Hello from frosty Yorkshire – and Prague!

As editors we all live in different places in the world! Rue and I are both UK-based, but 100 miles apart, and Natalie Nera lives across the sea, in Prague. This year I was lucky enough to travel to Prague for the first time to visit Natalie and her lovely family. I enjoyed a week exploring the culture of this enchanting city, and even participated in a reading with Natalie in the capital. We were also able to catch up during the summer as trio of editors in Newcastle; the place where we first met and created Fragmented Voices. At times such as Christmas we notice those friendships, as well as family, more than ever. 

Thanks again for supporting our indie press this year. It is truly exciting to read your submissions for our online magazine and annual Big Books. Our third Big Book, an uplifting poetry anthology beautifully designed by Rue on the theme of ‘the ones who make the world better’, is just around the corner for launch and release in print and digital form. We’re very excited to celebrate the work of our authors. 

2023 will bring some exciting developments for our press. At Fragmented Voices we aim to connect voices across borders, and this year we have published some fabulous international voices in our Translation Tuesday online features, including Czech poets, Japanese verse, and our thrilling autumnal showcase of Peruvian writers. In 2023, we hope to expand our showcase of translation into print form for your bookshelves. 

Online submissions are closed for now, but we will be open again in the New Year. We wish our followers, readers and authors peace and happiness this Christmas.  

Natalie Crick

Poetry Editor 

Three Poems by Alex Reed


I called to you this morning 
from another room 
in this new house we chose together, 
as lovers call to one another, every day, 
for a hundred mundane reasons

there’s coffee in the kitchen, 
someone wants you on the phone, 
leaving now but won’t be long 

I meant to call you in this way 
but through some slip in time and place,
called you by her name.

After all these years, I used her name
when the word I wanted was Love

Past lives

As if meeting a promise she made to herself a long time ago, as if placing an unfinished glass at the edge of the cluttered table, as if turning her body away forever, she speaks very gently, I asked only this, that you were honest

Weekly ramble

You’re on at me for being late again, while you were on time as you always are, then as we walk the talk turns to the usual stuff: cutting back on the drink, watching the waistline, you’ve found a new app that tracks your heartrate, then you mention some bloke we went to school with who you bumped into the other day, he looked a right fucking plightI’ve never seen anyone in such a state still walking the street, and we both go quiet, feeling better. 

Meet the Poet!

Alex Reed’s poetry has been published in various print and on-line magazines. His pamphlets A Career in Accompaniment and These Nights at Home (with accompanying images by Keren Banning) were published by V. Press and explore themes of illness, care-giving and loss.

His recent collection knots, tangles, fankles (V.Press, 2022) is a re-imagining of the work of radical psychiatrists R.D. Laing & A. Esterson on family life and ‘schizophrenia’. 

‘My Father as a Fly’ by Marion Oxley

He came from a place where sunlight was golden
spreading across the first burnt crusts of the day.

A shredded, bitter-sweet place where generations moved
up from stinking gutters to sit at crisp, white tablecloths.

He’d wanted none of it once the lid had been lifted off
the black-faced, curly headed dolls, wide smiles, red banana lips.

He didn’t want to be stuck in this place of labels, tokens, badges.
A lifetime of lip service, syrupy sweetness making him vomit.

So over time he changed. Found sustenance in the outdoors
became more in tune with nature. Feet walking over dead-eyed sheep.

Tasted kitchen waste, sucked in, thought only now of air miles.
I find him wrapped in a silk shroud, swinging gently

caught in the breeze between a dangle of white, Bleeding Heart
like her earrings and the yellow floribunda Peace rose, he always loved.

Meet the Poet!

Marion Oxley lives in the Calder Valley, West Yorkshire. She has had poems previously published in a wide range of poetry magazines, journals and anthologies. Most recently Atrium, Obsessed with Pipework, Bangor Literary Journal, The Alchemy Spoon, Smoke and Channel. Her debut pamphlet In the Taxidermist’s House was published last year with 4Word Press.

