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Not a Hiccup

by Russ

Chris stared blankly into the room, there were four hours to go and he was running out of ideas.

‘Love,’ Annie tried to reason with him. ‘Even if it starts now, it’s not going to finish before midnight.’

‘It’s going to happen,’ he said with conviction, through gritted teeth. ‘It can’t not happen.’

There was a pause while Chris contemplated his next move, and Annie wondered whether to divorce him. Without warning - disrupting Annie’s thoughts like a sudden gust of wind - Chris screamed and leapt to his feet, raising his arms as he did.

‘What was that?’ Annie asked, unmoved.

The man, now posed as a pantomime lion over his unimpressed wife, became crestfallen.

‘You were supposed to be scared,’ he sighed.

‘You can’t scare a baby out,’ she critiqued. ‘It’s not a bloody hiccup.’

Chris retook his seat and retreated into thought. There was no way this kid wasn’t coming out today. It was Chris’ birthday, it was his dad’s birthday, and he - obviously - had it in the sweepstake. It had to.

‘Can’t you just… push?’ he pleaded with his wife, who was rubbing her lower back and trying not to be annoyed that she was having to do it herself.

She only needed to look at him to answer.


Suddenly Chris’ face lit up and he scampered from the room. Annie remained on the sofa, slowly shaking her head. From the kitchen, she heard doors banging and drawers sliding followed by a thud and a cry of pain. She eased herself from the sofa, supporting herself into the upright with a hand pushed against the top of the back cushions, and waddled after the man she, for some reason, married. She found him bent at the waist, with one hand rubbing the crown of his head and the other rooting at the back of a cupboard.

‘What are you doing now?’ she asked, wearily.

‘Where’s that jar of Jalfrezi?’

‘Babe, we just ate.’


‘Look,’ Annie had to put an end to the situation. ‘Why don’t you make us hot chocolates, we can go up to bed and watch a film?’

Chris abandoned his search and stood, taking lengths to avoid the edge of the countertop which had assaulted him before. He closed the cupboard and walked across the room to his beautiful wife, soon to be mother of his child. He placed one hand on her belly, the other softly on her cheek, and moved as close as he could without rebounding off.

‘You’re right,’ he said, in a manner he thought was seductive. ‘Let’s go to bed.’

‘Oh no, no,’ she made very clear. ‘Not a chance in hell.’

Chris dropped his shoulders and backed away, sighing once more before turning and making his way towards the kettle, a beaten man. As he reached for the switch, there was a sound of splashing on the linoleum. Chris froze dead.

‘Erm, babe…’ came the voice from behind him.

Beans are good for a sore heart

by James

Father Mulrooney was off again, unwed single mothers getting with child, the very affront of it, these young gels who could not keep their legs together. It was society to blame, these Cardassians with their vacuous faces and their overly large rear ends. Hoo-ers, the lot of them, and it was down to women like these that up had grown the cult of the cleet-oris and “finding the jay spot”.

The old man paused for breath, or for effect, his beady eyes scanning the church, sorting the sparse congregation into two groups of nodders and blank starerers. His chin was damp and glistening, the gold thread woven into his robes of office twinkling as the bunched muscles of his back and shoulders writhed in his passion.

Father Almost-But-Not-Quite-And-Maybe-Never Duncan tried to breathe and tried to tell himself that the pain rising in his body surely was not a hitherto undiagnosed inoperable cancer. Brain tumour, perhaps? Experts did say that your stomach was your second brain. He played back some of the old man’s sermon in his head. Translating some of the man’s heavily Irished words helped a little to distract him: whores, clitoris, and G-spot. In some ways, you had to admire the man. Bigoted as he was, he didn’t hold back.

Another knife of pain sliced through Father Duncan’s insides. Death was all that awaited him, nothing but. Well, at least it would answer that thorny question that had been pricking at him since leaving the seminary.

Did he still have faith?

He was an almost priest, cut down in his prime during an old man’s rant against the evils of society that was based on twenty-year-old tabloid newspaper headlines. The man could be preaching against the dangers of fake news or intolerance. He could be preaching a message of hope and reconciliation, throwing his passion behind the black lives matter protests or asking for compassion for those poor souls attempting to cross the channel in small boats. But no, it was thirteen-year-old girls bringing shame to themselves and their families and their Church.

And Father Duncan said nothing. He hugged his seat like a shy teacup lurking in the back of the cupboard, gritting his teeth as another rumble of pain began to rise. Was God annoyed that he was railing against the party line? Or was he annoyed that Father Duncan was mute as the old priest preached fire and thumped the lectern and called on God for a sign to bring fear to his disgraceful unbelievers?

Father Duncan became aware of the tiniest of rumbles breaking the dead silence of the Church. The blood red tips of Father Mulrooney’s ears twitched. Father Duncan was now aware that the intense fist of God that had been squeezing his heart had shifted its attention downwards. The image of a huge plate with three pieces of toast all covered in baked beans flashed into his mind.

Very delicately, Father Duncan leaned a little to his left to allow his right buttock to rise a little from the pew. Just a tiny, tiny release, that’s all it would take.

Moments later, the still of the Church was shattered as the whole congregation received a direct raspberry from God on the contents of Father Mulrooney’s sermon.


by Jenny

He comes three, four times a week. Has done for years now. We all thought he’d get fed up after a while, the young ones often do, but not him.

He sits by her bedside for hours when he doesn’t have to go to work. Sometimes an older couple comes too, but they never stay long. None of the others ever have any visitors.

He’ll read to her, tell her the silly goings on of their friends (who never visit), play her music. On Sundays he reads her the newspaper cover to cover, because he says that when she wakes up she’ll have a better idea of all the things that have gone on while she’s been here.

He says he doesn’t want her to wake up confused, not knowing how things have changed. This way, he says, the changes will come as less of a shock.

Because he absolutely believes that she can hear him in there. He has to believe it, because without it, there isn’t anything else. You can see it in his eyes, see how much he loves her, feel his desperation for her to give him anything but that blank closed stare from the starched white of her hospital issue pillow.

But she never does. There’s just the hiss and bleep of the machines and the musical cadence of his voice in the empty, echoing silence of the ward.

Sometimes he talks about her to anyone who’ll listen, how they met, the day they got married, how blue her eyes would be if she could only open them again. He talks about the day she drove out in a storm and, in the disruption of the fierce wind and rain, her car ended up on the wrong side of the road, in the oncoming traffic.

But this doesn’t happen often, because he grudges any time that he’s not with her.

And we watch his life slip away from him as he lives it for both of them at her bedside, talking about the children and plans and adventures that they’d dreamed but never had. Another Christmas rolls past, a brief summer.

She doesn’t wake.

He tried everything at first. Played her music she loved and, when that didn’t work, he played her music she hated to rouse a reaction. He dug around in the back of her cupboards and brought her outfits to wear. He says she always hated green, especially the mint green of the hospital robes. The nurses humour him and dress her in soft pyjamas with bears printed on them.

Now he just talks to her like her unconsciousness is just something to politely ignore, like an unsightly blemish or wound. As if his demonstration of blind faith in her can somehow anchor her here and bring her back to him.

And meanwhile we wait with him, quietly, patiently, hoping that maybe, one day, we’ll catch a glimpse of those famously blue eyes for ourselves.