Chocolate Cake

Stephanie braced one hand on the freezer door and, with the other, gently eased open the refrigerator. She moved slowly, holding her breath as the rubber seal sucked open, quieter than normal. Good.

She eased a one-inch-full jar of salsa and a covered dish of indeterminate provenance aside, noiselessly to reach her prize: the last slice of chocolate cake.

Donny had already fallen asleep, his loud steady breathing mocking her as she lay in bed thinking lustful thoughts about cake until she couldn’t stand it any more. Whether today or tomorrow, those calories would be hers. Might as well get them now.

She had slipped out of bed and danced her way between the creaky floorboards, pausing than his breath hitched, slipping through the door when she was sure he wasn’t waking up properly (she’d been ready with four or five different excuses: needing water, needing to use the bathroom, checking the front door was locked and hearing a noise from one the girls’ rooms) but she hadn’t needed it.

25 Things About My Mother

1. She has always been stylish (and occasionally groovy). I have always felt like I had a cool mother. It also means that her photo albums serve as a one-woman timeline of late-20th/early 21st century pop culture.

2. When I was seven months old, she loaded myself and my older siblings onto a plane in Glasgow and flew to meet my dad in London where they would raise us for 8 years, far from the support of life-long friends and extended family. I didn’t really appreciate this until I attempted to do it myself. But I never doubted I could, because I’ve seen it done, and done well.

3. When she was in her thirties she learned to drive so that:

4. When I was went to school, she could go to teacher training college. Over the next three years she got a lot more homework than I did, made a lot of young friends, did projects after we went to bed, and earned a Bachelor’s in Education. Just like that. (With a pre-Father’s Day shout out to my Dad who became my role model for what a husband and father should be, in these years, which are my earliest memories.)

5. She perfected the “mother’s hard stare”. Looking back, I have no idea what I thought was going to happen if I defied it, but…

6. She played keyboards for our churchless, small-town Catholic Sunday-masses-with-a-borrowed-priest for about 10 years (or more) even though she hated it, and got so nervous she felt sick. Every. Week. I loved the fact that it gave me and my dad a chance to bang on our guitars and sing our hearts out every Sunday. (I was a callous child.)

7. Our friends have always loved hanging out with her. Always.

8. Last year, after kindly letting our local hospital save her from sepsis in January, she went home and spent six months recovering, but by November was back on stage with the local amateur theater company…tap-dancing. TAP-DANCING!

9. My mother is a reader (both my parents are) and in our house, you were more likely to find them curled up with a good book (or a trashy book, for that matter), than staring at the TV. This has an impact on kids.

10. When we went to Tesco, she’d let me push the trolley.

11. She taught me the silly, Glasgow words for bodily functions that her mother had taught her, leading to confusion and hysteria when I got out into the world as a small child in other people’s care 🙂

12. She taught me how to peg up the washing on the whirligig, after letting me do it on my own once only to find I’d hung all my dad’s shirts up by their shoulders, so it looked like a crowd of vultures had landed on her washing line.

13. She took me to piano lessons and horse-riding lessons and, briefly, dancing lessons, because I was interested, and even when I wasn’t.

14. She let me borrow her car all the time, even after I crashed one.

15. She was extremely cool about the fact that I called from America to say ‘hey, want to help me arrange a wedding?’ in spite of the fact that she hardly knew the guy I wanted to marry.

16. When her parents came to visit us in England they would all sit up together, playing cards and telling stories, long after we were (supposed to be) in bed.

17. Her 8th birthday present was…a younger sister. She was not best pleased at the time, but I think it’s worked out OK over the long term.

18. When I would visit her school in the late 1980s, boisterous kids barrelled down the hallways, letting doors slam in people’s faces, and generally being unruly…until they saw my mother. Then, they snapped to attention, held doors and gave a meek “Good morning, Mrs McCarroll”, which would be met with the nod of approval they were craving.

19. She once coolly shepherded my brother and I (still wrapped in towels) out of a swimming pool, and drove us home, after someone called in a bomb threat (in the 1970s, near London, when things were being blown up with some regularity).