‘Distortion’ by Clara Roberts

April 2015

When I was a child, I never thought I would become part of a junkie’s dream, where real clouds are research chemical and methamphetamine smoke, where needles are used for injecting liquid euphoria that turns veins brown, rather than healing the body. It’s an unorthodox healing process – a disappearing act taking me away from my soul.

“We’ve got to get the fuck out of here,” he says. It seems like I hear him say the same thing every day. Getting the fuck out of here is our mantra for living a wrecked existence. 

I wipe the blood off of my arm and stash the needle in a hole in my suede purse before driving off into the Baltimore night. The shot was impressive, but the void inside of me cried for an additional shot. Kitter agreed. 

“Let’s go to the park and do a little more and then walk around,” I suggest. My sweaty hands are gripping the steering wheel. Like clockwork, I check the rear-view mirror to see if any cars are following us. Thank God, the black Escalade behind us does not make the same turn down the street. Every car looks like a government surveillance vehicle.

We do end up going to the park. I lie down with him underneath a huddle of leafless trees and a black glassy sky. He lays his head on my concave stomach and strokes my right thigh, my faded black tights slightly shielding the ability to feel all of his touch. He grabs his overstuffed backpack sitting next to me as I dig through my purse for my stash of meth. We pull out what we are waiting for: more. More is what we want. More is our addiction.

Our tools and spoons and crystals are sprawled across his Marilyn Monroe sweatshirt on the damp grass. The preparation is exciting, but comes with an uneasy weight of impatience. My stomach flutters and my entire body aches to feel the venom drown my body right that very instant. 

“Can you hit me this time?” I ask.

“Of course, sweetheart.”

I sometimes do not administer the drug on my own because when someone I feel love for sends the pleasure into me, I feel closer to them. The act is a different form of copulation, one where I can drift outside of myself but feel whole. He also could qualify as a skilled phlebotomist. The punctures he makes never bruise my arms.

“Shablackity!” he exclaims once the needle connects to my vein right away. I take my supple veins for granted, not imagining that one day maybe they will fail to work anymore.

“Shablackity,” I repeat, my voice staccato, and ears ringing. My heart becomes heavy with dense beats. I get the urge to talk a mile a minute, but no words slip out of my mouth. Instead I turn my blurry gaze straight ahead and pray that this rush does not leave. The stream of perfection always fades, even though the side effects last for hours. The first couple of minutes after the initial blast are the moments you want on repeat.

“Sleep in the stars,” he says. 

February 2015

3:00 A.M. on an early February night. Kitter and I have been in the motel room together for about ten hours, minus the time we went out to grab some food and cop more Tina. I am lying on the bed holding a plastic vial filled with crystals, about to put it away, until he stands in front of me.

“Can I have some more since I found that other vial in the drawer that you would’ve forgotten about?”

He is talking of when he looked in one of the drawers and discovered that I had accidentally put away some of my stash in there. I probably was going to find it later before we left because I usually tear apart motel rooms just in case I’ve misplaced some of my drugs. In this case, he is proud he found something of mine so he can potentially manipulate me into me giving him more. I have been giving him my stash throughout the day and night. He had a bag for himself earlier, but he blew through it within a handful of hours. This was not my problem, but he was making it mine.

“I don’t know. I gave you shit all afternoon and it’s not my fault that I saved up my stash and you’ve run out,” I reply.

“I set up everything for us tonight. I went all out and even got you some baggies—“

“All of which I did for us last week and the week before and the week before that, so it’s about time you contribute.”

“Why can’t you give me a little?” He starts looking more perplexed but heated and vexed by my “stubbornness”. 

“You think I’m weak—that I’ll always say “yes,” staying all complacent and ready to give you anything you want! Not this time.” A lump is forming in my throat as I raise my voice. Nothing I do is ever enough when it comes to me hooking him up with Tina and I know he was trying to manipulate me again.

“You don’t have to yell. What’s your problem?”

