‘Stella’ by Daniel Schulz

I don’t like being served. Had you asked me that evening, if I wanted a cup of tea, I would have shuddered. Yet, here I was, paying up front for service. Coming toward me, she pulled my shorts down and put them on the chair. Usually, women like her don’t do anything like this. Usually, they wait for you to get undressed and ask you what you would like to do. But she… she touched me with a tenderness that I seldom felt before and kissed my shoulders, exactly where it hurt. I closed my eyes as if inhabiting a dream, as I couldn’t bear the reality: she was kind to me. I didn’t ask her to be that. Nonetheless she just was… Of course, you’re going to say something else afterwards, when you meet your friends. That you fucked her hard for one long round. That, after all, is what is expected of you. But I am not at all interested in fulfilling expectations. That has never been my thing. When women look me in the eye they become afraid, because they can see the loneliness inside of me. She sees its, too. That’s how she earns her money.

She was from the Shengen Area, she told me later in the hour, from Romania to be exact, but had lived in Albania before she came to Germany. – “Men treat women differently there,” she explained, “They beat them wholeheartedly. I once lived next to a man who killed his wife with a kitchen knife. Believe me, if I had stayed there, I would have gone crazy. I was afraid for my life. I mean, you don’t want to know what I read in the papers today.”

In her former resident country, as it turns out, a mad man wanted to blow himself up in a train station because his wife had left him. He wanted to hurt as many people as possible, especially women. The paper was the equivalent to the Daily Sun or Der Express. She, obviously, was glad to live in Germany. My eyes wandered up to her beautiful lashes. Something was hurting deep inside. I believe it was my heart, if, indeed, a heart feels like that. A heart beats, right? Like a fist, right? Something inside me was breaking. One of my hands was clenching the sheets, while the other slowly stroked the handsome unshaved fuzz of her thighs, while she smoked. Emotions were surfacing. But I remained still, as if I wasn’t feeling anything. If I remained still my feelings would perhaps ignore me.

– “How do you manage working here?” I asked.

Stella shrugged, “I don’t know. I don’t think about it. I just switch off. If I thought about what I’m doing here,” she confessed, “I’d just as likely go crazy. But I’m not going to stay here forever. In four years or so, I’m out.” – Stella, it seems, was determined to make her fortune here, in Germany. She wouldn’t be working in this locale forever. As soon as she had enough money, she was going to start her own business. – “I’ve got a great idea and the brains to make it work,” she smiled. I could feel my lips stretch, feel myself smiling back to her. Deep inside my heart, I knew that I wished her all the best.

Outside the night had become cold and lonely. I could see my own breath in front of me like a path that I would eventually have to follow. You think you know yourself? You don’t. Looking out into the darkness, I could feel something else catching up to me. I could hear my heart beating in my chest like a fist. Somewhere in the back of my head my mother was screaming. Somewhere in the back of my head my father was beating the shit out of her. Hands clenched. BREATHE. Such is the matter of memories… Maybe Stella was right. Women are treated better in this country… Hear the sirens howling in the background: An Audi at the crossing in front of me is honking at the car in front of – him? An ambulance is rushing past. Asking his friend, a man standing at the traffic light says: “What is up with that guy? Is he stupid? Why is he honking? Can’t he see an ambulance is passing?” – “No, look,” the other guy answers, “It’s a woman.’”–

While the sirens passed, I thought about the irony that in 2019 it is still a crime equivalent to manslaughter for a driver to pass by a car accident and ignore it, while it had been made law for ship captains in the Mediterranean not to save refugees drowning in the ocean. They weren’t supposed to get through the Schengen Area, after all. 

Only recently, a friend had called out against mere deportation of immigrants. She was talking about Freiburg, where a group of men, mostly immigrants but also some Germans, had raped a woman. She commented that deporting the rapists, as some people demanded should be done, would not make them vanish from the earth. Deportation wasn’t the answer she said. What about the girls and women in those other countries? And where was the justice in sending these criminals away instead of prison? – I looked through the shit storm she was confronted with, the many rape threats sent to her Twitter account precisely because she was concerned with actual justice. – “You’re right,” one of the agitators wrote, before he got censored “We should assimilate rapists and serial killers from other countries into our own. We, at least, could help them resocialize… we could train them in our brothels, let them rape all the Bulgarian and Romanian girls there, train them to loose their inhibitions. You could even offer yourself up to them, do your country a service.” – No one was thinking about the fact that they might be talking to someone who had once been raped. No one cared about who they were hurting or how they were hurting her. And if they did, it was all the more gruesome.

