You, Me & a Bit of We – Excerpts 19-24

Celebrate National Short Story Day on 21 December 2013!

Join us today from 3-9pm!

As the afternoon sun fades and the longest night of the year rolls in, we’ll be posting a series of excerpts from our recent short story collection, You, Me & a Bit of We. So grab a cup of tea, coffee, or cocoa, slip into your jimjams (or PJs depending on which side of the Atlantic you hail from) and get ready to hunker down and dig in to some exciting new short stories! Here’s the list of the 42 stories coming up. There will be six excerpts posted on the hour, from 3-9pm.

6pm – The Illuminated Back by Nina Milton / A World of Difference by Deborah Klée / Cockle Shells by Simone Davy / When the Wind Changes by Debz Hobbs-Wyatt / Got You by Amy Hulsey / Birdfeed by Emma Phillips


The Illuminated Back by Nina Milton
Skin is the story of our life. From the moment we hit air and bawl, it absorbs everything. New love, new hope, shattered dreams, burning hate. The rooms we pass through, the landscapes we breathe, the touch of each person we meet. No wonder our skin starts out so soft and full of moisture, then dries up as the years pass, until it is as flaky as an old pasty, and as thin as silk, barely covering the blood vessels below.

I wanted so much to be an aromatherapist. I was fed up of calling myself bar assistant, shop assistant, care assistant. I was fed up of being asked for non-existent GCSEs in maths and English. The only certificate I had was my decree nisi. But after the holistic massage course, I had diplomas hanging on the walls all round my room. I had clients who made appointments, respected my opinion, came back for more. Sometimes I put my cheek against the towels, just to feel their spongy whiteness and take in the faint aroma of scented oils.

I didn’t want to give up this job, but the touch of skin was wearing me down. I wasn’t sleeping and when I did I dreamt of layers…prickle, granular, clear and horn.

For a man of thirty-six, Jordon Brown had weathered skin. His hair was a razor-cut and he wore fatigue trousers with pockets covering every centimetre. Small pockets on top of larger pockets. A chain running from the belt to a pocket. The belt was a Doberman’s collar. He sat on the client’s chair with his legs splayed, trouser hems ruckled into boots that would’ve kept him stable on the moon…

A World of Difference by Deborah Klée
It is rare for a person to be sighted. A sighted person may not have a well-developed sense of smell. They may have difficulty hearing some pitches that are easily heard by non-sighted people. Their responses can, at times, be slow as they tend to lose concentration easily. This may be because they are distracted by sight.

The educational psychologist’s words keep running through my mind. I need a cup of tea and time to think before Daniel gets home from school. The heady scent of a late flowering rose tells me I am at the garden gate. I trace my fingers over the house numbers, a habit now rather than a necessity as we have lived here for ten years. I love the sound of gravel crunching under my feet and the scent of lavender as I trail my hands across a pot at the front door. These familiar rituals help to still my mind.

It is a relief to kick off my shoes and momentarily sink my feet into the thick carpet before reaching the cool wooden floorboards of the kitchen. The kettle bleeps as it is filled and I sit down, ready now to face the truth that I have tried to ignore for the past thirteen years. My fingers trace the Braille, re-reading the words that have been playing through my mind. It is rare for a person to be sighted.

I always knew Daniel was special. It was hard at first; he was such a beautiful baby. I remember his warm sweet scent of milk and baby lotion as though it were yesterday. The soft, heavy weight of him in my arms.

The whistling kettle breaks into my thoughts, and I feel for the canister of Earl Grey. I like to use the loose-leaf tea in a diffuser spoon. There is a lovely fragrant flowery smell of bergamot as I pour the hot water over the spoon; a ping tells me the mug is full. It is this attention to each task that I cannot get Daniel to concentrate on. He is so impatient, his attention darting from one thing to another…

Cockle Shells by Simone Davy
I’m splashing through the water, my arms are paddles—here comes a wave. Oh, it’s a big one, crashing over my head. I’m falling. The float is above me; its clown face is grinning, laughing that I had to let go. Mummy wasn’t near enough to help. I’m going down. I’m a jug filling with water. Byeeeeeee. Where am I going? Long ribbons curl around my legs. I’m freezing cold. Where has the sun gone? I don’t like it down here. I want to get out. Help!

Two large hands are pulling me up and out of the water. Splutter, cough, hiccup—there’s a salty taste on my lips. I’m safe, the sun is warm on my back; I blink and the sea water stings my eyes. Then I’m sick, right into the water. It’s glued to my hair, and some of the stuff is running down my new Muppets swimsuit that I got for my birthday. I’m seven now. I can taste salmon paste sandwiches and seaweed. Spit it out quick. I’m dribbling like my dog Timmy.

‘Mummy!’ I cry.