“You don’t respect me,” I say, without hesitating.

“Yes I do! Are you sure you didn’t buy another time this week behind my back and that’s why you have such a big stash?”

“I saved since Monday! Monday! Ben gave me extra and I’ve been saving it for us.”

“You sure you didn’t go again Wednesday or Saturday?”

“Fuck you.”

“You know what? If I wanted to I could rob your whole stash right now right in front of you.”

I fall apart crying, stinging with the realization that this drug is all he cared about. I start packing up my belongings.

“I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have said that,” he says.

I pretend, before I say anything else or continue to melt down, that it was a couple hours earlier. We were having sex, fucking, and making love. He’d held me so close at times that I’d also wrap my arms around him. Moments like those confuse me because I feel some strange energy from him that brings him closer to me, but my walls are not broken and neither are his. If I let mine down, I am almost certain I will only feel regret. 

I am washed up after our fight, the second one in one week. I cannot remember the last time I screamed at a person I am so close with. My temper has always been present beneath all of my other reactions, but he knows how to sting me. Anything negative that I sense when it comes to my generosity (money and drugs) — jadedness — shuts right into my face.

Everything that is quiet in me comes out in powerful tears down my face and cries from my heart. He knows how to fight, to beat down anything I respond with. And he can make things seem like they never happened, even pull out a few jokes when we converse during the aftermath. I am still holding onto his words as I’ve always done, both the beautiful and the ones meant to make me disappear just a little more.

Do I really know which words are true and untrue — mistaken? I notice the times when he is patient. He looks me in the eyes as we lie on our sides, talking slow, but with self-assurance. Those are the moments when I don’t feel as scared. But then, maybe even the next day, I bring up some feelings which I think need to be shared, and I see how perplexed he is — like I’m telling him concerns that are only a part of my irrational thoughts. He looks surprised and annoyed when I express anything that makes him feel insecure. I once said that he seems to talk about himself and not really listen when I voice my thoughts. I know he’s working on his listening skills because I see him trying. He still tends to bring the conversation back to his own similar experiences, attempting to empathize and relate to me, but only muting what I’ve been saying

“Don’t get upset,” I say to myself.

“Don’t cry,” I repeat in my head. 

He’s asked me before not to point out everything he is doing wrong, even though he does it to me; he denies doing it. My goal is not to make him feel bad or berate him, but to address what I see going on. I do not want to have to tell him that he is being unappreciative or greedy, that I feel like giving up when he asks for more from me. 

When I slam the motel door as hard as I can, I hope he sees how I am checking out. 

January 2014

Kitter. He goes by Be-bop. He goes by Kwik and is part of GDF (Grateful Dead Family). He watches the world go by with a smirk on his face. His nails are dirty, but evenly bitten. You love his sand-colored short wavy hair, his distracted gaze, his angular features, and his thin raw body chiseled by fourteen years of chronic dope and meth abuse. His voice is monotone, but oozes conviction — a desperate attempt to use crafted manipulation and fling it at everyone.

You hiccup laughs while falling into his scar-tissued arms. You both stay on the splintery floor of his room and reminisce about the world and the absurd people you’ve met—laughing about drug dealers with non-intimidating names, like Baby and Money. Each day of using represents all of the nonstop madness for each Baltimore hardcore drug addict, which is an impending torment, no matter how much willpower and control you believe you possess. You can be a kid with him.

Thirty-one years old and he makes it look “okay” to be a full-time drug addict. If pleasure comes in the form of an IV shot, then it makes sense to spend every single fucking day chasing a substance with no brain. He licks the blood running down your bruised arm, and then kisses you. You forget that you are able to cry.

You are no longer at the beginning. You try to retrieve the days lost to maniacal chaos, the complete necessity to have needles on you at all times, and watching meth smoke float away from filthy glass pipes.

And after three years he still wanders into your life. You go back to him, a habit you have not kicked. But you know if you answer him over the phone or on Facebook you will descend beneath the murky way of life, which you might never leave, ruining the opportune life you are capable of having. You wonder about what life could have been, while you dance with a void that is never as numb as the ones in your dreams.