I tried to close my eyes that night, but that didn’t work. Every time I closed them shut, images surfaced, as if unlocked from within the depth of the dark surrounding me. And I could hear my heart beating from the bottom of that very depth. I could hear it beating. Him beating her. My mother screaming. He was kicking her stomach, when she was down on the floor. I thought of my friend, about how I held her in my arms, after she told me she had been raped. And I thought about Stella, brilliant, genius Stella… It wasn’t until my fist hit the wall that I realized it wasn’t just my heart beating. It wasn’t until my fist hit the wall that I realized that it wasn’t my mother screaming from the depth of her heart but me from the depth of an abyss within me. Something was breaking out. I could hear my neighbors pounding against the walls, asking me to be quiet, asking me to go back to sleep, asking me to see reason. But the more my demons howled at me, the harder my fists clenched themselves tight. Maybe women in this country are treated better. But maybe, just maybe better isn’t good enough. Sanity, after all, is nothing but a status quo.

Meet the Author

Daniel Schulz is a U.S.-German author based in Cologne. He is best known for his short story collection Schrei (Formidabel 2016) and his work as curator of the Kathy Acker Reading Room at the University of Cologne. In 2019 he co-organized and curated an exhibition for the Goethe Institute in Seattle for which he edited the book Kathy Acker in Seattle (Misfit Lit 2020). He also worked as co-editor of Gender Forum‘s special edition Kathy Acker: Portrait of an Eye/I (2019). His works have appeared in the journals Der Federkiel, Luftruinen, Die Novelle, The Transnational, Electronic Book Review, Mirage #5, Gender Forum, Fragmented Voices, Divanova, Kunst-Kultur-Literatur Magazin, Versification, Salut L‘absurde, Café Irreal and Cacti Fur as well as the anthologies Tin Soldier (Sarturia 2020), Corona -Schnee (Salon29 2021), Jahrbuch der Poesie 2021 (AG Literatur 2021) and Home (Fragmented Voices 2021).  Instagram: @danielschulzpoet

‘New flat’ by Matt Nicholson

Unpack the colours, sounds, and sheets that make a home. 

Start with red, closest to fury. Let fingers swim in the blood that’s here, memories of every man, box-camera pics of skinned knees and body-ease. Lipsticks, clumped, made from the same powdered beetles that roam vacant minds, unused for months – more trouble than they’re worth. 

Blue is spilling from somewhere – there one minute, not there before – from bruises and poor circulation, from Granny’s calf and mascara – more trouble than they’re worth. 

Yellows are tickets on the sky, promising bargains, old men who can’t leave the Thunderbird alone in the mornings, who stumble into pews in sunlight through cold clouds of ammonia and old glass. 

Only one sound to find a place for, sob mixed with sigh. Wrap it in the best bedlinen, tie the sheets in knots.

Meet the Poet

Matt Nicholson is a poet and performer from Yorkshire’s East Riding, in the cultural glare from the City of Hull. He is widely published and commissioned, most recently By The Humber Mouth Festival, and has performed all over the UK. He writes poems that are sometimes dark and sinister, sometimes tender and moving, but always very honest.

‘A Lot on One Plate’ by Moira Garland

This afternoon the golden retriever lies on its side, all four legs jutting out from the sagging settee so that Bridget cannot sit down. She stands at her kitchen window, next to the three-day old pile of dirty plates, cups, pans, knives forks. The plate on the top of the stack on the drainer has what she calls deep-blue-swirly patterns on a creamy background, dotted with a few small patches of dried soil, and what might be the remains of a slater.

She looks out at the handkerchief-sized garden fronting her ground floor flat. Through her grey net curtain she peers at local children in small groups passing near her window laughing, shouting, or running. Years ago she’d see the milkman coming for his money on a Tuesday. Yesterday, like so many days, two PCSOs strolled along their heads turning this way and that, their yellow chests like pumped up balloons.

Who would throw away a perfectly good plate and hide it at the base of her privet hedge? And why?

Ryan’s dad is a chef. Well, he was a chef thinks Ryan, but he still likes to practise. 

