Haruko – Katie Smith



In this life

We walk on the roof of hell

Gazing at flowers

Kobayashi Issa (1763 – 1828)

‘I understand why people do it,’ she says, crossing our small bedroom in a few high-heeled strides and sitting down beside me. She overshoots and almost ends up on the floor but recovers quickly, already fishing in her bag for cigarettes. I wonder how much she’s had to drink tonight.

‘I mean, even thinking about the families of the victims, the crippled survivors, I really, really understand why they do it.’

I’m watching the deft movements of her hands as she speaks; extracting a cigarette from the gold soft-bottomed paper packet she flips out between her third and fourth finger, arcs the lighter around her face in a halo of flame and ignites the tar in the rolled paper which begins to smoulder. She takes a deep, deep drag and it purrs. Her pupils actually dilate. It's suffocating in our tiny apartment; no place to smoke, but nonetheless, I'm hypnotised. Trust Haruko to make self-destruction into something beautiful.

‘I mean, think of the angriest you’ve ever been. The anger that makes your fists clench involuntarily. The anger that’s sort of at the government and sort of at the big multinational corporations and sort of at your parents but it’s really about the fact that you’re living a life that was never meant for a human being and you’re so wounded and humiliated by it that you just want to hit something.’

The smoke curls from her nose as though it’s explored the inside of her head and emerged, satisfied, from the labyrinth of tubes. She sucks again, a big, calming breath, and holds it for a few seconds, like the Zen monks do, before the force of her next statement fires it out again:

‘The trick is figuring out exactly what to hit.’

Haruko. Still in the smudged makeup and turquoise sequinned tube dress that constitutes her ‘uniform’ at the Kabukicho hostess club where she works nights. Speaking to me on our bed, low and urgently, her breath stinking of cheap whisky and cigarettes. It's been almost a year but I still feel a hot rush in my chest that it’s me she’s chosen: me that she’s sharing these thoughts with.

‘I met a really strange guy tonight at the club,’ she muses, idly playing with the foam bubbles in our bathtub. She's small enough to fit right inside it; I have to squat and shiver, showering my skin piece by piece as quickly as possible, trying to outrace the chill.

'He said his name was Asahara. He said he could tell I wasn’t happy.’

‘You mean he could tell that you’d been…ill? Depressed?’

‘No, I think he just meant that it was obvious that I didn't belong there, working with those rich creeps and trashy girls. He watched me drink too much and he let me tell him about everything. My parents, my half-finished biochemistry degree, the depression, the suicide attempts. He just sat and listened while I poured us sake and he sort of…looked after me.’

I feel a clammy surge of jealousy stir in my gut like a tapeworm.

‘What do you mean, looked after you?’

‘I was pretty upset; this guy had slapped me on the ass as I walked by and I’d had a few cups of sake by then so I turned around and yelled at him. Then my boss yelled at me for my bad manners and said she was going to take the money out of my tips to make up for losing his custom.’

She slips down in the tub until only her nose and eyes are above the water. It is a childish gesture that both irritates me and chokes me with tenderness.

‘Blphphllb phlb bhlb phlp blb.’


She emerges a little cleaner. The water has washed off the last of her make-up to reveal pinkish-grey pouches beneath her inkblot eyes and the ripe, blue veins encircling her temples in an electric halo. When she's wet it's like you see right through her.

‘He says I'm better than all that. He says he knows what I need to do to free myself. He gave me some pamphlets and an address and he says I should come along to one of his group’s meetings. He says they’re kind of like Buddhists; they try and figure out what’s really important in life for your spiritual merit and train you avoid the negative things. Things like drugs and crime and violence. Materialism.’

She begins to massage her round, white limbs with a sponge. I know what she's doing; I'm still angry that she's been drinking and crying with another man but watching her naked in the soap bubbles makes me lose focus; forget my thoughts. Something she knows full well.

‘You don’t need some stranger to tell you how to live your life! If you’re not happy working at the club then quit. I can make enough to support us both. You could even go back to university. Finish your degree. You’d make a very cute biochemist, Dr. Haruko.’

