 

She nodded, took deep breaths and took the bottle of water, turning her head.

 

He sat back, but she held onto the contact for a second. He gazed into her eyes and smiled at her before returning to a conversation about Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, and the room thrived like a fire being lit.

 

Harry came over to her as she stood by the window, a tumbler of scotch in his hands.

 

‘This is where I remind you you work for him.’ he said.

 

Cassie curled her upper lip and pulled away from him, shaking her head.

 

‘I’m not stupid.’

 

Harry, with perpetual shadows underneath his eyes and a permanent scrub of beard smiled and shook his head.

 

‘It’s why I’m saying it. You’re not stupid, he is.’

 

Cassie sneered and raised an eyebrow

 

‘That’s disgusting Harry, on so many fucking levels. I wouldn’t put myself in that situation at all.’

 

Harry passed her the scotch.

 

‘We’ve got a tough six months left out here. We’re fighting against a lunatic fringe pumped up by internet tough guys and actual fucking nazis being listened to. He’s not the one, but he’s a one, do you agree?’

 

She nodded. Despite everything she’d felt the swell of admiration when he spoke. His policies were solid, innovative in ways endorsed by smart and popular people.

 

‘Harry, I will not fuck my boss.’

 

He chuckled and shook his head.

 

‘I’m your boss but no, that’s not good for anyone. We need to be going in hungry for the next round and I can’t have attachments to bring us into question.’

 

She took a good gulp of the scotch. It stung, but she liked the sharp sting of it in her sinuses and the warm bubble of intoxication as it blew up in her like a slow explosion. Her eyes watered as she handed back the glass.

 

‘I’m a good soldier Harry.’ she said.

 

He smiled and walked off. She looked after him, reaching in her jacket for her cigarettes before she felt his hand on the upper part of her arm. The shiver passed, brief and sharp like a sweet cramp.

 

Harry was two weeks too late. She had gone to him. They had been working on a speech about their economic policy. She put out her terms. He sat back, furrowed his forehead and laid his palms on the arms of the couch. He smiled.

 

‘Come here.’ he said.

 

Cassie was 5’7″, threw weights around and punched out her neuroses into other people who were doing the same thing in return. She launched herself at him and snarling with a want as bright as flame.

 

They took great pains to be stupid in controlled doses, the hunger building between them until he pinned her to the wall of his suite, fingers on her throat and hand in her panties. Cassie had seen the king in him, but behind closed doors, she knew the lover and the warrior.

 

She wanted him to succeed. If it took him away, she would decide what she wanted. This was not a job to her, and it had not been for sometime.

 

It was a mission. Cassie was not in this for the prestige of being seen with him. What she possessed was unique to her, a quiet surrender stroked and cajoled in moments of prolonged ecstasy.

 

‘Thirty minutes.’ she said.

 

He liked her to sleep over. They had exquisite slices of time before she would wake up, go back to her room and shower the musk of his sweat away. Cassie carried the delicious ache with her in her hips through the long days which followed. It waned, replaced by the anticipation of when they would be alone again.

 

Harry was a good general but Cassie could not explain it to him. It was a state of feeling, a primacy she could not contain. If he had turned her away, she would have continued to work for him. She had articulated it to him, willing to risk rejection but offering an arrangement which would suit them both.

 

She counted the time down, her heart racing in anticipation as she waited.

 

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fiction, nature, short fiction, women

REACT

If you’d like to put on the headset, the presentation will begin.

The tingling sensation is natural as we’re using conductive gel to provide verisimilitude.

Now you are on the small island of St Martin as Hurricane Irma ripped through it. We used to hunker down, wait until it passed and then clear up afterwards. The costs in terms of lives, community cohesion and disaster relief used to measure in the billions but you’re here to see what changed.

Now, we’ve switched your perspective. The heads up display belong to Lieutenant Ndegeocello and the target reticules are how she will direct the drones and their payloads.

THAT’S THREE HUNDRED MILE A HOUR WINDS YOU’RE FLYING THROUGH.

If the simulation is too distressing, then you can adjust the filters with the vocal command ‘CUCUMBER’.

If you would like to direct the drones, then focus on the icon in the upper left-hand corner of your display.

They generate timed electrical pulses intending to shut Irma down.  On the ground, other REACT operatives are installing smart shelters and rescuing people. If you wish to switch viewpoints, then use the visual icons across the top of the headset to change.