“I was actually a pâtissier.” Ryan’s dad says, more often than Ryan would like even though Ryan doesn’t live with him. He lives with his mum about half an hour away on the bus. Ryan’s nan lives near her son, Ryan’s dad, and keeps an eye on both of them from her third floor flat which she doesn’t often leave on account of her bad hip. She has 1348 Friends on Facebook.

On this cold Saturday morning Ryan is visiting his dad. His dad is galvanised, showing Ryan how he makes chocolate eclairs. It is nearly dinnertime by the time they are made and ready for Ryan to take to his nan. They are her favourite cakes, keep her healthy. 

“Your nan has always been dainty, Ryan.” 

His dad says this every time Ryan visits. Fourteen year old Ryan now believes that ‘dainty’ meana a woman who fills her recliner and has legs like elephant trunks. This morning ‘dainty’ heralds Ryan’s dad piling chocolate eclairs on a blue and cream plate, wrapped in foil to go to his nan’s. Ryan is hungry so on the way he sits on a backless bench by the playground and eats three of the eclairs. Ryan feels a right prat carefully holding the plate and eclairs. As he passes one of the flats he ditches the plate, stuffs it down between the hedge and the disintegrating fence. A splinter lodges in his middle finger, which is uncomfortable. He easily holds the foil-wrapped package in one hand. Anyone who sees him might think it is drugs. He meets no one. He smells burgers cooking through an open window.

Homes under the Hammer has finished when there’s a knock, knock, knock on the opaque glass of Pauline’s door. Ryan’s on his way with eclairs explained the text so she heaves her weight up with the metal stick the hospital gave her last year while she waits for the operation. Tap, thump, thump to unlock the door. You have to be careful these days who you open the door to says the email from the bobbies. There’s enough light coming through to show the familiar shape of Ryan.

“Don’t take your jacket off, get down the chippy. My usual and whatever you want. She hands over her card. Thirty from the machine, love. And bring me the change.”

Ryan must have slipped out when Pauline dozed off. They’d polished off the fish, chips, peas and butties. With cream oozing out of the squashed eclairs Pauline thought Chris should have wrapped them more carefully, him being a chef and all. Still they tasted good. 

Lodged back in her chair Pauline remembers when she was fourteen already living in this same flat with her mam, her dad long gone. Her mam was dead pleased to get on this new estate, out of the old back-to-backs they’d pulled down. Pauline was looking forward to leaving school the next year. She’d get a job in the cosmetics factory where her mum worked. Pauline wasn’t sure she liked that they called it Soapy Joes, but you could get discounts on things like shampoo if you worked there. Pauline’s best friend Irene started there with her. ‘Course Irene went downhill fast last year. She misses her. She misses laughing at Mrs Brown’s Boys with her, misses holding on to Irene’s arm when they walked to the bus stop and had a cup of tea in the caff near the bus station.

Next to the railway station in the city centre stands the Royal Hotel. The website reads: 

This magnificent Art Deco hotel, built in 1932 and was inspired by the glamour and elegance of high society, rising from the ‘29 crash. It boasted  all en-suite rooms, and a magnificent ballroom where guests could dance the night away to the sound of live jazz bands. 

Its distinctive building is now also fabled for a cuisine catering for a diversity of tastes, open to both guests and visitors alike. 

Pascal believed that a new chef should shake things up a bit. The salamanders were looking decidedly shabby, the sinks were gathering gunge around the plugholes. And he informed the maitre d’ that the crockery and cutlery must have been around when the original hotel was built in the 1800s. They looked at the catalogues together Pascal insisting that ‘modern is what our customers expect for what they pay’. The maitre d’s neatly cut black, short back and sides nodded in agreement. He was a lot less experienced than Pascal.

It wasn’t Chris’s job to pack away all the old crockery but like the rest of the staff he took the opportunity on his short break to dive into the basement where the kitchen boy was sorting and packing and allowing them to take away a portion of the lovely blue and cream plates, bowls, cups and saucers of various sizes. They were mostly in perfect condition. Paperwork was altered. The auctioneers wouldn’t know the difference. 

That was a while before Chris started with his hands shaking. He had known chefs who shouted and cursed of course. But Pascal would put his face right next to yours, and he expected everything to be done ‘yesterday’. “The management’s bottom line,” said Pascal, “is profit. Why else would they be running a hotel?” The day the Black Forest gateau was returned by several irate diners – regulars, insurance company directors – was the last straw. 

