HCE received a lot of high-quality submissions for the Toys & Games Issue – sadly, too many to fit inside the magazine! So we offered some of our shortlisted contributors the chance to be published on our website. Below are just a few of the pieces we loved. Keep an eye on our website for more great writing like this, in the run up to the release date of Toys & Games…
wound-up, bound up and gagged and thrown
into a dollhouse of your lies, they thrash blindly
through the miniature replica of the life from which
they have been so cruelly, so crudely extracted from,
piece by piece, with a torturous precision.
she wishes that she could save them, but her attempts
are futile, you laugh at her disgrace, her Lolita lips
pouting in dismay as she watches them.
they continue their hyper-violent escape as she
watches, wide-eyed, from your berserk grasp.
Grace Evans, who currently lives in a bleak town somewhere in the land of tea and biscuits, is very fond of coffee, peanut butter, and dogs. She is also an English and Creative Writing university student currently working on a series of weird fiction novels.
Jane Craven lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill and has worked in systems development for AT&T and as the director of a contemporary art museum. She is currently an applicant for MFA – Poetry programs and has work published or forthcoming in The Texas Review, Still Journal, Cold Mountain Review, Ithaca Literary Review, Euonia, and Peacock Journal.
My finger, tapping the table, picked up a crumb of chocolate from Bonnie’s Easter egg. I licked it off and, without thinking, unfolded the letter again, and tutted at myself for getting a stain on it. “It’s starting at last,” I said.
Eileen, gazing down at Garinhill, looked round. “About bloody time – all the windaes are shut and still the wind’s whipping through the place!” I waited for her to start on books, but she had turned again to the window, then looked over to the opposite corner where Bonnie, in dungarees and two cardigans, was arranging some Monopoly hotels into a street as she gabbled a story to herself. “I hope she’s warm enough.”
I put the letter to the side and picked up some invoices. “She’s Bonnie, she’ll tell you soon enough if she’s cold.”
I saw Eileen shiver and got up to step over to the window.
“It was a year ago,” she said.
On the morning of Easter Monday last year, further down Garinhill, a woman had went into her back court to put rubbish in the midden and found the body of Jimmy Canick. He’d been injected with heroin – probably a ten-quid bag, which wouldn’t impress an addict, but Jimmy was clean and it killed him. As the investigation accelerated to nowhere politicians proclaimed Something Must Be Done and the entire hill’s tenement stock was earmarked to be replaced with “aspirational housing”. Which meant the stock was condemned, so the council stopped even essential maintenance.
But, at last, we had the Notice of Decantment and I felt the decision I’d pushed for, to invest my redundancy money in a second-hand bookshop instead of a house that kept the weather outside, on the grounds that we would end up with a new build house, was at last justified.
Bonnie picked up one of her hotels and toddled over to show it to me, babbling. I nodded and kept my smile fixed as Barbie Girl came on the radio; Eileen sniggered before turning back to the window. Bonnie tottered happily back to her corner and I picked up my Easter dram, but a stench of scorched vinegar sliced through any expectation of a burnt wood bouquet. Eileen was already at the back wall, shouting “Bonnie! Get away from there!”
Our three-year-old was leaning on my mum’s old fireguard, which enclosed our fan-radiator and a substantial amount of our space. Eileen snatched Bonnie away and said “Switch it off, John!” She held Bonnie’s face in front of hers and said “Don’t you dare put anything down that radiator. You could’ve burnt the whole place down!” She tucked an errant curl of salted brown hair behind her ear then held her weeping daughter close in the grand old Glaswegian tradition of muddled messages, muttering “…and the Council would give us a medal for public service.”
It was coming up to her bedtime anyway, so while Eileen marched Bonnie through her pyjamas-and-teeth routine, I waited for the radiator to cool. By the time our progeny was once more satisfied that Where the Wild Things Are ended happily, I had field-stripped the radiator and extricated the remnant of a Monopoly hotel. I kept quiet until I was sure Eileen’s temper was equally extinguished, but she merely watched me file specks of congealed plastic from the element with my thumbnail.
“She’s exhausting, isn’t she?” she said, massaging her brow with two fingers.
