Beyond the Tree Line – Hugh Cartwright

 

It’s our first Christmas adrift in the stars.

And Molly’s first egg.

“Can I break it now?”

“Be gentle.”

Molly’s just four, the youngest of our tiny community. She taps the egg with fierce concentration, as if it’s the most important job in the Universe.

Suddenly the egg shatters and a glittering shape unfolds from among the fragments – a silver Christmas tree. It would weigh a handful of feathers on earth; here in deep space it floats effortlessly.

The tree glides quietly through the cabin until I tie it down with red ribbon. Our little group of 19 gathers round in a circle, linking arms and singing carols.

On 12th night, Molly helps me shepherd her tree into the airlock and we set it free. It glides behind the ship, not wanting to leave. But, as the hours go by, it gradually falls away, dissolving into the star-strewn sky.

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Our 27th Christmas; it will be the last before we reach our new home.

Molly is unwell, but she is our talisman; she must crack the final egg. A shimmering, golden tree emerges, capped with a crown of sparkling stars.

Our group now numbers 22. We gather around the tree for the final time, holding hands and singing carols.

On 12th night, Molly, whose memories were of nothing beyond our ship, is dead; she is the first to die.

27 trees drift behind in a soundless, invisible line, watching over us as we rush towards a world that Molly will never see.

 


Hugh’s not really a writer. His career has been spent in Universities, working at the interface of artificial intelligence and physical science. Now retired, he has begun to write occasional stories, some colored with elements of science fiction, others being just a little odd. It helps to take his mind off his impossible project: growing citrus trees in the Canadian climate.

Perfect Surfaces – Geraldine McCarthy

On Saturday morning, Pam cleans the mixing-bowl at the kitchen sink while buns cook in the oven. She’s wearing rubber gloves to protect her nails. Only had them done the previous day, and they’re €30 a pop.

She’s volunteered to bake for a local coffee morning, in aid of some orphanage in South America.

The fairy cakes will take fifteen minutes. Two dozen should be enough; twelve plain and twelve with cherries. She wipes down the already spotless marble worktops, takes out the cakes, and has a quick coffee while they cool on a wire tray. The aroma of vanilla wafts through the kitchen.

Upstairs, she opts for skinny jeans, and a new baby-pink top. Her face is a little flushed from the heat of the oven, so she applies foundation, and then a little eye-shadow and lip gloss. The neighbours are all so glam, with their highlights and lowlights, their clothes always this season’s.

Fairy cakes in boxes on the back seat, Pam drives to the community centre. The Audi glides along like a dream. She’s glad she traded up this year.

Once inside, she makes sure to hand over the baking to Audrey, the head of the committee, who pecks Pam’s cheek and thanks her profusely from a cloud of Chanel No. 5. Audrey persuades Pam to stay for a cuppa, so they sit down in the far corner of the room, away from the hub-bub at other tables. Deep in conversation about the Tidy Towns contest, Pam feels a tap on her shoulder. She twirls on her chair.

Her mother. Grey roots and crumpled cardigan.

Pam’s stomach clenches. “Mam!” she says. “How did you get here?”

“Diane next door brought me,” her mother says, “thought I could do with a break.” She raises an eyebrow. “There’s only so many kitten videos you can watch on YouTube.”

Pam glances at Audrey, who averts her eyes, and nibbles her bun like a bird at a feeder.

Pam addresses her mother. “Oh, well, you know I’d have collected you, but I thought you were watching your weight, that you’d have no interest.”

Her mother twists her wedding band around her finger, as if she’s strangling a turkey. “Hmm.”

“Well, I can drop you back later.”

Her mother purses her lips. “Sure, if I came with Diane I can go home with her.”

Pam feels her face redden. “Well, I’ll call tomorrow morning then. Is there anything you need?”

“Not a bit,” her mother says. “Diane is beckoning me over. See you tomorrow.”

Audrey finishes her bun. “Well, I must mingle. Thanks so much for all your hard work, Pam.”

“Not a bother, Audrey. I’ll see you Monday night for picking up the litter. The group is meeting at the church, isn’t it?”

“Yes, see you then.”

As Pam drives home, she notices the varnish has chipped.  She’ll go to the nail bar next week for a repair job. They look so nice when they’re freshly done.


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Geraldine McCarthy lives in West Cork, Ireland.  She writes short stories, flash fiction and poetry.  Her work has been published in various journals, both on-line and in print.

Octopus dusk – Elizabeth Gibson

 

in the hills above Vigo, Galicia

 

Perhaps I look lost up here, heavy and alone – but I have the pines and firs,

and I wander down the slopes of the mountain campus, catching Pokémon.

 

The air turns cool and soft. I catch an octopus. I take photos of the pink sky;

they will never come out right. I catch a bird, a fish, more strange critters

 

whose proper names I never remember. I stand under the chunky building

they call a bunker, but to me can only be a boat, slicing through the tree-sea.

 

Barely anyone lives up here, only us in the student digs shaped like a spider.

We sleep in its legs, in little rectangular rooms with long, tall windows

 

giving us ribbons of view: grassy mounds with orange cats, a pond of frogs,

a night full of crickets, heavy like me, and alone – but somehow also not.

 

 

Elizabeth Gibson headshot

Elizabeth Gibson is a writer and performer based in Manchester, UK. She is also the Editor and Photographer for Foxglove Journal. Liz has won a Northern Writers’ Award and been shortlisted for the Poetry Business’ New Poets Prize, and her work has appeared Cake, Cardiff Review, The Compass, Confingo, Litro and Strix among other journals. Liz blogs at http://elizabethgibsonwriter.blogspot.com and you can find her on Twitter and Instagram as @Grizonne.