#FridayFlash

#fridayflash Anise Fish and Colin behind the Glass

#FridayFlash (check it out, anyone can do it) as I’ve said many times before has been the single most important influence and inspiration for me in my writing development over the last few years, since I began calling myself a writer, writing everyday and striving to say things that were important to me but to say them new. There are phases when we beaver away in the background – I haven’t posted in FridayFlash for some time while finishing novel work. Due to the inspiration of Fridayflash I wrote a flash fiction about a girl eating the world that is forthcoming in wonderful mag The Stinging Fly. But the story didn’t end there, various vignettes arrived, which will be combined into a very human tale of psychotic consumption, loss, love, depravity – all very human things, many of which are rooted in the excesses and tragedies of the Irish economic boom and bust. Anyhow that’s for later, for the novel but here is a taster as my fridayflash piece today. All feedback very much appreciated.

“What is the sickness that you have?” Colin behind the glass wondered.

“Too much world,” said Anise Fish.

“We have that in common.”

“I’ve always had it, since I was tiny.’ Anise stroked the glass. ‘I ate four cots. They had to keep replacing them… I ate the curtains and the table legs like a puppy. Things used to go missing – pegs, toothbrushes, spoons…”

“Spoons?”

“Yes, and yoghurt cartons an’ all. One day a man came to the house. He lifted me up and spun me around and I jingle jangled. They did an x-ray and found all sorts of things inside. Once my uncle said that I must have eaten the constituents of a garden. Mud, worms, flowers, rocks, bits of twigs. ..So in a way I have a garden inside me…“

“You do?” he said, then he reached out for her and their fingers touched through the glass.

She saw him pale as wafers, as edible as the moon. “Come outside with me, you can’t live in here.”

He felt: homemade lemonade and the assault of her eyes. He took a deep breath and turned the handle of the window.

“Come into my room,” he said.

He stepped back as she leaned on the window sill and clambered up. He felt the oxygen of the world as she opened the window wider and climbed through. He relived for an instant that trip on the train when he was five and the countryside was moving too fast. The grass was a blur, the cows, dry stone walls, the sidings, wide motorways. Victorian warehouses with old kiln dried bricks, the metal skeletons of goods trains, graffiti filth, the onslaught of cities and their electric lights.

Anise Fish had brought the outside in. He covered his face with his hands and then he felt her hands on him. Her face so immediate, so close. He reached out for her.

There was no honey. There was salt, seaweed and sand, and yellow; the colour of buttercups under her chin. Her skin felt like paper first and feathers and old books, all those old musty books from his room that he had buried his nose in, face down flat on his bed. Her tongue was slippery and muscular like a fish.

She kissed every inch of the half-moons under his eyes, the dark inventive hollows, the hamlets of his temples, his lip topography, licked his cheeks of fragile dawns and fever.

He tasted the air on her skin and the sky with kites, sea spray, bog ale, moss and pine needles, forest floors and old dung at stiles with wind waves of dried sedge beyond, the snap of licorice dogwood, red twig fire between the teeth.

Come outside she had said.  “Come outside.” whispered Anise Fish. And she kissed him again, that soft fishy tongue in the salt of his mouth. And he sucked on her mouth for air and he held onto her shoulders and ribs for his scafenfolding.

He was inside now, right inside, inside this room, inside this girl, all sensation.

Anise: the tips of her fingers were popping, her groin was burrowing into the molten earth core, into dark tunnels of ancient trolls with groping gnarled fingers, down smooth slippery rivers of ice and fire.

Their legs had gone from under them. They sunk into the soft billow of sun sheets. They lay at the bottom of the pond, in the salty rockpools then; watching shoals of tiny two-spotted gobys, sea anemones waving fronds.

His hand fell from her as she rolled away. He heard water running and remembered trips to waterfalls; his own perpetual screaming at the overwhelming sound and the relentless pouring. He recalled his parents’ bemusement. He caught a glimpse of her hair and it was the sun in his eyes. He covered his face.

He rolled onto his back, naked, onto the sheets that were not too anything, feeling his own fingers in his own space, the ghosts of trains still clattering in his exerted heart. He put his finger to his lips and could taste the world from them.

He became aware of an insatiable yearning.

From the pale iced door, returning, Anise’s face contorted. He closed his eyes against the view of her and continued to chew. The bedstead tasted of meatloaf.

Copyright: Alison Wells

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31 days: Why flash fiction can change your life

This series of articles running through January will explore ways of keeping our head above water in physical, mental, emotional and creative areas. There will be creative challenges, competitions and giveaways. For the full background see here.