She splashes water at me like she's playing but the look in her eyes tells me she's not. They're hard and flat like a snake's and seeing them, my heart sinks.

‘Don’t you dare patronise me, Kenji. Besides, you know that’s not true. This place is the size of a wardrobe but it still drinks up all the money we can shovel into it. We both have to work. I’d have to move out into a student dormitory if I wanted to continue my degree.’

‘I’d rather lose you to the student life for a few years and have you make something of your life than watch you waste it in that club,’

This I blurt out without thinking. I know I've made a mistake. I go cold all over.

‘It’s not just the fucking money Kenji!’

Her unfinished degree represents every way in which she feels she's let people down these past twenty-one years, not least herself. I should know better than to bring it up.

‘I have absolutely no idea what to do with my life. I don’t know how to manage in this world. That’s why I got ill. It’s not brain chemistry or anything to do with my childhood. I’m just an animal in an alien environment; scared and frustrated and lost and so are you. So’s everyone in this city. We work so hard towards things that amount to absolutely nothing in the end. When I was small, my uncle died. Karoshi. He was only 35 years old. His heart just stopped.'

She's standing up in the bathtub, small and naked and shivering and yelling right in my face but I'm not angry. I'm just scared, sad and so very, very fucking tired of it all. Treading on eggshells, watching her bleed but above all not being able to help. Being powerless myself in the face of the traitor within, the saboteur inside her skull that paralyses her.

I don't even try and stop her when she packs a small suitcase later that night and leaves. Her sequinned, turquoise tube dress is still hanging on the door handle as it slams shut behind her.

Just seeing Haruko sitting on the bench in Yoyogi park waiting for me gives me the shakes. It’s my lunch break and I hand her a rapidly cooling coffee into which raindrops keep splashing. Today is the first time I’ve seen her since the fight and I'm a mess. I can’t handle the empty apartment so I’ve been spending more and more time at the office. Shaving in the men's toilets. Sleeping under my desk. This is terrifying for a formerly teetotal non-smoker. I've never been addicted before and I have absolutely no measures in place to deal with craving a drug. I picked up the phone and called her at her friend’s place. Begged her to come and meet me, talk to me. And here I am, and here she is and I have nothing to say. I just drink in the sight of her with my bloodshot eyes. She takes the Styrofoam cup without looking at me and says:

‘This city is a perfect example of how the jungle has evolved along with the monkey.'

I've lost half a stone despite my recently developed taste for beer in the evenings. This morning, typing up an account, I noticed blood on the keyboard from where I've gnawed my fingernails down to the quick. Her turquoise tube dress in bunched up in my jacket pocket.

'I mean, the mistake most people make is assuming we should live by different rules to animals because we're 'civilised.'

She mimes inverted commas with her pale hands.

'We're still animals, just in a different jungle. This city is the seat of modern technology, a real metropolis but I think it's the biggest beast of them all. We have to adapt to this dangerous new environment. Kill or be killed. Change or die.'

I want to tell her that these sentiments she's expressing don't sound very Buddhist but I bite my tongue. Because it’s raining, she isn't smoking. She says it confuses her. My workmates stare, puzzled, as they rush past us for the shelter of their offices clutching paper-wrapped sandwiches. The rain's really coming down.

'Raindrops scream all the way down once they see where they're about to fall: right into Tokyo 's wide open mouth. The rain can't choose where it falls any more than we can choose where we're born. It filters something pure through its system and it comes out tainted. The beast pisses into the sea and the sea throws it right back in our filthy faces. Tsunami!'

I'm slightly chilled as she makes a slow, deliberate wave motion with her perfect, white hands which gradually subsides. Her hair is drenched. Raindrops strike her china cheeks but she's hardly even blinking. She doesn't seem to notice the rain. I wonder if 'Asahara' thinks she's beautiful.

