GUEST POST // Lockdown, Mate by Harry Wilding

I.
—ckfuckfuckfuckfuck Jeremy enters Victoria shopping centre with a bladder primed to burst trying his best to walk normally even though he knows he looks like one of those racewalkers not quite running not quite walking with those strangely snake-like hips fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck he should have just gone at his mum’s but what if he’d made her ill? she’s in a high risk group so he’d had to stay outside why is that old couple looking at him over their flowery masks fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck mask! he starts to root around in his back pocket for his own mask as the toilets come into view but two women clad in high-vis vests and plastic visors stand like Queen’s Guards at the entrance to the CLOSED facilities he starts to put on his stripy mask and pathetically pleads ‘why?’ only to be answered emotionlessly by the smaller blonde woman with ‘lockdown, mate’ fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck ‘ridiculous’ he mutters as he walks off ‘Greggs is open though! hooray for capitalism! you can buy a sausage roll while you piss your pants!’ he stumbles onto the escalator on his way to the next closest public toilets five minutes away but what if they’re also shut? fuckfuckfuckfuckpiss

II.
“Lockdown, mate,” Karen told him. What else? Idiot.

The man turned around and walked off. Karen cocked her head to the side, watching his bendy hips. He was mumbling to himself. Something about a Greg and capitalism and sausage pants?

“He had anti-masker vibes,” Debbie told her. “See how begrudgingly he put one on?”

“Can’t believe people still don’t get it,” she said.

“People are selfish,” Debbie said.

“If management think public toilets are an infection risk then we should do what they say,” Karen said.

Debbie nodded.

They noticed a woman jogging towards them. She had a small child in her arms. She slowed slightly as she passed them. Lockdown, mate.

“Can you be a big boy and hold it for another few minutes?” she was saying to the child. They headed for the escalator.

“They should have just gone before they came out, for crying out loud,” Karen said, shaking her head.

III.
‘Hey, we’re nearly there, honey, we’re nearly there.’

It’d been a testing morning. Dylan’s nanny had woken up ill, hopefully with just a cold (wait, will they need to shield just in case? What is the procedure now?) so Michelle had been all the way across town to grab Dylan from his father who had a busy day of Zoom meetings (that he ‘just can’t get out of’ and were ‘more urgent than her work things’).

Oh god, no. They aren’t closed, are they? (They are!) The place which is regularly cleaned and where everyone washes their hands is closed. Christ.

The two shopping centre staff watch as she approaches. She briefly considers rushing past them (like a rugby player going for a try) but hurries to the escalator instead. They’ll have to find an alley or something.

‘It’s okay, honey. Just another few minutes, can you be a big boy and hold it for another few minutes?’

Dylan lets out a moan that she presumes means ‘no, mother, I fucking cannot.’

Michelle quickens her pace as she steps off the escalator. Her torso, though, begins to feel warm. Warm and moist. She slows to a stop and closes her eyes, keeping Dylan close as she feels his urine seep into her top. The gentle sound of it pitter-pattering on the hard floor at her feet is strangely meditative, helping her to remain motionless like some kind of impromptu water feature.

‘You feel better, honey?’ The flow has finally stopped.

He nods, burying his face further into her shoulder.

‘Good. Home time, yeah?’

She opens her eyes, sensing people peering at her over their masks. She starts towards the bus stop, giving less of a damn than she thought she would.

IV.
dev and becki are live streaming from a bench

– if you’re just tuning in, yeah, there’s an actual puddle of piss, but people keep, like, only just avoiding it

– we should’ve taken live bets, innit. becki looks over at the escalator. we might of got another contender, yo

a vicky centre worker is coming down, blonde and serious in her high-vis vest. stepping off the escalator, she turns towards the puddle. her eyes are laser-focussed on the greggs

dev and becki both sit forward, holding their breath. dev quickly double-checks he’s recording, making sure he’s got the best framing. she is getting close, walking fast

– she must really want a sausage roll, innit

and the woman stands in the puddle, bang on

– oh shiiiiit!

both her legs fly up in front of her, her whole body almost horizontal in the air for a moment, before she comes crashing back down with a small moist thud. she almost immediately sits up, stunned, a patch of wet darkening the vicky centre logo on her high-vis

– holy shit, that was epic!

