Saturday, 30 November 2013

Editors' Note - SCIENCE & NUMBERS

Like language, science and numbers bind us together. They’re the reason we're able to open our mouths and say hello and tell each other stories. They’re the reason we're able to open our eyes in the morning, to listen to jumbled scores of the world daily, and close our eyes again at night. They’re the light behind our computer screens and the way our muscles arch and expand after a good stretch.

From changing gear in your car, to the mechanics behind the wheel, to the glossy interior and leather seats and the winding country lanes, science and numbers work in harmony and are an integral part of what makes our globe so fascinatingly beautiful. Science and numbers are everywhere, no matter how much you try to avoid them.

So often, we see this division between those who are ‘artsy’ and those who are ‘scientifically minded’ - this month’s theme aims to unite the two. We wanted 9 and nine to meet, shake hands, maybe throw an arm around each other. We wanted to pit words and numbers together and watch as they come together through osmosis.

We were extremely lucky to interview award-winning short story writer Adam Marek, to find out his thoughts on synaesthesia, science and technology, and how he integrates these in his short stories.

This issue sees the futuristic lust in short story, 'David', collide with the overwhelming explosion of numbers at a social function in Xavier Wright's account. It marries fractals with honey bees, and all the while, the clock keeps ticking in John Rutter's 'Two Twenty-Two.'

'Science and Numbers' has been incredible to design, read, explore and inhale, and thanks to everyone who submitted. We'll leave you to immerse yourself in a fraction of what the world is made of.

Annabelle and Carlotta

Saturday, 16 November 2013


Our final short story for National Short Story Week is 'Volare', from our September CITIES issue.


I sit on the edge of the canal, touch the little mirror and flash a beam of sunshine onto the closed shutters of the old palace on the other side.  Lapping water liquefying the crumbling stone, the slime-line of weed, the howl of decay and pirouette of mortality – Venice, a forest of gilded stone supported by dreams. I study the picture of the Virgin Mary on the back of the mirror. A white veil, a faded, red heart on her blue shift, she’s holding up a finger. A warning perhaps.

It’s a peaceful alley, dark except for this shaft of sunshine. I glimpse, in the distance through the ravine of old buildings, Isola di San Michele, the cemetery island. I flash the mirror into the gap but it dissolves into the glare of the sun. And then, blood orange accordion music bounces between the buildings and a cavalcade of gondolas sweeps past, bumper to bumper, laden with American tourists. The musician squeezes his accordion while the last gondolier sings ‘Volare’. I kiss the red heart.


I met Lilia in Giardini. She was sitting on a rock, smoking in the shade of a plane tree outside the British pavilion. Her skinny, curved back turned as if she knew she was being watched and her nipples showed like pinpoints through the thin grey t-shirt. A rim of a girl, a ragged edge of a lettuce leaf. I was handing out pamphlets for the show, sending people clockwise round the exhibition. When a man in a leather hat sat on the steps of the French pavilion, she slung an old canvas bag over her shoulder, climbed our steps and threw her fag on the ground.

“Welcome to the British pavilion. Would you like an information sheet?” It’s the spiel.

“They say you have tea.” Her accent was strong but probably better than my Italian and she had small, crooked teeth, top and bottom.

“Tea? At the back.” I gestured the clockwise direction.

“You want to show me?” Her eyes shifted from side to side, over my shoulder, out the door so I wondered if she meant me and looked behind. But she didn’t move.

“Delighted,” I said.

She glared at me and pushed past.

“No I mean it. Could do with a cuppa. This heat.”

She sat by the window and I fetched the teas and biscuits.

“I’m Tom,” I said. “What’s your name?”

She put all the biscuits on her saucer and hunched over like she hadn’t eaten in ages. She flicked her cigarette lighter on and off, just like her eyes. Her hair was a brown stew of curls, a bit greasy, jeans, dirty plimsolls, trodden down at the backs, too small and her fingernails were bitten back to the skin. But all that means nothing here. With artists you can’t tell success by appearance. I went back to work and didn’t see her leave but when we closed at six, there she was by the gate, arms folded, curved like a reed. She stood up when she saw me.

“I thought maybe I’d come with you,” she said.