20. When I made a big effort to tidy up my bedroom, one time, I gathered a bunch of boxes in which to corral my stuff. Spent all day, putting things away and labelling them. When my mother walked in, the first thing she said was “Oh my goodness! You’ve spelled ‘pieces’ wrong on that box that says “bits and pieces”!”. I think this is hysterical, and says a lot about both of us.

21. When my future husband met my mother, he raised an appreciative eyebrow, apparently reassured that I wasn’t going to morph into an old hag by the time I was in my fifties…

22. She has always had friends to laugh with, and interests of her own.

23. When any of us (her children, her husband, her grandchildren) are competing or performing, she gets horribly nervous…but just you try to keep her from turning up!

24. My father adores her.

25. She has always let me leave, which means I’ve always wanted to come back.




I’m Not A Racist, But

“I’m not a racist, but-”
“OK, Stop.”
“What? I’m not, it’s just-”
“Seriously, stop.”
“Wow, I didn’t know you were so-”
“Ok then, what? What were you going to say that’s going to make me see you as a paragon of tolerance?”
“What the hell?”
“No, go on. Really.”
“Well, do you think it’s fair that I can’t hire whoever I think is the best person for the job. I mean, why should I have to choose the black woman when the white guy is just as good? Is that fair?”
“Fair? No, it’s not fair. But ‘just’? We can talk about that for a while if you like.”
“Oh I’m sorry! Am I not being politically correct enough for you?”
“Now that you mention it…”
“I don’t know what happened to you, man. I can’t talk to you any more.”
“Now that’s fair.”

I’ll Get To It

I’ll get to it. Later. After I make breakfast, make the beds, make these phone calls, do those dishes, clean the toilet, run a load, answer these email.

Peckish now, what’s that? Lunchtime! Make something healthy. Now, dishes and a cuppa. Quick browse of Facebook to relax, then back to it.

Do I have time yet? Damn! There’s nothing in for dinner. Quick grocery run, then I swear I’ll get to it.

Unpack bags, greet the kids, prep dinner, start cooking, kiss the spouse, eat your veggies, do your homework, share, care, quality time, bedtime. At last I’ll write…zzzz.

The Only Way Out

Cold steel vibrates under my hand. A vast nothingness yawns behind me. Both things surprise me. I’d expected the wind, though not the unfamiliar icy edge at this altitude. It whips my hair into my face, so I can’t see him advance.
“There’s nowhere to go.” His voice comes in snatches, discordant against the singing of the suspension cables.
The wet scent of river-weed and sewage reaches up for me, grasping, from far below. I taste bile in the back of my throat. He’s almost here.
I know what I have to do.
I bend my knees.

What I Saw

Something’s off about him. I can’t quite put my finger on it. When he starts to cry, in the pew, I assume that’s what I saw.

I hold his hand, try to pour acceptance and love into the cracks in his heart. At communion time he sinks to his knees, shuddering.

After mass, I sit with him. I listen, until a parish volunteer leans in.

“You should take off your cap in church, son,” he says.

Barriers slam into place. I reach out, but he runs.

A cap. That was it.

It made me see him.

It set him apart.

A Letter Of Complaint

Dear Sirs,

I am writing to convey my deep disappointment with the quality of your “service”.

When I chose to hill-walk in the teeth of a blizzard I was under the apprehension that Mountain Rescue would come to my aid if I encountered difficulties.

Do you have any idea how much I paid for this bright orange Hely Hansen jacket? I couldn’t have tried harder to be easily-spotted, and yet you saw fit to leave me, shivering and lost, on the side of mountain for a full 20 hours before you deigned to locate me. And when you did, the “leader” of the “team” was ridiculously brusque with me about my “choice” to hike up there in barefoot running toe-shoes. It’s my right to walk this earth as I please! I was fuming! Hardly what I needed after almost a full day with no food or water.