– i didn’t think people actually fell like that except in cartoons, innit!

they’re both almost choking on their laughter, tears streaming

– you laughing at that idiot who just slipped? a guy in a stripy mask stands by them, looking over at the woman as she slowly gets to her feet

they nod, bent forwards, heads in arms

the guy nods back, straight-faced

– yeah, it was fucking funny, to be honest

by HARRY WILDING
© All rights reserved 2021

Covid Diary pp. 36-37

An email address is all you need to get payback.

There’s no need to hack anything, find a back door, or enter the Matrix like a pissed off Neo. Just visit their social media accounts, rummage through their footprints in the global network, puke a couple of times at their selfies with skinny grandmothers and chubby kittens, and bada boom! You’re about to destroy the life of someone who’s trying to destroy yours. Use that person’s email to leave some provocative comments on various news sites, forums and anywhere else online, then sit back and watch everything about them unravel into glorious chaos.

I haven’t limited my imagination either. I’ve thought outside the box, even running circles around it and performing hyperkinetic rain dances in order to create the most damning shit possible. My moves have been so calculated that my stalker should soon be ‘enjoying’ a run-in with the law. The police, the federal police, the army, and at least four or five other official bodies with many intimidating letters in their titles ought to be crashing through his front door any day now. I believe the internet gaming community calls it ‘swatting’.

Of course, I’m not an idiot, which is why I’ve posted this bullshit from internet cafes and the like, and not my personal PC. I may be a girl but I’m pretty aware of how IP addresses can be tracked. And with the kinds of outrageous things I’m writing in my stalker’s name, I definitely don’t want those traced back to me!

PS: All that social media bullshit came to an abrupt halt within two days. But I’ve not had a chance to bask in this sweet tasting victory because all my personal accounts were banned by each site’s administrators. Pretty suspicious if you ask me. I mean, ALL of them?! I’ve a hunch that my stalker probably decided to burn everything to the ground before being hauled off to whatever grand punishment awaits him. Never mind. It’s high time to put a pause on my virtual life anyway.

It’s good sometimes to step outside and pat the grass.

PPS: Fuck. That went downhill fast. Now I’m at the clink, face to face with my stalker—well, not exactly face to face. He’s across the room, handcuffed to a railing near the watercooler, answering the female detective’s questions.

He still doesn’t know what I look like but I certainly know him from the selfies on his social media accounts. He’s a lot shorter than I expected in real life. I can’t believe he’s trying to flirt with the detective who’s clearly a lot taller and a lot less interested.

by TETIANA ALEKSINA & TONY SINGLE
© All rights reserved 2021

GUEST POST // An Octogenarian’s Pandemic by Barrie Purnell

There’s been some sort of epidemic
So say all-knowing academics,
A kind of dread Chinese infection
Designed to avoid early detection,
Resulting in oxygen deprivation
For which there was no known protection.
The government and the NHS
Said, what to do we can only guess
But until we can make up our minds
You must avoid contact of any kind,
Wash your hands 10 times a day
Put your going out clothes away,
And for restrictions we’ll atone
By paying you to stay at home.
Said if lockdown we don’t apply
Half a million would surely die,
But something they didn’t say
Was all of us would have to pay,
All the costs of shutting down
To the tune of 300 billion pound.
I have to think they’ve lost their mind
Paying ½ billion to save a life like mine.