To receive all the 31 posts, sign up for email notification on the sidebar. On twitter it’s at @31HAW or @alisonwells. Hashtag  #31haw and #headabovewater.

Getting Through

What I’m trying to achieve with this series of 31 posts is to find ways for us just to get through our busy and sometimes daily lives and keep motivated and sane. For me, very short fiction – flash fiction – has allowed me to feel productive and to be productive when family circumstances have not given me the time or headspace to work on longer pieces of work and it’s been successful, as you’ll see from the post.

In the spirit of working smart this post is a slight modification of a previously published post. At the end I include an exercise/challenge to get you writing and see what can be achieved. Have a go at the prompt and add your entry to the comments tomorrow and be in with a chance for a giveaway of some books: 52FF by Marc Nash, Kettle of Fish by Ali Bacon and Clodagh Murphy’s Frisky Business.

Short bursts of work

Being a mother of four young children and lacking daily headspace, flash fiction for me has been an ideal format for exploring ideas and producing a substantial body of work in short bursts. Flash fiction can be anything from a few words up to about a thousand words when technically at that point it might be called a short short. A famous example of a six word story is Earnest Hemingway’s ‘For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn’ or there’s my own creation Wedding Dress on hanger. Fast car.

A year ago I ran a competition on my blog to write a story in just forty words. The entries were incredible.  I’ve also seen brilliant stories in the 140 characters allowed on twitter.

One of the most significant influences on my writing development over the past eighteen months has been my discovery of the Fridayflash on Twitter. A group of individuals write a piece of flash fiction up to 1000 words long, post it on their blogs, publicize the link to the work on Twitter and log it on a central website. People peer review as many of each others flash fiction stories as possible. While this review is often at a high level it’s very encouraging when you know that a particular piece has worked or that people ‘got it’. You do get a sense of which are your strongest pieces.

While you are not bound to produce a flash piece every week, the discipline of doing so, of sitting down on even on a Wednesday and Thursday and saying ‘what now?’ is very productive. I often just choose a sentence that I have jotted down in a notebook as the core of the idea or begin writing the first phrase that comes into my head and adding to it by free association.

The beauty of flash fiction is that you can let yourself go with any idea and take it as far as your imagination allows. What appears is often quirky and original. What I also love about flash fiction (and short stories too) is the way I can take an interesting news, science, nature, history or anecdotal item and explore my fascination within the story. The world is a wonderous place and it’s wonders deserve to be told. For me wordplay is very important, juxtaposing words that sound alike or using the same or similar words to create a theme as I did in a story that in tongue-in-cheek manner name Flash. I used the word ‘flash’ to conjur up the ideas of lightning, the aurora, epilepsy, a father fixing the flashing on his house, the idea of time going too fast for two teenagers that were parting.

A body of work

My forays into flash through the discipline of FridayFlash have been invaluable. Without it, I never would have produced the body of work that I have, many of the stories would never have been written. One of the pieces that I wrote off the cuff for my weekly flash fiction peer review was accepted by the well respected literary magazine Crannog. Many of the flash pieces seem to have a special quality to them, they give rise to interesting and unique characters who sometimes beg for another appearance, so much so that I decided to write and have just completed a book of interlinking flash called Flashes of Sadness and Light, interrelated stories of different characters, and scenes that crossover between stories. We catch glimpses of the teenagers Emily and Eddie from Flash much later in life in different circumstances in Sideways. The story about the boy Barry in Close Encounters with Goldfish explains why the adult Barry in Origami Flamingos behaves the way he does.

An art and a discipline

The beauty of the inherent word limits in flash is that its a fantastic training ground for editing down to the very essence of a story, to make every word work and work hard, maybe even double time. Words can do their work twice. If you put a knife on the kitchen table it describes a scene and possibly the fraught relationship of the protagonists. Ever verb must just say what it has to say, so someone strides instead of walks, or slams instead of closes.

One of my favourite short story collections is Tania Hershman’s The White Road and other stories. What I find enthralling about her work in particular is her ability to draw a character so vividly in sometimes extremely short pieces. Indeed flash fiction often is character as story, your description of a person hints at the nature of their current position and relationships and their possible future.

In terms of audience flash fiction is popular and becoming more so, it is easily and quickly consumed and shared. There are many sites where you can post, submit or read flash fiction, FictionautMetazen and Smokelong Quarterly being just three.

