Tag Archives: alex keegan

Star Gazing with the Green Man – a short story by Lynne Voyce

Star Gazing with the Green Man

Calling it a love story doesn’t quite explain it. It was a collision: his world of nature went smash-bang into my world of commerce. Of course, he couldn’t stay.  Still, sitting here, miles from the city where we met, round bellied and sleepy, the January sun reaching through the dirt dappled window, I can’ help but reminisce.

It was the first Tuesday of March, Shrove Tuesday.  In a seven o clock dash around the supermarket, stinking of printer ink, fingers aching from bashing at a keyboard, I bought the ingredients for pancakes. I would make them in my narrow kitchen, douse with lemon and sugar then eat them with my fingers, standing up in stockinged feet, washing it all down with a bottle of soave.  Slut that I am.

‘Pancake Day’ had been big in my family.  But while other villagers celebrated it then observed Ash Wednesday and Lent with excited self-sacrificing zeal, we simply gorged ourselves with fried batter and sugar then gave up nothing after.  Winters were always hard in such isolation, so, for us borderline heathens the celebration of its end with a feast was necessary rather than religious.

So many bleak, bitter winter nights had been spent by a draughty window, staring at the mist hemming in our cottage, that I seem to have missed life as a teenager.  I longed to get out and lose myself in a city full of fascinations.

Then, there I was, slam bang in the middle of the metropolis.  But I was too busy to be fascinated by anything.  My world was as small and grey as ever: my flat, to the underground, to the office and back again. Morning and night.  And while my bank account grew, my life shrunk even more.  I could barely breathe; it wasn’t the city smog that stopped me but the suffocating pressure and alienation.  I was drowning among a tide of papers and monitors.

So, when I stood in the checkout queue, pancake ingredients in my basket, ravenously eating a sandwich I’d yet to pay for, I was incapable of feeling anything.  I wasn’t even ashamed when the checkout girl shook her head in disgust as she scanned the empty butter stained sandwich packet.  It might as well have been a flag emblazoned with the phrase, “lonely workaholic who was too ‘busy’ for lunch”.

I was still licking the egg mayonnaise off my fingers when I stepped out of the supermarket and into the underground station next door. It was then I saw it: a midnight blue poster pasted to the pale green tiles, silver pinprick stars spelling out, ‘Star Gazing.  All Welcome. North Gate of the heath, 9 p.m.’ It was a dreamy, magical notice, shimmering and childlike.

I hadn’t looked at the sky for months.  I didn’t even know you could still see the stars in the city, with all the light pollution.  And surprisingly, even to myself, in that moment I decided to go.

So, after pancakes and wine I put on a coat, hat and perfume.  I didn’t have any gloves.   Somehow, I hadn’t felt the London winter merited buying them, although there’d been moments that year when it seemed as if my fingers and toes would snap off like icicles.

When I arrived at the North Gate of the heath, there was a small gathering of people, breathing streams of steam, each pretending to be an adventurer.  I placed myself in the ring, smiled; there were nods and return smiles.  But the smiles disappeared, when at eight o clock exactly, in the clear dark, there was a shaking beneath the grey tarmac, as if a slumbering earth was shifting in her sleep.  And to add to the excitement, the moment the gasps and terror subsided there was a rustling in the copse that formed that end of the heath.   The low branches of the oaks and beeches began to tremble; the squat bushes at the edge of the wood shook and parted. Our guide emerged, rising from the undergrowth as if he had been there all along.  He strode towards us wearing brown and green, as if for camouflage.  A tall, young, bearded man with shining malachite eyes, illuminated in the shaft of light from the street lamp where we gathered. His sanguine smile only served to delineate our sense of disquiet.

“Did you feel the tremor?” one of the group asked as he joined the circle, right next to me.

“I did.  It’s just the earth shuddering from all the punishment she takes.”

His intoxicating scent of grass and coltsfoot along with his powerful presence were a heady mix.  I swayed towards him.  Then, as if it was a perfectly natural thing to do, he scooped up my right hand.  “Your fingers are cold.  Don’t you have any gloves?”  His sonorous voice swept past me; I had to listen hard to catch it.  He lifted my fingers to his lips, his warm breath making them tingle – the whole of me tingle.  The rest of the circle just looked on.  It may have been just a passing moment to them, something a young, free outdoors man might do to a city woman as she stood on the pavement, waiting to be shown what wonders the natural world still held. “My name is Ingram,” he said to us all, “there are some fascinating constellations visible tonight.” Then we went through the North Gate.

At the end of that night, after staring at the sky long enough for the pin prick stars to appear from the haze of streetlamps and lit office buildings, the group arranged to meet again at the weekend. Ingram said the sky would be slightly darker then, so it would be easier for us to see.