In Venice, it’s different to London. You can turn a lettuce into party, masks and all, anything can happen, a puff of smoke becomes a palace. So I didn’t run a mile. I just smiled and carried on walking at my pace.

“You like that I come with you, I think.”

I shrugged. “I don’t have plans.”

She threaded her arm into mine. “I like you,” she said. “You’re a calm sea, far out, deep like the Atlantic not the lagoon. Deep is safe, you know that?”

“Thanks.” I sniggered, nerves, a bloody weir more like but it was probably meant as a compliment.

“And I’m the canal.”

Sour water gleaming, always shifting, causing havoc.

“Volare, oh oh,” I sang. “What would Venice be without the canals?”

“Cantare, uh,uh oh oh,” She sang back. “Now you are the gondolier earning big money.” We laughed. “Penso che un sogno così non ritorni mai più.”

“I painted my hands and my face blue, then suddenly I was ravished by the wind and started to fly in the infinite sky.”

She bared her crooked teeth at me and handed me a peach from her bag and bit into another so juice dribbled down her chin and I saw more than lettuce - clouds on a mattress, a feast of seashells, pan-fried diamond forget-me-nots. She wiped the juice with the shoulder of her t-shirt.

We walked along the broad stone promenade. Launches were moored at the quayside, a few tourists ambled lethargically, a man tugged his dog. Across the other side of the water, in the distance, you could see the Campanile and Basilica San Marco with its vast hoards of people cramming the square, barely space to breathe.

“Too busy,” I said. “I don’t ever go there.”

She spat her peach stone so it hit the launch and tumbled like lottery numbers into the gutter. A crewmember yelled. She spouted an aerosol of sparks and the guy wafted his hand at us.

“In Piazza San Marco, I’m a cat in a fire,” she said.

“Like I said, too busy.”

“Yeah, maybe.”

I led us my usual route home, crossing the bridge at Arsenale, winding through the narrow streets until we arrived at the square with the bar where I usually stop off.

We sat in the shade in front of a group of tourists who asked me to take their picture with a fancy Nikon SLR, and when the beers came she drank straight from the bottle draining half.
A funeral boat drew up; modern, grey with a remote control trolley. Three guys in baseball caps wheeled the coffin across the cobbles. Lilia lit a cigarette and curled her lip as she watched. I took a photo with my phone as the coffin swivelled with a hum of electronics and sank into the bowels of the boat.

“Death in Venice,” I laughed.

“Now we are even allowed to spread our ashes on the lagoon or keep them on our mantelpieces.” She shook her head. “Since Napoleon, the dead must leave Venice. They create an unhealthy atmosphere.” She blew a stream of smoke and laughed. “But we see the gates of cimitero across the lagoon. Reminding us Death is waiting, eh? But no rest, we exhume our bones after twelve years and line the ossiary. I come from doges and cardinals. All my family is in San Michele. My family ruled Venice and we walked the bridge of sighs with our heads held high.”

“I heard Byron invented that.”

“You English.” She spat a strand of tobacco from her lip. “You think you know everything.”

“And now?”

“Now? What’s the matter with you? I tell you this so you know you are meeting a real Venetian. Now is not important. Is history.” She lit a cigarette. Eyes binking. I’ve never seen anyone more alone than Lilia.

When I was paying the waiter, I saw her hold up the little mirror and examine her face. 

“I won’t be a moment.” She picked up her bag.

I guessed she’d left, but minutes later there was a kerfuffle as she knocked into the tourist’s table and spilt their drinks.

The vaporetto was crammed; rush hour. Lilia’s nipples pressed against me, she smelled of salt and cigarettes. I thought of touching the dark hairs on her arm but her face was a fumble of frowns and then I glimpsed Leather Hat halfway down the stairs.

At Fondamenta Nuove I barged through the passengers going on to the islands. I found Lilia looking in the window of a flower shop selling funerary wreaths. She turned to face San Michele a couple of hundred metres away.

“Spooky place,” I laughed.

“Home.” Her eyes spat a spark at me.

“Your family?”

“I sleep there. In the foreigners’ cimitero. Is more private.”

I couldn’t tell if she was lying.

We walked down the narrow alley into the seclusion of Campo dei Gesuiti. She splashed her face and arms at the pump and gathered a few figs that had dropped onto the street from a garden tree.