On the odd occasion Chris tells his mum or his son a joke he calls it the last cherry

Chris calls his mate Leroy ‘a godsend’ from his working life. Leroy is now the boss at the Caribbean café nearer town. It’s because of Leroy that Chris has the money to bake a few times a month. 

“I’ll come to you every other Saturday,” says Leroy. 

They sit down at the glass-topped coffee table while Chris shows Leroy his accounts – his budget pencilled in on graph paper that Leroy buys him. After a beer or two they go off to the bookies. Leroy makes sure Chris doesn’t go beyond the one pound stake. Today Chris has won £27 odd which goes into the bottom draw of the wardrobe in his bedroom so that he won’t be tempted to splash out all at once.

It’s flippin’ freezing the following Friday. His trainers will have to do. He’s off to the specialist shop in town to buy fondant icing and pastry cream. You can’t get that at the one-stop. By the time he gets home late afternoon his feet are sopping wet and cold. He reckons he can put the electric fire on for half an hour, and stuffs his trainers with unwanted leaflets.

This Saturday’s schedule is for Ryan to come and Chris thinks Ryan might be a pâtissier one day. Then there’s Chris’s mum. He tries to look after her, thinks she’d appreciate a nice plate as well as the éclairs. He’ll get the plate back when he gets over to see her, next week. It depresses him to see her too often, with her hip.

Bridget has given up wondering why there’s a plate in her garden. She’d only gone to put the bin out. The grass was pale and flattened which is how she saw it there, hiding like some sort of criminal. She’d checked, there was no suspicious package full of drugs or cash hidden behind it.

The washing up waits while she turns on the telly and gives the dog a shove so that her own skinny frame can sit right up next to it. 

“Go on,” she urges, “you soft lump, you Molly-coddled.” Bridget has this habit of adding to names, not shortening them. The dog is named after her mum, god rest her soul. 

Too much gore on one film, too many gunfights on the other channel. She turns it off with the remote. There’s notifications on her mobile. She swipes up the lost cat ones, the adverts for support stockings. On Marketplace she scrolls through all the freebies but she has no use for baby clothes. Her friend Louise has lived in Australia for nine years. Louise has posted a picture of her new grandchild who’s speaking to her from the UK on Skype. Behind her is an orange vase.

Molly raises her head when Bridget gets up again, then goes back to sleep. Bridget heads for the kitchen, runs the plate under the tap, gives it a wipe with the sponge, polishes it dry with the tea towel. She lays the plate on a chair. It makes a pleasing backdrop of black leather. “Yes!” she says. Molly opens one eye but she knows the phone does not signal dog biscuits. The image taken by the camera phone, altered with the app, is well worth putting on Facebook. Public setting. My fabulous new plate. Smiley face

Meet the Author

Moira Garland is a prize-winning prose writer and poet whose fiction has been appearing online and in print since 2004 including Strix, Tyto Alba (Comma Press), The Forgotten and the Fantastical #3 (Mothers Milk Press), Cake magazine (Lancaster University), Electrifying Women, TSS, Stories for Homes, Paragraph Planet, and www.commuterlit.com . She took 2nd prize in the 2021 Weaver Words/Frodsham Literature Festival flash fiction competition, and was also a runner-up. Radio Leeds has also broadcast her stories. Her poetry appears in many anthologies and in The North journal. She lives in West Yorkshire. Twitter/Instagram: @moiragauthor 

‘Changes’ by Peggy Hammond

breezes stir. maple seeds,
miniature helicopters,
spin. oak catkins
twirl. spring
shakes itself,
brushes winter
off its shoulders.
voices and children’s
laughter float as sangria
sparkles in our glasses.
conversation quiets,
our minds still
linger months past,
when wishes were
fulfilled, when
ashes and prayers
mingled with snow
on a silent mountain.
when absence
took its place beside us.

Meet the Poet

Peggy Hammond’s poetry appears or is forthcoming in Two Thirds NorthCordellaSkylight 47Peeking CatThe Comstock ReviewRiver City PoetryAdelaide Literary MagazineCrosswinds Poetry JournalScissortail QuarterlyEunoia ReviewPangyrus Literary MagazineThe Sandy River Review, and elsewhere. Her chapbook The Fifth House Tilts is forthcoming in fall 2022 (Kelsay Books). She lives in the mountains of North Carolina, USA.