'Kenji, I've tried playing it the old way, their way, and I ended up in hospital. I'm going to try something a little different this time. But I really need you on board with it. If you are, we can move back in together, go forward together. Otherwise, we have to end this now, and forever. I need to know that you're on my side before I can trust you enough to do that.'

I'm not breathing as I listen to the price of her love. The rain on her face looks like tears carving pale, washed-out lines into her makeup but it's me who's crying. I'm stunned by what I'm prepared to do to get her back.

I'm going to look into those squid-ink pupils and say yes.


It's the poison talking but it's still my mouth, my words. It's weak and selfish and so, so stupid but I'm succumbing.

'For you. Anything.'

Rocking through the underworld in our bullet-chariot, I lower a paper mask over my face. This doesn't attract as much attention as you might think: it's normal for commuters to be cautious about pollution in Tokyo. I'm so sick and dizzy with the closeness of the human biology pumping its gases all around me, I feel like I'm about to keel over. To steel myself, I try and concentrate on how Haruko's face looked in the park that day: the terrible, dark joy that welled up in her eyes when I said yes that told me I might finally have won her back. We went back to what was once again our apartment and made love that left me shaking, slightly tearful and exhilarated beyond belief (and Haruko in a deep sleep). My head was clearer after my fix and I felt a sudden desire to take back a little control; re-engage with my situation. I wrapped myself in a bathrobe, logged on to wikipedia.org and entered the unfamiliar word into the search engine:

'SARIN is an extremely potent organophosphate compound that disrupts the nervous system by inhibiting the cholinesterase enzyme by forming a covalent bond with the site of the enzyme where acetylcholine normally undergoes hydrolysis. This allows acetylcholine to build up and continue to act so that any nerve impulses are, in effect, continually transmitted.'

A part of my mind wonders how strong the sealing is on the newspaper-wrapped packet I’m holding; whether I've already inadvertently breathed some of it in. Adjusting my heavy overcoat to disguise the action I let the deadly little bubble fall to the floor at my feet. I nudge it surreptitiously with the toe of my boot until it’s directly beneath the specially sharpened point of the umbrella I’m carrying. As I lift it I try and focus on my bone-deep devotion to Haruko; not the faces of the other passengers or the words 'coma' and 'convulsions.' I don’t believe in God but I’m begging to something as I stand there, shaking, I’m begging with my blood, my breath, my entire body that this is enough to finally satisfy Haruko; prove my loyalty, prove I'm on her side. The thought galvanises me and with the air of one diving into deep, deep water, I do what I've come down here to do. Save her. Bring her back. Every blink sets her face flickering before my mind's wide eye machine-gun staccato. I keep time with the blinks and apparitions as I puncture the bag again and again with the sharpened end of my umbrella. The smell is sweet as lilies, inhuman as clean sheets and it rises where I have disturbed it.

Haruko. According to our friends at Wikipedia, short and long term symptoms include:

· bleeding from the nose and mouth

· coma

· convulsions

· death

· disturbed sleep and nightmares

· extreme sensitivity to light

· foaming at the mouth

· high fevers

· influenza-like symptoms

· loss of consciousness

· loss of memory

· nausea and vomiting

· paralysis

· respiratory problems

· seizures

· uncontrollable trembling

· vision problems, both temporary and permanent


Antidotes include:

· atropine

· pralidoxime

· getting the hell out before it's too late.


I added the last entry to the article myself in our bedroom-cum-office as she slept on the unrolled futon behind me. I thought people should be aware that someone like her existed in the world. But it was picked up by the administrators on the deletion cycle at 6am the same day and removed. When I wrote that, there must still have been a part of me uncontaminated by Haruko; a vestigial self beneath my addiction, powerless to influence things but at least still thinking clearly. It's the same part that refuses to let me believe that love is anything other than a virus we contract when we pierce the sphere of another person.

