Archive for August, 2017

  • Pygmy Leaf Chameleon


    The man watches Chi Chi, the tiny chameleon, shake and wobble her way along the plastic bonsai, proof that life can be this small and slow. He read somewhere that they move like this so that they appear as leaves blowing in the wind. 

    To avoid glare on the glass, he turns off all of the lights except for the heat lamp inside the vivarium. He can watch her clearly through the glass — grinning as her thick tongue bursts out with impossible speed at a passing cricket. Yet, tongue aside, it’s the chameleon’s lack of speed that he enjoys so much: each movement is so deliberate because she has so long to decide and re-decide. How sweet it would be to be so slow. He’s heard of people envying a dog’s happiness or a cat’s sense of freedom, but it’s this slowness, Chi Chi’s careful speed, that appeals to him.

    There are others in the vivarium with her. One male and another female. But it is Chi Chi he watches every night, mug of tea in his hands, blanket cocooned around him. He especially loves when Chi Chi climbs the tree from the floor: she reaches up, standing on her back two legs like an impossibly small brachiosaurus stretching up to eat the leaves on the highest branches. Her little claws find the branch and she pulls herself upwards, higher and higher, into her miniature canopy.

    Wherever she goes, Chi Chi changes her skin to match it. But as the chips of bark on the floor and the plastic bonsai are both dark brown, she just phases between deep browns and mossy greens. But she is so much more when she is sleeping. In the stressful nights, when work, love, or money keep the man awake, he looks in at Chi Chi, finding her perfect little form in some dark corner of the vivarium. Her skin is usually bright green, but it sometimes blends slowly into peachy beiges and greys. In these moments he fancies she is dreaming of her homeland: a luscious rainforest she has never seen but knows. A vestigial life. An old belonging.

    In her dreams, Chi Chi must see the bright greens of the forest and change her skin to match. There is something so striking, so important, about that little bright-green body in the corner of the dark-brown floor of the vivarium. And he wonders what colour his own skin changes to when he dreams.


  • Window

    *This short piece started out as an exercise in free indirect speech. 
    It was also a personal writing challenge, as I wanted to see how many times 
    I could transfer the perspective from Gerard to Grace and back again. 
    This story featured in Issue 37 of From Glasgow to Saturn.


    Gerard had been back for at least five minutes. He hadn’t meant to be so quiet, but he must have been because Grace hadn’t noticed him from where she stood by the kitchen window, looking out. He couldn’t imagine what she could see from there. It was just the garden she’d insisted on once and had since let go to ragwort and wild mint. Past the garden were the fields: the carrots, which were barely sprouting, then the cabbages, which were good for business when the rabbits hadn’t eaten away a few hundred pounds-worth. But surely gazing at green cabbage wasn’t much better than looking at grass? It might’ve been the yew way over on the hill that she was looking at—it was a grand tree—but it was probably too far away to admire from that window.

    There wasn’t anything special about this window; Grace could barely see where they were buried from here. If she wanted, she could see them clearly from the bedroom, but when she looked out at them from upstairs she got ideas she didn’t like. She could just about see through the hedges, though. There they were, planted in the ground, yielding nothing but weeds. Six months had seen the mounds of soil sink flat. That word, mound, spun around in her head. The ragwort had claimed the whole garden months ago, but the weeds where the mounds had been were different, darker, and Grace had a horrible idea that it was because they were more nourished than the others.

    ‘Grace, will you come and sit with me?’ Gerard said from behind her. She started and was too surprised to respond. He was meant to be in town; it had just been her and the girls.

    ‘I thought you wouldn’t be back until dinner,’ she said, her voice so quiet that Gerard had to strain to make it out. ‘You shouldn’t sneak up on people like that.’

    Gerard wished he hadn’t strained to hear her; her distant tone still had some bite in it and he clenched his hands into fists. But there was no use in getting angry, so he let it slip away as easy as it had come. He sighed. Then he whistled to try and make her smile (she’d always liked his terrible whistling). But she didn’t react at all.

    ‘I didn’t sneak up,’ he said, when the silence got too much. ‘You just didn’t notice me.’

    Grace didn’t respond. She didn’t move her gaze from outside. She knew he was right, but she didn’t want to tell him that. He didn’t gloat when he was right, but there was always victory in his eyes and he was always so proud that he wasn’t a bad winner.

    ‘What are you looking at?’ he asked her, his voice too loud and hard—the voice of a farmer who’s spent years in the wind and the rain. She didn’t want to answer. He had no right to see them there, in the places he’d dug for them with his own hands as though it was as easy as a spot of gardening or a morning’s work in the fields. It had been winter when he’d buried them, but he had sweated. And then he’d come in hungry from his labour, the loamy soil stuck to his boots. He’d sat down to make himself a sandwich with the butter and ham and bread set out and he actually looked content. He was always happiest when he was busy.

    Gerard walked right up to her without her even noticing. He could smell her soft hair and he couldn’t see anything but his memories. It’s strange how much memory a smell can uncover—like wind blowing up seeds that don’t take.

