All stories

Shame, shame I know your name

by Lewis

John was unusually shaped, thin and pale as sliced cheese. His body curved up on itself like a Quaver crisp. A pale thin Quaver. He was however undoubtedly, a brilliant celllosit. We had somehow stayed close since school, despite having nothing in common and taking very different paths. I guess he was always there. Consistent and silently near. We would meet for a drink every few months. I would tell him everything about my latest adventures, girls, work, nights out. He would talk about composition and nights in with Brahms and Britten.

Occasionally we would go to a show, classical or of I could twist his arm, a real life band. I would get wasted and he would gently sway at the back of the room nursing a bottle all night. His fingers working their way down the glass, through an invisible harmony. Harmless and happy. Of course I never introduced him to my friends until the wedding of Harry and Ariana or ‘Arry and Arry’. Harry another school friend we had in common.

Venice, exuberant I know, but she was Venetian so I guess why wouldn’t you. After I’d checked in I met John in the pub. He seemed quiet so I filled him on last weekend and a rather forward young lady called Jen. He always seemed to get a bit flushed when I told him about my conquests. Jealous I imagined.

The wedding ceremony was posh. John played of course. Free talent. Arry and Arry did the deed. And dinner was served. They’d done that thing where you mix up the table places. So John was opposite me and I then a few locals and not much else until. She walked up in a slick silk green dress and piercing green eyes that lit up like a light bulb. She slipped into the seat next to me. Megan, she introduced herself with a smile. Jackpot I thought. I knew this was the prime time to make a move. So I told her about my work, the pressures of middle management, the football team (centre forward, 22 goals last season) how good she looked, had she ever been with a footballer?

“Tony” a gentle flutter of a voice floated across the table. I ignored it as I could see she was interested. She was certainly drinking her wine quickly. A good sign I thought.

“Tony” the flutter came. It took me a second to remember that John was there an. He looked uncomfortable, he was beginning to get that flush again.

“Not now John, im a bit busy.” I turned back to Megan. Who was about to stand up. I gave her a little tug on the arm to remind her I wasn’t going anywhere. “Another drink Megs?” She sat back down with a thud, smiled again and nodded passionately.

I could see John wriggling. He couldn’t dream of the things I’d to to Megan.

“So what do you think, maybe we could have a little dance?”

“Um” she said

“Look let’s ditch these lot and go for a walk. I’ve got a massive widescreen in my room.”

I could see John physically shrinking, as if a quaver had been microwaved. I smirked at him and turned back to Megan. She put a delicate hand on my arm.

“Tony. I’m Megan Williams.”


“As in Mrs Williams…”


“As in Mrs John Williams.”

John’s head was in his hand. His face a crisp red burning through his fingers.”

John wasn’t jealous. He probably never had been. Why would he be. An exceptionally talented and successful musician, with a beautiful wife. I realised I knew nothing else about him. All those times I thought he was jealous, he was embarrassed about his crass, drunkard school friend. He peered through his hands.

“Sorry Tony, I tried to warn you”

All for Gerald

by Jenny

Some men, men born into this life of politics and privilege, of wine with dinner and brandy with cigars and port with cheese, can knock back a drink effortlessly and never lose that veneer of charm and self control. They eat and drink, make polite conversation, flirt with one another’s wives and play complicated hands of cards all while sinking more than most people manage in a week.

Gerald, however, had never mastered that particular knack. His face beetrooted after the first glass and his nose had already started to get those dreadful bulbs on it, like the old men she saw through the window of the bookies.

Gloria watched him from across the room where she stood with the other wives. She had never got the hang of this sort of thing either, but she tried to keep herself quiet; hiding where she couldn’t blend in. Another knack Gerald had failed to grasp.

He bellowed where other men chortled, he swigged where they sipped, he swaggered where they tiptoed. He laughed too loudly at polite witticisms and bragged when he should have been modest.

Gloria could see the other wives’ veneers strain against some internal pressure as Gerald loudly retold some Lord the dreadful joke about the golfer in Venice for the third time that evening.

These parties were agony for Gloria and Gerald always stayed until the bitter end, even if it meant him being shaken awake from a deep and resonant slumber while his peers smirked behind their hands at him.