As the train a kicked can hurtles faster through the wormcast of the Tokyo underground my legs crumple underneath me and I go down hard. It feels like pure relief. A rib breaks against a bench leg as a frantic passenger kicks me hard but unintentionally as she runs by. I don't know where she thinks she's going. Her shoes are polished and she's wearing those hideous white tights that Japanese women feel represent irrefutable female propriety but I can see that underneath the clinical gauze her legs are milk-white and freckled. My strained senses pulled taut across the dome of this crisis flash to the white triangle of Haruko's face pressed against my mouth breathing into me; her spring-shoot legs curling insidiously around my torso, binding me, her arms winding around my neck. Something sweet and unwholesome is in my throat; I feel viscous wetness between my fingers and an alarm goes off behind my eyes. I open my mouth to ask for help but I’m speaking the wrong language: a sticky mounding foam that tastes like Parma violets. No-one knows I’m asking them to save me. My senses are closing off, one by one, shutting everyone else out. Inside, it's just me and the poison.

The offending shoe bears its rider away, teetering down the thrashing snake tail of train that scents the mongoose I've enraged and unleashed in its belly. I'm trying to call out to this origami swan of a woman, tell her I didn't mean for this to happen. There's just something so unbearably sad about how perfectly polished her shoes are: probably diligently done for a boss that wouldn't even have noticed them, capping those shrouded legs, neatly folded beneath her desk. I wouldn't have involved her modesty in this nightmare for all the world: pitted her against this enemy so shockingly HERE and nowhere to flee to, adrenaline spiking and spiking with no respite. I wish I could have called her this morning on her cute little cellphone and told her to walk to work, or just call in sick. But someone had to be on this train. The play with no audience:


is no play at all.

It’s been an even half-minute since I took any meaningful kind of breath. There’s a clenched fist in my chest and dark rivulets running between its fingers. I wonder if the arms I can feel pulling at me are hers. Limp and compliant as a rag doll and Haruko pulling me in yet another direction. Black.


I can't see the hospital TV screen because my pupils are still massively dilated and covered with thin bandages to protect my eyes from the glaring hospital light. I can hear the dialogue just fine though: the fear and trembling in the voice of the interviewed eyewitness as he responds to the questions fired at him by the reporter.

The reporters who arrived on the scene faster than the ambulances.

I wish they could have filmed the last thing I remember seeing before I collapsed and my vision went black: the Mexican wave of falling bodies travelling along the carriage away from the epicentre: me. I don’t need the reporter’s frantic commentary on the events on screen to see the first victim go down:

Reporter Miyata Minoru: ‘A woman falls off her seat foaming at the mouth. Her hair and scarf trail in a puddle of something clear and sticky on the floor. The man standing to her left doesn't know what to do. Leaning over to ask if she's OK he gets a noseful of a sickly sweet perfume.’

Eyewitness Akashi Tatsuo: ‘It reminded me of my dead grandmother’s bathroom’

Miyata: ‘His vision darkens and his stomach starts to cramp with intense nausea.’

Akashi: ‘I remembered the nightmares I used to have as a kid on the night of the O-bon festival. I must have been the only one in the tiny Shizuoka prefecture village I lived in before moving here to Tokyo that didn't want the souls of the dead to find their way to his house.’

Miyata: The one perpetrator that the police managed to capture unconscious at Tsukiji station is expected to be tried once his condition improves.

I feel sorry for the passengers as I listen to the sounds of them scuttling to and fro trying to outrun their unseen, unknown enemy. They have no idea what the real danger is: what's really killing them slowly with every single breath they draw. At least my disease has a name, a face, albeit a beautiful mask. I know why I'm here, lying in a hospital bed, critical but stable.

Whatever that means.

It's because I love her and consequently her fight is my fight. It's the only belief strong enough to survive the everyday; the only cause urgent and pressing enough to penetrate the greenhouse of greed and selfishness that we're all trained from birth to construct around ourselves. We all want to be able to stand back from our lives and say:

'That was me. I did that. I made an impact on the world.'

Because that's what love is, really. It's the only real thing we have left.

'People are going to remember my name for a long, long time.'

I've started saving my sleeping pills.


Glossary of Japanese terms

Kabukicho – Intended to be the site of a kabuki theatre, instead it became Tokyo’s red-light district.