On the news the professor reported
We’d all go mad before it was sorted,
But when I had the time to reflect
Saw on me it would have little effect.
I was allowed to form a bubble
With neighbour who said, it was no trouble
To do a supermarket shop for me
Of fresh food, bread, milk and tea,
And I booked an on-line delivery
Which hitherto had been a mystery.
My hour long visits to numerous clinics
Were now phone calls over in minutes,
And no waiting in a doctors surgery
With ill people sitting next to me,
Covering me in their coughs and sneezes
Spreading their as yet unknown diseases,
And oh what joy when they disclosed
All the dentists would be closed.
No visits from that demanding relation
Requiring clean sheets on each occasion.
My expenditure had been decreased,
From hugging I had been released,
No longer was I considered rude
When I indulged my love of solitude.
I don’t spend weekends in hotels
Or holiday in the Seychelles,
I have nobody to look after
I have no fear of the hereafter.
I thought now I will have the time
To watch programmes on Amazon Prime,
Then there was Netflix and Catch-Up TV
Opportunities spread out endlessly.
The prospect of gardening reared its head
Or I could do DIY instead.
Then there were all those books to read
Which would increase my reading speed,
And when these became less exciting
I could always try to do some writing.

But as months ran into longer time
I missed the freedom once was mine,
I missed the human interaction
Leading to increasing dissatisfaction.
I wondered if this imposed ban
Affected this old solitary man,
Someone long past his prime
Already living on borrowed time,
How much harder would it have been
If I had been just seventeen?
And here I had to face the truth,
We chose to sacrifice our youth,
They lost out on jobs and education,
On teenage fun and socialization.
My few remaining years protected
By youth, who even if they were infected,
Would avoid serious complication
And wouldn’t require hospitalisation,
But who’d be paying back for many years
The billions spent to keep our conscience clear.
So we mortgaged millions of young lives
To try and help the old survive.
Was this right, we don’t know yet
Or something the country will regret?
Maybe result would have been the same
If they’d just locked up the old and lame,
And supplied any help they needed
Until search for vaccine had succeeded.
Having lived through rationing and the blitz.
The old could surely have survived this?

Each year 600000 deaths are seen
From causes other than COVID 19,
For every 1 that from COVID died
Cancer and heart disease killed 5.
Now on the news a man of 99
Is said to have died before his time!!
What’s new is that now each day,
Presented in graphical display,
Death is there for all of us to see
We’re confronted by our own mortality.
Everyday more of the same
Until we look for someone to blame
For the extra deaths of an aged few,
As if death was something new,
When we have been able to ignore
The millions who have died before.
Only when that eulogy is read
Over the special one we’ve loved who’s dead,
Do we realise death is always with us
Even if it’s something we don’t discuss.
As mortals why do we believe
From death we alone could be reprieved?
Heart attack, cancer or suicide,
Broken heart or homicide,
Immortality is our minds biggest lie
COVID ………just another way to die.

by BARRIE PURNELL
© All rights reserved 2021

SCHEHERAZADE’S 1,001 BYTES // Let’s Knife!

Whilst investigating the case of a missing local fishmonger, a brave captain by the name of Beth Chan uncovered a legend about a cursed, weathered knife circulating throughout Africa. These two things were not at all related, and seeing as the knife sounded more interesting, Beth dropped the fishmonger case and went to Africa instead.

Well, we said Beth went to Africa but actually everything’s quick and easy only in fairytales. Of course, she first needed to investigate which African countries were open for entering from Sápmi, then pass the COVID-19 and serological tests, and fill in a hellscape of official papers and other such bullshit. (We sincerely think it would’ve been easier for Beth to find the missing fishmonger. Moreover, he wasn’t missing at all. He was just sleeping off a three day bender beneath the porch of the Screaming Barnacle.)

Anyway, back to Beth. Once she got into an African country with an unpronounceable name, she began to realise that she needed a bit more to go on than some old fishermen’s tales about a cursed, weathered knife circulating throughout Africa in order to find the cursed, weathered knife that was circulating through Africa. In fact, it could have been anywhere, and Africa was a ridiculously big place. Perhaps Beth ought to have secured herself some kind of mythical treasure map leading to said knife in the first place. This was like leaving for an opera performance without some bladder filtration device strapped inside your pants—she was woefully unprepared.