A cat sidled along the wall and turned along the canal. Water slapped against stone, tongues teasing the sun and an elderly woman tied her topo, with a dark red sail and gleaming varnish, to the steps that led from the canal to her house.

“That’s my place.” I pointed to the shuttered palace. An arched cargo door gaped like a scream. 

“The top window.” A gull landed on the terracotta roof tiles.

“Bloody gulls,” she said and pointed her finger and shot it.

We crossed the narrow bridge, into the labyrinth, turned into a passage barely broad enough for two people to pass. She leant into the shadows until I’d unlocked the door, heaved it open and pressed the light.

“You coming in?”

With a glance over her shoulder she darted inside.

“Smells like a convent,” she said, checking out the wrought iron staircase, the marble floor, a kid’s scooter propped against the wall. Before locking up, I glimpsed the brim of a leather hat in the shadows of the corner to the next passageway.

My place was at the top, above the palace, a 1950s add-on.

We climbed the four flights, the stairs narrowed at the top. I unlocked the next door. “Come in.”

I heard footsteps on the stairs like the snap of spaghetti but Lilia was peering into the bedroom, bathroom, the tiny kitchen.

On the terrace, she opened the door to the workshop and stepped in. I never let people in there, but with Lilia it didn’t matter. She walked amongst the draping muslin fluttering in the breeze pressing against the features of the plaster heads suspended from the rafters.

“I’ve been working with shrouds.”

“You heard of the shroud-eater? They found her on Lazzaretto Nuovo, with a brick jammed in her mouth so she would starve to death. You don’t know?”

I smiled.

“The shroud-eater eats its way through the shroud then its own flesh.” She shivered. “It’s an old story.”

That night we cooked the figs with tomatoes and pasta and Lila squashed peaches in a bowl of sugar and mixed it with half a bottle of Prosecco I had in the fridge.

“Bellini? You like? You taste the marble of Istria like in cimitero.”

“A real Venetian cocktail.”

She looked in the little mirror, rubbing her teeth with her finger, turned it and kissed it before slipping it in the back pocket of her jeans.

She dressed in one of my shrouds when we went to bed and scratched my legs with her toenails and all I could hear in my head was the blood orange accordion, the snap of dry spaghetti and then the sound of the peach stone tumbling in the gutter like lottery balls where she’d spat.

It was around two am that flashing blue lights turned the room into a massacre of discord. Her bones tensed in my arms. Without a glance at me, she slipped from the bed onto the balcony and the last I saw of her were her feet as she dived. I waited for the smash, the scream, the splash, but nothing, white space.

Inside the bag I found the Nikon from the bar, a passport, a couple of wallets and three other cameras. The little mirror was on the table in the kitchen.

I took the hoard to the police, just said I’d found it lying around. They asked if I knew anything about a stolen topo.


I flash a sunbeam with the little mirror, wait for a response from cimitero and flash again. The vaporetti leave the Fondamenta Nuove pontoon as I scan San Michele, with its thin brick walls tipped with marble and cypress trees. Seafood risotto drifts on the breeze. I’ll wrap her in deep waters if I can. Someone hums ‘Volare’.


Amanda Oosthuizen is from Hampshire, UK, and loves to travel, especially to cities. Her work has won prizes and been shortlisted in various contests, and is published in all kinds of places, including King’s Cross Station. Take a look at

Friday, 15 November 2013

Synaesthesia Magazine Short Story Competition 2014

The Synaesthesia Magazine team are proud to announce our first short story competition!

We have had a fantastic first year at Synaesthesia Magazine. It makes us so proud to see our readership growing and our contributions increasing, so what better way to end the year than to give you all the opportunity to take part in our very first competition?

15 November 2013

7 January 2014

For this exciting leap into 2014, we're lucky enough to have Adam Marek, award-winning short story writer of two fantastic collections, Instruction Manual for Swallowing and The Stone Thrower, as our guest judge.

Here are the delicious prizes we have lined up for our winner and runner-up:

  • £60 Amazon voucher
  • 2 x books courtesy of Comma Press
  • Publication in Synaesthesia Magazine's February 2014 issue
  • Winner's interview in Synaesthesia Magazine's February 2014 issue
  • 1 book courtesy of Comma Press
  • Publication in Synaesthesia Magazine's April 2014 issue

All submissions will be judged anonymously, with our top stories read and judged by Adam Marek!