Slovakian Spring

with Raspberries on Her Fingers

by Miroslav Dávid

i think everybody would want her
and preferably if she were only theirs
nailed upside down
bleeding raspberries on the Marian cross 
from steel reinforcement

with raspberries on her fingers 
she won’t hurt anybody

 they’re from her garden 

that is like a poem 
and from all the healing herbs of true love and shots of rum

 so don’t you interfere, devil 
even if she’s bare to her soul
she’s going to be mine. 

Miroslav Dávid writing as Moddivari and River Salome: “with Raspberries on Fingers” (Elist Publishing, 2018)


by Danica Hrnčiarová Šišláková

burlesque tones of silly wishes
reverberated in the trumpets of Jericho
forgiven is the one 
who wounded
the beast inside me that doesn’t grow

the battle is over
only silence now 
I peer into the poetry window
I’ve (hopefully) won the duel with pride
the other results – one all

The Ballad of the Pearl (to All Petrarcas)

by Vladimír Skalský

Like a scalpel stuck in the chest
a grain of sand hurts so much
it penetrated the oyster’s armour
only because 
In the moment of weakness
It was let close to the heart

There is nothing left
but to wrap the pain in beauty
to dull the pain with words
and, with the cut-up heart,
toll furiously
all the bells
of the lonely bedroom

I Stopped You

by Vladimír Skalský

I stopped you in the street
Maybe you would have been run over by a car
Maybe you would have met a great love
And your son might have destroyed the world
Or solved the nuclear waste problem
I held you up for three minutes
Surely another sperm would make it
Marilyn Monroe would have crooked legs
Kennedy’s assassin wouldn’t be born at all
Ten years from now, we’d land on Mars

I stopped you in the street
And that is how I changed the world

Meet the Poets

Miroslav Dávid is a Slovak poet, an award-winning lyricist who celebrated massive success with hits for Slovak rock and pop acts in the 80s. He is also a music manager and producer. So far, he has four poetry collections published: Rogalo, veľryba a Kristus Pán (2017: Trio Publishing, Bratislava), Detox (2017: Silvia Hodálová – VIUSS, Bratislava), s Malinami nastoknutými na Prstoch (2018: Vydavateľstvo Elist), Domino (2019: Vydavateľstvo Elist). He has also been awarded prestigious literary prices such Mobel Prize 2018, 2019 and 2020 respectively or Pars Poetry 2018. He has three children and two grandchildren. He is divorced.

Danica Hrnčiarová Šišláková, an award-winning poet and a software analyst, comes from Banská Bystrica (Slovakia) but is currently living in the Czech Republic. She started writing first poems when she  was about 8 years old. At the age of 13, she became a published poet: she published in the literary supplement of the magazine Nové slovo, with then the editor-in-chief Vojtech Mihálik and in the anthology Právo na píseň. After starting a family, she took a long hiatus from writing. After 2015, she returned to poetry again and ventured to read it publicly. Her poems appeared in many anthologies in Slovakia, the Czech Republic, as well as publication in the online magazine of the Association of World Writers (AWW). 

Vladimír Skalský was born on April 26, 1972 in Prešov, Slovakia, where he graduated from grammar school. Later, he earned a master’s degree in theoretical physics at the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics of Charles University in Prague. As well as running his own business, since 1992 he has held a number of public office positions and management positions in various media corporations. Since 1996, he has been the vice-chairman of the Slovak-Czech Club and deputy editor-in-chief of the magazine Slovenské dotyky (Slovak Touches), and from 2004 to 2013 he was the editor of the literary quarterly, the Czech-Slovak journal Zrkadlenie/Zrcadlení (Mirror/Zrcadlení). Since 2006 he has been the President of the World Association of Slovaks Abroad, and since 2009 he has been the Vice President of the Europeans in the World, based in Brussels. Since 2014 he has been the director of the Slovak House in Prague. He is a member (2004 – 2010 and from 2019 until now) and Vice-Chairman (2005 – 2008) of the Government Council for National Minorities of the Czech Republic. He has authored many books: the collections of poems To Silence (2000) and From Two Shores (2017) and the collection of essays Keywords: Prague, Slovakia, literature (2004). All in all, he appears as either an author, co-author or editor of about thirty books. He was co-editor of the three-volume anthology of Slovak literature abroad Between Two Houses (2008-2010) and co-editor of Čítanka moderní slov. literature for secondary schools (2003). His poems and essays have been translated into English, French, Czech, Chinese, Hungarian, Russian and Serbian.

