Under the sheets 

Your body on top of mine; your eyes reflect our seven years together in my own.

When it finishes we fall asleep. Our eyes are no longer locked on each other. Only the stars remain awake to peek through our bedroom curtains. 

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Dear Vagina, F*ck You.

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Dear Vagina,

Fuck you.

This all started at the age of 10. Do you remember? You lead me to believe I had started my period when actually it was a false alarm. It ended in that embarrassing heart-to-heart with my parents which I’ve never quite recovered from.

When you eventually let Mother Nature have her own way, I was completely unprepared. I was at school and you didn’t stop it coming. I wasn’t proud of it like my girlfriends. I was terrified the blood would soak through my knickers and skirt and onto my chair.

Our next big hurdle was at the age of 14. I should stop blaming you for what happened, because it was both of us who endured it, but having you around all the time has made the healing process slow. I’m sorry I couldn’t stop him taking you, despite my sobs of “no”.

This was part of the reason I got upset in the car the other day. Knowing that a vile man, who had openly admitted to unashamedly grabbing pussies without consent, was now the leader of a superpower… It was all too much. Do our bodies mean that little now? I’m starting to wonder if you’re a curse, Vagina. What if I had a penis instead? Would life have thrown me a different curve ball?

I’m actually struggling to remember any good times between us. Do you remember my first labour?

I know you’re going to hate me for bringing this up again but something went seriously wrong and who else can I blame but you? Our cervix stopped dilating and my poor son’s heart nearly stopped. If it wasn’t for the emergency cesarean section, neither of us would be here right now. So in case you were wondering, that was why I decided to have an elective c-section the second time around.

It wasn’t the final nail in the coffin though. That was hammered in only last year.

It’s just a routine smear test, the nurse said. Nothing to worry about, she said. Just keep an eye out for your letter in the post to confirm everything is okay, she said. When it did arrive, I read the words HPV – the human papilloma virus.

We were told it was probably nothing to worry about but that the cells could develop into cervical cancer if left untreated. To be on the safe side we needed to have a small part of our cervix scraped off. It was almost as painful as contractions. After that though we thought it would be fine, right?

It wasn’t. Now here we are again.

The cells have returned, only this time there’s more of them. I don’t know what this means for us, Vagina. I do know that I can’t hold on to hope anymore. I didn’t want to break things off in a letter to you but right now I need some time apart. I need to forget that I’m a woman and to forget I have you in my life.

So Vagina, thanks for the memories, but right now – fuck you.

Yours,

Me.

P.S. Dear Vagina, since writing you this letter I would like to say how sorry I am. I never knew you could have such a special gift waiting for me, especially after all of the cruel things I said to you. Instead I would like to say thank you. Thank you for putting up with what life has thrown at us, thank you for reminding me why I am proud to be a woman, and thank you for blessing me with another baby. Unexpected, unplanned, but never-the-less loved. Whatever the HPV throws at us, we will handle it together.

 

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British Book Challenge 2017

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Well 2016 didn’t quite go to plan when it came to my annual reading list. I actually think I ended up reading less this year than I did the previous year. There’s no time to dwell on that now though as I am totally embracing the British Book Challenge 2017.

I’ve not heard of it before but after the hashtag #BritishBooksChallenge2017 popped up on my Twitter feed I decided to find out more about it. AND I’M IN!

To find out more about it, this year’s host, Chelly from Tales of Yesterday, explains more here.

So without further ado, here is my British Books Challenge 2017 list.


 

January:

The Driver’s Seat

Muriel Spark (Scottish)

 

February:

Days of Grace

Catherine Hall (English)

 

March:

The Eyre Affair

Jasper Fforde (Welsh)

 

April:

Night Geometry & the Garscadden Trains

A. L. Kennedy (Scottish)

 

May:

In Between the Sheets

Ian McEwan (English)

 

June:

Tea for Mr Dead (short short stories)

Maria Donovan (Welsh)

 

July:

Girl Meets Boy

Ali Smith (Scottish)

 

August:

The Essex Serpent

Sarah Perry (English)

 

September:

Kiss Kiss

Roald Dahl (Welsh)

 

October:

The Cutting Room

Louise Welsh (Scottish)

 

November:

TBC

(English)

 

December:

TBC

(Welsh)


 

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Two Little Lines – a microstory

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Two Little Lines

By 

Donna-Louise Bishop


She flinched as the roll-up, which had been stuck to her lip, ripped off a peeling of red-stained skin. Its shade was Sunset Lust, or so the shop assistant had informed her earlier that day, but now she thought it just looked cheap. Less lust, more lame.