I agreed. We watched some TV, but high winds had knocked the aerial askew again, and nobody would come to fix it since some contractor got their van stolen. Eileen had made me swear I wouldn’t try again; nobody else in the block tried to. We screwed our eyes at Father Ted trying to run a football match as our portable TV snowed at the end of the table; then, when the news came on, squinted at ghosting committees applauding each other in Belfast. We had a dram each and, once Eileen was sure the radiator remained dead, went to bed, duvet pulled high against damp hanging in the gelid air.
As I don’t sleep well, my own Belfast legacy, the sirens woke me while still distant. Eileen stirred as they got nearer. We worked out they were coming from the other side. We went into the living-room by torchlight: it doesn’t do to identify yourself when trouble might be going down around here.
“It’s a fire!” Eileen gasped as she pulled the curtain aside, her head bobbing so much I had to back off to avoid an inadvertent Glasgow kiss. “It’s old Blarney’s block!”
“Great,” I groaned. “If it’s his flat, the lot’ll have gone up like jet fuel.”
Eileen shook her head and tutted. “We got word out to the council reps again and again he was running a drinking club out of there. All they did was ask him please not to hang the tricolour out his window.”
“Now, now,” I teased. “We’re all in nice Mr Blair’s brave new world…” I dried up, turned to the table and located Bonnie’s burnt hotel with my torch; a helicopter clattered overhead. I picked up the plastic piece and rotated it between thumb and forefinger, trying to make out which side was the front, but it wasn’t sufficiently detailed. However, when I went over to Bonnie’s spiral model of Garinhill, I found it life-like enough that the piece would only slot in one way, with the burnt part at the top left and facing the curlicue at the centre: where Blarney’s flat was, facing ours at the top of the hill.
“Eileen,” I said, “I think you need a drink”.
I fought a wave of nausea as my head belatedly realised I was no longer prone but had jumped out of bed, potcheen-tinted dreams of Whiskey in the Jar having been slashed by a scream. Eileen was already in Bonnie’s room and holding her tight as she wept, not caring that the child’s Furby pajamas were sodden. While she comforted the poor craitur, I whipped off her bottom sheet and stuffed it in the washing- machine, then wet a rag to wipe down the mattress protector.
“I think she had a nightmare about the Punch and Judy show at the community centre,” Eileen said, after she’d given Bonnie a quick wash and changed her. “She dreamt she was Punch. Maybe the Council’s right to try and get it banned.”
“Good for them,” I mumbled as I hit the pillow.
“I’ll watch Bonnie,” I said. “You go see your pal.”
“You’re doing your invoices,” Eileen replied, and remained quiet until I looked up from the chequebook. “You saw what happened yesterday, she needs a constant eye.”
“The radiator’s stood down,” I said. “And we’ll be in the same room.”
“And free time for me gets you more toleration on the dram front?”
She laughed as she put on her coat and scarf: it was good to hear. As she went, she hit a button on the CD and Barbie Girl started playing. Bonnie squealed in delight and I danced round with her so she wouldn’t notice the door closing. As the track finished, I said I had to do my work even though I was at home, and pointed at the papers littering the table with an Oscar-winning frown. She replied with a series of the babbles the health visitor had said we shouldn’t worry about just yet, although he’d looked like he’d say anything to get off this infernal street.
I got back to signing cheques. On the edge of my hearing, Bonnie hiccupped. I glanced over from addressing an envelope to see Bonnie looking very, very pale, and when I got over to her corner her lips were turning blue.
“Shite!” I shouted. I dragged her to the window and squeezed her mouth open: nothing visible – but there was a different hotel missing from her little Garinhill. I struggled to remember a first-aid course for infants I did before Kuwait, and decided not to hook my finger in for fear of knocking the obstruction deeper into her windpipe. “Can you hear me?” I shouted, far too loud, and her cyanosing lips formed a little “o”.
I sat down, put her over my knee and whacked her back as hard as I dared with the heel of my hand. Nothing. Again. Nothing, and she was going limp. On the third try a red object shot from her mouth as if fired from a gun. She started to wail but it was a ripping, rasping cry. I started to cry myself as I put her right way up on my knee and had a look at her.
I’m going to catch it, I thought as I followed the two paramedics down the dingy stairwell. I’d phoned 999 because the blood coming from Bonnie’s mouth worried me, and had held a basin under her chin for half an hour because, one of the pair explained, even though we lived not far from the ambulance depot they’d had to wait for a police escort.
