Second Christmas Issue - Issue #61
December 19th 2003 - January 8th 2004

Sister Janice is saved
That said, when she offers me a blanket, I accept. Suddenly, in that shed, in a swamp, with an old woman I barely know and the only light coming from a spluttering flame, I feel a sense of gratitude flooding over me.
By Sister Janice Slejj

Sister Janice and God
It is enough to change course, heading for a busy blue and green planet that many of you will find familiar, and to consider staying there for a time. I have travelled the galaxies to find Sister Janice, but she never left me.
By Sister Janice Slejj

Dear boy with the stripy hat
A boring, almost desolate town where nothing ever happens, only good for really quaint weekends away and Sarah records song videos. There was one of those songs in my head too - a song about heartache I'm not old enough to own. Of course that doesn't make any difference.
By Dimitra Daisy

It is white
"Cod are not very good swimmers so they are easily overtaken by trawlers and nets." - British government report on why cod fish are disappearing from the North Sea.
By Duncan McFarlane

White Trash Christmas
He told me to go and wake up Ma, Pappy, Jolene, Zeke, the twins, uncle Jeff and little Joey and bring them all into the main room. When we was all there he announced that he had a great night's hunting and we was going to have a humdinger of a shin dig.
By Ricky Macfarlane

Under the Mistletoe
Christmas is a complete waste of time, if you ask me (but then, I'm only 14 aren't I, so do you think anyone ever asks me anything ever? Hah, think again!).
By JohaN Hugo

War is over
You can feel him tight in the sheets beside you, 4am, Christmas morning, and you bolt-upright, wide-awake as you always are on this one day out of three hundred and sixty five.
By Tom Bickel

The shopping-mall Santa
Think - again - but what else could it have come to? Know for certain you arenít up to this; know just as surely that it will not be so bad. Know that this too shall pass.
By JohaN Hugo

Mystic Dick's Festive Horroscopes
Aries: Christmas is coming and the goose is getting fat but you'll be having roasted cheese as you spent to much on you Christmas shopping. Hide in a cupboard on Boxing day as your old Aunt is coming round and she will surely be wanting a Christmas kiss.
By Ricky Macfarlane

 

 

+++Back to top+++ Back to current issue+++

 

 

 

Sister Janice is Saved

Sister Janice is Friends Of The Heroes' Cosmic-Adventuring Advice-Dispenser. We used to call her an agony aunt, but these days she's too grand for that sort of thing.. She used to be a nun, but after becoming involved in an accident at her convent involving a papal emissary; the mother superior; the convent dog and a bottle of 'citrus fresh' bleach, she decided it was time to find herself a new career.

These days she travels through the galaxies in a converted garden shed. Write to Sister Janice Slejj care of Friends of the Heroes. She will answer your problems and questions with the insight unique to a disco-loving alternative-gardening defrocked clergy member and cosmic adventurer...

I am clean. I am free. I am back to myself.

Sorry, my little Spirals of splendour, I haven't said hello.

Its just that I'm...relieved.

The pregnancy is over. It didn't end how I thought it might. There was no pain, no tears, and nothing bursting out of my stomach.

I didn't know what was growing within me. I knew it probably shouldn't be there, though. After I'd swallowed a few 'mushrooms' that some dodgy bloke sold me round the back of a bar, it began to grow. Now, I did a lot of thinking about this over the past few weeks. Even if you're am ugly little ultramarine fucker, there's got to be some better way of procreating your species than selling babies to random women round the back of bars, hasn't there? I started to think about this more and more, and I decided that, whatever was in there probably wasn't something I wanted in there.

Especially as whatever it was didn't stay in my stomach. It used to move around my body. It would stay in certain places for hours at a time. And, everywhere it went, it left a feeling behind it... a feeling of...presence. A feeling that part of me had vanished, and something remained in its place.

I spent a few days trying to ignore it. I went with Roger and xffrxrovvv and we watched moons rise, and suns set, and we watched the odd sun back up again. And we sang in all-night bars, and we.....
we collapsed, full of a ringing within...full of a feeling that we weren't entirely there. full of a feeling that what used to be 'me' was now 'us'...
and yet...not the 'us' of a mother and child, but of one person, now two.

I didn't say anything. I couldn't tell them, how could I? They had their own worries. He had been duped into marrying her, she had been too scared to stop him. They didn't speak, they sat in opposite corners of The Space Shed. When I wasn't lying somewhere quiet and groaning, I could hear their arguments - utterly silent, utterly audible, hanging in the air like a great, enormous 'why?' that nobody has a 'because' for.

It was xffrxrovvv who asked me, eventually. The Space Shed was parked on the rings of Saturn (these days, I trust the places I know) and Roger was out visiting one of the bars. She came over to me, and she touched my stomach, and she frowned. Then, she ran her hand along my arm, over my skin.

Usually, at this point, I'd have been objecting, but something made me stop.

'Its.... you're.....'

Then she went and got me a space-cocktail and she asked me what was going on.