That weekend was the first time I hadn’t worked a Saturday for as long as I could remember.  During the afternoon I went for a walk, bought a bunch of daffodils, made a meal with vegetables from the local greengrocers and climbed onto the roof of my block of flats to smoke a cigarette I’d found at the bottom of an unused handbag.

I arrived at the North Gate, clear headed and relaxed, joining the waiting circle.  Ingram silently walked towards me from the direction of the wood, immediately taking my right hand in his. I didn’t pull away, rather I let his warmth envelop me. We held hands for most of the night.

I kept returning to the star gazing circle for the whole of March and most of April; no longer was my Saturday spent at work.  Instead, I’d wake early and go about my domestic business while noticing every last detail around me: the shifting clouds; the shade of the sky; the daisies pushing through the gaps in the pavement.  I let my skin feel the wash of rain and the kiss of the spring sun.  The world was alive again.

By mid-April, Ingram and I were seeing each other alone.  We would walk on the heath, or around the garden squares, or stroll beneath the hornbeams and plane trees that lined the avenues off the high street. We watched the bare branches take on their clothes, a whole palette of greens, splashed with pink and white blossom.

By the end of May, the wood that bordered the heath was thick and dense again.  We negotiated it with a torch one night, Ingram leading the way, holding my hand.  At its very heart, in a place invisible to the road or path, we stopped.

“Why are we stopping here?” I said.

Ingram didn’t answer.  Instead, he took his pack from his back, pulled out bed rolls and blankets.  “It’s going to be a dry night.  Let’s sleep here.”

“But we can’t see any stars,” I murmured, feeling foolish and a little afraid.        “Yes, but we know they are there.”

“I’m cold”

“I’ll make a fire.” Almost instantly he set about clearing the leaves and undergrowth, creating a stone circle with found rocks.  I stood in the clearing with the torch, wondering whether to turn and run.

Soon, we were in the orange glow of the flames, stretched on the blankets, a ring of darkness around us.  His daytime scent of grass and coltsfoot still lingered and there was a crackle of magic that seemed to have come alive with the dancing fire.  He leaned over, put a hand on the curve of my hip, kissed me.  His warm, sweet tasting mouth was soft and insistent.  It was a potent sensation.  He smelt earthier now, and when I reached up to his hair, I could feel waxy leaves tangled in the soft curls.  I cannot remember the details of what happened next but I remember the feelings.  We made love and it was, by all accounts, the most thrilling, profound night of my life.

When I woke, to the song of a blackbird, even in the densest part of the wood the stippled sun shone through.   Ingram lay next to me, his face glowing gold, the blanket over his shoulders strewn with emerald leaves and vegetation.  He opened his eyes, they shone a hypnotic black.  “How do you feel?” his voice was a whisper.

“Alive,” I said.

“You know what I’m going to tell you, don’t you?”

I nodded.  I had always known.  His leaving was inevitable.  Yet, I wasn’t bitter or even upset; instead I felt an overwhelming sense of liberation.

“I’m sorry. I have to go.” I sensed his regret; I think he wanted to spend the summer with me.

“I won’t forget you,” I murmured as I stood.  The mellow, woody air was sensual against my nakedness.  He just lay there and watched as I pulled on my clothes.  I turned to leave. But as I was about to step out of our enchanted circle, I looked back to say a last goodbye.  I could barely make him out against the verdant carpet of spring.

On the High Street, the rising sun bled orange across a clear sky.  The early shopkeepers and marketeers wore shirtsleeves and thin jumpers.  Vivid fruit and flowers were being unloaded from the back of vans. There seemed to have been a change.  It was the beginning of summer.

And what a splendid summer it was, hot and sultry. I yearned for Ingram but I didn’t feel alone.  The streets were busy; people in the neighbourhood I had rushed past so many times, were friendly to me now.  They’d beckon me for pavement coffees, invite me for beer garden drinks.

It was September before I realised I was pregnant.  Upon my discovery I momentarily wished for Ingram but that gave way to rejoicing at his precious, parting gift.   Even though I was alone, in a small city flat, I felt nothing but hope and excitement.  I trusted – and still trust – that fate will provide for her, just as fate and nature gave her to me in the first place.

Soon, despite the city glowing ochre and bronze in the autumn light, the pavements strewn with amber leaves from the steadfast trees, it no longer bewitched me.  I resolved to move somewhere a child could be closer to the earth, could see the uninterrupted stretch of night sky that is the canvas for the constellations.

Now, here I am in my narrow, rickety cottage in the midst of winter, the raging fire merely biting the ends of the draught from the ill-fitting front door.  The frost is thick and hard across the garden.  The nearest shop for milk or a newspaper is a fifteen-minute walk, but I can walk at my own pace and breathe again.