Achieveable deadlines

Whether or not you do it with the challenge of a weekly deadline such as in the FridayFlash system or whether you just set yourself a challenge of writing a flash of 40, 250, 500 or 1000 words it is an exercise well worth doing. If you don’t have much time, it may be a good thing, just go for it, get the words on the page, be playful and experimental and you may be surprised at the results. If you haven’t already realised, I’m a little bit, or maybe a lot in love with flash fiction and I know you won’t regret it if you give it a try.

Creative Exercise and Competition

One of the most optimistic and energetic things you can do is create something spontaneously. So here’s my challenge to you.

I’ve just opened the lovely book I’m reading (The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey) and taken a line “The woods were silent, not even the twitter of a bird”.

What I want you to do is write a short fiction of either 31 or 131 words using the idea this generates in you, but not including those words. You can be as left field as you like, the more innovative the better. Jot down your responses and post in TOMORROWS competition entry post. Please share this post and the competition with your pals.

Real

That was the start of it, the vigils. Every night at the foot of the Gilt Spears a group of people congregated in a housing estate to look up at the stars. Housewives with working away husbands, fractious toddlers hanging upside down in their grim grip, wailing at the night. Comic book men with costume fetishes, conspiracy theorists with tales of Area 51, young pensioners with an eye for travel, Agatha Burns’ mother, Sandra and Karen (a hairdresser and a florist) and my father, congregating like they did the day of the total eclipse of the sun.

Nothing had ever surprised me more than when my father phoned me. In fact it was more surprising than what he rang to say. Over the years he had maintained an attitude of studied ignorance to my existence even as he indexed his Star Wars magazines. When my mother drew his attention to me, he often seemed taken aback as if he had no idea where I’d come from. And maybe that should have been a clue.

He was breathless – but that was normal by then. Roy spoke urgently into the phone. He said he had seen the lights. He said, ‘we are not alone’.  He said that he had heard music first, five notes on a scale and that he had made his way out to the back garden. Years before his first port of call would have been his telescope in the attic but his mobility was now poor. The world was travelling away from him; his feet could no longer find the floor, he constantly misheard, his near vision was almost gone. He had no trouble seeing the stars however, the further away the better. He drank champagne the night they announced the Glise 581g – the star closest in make up to ours, the Golidlocks planet that was just right for life.

He was even more bubbly there on the phone, he mentioned the music again, then the lights, three lights ‘dancing’ he said, ‘dancing’ It was a word I’d never heard him use, it was something I’d never seen him do although my mother was the kind of woman who should have been whisked about the floor. But he was changed that day, his voice was honey bright, he went on, telling me. I watched the lights fall through the sky. They stopped and hovered over my head. Then they flicked and dipped like the tail of a fish. Then they disappeared, ‘behind the Gilt Spears,’ he said, referring to the hills nearby.

‘Why me?’ I said

‘Come again?’

‘Why me?’

‘I thought you might like to know.’

Then he admitted he couldn’t get Barry, that he’d left a message on his mobile. I think he’d forgotten that Barry was no longer talking to him.

Of course he didn’t expect me to come, especially after the accident, it wasn’t so easy for me to get round. I visited him the next evening after sundown. He helped me take the wheelchair from the car. People were congregating on the green. They were organised. Mrs Burns had made sandwiches and the two young women made hot chocolate for everyone.

That first night we saw nothing but there was a sense of optimism. I watched my father’s face contain an alien happiness. He told jokes, he became considerate, draping a blanket over my legs to save me from the cold. After a couple of hours I went back into my father’s house with him and he talked and talked, a great river of information, all the vital statistics that were necessary for understanding what might be about to happen.

But then in the onslaught he paused, he asked me a question and he listened. I heard myself talking, and I saw him taking notice and I became real.

Night after night for seven days I returned for the vigil. I never believed, but look what had been accomplished – every night talking with my father, repairing the old mottled cloth. On the sixth night, he took my hand and shed tears when talking about my accident. He’d never referred to it before. ‘No one was on the look out for you.’ He said.

The next night we looked up at the sky over towards the Gilt Spears. Again the residents standing with their mouths open and their breaths baited. ‘Do you think there is anything out there?’ said the lady called Karen. ‘Might be, Sandra replied, biting into a marshmallow. Some of the group had given up, they were in front of their televisions watching repeats of Family Ties.

There was a sudden lull, like the bottom fell out of something. I looked up in the sky and I heard the music, the music that I seem to come from a long time ago from among the forest of chair legs as I sat underneath, the girl forgotten. I heard music but I saw nothing, nothing at all.