Karoshi – literally ‘death by overwork’ in Japanese. Most common amongst young businessmen who suffer strokes and heart attacks from stress in the workplace.

Asahara Shoko – the founder of the Aum Shinrikyo religion in Japan. This group was responsible for the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995. Before the group grew to large proportions, he was known to have directly encouraged individuals to renounce their secular life and become dedicated members of the religion.

O-bon – A Buddhist festival to honour the departed souls of the ancestors. An element of the celebration involves lighting alanterns to guide the spirits from the afterlife back to their homes.

Wait – Ellen Osborne


There are days I wish I could preserve – not pickled or warped in old jars but frozen with ice-cold clarity; a desire for old moments and still frames.  I want what has gone; unchanged. 


We drove along a warm road and the scenery fell away either side, moor land in one direction. sprawling and disaffected; hills in the other, rising and sinking, occasionally marked by the brittle ridge of a cliff.  

“Famous for climbing round here.”  Avoiding eye contact, David glanced at the places we had spent years walking, talking, hoping and laughing, sometimes arguing for the audience of climbers hanging over our heads.  A little later he said, “Sun’s come out,” as though I hadn’t noticed the huge wash of bright light that set the grass on fire and the open sky, gaping in deep blue.  Sunlight caught in the dusty car windows and we stared through a translucent haze. 

Behind this distorting magic the gaps in our conversation brewed with his nettled energy.  He held something against me and I wanted to make amends, “How are you getting on?”  It hung – it was swallowed.

He shrugged, “I don’t really know.”

I was a puppet companion in my passivity, stared out of the window at cliffs, at hills, smoky horizons, the fickle light.  I sensed her absence, the cold feeling of knocking on her door, her kitchen, but did not say anything.  David hated romanticism. 

“Doesn’t feel real yet,” he said, “hasn’t sunk in.  I’ve started to wonder whether it ever will.”

“Give it time.” 

“When I was fifteen my granddad had a stroke.  My grandmother, she still keeps thinking that he’s going to walk through the door and ask for some tea.  She still leaves the seat where he sat empty.  If we sit there she gives us this look, y’know?  Like we’re going to crush him.  Can’t help thinking that’ll be me in a few years.  Still waiting.”

“Well, it’s your choice how you-,”

“These things don’t feel right.  Don’t feel right,” he shook his head.

I saw the headlines eight months after we split but had no idea it was her.    David’s mother had been driving late at night and doing nothing wrong, the other driver had been drinking.  Anne died later in hospital with damage to the head.  He remained a stranger, was convicted of manslaughter.  Somebody else told me this.  After the accident the conversation with David was excruciatingly formal, his expression adrift, incredulous, as though I was asking to borrow an enormous sum of money.  There was no complexity; his face revealed every emotion, the measured confrontational eyes and sullen mouth, the clear forehead and lithe hands, all radiated honesty.  An honesty that began to grind.  He seemed grateful to have another accusation to hold against me, I came away crushed.

Now I was wondering if his girlfriend admired this honesty.  We had only been introduced a few hours ago and here I was, already offending, stealing their meaningful time, dragging David to his uncomfortable roots, taking the place I had deliberately abandoned.

“Look,” he said, nodding, “That’s Burbage.  Do you remember Burbage?”

The first day one of our group could drive, we got up at five in the morning and drove out to see the sun rise from the top of Burbage – a grit stone rock-face facing a long view of distant hills.  We wound our way down these lonely roads gleeful with anticipation.  Only at that age can an adventure be made out of nothing but insignificant actions and high emotion.  Bluish monotones greeted us as we hunched on the rock, shivering in the sharp bitter night wind, desperate for this pitched excitement.  So much potential simmering under the surface, fuelling and contracting.   A beautiful moment.  A frozen moment I wish I could hold on to with an iron grip.  Light yawned from the horizon, but what astonished us was the clarity of the moors, the air thinned and concentrated, as though we could lift a finger and casually touch the distance.  We clapped – ourselves?  The view?  The world?  Then walked slowly back to the car, too cold to stay any longer. 