Every so often I feel the fluttering shift of tiny hands and feet inside me, then a bold, boisterous kick.  She will be born in February. Her name is Muna.  All I can do is hope that one day, next spring, he will return to see her. SLQ

Lynne Voyce

Lynne Voyce

Lynne Voyce has had more than fifty short stories published in books, magazines and online. She has won and been placed in many competitions.  Her first solo short story collection was published in December 2014 by Ink Tears Press.  It is available from their website and on Amazon in first edition hardback and Kindle.  Lynne is currently working on her first novel and blogs outlining her journey.  She lives with her husband, two daughters and various animals in Birmingham, where she works as an English Teacher in an inner city comprehensive.  She is an avid reader, watcher and talker.

Star Gazing with the Green Man by Lynne Voyce won second prize in the Sentinel Annual Short Story Competition 2015 judged by Alex Keegan.

In the Kingdom of the Complaint – a short story by Marie Chambers

In the Kingdom of Complaint

It’s a business lunch at Angelini’s. Kitchen noises marry sotto voce conversations in a restaurant the size of a small fishing boat.  All the waiters speak Italian.  With crooked teeth and the beginnings of a paunch, these men are clearly not in pursuit of the ubiquitous movie career.  They are career waiters, magicians of sanity amidst the illusory drama of a lunch meeting in LA.

There are four of us: the soon to be exhibited artist, my art dealer dealmaker boss, his girlfriend and me.  As my boss is a demi-regular, we’re seated pronto at a four-top near the window.  Pleasantries are exchanged.  Water arrives.  Scorecards come out.

“Nice place.”
“Yeah, reminds of me of Italy. We spent a summer there.”
“Oh which part?”
“Tuscany, you know that area?”

Phrases bump and grind their way out of the mouths of the players.  The artist’s pitch begins.  Then the girlfriend swings into action.  Sun is in her eyes.  Terrible.  Let’s all re-position our chairs, squeeze together to the left of the light.  Oh dear.  Still not right.  Let’s try another arrangement.

She hoists her palm towards her forehead to block the sun.  The blue of her eyes glistens. Her face is wide and pale as the moon and she apologizes with such delicacy, we scurry to nudge our chairs towards the corners of the table, attend to her needs as a roomful of fellow travelers pretend not to be inconvenienced by this myriad of rearrangements.

I realize I am here on false pretenses. My queries regarding process and transport of the artist’s large-scale panel paintings garner little attention from the dealmaker.  No exhibition specifics (my area of expertise) will be addressed.  The conversation stays rooted in memories of meals eaten in Italy and the New York art scene of the 1980s and 90s.  Smiles are exchanged in rapid-fire sequences, red wine – a wonderful bottle, yes I’ll have another glass – and sparkling water flowing as freely as their recollections of a more desirable past.

Despite all the pro-forma civility, I understand yet again, sadly yet again, I am not here to participate in this discussion; I am used as ornament.  I order an arugula salad and listen.

The dealmaker’s girlfriend is the widow of an artist, a very New York artist, an artist revered – His colors, man, I love that – by this living artist at table.  She spends her days providing care and maintenance for her husband’s paintings. Though eulogized and buried, acknowledged as officially deceased by all the banks, credit card companies and medical facilities that devoured the last years of his life, her former husband continues to weave his needs into her present.  She lives in the truly swell flat he purchased for them in the 1980s.  The sale of his work continues to pay her bills.  I feel confident the ‘sun’ that blinded her moments ago is yet another incarnation of his shadow, once again attempting to hypnotize her.

My dealmaker boss orders more wine and holds forth as to the status of wine making in the States.  When the bottle arrives, he insists on subjecting the test glass to a series of whiplash motions along the tabletop. Though he explains the necessity for this seeming violence, it feels excessive to me. As he sniffs at the decidedly ‘shaken and not stirred’ wine and contemplates what I can only imagine are memories of wines past, he launches into a story about a tour of the ‘fields’ with the ‘most important vintner in France.’  With every additional detail, he safeguards himself from interruption by increasing his volume.  By the time the specifics of bottle year and bouquet come tumbling forth, his approval of the wine choice secured, there is nothing for us to do but murmur appreciative non-sequiturs and re-read the menu again.

The artist’s eyes dart furtively from speaker to speaker.  I wonder if he has noted, forty-five minutes into the meeting we still have not mentioned his upcoming exhibit.  Nor have we actually spoken about his artwork.

Behind me, the front door swooshes open and then clangs shut.  The bustle of fresh-faced hipsters, loafer-wearing elders and women of a certain age with the bust-lines of a twenty-something continues.  Food orders are placed.  The waiters are patient – Can I get that without tomatoes?  Is it vegan?  No sea bass? Business as usual I suppose. Past tense reveries and disappointment seem to rule the day.

Yet outside the sky remains so very cheerfully blue.