    ‘You don’t see, do you?’ she said. And for a second she was right, and he couldn’t admit it to her. But then he saw.

    ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘I see.’

    ‘You don’t see,’ she said, turning to look him in the face as he lied to her. He wasn’t crying. Never did. But there was something alive in his dull blue eyes and she knew he could see them.

    ‘Our girls,’ he said, ‘I didn’t realise you could see them from here. I thought it was just from upstairs.’

    ‘You don’t cook,’ she said. ‘You don’t do the dishes anymore. You’re never in here long enough to even look out the window.’    

    She turned from him. Back to the garden. They stood there, together, and stared at the place where there had once been mounds, where the grass and weeds were darker.


  • The Monkey Monster

    *This is one of the silliest things I’ve ever written and I make no apology for it*


    I doubt you’ll believe this, but it’s absolutely true. Seriously. There’s an invisible monster thing that follows some people. Even though no one’s ever seen it, some say it’s a kind of monkey that never stops laughing and only dogs and babies and old Japanese men can hear it.

    The monkey monster rolls around the floors and ceilings of our homes and we can’t even hear the bumps and thumps it makes. It slings its invisible monkey monster shit everywhere and laughs like hell when the shit lands right into people’s yawning mouths. They swallow its shit down into their bellies and part of the monkey monster’s trickster spirit is in their system for a day or two. If you accidently swallow some, you’ll find yourself dancing on the train platform or slamming out some absolutely stinking ghost drum solos whilst you’re sitting on the bus with your headphones on. If there’s enough monkey shit still in there you won’t even care when a few of those stuck-up bus bastards laugh at you.

    But the monkey monster can disrupt your quiet little life in other ways – in ways that don’t involve force feeding you his crap. If he takes a real shine to you he’ll haunt you for weeks and even months. Sometimes he whispers jokes into your ears and part of you hears these jokes – it’s that part only kids know about – the part that used to be a fancy monkey, before the homos met the sapiens. You almost hear his jokes and you don’t smile at first, ‘cause you wouldn’t even really know what you’re laughing at and you’re still thinking about all the worries and resentments that have grown like weeds in your mind. But one day, after the monkey has been telling you jokes for weeks, you smile for no damn reason. And it’s easier to smile after that.

    The monkey also loves to point out the good stuff you don’t always see. He points out little dogs with smiling faces. He points out cats that try to fit their whole bodies into cereal boxes. He points out when the ad hoc curry you make out of whatever crap you have lying around your home is easily the best goddamn curry you’ve ever had and you think you could eat it until you die and that it would be a sweet way to go.

    Despite all his rolling around, the monkey monster can be a lazy little scamp, and he loves nothing more than making his new favourite person stop what they’re doing and relax with him. There’s probably no way you’ll believe this part, but he’s like a full-on ghost masseuse and he rubs your shoulders and whispers little soothing messages into your ears so that you chill the fuck out every now and then. He helps you feel like you’re taking time for yourself, which is nice, but you’re actually with him and he’s probably snoozing beside you. Sometimes there’s a whole bunch of shit you have to do and it’s stressing you out so much you could die, and the monkey just makes you forget about it and sit in the grass outside and make daisy chains or draw made-up dinosaurs with too many horns and legs that are too small to support their weight. And then, when you finally get back to all the things you had to do before the monkey grabbed your attention, you realise that most of that stuff isn’t worth doing – which is pretty sweet.

    And sometimes the monkey does something totally sick when you’re at your most alone and despair has settled into your heart so bad you can’t move and you’ve forgotten how fun it can be to be a fancy monkey and how amazing it is that we’re even alive at all. The monkey – who is a complete sicko, btw – just leaves you alone with your troubles, ‘cause sometimes life is so tough and you’ve gotta feel all of it before you can be a crazy monkey again. There’s no rush. The monkey is easily in the top five most patient monsters in the world.

    It totally depends how long the monkey monster wants to spend with you – ‘cause it takes longer to disrupt different people. But it’s a day-by-day sort of thing, and the disruption is so subtle almost no one notices the little changes – the layers of tiny moments stacked on top of one another. But suddenly it just hits you ‘cause you’re smiling for no damn reason and you realise you’ve been happy for days now and it’s such a relief you start crying. But it’s okay; it’s the good kind of crying. Then the monkey decides to leave you. He’s in the disruption business, and there’s not much left for him to disrupt. So he’s off to fuck shit up in someone else’s life. And he says goodbye before he goes, even though you never really knew he was there.



  • Writing Good Sentences

    When I edit other people’s work I often find that a lot of their problems could be solved if they thought about their sentences a little more carefully. Usually, they have too many short sentences in a row. The effect is jarring. Staccato. Robotic. Intentionally dramatic. Unintentionally pretentious. Devoid of the natural rhythm of speech. I think this happens because all writers are encouraged to trim and streamline their writing, and it’s in this effort that writers lose their sense of rhythm. They see economic writing as the only goal and give up clarity and personality in an attempt to sound like their favourite economic writer.

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