Smoke 15 Excerpts


Yes, I might well have woken this morning to the sight of the mist rising off the Sierra Nevada, but that doesn’t mean my thoughts didn’t immediately swing north to the city of my birth, and to fretting over whether my description of the route of the 341 from Waterloo to Edmonton, as composed yesterday on the slow train over the mountains from Algeciras to Ronda, was suffused with precisely the right air of melancholy, whether the sudorific passion of the writing was laced with a heady enough measure of ineffable sadness – whether, to be blunt, the piece contained sufficient, as they like to sigh here in Andalucia, duende – and whether the bit about the man with the donkey in the straw hat trying to get on outside Manor House station might have been slightly misremembered.

Introduction to Smoke 15 – Matt Haynes

Limited space meant that the time machine had to be constructed around the bed. Ben had once seen an art-house sci-fi movie in which people travelled in time by lying on couches and wearing special masks. Anji decided to incorporate this into the design of the machine. There was no practical reason for it, but it seemed to make Ben happy.

Anji and Ben – Niall Boyce

It was rare that the long black cars contained people who were weeping or distressed. More often, the occupants had the bored, irritated look of people forced to spend time with those they otherwise saw only at Christmas. Sometimes there was a horse-drawn hearse. When she saw them, Paula would shout “Horsey! Horsey!” or “Eeyore!”, and Rachel had seen the drivers, in their top hats with the sashes wound around, smile quietly.

All The Little Dead Girls – Sara Hiorns

“Shit,” said a boy propped in the doorway, “someone’s been fucking stabbed. Like by some 12-year-old kid. Everyone’s fucking screaming.” He said it like it was far away, not like it was happening now, and like he hadn’t decided yet if it was good or bad news. Robin said something like were they OK. Elfa asked if anyone had called the police. The boy didn’t say. He walked on to the next room.

Something New Coming – Cassandra Solon-Parry

… thanks, Gary, and, yes, you join us here in Lambeth, where I’m privileged to be chatting exclusively to Edward the Black Prince, back from his military campaigns on the Continent. And, indeed, the dead. So, first, Ed – if I may call you that? – thanks for taking the time to join us this morning. Can I start by asking you why, after 800 years, you’re back in this part of town? Is there a party on?

The Black Prince Returns – Rishi Dastidar

Rick wanted to impress Basil but the kid’s corpse couldn’t do it. “Ritual killing,” Basil told him, as if they were thirteen to the dozen down Woolwich Reach. “That room was a mess. Brains everywhere.” They said Basil couldn’t get parts any more because his memory was going. Someone else said Mrs Chandranarth was sticking labels on everything in the flat – kettle, table, vase, tea-strainer. Had a peel-off roll of them. Basil had been seen and/or heard one night ranting at the noise coming from the Daughters of Niger Apostolic Church.

A Friend of Joe Orton – Nigel Jarrett

I knew Angel Road from my adolescence as an ugly, pockmarked, unloved – this is Angel Road, I’m describing, not my adolescence – stretch of dual carriageway carrying the North Circular across the Lea Valley on what civil engineers will probably tell you is a viaduct, but then they’re paid to be civil: get them drunk and they’ll admit that it’s actually just some pre-cast concrete segments on stilts.

Bus of the Month: 341, Waterloo to Angel Road Superstores – Matt Haynes

Here we go, I think, and wait for him to ask me for money. But he doesn’t want money. He just wants to know how to get to King’s Cross. I show him how to use the ticket machine.

“I’ve never been to London before.”

His accent is Scottish and his voice is quiet.

Kevin – Emma Jackson

It was even darker in the toilets, though what light there was seemed livelier among the porcelain and ammonia. I filled the sink with water and splashed some on my face. After the initial shock of its slap it felt so good I couldn’t stop. I was scooping it up in handfuls, bellowing at the feel of it running down my neck and into my clothes, shaking it from my hair like an eager young dog after a swim, when, through the rivulets running down the mirror above the sink, I saw the reflection of a boy looking out at me. Behind him was a dim room, and in that a bed in which lay an old woman, barely more than a cage of bones supporting skin and sheets.