The people were oohing and swooning, shouting about the lights. ‘Dancing,’ called my father, pointing. When I looked there was nothing there but I heard above my head his perpetual humming, five notes from Close Encounters, this humming I had heard my lifetime through.

‘Three lights!’ he yelled, ‘Look, Look.’ But I couldn’t see anything. Maybe I wasn’t the daughter for him. My father clasped my hand, his tears illuminated in the street lamps.

‘Do you see it?’ he said.

‘Yes!’ I shouted. ‘Yes, isn’t it wonderful!’

He kissed my cheek. ‘Gertie,’ he said, his shoulders heaving. ‘It’s real isn’t it?’

‘Yes!’ I said. He lent down. I placed my lips against the damp wool of his coat. My fingers were crossed.

#fridayflash Finding the bog body

This is a short incident from my novel in revision The Book of Remembered Possibilities. A driver finds what turns out to be a bog body. This piece is one of three juxtaposed ‘moments’.

The bulldozer judders, throwing sound across the bog’s wide valley back to the jagged hills.

In the broad sweep of a valley, the heron’s wings beat determined across the fretful sky, the crickets sing. Over the ground moves the breath of dragonflies and moths, ticks and red ants. Small birds scratch among the lichen, tracking beetles.  A hawk hangs in the ether.

The driver takes slices off the skin of the bog.  He peels back the carpet of woven sedge, heather, moss, the wings of insects, feathers of bog cotton, leaves of clover. The blade of the bucket cuts into it, making a scar through the tapestry of green. It opens up the seeping interior, accesses the bog’s bitter ale…

The driver sees something in the ground. He throws the machine into neutral. He powers down the roar.  He jumps out of the cab onto the springy turf, the mud going into the grooves in his soles. The spring adds a lightness to his mood. This is a man who gets up before his wife and teenage children, puts his sensible sandwich and a flask of tea in the car and drives to the site as the light fills in around the edges of the landscape’s developing photograph. He plays Springsteen and Cohen and the Blades and Thin Lizzy. He has a good voice. It attracted his wife’s attention before she was his wife when he was just one more rugby head watching the match with his lager aloft. Later someone gave him a guitar and he sang Sarah and it happened to be her name. He thinks of his wife, leaning against the breakfast bar that sly wry smile on her face. He bloody fancies her still, the curve of her in those black jeans, she keeps herself well, no messing.

It’s a bitch of a day, devious. It started out calm and then those monsoon showers hit. The lads legged it back to the vans for a bit of a warm sup. He was going to follow them. The rain machine-gunned the window. He bent his head against it before he figured he was in the cab. He said he might as well continue while it poured. Then he spotted whatever it was. He goes to investigate. The sun comes out to make a fool of him and the drips are speed-bombing off the door as he reaches the ground. The rain slides into the run of his wrist, his hair is splattered.

The bog still stretches for miles, blends into the hills, runs up the face of it until the crags split it, solid heather hewn hunks hurtling off the rock face, clinging to the crag underside.

He almost trips on it, this coagulation of leaves, this what, this shrivelled thing, rag and bones. Above his head a hawk cries, dips his wing. The roar of lorries on the arterial is silenced. The hawk halts at this present moment. Waits for what has been found.

New short story collection, #Fridayflash and Smashwords news

Self-published in a library

Smashwords have just announced an exciting new library initiative for their bestselling titles. Read more about it here.

Publishing is in a state

Here’s a very very interesting article about the state of publishing today and the role of ‘indie’ publishers in that.

Today’s #Fridayflash

Today my #fridayflash short fiction is on the amwriting website which features daily blogposts from authors and fiction on Fridays. My story this week is called Brown and Blue, you can read it here.

Mini short story collections

Many of you who’ve read the blog would have read my #fridayflashes and other fiction. I have many many longer short stories, some published in various magazines and some that have never been read. I’ve decided to release a few mini collections for Kindle ebook and app. Other formats will follow. The first one is called ‘Stories to make you go ‘ah’. There are three stories about love, life and desire. One of the stories in the collection was longlisted in the Sean O’ Faolain prize.

Stories to make you to ‘ah’ UK

Stories to make you go ‘ah’ US/IRELAND

#Fridayflash From the hospital

This is a segment from my literary novel The Book of Remembered Possibilities which I’m revising for submission. This is a stand alone episode where Freya comes out of the hospital after a coma.