In Glasgow Royal Infirmary’s Casualty I looked up Eileen’s friend’s number in my pocket diary and, explain as I might that Bonnie had already been seen, had been seen at once, my better half insisted we should wait there and she’d meet us. So the poor girl howled to get home for an hour, leaving me wondering if I was going to end up with social workers growling at me about Satanic child abuse or somesuch.
Bonnie quietened suddenly; I looked up to see Eileen approach red-cheeked. What kept you? I mouthed.
“Police all over the place,” she replied. “ Buses couldn’t get through. What block was it?”
The question threw me. “Come again?”
She tousled our daughter’s hair and bent to kiss her, surrounded by an aura of fresh air from outside, which displaced the hospital’s stale methylene. “Bonnnie’s Garinhill that she makes on the carpet. What block was it?”
I closed my eyes. I could visualise the gap-toothed toy street, but not where the hiatus lay. “I have absolutely no idea.”
The clouds were reddening by the time we got to the taxi rank. The driver asked us to prove we could afford to get to Garinhill. I gave him a tenner and told him to give us the change when we got there.
“Last bunch I took up that place, they did a runner without paying,” he spat as we got in.
“Can’t run fast holding a child,” Eileen said in a monotone.
“Shhhhh,” I breathed, lowering Bonnie into her bed. She whimpered and tried to get up, but I put a hand on her shoulder and Eileen rubbed her arm. “It’s all right,” I said. “You’ve had a big day, but it’s over now.” She gurned a little and moaned, then sighed into a peaceful sleep with the facility of the innocent.
In the living-room, I was reaching for the whisky in the high cupboard when I heard sobs coming from behind. Eileen was in Bonnie’s corner, head against the wall.
I paced over to her and laid my hands gently on her shoulder. “Like I said, it’s over.”
She pointed downwards. “The block she swallowed was the last one down.”
She buried her head in my shoulder. “That old witch Tilly Travis.”
I felt a pall settle where the happy thoughts live. “She lives in the last block down. Into moneylending, started drug-dealing when she saw she could get away with it if she kept to her patch. Uses her sons as enforcers.”
Eileen nodded into my shoulder. “You saw the police cars on the main road?”
“I did. It’s evening in Garinhill.”
She straightened up and looked at me with wet eyes. “She’s had her throat cut.”
I helped Eileen over to the table, then fetched the whisky and two glasses. I intended to ask her if she wanted lemonade but before I’d finished pouring my dram she’d downed hers, neat. I poured her another. “What the hell’s going on, John?”
I looked out the window. The sun had set, leaving crimson clouds to bleed to crimson. “Jimmy Canick,” I said, not sure if I was audible.
I was. Eileen nodded. “They found him last Easter Monday.”
I downed my dram and poured another. “You can never really get rid of a certain military bearing. The word in certain quarters is that the Travis boys owed old Blarney a favour, and…” I closed my eyes, and felt a smile play with my lips. “Safe journey, Jimmy.”
A loud report opened my eyes and set my heart thudding. Eileen’s hand was flat on the table. She jumped to her feet. “The Travis boys and all their pals made this estate what it is. They’re going to get decanted out, and when our nice wee houses are built they’re going to get moved right back in, and you’re spending our money on used books when people are already reading them on computers. We might as well be playing with our little houses with the Council and the politicians and the Travises, too – but all we have is the pieces: they throw the dice then rewrite the rules!” She stood panting, fists balled and white-knuckled.
She was right, I realised. We both grew up here, and remembered an estate that had been rough and far from perfect; but when Travis senior, so deservedly gone to her reward, had added drugs to her criminal portfolio, the authorities interdicted her activities only insofar as preventing their spread to the better-off estate over the motorway. People who could afford to move away did so, sucking in others chucked out by housing associations so the Council could harvest their housing benefit – and that’s when they had stopped all but essential maintenance. And, of course, the area over the motorway had in time fallen to the same attrition.
Eileen went back to Bonnie’s corner and kicked her little Garinhill apart, throwing the pieces that didn’t comply sufficiently against the wall, then came back and sat down heavily. A siren was getting louder in the distance, and was probably too late.
Gerry Dorrian was born and brought up in Glasgow’s East End, and worked in and around the city in drugs rehabs and crisis centres. “I became chair of a housing association there, in an area that had been allowed to “sink” on the assumption that problems relating to drug use, which had become embedded in the area in the early 1980s, would stay there and not spread more widely. I now live in Cambridge, and write on culture and philosophy for the Quarterly Review.”