‘It’s all right, I’ve got you. You just went under for a bit. Come now, you’re OK, just been a bit sick.’ We paddle through the shallows. She takes off her candy floss pink scarf and gives it to me; it flies up in the air like a kite.

‘Here, blow your nose, Janie.’

I blow as hard as I can. I’ve got the whole of the sea up there. The scarf is nice. It smells of suntan oil. I’ve messed it up, but she doesn’t care…

When the Wind Changes by Debz Hobbs-Wyatt
Robert scoops snow into his glove. He shapes it, pats it down and presses it into the face of the snowman. I’m not sure what it’s supposed to be, a nose perhaps, but everyone knows a carrot is best for that. He’s been building the snowman for twenty minutes, working systematically, rolling the body, then the head, placing twigs where its fingers are supposed to be. He only looked up once when the cat ran along the fence, Bill Broad’s big black cat. He steps back and I see his face. He’s remembering me.

He’s remembering the last time we built a snowman and Dad took a photograph of us. Robert has the photograph now. He took it from my room. They tell one another that they never go in there, they can’t go in there. But they do. I’ve seen Mum with her face pressed into my dressing gown, as if she thinks she can fold herself into it and disappear. I’ve seen her running her fingers across my things, so lightly she’s afraid if she presses too hard something will break. Or maybe she’s afraid she will break.

Nan doesn’t go in. I see her standing in the doorway thinking she sees me. Telling me she forgives me. Mum says she’s just a crazy old woman, but I know she’s not.

When Robert took the photograph from my room I was there, willing him to see me the way Nan does. He keeps the picture in a shoebox. It’s where he keeps all the things that remind him of me. I suppose that’s all that’s left in the end. A shoebox with random things like the notebook where I scribbled ideas about what I wanted to be; dog-eared football cards; a Rubik’s cube with half the stickers missing; and a photograph of me and my brother standing next to a snowman…

Got You by Amy Hulsey
He’s dumb. The road we usually sleep on is closed for construction and Dad is looking at me like it’s my fault, his eyebrows lost in his dirty bangs. Our habitual alleyway is blocked off by orange cones and men in matching vests. We walk past men in hard hats, huge yellow machines, and honking cars driven by clean-shaven but suddenly dishevelled businessmen. Dad watches the construction workers like it was their idea to revamp this particular avenue.

‘I’m tired,’ I say. It’s true. My feet hurt.

Dad, dumb as ever, turns his greasy brown eyes on me. He puts a hand in my hair and, under the guise of a father rustling his son’s shaggy hair, pulls out a handful.

‘Shut up and keep walking.’

I look back over my shoulder and the sticky strands clutch with dirt and oil on the sidewalk. It’s hard to tell how much hair as the world is multiplied and muggy through my watery eyes. My scalp burns. It feels a little wet right at the top. I’d touch it if Dad wasn’t watching my every move. Hair dangles from the fingernail of his index finger.

A woman stares out her windshield at me. I want to wipe my eyes, but she would think I’m crying. Her lips are bright red. They match her hair. I want to break her windshield. It’s cold. I want her to feel it. I want to rip at her hair and make the wind blow right in her eyes so she knows that I’m not crying.

We pass the traffic and the roadworks. Dad looks down side streets and alleys. The wind is crazy and my toes are numb. His hair whips around like angry snakes.

An empty car is parked halfway on the sidewalk ahead of us. When we get close to it, Dad kicks it hard. He screams…

Birdfeed by Emma Phillips
Mum is a bird.

Some say she’s fragile but she always says we are who we are and she’s a bird for sure. One time Dad brought a Chinese calendar from the takeaway so I checked and she was born in the year of the rooster. It said I’m a rabbit, and Dad is a horse.

Dad likes birds. Years back, they kept budgies but they had to give them away when I was born; their carry-on woke me up. ‘Bit cruel’, Mum had said, ‘keeping them in cages like that. Drove me mad, you know, the way they used to imitate.’ They recognised their own, I thought but didn’t say.

Mum is small, like a canary. On good days she wears greens and yellows to show off her hair and smooth skin. She uses her bird voice to sing around the kitchen and, when she hits the high notes, she can really warble. ‘Your Mum’s pretty’, the kids at school say when she turns up to get me.

They signed the piece of paper to say I can walk home on my own, which I mostly do. But when Mum feels like preening she’ll come in. I see people notice her first then look at me as if to say, are you sure you belong together? Dad is plain too but Mum says the lookers break your heart and by the time he came along she wanted someone she could rely on. Birds need a lot of looking after, you see. Especially when somebody ruffles their feathers. Then we all lie low.

Mum has a lot of what you might call temporary jobs. She’s a part timer, really, on account of her feathers. When she starts a new job, she’ll be all chirpy but offices are never the right habitat so it’s only a matter of time before things get heated…


If you enjoyed these excerpts why not check out the paperback or Kindle edition of You, Me & a Bit of We?


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