And We, Spectators Always, Everywhere, Kirsten Kaschock
When they finally come back to the playground, the boy is in pain. He does not say so, but affects a slight limp. His left foot makes less viable connection with the balance beam than the right. She holds his hand, failing to register this new asymmetry. The boy’s gait is his first test for her and she fails. The mother clearly prides herself on attention to minutiae – so says the unnatural lift of her brow. The boy has a bruise on his heel, but it might be bone cancer. After the initial fever, polio can look like this, in other boys. In other times and countries.
Distraction is written all over. The blue sky scrawls with plane sign, and worms are fingering bottle caps and butts near the exposed roots at my feet, covered in boot. My book, soaked through days before, is illegible – each page polluted with the next, warped, stuck, tearing if turned. A buzz emanates from the mother’s purse. She checks it, smiles, and puts him down. She is no longer beside him. She is somewhere else.
Ledge Bants, Maria Dahvana Headley & China Miéville
Scores of aspects of my memories, my strength, my powers, were exiled from the world. Which turned out to mean that they were hidden, camouflaged in matter, in lost places, fabled gulleys, reachable only by impossible ways. Hence those years of monster-hunting.
You should never underestimate the magic of magic’s passing. The strength of the death of that strength. Eventually, I came to clock that the things I found – eggs and jewels and chains and trinkets that were, in part, me – I found in more and more quotidian places and forms. Protected by forces that would have raised fewer eyebrows, less high, among populace by now utterly skeptical of the sort of mythic shenanigans with which I used to divert myself. Each piece shifting with the epochs, each still some snide material joke, a pun or a prod from my missing ex, but now camouflaged not in the hearts of dragons, but in shapes and places appropriate to the age. All without breaching the terms of the spell.
I hunted them, and I hunted her too, but of my Nyneve, there was no word or sign. I was convinced that I couldn’t find her because I’d lost my powers.
Change Management, Angela Slatter
What would it be like to be loved, to be wooed, by someone like Lucy?
Dangerous. Uncertain. Different. Oh, so exciting. There would be no ordinariness, nothing banal or commonplace – no status quo, only constant change. The idea threw a frisson down Eva’s spine that was part terror, part elation. What on earth was happening to her?
She examined the last page, with the red-brown dots – the reason, Eva was certain, the woman wanted the letter. Little stains that, when sniffed, touched to her tongue, smelled and tasted ever so faintly of old iron.
L0ND0N, Nicholas Royle
I wasn’t questioning my view about the likability or otherwise of characters, but I was concerned about what I might be getting into. A widely held opinion is that it is a mistake to conflate narrator and author, yet a convergence of Ian and his narrator was precisely what I feared.
What if Ian was like his narrator? Did it even matter? Well, yes, I tended to believe it did. Not in general, but in this particular case. I kept a Wankers Shelf – a section of my library reserved for authors so narcissistic they asked their publisher to stick their author photo on the front cover of their book, or they wrote a piece for publication constructed around extracts from their fan mail; for authors so convinced of their own greatness they refused to ‘get out of bed for less than a grand’ when invited to contribute to an anthology; for authors who were just wankers – wankers to their editors, wankers to their publicists, wankers to booksellers, wankers to their readers. Just wankers.
The Hungry Hotel, Lisa Tuttle
Soon I was treating him as if we’d met for the first time that day. I ‘made conversation’, asking him about the band, their touring schedule, and he obliged with answers and anecdotes. He tried to take my hand, and I flinched.
We had a late, heavy lunch in an ostentatiously German restaurant, and talked about food, our favourite dishes, the fact that neither of us knew how to cook. Then we talked about recent movies we had seen.
Driving back to the city, the sun going down behind us, we were silent, exhausted by the effort of working through every possible subject for conversation. I noticed, as we drove through the practically deserted back road leading into town, that there was a new development on this western outskirt. In addition to the houses, town-homes and a shopping mall still under construction there was a brand new hotel, towering over the landscape from its hilltop perch, its multitude of windows glittering like faceted gems in the last rays of the sun.