I head for the ladies room where I am greeted by a bowl of orange tulips, yellow edged with black centers.  They’re placed near a designer sink barely large enough for hand washing but are splayed open with such carefree excess I forget about the trio back at the table.  Beauty might yet win the day.  I resolve to emulate these flowers during the remainder of this meeting.

I check my lipstick and look myself in the eye. You are not this business, I whisper to my reflection.  This phrase gives me such pleasure I repeat it several times.  You are not this business.  You are not this business.  No matter how I inflect it, every time I say it, relief floods my limbs like medicine.

It’s really no wonder she keeps company with the dealmaker.  Though I have come to understand him as a man who honors the size of the check above all else and conjures insult when a hotel’s turn-down service fails to deliver (I have written many a letter of complaint for him), perhaps she’s lonely or weary and he’s noisy; he’s a distraction from some larger grief and perhaps that feels like kindness.

Throughout the meal, between bites, they complain sympathetically.  Joyfully.  Knowing glances arrive as punctuation to choreographed expressions of dismay.  The horror of undercooked veal. The reliable inefficiency of parking attendants.  What a time we live in, eh?  The daily assault on a refined sensibility astonishes.  It’s a grievance driven life and they are intimates in this distress.  But, a silver lining does exist, as he desires attention but no real involvement and she remains essentially married to her deceased husband, they are perfect for each other. They can shop for pillows, discuss the best kind of olive oil and where to order it, sigh in unison about the sorrows of his adult children and her mother ‘s illnesses and never breathe their secrets.

The artist has now ordered his third glass of wine.  I surrender all hope of discussion regarding his exhibition.  Everyone has a spoonful –Wow is that good.  Yes, but not as good as what you can get anywhere in Italy – of sorbet.

But the great rogue I know as happiness is elsewhere.  He’s exited this four-top and pitched his tent with the valet parking guys, the ones whose voices bounce back and forth like a song, the ones smiling at the traffic on Melrose, enjoying their time amidst the cacophony of Southern California.

As I watch my boss and his girlfriend evaluate their gluten free biscotti, sunlight strips the features from their faces.  They ooze contentment and I have no wish to begrudge them their pleasure.  But I can no longer un-see my dismay with the tone of this chatter, this entire enterprise.  My days as a hired hand in the kingdom of complaint are numbered.

I lean my face away from the glare and imagine an orange tulip behind my ear. SLQ

Marie Chambers

Marie Chambers

Marie Chambers received an MFA from the Professional Writing Seminars at Bennington College.  Her work has appeared in The LA Review of Books. The Atlanta Review, Talking Writing, The Quotable, The Ilanot Review, Printer’s Devil Review, the Seven Hills Review, Ironhorse Literary Review, the California Poetry Society and (coming in the fall) Bookwoman, a publication of the National Women’s Book Association. She was a winner of the 2015 ARTlines2 Ekphrastic Poetry Contest for work inspired by a piece of art at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston (judged by Robert Pinsky and published by Public Poetry September 2015.)

In the Kingdom of Complaint by Marie Chambers was highly commended in the Sentinel Annual Short Story Competition 2015 judged by Alex Keegan.

SLQ WRITING COMPETITIONS UPDATE

 
In this message:
1. June 2013 entries sent to judges
2. September 2013 competitions judged by Todd Swift and Alex Keegan now accepting entries

JUNE 2013 ENTRIES SENT TO JUDGES

All entries in the June 2013 Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry & Short Story Competitions have now been sent to the judges Claire Askew (poetry) and Brindley Hallam Dennis (short stories). We recorded 180 poems and 95 short stories this quarter. We are pleased with this level of participation and support at this time. Although we recorded 83 poems less than we received in March, the good news is that we received 38 short stories more than we recorded in March. Thank you very much for your continued support of our competitions.

The results will be announced on the 31st of July in Sentinel Literary Quarterly magazine website, sentinel poetry movement website, and via this newsletter.

SEPTEMBER 2013 COMPETITIONS JUDGED BY TODD SWIFT AND ALEX KEEGAN NOW ACCEPTING ENTRIES

 
For original, previously unpublished poems in English language on any subject, in any style up to 50 lines long.
Closing Date: 30th September, 2013
Judge: Todd Swift
Prizes: £150 (1st), £75 (2nd), £50 (3rd), £10 x 3 (High Commendation)
Fees: £4/1, £7/2, £9/3, £11/4, £12/5, £16/7, £22/10
 

For original, previously unpublished short stories in English language on any subject, in any style up to 1500 words long.
Closing Date: 30th September, 2013
Judge: Alex Keegan
Prizes: £150 (1st), £75 (2nd), £50 (3rd), £10 x 3 (High Commendation)
Fees: £5/1, £8/2, £10/3, £12/4