'I don't know...I...I don't understand....it isn't a baby. Its like whatever is inside me.. its a full-grown being. It isn't going to be born through me, its going to become me...' I hadn't really believed it until I said it, but I knew right away that it was true.

And, to my surprise, she said she would help. We flew away that night, a sulking Roger retrieved from the bar, and sitting alone, knowing we had shared something with each other that we weren't about to share with him.

I suppose, somewhere, a sun rose and set. We travelled a long way, further than I've ever been, and we stopped, somewhere cold and dark, light years away from....anything else.

'Stay here' to Roger, and, to me... 'There's someone I want you to meet.'

I followed her out of the craft, and started sinking into thick, black mud.

'Hold my hand, and follow my footsteps'.

She knew her way. She skipped over the bog, placing a foot on a rock here, a half-submerged space-helmet there, and she brought me to a shed, similar to our own.

She knocked on the door, and a shuffling within was followed several minutes later by the door creaking open.

'who is it? what do you want?'

'Its me. I need you help'.

A change in tone. The door opened to its fullest extent. I saw before me a deformed, half-destroyed old woman. She looked at me for a second, then she touched my belly.

'You'd better come in'.

We sat there for some time, in the darkness. xffrxrovvv and the old woman held hands, while I sat inbetween them, saying nothing, staring out at the swamp. Then, without a word, the woman took me to one side. She touched me, and it changed then and there. I felt the creeping sensation slip away...I felt the feeling I didn't even know had gone returning to my limbs. I felt the energy seep back into my brain.

'You're safe, now. I'll make the tea.' Then, turning to my guide.. 'xffrxrovvv, aren't you going to introduce us?'

xffrxrovvv stumbled to her feet, walking over to touch me.

'Yes....yes, I should... Liliaxilailsiosjiejiejlale -

'Lilian, will do nicely, thank you, dear'..

'yes....Lilian, this is Sister Janice. Sister Janice, this is Lilian. My mother.'

I've had so many surprises lately. One more didn't make all that much difference.

xffrxrovvv is now back at The Space Shed, telling Roger what is about to happen to him, who he is about to meet. I am sitting in a corner, staring as Lilian fumbles with a lamp. The cold bites into my flesh, but I am grateful for it. It reminds me how good it is to feel again. To feel everything, with my own senses, the ones I nearly lost.

That said, when she offers me a blanket, I accept. Suddenly, in that shed, in a swamp, with an old woman I barely know and the only light coming from a spluttering flame, I feel a sense of gratitude flooding over me. Right now, this is the only place I would be, and this woman, whoever she is, is my best friend. There is only now.

She smiles a peculiar smile 'They all come to me, sooner or later'.

It makes sense, although I don't know what she means. I take a cup of tea, and we sit, and wait for her daughter and son-in-law to arrive.

Until next time, my dears, take care.

xx

Sister Janice

 

 

+++Back to top+++ Back to current issue+++

 

 

Sister Janice and God

Sister Janice is Friends Of The Heroes' Cosmic-Adventuring Advice-Dispenser. We used to call her an agony aunt, but these days she's too grand for that sort of thing.. She used to be a nun, but after becoming involved in an accident at her convent involving a papal emissary; the mother superior; the convent dog and a bottle of 'citrus fresh' bleach, she decided it was time to find herself a new career.

These days she travels through the galaxies in a converted garden shed. Write to Sister Janice Slejj care of Friends of the Heroes. She will answer your problems and questions with the insight unique to a disco-loving alternative-gardening defrocked clergy member and cosmic adventurer...

Hello,

The space-shed is silent, once again. No music, no cocktails, no sound. For now, it is enough for me to feel the air around me, artificial though it is. It is enough to change course, heading for a busy blue and green planet that many of you will find familiar, and to consider staying there for a time. I have travelled the galaxies to find Sister Janice, but she never left me. And, here or in outer space, I have to learn to find her again.

Lilian removed the being that was taking me over. She told me that what was inside me was another creature, an exact replica of the man who sold me the mushrooms that I swallowed, that caused something to lodge inside me. Before long, if I hadn't been to see her, there would have been no Sister Janice left. I wasn't going to give birth. I wasn't going to do anything. There would have been no Sister Janice, just a little blue fella, just like the old one, hanging around dodgy space bars, selling 'mushrooms' to poor unsuspecting women who are not yet aware of how to be happy with what they already possess. Sister Janice? Well, she'd be... well, she wouldn't be.

I shall be making this voyage alone. I left Roger and his new bride with her mother. They have to decide what to do now. Perhaps they will decide that fate has thrown them together. Perhaps they'll cling to each other, for a try at happiness. I wish them luck, and I asked them to visit, if they're ever down this way.

The island is small, though 60 million people inhabit it. Once upon a time, it was home. My journeys don't end here, of course. I just need to come back here, for a while. If you can't find yourself when you're home, where can you find yourself?

Some would say anywhere... it isn't a case of location. Not external location, anyway.

The days are short, the nights are cold. They speak with an accent, round these parts. I'm still wanted further south, so I'll stay where people are scarce. I've met enough people in recent months. I don't need any more, for the moment.