The rules are simple, but please read them carefully:
  • Only one (1) submission per person
  • Word limit up to 2,500 words maximum
  • Entries must be in English
  • Entries must be previously unpublished
  • All short stories must be in .doc, .docx or .pdf format, with Name of Entrant, Story Title as the file name
  • All entries must be sent via email (as an attachment) to
  • Subject line of email to include: Name of Entrant, Story Title, Short Story Competition
  • Body of email must include author's name, email address and PayPal address
  • No corrections can be made after submission, nor fees refunded
  • There is no set theme
  • The competition is open to all; it is not restricted to UK residents only.

As we run the magazine entirely on love and coppers from our piggy banks, for this competition there is a small entry fee (£4.00) which is available to pay via PayPal only.

If your entry fee has been successfully processed, each entry will be accepted, but unfortunately we cannot reply to each and every email (as much as we'd like to!). A shortlist will be published on our blog and sent to all entrants in January. The winner and runner-up will be notified by email, and asked for their address for the prizes to be sent to. 

Good luck!

About our guest judge:

Adam Marek won the 2011 Arts Foundation Short Story Fellowship, and was shortlisted for the inaugural Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award. His first story collection Instruction Manual for Swallowing was nominated for the Frank O’Connor Prize. His stories have appeared in many magazines, including: Prospect and The Sunday Times Magazine, and in many anthologies including LemistryLitmus and The New Uncanny from Comma Press, The New Hero from Stoneskin Press, andThe Best British Short Stories 2011. His second story collection is entitled The Stone Thrower.

Entry Payment

Cry Wolf

Illustration by Anto

Today's story is blue, frosted with sharp prose and a child's innocence. It was published in our very first WINTER issue in January 2013, and it's stuck with us ever since. Here it is, in honour of National Short Story Week.


The cow blew up the morning after the storm. I guess the wind ripped the fence. I didn’t see the cow explode, but my brother Yan did. By the time we got to the field after school, fresh snowfall had covered up most of the red, the pieces of flesh and hide and bone. Old Marek strung up some new barbed wire and re-painted the sign.

Minefield, it said. Extreme Danger.

Yan laughed because cows can’t read. He said it was time to carry out his plan. He’d first mentioned it when the soldiers left Old Marek’s farm. We’d been standing in the tanks’ tire tracks, watching Old Marek hammering down the posts for the barbed wire fence.  Mother said the land could never be tilled again.

‘Think of it,’ said Yan, kicking at the churned up earth. ‘A field of death. I can lead unsuspecting enemies there.’ He looked at me sideways, his eyelids drooping, like they always did before he tripped me up or pushed me into the bushes.  

I jumped out of range. ‘What enemies?’

‘What enemies? Baby brother. You’ll see.’

Yan never told me what he was plotting - he was twelve that year and I was only nine. When his gang played soldiers, I was the enemy who had to take cover in the forest. They hunted me through the firs, chanting my name: Sash-a, Sash-a. Once they chased me into the branches of a beech tree and danced around the trunk.  

After the dead cow reminded Yan about his plan, my stomach felt cold. If I was going to be the enemy again, how could I hide in a minefield? Besides, we’d have to get past Old Marek’s dog. Half-dog. The other half was wolf.

Wolf guarded Marek’s farm, growling and barking and scaring the children away. That summer, the dog had bitten Yan when he tried to take a shortcut down to the river. The scar stood out like a crimson half-moon on his right thigh.

Then Yan told me he’d stolen some shears.

‘I’m going to make a hole in the barbed wire,’ he said. ‘Round the field of death.’

‘That’s dangerous.’

‘That’s dangerous. The wire’s not going to explode, idiot.’ He cuffed the side of my face, so my left ear throbbed. It was no use talking to him when his eyelids were weird like that.

The next morning Yan went out early, before breakfast. He hadn’t come back by the time we were supposed to leave for school. Mother twisted her apron in her fingers, frowning at his uneaten porridge.

‘Take his books, Sasha,’ she said. ‘See if you can find him on the way.’

I took his red school bag and my blue satchel, one on each shoulder. I wanted to run, but the snow was coming down hard. When I got to the farm I called Yan’s name, but it disappeared into the white air.