Sargeant Hunniford is applying a carbon-polymer layer to the church here using the dispenser housed in the left forearm of her suit. That shimmering effect is the solar panels generating and providing heat and electricity to whoever is inside the church.  The polymers are resistant up to pressures equivalent to the Marianas Trench and generate enough heat and electricity to sustain the occupants for three months.

Yes, it is the same technology we’ve seen in Sub-Saharan Africa, our contribution to the New Nomadic movement as a gesture of goodwill. Each shelter dissolves into harmless organic compounds with a series of commands although a lot of rescue sites make use of them long after the disaster has passed.

I know I sound like a press release but there’s a lot to get your head around and it’s important to see the impact of such technology on disaster relief.

Corporal Garrett is directing cellular support. We drop cell phones connected to a private network to establish communication and co-ordinate rescue efforts. Most of the problems with immigration and population drift relate to documentation and allocation so when we arrive, it’s essential to gain solid intelligence and the phones are invaluable.

We made the specifications available for 3D fabrication although the legal action has been unpleasant and diverted attention from our real work.

The United Nations and European Union contribute materials and facilities. We’re funded through licensing deals with manufacturers and tech investments. If you want to see the FCC ruling, then a PDF is available in the documentation folder across the top of the display.

I grew up in New York when the super storms hit every winter and I used to wade through sewage up to my ankles when we went out to find food. You’re young enough to have avoided it.

Natural disasters killed less but cost more.

The impact on the economy led to political decisions and instability which were more dangerous and had a higher death toll than the original disaster itself.  Some ideologies took advantage of it without addressing the inherent flaws of disaster preparation and defence.

You’re too young to remember how resigned people were. Even a billionaire with his own island had to hunker down in a concrete wine cellar and wait it out.

It’s important to remember what powerlessness does to the powerful.

They donate to political campaigns, build thicker walls.

Sometimes though, they get an email from a fifteen-year-old in Austin with a video attachment which pulled at their insides. She’s fifteen years old, in her bedroom with wires snaking off a black box and she’s sat before it, a hi tech Pandora about to unleash goodness on the world.

You’ve seen what we have done. We save lives and we don’t check their passport or their bank balance.

We do, however check weather reports and budget committee meetings.

You spent 4.5 billion dollars on irrigating golf courses but cut storm preparedness by 10%.  Private sector solutions have been provincial and swollen with pork, and your approval rating makes you about as popular as wet fart in a space suit. I could appeal to your better nature here, but it takes too long.

Now this simulation shows an action we took part in.

You’re in a submarine and the synthetic diamond drill is delivering a precise payload of thermobaric explosive. In the air, it would burn but underneath it replicates the effect of a seismic disturbance.

The news footage is available through the icon on the right. I know your niece was there last summer. She volunteered, didn’t she?

Appealing to your better nature, like I said, takes too long.

The terms of the contract are generous and I have already got several FEMA directors taking non-executive positions on our board once we’ve got the nod from you.

Blackmail? No, it’s power, which is neither good nor bad.

Nature is indifferent, but we can’t afford to be.

You use the rhetoric of Hobbesian evolution, how brutal, ugly and short life is, like we’re supposed to lie down and let it all fall down around us whilst you’re safe in bunkers and secured fortresses.

We offer something different, even if we threaten ugly things in retaliation.

A storm is coming, Mister President, and you need an umbrella.

You have forty eight hours to respond.

It looks like a beautiful day outside, I hope you’ll join me.

.

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beauty, love, politics, women, work

Watching The Circus

Toni stood in line at the supermarket, jostling Henry on her hip as she watched the cashier check her coupons with the precision of a corrupt jeweller. The cashier glanced up at her with dull eyes and Toni steeled herself for  recognition which came too often to dismiss. She passed a faded coupon back to her between thumb and forefinger.

‘This one’s expired.’ The cashier said.

Toni grimaced and checked the small print, crumpled it up in her hand and shoved it into her back pocket. She considered dropping it but there were people behind her. Toni fought to ignore the impatient sighs and mumbled comments which arose with each second.

‘The others work, right?’ Toni said.