A woman owns the cottage. Every now and again, she comes round for a cup of tea. She must be lonely, here, on her own. She wants someone to talk to. I want silence, but I'll share a few moments with her, here and there. Its the least I can do.

The Space Shed stands at the back of the cottage. I've told her I'm keeping gardening tools in it. Of course, I won't. Not yet. Not unless I'm staying.

The clouds float across the sky, in between them an occasional patch of blue. It feels at once familiar, and utterly new. It feels like I've never been here before, although, on one level, I don't think I ever left. This is home - and you carry it with you.

I shall come home. Back to myself. Back to the silence within. It is the silence I seek, not of death, not yet. Let that come when it may. I seek the silence that is life itself, that lies at the centre of all creation and that is that thing that some choose to call 'God'.

Do I call it God?
No. Why call it anything? Just enjoy it, and be part of it.

Thank you for travelling with me, my dears. May your further travels be happy ones.

xx

Sister Janice

 

 

 

 

+++Back to top+++ Back to current issue+++

 

 

 

I fell in love with you over those sixteen weeks
but I'm the boy at school who never speaks
I only ever wanted to hold you
The Hit Parade
('Autobiogaphy' - Sarah 90)



Athens, 17th December 2003

In my mind, I spent all of Sunday on a cliff looking at the sea thinking of you. Of course what I actually spent Sunday doing was follow my cousin in and out of shops, trying not to lose her in the Christmas shopping crowd (because I wasn't sure I knew my way home), stare at the falling rain and try not to get too wet. I'd even say it was fun even though the day was cold and wet and grey and my heart was elsewhere.

My heart was in a seaside town I've never actually visited but which has always been there in my head. A boring, almost desolate town where nothing ever happens, only good for really quaint weekends away and Sarah records song videos. There was one of those songs in my head too - a song about heartache I'm not old enough to own. Of course that doesn't make any difference: a phrase from it ('a special way to make me blue') was stuck in my head all the same as I watched the grey blueness of the sea match my mood, and I dreamed that you knew that I love you.

I thought about it over and over. Sometimes it was a friend of a friend who somehow knew that had told you in a moment of drunkenness or foolishness. That was the easy way, it required no effort on my part and it involved minimum embarrassment. I know however it would never really happen - sadly (or otherwise) I don't have that sort of friends. Some other times it was a letter I had written, much like this one.

So I dreamed that you knew, and you appreciated it. You smiled and took me for a walk outside in the dark streets and didn't worry about what everyone would say. You asked me a question or two and even though I blushed and mumbled and wouldn't look up you said you were flattered, which put a shameless, impossible-to-hide grin on my face. Then you hugged me. I imagined the feel of your coat under my fingers, what it would be to have your arms around me (and whether it would feel like the world had turned upside down for that moment)... sometimes even your lips on my cheek.

It was just a dream and I don't know if it is supposed to work like this, but I almost believed it and it made me feel better. Even when I crash-landed on the reality of a bus stop on a rainy Sunday the day seemed a little brighter and the world a little less foreign. And yet I know I'll never send you this letter; I might be better off being brave and letting you know but you're better off not knowing.

I knew the moment I saw you on that Saturday night (and how the world span when I did) that you belong to somebody else. Still the sight of you made my heart beat fast and when the night was over and you left I felt the world slipping away from me. I realised that much as it was a silly, out-of-place feeling I loved you from the bottom of my heart and it didn't matter that I hardly knew you at all. To me you were perfect. I wished that I meant something to you, as you do to me.

But I can only imagine a letter like this would complicate things for you, if not upset you and I wouldn't want that. Given the way things are I have nothing to ask for, anyway (other maybe than to keep me in mind). I wouldn't want to get between you and her. Some people would call it respect, but I don't know; I only think it's love.

So I'll close my eyes and wish really hard that you will, somehow, keep me in mind. Then I'll send this letter to someone else and hope that it will do.

Love,
Annie Laurie
xxx

Dimitra Daisy

(More by this author)

 

 

 

 

+++Back to top+++ Back to current issue+++

 

 

It is White

A random assortment of amusing and/or misleading or shocking statements and facts
(With background)


"It is white."
- George W. Bush, when asked what the White house was like by a student in East London

'Gay marriage is something that should take place between a man and a woman'
Arnold Schwarzenneger , when campaigning to become Governor of California

"The trouble with the French is, they have no word for entrepreneur" George W Bush

"I believe what I said yesterdayÖ,I don't know what I said but I assume it's what I think"
Donald Rumsfeld , US Defense Secretary

" Is it the case that the harder we work the more behinder we get ?"
Donald Rumsfeld , US Defense Secretary

"Our initial assessment is that they will all die"
Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf , March 2003 -

"Cod are not very good swimmers so they are easily overtaken by trawlers and nets."
- British government report on why cod fish are disappearing from the North Sea.

"I know that the fish and the human being can co-exist peacefully"
- George W Bush

"Smoking kills. If you're killed, you've lost a very important part of your life."
- Brooke Shields, during an interview to become spokesperson for a federal anti-smoking campaign.