You wake up this morning, checking your phone and finding missed calls—ringtones ignored from the guy your parents would never want you to marry. Your mind is shaken by a foreign sensation. You feel clean.

December 2013

The first time I meet Kitter is the end of December 2013. He comes down the damp cellar steps of Kenny’s house — a safe haven for drug addicts to live. He has a winter hat on that looks like one an elf would show off. He is bundled up and I assume he has spent the entire day out on the streets hustling. Even now he is going to hook me up with Dilaudid and I will give him one of the four pills in exchange. He has a good routine going. My friend Peter introduces us and I am uneasy watching Kitter nod off and talk about how we do not have to drive far to get the shit. 

Kitter coughs and hacks up phlegm onto the street as we walk up the block to my car. I try not to act like I am with him. He picks up a cigarette butt off of the sidewalk as I let him into the car. He gives me directions to that old lady’s house, the one who has the pills. His words are slurred and he is taking hard puffs off of the lit cigarette butt. I tap the back of another car while parking. I am anxious to get my drugs, but more on edge because of Kitter being there. I hate driving when there is another person in the car. 

On the ride back, he all of a sudden does not stop talking and I am in a trance from his disjointed speech, trying to drive but wanting to look over at him the entire time. Just in that short amount of time, the stories he shares are mesmerizing, verging on utter fiction. His mind is not a room temperature-IQ one like some of the other dregs who come in and out of Kenny’s house. He has a Charlie Chaplin-esque beauty to his disposition and an artful eloquence. 

I continue talking to him later that night after I inhale the drugs while in bed. I keep Facebook messenger up on my phone so we can talk more. But I have one image in my head: A needle. Kitter mentioned in the car that he shot the Dilaudid, along with all drugs. Every drug I use flies up my nose.   

I remember the day when I went to Kitter’s room and left behind a life that could have been beautiful. I pull the sleeve of my fleece jacket and stretch my pale arm out, showing off one of my various supple and untouched veins. 

I bring my own needle. I purchased one for a dollar the other day. I know very little about where the needle exchange program is, so that’s why I went down the street with a guy named Jack who lived at Kenny’s. He has Hepatitis C and yellow eyes. He ran into a row-house and came back to my car holding the foreign tool that supposedly had never been used. I wanted to make sure it was clean, but the top of the plunger had heroin dross on it. Jack said that the person told him he just used the top to mix the heroin with. Part of me wanted to give the needle back to Jack because the thought of getting Hepatitis C, HIV, or God knows what else was realistically scary for me. But I took the swing and did not let myself get out of this situation. I gingerly put the needle into one of the pockets of my purse, waiting for the opportunity to use it once I copped more dope.

Later on, after buying $60 worth, Kitter shows me the preparation for the first time. He is fastidious, each step flowing into the next. He makes sure to not even give me half a cap (each cap was $10) because the potent drug could easily make me overdose the very first time I use. We are left with a residue- burned spoon and a syringe filled with food. I do not look away when he breaks through my skin and fills it with one of the substances I almost want to do every day for the rest of my life until I am literally no longer a part of this world.  

Present Day

Kitter finds a way to see and talk to me again: a shared cell phone in prison. My heart beats faster than usual when he messages me February 2019. We Facetime. He’s at San Quentin for a minimum of 15 years to life. He shaved the side of his head and he’s grown chin-length dread locks on the other side. He says he buys Tina all the time—that it’s better than any Baltimore kibble, and that he can get an ounce for $200. I tell him I cannot send money over to him, even if it would be for Tina. He hides the cell phone whenever a CO walks by his cell.