The cashier nodded, her eyes twinkled with pity which made Toni’s stomach churn. She handled indifference with aplomb but pity? Toni felt it like a slap across her face before she handed over her card and paid for the groceries.  She turned to one side, grabbed her bags in one hand and went outside. Henry wailed at a volume which felt like nails being hammered into her temples so she hustled across the car park, opened the trunk and put her bags inside. She entertained the exhausted impulse to put him in the trunk and enjoy the silent company of the groceries, but she turned and kissed him on a soft, wet cheek and smelled his hair instead.

Dad was in the yard, in his underwear when she pulled up, staring at her in frightened confusion as he scratched the white hairs on his melted wax abdomen and his yellowing shorts hung low on his hips, ragged and threadbare from too many laundry cycles. Toni swore under her breath as she got out and told him to go back inside. He stared at her, bottom lip flapping like an adulterer’s shirt tails and turned around.

‘Where’s Maria?’ Toni said.

Dad looked at her with the same expression a dog gave if you showed it a card trick before he shrugged his shoulders.

‘I’m hungry.’ He said.

Toni grimaced and got Henry from the child seat. Her dad walked inside, and she averted her gaze from his sallow, sagging buttocks, shocked by how he had degraded since Mom died.  She would call the agency and give them a piece of her mind, they cost enough and still hired incompetent carers for her dad. By the time she had soothed them both, the impulse passed and she had dinner to cook. Afterwards, Dad insisted on watching the news even though he wouldn’t remember what he watched. Toni stayed in the kitchen, did the dishes and tried to drown out the bray of her old boss at a press conference before it made her break something.

Her phone bleated and she picked it up.

‘Toni Keating.’ She said.

A sigh came through the phone and the hairs went up on the back of her neck.

‘Hi, Toni.’

David on the phone. The sound of his voice raised the hairs on her forearms, sent a low pleasurable trickle of lava down from her stomach into her pelvis. It lasted for a second before she looked at the sink full of dishes and her dad turned the volume up on the television. Reality tapped her on the shoulder and reminded her of how things were.

‘Fuck off, David.’ She said.

He sighed and told her to calm down which made her disconnect the call and put the phone back in her pocket.  She glanced at the television, saw him in a medium close up and giving the killer smile which had done so much harm to her so she called him back. It went to voicemail, and the smooth burr of his voice set her aflame.

‘When I see a fucking dime out of you, then you get the privilege of ringing me up to reminisce. Until then, don’t fucking call me. Ever. I wish you were dead.’ She said.

She disconnected the call, humming with self-righteousness until she heard Henry squall from his cot and she burst into hot, frustrated tears. She dashed through to get him and hustled him into her arms. She pressed her nose to the top of his head, inhaled him like good cocaine and squeezed her eyes shut against the tears.

Henry nestled against her chest and touched her cheek with a soft, sticky hand. It wasn’t much, but it was enough.  She walked through to the living room, asked her dad to turn the volume down and saw David on the television stood with the President.

Her lover and her boss, talking like old friends.

She still had a few of the suits in the wardrobe. The shoes had gone in a yard sale, for far less than she had paid. The black housekeeper walked off with a pair of Manholos, grinning like she had won the lottery. It had gone on diapers which was appropriate. No one recognised her anymore, the years had worn away the polish and make up was pointless, even for herself. She had gone from prime time television during the most controversial election in decades to just another aimless, crumpled mother in the streets. Mandy, her neighbour who lent her the occasional menthol cigarette in return for watching her son asked her once why she didn’t sell her story. Toni raised a finger to interrupt her, went through to her bedroom and came back with a thick document in her hands. She let it slide onto the table with a thump which made Mandy cry out.

‘That’s why.’ She said.

Non Disclosure Agreement. She had signed it as the price of the ticket to get aboard and she couldn’t imagine breaching it. Toni came to the campaign wreathed in a belief which resisted the logic and rhetoric of political commentators and journalists. She would have given up an arm for him if he had asked.

She lost more than that.

Henry cried and Dad had fallen into a light doze on the lounger as she stood there, watched the circus go on without her.  Toni wept. She threw a blanket over her dad’s legs and smiled at him. Toni remembered how he would babble to his friends about his little girl on the tv, representing the next President until his voice gave out. His mind had beaten his voice now, but in moments of clarity, he gazed at her with bemusement and she had to turn away. She cuddled Henry and kept kissing the top of his head.

‘It’s okay, baby.’ She said.

She kept saying it, over and over.

Over and over.

Over and over.

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