Angels – Barry Sutton

Then, maybe because I’d mentioned sausages, his glance fell again towards my bags, and I could see him mentally unpacking them. It saddened me a little, but I guess I can’t begin to understand what such a big man can endure when he’s hungry. I look like a mouse and can fast for two days, but I’m sure Polish giants need to eat every few hours if they don’t want to become extinct. So, I lifted one of the Tesco bags to my lap and fished out a pack of cocktail sausage rolls, some pre-sliced cheddar in cellophane, and a punnet of cherry tomatoes.

Three Tesco Bags – Nancy Le Nezet

When Nine Elms station was closed to regular passengers, Queen Victoria, God bless her, insisted on still using it whenever she needed to take the Royal Train to Windsor, on the grounds that it was nice and quiet, there was never a queue at the ladies, and Albert wouldn’t get sidetracked into Knickerbox and start getting ideas – not for nothing, I’m afraid, was he known as The Great Exhibitionist.

Everybody Hates A Tourist – Matt Haynes

11.50 a.m. Walking to Marble Arch, down the same, grey, sticky pavements. I haven’t changed much. I still can’t tie the laces on my blue, tatty trainers. I’m still wearing red nail varnish, chipped to the quick; I’m still soft to the marrow.

Ten Septembers – Jude Rogers

When a previous flatmate left, he took with him all of the kitchen implements he had bought, and the current flatmates have resented him for it ever since. Apparently all they were left with was a napkin dispenser and one rusty sieve. Naturally, when I move, I will want to take my mortars and pestles with me, so I refuse to buy them in the first place to save myself any loud conversations regarding my cheese-gratery greed.

Flat Lining – Sarah Wiecek

I would say that the man is handsome, that he holds a certain gravitas. His face is lined and amicable, with two bright eyes peering through horn-rimmed spectacles. His hair is coarse and brown save a few silver coils that stick out at odd angles like loose wires. I am envious of his appearance for I am pale and artless and have begun to look physically unwell.

So Many Bodies, So Much Noise – Jennifer Thompson

We even attempted some long-overdue mother-daughter bonding: I told her how Sister Udinese had given me THREE gold stars for my project on bees, and Mother told me that she’d never willingly seen a man naked until she was twenty-six; I told her how I was thinking of wearing my hair in a ponytail, and Mother told me that she’d only married my father because she’d thought he was someone else, and occasionally she still hoped he might be; I told her how the previous week me and Molly Tuttle had played a game of sticky wombat after lights-out which had gone on much longer than usual and suddenly made me feel all whooshy, and Mother told me that if I did it again I’d burn in hell for all eternity.

The Girl In The Black Balaclava – Tricity Bendix

Shrubs arrived and were very gradually inserted in new borders around the grass; others were left in the middle to die in their pots amid rubble excavated during the preparations. Shocked at such waste, several households took matters into their own hands and liberated the neglected plants to fill gaps in their own gardens. Locals were further dismayed on realising the inspection chamber was now buried under a new flowerbed. Thames Water weren’t too pleased either. The gardeners snarled: they did not believe us and refused to uncover it. Work ceased suddenly, and the unfinished mess languished in the summer rain.

Turf Wars – Helen Massey

A known introvert from a town with wide skies and a vast, shimmering expanse of sea, I didn’t think I’d be happy among the hemmed-in crowds. What I didn’t realise then is that within the anonymity of the ever-flowing throng, those shoals of fast-moving fish who swoop and turn as one entity, I could move silently, unobtrusive and unremarkable. Public transport would take me just about anywhere I wished to go; I could be entirely independent. And now I know, too, that sometimes at low tide the Thames smells of brine and seaweed.

It Grows On You, Like A Rash – Jess Sully