I hear from another friend that the courts can extend your sentence if a cell phone is found on your person. What more does Kitter have to lose? He’s adapted to prison and might have to do life there anyway. He says he’s taking college courses and eventually will be granted a degree if he completes the program. He gives me the correct mailing address and I have yet to compose a letter to send those thousands of miles away. Maybe he’ll find himself in San Quentin or grow complacent with whoever he is now. He brings back our memories every time I converse with him—even the cloudy ones from the beginning of our connection. He’s drawing; no one can ever take that gift away from him unless they cut off his right hand. He has not contacted me via cell phone in almost six months. 

I’m not scared for him anymore, but I am scared for myself. The addiction is still in hibernation and the threat of its coercion has never left, even after spending months of my life in multiple rehabs and psychiatric hospitalizations. I wake up in the morning, not only wondering if I’ll hear from Kitter, but speculating if the addiction will ever control me again. I am only a few decisions away from ambling down Baltimore’s pot-holed streets and into the arms of using buddies, dealers, and drugs.

Sobriety and Kitter cannot coexist, but sobriety and I might be able to make it through the fog.

Meet the Author!

Clara Roberts is a graduate from the MA in Writing Program at Johns Hopkins. A Best of the Net nominee, her nonfiction and poetry have been published in Idle Ink, Heartwood Literary Magazine, Downtown Archive, Ethel Zine and Micro-Press, Back Patio Press, Portland Metrozine, Door is A Jar Magazine, Journal of Erato, trampset, and other venues. She lives in Baltimore where she finds material to write about every day.

Twitter: @BurroughsTieInstagram: @freezedriedyo

‘A Town Without a River’ by Peter Donnelly

Once a politician thought it had a beach,
perhaps because their conference was there,
in old times a watering place.

You can still bathe at the Turkish Baths,
see ducks in the pond in the Valley Gardens,
hear the ripple of tiny waterfalls

along the Elgar walk. No longer may you
drink water at the Pump Room
that tastes as salty as the sea, to be polite.

I’d like to have asked them the name of the river
they thought ran through the town, or if they
spelt it Harrowgate. Good questions for an MP.

Meet the Poet!

Peter J Donnelly lives in York where he works as a hospital secretary.  He has a degree in English Literature and an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Wales, Lampeter. His poetry has been published in various magazines and anthologies including Dreich, Black Nore Review,  High Window,  Southlight and Lothlorien. He was awarded second prize in the Ripon Poetry Festival Competition in 2021 and was a joint runner up in the Buzzwords Open Poetry Competition in 2020.

‘Over the Moon’ by Swetha Amit

I asked mama how far the moon is 

from my window, if there was 

a man on the moon and she says

I don’t think so because no one 

can live on the moon, no water

no air, no place to build a home

silvery glow and milky white

like creamy cheese on some days

with my binoculars I get a closeup 

of this circular wonder, impeccable 

with its silvery glow, illuminating 

the dark streets and nights

and then I see those pockets 

like patches of dark clouds

hollow and appearing bruised

I ask mama if the moon is hurt

and she says that’s how it is

I want to comfort the moon

I want to heal it the way it has

by beaming and smiling at me

whenever I’ve felt sad 

thinking about my father

wondering if he’d come home

after performing his duty at the border

when I see the moon after a few years

no longer creamy white, 

just remnants of hollow black 

has the moon really changed I wonder

or that my eyes have lost their sheen?

Meet the Poet!

Author of her memoir, ‘A Turbulent Mind – My journey to Ironman 70.3’, Swetha Amit is currently pursuing her MFA at the University of San Francisco. She has been published in Atticus Review, JMWW journal, Oranges Journal, Gastropoda Lit, Full House literary, Amphora magazine, Grande Dame literary journal, Black Moon Magazine, Fauxmoir lit mag, Poets Choice Anthology, and has upcoming pieces in Drunk Monkeys, Agapanthus Collective, The Creative Zine, and Roi Faineant Press. She is one of the contest winners of Beyond Words literary magazine, her piece upcoming in November. She is also an alumna of Tin House Winter Workshop 2022 and the Kenyon Review Writers’ workshop 2022.

‘You Can Always Do It The Wrong Way’ by Arthur Davis

Corey came back yesterday, as a woman.

