Belly, which was published in Ellipsis Zine in 2019, is included in Best British Short Stories 2020 (Salt Publishing). Thanks to Nicholas Royle for selecting it.
Vanessa couldn’t believe her luck when Reggie asked her out. I’ll treat you to a Nando’s, he said. He drove her to the West End in a silver Volkswagen Golf GTi. Vanessa didn’t dare ask where he’d got it. They abandoned the car down a side street off Charing Cross Road and ran laughing towards Trafalgar Square.
Read the rest of the story in the anthology, available from Salt, or online at EllipsisZine.
The Maybe Box is about Bee, a department store supervisor who is determined to keep making beautifully decorated boxes out of the cardboard she salvages at work, all the while denying that they are works of art. Here is a short extract:
Jamshed the warehouse supervisor collects the used boxes for me, and if they are partly crushed or torn all the better. He approaches me with a mountainous pile of cardboard, origami-like folds and perforated edges not quite meeting after careless use.
He helps me compress the cardboard so that it fits inside my suitcase.
‘There you go, Bee. Is that enough to keep you going?’ He beams at me.
‘Definitely. Thanks, Jamshed.’
After work I go home, make dinner and feed the cats. Des knows he will have to wash up – I have work to do in the basement.
I open the suitcase and the cardboard springs into life. I close the curtains and turn on the old Anglepoise, directing the light out into the room and onto the sheets of paper pinned to the wall: I’ve sketched out the spaces and angles of the boxes that live in my head.
The Cat by The Incredible Jimmy Smith was shortlisted for the Guardian 4th Estate BAME Prize 2019.
1964: the year his marriage ended. The year his record stopped spinning, the needle in his groove lifted haltingly, and with a snap returned his tone arm to its cradle.
He had never wanted Marilyn. Not her prim-girl curls hot-combed into place on her head. Not her full-moon face so earnest that the sight of it irritated him. He hadn’t wanted to hear, I’m eight weeks gone! We have to marry, the corners of her mouth drooping. He hadn’t wanted the ceremony in Hackney Town Hall, his signature and hers in the register (but he had wanted the tonic mohair suit that made him look like a prince). He hadn’t wanted to live in rented rooms above a shop, with Marilyn asking, But where will the baby sleep? He hadn’t wanted any of this. He had come to England to find work, to do something with his life, to send photographs of his handsome Jamaican self back home to his Grandma, make her proud. Dear Granny, I hope that when these few lines reach you they will find you well …
Belly is the result of writing around 3,000 words trying to imagine various scenarios in fast-food restaurants, chance sightings, getting completely sidetracked by researching the origins of Landseer’s lions, and the Great Disappointment that is teenage romance. Only a few hundred of the words survive in the final version. The story is like a memory of something that I haven’t actually experienced. Belly appeared in Ellipsis Zine on 1 July. You can read it here.
This One’s Ours appeared in Issue 7 of the online journal The Nottingham Review. It’s a rare instance of ideas, thoughts & words coming together, being taken apart, coalescing over two years, and eventually working as a snapshot narrative.
Thanks to the editors of The Nottingham Review for giving it time and space in their publication.
Update, January 2021: As The Nottingham Review no longer exists (much missed), here is the complete story:
Manny’s heart beat fast and close as if it had found its way out of his body, concealed only by the thin white cotton of his shirt. He sat upstairs at the back of the bus with Paul, only occasionally looking down, amazed that they were holding hands, fingers interlaced.
Manny and Paul had grown up in the maze of a north London estate, a slip road away from the A406, that tarmac-kissed artery skirting the city and leading to its greater and outer edges. They were travelling down that same dual carriageway, and Manny found himself measuring time through the stop-start motion of the bus as it pulled up beside steel and glass shelters. To him, the bus was full of possibilities: the seats were covered in black and green fabric and splashed with scarlet, like blood spilt on grass. The stanchions waiting to steady its passengers grew from them in curves like the branches of trees aiming for the sky.
Manny’s mum was always saying that they were twins under the skin, partners in crime: cheeky, but not bad boys. Both were doing well at university.
So what are we now? Manny asked himself.
As Paul looked out of the window down to the street below, Manny gazed at his profile. There was no doubt about it. He knew, and his sister said it often enough: Paul was hot. His hair was shaved neat and low, his face framed by the sharpness of his sideburns. Manny smiled to himself as he took in Paul’s nose which – he teased his friend often – was broad and equine, with prominent nostrils. Why the long face? Paul’s skin was dark brown, darker than Manny’s. The quizzical wavy lines of his lips made Manny wonder what Paul was thinking, but Paul remained silent.
He freed his hand to press the bell for the next stop.
‘This one’s ours,’ he said.
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