All translations by Natalie Nera.

‘The Perfect Shade of Crimson’ by Frances Mulholland

“I think we can do a little better than that, can’t we, Mrs Hope?”

Stella’s knees crumbled underneath her and she clung to the railings so she wouldn’t fall. She wouldn’t let her physiotherapist see her fail, not again. 

“Have you been doing your exercises at home?”

“Yes,” panted Stella. “It’s hard to remember sometimes -“

“You can’t make excuses, you know.”

“Well maybe if I hadn’t just spent three months in a coma, I wouldn’t have so much trouble remembering!”

The physiotherapist averted her eyes, and Stella wondered when these people began to lose their sense of humanity. It had been the same when her father was dying of cancer. He’d lost his appetite, and Stella and her brother had been shocked to discover it was because the cancer was filling his insides, spreading like the roots of some cursed tree inside his torso. The doctor who’d rolled his eyes at their innocence and ignorance had forgotten that ordinary people didn’t know these things. 

Stella thought of her father’s legs, once so strong, withered and shrivelled. She pulled herself up, picked up her bag, and stormed out with all the dignity she could summon. 

The walk to the car park was excruciating. When the car had slammed into her six months ago, Stella had been thrown into the air and, upon landing, had fractured her skull, all the bones on the left side of her body, and punctured her left lung. 

She couldn’t even remember why she’d stepped out like that. She was usually so careful. 

Pulling out her car keys, she noticed a shabby-looking basket at the entrance to the car park, overflowing with the remnants of summer flowers. She didn’t know what kind they were, but she stopped to admire their fading red vibrancy. 

Stella took her phone out to snap a picture and saw she had a message from her husband. A jolt of revulsion rocked her stomach and she ignored it. Another thing she didn’t understand since the accident. 

Back in the warmth of her car, she saved the photograph of the flowers to an album entitled ‘Crimson’. Ever since she’d come out of the coma, she’d found herself obsessed with the colour. She knew she was looking for a particular shade – bright red, blue undertones, a hint of pink in there – but she didn’t know why. 

Stella and Mark hadn’t been planning to decorate, so it couldn’t be that. She’d already bought her clothes for their holiday in Tuscany, nobody’s birthday was coming up…

Stella swiped idly through the album of flowers, scarves, paintings she’d seen. On the radio, The Kills were playing. ‘The Search for Cherry Red.’ No, it wasn’t cherry red she wanted, either. She turned it off in irritation. 

Mark wasn’t sure that Stella should be going out so soon, but in five years, she’d never missed his firm’s Christmas party, and she didn’t intend to start now. As she dressed for the evening – a long, black, one-shouldered gown that cleverly concealed the worst of her injuries, she thought feverishly of all the different shades of red she would encounter that night. From Tony the MD’s terrible Santa suit to Rachel’s traditional outlandish Christmas manicure, she would be able to take her pick. She’d synced her phone to free up storage. Mark had smiled at how excited she was. Stella wondered how he’d react if he knew the real reason. 

It was the first time she’d seen any of Mark’s colleagues since the accident. Gavin and Manjeet jokingly wrapped some silver tinsel around her crutch, and Julie made a terrible fuss of her, ensuring she had plenty to drink. 

“Go easy, love,” Mark frowned. “Think of all those pain meds!”

“It’s my first night out in months, I can have a couple of drinks!” Stella replied. 

This was nice. This was normal. If Lynsey the hypochondriac was to be believed, Stella wasn’t even the worst off at that party. 

After almost half an hour of listening to the woman chunter on about her irritable bowel and her migraines and her recurrent tonsillitis and her piles and her ingrown toenails, Stella realised that Mark was no longer by her side. She strained to look for him, and managed to slip away when Lynsey latched onto a newcomer. 

This was familiar. This was unpleasant. Stella felt the revulsion she’d felt at seeing her husband or his name the last three months churning in her belly as she walked, and she knew that she’d walked exactly this way six months earlier, for the exact same purpose, only with no crutch to keep her steady.

Mark was half-hidden behind a pillar at the far end of the corridor. A woman was with him – tall, blonde, her hair flowing over her shoulders like the cheap champagne they were serving back in the party. Stella couldn’t move. She wanted to see it all, but then the woman saw her, and she and Stella’s husband broke apart. 