Modern Artist Damien Hirst 's 'installation art' which consisted of some empty bottles , full ash trays and paint tins was put in the bin by a cleaner at the Eyestorm gallery , May fair , London , December 2001 Hirst's other 'works of art' have included half a sheep in a fish-tank full of formaldehyde

"I never aspired to be a dictator because I considered that to be a dictator would end badly. I always acted in a democratic way. I am an angel who has always acted out of love for my country"
Augusto Pinochet , Former General and Military dictator of Chile from 1973-1990. His 1973 CIA-backed military coup involved the torture and execution without trial of thousands of dissidents. The euphemism 'disappeared' for those taken and secretly killed became common under Pinochet. Pinochet had avoided trial by claiming senility - his lucidity during the TV interview in which he made this statement has prompted judges to review his fitness for trial.

Blair and Bush announced that the occupation of Iraq will be over by next July - but that American and British troops will remain at the'invitation' of the new Iraqi government (which is funny given that they haven't been elected yet and two-thirds of Iraqis want American troops out). Also ending an occupation usually involves withdrawing the occupying forces - but hey y'know we're modern. The occupation is planned to end on the same timescale as Afghanistan - i.e '2 to 3 years' from invasion to handover to an elected government ruling a peaceful country. The slight problem there ? The war in Afghanistan is becoming more intense and no elections have been held there yet , 2 years after the December 2001 war.

' Those of you who know my foreign policy will now that for me military action is a last resort after all other avenues have been tried - I always try to use diplomatic means first'
President George W Bush who refused any negotiations with the governments of Afghanistan or Iraq before going to war with them , December 2003

"The torture chambers and the secret police are gone forever "
President George W Bush 14th December 2003 , on the capture of Saddam Hussein. In fact the CIA and the Pentagon have hired many former members of Saddam's Mukhabarat secret police - who are notorious for the use of torture , and according to Time Magazine , Occupation Watch and Amnesty International civilians and journalists are commonly subjected to beatings , sleep deprivation , denial of food and water and in many cases simply disappeared.

Former Nazi war criminal Kurt Waldheim will give his annual prize for studies in International Relations to students and researchers at the Lebanese school of Dentistry. During World War Two Waldheim ran extermination camps killing Serbs and Jews in Yugoslavia.

"I'm not interested in funding corruption, period. If a country's rulers are stealing money, they're not going to get it out of this fund, and hopefully not out of any fund."
George W Bush announcing restrictions on US foreign aid. His own administration is largely composed of the former (and almost certainly future) executives and directors of firms to which it grants US federal contracts. His brother Neil Bush is paid $60,000 a year for 3 hours a week of work with Crest Investments who 'facilitate' contracts from the Bush administration for 'reconstruction' in Iraq.

"The Iraq Survey Group has already found massive evidence of a huge system of clandestine laboratories, workings by scientists, plans to develop long range ballistic missiles. Now, frankly, these things weren't being developed unless they were developed for a purpose."
Tony Blair , December 2003 , in an interview with the British Forces Broadcasting Service , also shown on the BBC

The report Blair was referring to merely says that Iraq had 'laboratories' - it gives no evidence that they were being used to develop WMDs. As for 'plans' to develop long range missiles certainly Saddam might have liked to have had them - but had no prospect of acquiring them according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies. As Hans Hans BlixBlix , former UN weapons inspection (UNMOVIC) head in Iraq says this is 'innuendo' similar to Blair's false claims about 'mobile weapons laboratories' which were revealed by Dr David Kelly to be empty trucks totally unusable for those purposes weeks before his death.

The Iraq Survey Group was formed by the British and American Defence departments and intelligence agencies and refuses to share intelligence with the UN or the International Atomic Energy Agency. These same departments and agencies run 'Operation Rockingham' - a propaganda campaign on Iraq's supposed WMD capabilities.

The Iraq Survey Group's head David Kay was head of the Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) until October 2002. This firm was given contracts by the Bush administration to deliver 'homeland security' and 'counter terrorism' services. Before the invasion Kay was cited as an expert claiming Iraq was a threat.

SAIC now has US federal contracts in Iraq including a $650 million one for 'services and support' to US forces there. SAIC's former vice-President Christopher Ryan Henry now works for the Pentagon.

Duncan McFarlane

(More by this author)

 

 

 

+++Back to top+++ Back to current issue+++

 

 

White Trash Christmas

I awoke to the sound of cock a doodle doo, I swear am going to set Fred my old coon hound on that darn rooster. Pa had just came back from a night's hunting, he had a sack over one shoulder and his trusty rifle over the other.

"What's in the sack Pa" I asked? He replied "You wanna see boy" and opened it. I couldn't believe my eyes.

He told me to go and wake up Ma, Pappy, Jolene, Zeke, the twins, uncle Jeff and little Joey and bring them all into the main room. When we was all there he announced that he had a great night's hunting and we was going to have a humdinger of a shin dig. He told us we was having roadkill reindeer for our supper and me an' the rest of the rug bugs had to go out and get us some holly to decorate the mobile home. Then he reached into the sack and pulled out a red suit and put it on shouting: "Look at me I's Santy Clause" an' we all laughed our socks off. He told Pappy to send a shout out for the boys to come on over for a ho down if Scarlet Lil was up for it.