And at me, thought Gloria, nibbling frantically at what the waiter had called hand-chipped vegetable slivers, but tasted an awful lot like salt and vinegar crisps to her.

Tonight, though, Gerald had limbered up with a few glasses before they’d left and it was all too much for him. He couldn’t see the patronising smirks of the younger politicians as they made fun of him to his face with subtleties he couldn’t understand. His red face was greasy with sweat which he mopped at with a Marks and Spencers handkerchief.

Gloria tried not to see the smug, pitying glances the other wives shot at her while pretending to talk about upholstery or tapestry or whatever it was. Gloria wished herself home with a nice paperback, but settled in resignedly. She would make up for his boorishness with modesty and politeness.

It was all for Gerald, after all. Gerald whom she loved and wanted to see succeed so very badly...

As they poured Gerald into his taxi that night he roused himself to give her a wet kiss on the cheek and Gloria felt a long forgotten tenderness swell up in her chest. She smiled up at his big drunken sweaty face.

“You mustn’t worry old girl,” slurred Gerald “don’t take any of it to heart.”

Gloria’s smile froze.

“You mustn't listen to a word of it. Oh I hear what they say about you, but don’t you worry my love, we’ll get you up to standard. Perhaps start by maybe having a bit less wine with your dinner, eh?! Don’t feed the gossip mill I say.”

And Gerald fell back against the seat of the car snoring loudly in time with the engine.

Mad Dogs

by Claire

Heat poured from the stones and a parcel of intense blue sky jostled its way through the rooftops above the small Venetian market square. The canals oozed a smell that seemed to coalesce on my skin. All around the square were trestle tables, candy stripe canopies and basketed wares. I watched a small moustachioed man drop thin wafers of potato into hot oil and once golden brown, place them all slathered with salt in waxed paper cones. Suddenly feeling incredibly hungry I bought myself one. The crisps were still hot and greasy and the salt made a promise to replenish the stocks I was losing through sweat.

The market was teeming, people selling and buying, eating and drinking. Children crying and running and laughing. Dogs whimpering for the want of some shade and a bowl of water. A small band of buskers singing traditional folk songs scraped their battered instruments in the corner of the square, looking up to thank passers by who dropped coins into the trilby hat at their feet. I wondered whose hat it was or if it was only a receptacle for money? Either way it had its story, battered and covered in dust.

One particularly colourful stall took my eye. A hessian cloth covered the table and mounds of coloured straw were arranged across its top. Nestling in the straw were glittering glass shapes, blown into bulbs of blue and red, orange and yellow. Misshapen and delicate, peppered with bubbles, the shapes cast lights and rainbows on the sackcloth. Little pieces of unused and unusable Murano Venetian glass, being sold by an entrepreneurial young girl.

I would have loved to handle the glass, pick it up and hold it to the sky. My fingers, however, were unfit for purpose in this respect, being covered in salty starchy grease. So, I could only look. As I stood to the side of the stall a tall rangy man, with fingers like twigs, came to inspect the stall. He too seemed transfixed by the glass but did not hesitate to manhandle one piece after another. The girl behind the stall watched nervously, too shy to ask him not to touch. He commented loudly at each piece he inspected “Oh, so pretty” “How do they do it?” “Gorgeous how it catches the light”, his home counties tone giving him away as a fellow Englishman. He seemed mundane and everyday to me, dissonant in the space we were in. The girl glanced towards me and raised her eyes skywards, seeking an ally in her predicament. I suddenly felt very very British, standing there so pink and sweaty, eating crisps. My countryman’s faux pax was a deep and wounding shame.

Licking the last of the salt from my fingers, I shrugged my shoulders and pinned my alliance to the mast. “Che idiota inglese” I said and then, with the grace of a gondola, slid slowly away back to my hotel room for a nice cup of tea.

The Gods or The Gondolier

by Russ

Hands shot to mouths when he dropped to his knee in Venice. Though the gasps were of horror, not surprise. The only person who reacted differently was the gondolier who probably saw this every day and, quick as a flash, had fished a fistful of rose petals from his satchel and begun sprinkling them. It was a petal landing in her crisp packet that wrested her attention from her phone. I swear I saw her eyes roll when she realised what was happening.