The vibrations from the party music in her flat wiggled their way outside and onto the balcony where she stood alone, shivering in her strapless dress. It was mild for New Year’s Eve but it didn’t mean it wasn’t cold.

In one fluid motion she gulped the last of her wine and took one final drag of her cigarette, stinging the raw patch of skin again. Wedging it in between her thumb and middle finger, she flicked the butt into the darkness below.

She hadn’t planned to do the test until tomorrow morning. Ignorance is bliss, she thought. But now those two pink lines had changed everything. And despite the fear she felt, she knew next year would be the start of something wonderful.

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Next – A Tritina

They say nothing ever truly dies,

But that’s an expression too distant to console me right now.

Instead, I will let my memories carry me.

 

But who will be there to catch me

when my heart breaks and dies?

It might not be able to cope with the pain right now.

 

I might not be able to cope with the pain right now.

I pray for the day when you can return to me

and we can pretend nothing truly dies.

 

No one truly dies, and now you will always belong to me.

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The Final Slice of Toast

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The earliest memory I have of you is that one time you made me breakfast. I’m sure you’d prepared this meal for me many times before, and would have continued to do so many times after, but it was that particular round of toast I will always remember.

As a child, I slept over at your house nearly every weekend and, up until the age of about ten, every Friday night would be spent eating chips and fried eggs while I watched late-night comedy I didn’t understand. Then every Saturday morning would involve sleeping in late and waking just in time to catch the final cartoons before boring adult programmes, like horse racing, began.

This particular weekend Nanny was ill. Her nerves you told me – not for the first time either. Being the slow but gentle Granddad you were, you offered to make me breakfast. You asked me if I wanted toast. I must have said yes because you went into the kitchen to prepare it. I think you set the smoke alarm off at least once and I could definitely smell burnt bread.

With eyes glued firmly to the television screen and my mind void of all awareness of time, I soon forgot about breakfast. I can’t recall now what cartoon I was watching but it was probably something like Captain Planet or Sharky and George. Whatever it was, I was hooked. It wasn’t until the end credits starting rolling that you, my slow but gentle Granddad, entered the room with one slice of toast precariously balanced on an avocado-coloured plate which was probably twice as old as me.

You plonked yourself down on the sofa and handed over the food. In front of me sat a slightly charred slice of white toast with a cold, fluffy surface which hid beneath it a type of congealed margarine. Nanny had never made me breakfasts like that before. It was spectacular.

What is it Granddad? I asked, while my eyes tried to make out the mysterious shapes you had created.

It’s a Punch and Judy show, you said.

The smile on my face grew with each explanation of all the different parts. There was the tent with a square cut out at the top to make room for the tiny toast puppets. You had created grooves in the tent by slicing through the bread with a blunt knife, tearing at it rather than forming sharp lines. There was even the back of children’s heads as they watched the show in front of them.

It was the most magical thing I had ever seen.

Everything was so quiet that morning, especially with Nanny still being in bed, and the unfamiliarity of being left alone with you in what felt like such a big house was odd for me. I may not have shown you at the time, always making it obvious that Nanny was my favourite, but that moment, that wonderful breakfast made by you, my slow but gentle Granddad, will always have a special place in my heart and my memories.

Nanny passed away three years before you. It was painful and I still miss her, but I am so privileged to have been allowed to get to know you as an adult. With my own family in tow I have had conversations with you that I never knew I would. We have talked about looking after the pennies and the pounds looking after themselves. We have talked about what each partner needs to bring to a relationship. And we have laughed together when you told me about the time you and your army mates ordered breakfast, ate it, and then did a runner without paying; a whole world away from the slow but gentle Granddad I knew as a child.

Unfortunately this week, it was the final slice of toast for you as stronger forces decided your time was up.

I hope one day I will make toast as sweet as you did for me that morning, for my grandchildren. And I hope wherever you are now you know how special that memory will always be to me. From my child-self, thank you for being a such a kind and loving Granddad. From me now, thank you for being my friend, my mentor, and the best damn memory-maker a granddaughter could ever have asked for.

 

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Getting My Bake Off

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When I was a child I used to spend the weekends at my grandparent’s house.

Those glorious, responsibility-free days would be filled with endless visits to car boot sales or village fetes. Too much time would be had in front of the television, eating fatty foods. And more often than not, we’d bake.

Scones and sponges, flans and flapjacks, crumbles and cupcakes; we would make them all. And it was always my job to lick the spoon and or the bowl.

Those delicate delicacies were delicious.