The way she placed her feet seemed to have many possibilities, the way this oriented her body in the surrounding space. It was the wrong body, in the wrong space, the wrong skin. The children ran about, random molecules in a heating liquid. Daniel was taller, Ben more talkative, Grace thinner, Aidan greyer in the skin. There was birdsong, a constant, chirrup, but no identifiable source, heard through the sirens arriving at the A&E.

Into the car in the multi-storey car park, the dimness made the children dozy. There were things that she may or may not have noticed before; the resistance of the seat fabric against the body, the precarious nature of small negotiated spaces, the arcing trajectory on the exit descent, so sudden she might be flung into orbit.  She gripped the seat with her fingers, discovered the regular pattern of embossed squares like Braille. Then out into the irregular world, the cars in the opposite lane approaching violently. She mentally steered to her own kerb like a learner driver, leaned back against the headrest.

In the hospital leaned against the pillows, trying to remember.“It’s common,” said the consultant, “that the memory can be lost in spots.” She’d thought, suddenly, starkly of a colander, had a vision of herself in the kitchen, water pouring through the holes.

Of the accident, freeze frames, a sudden backwards rush, the sound of glass smashing.

She began to recognise her family but with a stranger’s detachment. Now she sidles up to points in the past, recovering particular events.  But when she tries to zoom in they slip.

Back in the hospital bed: her chin on her chest, the suck of the blood pressure monitors, other patients’ hidden snufflings, the sound of a far off infant.

Freya turned her head. In the car, Ben – fastened into his baby seat – had fallen asleep, his head lolling against the insert, his cheeks made round, the corner of his mouth moist. Grace examined the sky. Daniel stared at nothing. Aidan looked straight forward, driving back.

Everything is strange.

They came to a stretch of dual carriageway where they picked up speed and skimmed along the sleek tarmac. Wheels always look like they are going backwards when they spin. In the sky, she saw clouds that defied possibility, improbable birds aloft. On the ground she saw long concrete barriers fencing in the relentless route, lone figures at the side of the dual carriageway, ahead, then suddenly left behind. All along the road the signs were blanked out. They were going nowhere.

But going home. On the last descent before their exit, an alien spaceship cloud hovering above the Devil’s Glen, the rest of the sky vacant. Freya stared. Altocumulus lenticularis.  Minutes to go before they were home.

Walking into the house she felt the airlock close, eyes on the back of her head. The lead player in this story of her homecoming, the audience holding its breath.

“Where is everything?”

“What do you mean?” Aidan asked, close, proprietorial.

“I don’t know. It’s all just different.”

“Granny came and cleaned up,” Daniel announced triumphantly. He tapped against the floorboards with his study shoes.

“Yeah,” said Aidan.

“We wanted it to be a nice surprise,” Grace was eager to intervene.

This was the cue for her lines, her play at pleasure.

She said nothing. She sat down among her things, things chosen once, things she’d gathered to tell herself and others of her tastes; not that vase, but this one, not that book, but this one.

But everything was not the same. The bookshelves were lighter, the ornaments rearranged, foreign bedclothes had infiltrated the bedrooms, her children had lost something –  naivety was it? They were leaner, more wary. They followed her round the house. Ben held onto her leg until she lifted him up. Then he put his hand down the neck of her loose clothes and fell asleep on her shoulder.

“Good to be home?” Aidan asked. She nodded, swallowing. On any day you might wake up to the feeling, of a dream gone wrong; that you were living the wrong life or perhaps you were just the wrong person for this.

Aidan’s face in the hospital. The quick turn of his head, the restlessness of his gaze. Ben held firmly on his knee, the children chided for noise. The staccato beat of his flight at the end of visiting hours. Now it was Ben who held her face, looked directly into her eyes.  It was Ben, not Aidan who made her realise that she was really there.

She got into the wrong bed. Now texture was a language. And through the scent of the bed she recollected Aidan. Although he was right there, she experienced it as an old impression travelling back to her along an interminable pathway to when she had loved him.

Later, in the months to come he will say; “You are not the same. I don’t know you anymore.” I cannot help it if in reality he speaks clichéd lines. I could have told you it differently and perhaps I will.

Later, he will say, “you are not yourself, you are not making sense, you are…”

”Unhinged?” Freya will say, looking at the door, wondering if one day he will go out of it and not come back.

That night, the night she returned to her life, Aidan reaching for her, in this changed body. She saw herself in the mirror, this other woman in this other life, this strange intimacy.