The Days of Our Lives, Adam LG Nevill
Inside her vinyl, crab-coloured handbag the ticking was near idle, not so persistent, but far below the pier, in the water, I was distracted by a large, dark shape that might have been a cloud shadow. It appeared to flow beneath the water before disappearing under the pier, and for a moment I could smell the briny wet wood under the café and hear the slop of thick waves against the uprights. A swift episode of vertigo followed and I remembered a Christmas tree on red and green carpet that reminded me of chameleons, and a lace cloth on a wooden coffee table with pointy legs similar to the fins on old American cars, and a wooden bowl of nuts and raisins, a glass of sherry, and a babysitter’s long shins in sheer, dark tights that had a wet sheen by the light of a gas fire. Legs that I couldn’t stop peeking at, even at that age, and I must have been around four years old. I’d tried to use the babysitter’s shiny legs as a bridge for a Matchbox car to pass under, so that I could get my face closer. The babysitter’s pale skin was freckled under her tights. And right up close her legs smelled of a woman’s underwear drawer and the material of her tights was just lots of little fabric squares that transformed into a smooth, second skin as I moved my face away again. One thing then another thing. So many ways to see everything. One skin and then another skin. It had made me squirm and squirt.
Astray, Nina Allan
It is easy to fall into paranoia. All it takes is a tiny seed – opening an envelope that isn’t addressed to you, for instance. I googled Selena Rouane because I was curious, and because I still had the computer on from looking up her street address. It was an offhand, perfunctory gesture, one I fully expected to be met with a barrage of irrelevant results, as had happened when I googled Lucy Davis. What I found instead was a missing girl. Amanda Rouane turned out to be Selena’s sister. She went missing in the summer of 1994, when she was seventeen. Which made her the same age as me. In 1994 I had been in Cyprus, studying for my A Levels and secretly getting anxious about applying to universities and, for the first time in my life, not having the security of my insecure army-kid background to fall back on. If I hated the people in my hall of residence I would have to deal with it, because I was going to be stuck with them. I didn’t read the British press much, or any press come to that, certainly not enough to have come across a story about a girl going missing from a village near Manchester. I’d never even been to Manchester, not then.
Gone Away, Muriel Gray
I had dreamt of trails of clues, secrets unfolding, but here I was once again, the solitary grandchild of a solitary man, dreaming of adventure in the musty bedroom of a gentlewoman’s club in Bloomsbury, with nobody to share my dreams. Opening the mail of a stranger for thrills and receiving none.
What had I secretly hoped for? Perhaps that dear Grandfather was a serial killer or a Satanist? How very predictable. Slaughtered innocents? Secret cult members being invited to parties to perform rituals?
I almost yawned at the prospect. This was the stuff of the English tabloids. I would frankly be disappointed if none of Grandfather’s cronies had dispatched the odd orphan or danced naked except for antlers and a cape. It took not the slightest flight of fancy to picture half the board of governors on his Trust engaged in such a thing at this very moment.
Buyer’s Remorse, Andrew Lane
The smell of old paper rose up like some exotic perfume to make my nostrils tingle. Carefully I looked through the pages. From what I could see the text was authentically Pevsner, rather than one of the other writers who had written the Gloucestershire and Kent volumes and who had extended the series to include Buildings of Scotland, Buildings of Wales and Buildings of Ireland. The buildings actually described were, however, not ones that I knew – obscure chapels dedicated to unknown saints, castles that I’d never heard of, otherwise ordinary houses in which terrible things had occurred. The thought occurred to me that this might have been a proof copy of a volume that had never been printed, or perhaps a special limited edition of a few hundred copies. I checked the front pages, but there was no indication that the one I held was Copy X of Y, or that it had been signed by Nikolaus Pevsner himself.
Is-and, Claire Dean
His room was frustratingly bland. She’d expected posters, old CDs, plastic figurines, some traces of him having grown up here. There were just the paintings, more crochet and a crooked twig and wool cross above the bed. She’d read about the crosses, crosh cuirns they were called, in the guidebook. They used to be put up as protection against fairies. His mum obviously had a thing for them because they were all over the house. On the living-room mantelpiece there was a line-up of family photos including several of his brother and him as children, and also his wedding photo. His ex looked young and elegant. They looked happy. Next to it was one of a newborn baby in a blue hat. ‘He’s beautiful,’ she said. ‘Why didn’t you tell me you’re an uncle?’ He’d clattered the plates on to the table and gestured for her to sit.