Something has changed since I was a kid though. Now it seems that everyone with a fucking kitchen is able to whip-up la grand patisserie-style masterpieces. A far cry from the humble baking of my youth.

The Great British Bake-Off has a lot to answer for.

Seriously though, what’s wrong with a simple sponge cake and icing topping? Sprinkles used to be fancy. Now they act as simple garnish for the rest of the design. What compels people to want to bake these giant monstrosities anyway? They’re only going to be devoured in a few seconds.

It’s not that I’m against beautiful, massive Cakey McCakeFace cakes – I have a sweet tooth as much as the next person – but the problem I have with them starts at the school gate. More specifically the school bake sale.

As a mum bringing cakes into school, which look as if they were produced from the seventies, I have more than once cursed myself for not sticking to plan A; to just buy them straight from the shop. I have found myself blaming my little helpers – i.e. the kids – for my baking disasters on more than one occasion.

It seems that baking skills are a prerequisite for being a mother these days but it’s clearly a qualification I missed out on.

Tips gratefully received, just don’t expect me to do anything with them. Seriously, how did cupcakes get so fucking complicated?


 

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Playing House

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Playing House

She unwrapped the new candle holders. One, Two,

Three.

He turned his eyes away from the mantelpiece, to gaze

at the TV.

Playing house had been such a popular game

they shared.

Now one had moved on from conforming

as much as he dared.

 

It no longer mattered if they had a house or a home,

Freshly made meals now replaced by the contents of the freezer.

She would continue to play wife

and hope one day to be mother.

While he would continue to wish the days away,

forgetting their promises to one another.


 

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My Second Round (ch3) Entry for NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2016 – Book of the Dead

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This is my round three entry for this year’s NYC Midnight (NYCM) Flash Fiction writing challenge.

The challenge, as always, is to write one 1,000 word story, within 48 hours, based on a selection of prompts. I was given group 10:

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This was another exciting round for me because I have never written a historical fiction piece before. I struggled LOADS but this is the reason I love this competition; it allows me to write out of my comfort zone.

You can read the final result below. As always, honest feedback is welcomed. Also I apologise now for any typos – it’s always fun writing a story from scratch, with specific prompts, in just 48 hours!


 

Book of the Dead

by

Donna-Louise Bishop

 

*

Synopsis: When a once famous playwright decides to make a comeback in 407 BC in his home town of Athens, life may not pan out the way he hoped.

Can his former lover rectify the mistakes of their past or is there a fate far worse waiting for them?


As Kleio walked out of the entrance to the Parthenon, her white dress swayed like the Athenian olive blossoms growing in the trees on the outskirts of the city.

It was early as she made her way to the Altar of Athena. Except for the intoxicated few, who slouched over marble steps, the Acropolis was void of most men.

With a book clutched tightly to her chest, Kleio walked across the open courtyard. The penalty for a woman traipsing through this sacred ground unescorted would be a public flogging. None of that mattered to her now, though. It was time for her to be reunited with Euripides. It had been too long.

The playwright had planned on making his comeback by spending the day signing whatever objects people brought him to the altar. Being out of favour for so long too, he also wanted to appease the Goddess of Wisdom after relentlessly abusing his female counterparts within his plays.

For years he thought himself a scholar, brave in fact. Not only had he depicted the reality of his society in his writings, he dared to personify the Gods. Only Kleio knew how he feared the wrath of Hades.

 

*          *          *

 

“Let Aphrodite strike me down herself if it is wrong for me to be with you!” Euripides tore at his hair as he pleaded with her. “You are foolish to my needs Kleio.”

“Haven’t we done enough wrong without you cursing the Gods? I might as well row us up the Styx myself.”

“How can you speak to me with such little respect, such little regard?”

“You know why: Choerine. She’s provided you with three strong boys. She’s there by your side every year at the festival of Dionysus. She was there when you won the thing too! She’s the one you married. Choerine! What more do you want?”

Kleio dared to turn away from him, but he grabbed the back of her dark hair and pulled her towards his body. Holding her so her back pressed against his hips, she could feel his enraged lust spiralling.

“I could have you right now if I wanted to,” his warm breath tickled her neck with the gentleness of a feather. “Bring shame to you and your family name, my dear Kleio.”

“You already have,” she felt his hand pulling her robe aside. “I was yours years before you met her.”

“And I will make you mine again.”

Euripides let go of her with unexpected gentleness and turned her around to face him. Silently, she let him carry her towards the wooden table, allowing him to make her his once again.

“How cruel a curse it is to be born a woman,” she whispered.