As we floated in our own boats just yards from the horror, I sensed I wasn’t the only one with a sinking feeling in my guts. Since Rome, all forty of us had watched her treat him like a skivvy while she flirted with anything in a tight shirt. I was sure it was just me who’d seen her leaving the disabled loo with the tour guide one morning, but that didn’t mean the others hadn’t witnessed their own sights.

We couldn’t see his eyes, but his entire body was shaking as he croaked out a clearly rehearsed speech. She’d dropped her sunglasses over her eyes and seemed to be looking over his shoulder. Perhaps she was trying to decide if we’d turn nasty when she popped his heart like a balloon. A shrug suggested that, ultimately, she didn’t care.

He was reciting a poem. I could feel the heat under my ears and wondered if I should throw myself into the canal to save him. The water didn’t exactly look clean.

Finally, in broken words, as the world seemed to hold its breath to give the agonising moment maximum exposure, he asked. We watched her body stiffen and clamped our teeth together. I hoped she might at least have the decency to lean in and whisper her rejection, but I knew she wouldn’t. She took a deep breath, looked at the boy like he’d shat the bed, and opened her mouth.

‘Are you fucking stupid?’

We heard the contempt in every syllable. He didn’t move, frozen as he snapped from his nervous trance and realised just how centre stage his devastation was about to become.

What followed was not gentle. It was a demolition. She tore the boy to shreds. Every aspect of his personality, of his appearance, and of her complete lack of attraction to him. I suspected she’d be unkind, I hadn’t expected brutal. By the time it finished she was on her feet and his face was buried in his hands. Tears were flooding between his fingers.

I don’t think I’ll ever know if it was the gods or the gondolier which made it happen but, just as we clamoured for an escape, hands were sent to mouths once more, but this time eyes were wide with laughter.

It turns out, you see, that not all canals in Venice are so deep as you might think. In fact, if a particularly obnoxious woman in a short dress tumbles gracelessly overboard and splashes down onto all fours, there is, in some, just enough water to cover thighs and forearms, but not enough to stop a cackling crowd taking photos of her bared arse as it emerges like a pair of sodden bulbs from the fetid blue.

The young man and the enchanted bulb

by simon

Once upon a time there was a young man who lived with his family in Cowbridge.

Being a good natured lad, he always helped around the house and worked in the local abattoir to help feed the family. However, the family were vegan and he often fainted at the sight of blood.

One rainy afternoon, after fainting in work again, the young man was walking home when an old man appeared out of nowhere in a gondola and asked, “young man, I am but a poor old man from Venice who has lost his way, do you have any food? I can reward you with a gift that is the real McCoy.”

“Yes sir,” the young man replied. “I have a pocket full of kidneys from work that I will not eat, you can make a delicious supper with them, although I require no reward.” The young man took out the kidneys and promptly fainted on the spot.

Ten minutes later, the young man woke up but the old man had vanished along with the heavy rain for it had been replaced by a light drizzle to add to his discomfort. The only evidence of the old mans existence were three small bulbs left as a thank you. He pocketed the bulbs and scurried home.

“You stupid boy” hissed his mother.

“What are we going to do with three bulbs you idiot?” shouted his brother.

After an awkward silence, the young man ran upstairs to bed in disgrace but not before exfoliating because you really should look after your skin. His brother threw the bulbs into the garden with reckless abandon.

“Now you’ve done it! I don’t know what you’ve done but you’ve definitely done it!” Screamed his mother to the sleepy young man the next morning.

The young man ignored her, yawned, climbed out of bed and walked over to the open window where his brother stood with a look of astonishment and his mouth agape. In the garden were now three giant crisps protruding from the soil that were so tall they touched the heavens.

Fed up of his mother’s constant nagging and his brothers staring, the young man ran downstairs, opened the back door and immediately started to climb one of the giant crisps. He made a mental note that it was ready salted. His thighs burnt, his hands were sore, the air was getting thinner but he continued to climb.

After several minutes the young man could feel the eyes of his neighbours on him. He could hear shouting. Possibly shouts of encouragement. He could hear laughing. Jealousy he thought. It spurred him on. He would conquer the crisp today or possibly tomorrow if his shift pattern changed. He had to reach the top. Untold glories await. Ignoring the voices below he continued to climb higher.

His family couldn’t watch. They didn’t watch.

It was then that the young man realised he had climbed out of bed naked.