Then I heard a howling noise ahead. Something big and grey was stuck halfway through a hole in the barbed wire fence around old Marek’s field. Wolf. A pair of shears lay next to him on the crusty snow.

I crept up behind the squirming animal. Through the blizzard I could just see the shape of my brother, working his way along the inside of the fence on the left edge of the field.

‘Yan! Be careful!’ I thought of the chunks of cow, burst scarlet under the ice.

Wolf yanked at the fence and tried to turn his head towards me, but he was stuck fast.

‘Sasha?’ My brother’s voice carried through the snow. ‘That bloody hound came at me before I could finish the hole.’

‘Wait there – I’ll get help.’

‘No, don’t fetch anyone! Push Wolf! Shove him through the fence!’ My brother waved his arms. ‘When he runs across the field he’ll blow into a million pieces!’

I dropped the bags and approached the dog. He was barking, struggling in the barbed wire, his rough grey coat stained with red.  Under his fur, his skin must be scratched like my arms had been when Yan shoved me into the brambles. 

I put my hand carefully onto the dog’s back.


He stopped barking. I stroked the scruff of his neck. He stiffened and made a low noise, deep in his throat. I tried to make the same sound as he was making.

‘Hurry up, fool,’ called my brother.

Wolf raised his head and snarled. 

‘No, Yan,’ I said.  ‘You’re the foolish one.’

I picked up the cutters and clipped the wire biting into Wolf’s flank, pulling the barbs out of his skin. He yelped and struggled against me.

‘Ram him into the field,’ called Yan, stepping forward onto the mined ground.

‘Get back!’ I shouted. ‘Hold onto the fence and come to me – it’s the only way out.’ If my brother exploded, the blizzard would cover him up straight away. He was so much smaller than a cow.

Yan lowered his head and started to make his way towards us, around the edge of the field. I leaned across Wolf’s flank, put my arms around his neck and eased him out of the fence backwards. He stood rigid, watching my brother climb through the gap in the barbed wire. 

As soon as Yan got through the hole, he lunged at me, his fist raised. I stood my ground, bared my teeth and growled. My brother dropped his hand to his side. Wolf barked, but I held him back. There’d been enough fighting in this place. I picked up my bag and led the dog away from the minefield, towards old Marek’s farm.


Jac Cattaneo is an artist and writer who teaches Cultural Studies on the BA (Hons) Fine Art course. Her award-winning short stories have been published in a wide range of anthologies and journals, including Riptide, Litro and International Flash magazine. Jac graduated from the MA in Creative Writing at Chichester University with distinction and the Kate Betts Memorial Prize. She is currently working on a novel as part of her PhD in Creative Writing.

Thursday, 14 November 2013


Today's story is delicate, ripe, as sweet as jam and gooseberry bitter. Here's another short story from our vaults, this time from our GREEN May issue, 2013, in honour of National Short Story Week.


Take the gooseberry between your thumb and forefinger. Take the sour berry and squeeze it until it bursts and the jellied placenta sticks to your skin.

There once was a garden full of the prickly bulbs. Some are sweet and others bitter to taste. The ripe and delicious are picked to boil and simmer with sugar for jam. The rest are left to shrivel and harden under the sun. They are difficult to reach and those tempted by the fruits are scathed whilst foraging. They draw blood. In time the gooseberry bushes thrive and devour the garden until there is little space for anything else. Their sharp spines twist and turn resulting in a tangled mess.

The garden is swallowed whole. 

I was there from the very beginning, when there were four of us. I cherished the gooseberry bush, spending many hours in the fruit garden planting new seedlings guided by the Lunar calendar. My finger tips were like rusty nails. I had true gardeners’ hands with stained palms which often bled. I was nicknamed Lumberjack, and for once, I felt a part of something big and great. We worked eight-hour days; woke at sunrise and finished around lunchtime when the sun was at its highest point. Most of us worked alone. We ate mostly from the land and for a while it seemed we were living the bohemian simple life, totally self-sufficient and in love with our project and each other.

Then word spread and our community grew to fifteen members in just over six months. Some found us by accident and decided to settle down. Others were strays, vagabonds and lost folk who had left their loved ones behind or their loved ones had left them. Our plot of land expanded and we started a workers’ cooperative and sold some produce in the village nearby. It was around this time when Jasper arrived. He entranced us all.
It began on a clear, dewy morning. His shadow stretched across the grass and my body was sheltered by his. 