*          *          *

 

For hours she watched him sign copy after copy of parchment and highly sought-after material cloths. Only the rich and royal blood brought books. Audaciously, Euripides would take breaks to bask under the shadow of Athena’s temple. Kleio wasn’t fooled by his actions, though. She knew he was scared.

Living as a recluse, in voluntary exile in a cave on Salamis, had aged him quickly. She wanted to run her nail down the inside of every line and furrow which had developed on his face. She wondered if he had enough strength left in his lips to make her blood pulse once again.

Today was a big occasion but even Euripides was unaware of the fate the Gods had in store for him. He returned to Athens, hoping to win back his popularity by presenting people with the rare opportunity to own a once-famous playwright’s signature. All day long people had turned out to catch a glimpse of him. Patiently, Kleio had waited at the back for her moment. Then, when the sun began to set, she knew it was time to make her presence known.

 

*          *          *

 

“I will go away,” she nuzzled her cold nose into the nape of his neck. “Just feel it though. Just once. Before we leave.”

Kleio took Euripides’ hand and placed it onto her stomach. He rubbed his finger over the area where her naval was beginning to protrude. He looked up suddenly and their eyes met. He had felt the first tiny kicks of their baby.

“Where will you go?”

“I will get word to you once we’ve settled somewhere.”

“Your belly; it feels hard, like unripe fruit.”

“When it’s born, it will be sweeter.”

He kissed her for the final time and as she walked away the aroma of olive oil lingered behind. When he knew she was no longer near, he kicked at a clay food container which cracked as it hit the floor, its contents spilling out like guts.

An edible, orange sphere, with part of a thick vine sticking out of its top, rolled towards his foot. For a long time, Euripides watched the vegetable as the fire reflected its flames against its skin, creating a raw glow. Eventually he knelt down and stroked its smooth, firm surface. Keeping them locked up, only a single tear managed to escape.

 

*          *          *

 

Kleio did not survive childbirth. As the pain raged on inside of her, their two heartbeats left the world as silently as they entered.

She had waited a long time to be reunited with Euripides, stuck between the living and the dead. Finally she had been granted a temporary pass from the underworld to bring Euripides back with her – in return for his signature in Hades’s book. It was a selfish wish on her part but it meant they could embark on their journey across the River Styx to face their punishment in the Underworld together.

The crowds had vanished now, along with the warmth of the sun. Kleio walked up the steps towards Euripides, welcoming the expression of realisation on his face as it turned white. She handed him the Book of the Dead.

Patiently, she waited for him to join her on the other side.

 

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Yeah Write Super Challenge #2 – Second Round Entry ‘Anniversary’

A fortnight ago I participated in round two of Yeah Write’s second Super Challenge.

My assignment was to write a story with a maximum of 1,000 words, using specific prompts – a character plus an event. We were given a photo of the character and I will attach this to the piece.

Yeah Write said: “Writers will receive a description of a character (this may be in words, images, or a combination of the two) and an event. The character does not need to be the main character, and as in round one the event does not need to form the plot arc of the story, but both must be included in such a way that the story would not function without their presence. There are no genre restrictions.”

I was placed in group 2 and given the prompt (event) ‘stumble over a body’ and this photo (character):

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I have included the judges’ feedback below and, as always, your feedback is very much welcomed.

 


 

Anniversary

by 

Donna-Louise Bishop

* * *

Synopsis: Lydia tries to escape her demons by immersing herself in London’s wild nightlife. Can she avoid the trauma that comes with an anniversary?

* * *

The beat pulsated through Lydia’s body, dull thuds radiating inside her like waves slamming against resilient sea walls. Bodies crammed themselves into the tiny London flat and a mixture of white powder and whiskey flowed freely through the veins of the midnight revellers.

She vaguely remembered how she got there. There was a club, one that smelt of vomit and damp shoes, followed by a visit to an underground basement with people she no longer recognised as friends. The last thing she saw before collapsing into a taxi with the strangers was two women fondling each other’s nipples through sheer tank tops. She touched her own breasts, wondering if they had experienced the same ordeal.

The concept of time became lost as she ignored playful screams from the others, instead falling asleep to the gentle hum of the car engine. The welcomed rest was soon interrupted though, and Lydia was woken by an angry driver threatening to shove her head up her arse if she was sick on his upholstery. With the back of her hand, she wiped drool from the side of her mouth and followed the group inside a tower block to ride the elevator to the house party upstairs.

