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…
Trust Games at Windermere Lakeside
Sarah L. Dixon
A one-foot tube
pierced a dozen times
to teach me, at fifteen,
not to trust.
My team are in position,
the remaining place
is at the base.
I take it.
let the muddy lake water
flow into my open eyes,
my shocked mouth.
Sarah L. Dixon is based in Chorlton, Manchester and tours as The Quiet Compere. She has been published in The Interpreter’s House, The Lake, Obsessed With Pipework, Domestic Cherry and on a beer-mat and in Half Moon OWF Press anthology in 2016 among others. Sarah’s inspiration comes from being by water and adventures with her six-year-old, Frank. She is still attempting to write better poetry than Frank did, aged 4! Website: http://thequietcompere.co.uk/
Richard King Perkins II
At first, it seems like a game.
The pointer spins and you
place your left foot on something red
then the same foot on something yellow.
After six more rotations,
you’ve forgotten who you are.
Annular light filters through tricks of sky
and it seems you’re no longer in Wichita.
A vine of wind encircles your house,
breathing identity too large to divide.
You are its unsleeping eye.
The world changes from varicoloured to pitch and lead –
cold like the colour of bone
bleaching in an overgrown wheat field,
left foot wearing a ruby slipper
poised on a golden road to nowhere.
Richard King Perkins II is a state-sponsored advocate for residents in long-term care facilities. He lives in Crystal Lake, IL, USA with his wife, Vickie and daughter, Sage. He is a three-time Pushcart, Best of the Net and Best of the Web nominee whose work has appeared in more than a thousand publications.
Magic Toy Shops
One wet Wednesday afternoon, when I was an undergraduate and all the heartier students were out covering themselves in mud and glory on the university’s playing-fields, I was in the library. Tired of what I was supposed to be doing there and, anyway, easily diverted, I was poking around the shelves of the English Literature section when I came across a collection of stories by H.G. Wells. I opened the book, and at once became entranced by one of the stories. It was called The Magic Shop. The story recounts a visit paid by the narrator and his son to a most peculiar shop in London’s Regent Street. It could equally well have been called “The Magic Toy Shop”, for magical toys were what the shop contained.
“The shopman showed Gip magic trains that ran without steam or clockwork, just as you set the signals, and then some very, very valuable boxes of soldiers that all came alive directly you took off the lid and said–. I myself haven’t a very quick ear and it was a tongue- twisting sound, but Gip–he has his mother’s ear–got it in no time. “Bravo!” said the shopman, putting the men back into the box unceremoniously and handing it to Gip. “Now,” said the shopman, and in a moment Gip had made them all alive again.” (1)
At the end of the story, the boy has some of the marvellous toys in his possession, unpaid for, but the narrator, anxious to settle the bill, is unable ever to find the shop again.
I had my own magic toy shops when I was a child, and one of them was particularly special. Around a couple of corners from my parents’ house stood a parade (lovely word!) of shops: a haberdasher’s, a fishmonger’s, a cobbler’s, a grocer’s and, at the end next to a garage, Cleaver’s Fancy Goods, Toys and Ladies’ Subscription Library.
I spent a deal of my childhood gazing into one of the windows of that shop. There were two windows, one either side of the shop door. The window on the left held a display of cheap but fancy crockery and knick-knacks. The window on the right was where the toys were. There was the expected collection of marvels: balls of various sizes, dolls, a doll’s house that no one ever bought, boxes of crayons, tins of watercolour paints, colouring books, magic colouring books (“Just add water”), packs of cards for Snap and Happy Families, Ludo sets, drafts and Chinese Chequers, solitaire boards, cowboy hats, bows and arrows, guns and a small, often changing, company of toy soldiers. I was sometimes interrupted in my hours of wondrous longing by Miss Cleaver, who occasionally would take it into her head to rush out from behind the counter, throw open the door and chase me off, with threats that included telling my mother I had put finger marks all over the window glass and the surgical removal, presumably without anaesthetic, of my hosiery – which, depending upon the season, may well have been cotton.
I was inside the shop less often. Occasionally I went with my mother, who was a member of the Ladies Subscription Library, to renew or exchange her book. I was much less seldom inside as a customer. When I was, it almost certainly followed either my birthday or a visit from one of my father’s step-sisters, who was called Sarah but to me was Sally, my greatly loved Auntie Sal. Sally was married to an Englishman, a local government official. They lived in what seemed to me a very grand house, with three floors, and a cellar that stood at the top of a steep hill overlooking one of the city parks. We visited the house as a family from time to time. Sally visited us much more often and, whenever she came, she never failed to put silver into my hand, and she did so in generous amounts – two shillings, a half-crown. Five shillings, if I was especially favoured.
Inevitably, this wealth found its way across the counter of Cleaver’s in exchange for toy soldiers. I was obsessed by games of war when I was a child. Now, I cannot think why, unless they were an acting out of virtues in which I was – am – profoundly lacking: bravery, fortitude and whatever other martial qualities might apply. I had fights when I was a boy; all boys do. I always lost. I often had my nose bloodied, my lip cut or my eye blackened. Visible injuries invited further physical punishment from my mother. I was once all but strangled in a playground fight with a girl, a stigma I had to live with for the rest of my time at that school. In my games, though, whether with soldiers or else equipped with toy guns and a vivid imagination, I was a hero: resolute, stoical, a real Spartan. Thanks to my Auntie Sal, soldiers from that company in Miss Cleaver’s window kept deserting to join my band until I had nigh on a battalion of them.
And then, when I was eleven and about to start at my new school, I stood down my troops, hung up my cowboy hat, put away my sword and guns and, like Prospero in the play I had yet to read, foreswore magic. I gave my toys away. I walked past Cleaver’s windows with only a passing glance. It was as if the door of the shop, the door of every toy shop in the town, had been shut upon me and a sign reading “CLOSED” hung there. That I had expelled myself from childhood, I knew, but still I was consumed with sadness for what I had done and a persistent longing for all that I had given up.
Which is perhaps why that story of Mr. Wells’s, when I found it, worked so strongly upon my imagination. What I did not know as I read it was that reprieve was possible; the magic could come again, even if at second hand. The birth of my own child re-opened the doors that I had closed – to all the toy shops in the world. Until she, in her turn, closed them again.
(1) H.G. Wells (2016) “The Magic Shop” in Twelves Stories and a Dream, Read Books Ltd, Worcestershire, p.38-39
Born in Leicester, England, but now long resident in Japan, Clive Collins is the author of two novels, The Foreign Husband (Marion Boyars) and Sachiko’s Wedding (Marion Boyars/Penguin Books). Misunderstandings, a collection of short stories, was joint-winner of the Macmillan Silver PEN Award in 1994. He was a short-listed finalist in the 2009 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. More recently his work has appeared online and in print in magazines such as Penny, Local Nomad, The Story Shack, terrain.org and Silver Birch Press. Carried Away and Other Stories is to be published some time in 2017 by Red Bird Chapbooks.