Privets by Becky Cherriman

Here they are, an army of privets

in parade along Slingsby Walk.

They belong to Southerners

who arrive, seduced by flower shows,

tea rooms, Victorian splendour

to grow their children on Harrogate water.

++

The word privet is thought to originate from prime

– noble, distinguished, first –

although there is no evidence of this.

++

Gathering together to form such dense thickets,

they displace natives,

elbow them onto grass verges.

Strangled into the light, the smaller plants

are soon frosted with the remains

of white dog shit, forgotten.

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Privets by Becky Cherriman

Well Head by Steve Toase

well

1.
The spring blossomed in the middle of Jenny’s room, unfolding through the carpet, pooling water between the mattress and the single, sun faded, armchair. She thought about drinking the discoloured water, scooping it in two hands and sipping as much as her stomach could bear.

The smell clung to her fingers, stinking of Sunday school damnation and unclean fridges. She left the spring alone, babbling water across the dirt trodden carpet, washing over dropped rizzlas and scorch marks.

2.
Returning, Jenny found the hole bigger, circular. Mattress balanced on the edge as if vomiting into the well. She pulled the bed back and leant it against the wall. Reaching down she felt the walls, stone-lined and slick. Thick with algae that stuck to her fingers like foundation.

The room’s single bulb was too pale, unable to cast light to the water’s surface. With no pebbles she picked up a scratched CD, watching it cascade down the well until it clattered into the flat water below.

Using an old mug tied to a length of electrical flex she dipped into the sulphur water and pulled it up, hand over hand. The stench filled the room, leaching into her clothes and bedding. Clinging to the torn wallpaper. Tipping the water down the sink she watched it swill between unwashed plates.

3.
Pine needles in the tread of Jenny’s boots became dislodged and pierced the carpet. For a moment she smelt forests and untouched snow. She closed the door behind her. The stone of the well head crushed against her chair’s frayed upholstery. Welsh slate like broken teeth lined the roof, capped with a worn stone acorn. From inside came old songs about drowning whose tunes she did not recognise.

With no way to reach her bed she curled up by the door until the frost of the morning slid in through her open window and woke her from a fitful sleep.

4.
Crouched on the landing Jenny listened to her neighbour in the next room swear at someone long dead. Her door was gone. In its place large slabs of gritstone, arched at the top. The masonry blocked the gap completely. At chest height was a stone bowl, a single metal tap venting the breath of dead volcanoes. Beside a verdigris’d button a notice like a stolen road sign told her not to drink the water.

The healing of this town was not for her.

Well Head by Steve Toase

Impish by Steve Toase

haunt 1. Sulphur

The sulphur turned us impish, nestling in our marrow like a hiding toddler. Staring at our faces you may have noticed small nubs of keratin erupt upon our foreheads. Behind us dragged our tails of thorns and fox tongues.

We did not inflict our mischief upon others. All our tricks were inward looking. We were both Grifter and Mark.

Our horns we hid. The girls with concealer, the boys with fringes that scraped their eyes. But our tails? Oh, we were proud of our tails. We bedecked them with ribbons and lengths of neon climbing rope. Bottle tops that caught the light, and some with bells teased from the necks of friendly cats. We dressed them like we were mingling at Carnivale, and we were proud of them. Yet they were treacherous things, our tails. Their thorns snagged three score times a day. Sometimes upon ephemeral things like a whispered word. Or the glance of those taking afternoon tea beyond a window we would never see from the other side.

Other times they caught in the route of a store detective. Shifted his footsteps until they fell in behind ours. The dance moves of the uniformed were never as rapid and staccato as those tapped out by our cloven hoofs.

On curtained days the thorns of our tails became knotted, tearing into our sheets. Became wrapped around with strands of brown and blue smoke. In the dark the fox tongues whispered words to us like blackberries. Some sweet. Some sour. We picked ourselves free with care, thread by thread.

2. Chalybeate

The chalybeate turned us ferrous, seeping into our skin like midnight thoughts. If you looked close enough at us you would see cuisse and revebrace cleave to our limbs. Plackart wrapped around our torsos. Vental covering our face when we no longer wished to talk. Yet we had no oils to care for the iron that wrapped us. No wax to rub into the once polished surface.

On our slow walks around town, feet weighed down by rusted sabaton, blisters of corrosion chipped off with each step. Our armour became shabby with each encounter. Rusted crumbs littering the well-tended grass where we lounged. Where we avoided people and homes that were not homes.

3. Magnesia

The magnesia turned us luminous, woven through our fingers like strands of radiance. No-one paid us attention, but we glowed. The midday sun at midnight. Magical and out of place. We gleamed and glittered. They ignored us. We knew this was because the brightness under our skin would scorch their eyes out. So they stepped aside and lowered their heads away from us. Glanced anywhere but in our direction.

Impish by Steve Toase