“I don’t mean to encroach,” he said as he knelt beside me. I dropped the secateurs and removed the soiled gloves to free my hands. He used his thumb to wipe away the dusty earth which clung to my hairline. From his pocket he removed a small bundle of purplish-looking baubles carefully wrapped up in a handkerchief. 

“Open wide” he said. 

I bit into the soft fleshy fruit; it was the first fig of summer. Then he reached out and pinched my cheek.

“So much life ahead of you, girl.” 

I didn’t say a word. He stood up and for the first time I noticed his club foot. The arch was barely visible and as he walked away I saw how strange his figure was. His body was slightly hunched as if his spine were an s-shape.  Perhaps sensing my perpetual stare he turned and said “I have a surprise for you when you finish up.” Then he shuffled back towards the main house and the darkness of his shadow shrank with the rising of the sun.

I arrived home and discovered a package on the edge of my bed. It was wrapped in newspaper and buried beneath the print was a note from Jasper. Scribbled in juvenile handwriting were the words ‘not a sound, J’. There lay the undergarments that he had promised me. The delicate lace and satin was as pale as my colour; it was an extension of me. My woman-self unleashed and ready to feel the hands of another. I had chosen to skip supper and instead sucked on liquorice root all afternoon. He had asked me to be ready by eleven-thirty. It was eleven-fifteen and there I stood in my matching underwear sucking on the liquorice and trying to keep as still as a model.

I wondered what Jasper would say to me. I wondered how many others had been before. I wet my face and patted it dry with the flannel. Then I applied the lipstick a little beyond the line for added effect. I scrubbed my hands wanting so badly for the tough bits to soften and melt away. I wished for longer painted nails instead of my chewed ones. I listened for his call, the beep of the horn. I thought it would never come. Then it did. 

He took me out in his pale yellow MG and we parked on the cliff top. It could have belonged to us: the sea, the horizon, the sky. All of it could have been ours. Few words passed between us because we knew what was coming and didn’t wish to delay it any longer. I was wearing a cream shirt with hazel buttons that match my irises. Underneath my shirt and camisole I wore the matching bra and pant set.

The gooseberry pulsed. He was lopsided; it was as if he had two legs of different length. My bones rubbed against his and I lay there waiting for his first order. His weight was overbearing. The gooseberry split and its contents bled an inky red. It delivered a great gushing flood, and I almost drowned in it. His silky film clung to my pants and spread itself thick on his faux leather car seat, stained with his aged ripened juices.

Natalie Baker is a recent graduate from Kingston University with a BA (Hons) degree in Creative Writing with Drama. She currently works as product editor in children's entertainment publishing and drifts between poetry and playwriting.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Out of Tribeca