“Yes I remember,” I told David as we drove past cars parked in long shiny rows along the road and cramped in the car park, climbers labouring on the rock face, relaxed walkers wandering beneath them.  Stubborn in their determination to enjoy good weather.

“David, I just wanted to say…”  His expression did not alter.  He looked ahead – calm, receptive.

“I’m sorry for my distance all this time.  I’m sorry that I backed out of whatever expectations we made of sticking together.  It wasn’t all my fault, but in some ways it was.”

“Yeah?” not aggressive, just interested.

“I guess it’s hard when you’re thrown in opposite directions, to make – to make the effort to come back.”


Beams of trailing light back into the past, Anne a sudden bright picture.  In the beginning we were on an uneasy bridge, delicately linked by our affection for David, and I accepted her just as she endured me.  She spoke to me with detached interest.  There was a part of her unquestioning, another hopeful, another reserved, another that judged.  Perhaps she thought I was too much of an outsider to truly appreciate who he was.  It was as David and I began to fall apart that I gradually realised how much I shared with her.  There were even times when I walked through their back door into the radiant, noisy kitchen – she insisted on jazz after work, the sweeping over-dramatic kind with flourish – and instead of continuing upstairs wanted to stay in her life, among the family photos, spitting pans and messy surfaces, and wanted to know her more.  I was envious of the secure hold she had over her son, his frank, reciprocated love for her – since I always seemed locked in disagreement, fighting for affection.  I wondered if she had ever struggled like me, I wanted to know what she did when she felt desperate.  I wanted to know if she would have split from David, given the same situation. 

At the bleakest moments with David, when our expectations of each other far exceeded the reality and we continually collided – distinct, unhappy individuals – I sensed sympathy from her, I saw her more clearly.

Now David was new and unknown.  Even his face was harsher, stranger to me, his smell synthetic, his Chinese girlfriend presented as one of his possessions.  It seemed bizarre to me that here was a woman whom he knew so intimately and esteemed so highly, yet to me she was a stranger.  She was delicate and slight, wide-set eyes and hair that fell straight over her shoulders, her clothes were immaculate.  She bore a slightly hard edge, elusive but potent, with an accent that still clung to the ends of her vowels, as though she were continually trying to shake away her heritage but it refused to deny her.  “Ah, hello, Amy.  I hear you were very close to David at one time.”  

“Yes,” I said, trying to sound indifferent.  All is well and then something as uncompromising as a car crash leaps out, and someone is dead. 

In the car David wound down the window and cold air blew in.

“Life gets too complicated, I suppose,” I said, nestling in the cliché.

David gave the road ahead a brief smile.  “Thank you for being honest.”

“I suppose what we all need is time.”

It took him a moment to register what I’d said, and then; “Time?”

“That’s always what your mother said, isn’t it?  That she just needed time.  And then she could do anything.”

“Yes, yes she did say that.”

I could still feel the warmth of her body as she pulled me into an embrace, or the sharp, brutal way she gave – there was no room for refusal or guilt, acceptance was the only option.  An amazing strength lay within her self-denial. Generosity is one of those virtues that lingers.  Undeniable, effective. 

David was speaking again, “But I don’t want any more time.  No more time to wait, or think about it or any of that.  I just want to move on.  Speed things up – get past it.”

I nodded. 

“Seems wrong.  That a life can be so full and then just end – like that, nothing else.  You think, wait, I wasn’t ready, that was the wrong moment.  Because you can’t go back, or finish off, or prepare or anything.  It just happens and then you have to cope.  You can do what my Grandma did and fail to cope, or you can do what my Dad is doing and pretend it’s all fine.”

“I’m sure there’s a happy medium.”

“It isn’t happy.”