But Beth was a smart girl and she had a watertight plan. It was as simple as it was genius. If one thing was circulating through Africa and another thing was also circulating through Africa then obviously they would meet somewhere along the way. The odds were fifty-fifty as to whether they would meet or not. So, all Beth had to do was start circulating throughout Africa in order to run into the cursed, weathered knife that was also circulating through Africa. Clever, right?

And so that’s what Beth did. She circulated like a plastic bag in the wind, drifting here and there and everywhere. She flitted across the savannah, dodging the playful swats of lion paws and furry knob catching of giraffe heads. She swooped above the storm water drains of post-apartheid slums and weaved posthaste through the canopies of foreboding jungles. She floated around every nook and cranny and even bypassed a few choice fannies. She and the knife were sure to cross paths at some point. Even if it wasn’t inevitable, she would make it be, no matter what.

Now, back to the missing fishmonger. When he realised that no one was searching for him, he felt deeply insulted. So, he climbed out of the hole beneath the porch, brushed himself off, donned his fisherman’s cap, then curled his mustache and went to Africa. He was going to give that Beth Chan a right old talking to! Fancy calling yourself a ‘brave captain’ and then not following through on the expected heroics that accompany such a title! The bleedin’ cheek of her!

Of course, the fisherman had no idea where in Africa to begin looking. Perhaps if he relied on dumb luck then that might get him somewhere. He’d had dumb luck before, like the time when a great white shark tried to bite him in two but succeeded only in flossing its teeth with him. Who said losing weight and a strict yoga regimen wouldn’t have its benefits? Aye, not the fisherman!

Another thing that would have its benefits is filling you in on the cursed, weathered knife’s backstory. Why was it circulating throughout Africa? Where did it come from and where was it going? Was it circulating for love? Did it have hopes and dreams? Did it have a mother and a father? Was it carrying a gun? No one knew. All that was known was that everything the knife touched turned to sand. (Is this why Africa has an abundance of sand?) Oh, and we guess there was no gun because it would’ve been turned to sand with cute little sand bullets that crumbled amusingly between the eyes of would-be murder victims.

Anyway, we vividly remember that sunny day, the fifteenth of May. Or was it the rainy twenty-first of September? It might even have been Bavaria’s National Cow Milking Day. Whatever. It was a big day in Africa, not Bavaria. It was a day when, as crazy as it sounds, three parallel lines finally crossed. Beth, the fisherman and the cursed, weathered knife would actually meet.

This is how that went down: The fisherman saw Beth and slapped her upside the head with one of his wellies. Her head smacked into a wall, causing it to buckle then collapse in on itself… and a bunch of kittens that happened to be playing harmonicas nearby. Well, that shut them up quite definitively! However, the ghosts of said kittens were quick to take revenge, nudging the cursed, weathered knife onto a new trajectory, thudding it into the unsuspecting fisherman’s back. This, of course, turned him into sand. Let’s just say he’d had better days.

And so the amount of sand in Africa was increased and the amount of kittens playing harmonicas was decreased. Beth, meanwhile, had picked up the knife and was examining it carefully. You’re going to ask why she hadn’t turned into sand as well, aren’t you? Easy-peasy. She had taken one of the ghost kittens and wrapped it around her palm like a handkerchief. Everyone knows that if you touch a cursed, weathered knife circulating throughout Africa with the ghost of a freshly deceased kitten that used to play harmonica that all curses will be absolutely and irrevocably shattered! It’s science, don’t you know? Pure, unadulterated science!

Anyway, Beth returned home with the knife and now uses it in the kitchen when cooking with the fisherman’s widow (who, by the way, is pretty happy that her worthless hubby was never found).

by TETIANA ALEKSINA & TONY SINGLE
© All rights reserved 2021