In honour of National Short Story Week, we'll be featuring a short story from each one of our issues on our blog every day this week... starting from today. 'Out of Tribeca' was featured in our RED issue, March 2013.
We sat on the bus heading to the Upper East Side. It was the first time I had ventured out of our tiny Tribeca apartment in two weeks. It was the day I was going to turn my life around.
‘I can’t believe you have lived in New York your whole life and have never been to the Guggenheim,’ you said, ‘I’ve only lived here since I was eighteen and I’ve been five times, at least…’ you trailed off.
‘Ten years. So every other year on average?’
You messed my hair with your knuckles. It felt brotherly and made me think about Jackson. I ducked away and got that pain in my neck, it reminded me why I was there.
‘Besides,’ I said, ‘I’ve been to MoMA. Living in Tribeca is like living inside the Guggenheim, surely.’
You raised an eyebrow at me.
‘Do you still want to go to the Empire State Building afterwards?’ You asked.
‘Yes.’ I watched condensation run down the inside of the bus window.
‘Don’t tell me you have never been there either.’
‘Of course I have,’ I said, ‘with school in the fourth grade.’
‘Oh, man,’ you shook your head.
You had come to New York with an awe that had never left you, but this was my home town, as familiar and ordinary as the patch in Colorado where you were raised. Yet neither familiar nor ordinary as it turned out.
‘I’ll bet I have seen more of this city than you have.’ You leant past me, drew a heart on the dripping wetness of the glass, put an R for you and an S for me inside it.
‘You may know the touristy places but I know the real New York. The places to eat, underground music shops … foreign film cinemas,’ I stated.
‘You are so cultured, do you know that? For someone who hasn’t been to the Guggenheim.’
I elbowed you in the side. You wiped the heart off the window in retaliation. I huffed; looked out to the street. An old Asian guy sat outside his shop apparently unaware that it was not a summer day and that he had customers waiting inside. He seemed blissfully unaware that some people don’t have time to waste.
‘Do you want to get lunch?’ You asked.
‘No, I want to walk around a museum for hours, then queue for the Empire State Building for ages and fucking starve.’
You glared at me. I felt like crying, it was all I had done for a solid fortnight. I couldn’t stem the flow. That sharp pain on the left side of my head came back. The doctor believed it was due to tension. It always darted to that spot when I was stressed. The thought of dying was stressful.
‘There is no need to speak to me like that,’ you whispered.
I watched the people who scuttled down the street and the young kids in the seats in front of ours wearing trendy headphones. I tried to bat the tears away. You held my hand though you didn’t know why. I was being an emotionally demanding girlfriend again.
The miscarriage happened three months before I found the lump on my neck. The lump was the size of a pea. How long it had been there I don’t know. I waited a while, when it didn’t go away I went to see Dr Dawson. He thought it could be a swollen lymph node. I’d had no infections that my body had been trying to ward off; the miscarriage had been my sole health concern although I hadn’t felt unwell with that. It happened in the first trimester. You had held my hand then as we lay on the sofa, then in bed, with the blood pissing. Nature taking an unnatural course. You didn’t know about the lump. They were testing my blood for that.
‘Where do you want to get lunch? That is what I meant,’ you said.
I sniffed, felt that stab in my skull that made the skin over my jaw and shoulders go as cold as the window I leant on.
‘I know what you meant,’ I said, looked into your grey eyes, ‘sorry.’
You used your thumb to wipe away my tears.
I thought about Mom crying. Jackson had died aged seventeen in the hospice. When he had been diagnosed she had cried hard. Jackson took it like the tough guy he was. I never saw him cry once. One day, when we had no idea how aggressive the cancer was, they had fought.
‘Stop fucking crying, it's not you who has cancer,’ he had said.
‘It affects me. You are my child,’ she had said, ‘You’ll understand when you are a father.’
Jackson had lifted a cup and smashed on the kitchen table,
‘Fuck! It’s always about you, isn’t it?’
He had stormed off; his hand bled a trail to his bedroom. Scared, I stood outside his bedroom and listened. I hoped he would cry and become vulnerable so that he would need my comfort. I was useless. His games console had started to whir and then the click of his controls. I suppose everyone deals with their diagnosis differently.
In the hospice, one of the last things I heard Jackson say was: ‘When you are a father.’ A tired broken snicker, he had blamed mom.
Jackson thought she had broken her promise, as though she had a say in when he would go. I blamed her briefly too. I don’t know why. I regretted that when I lost my own baby, against my wishes and despite doing all the right things. No raw eggs. No shellfish. Still the blood had come.
You stood up to get off the bus. I followed behind, remembering why I was doing it. It was time to see everything I hadn’t seen. I had compiled a list to experience everything my city had to offer. Then we would travel to Italy, eat real ice cream and stroll up the Spanish Steps. Do the student-type things I hadn’t done when I had been grieving my brother gone too soon.