#FridayFlash Further chronicles of Mars (in tribute to Ray Bradbury)

In tribute to Ray Bradbury

In the long years of silence he waited, not knowing he waited. Ears that had been turned to him closed, the dust lifted and fell. He looked through the clearing for signs. He saw nothing, heard nothing without knowing he wanted to see, or hear. But his hands sought the gravel instinctively as he stood, sentry to the silence, to the stillness, to the waiting. He dug, unearthed.

There is a special kind of loneliness that might trigger a metal tear. There became a feeling in him, his long arm, his fingers, digging. There was a sound, Soi, Soi, another sound, Spi, Spi. His fingers in the soil as red as blood tingled. Fingers.

Followed then, a sense of what was old and over. Echoes. Flash memoryDeletion…Rebooting.

Sleepy Hollow. Yes. Humphrey Rock. Bonneville Crater.

Dust devils, this whirlwind of fire sand. Soi, Soi, Spi, Spi, Sil, Sil.

His fingers leapt. Sicila, they said, hot springs, fumeroles, microbial life. Life.

Precipitated then, a sense of what was possible and probable. Opportunity. Opportunity.

It was the judder and tug he needed, he opened his eyes, looked with his long metal eye. Spirit. I am Spirit.

In the long years, all the orbits, the moons of Phobos and Deimos, spinning.

In the long years of silence. Not knowing but now knowing, sentient, conscious. He remembered. Sol, Sol, Soil, his name, Spirit, his lost companion, Opportunity. Mars explorers.

For the last time he waited for the Transit of Earth, that tiny marble tracing across the sun. If there could be a metal tear… He had been stranded in the loose soil, in the red dust and they prayed for him, there was a memorial. He did not know that but their love had been evident, he felt their efforts, reaching out.  He watched the marble cross the sun and disappear. He might live forever, he might see it again.

First he travelled Olympus Mons, named for the home of the old  gods. Down he went into the caves named by the Earth men for their loved ones. The final ray of the sun through the gathering dust. He disappeared into the caves to begin.

So many years, Opportunity retrieved perhaps, oh joy then, or conjecture, (that is all the Earth men have). They wonder where life began and where it ends and can it start again.

In the caves he began for love, for the Earth people who had sent him there, that Rover mission for their constant attention and their prayers. What would he make, his long arm capable of lifting rocks, making monuments, pyramids in the shape of the descending sun? Monuments already existed on the surface in the memory of souls lost in human atrocities. The twin moons were named after Fear and Panic, the lackeys of Mars, that god of war. Now. No. New. Not Fear, Not Panic, Not War.

In the long years, he spoke, he built, he became. And in the dark caves a new secret, hidden from flyby probes and the imagination of men. In these new caves, names for the loved ones, Bradbury, Clarke, Rover, in these new worlds, old landscapes, terraformed pastures and glades and the enduring sea and under that miraculous water not sand, not dust, not yet, not ever. Instead the red Martian rocks, deep hue, deep hewn, everlasting. To the sound of the water on rock, Spirit thought and unravelled his infant imagination and began, and began and began.

#fridayflash Hard shoulder

I fancied trying to keep within a 500 word limit. It’s late in the day and this is a bit of a riff but anyhow…

On the hard shoulder she gave me the cold shoulder as we sat anxious and rattled. I’d had bangers and mash in the motorway diner, she’d had a platter of chips. It hadn’t been my idea to drive the guts out of the old banger. She wouldn’t even tell me where we were going. ‘Out,’ she said. ‘Out. That’s it, stop the questions.’ Now she had a chip on her shoulder. I hadn’t checked the oil. And now I was in the deep fat fryer. It wasn’t a typical kind of breakdown. Or maybe it was. One of those where you think everything’s okay and suddenly it happens. Now we were waiting for roadside assistance. We’d rolled to a stop right beside one of those motorway phones and now we were going to find out the truth. Did they really connect to anyone? Was there really life on Mars?

I might as well tell you her name. Well maybe not. What if my current wife finds this? Look what I wanted to say was that I didn’t care really. No, I don’t mean I didn’t care. I mean we were stranded with only a Mars bar and at that moment I knew that there wasn’t anyone in the world I’d rather be stranded with and there never would be. And being stranded, stuck there was the best thing that could have happened and although I wished I hadn’t eaten so many sausages earlier and the Articulated lorries were too close, much too close, I’d really hoped that there’d be no-one on the other end of that phone and that the batteries would be dead on our mobiles and that we would have to sit there on the cold, I mean hard shoulder together for a long, long time. But the assistance came in record time and after they towed us to the nearest town, she broke down and ended it. I never found out where we’d been going.