And you seriously need to work on the quality of your stretchers. My bruised feet made it impossible for me to walk, and yet I fear your lumpy stretcher and the carelessness of your volunteers has left many other parts of my anatomy just as bruised.

Call yourself a “Rescue Team”? “Bunch of Sanctimonious Snobs With A Superiority Complex” is more like it. Next time I go hill-walking it won’t be in this country, I tell you. I hear great things about the Angels of Mont Blanc. You could take a few lessons from them.

I feel relieved that I have never yet succumbed to any of your pathetic appeals for charitable contributions, if this kind of treatment is what the money goes to support.

Yours, disgustedly,

A. N. Walker

Time Shift

We’re here, inside these intense moments. Together. Outside, the world time-lapses by, but here? Here, we’re living lifetimes in each moment, each long breath, each counted heartbeat. We are, for one bright passage of time, conceiving the inconceivable.

Your fingertips are cold. Your lips remind me of a clear sky at the beginning of a winter’s day.

I want to stay here forever. I want to escape. But I know that when I finally stumble out into the stream of everyday time again, it won’t be with you.

I brush your hair, and I hold your hand. I stay.

How My Writing Went Today

It went something like this:

I have to write something. I’m going to do it now. But first I’ll check Twitter and email and make sure there are no emergencies that need dealt with…and oh look, someone’s posted the President’s speech from the White House Press Corps Dinner…OMG that’s hilarious. And oh, look there’s a link to Joel McHale’s speech too…ah that was great.

Oh. Now it’s an hour later than it was. But that’s OK I can still write.

But maybe I’d better eat lunch first. Yum!

OK, I’m really going to write. What am I going to write about? WHAT CAN I POSSIBLY WRITE ABOUT OH GOD I’M NEVER GOING TO BE ABLE TOWRITEANTOHERSTORYEVERYAGAINOHGOD…Wait. The prompt was about ‘shame’. That seems like a good emotion to mine. [Whine] But I don’t WANNA write about shame, it’s so serious and I want to write something funny and wahwahwahwah, wait. Isn’t comedy just tragedy+time? Aren’t some of the funniest stories I’ve ever heard based in horror? OK then.

BUT HOW AM I GOING TO START THIS, WAHHHHHH. Describe the setting. Talk directly to the reader. It’s just a start. Youc an always edit it out later.



Starts writing.

Hey, this is fun.

[500 words later] OK, this is still fun, but I’m not getting anywhere. Nothing’s happening, I need to make something happen OMG I CAN’T MAKE ANYTHING HAPPEN, THIS ISN’T A STORY, THIS IS JUST A SERIES OF CLEVER WORDS, I’LL NEVER BE ABLE TO WRITE A STORY AGAIN WAHHHH

[250 words later]OK this is starting to go somewhere. But now I’m getting tired and I’m not sure I’m going to be able to finish, but if I take a break I might never get back to it and then it’ll just be another in the long sad history of unfinished stories that litter my path through life and oh God I’m a horrible person…

Let me just type this up and see what happens.

Wait, I think I know how to end this. If I can just get through typing up everything I wrote, I might have a chance of making this work.

OK, that’s a horrible, terrible sentence, but I’m going to leave it in because it gets me from here to there and lets me power on towards the end. I’ll fix it in the read through.

Oh, wait, this is going really well. Shut up, you in the back of my mind there. I KNOW it’s not perfect, but it’s starting to have shape and I know how it’s going to end, and I know what the important emotions are and dammit, it’s a story.

It’s ALIVE!!!!!

And it’s done.

And now i’m a little sad.

Big Bad Wolf

Among all the broken bathtubs and peep-show half-houses’ sly peeks into formerly private lives, one thing transfixes me: a grey fuzzy headband with plush wolf ears built in. Mud-caked now; half-hidden under deckled-edged wallboard that has been laid out horizontal among the matchstick studs and door frames. Where is she, their owner? Did the howling winds gobble her up, Grandma? Or is she skipping through the rubble with her basket of windfall toys — big-eyed in her red hood, on this clear, still morning — simply facing the monstrous world while her adults huddle and weep?