We got the trailer looking lush with holly and other stuff we found at the local general store. It was just lying on the shelves so we filled our britches with as much as we could an' took it on home. When we was finished tartin' up the old place we got our Sunday clothes out for an airing. Pa started up the burner and flung that big reindeer on it. Man it smelt mighty good I can tell you that.

The shin dig started proper when the rest of the folks turned up and we all sat down to eat. "Lord we thank you for this great bounty that you have sent to us. Amen" said Pa and we all got us a bellyful of that there deer. Then the music started and the dancin - Pappy is still the best I has ever heard on the fiddle. We sang some good old Christmas songs 'I Saw Mamma playin' with Santy', 'Jingle Fiddle Christmas' and 'We Three Fishermen of muddy hole' and then moved on to the good ones like 'Do you know where eggs come from', 'Was that you Ma an' the Milk man I saw last night?' and my favourite 'How do you know it's Chicken if it ain't got no bone's'. Pa an' Scarlet Lil was dancing, until Ma came up an' decked her with a shoe an said "you keep you hands off ma man you hussy" in the poshest voice I ever did hear her use.

All was going well until a Smokey mobile came rushin up the road with lights an' all sorts flashin and run up to Pa an' slapped the cuffs on him an' started lifting up all our stuff from the shin dig. Ma asked the ? "What do you all think you are doin?", " My Job Mam" came the reply. "This man is wanted in connection with the murder and robbery of one Mr. S. Clause at the general store last night and these items are evidence". Well I can tell you for nothin that's when the brown stuff hit the fan, Ma decked Pa, Pappy stared runnin' off with half the reindeer over his shoulder, Scarlet Lil woke up an' fainted at the site of the Smokeys an you ain't ever seen as many pick up trucks drivin off in all directions.

Pa was found guilty and is servin' life in the pokey, Ma has had to start workin' for her money, Scarlet Lil says she is the best girl she ever had workin for her, Pappy is still in the woods with the half reindeer an we's all being looked after by some people we don't even know. So I guess this year we ain't havin a White Trash Christmas.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to One and All.

Ricky MacFarlane

 

 

+++Back to top+++ Back to current issue+++

 

 

UNDER THE MISTLETOE

Christmas is a complete waste of time, if you ask me (but then, I'm only 14 aren't I, so do you think anyone ever asks me anything ever? Hah, think again!). It used to be there were some things I liked about Christmas, but that was before I was old enough to know better. Also, my parents have really spoiled it for me. Like, I used to sortof like maybe the first hour of Christmas day, when you rush out of bed to get your presents. That was when I still got decent presents though. Now I still get decent presents, I supposeÖ if you still happen to be like half my age. Last year I got this "rad" yellow remote-controlled construction truck. Like cool, dad - Jason at school got a new cellphone. I don't even know where to hide it, it's so big, it's really embarrassing. And you know how it is - you still have to pretend to think it's cool, because they're your parents and everything. It's like they don't realize who I am or how old I am or anything.

I could go on and on, but the worst by far is Christmas Eve. My parents have this totally weird thing about family and Christmas. I mean like, they always try and get as many of these totally obscure aunts and uncles and cousins and like that as possible to our house on Christmas Eve. Now, that sounds all cuddly and lovely and stuff, and you're probably thinking what a cynical guy I am. Well, I'll pretend to care, and explain that I only say that because it's not like they ever make any effort whatsoever to see Aunt Wanda, for example, during the rest of the year. And then suddenly - just because it's Christmas - family's suddenly soooooo important, you know?

Still, I used to sortof enjoy these gatherings when I was still to know any better, like I said. I mean, I used to think Uncle Eddie, for example, was really funny and stuff, and after a while his cheeks used to get all red and he'd start singing and making these corny jokes that were still kindof funny anyway because of the way he told them, you know? But now of course I know that he's just a fat, red-faced balding old man who could never find anyone to marry him, and who is drunk, which is just like pathetic when you're that old, if you ask me. And he also still tries to play with me and kid me like I'm 5 years old or something; it's like no-one realizes how old I am!

Aunt Wanda is horrible for completely opposite reason - it's like she doesn't realize how old she is. I don't even know exactly how old she is, but it's like, plenty old right? At least she should though - I mean, is it too much to expect of someone that they know something as basic as how old they are? Don't even get me started on Aunt Wanda, though. It just makes me remember what an idiot I was when I was small. When I was small I sortof used to like her clothes and her jewellery and her big hair and stuff. Just because I was still like a kid and it was all colourful and shiny and everything and she used to smell of flowers. You don't have any idea about taste when you're that age I guess. Now I know that she's really just a common tart who's head got stuck in her 20's while her body moved on into her 60's. No wonder she's unmarried too! Her and Uncle Eddie would be a perfect match in fact - especially now that they're too old to pre-create and bring other people like themselves into this world.