Stella fled. She had only been in the ladies’ toilets a few moments when the woman caught up with her. 

“Stella, it’s not what you think…”

She proceeded to rime off the rest of the cliches while Stella gripped the white enamel basin. She tried to focus on the expensive hand wash in the heavy, white, porcelain dispenser, the identical hand cream, the fabric of the footstool in the mirror behind her…

And then she noticed the woman’s lipstick. Bright red, with blue undertones, just a hint of pink. 

“…we didn’t mean for you to find out, and then when you caught us back at the summer party  – we both felt so bad, we felt like it was our fault you’d run out into the road like–”

The woman never managed to finish her sentence. Stella smashed the hand wash dispenser into the side of her head. Stella had a brain injury, she’d been plied with alcohol all night which had probably affected her medication, and her husband was cheating on her with the office tart. Hell, their affair had nearly killed her. No jury would possibly convict her. 

As her rival fell to the floor, Stella admired the flow of blood onto the pristine white tiles. The contrast settled the churning in Stella’s stomach as she settled into the feeling of a task completed. The woman’s blood was a deeper shade of crimson than the woman’s lipstick, but pleasing, nonetheless.  

Meet the Author

Frances Mulholland’s work has been published or is forthcoming in Poetry Salzburg Review, Brave Voices, Mslexia, and others. She lives in Northumberland.

‘Dysphoric Heart’ by Hiba Heba

are cursed opals clunking
on our frozen landscapes. 
There are kittens 
in your backyard, swaddling
their mother’s congealed blood 
around themselves; 
returning her spasms
of sacrificial love.
Their death is a cake
lazily rising
in the oven heat.
The last rain of sweat 
scurries down
the hull of my clavicles. 

Meet the Poet

Hiba Heba is a Pakistan-based writer and poet. She earned her Bachelor of English literature and linguistics degree from Air University and is currently applying for scholarships abroad. Her poems have appeared in Daily Times, Terror House Magazine, Visual Verse, Feminist Voices Anthology: Volume II, OpenDoor Poetry Magazine, The Raconteur Review, The Wild Word, Ofi Press Magazine, New Feathers Anthology, Women’s Spiritual Poetry and Autumn Sky Poetry. She has a micro-chapbook, ‘Grief is a Firefly’, published by Origami Poems Project (October 2021). Hiba likes to experiment with unexpected imagery and extended metaphors in her poems.

‘A Primer for the Women who Might Date My Ex-boyfriend’ by Megha Nayar

 What he says:

What he means:

I love that you have a spine.

You’re super sexy when you take others head-on. Others.

Why should you be ashamed of your past? 

My own shenanigans were far racier, so yours are forgiven. 

Until I met you, I had no hope of finding love again.

Six women had already dumped my sorry ass. Who’d be optimistic?

My parents are nasty ol’ buggers for refusing to give me more money. 

My parents know all about my train-wrecking ways. They’ve wised up. 

My siblings are pampered asshats who’ve profited at my expense. 

My siblings, just like my friends, have stopped indulging my nonsense. 

My friends are entitled asshats who’ve profited at my expense. 

My friends, just like my siblings, have stopped indulging my nonsense. 

How I use the money you gave me is none of your business.

I smoked it away. Send me some ASAP. Don’t ask me why. 

I won’t grovel for money. I hate grovelling.

How dare you ask me to account for how I used up your money? 

I should never have taken your money. 

You lent me money only so you could manipulate me.

We’ll rent a place and move in together.

I can’t wait to have sex with you.

Wear a crop top when we meet next time.

I can’t wait to have sex with you.

I miss you so badly.

I can’t wait to have sex with you.

I don’t drink on weekdays. 

My vices have standards.

I have never blanked out from drinking. 

My vices have standards.

I have never hit anybody in a drunken state. 

My vices have standards.

If it’s gonna make me mad, don’t say it.

I’m not a fan of the truth.

Why must you always make me mad?

I’m not a fan of the truth.

See how mad you made me!

I’m not a fan of the truth.

I’m not in this for the angst.

Stop pointing out my flaws.

Accept me as I am, else I can’t.

Stop pointing out my flaws.

You’re breaking me all over again.

Stop pointing out my flaws.

I’m smarter than your ex-boyfriends.

You’re a slut.

You need to raise your standards. 

