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Summer afternoons

by Jenny

Sam slashed his way through the undergrowth, the fear knotting like wire in his belly, the incriminating blue homework diary burning guiltily in his backpack. He knew there was no getting out of this.

Despite the bleakness of his mood the day was a beautiful one. The afternoon sky stretched out in unbroken blue as far as he could see, staring at its own reflection in the flat surface of the twisting river.

Any other day and Sam would have been thrilled. It was Wednesday. Dad played skittles on a Wednesday and then, of course, off to the bar afterwards for a beer, or eight, which gave Sam the entire afternoon to please himself. He would spend it with Mr Arnold at the allotment, drinking plasticky tea from a flask and digging his fingers deep into rich smelling earth till the nails grew black and filthy.

If he timed it right and got home just after eight, Dad would be dozing beerily or even passed out in his chair and Sam could usually get away with creeping in and pretending he’d been home for hours. Skittle days almost never hurt.

But this Wednesday Sam had to get home before Dad was asleep because he needed the homework diary signed. This meant entering the Danger Zone - that hour when laughter could turn to rage in a heartbeat - and the big red F in the maths section meant that, this week, rage was a certainty.

He emerged from the tangle of weeds and dogwood and pussy willow onto the banks of the river, where neat allotments stood side by side, like an intricate patchwork quilt. Mr Arnold waved and smiled to see Sam. Sam did not smile back. He threw himself sullenly into one of Mr Arnold’s folding chairs.

Mr Arnold didn’t say anything. After a few moments he unwrapped three cold pork pies from their paper wrapping and handed one to Sam. He took it wordlessly and ate it.

“I failed my maths,” said Sam, fighting to keep the tears from his voice. “Dad’s gonna kill me.”

“Well what good is maths anyway?” said Mr Arnold “Can’t eat maths - except pie thagoras - eh?”

This earned him a watery smile.

“How’s your dad going to find out, anyway? I ain’t gonna say nothin’.”

“We got homework diaries,” Sam told him, miserably. “Dad’s gotta sign it. If he don’t, the school phones him up…”

“Let me see this Homework Diary.” Mr Arnold wrapped his mouth scornfully around the words and held out a hand. Sam rummaged in his bag for it. The air smelled of freshly turned earth and river water and woodsmoke. Sam wished he could stay here on this allotment forever. He closed his eyes and let himself lose himself in the feeling of the summer sun on his face for a moment.

When he looked around Mr Arnold was smiling mischievously, a chewed up old biro in his hand and a blue smear of ink near his mouth. He handed the diary back to Sam.

“I’ve had a quick look. No need for your dad to trouble himself with that now, especially not on a skittles night. Now you need to help me cut back the gooseberry bushes before they take over the whole damned allotment.”

Engorged Hamster : Tainted Trifle

by Russ

Life is a series of tiny tests, and so far as Charlotte was concerned she failed almost all of them. A chance to be patient; a chance to be assertive; to say the right thing; to make the right choice; to not tell a porky pie; to not let her internal monologue slip into incongruous rhyming slang and spoil the flow - all missed, every time. She sat on the dewy morning grass, absently petting a pussy willow catkin as she replayed the latest catastrophe in her mind.

She really only had one task the night before: don’t kiss Andy.

Everyone had expected it. Chief bridesmaid, best man. Him freshly divorced, her terminally single. Free bar. It had even been quipped there was no point in paying for them both to have hotel rooms. Charlotte was determined not to give everyone the satisfaction.

Everything was going fine until after the first dance. As bodies filled the floor, Charlotte staged a retreat to the safety of the buffet table and waited for him and the other groomsmen to get to the ‘ties as bandanas’ stage so she could relax and know the danger had passed.

Except that Andy followed her over. Well, he was probably just heading to scoop up some profiteroles but, as they were in her zone of safety, the assault on her resolve was on.

Of course he spoke to her, because he was a normal polite human being. Charlotte handled the situation with aplomb by immediately shoving an entire pork pie in her mouth and nodding mutely at him like an engorged hamster. Choking followed, leading to a debonair twist and cough and the tainting of trifle with pastry ejaculate. Charlotte checked for witnesses then swiftly stepped away from the crime scene and directly into the outstretched arm of Andy. She was rewarded with a chest full of icy coca-cola from the glass he’d considerately grabbed to help her wash down the now discharged obstruction.

In fairness, that should have done the trick. So it was pretty infuriating to wake up in his hotel room the next morning.

Charlotte and her hangover had managed to leave before Andy woke up. She grabbed a barely opened bottle of prosecco from the side table as she passed and let instinct carry her outside.

So, here she sat, in the hotel gardens, mostly back into her bridesmaid’s dress, swigging formerly fizzy wine straight from the bottle, before breakfast, while fuck knows what was going on with her bed hair and makeup, contemplating why she just couldn’t do one thing right, just once.

‘Any of that to share?’

It was Andy. Charlotte swore in her head then lengthened her bottle-holding arm towards him.

‘You ok?’

She nodded without looking. He sat down close to her, so their shoulders touched.

‘Wanna go for a walk?’ he asked.

Charlotte turned, looked Andy in the eyes, swore to herself again, and kissed him.

‘Fuck it,’ she thought.

‘Let’s go mess up my room,’ she said.