I would attempt to write a novel during my treatment, do a workshop in print-making if I had the energy. If I recovered I would run the marathon. If I was fine… well, I hadn’t allowed myself to believe it could be an option, I braced myself for the worst. If it turned out that I would have more than my twenty-eight years I would turn my life around; it began that day, out of Tribeca.
‘Here we are, Sophia. The Guggenheim,’ you said, still holding my hand. I felt a flutter of excitement that I hadn’t felt in years, apart from when I had found out that I was carrying your baby.
‘This is long overdue,’ I said as we walked through the doors.
We gazed at Picasso’s monochrome curves and Kandinsky’s abstract colours like tourists. When we were done, we walked to Madison Avenue and bought burritos that we ate in the street despite the chill. I realised how much I had missed having the air on me. I thought about the baby.
I had become obsessed with researching things on the internet; found a site that stated that pregnancy could accelerate cancer. Maybe the miscarriage had been a blessing in disguise.
I watched you eating your burrito like a child. You were engrossed, cold, hungry and lacking any self-awareness. I pictured you pushing a stroller and me gone. The thought of not being around for a child made my head thud. I would hear the results from my blood tests soon.
‘When summer comes around let’s try for a baby,’ I said.
You looked at me surprised and then smiled; your teeth all red.
‘Are you sure you are ready?’ You asked.
I nodded, you lifted me into the air and spun me around, I squealed at the shock of it. The shock of all of it.
‘Ok. Ok. Let’s do it. Planned this time. Wow, how very grown up of us!’
‘Wel, we are pushing thirty,’ I said.
‘Well, you are anyways, you are older than me.’
‘Only by three months!’ I shouted. I laughed. It felt great.
I hadn’t told you about the lump though I knew you would have understood; without doubt. You lost your mother in June. You had went back home to nurse her in her final weeks. I hadn’t mentioned Jackson to you, even during her illness. Of course you knew about him, my Mom always made sure to mention him when we visited her in the holidays, as though if she didn’t it would mean that he had never existed. You never pushed me to talk about him.
The baby had lifted your spirits as though your mother had put it there and not our emotional, heady reunion. We had decided on Penelope in her honour if it had been a girl. I wonder if her eyes would have been grey too.
‘Let’s get a cab,’ you said.
‘Someone feeling flush?’ I asked.
‘Why the hell not? This is a day for celebration.’ You hailed a cab and we got in.
‘Empire State Building please,’ you said.
‘You are so Colorado the way you speak to cab drivers,’ I said.
You frowned but laughed. You didn’t always get me but you were always amused nevertheless.
‘Does Penelope still stand for a girl?’ You asked, squeezing my hand in the back seat.
I looked at your boyish grin.
‘Sure it does.’ I smiled back.
‘And for a boy?’ You asked.
I wondered if I was supposed to say Jackson but I couldn’t. I never said his name; certainly couldn’t face calling someone else it every day for the rest of my life. That was if I got pregnant, if this one stuck and if I wasn’t dying of cancer.
‘Richard? After his daddy?’ I volunteered. You were taken aback.
‘Are you serious?’ You giggled.
‘Why not?’
‘Do you really want to become one of those types of couples? Who call their kids after themselves ‘cause they are so fucking awesome.’
‘We are fucking awesome and don’t you forget it,’ I said, watched the edge of your mouth curl and your eyes glisten.
‘I love you,’ you said, not caring if the driver heard. Not normally one for public displays of affection, that day you were.
‘It is good to see you happy again. I was worried you were thinking of leaving me.’
‘I’d never leave you, not by choice anyway.’ You laughed and kissed my hand. I could tell that you didn’t get me again. It didn’t stop you from loving me.
‘Empire State Building,’ the cabbie announced, we hadn’t noticed the monster in front of us.
I looked at you, you looked at the meter and handed him a fist of dollars.
‘Keep the change, ya filthy animal,’ you said before scarpering.
‘You are so stupid,’ I told you as the cabbie drove off slowly. Bemused, he watched us over his shoulder. 
After we made our way to the top we stood overlooking the city among the bustle of vacationers. I felt as though I was the only true New Yorker there, it made me laugh.
‘Well, is it like in the fourth grade?’ You asked.
I sighed and thought of everything that had happened since then, it felt like a lifetime ago. It had been longer than Jackson’s lifetime. I wondered if you and I would ever be back. I turned round to answer you, heard two women gasp. You were on bended knee.
‘Sophia,’ you said, pulled a Tiffany’s box from your coat pocket, flicked it open to expose a diamond ring.
‘Would you like to become one of those types of couples? You know, the ones who promise to love each other forever at the top of this strange structure?’
How could I tell you? It was everything I wanted. 

Kelly Creighton is Belfast born. She is a poet, fiction writer and artist currently living in Newtownards. She has published poems and short stories in literary journals A New Ulster, Lapwing Publications, Electric Windmill Press and Inkspill Magazine. She is on Poethead blog’s index of women poets. Find her on Twitter: @KellyCreighton