Smoke 14 Excerpts


There are two sorts of businesses in this world: those which are essentially facelessly efficient production lines, churning out dully reliable product on a hugely predictable basis; and those which are more than able to make up in romantic quirkiness and roughly tousled charm what they lack in ruthless dedication to sun-based calendar systems and acceptable standards of customer service – businesses, in a word, such as Smoke.

Introduction to Smoke 14 – Matt Haynes

I knew a girl who fell in. One summer night, crazy and hopeful, she tried to reach the Heath for sunrise. She pedalled too fast and, swerving under a bridge, suddenly knew the crash of her cheek through the water’s surface, and the weight of her bike dragging her down. She sank in slow motion before dragging herself to the bank where she lay flapping, like a fish, never to see her right shoe again.

Night Bike – Amy Liptrot

There are always rich pickings at closing time. It’s like a lucky dip, before the staff obliviously brush it away. Among the cracked plastic glasses, the inevitable £5 note: I consider it a tip. Can’t be too obvious, though. The bouncer might notice. The girls might see. Sometimes, you find phone numbers, scribbled on bits of Rizla. I’ve yet to give in to the temptation: Remember me? We met at that club last week, want to meet up? Once, I found some pills inside a screwed-up packet of Benson’s. I gave in that time.

Someone Mentioned A Party – Ben Bailey

When I stepped out of my office to get some air, Tom was staring at something in the gutter, which turned out to be a disembodied heart. Tom said “weird” and I said “hmm” and I think we both suspected art students. I went back and stood on the steps and looked across at the heart in the gutter.

Hearts and Stones – Gabriel Moshenska

Voices sing shyly among the curry sauces; little breaths leaving mouths among the bottles of wine. Once, the ghost of Dusty Springfield purred from the cornflakes. Once, Neil Tennant’s melancholia swirled through the hundreds and thousands. Once, The Flaming Lips spoke to us from the home-brand paracetamol, asking us if we realised that everyone we know one day will die.

Shelf Life – Jude Rogers

I knew Father had some odd political views, but this had never seemed good reason to lose faith in him; he had, after all, seen things during the war which had shocked him to the core, and if witnessing humanity at its basest and most brutal had left him with a somewhat jaundiced view of his fellow creatures, then who was I, a ten-year-old girl, to argue? That he’d seen most of these things in Kent, and more particularly Maidstone, rather than in the charnel houses of Germany or the jungles of Burma, I think just made the horror seem even more real to him, more personal, more literally just down the A2. Or is it the A20?

The Nosferatu Of North-West Three – Tricity Bendix

Hot as a Mexican’s breakfast and the size of a country girl’s palm, Midlands Samosas are fried overnight to give them the taste and texture of a particularly greasy roof tile. Proper Midlands Samosas are GORGEOUS – whether for hungover breakfast, lunch on the move, or Emergency Tea. With a packet of Polos for afters they were always the perfect end to an evening of excitement, shared with the platoon of fellow East Midlanders making their slow way home on the 23:22.

The Midlands Embassy – MJ Hibbett

Last autumn he’d been with Nicola up by the lakes at Hampstead Heath. She’d been kicking through the fallen leaves, huge piles of them, when suddenly the wind had got up and blown the leaves all along the path, sent them floating past the two of them and onwards downhill like a river of rust. The clouds had come over and they had followed the leaves down to the road and the pub, linking arms like they were boyfriend and girlfriend.

A Backstreet, For Ever And Ever – MW Bewick

Foster headed down Wood Street to Cheapside. The streets around St Paul’s had been rubbed away, like dead skin sloughed from a wound. Hand-painted signs stood at the side of foot-beaten paths through the broken-brick wilderness, marking new alignments of old, bombed-away roads – Friday Street, Bread Street, Watling Street. London was no place for cartographers.

To Carthage Then I Came – Dominic Nolan

The Tyger is not only badly mis-spelt, but also needs to be read in a Black Country accent for the rhymes to work (What immortal hand or eye / Could frame thy fearful symmetry). Some Blake scholars have, in recent months, excitedly cited this linguistic curio as the key to understanding his 1793 “prophetic book” Visions of the Daughters of Albion: once you grasp that this complex allegorical work essentially riffs on the idea of two girls from West Bromwich whose WAG rating suffers irreparable damage during their hometown team’s dismal 08/09 season in the Premiership, they say, the fact that the roaring man shackled to the naked bottle blonde in Blake’s frontispiece engraving looks uncannily like Baggies midfielder Jonathan Greening makes a whole lot more sense.

No, They Didn’t, And Get Your Own Bloody Chariot Of Fire – Matt Haynes

The afternoon light is fading now, the birds are silent, and gloom is settling over the houses and gardens below. But he is content. Every window offers a story. In the upstairs rear window of a house to his right a young woman is combing the thinning hair of a man seated with his hands resting on his knees. Perhaps the man is ill, or crippled from a terrible war wound. Is the woman his wife, or his sister, or a friend? Does he sit there day and night, looking over to the wall of the football ground and the railway line high to his left? Or does he spend all day staring into the garden?

A Boy Among Millions – Richard Thomas

I released my grip on the underside of the seat and watched the red mark fade to nothing in seconds. We fought our way through the traffic lights that surround St Matthew’s church and then oozed past McDonald’s. Someone was shot in there. Killed in a McDonald’s, for the love of God.

Slow Progress On A Number Two Bus – Michael Carey

Then he started turning up on Sunday afternoons to take us to Lesnes Abbey in Abbey Wood, facing the soon-to-be Thamesmead. Coincidentally, Linda always appeared from behind a tree in the nearby ancient forest – literally, like some chunky wood nymph.

Sidcup Tsuris – Helen Davies

You listen patiently because you remember what it was like not being listened to when you were talking about important things; and though you have heard Duncan’s story many times, and usually walk away before he gets to this point because it makes you feel funny, you let him tell you how Royal Mail is to blame for his world falling apart and how his children no longer recognise him (looking at his scarred and wide-pored face, you don’t blame them), until you have to stop him because all the while you have been watching the doors and finally the coast is clear.

Big Game – Karen Bundgaard

Bexleyheath turns out not to be simply a more heathery, windswept, Dick Turpinny version of Bexley, but to have a mall with a Greggs and an Ann Summers and a Megabowl, so you can get a pasty and a thong and then play skittles.

Bus Of The Month – Matt Haynes

Most people said that Fiona was mad. Many even said that it was her who burned down the flats in the first place. Either way, she scared people. She would often be seen at the window (or, at the hole where the window used to be), wearing nothing but skin-tight pink leggings and a leopard-print top, singing. And, as she sang, bus windows shattered, babies screamed, the sky turned black and crows fell down dead.

Lashenputtel – Alice Bower