You’re a slut.

Go back to that bloody dating app.

You’re a slut.

You will never find another like me.

(No comments)


He is right about that last one, though.

About the Author

Megha Nayar was longlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2020 and the New Asian Writing Short Story Prize 2020. More recently, one of her stories was showcased at India’s prestigious Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2021. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Trampset, Variety Pack, Versification, Out of Print, Rejection Letters, Coven Editions, Burnt Breakfast, Brown Sugar, Marias at Sampaguitas, Cauldron Anthology, Harpy Hybrid Review, Potato Soup Journal, Postscript Mag, Ayaskala Mag and The Daily Drunk Mag, among others. She tweets at @meghasnatter.

‘The Silence of my Hellcat’ by Jenny Robb

One night, tired of TV, men and life,
I will summon my inner cat.
In bed, the room won’t seem dark.
I’ll sleep lightly, disturbed by scratches 
in the skirting, rustling leaves.

Next morning, porridge won’t appeal. 
I’ll open a tin of sardines,
lick it clean of silver-flecked oil. 
In the mirror, my hazel eyes will green.

I’ll shop at dawn and dusk,
devour raw chicken and mackerel.
My coccyx will itch and a black tail tip 
twitch. I’ll cut holes in my clothes
and wear baggy coats.

I’ll fear water 
but no longer care
about encroaching seas.
Embracing my black fur pelt,
I’ll learn to let out darkness. 

I’ll avoid the barbed dicks of Toms
with agile twists and turns
and become my familiar, 
practise killing,
pounce from four legs.

Abandoning my house
I won’t know life is short.  
Will not speak of extinction.
Will not speak at all.  

I will lick and relish the taste of blood.

Meet the Poet

Jenny, from Liverpool, is published in both online and print magazines and poetry anthologies. 2021 publications include Dream Catcher, Prole, Ink Sweat and Tears, Orbis, The Dawntreader and The Lighthouse Journal. Her debut pamphlet, The Doll’s Hospital will be published by Yaffle Press soon. She tweets at @jirobb .

‘Slovakia and its Literary Landscape’ by Natalie Nera

‘Slovakia? Do you mean Slovenia? Aaah, Czechoslovakia!’

This statement reflects myriads of conversations I used to have during my time in Britain, whenever I mentioned that my sister-in-law was from Slovakia. No, it is not a country by the sea, and Czechoslovakia ceased to exist in 1993. And no, the Czech and Slovaks did not try to murder each other in the 90s – that was Yugoslavia. 

When it comes to literature, the situation is even worse. The Wikipedia entry on Slovak Literature ends with 1945, and the information you will find there is limited. Even an avid reader might struggle to name a single writer or poet. In short, Slovak literature is probably the most underrated literature in Central Europe – virtually unknown in the West, hiding in the mighty shadows cast by the Poles, and to some extent also its Czech neighbour.

And it is not just the proximity of its better-known neighbours. It is an image problem, which is not the fault of Slovakia or its authors. Historically, throughout the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, the Slovak language was considered to be ‘a dialect’ of the Czech language by many. It emerged as one of the pseudoscientific constructs based on nationalistic theories during that era, and took a long time to go away. Nonetheless, the idea of the Czechoslovak nation with its unique language helped to establish Czechoslovakia in 1918. The problem with the grammar books on the Czechoslovak language and all these theories was that nobody actually spoke it.

Naturally, it is easy to criticise this approach from the prism of the 21st century; however, this was also a political necessity. For two small nations in Central Europe, it was important to convince the powerful politicians in Britain, France and the USA during WWI that there was a medium-sized nation in the heart of Europe with its own language and culture, which deserved its independence and had the right to self-determination. 

The other issue is that when editors in English-speaking countries look East, they have no reference point with Slovakia. They know the impressive canon of Polish Nobel Prize laureates, such as Henryk Sienkiewicz, Czeslaw Milosz or Olga Tokarczuk; then they look to its smaller neighbour, and they can probably name Jaroslav Hasek, Bohumil Hrabal, Milan Kundera, and Miroslav Holub and Jaroslav Seifert in poetry, before they even start searching for new names. Can you recall any of the Slovak literati? No? 

It is time to change the narrative. This spring season, we will be celebrating Slovak authors. Rich tradition and musicality penetrate every word, every line. There are no small literatures. There are only literatures that deserve to be discovered.