Once inside the flat, Lydia made her way to the nearest window. It was stained by fingerprints and overlooked the rooftops. They were high. At least 18 floors up. She knew she must be in Canary Wharf because she recognised the financial district in the distance. The cocktail of substances mixing in her belly, combined with the view, made her stomach feel as if it was being wrung out like a face cloth. Taking a step away from the glass, her heel got caught on something hard and heavy behind her. She stumbled backwards over it, before losing her balance completely and knocking her head hard on a china ornament of Lord Nelson.

She lifted her hand to scratch at a tickle, caused by blood oozing from her forehead. Then, before the scene around her became enveloped in black, she saw the thing which had caused her to fall.

Still and ignored, alone in the corner of the flat, there was a body.

 

*           *           *

 

Norfolk’s coastal October breeze wraps itself tightly around Lydia’s body, swaddling her like a newborn baby in a blanket cocoon.

The beach is empty and the tide is out. The bottom of her jeans is drenched from walking near to the sea’s edge. She reaches down and grabs a fistful of dirty orange sand, allowing its coolness to soothe her aching palms.

The only thing missing from this scene was a puppy. From the age of four she had crazed her mother to buy a dog. As well as being a friend for Lydia, it would have benefited her mother too, by keeping her company instead of the strips of happy pills from the doctor.

A rhythmic blast of yellow from a lighthouse built on the distant horizon snaps Lydia out of her thoughts. This day starts to become familiar to her. It happened thirteen years ago but she could remember it all. The sun was setting and her five-year-old self stared out of her bedroom window for what felt like hours, gazing silently at the sea. Alone in the house she brushed her teeth, dressed herself into torn Care Bear pyjamas, and attempted to read Bedtime Stories for Girls. Her mother still wasn’t home.

She tried to shut her eyes and count sheep but when that didn’t work she listed the planets using a rhyme she had learnt at school. Finally, she sang Twinkle Twinkle Little Star quietly to herself. She still couldn’t sleep though; she hadn’t heard the front door being pushed open, signalling the return of her mother.

Feeling brave, Lydia eventually made her way downstairs and put on her fluffy slippers and grubby pink robe, which was a size too small for her. By the time she had run down from their house to the beach, it was dark.

“Mamma,” she called, her voice lost to the wind. “Come home, Mamma! I’m sorry…”

She ran towards one of their favourite places; a Second World War pillbox, which had fallen from the cliff and now rested upside down on the shore. Sometimes, when her mother was in one of her better moods, the two of them would sit here and have a picnic.

As she felt her way around the crumbling walls she stumbled over something which had been hidden in the grasses growing around the base of the fallen structure. Legs. Frozen and rigid.

 

*           *           *

 

As she opened her eyes, Lydia was greeted with a smile from a grey-haired man wearing a well-ironed paramedic uniform. Probably ex-forces, she thought.

“Tough anniversary?” he touched her arm, reassuringly.

“I… I don’t know what you mean,” her hand instinctively wrapped itself around the gold vintage chain around her neck. It belonged to her mother and had ‘LOVE’ written across the pendant.

“Found this in your pocket. Had to look for ID. No one seemed to know who you were in there.” He handed over a tatty piece of paper. It was an obituary which had been ripped out of a newspaper years ago and included the photo of a young woman smiling at the camera. Even on recycled paper, her brown skin shone like melted chocolate and her eyes gazed at the unknown photographer with serenity. It was the only remaining picture Lydia had of her mother.

Then she remembered.

“The body. There was a body right there. Next to my feet!”

“Police have cleared the place out. No bodies in here. Listen, you’ve got one hell of a bump to your head so don’t be worrying about anything else right now.”

Lydia knew she was getting worse. Every year the anniversary haunted her.

She wondered if she would ever stop hearing the whispers of hurtful words once screamed on that fateful day.

 


 

Feedback from the Judges: 

What the judges liked:

  • The shifts in tense in the middle of the story are consistent with the narrative and for the most part smoothly handled. It’s important to the narrative that the reader, like the main character, slowly begin to doubt the presented “evidence” of the story – many writers would be tempted to resolve that for the reader and it’s not necessary.
  • Nice job incorporating the prompts seemlessly; your description of the first scene was effective.
  • Great use of scene setting with descriptive language and dialogue.

Where the judges found room for improvement:

  • Be careful using words like “chocolate” to describe Black skin. It seems useful but is both trite and disfavored by the professional community. The second half of the story has some shifting tense issues; try to stick with one tense per “section” for clarity and to avoid sounding as if you’d made a mistake.
  • Inconsistent tenses within each section of the story made the plot difficult to follow; conclusion was a bit clunky.
  • A little more show and a little less tell would really make this essay come to life even more.

 

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