When we were much younger there was an Easter egg hunt in some huge sprawling garden that remains nameless and unrecognisable to me now – my father was there.  His tall, awkward presence on the veranda; I remember hoping that he was watching me and me alone.  We were all rummaging through the grass.  There were five minutes left and the search for gold-foil wrapped chocolate had become furious.  Then suddenly, amongst the scroungers, David began to run across the garden.  Everyone looked to see if he had discovered a hidden goldmine, but he was heading for the compost heap.  By the time the adults had realised he was already halfway up, sinking to his ankles, struggling and labouring.  I stopped to watch.  When he reached the top he turned triumphantly and with a smug, rebellious scowl tipped the contents of his palm down the compost heap.  Some of the children began to head for it but were stopped by shrieking mothers.  The gold eggs settled in the manure and David stood astride the pile, like some twisted king.  One of the adults shouted to him, exasperated, impatient.

“David the object is to collect the eggs, not ruin them!”

And his reply, shouted boldly, definitively: “I don’t care!”

I have always been proud of this defiant, wilfully candid and occasionally contentious boy – the small, dirty one crowned over a children’s activity.  It seemed wasted energy, that the grown David had gradually become melded and conformed.  He would collect any gold egg thrown to him with a calculating hunger.  I wanted to reach back, to shake him – to show him the ice-cold memory I owned.

            “Here we are,” David said, braking sharply and swerving into a lay by.

            “Why here?”

            He shrugged. 

“Could you,” David began, after undoing his seat belt and sitting for a few moments, “Could you leave me to it?”

I rushed to answer, “Of course.  Of course that’s fine.”

So I sat and watched his powerful figure walk slowly round the front of the car and climb over the dry stone wall.  I could see the hard curve of his back and the bobbing of his head as he shovelled away at the patch of earth, releasing unwanted energy.  From here he was suddenly vulnerable.  I could run up from behind and send him sprawling with one casual push.  Here I knew, unassuming and inconspicuous, was a moment that I wished I could preserve.  

His mother had wanted flowers planting in the Peak District she loved, with its untouched aura and still, vibrant landscape.  She brought her children out here and forged David’s love of the outdoors.  Ideally pictured, her face was always lit and framed by the moors.

I found it hard all of these years, David having the mother that I would have wanted.  My own parents – divorced, fragmented – seemed faded alternatives.  But she was too removed from me for the envy to be concrete.  Instead I was satisfied to keep this farewell; David’s expression of grief, my own solemn observation.  It was a gentle tribute.  Then he walked back to the car, his hands grazed with mud, and got back in.  He started the engine and turned around.  I wished I had been at his side shovelling that earth, connected with that dust.  He was surmounting his grief with every moment that passed, growing in speed and confidence.  I was trailing behind.  We are always held back by ourselves.  

We drove on until suddenly we swerved a corner.  There was a car charging for us – headlights blazing.  It struck us in an explosion of uncertain fireworks; I saw scarlet and gold and indigo.  The car crumpled around us, a deep reverberating shudder and piercing shatter; David’s gasp of surprise – no – inevitability, and my own sweating, breathless scream.  In one moment our sparkling potential, our barbed past was dismissed and we were mere bodies thrown to extremes.  It was the terrible beautiful.  We would live on, eternally bound, in the way people are who share a common wound.


But there was no crash.  Only the empty road in front of us.  I knew our friendship would gradually disintegrate; there was nothing to hold it in place.  In a few years we would be strangers.  Perhaps he would move to China, his girlfriend had mentioned it, and I would never see him again.  None of it mattered to me then, as it would have done before.  All that mattered was the road, beating onwards, as ruthless as death itself.

            I felt wildly, ecstatically hopeful for a reason hidden to me; as though there was some greater issue I had avoided or forgotten, that would rush in to restore the balance.

            David cleared his throat.

            “I should make an effort…to…to not wait for her.  To not wait.”