But the worst by far is cousin Carla. I have to explain about her, I guess. Carla is about a year older than me and sortof my cousin, and sortof not. The reason I say that is that she was adopted by my Uncle Karl and his wife Aunt Carla (now there was a match made in heaven from the very start, you'd think, except that you'd be very, very wrong, looking at the way they've brought up their daughter). Now that should have set the alarm bells ringing already, I guess, but like I say, I used to be very young and sortof naÔve. I mean, if a kid's real parents don't even want her, that should tell you something, right? Well, I guess I shouldn't really blame myself too much though - even Carla doesn't even know, and my parents only told me the other day, when I asked them about her. This year I think I'm going to tell her too, because maybe if she knew this, she wouldn't act so snooty and obnoxious like she has lately, and like she's really one of us and everything. Although probably she doesn't even really care about family at all. I mean, how could she? She doesn't really have a family, does she?

But I guess what makes it really sortof embarrassing is that Carla and I used to really get along. Back when we were both kids doing, you know, doing kids' stuff, playing and like that. I mean, it's not like we ever had any really profound conversations or anything. We just used to like messing around, while the grownups were talking and drinking. It's funny, the things that can amuse you when you're that age. One night, a couple of years ago, for example, we spent about an hour sneaking around under the dinner-table - we have this really old yellowwood dining-room table we inherited from grandma, which is really broad and long - when the adults thought we were already asleep. It started out that we merely wanted to see if we could get in there without anyone noticing, and somehow we managed it, and then the next thing was to see how many people's shoelaces we could tie to their neighbours' without anyone noticing. Luckily they were all drunk and not paying too much attention. But still, it was quite a feat to do it, and not get kicked or worse, start giggling. Sometimes we had to squash really close together. We were both quite red afterwards, just from keeping the giggles in! Anyway, that's the sort of stupid stuff we used to do.

Then last year suddenly things changed. I guess I was still pretty young and stuff and I was looking forward to when she would come so that we could play as usual, but she was all different. Now, the nice thing about Carla always used to be that she wasn't so much of a girl. Well, of course she was a girl, but she wasn't a girl if you know what I mean. Like, she had long hair, and sometimes wore a dress and stuff, but the way she acted wasn't so different from other people. I mean, you could do stuff with her without feeling shy or anything. Of course, I like girls as much as the next guy - there's even this girl at school that I sort of have this thing with and all - but that's not what I mean. She is sortof my cousin and everything, after all! I guess I thought we were like buddies.

But then last year, when she came for Christmas she was this real girl. Like, sha had this sortof real girl's dress on which is supposed to be all fashionable and stuff and her hair was all done up and I bet she would have had make-up on and everything if Uncle Karl would have let her. It was like she was this completely new person. She even smelled differently, all sweet. At first I thought it would still be all normal and she'd say hi to my folks and then shake my hand and we'd run off to play. Instead, she gave me a hug - (!) I mean, what a girl! I was so disgusted and confused - not even old people in our family hug unless they're drunk - that I backed out of the hug really quickly and then things turned all weird. Like, she wouldn't meet my eyes and she even blushed, that's how much of a girl she'd become! And to make things worse, she wouldn't come and play, and so we both had to sit with the adults the whole long boring night. She didn't even listen to what they were saying. Not like she was talking to me either though - she just sat there on the couch next to me, looking at her hands that lay in her lap. And even though her dress was sortof nice, really, it was like she wasn't happy with it at all, because she kept touching it and re-arranging it and stuff, until I almost told her to stop. I ended up not doing it, but I mean really, if she was so unhappy with her dress, why did she put it on in the first place?

I guess she must have thought she was all grownup now and stuff, but I still wonder who she thought she was trying to impress. I mean, everyone knows Carla's just like a kid and everything. But if she thinks that being grownup is cool, then this year I'm going to show her what being grownup's really like. Dad's even promised to let me have some wine this year (as if I haven't had like, lots of wine and even beer before, but parents are so clueless, you know?) and then she'll see exactly how ridiculous she's being, and then I don't care - she can go back to how she was and everything but I'll just ignore her too, and then she'll know!

But I guess even I'm maybe not that grownup yet though, because when I think too much about it, and how I'll never be able to speak to her again and stuff, I still feel a little bit like there's this little boy inside me who's always just about to start crying, and who just wants things to go back to the way they were before, and just be kids and not really worry about each other and just play and laugh and everything again. I guess I still have some growing-up to do in that department. Because I can't seem to forget how - on that one last good Christmas, two years ago - after we escaped from the dining-room table and we were all red and warm and stuff and we could finally let go of all the giggles and we were running around the garden, there were all these fireflies and we started collecting them and putting them in each other's hair. And then suddenly, out of nowhere, it started raining really heavily, until there were these puddles everywhere in the garden and we were just running around, splashing from one to the other, trying to to get as wet and muddy as possible. Our clothes were sticking to our bodies and we were just running and running until suddenly she slipped and I tried to stop her falling, and then we both fell in a heap, on top of each other and suddenly her mouthÖ

But, like I said, tonight when she walks through that door, all like a girl, I'll be strong, and if I speak to her at all, it'll be to tell her exactly how I feel!