            Wait was first published by Light Transports in Commutes,


Persecution Song by Wes Brown

Knee occludes inner thigh––entangled and extended to their sloped bellies––quickening lips. Neatly the lines of their palms press flat, lodge, blur. Urgently, seeming necessary, after a years worth of near misses, she accepts his grooved weight…. hugs forward the base of his knucked back… to close her eyes and tail her neck backward! Their lips come together. Pallid at first, blank, unvisited, unexpected, uncharted, a partition, a cleavage of gravity between their lips, their bridged foreheads. Growing confident––more comfortable with the fledgling intimacy, feeling now natural his posture outlining hers, she buffets her squashed lips on his. Quickening, his hips slowly buck upward and circular, her hands familiarize his brown hair (her fingernails blunt search detailing patterns and lines over his scalp). They kiss. Upper lip introduced only to part from lower. And again, assured, direct. It is sudden, yet hesitant, still he is conscious of every movement. The poison of his hands, his touch, his lips, his tongue, his squint, not closed eyes. A kiss––rheumy at the brandish of a naked tongue, chased with a return peck. She inspects his lips hub, traces the sanguine detail of ridge and cushion, slots between bony teeth onto the pinker wet of tongue. Seemingly occult, this unexpected expected coming together of body. Familiar from the extension of near misses, routine play fighting, an unwritten, unspoken and tedious denial. He had tried to kiss her before. More bravado then, more hitched at the belly (his foremost ribs like incisors, hitched close to her steady incline of stomach, spangled piercing). Their stares each nulled the other––like diverging directions of water, the inky pupils, rubbery whites, coffered in silly eyebrows, darting stares at one another, shooting one long, lewd glance. But this look––blank, absent, guilty, salutary. She had blamed herself for this. For sequestering her boyfriend, forcrude desire, the insatiable temptation, for his encouraged, cuckolding energy. Now, in the darkened corner of a noisy night club, her tongue chased his whose tapped on her palette tip, drew  his hand along her necks smooth ridge. Her nipples hardened, the jack hammering surge of blood: the adrenaline like vodka, fans through the muscle, the touch, the groin. She can feel his ever uncreased penis muffled in cool denim. Here she knew they would be watched, caught, seen, and at times, threw a glance to the side––sure of onlookers, of witnesses, of nosy bystanders. But her neck jerked back as his mouth fell upon her nape sequined in the tiniest humps of spine, as he breathed hot breath on her invisible hairs, the girlie down along her neck. And continued, without hesitation, to the unexpected, pallid white of her cleavage, the firm, the clammery soft. He pauses, leaves his mouth moist on her clavicle. She was not, but with every corrosive kiss, with advancing hands, the penis cameo seeming so rude, he felt he was spoiling her. The thought’s discarded soon as her hands like heatwaves climb upon his ropey body. She had seen him kiss other people: in bars, his unexpected tandems, on sofa’s in house parties. His exhibitionist machismo––the staged frisk, the drawn over false affection, the shallow fuck of another, any other. Now her heart had steadied itself, become in some way adjusted to her new silhouette. Where she stopped, the thighs long enclave met his stilted knee. The boundary to her breasts sidled loose against his flattened, heavier chest. ‘No more, we can’t do this’ She says, head turned. A veined, pale light threatens shade and pallor. So this was it. In the cruel aspect of a sigh, the overdue alarm of guilt? His hard-on seemed even more unnecessary––an imposition as she shoves him off. She notices her body returning to a more casual state. Bruised, deftly punctured by the foreignness of somebody else, the other. Conscious of her silted underwear: cold, bleak, again private her small knot of pubic hair, puckered, hers. She had held him before, one summer night when crestfallen, she invited herself round. Flat, a space oddly sanctifying, she burrowed her eyes under his chin. Held like a trunk, the curling ridges of his ribcage. And slept. While he, with her chestnut crown beneath his mouth, talked long and discursively, reassured her with his bold, his sweet nonsense. He rings her fingers––reels her close, trying one last time, to persuade by the cordite of a kiss. She flashes those serious eyes––a look  blinkered in shadow, expressing grief and excitement. Falling, the two heads keen ballast, collude lip on lip. Her square teeth at one point in collision with his plump lower lip––her face held like a ball in his shook hands––a wandering palm excluding no surface, no skin slope or bony groove. She slaps his pinkish cheek––quick, saddening and painless, turns her head, leaves.