JohaN Hugo

 

 

+++Back to top+++ Back to current issue+++

 

 

War is Over

So this is Christmas.
I noticed the lights when you bumped into me. Now you will never bump into me again.

So this is Christmas. And what have you done? Where did is all go wrong? When they asked you, at that ubiquitous boutique that is a part of that ubiquitous conglomeration of shopping centres that press into the outskirts of the big cities, when they asked you if you wanted it gif-wrapped, then what did you say? You said ďIt doesnít matterĒ. You said it doesnít matter, and you were right.

You are lonely. You must be lonely because yesterday you were arguing with a street evangelist, arguing to a dead-end, shot through hoarse-of-throat, repudiating his assertion that all of the badness and the evil in the world is the Devilís work. You argued yourself purple for an hour or so, felt first rain, then hail, then sleet, then snow, as the years dragged on and the night drew in like daggers. You were all pseudo-intellectual bluster, self- righteous, all vitriolic and heartfelt; On the surface, at least, because the truth is that you couldnít care less either way, not now, as you shuffle under Christmas lights and the half-life that you have created for yourself.

So this is Christmas.
So this is Christmas.
So this is Christmas.

You can feel him tight in the sheets beside you, 4am, Christmas morning, and you bolt-upright, wide-awake as you always are on this one day out of three hundred and sixty five. Youíre drawing circles with your warm breath in the near-night air, wishing to God heíd hurry and wake up but at the same time enjoying the silence and the sight of him sleeping because usually the early mornings are his territory, and his early mornings arenít gift-wrapped and bound by promise and exhilaration, but then you knew that anyway didnít you? Into the illuminated cage then, penned in like battery hens, encircled by wolves. He would hate this place. The thump thump thump, the sound of music indistinct from the banging of glasses on plastic tables and wooden bars. He preferred to drink alone, that is, with you, your head resting on his chest, lost in liquor, lost in music, lost in each other.

So this is Christmas.
And what have you done?
What HAVE you done? Taking the long way home now, streetlights bath the snowy paths in a fiery hue, walking, not nearly alone but you may as well be, for an ill-fitting arm links with your own and you feel forced to smile when the conversation runs as dry as that fortnight in Egypt. At the height of it all then. A long, long time before the fall.
First thing in the morning you make your excuses and leave the wolfís dishevelled lair.
The cloudless day compounded with this years snow makes everything seem pure again. The traffic is near to non-existent; Itís Christmas after all. The bark of the birch snaps easily in the cold. You write your name in the snow.
And his.

Tom Bickell

 

 

+++Back to top+++ Back to current issue+++

 

 

The Shopping-Mall Santa

The dishes have not been washed in eight days now. Thatís the time that sheís been gone, which gives quite the wrong impression: you were the washer-up when she was still around. You used to share the cooking - she used to vacuum once a week. Youíd take the trash out, Thursday mornings, while she was getting dressed for work. The trash is bulging full of fast-food wrappers now. It is Friday, and you have not switched on the stove since Wednesday last.

The washing-up is a detailed record of your coffee-cups - can it be youíve had so much? You heave one reluctant foot into a fur-fringed boot, and settle back to light another cigarette. Itís strange, this letting-go - itís not quite done consciously, but youíre still aware youíre doing it, every moment, and you know that you could pull yourself together, stop this at any time - it would only take a single gesture, endlessly repeated - if only something were different. That something different would be her. Here. Now.

No, not now. She would be already be at work. But, perhaps, knowing that she had been here just now, and would be soon again. She wasnít, she wonít - and you donít. Simple as that.

Take another sip from the coffee-cup, rest the cup on your knee, survey the growing chaos a little more. Note the fresh brown circle on the table. Take a few seconds to register, then quickly plonk the cap back on the table. Rub your knee nervously, then give up, hoping the fabricís red will not show the stain too much. Decide - quite deliberately - not to care anyway. Heave the other boot up heavily, pull it onto another resisting foot that catches, strains and then slips claustrophobically inside. Stamp it down solid on the floor. There - itís stuck around you now, until you choose to force it off.

Look down to where your belly already folds softly in on itself. Remember how you havenít done your morning exercises again today, and wince, thinking of all the fatty burgers you have had since... then. Remember also the good feeling it used to give you, getting up groggily to do a hundred sit-ups and fifty push-ups, and then the shower. How sharp that felt. Try to forget that too, then, though you know itís useless.

And then the coffee too is finished - you didnít taste the bitterness of the caked brown stain in the bottom that a quick rinse with cold water had not quite been able to erase, but which would have been no match for the scalding kettle-water that followed that.

Add the soaked yellow sponge that used to be a cigarette to the stubby hedgehog that used to be an ashtray on the table. Note idly - again - the lack of lipstick on any of the other butts.

About to light another when the alarm-clock rings - finally. Allow the bitterness of a rueful smile to singe through you, the memory of how she used to struggle to wake you in the mornings, even though you insisted that she did; wonder why it is you wake now, crystal-clear, hours before the bloody thing will ever ring.

Pull the crumpled jacket off the back of the chair without getting up, struggle into it without worrying about an undershirt. Button it up. Hesitate for the moment it takes you to decide not to brush your teeth again. Just sit for what might be seconds, might be minutes, but doesnít really feel like time at all. Sigh in what you know is a helplessly melodramatic way, allow another self-mocking smile, and lift yourself from the table in an unnecessarily elaborate way with arms and legs.

Walk slowly to the dressing-table - devoid, now, of make-up and perfume - and stop to look at the object hanging off the side of the mirror. Reach out to touch it, but catch your smooth face and excessively focused eyes in the mirror. Lock gaze with yourself, outstretched hand a vague blur at the edge of vision. Be amazed, again - and again, just for a moment - that it could have come to this. Think - again - but what else could it have come to? Know for certain you arenít up to this; know just as surely that it will not be so bad. Know that this too shall pass.

Pull the beard from the mirror, and affix to face. Marvel at how it complements your eyes, but how different the way you look old feels to the way you feel it. Try to smile, and see the beard move, the eyes stay dead-still and... dead.

Jerk the cap onto your head in one smooth move. Toss peak and tassel to the other side. Turn and march to and through the door. Out, and slam behind you.

Today youíll make a thousand children very, very happy.

 

JohaN Hugo

(More by this author)

 

 

+++Back to top+++ Back to current issue+++

 

 

Mystic Dick's Festive Horroscopes

Well it's that time of year again and we would all like to know what is in store for us, so I tracked Dick down again to see what he had to tell us. This was not easy as he was on one of his missions. He was eventually found outside a chip shop in Glasgow arguing with a statue of a large haddock, asking him for fifty pence for a cup of tea. He says he is not drinking anymore but I can tell you he is not drinking any less either. He did not recognise me but after I ducked and he realised who I was he was only too happy to give his predictions.

Aries

Christmas is coming and the goose is getting fat but you'll be having roasted cheese as you spent to much on you Christmas shopping. Hide in a cupboard on Boxing day as your old Aunt is coming round and she will surely be wanting a Christmas kiss.

Pisces

Remember that a dog is not just for Christmas so be very careful what you do at the office Christmas party. Make sure you remember to buy plenty of booze just in case I decide to pay you a visit. Some new socks would be nice as well.

Leo

Jingle bells and by god I smell but you will as well if you don't cook that turkey right; and remember to do all the trimmings with it or your family will be disappointed and not talk to you. This of course could be an advantage as it will let you get some peace.

Taurus

My god you better duck when Santa comes! You have been very bad and he knows and all I can see you getting is some coal which is no good to you as you have a gas fire. I suggest you leave him out some really posh sherry and a couple of mince pies to try and sweet talk him.

Sagittarius

Don't spend to much time buying your presents and you will have loads of time for drinking and being merry. I suggest you do it all on e-bay then you won't even have to leave the house. Except for booze and fags - again stock up as I know where you live and I may pop in.

Virgo

Look out at the office party especially if you are planning to photo-copy any parts of you body that you shouldn't. The glass is very thin and takes hours of painful prodding and pulling to dig out. I suggest you get the office idiot to do it then laugh at him getting hurt.

Cancer

You have had a lot on your plate this year but after Christmas it will all be peachy as long as you don't think about where you hid the body of your boss and remember the pin number for his bank card. Plane tickets are cheap so you should have no problems.

Aquarius

Don't drive a car after drinking loads of booze as the boys in blue are everywhere and they will not be happy that you never shared your carry out with them. That could end in tears. Always carry a spare bottle of booze to give to the cops that pull you over - it usually shuts them up.

Capricorn

Things are a bit slow for you. In fact you feel like the fairy on the top of the tree - i.e. you feel like you have a big tree stuck up your butt which you are dragging behind you. However with some careful planning and a lumber jack you can get rid of it and start moving forwards.

Scorpio

You are going to wake up on Christmas morning with the mother of all hangovers and roll over to find the person at work you hate the most lying beside you. Then you are going to realise that you are not in your bed but in theirs, so I suggest you leg it and don't wake them up. Then you can deny everything.

Libra

Christmas time, mistletoe and wine... and Cliff Richard will get to number one, again, unless you go out an buy something else to stop him. I think you should take it upon yourself to stop this evil thing happening and save the music industry from itself. Please, I beg of you.

Gemini

Ding dong merrily but watch out for that bloke from Ground Force as he may turn up with the woman who never has a bra on and try to dig up your garden. If he does, go out and hit him with a big stick; then hit him again for me, telling him "No he will not take away your grass and put down decking".

Well that is how he predicts it and who are we to argue? I'm sure if he hadn't just passed out he would wish you all a Merry Christmas. Instead he has just mumbled something about a hedgehog, a few onions, some sage and some white bread. I hope he is not planning to start a recipe book.

Happy Christmas,


Ricky MacFarlane

 

 

+++Back to top+++ Back to current issue+++