“I’m thinking of becoming an amphibian,” she said.

“Any reason?” I asked, always careful not to step on her dreams.

I have an impressive record of not stepping on the dreams of my friends. The Wall Street Journal once wrote a human-interest article about me. Not a very long piece, as one of three other people they cited about respecting the dreams of friends and family. According to a national survey, the three of us had stepped on the fewest number of dreams in our lives.

I imagine the two others, both women, were also deluged with offers to sponsor products, have movies made about their lives, and offered cash to simply put their face on the cover of a product. Lara Richardson was the most tempted of the three of us. She was quite ill and, in her late fifties, hadn’t long to live. She was appreciative, as were Karen and myself, but in the end, it just wasn’t something we wanted to pursue.

Those years were some of my best. I traveled widely because of a small stipend I had received from the Journal of Astrophysics arguing that God was left-handed, which apparently a world of reticent right-handers out there happened to agree with.

I went with Orville, as my love life was generally unreliable. Orville had been with me since I was eight. My parents were shopping for linens on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which was the heart of the linen district in the city many years ago, where I found him in an old toy store. Orville, whose biography I wrote about several years back, was, as expected, excellent company for a teddy bear and on more than one occasion seemed to be more informed about significant geopolitical issues in northern European countries than the guide we had been using at the time.

Orville suggested that I collaborate with Karen on a book entitled How Not To Step on Dreams. Karen, a shy and hesitant woman, declined and wished us the best of luck. Orville and I completed a final draft in a year. Perkins, Elmer & Ross, one of the most well-respected publishers in the country, contracted for the deal. The advances on the potential royalties were startling, as word spread that one of the last surviving members of the three who were cited in the Wall Street Journal was creating a follow-up piece that was to delve deeper into the psyche of mankind.

I believe their enthusiasm was also based on an earlier treatise Orville wrote about the fallibility of mankind titled You Can Always Do It The Wrong Way, which was picked up for reprint in 193 of the 195 nations in the world.

We had completed a strong first draft when Corey returned. I was taking that day off, as Orville was at the Smithsonian in Washington on a separate research project on cosmology, his favorite subject. A bright, sunny April day in the seventies, I took lunch to Central Park, when a tiny green lizard jumped up on the bench where I was sitting.

“Hey, I did it.”

I looked down and recognized Corey’s dark-blue eyes. “Congratulations,” I said, beaming with delight. I had faith in her to pull it off. She was that talented, and I was that convinced that if it were possible to go from a man to woman to amphibian, it would be her, or him. Whatever.

She was wearing a three-piece suit with a plaid bow tie and brightly colored ascot. Her sartorial taste was always remarkable, and even though I thought the fit a bit too snug, when you considered all the jumping around she had to do, it was nonetheless impressively British.

We chatted for a while until a patrol car pulled up. Apparently, several people grew suspicious of a middle-aged man looking like he was having an intense conversation with himself on a park bench. Central Park has what is called Controlled Conversation Codes for that kind of behavior, and I and another fellow nearby had obviously crossed that line without knowing it.

The officer was tolerant. 

“You look like a sane fellow, so I won’t give you a fine, but if you want to have a controlled conversation, try after 4 p.m, when there is less of a crowd, and not on a day that is so beautiful, where you could sing and dance in the streets and thank your maker, or makeress, for being blessed for just being alive,” he said, got back into the squad car where his partner was fast asleep, and drove off.

“I have to be going,” Corey said, poking her head up between the wooden slats on the bench where she had taken refuge when the squad car approached. Corey flipped around and jumped into the bushes, and that was the last I ever saw of her. I was unhappy to see her go and without discussing her next transformation, something I was always envious about, but we had both noticed the falcon circling overhead toward the end of the officer’s advice so I knew it was best for her to flee.

A family of peregrine falcons had recently made a roost in the upper floor of a fancy building on Fifth and Seventy-Second Street. The newspapers covered it. It was hailed as a sign that nature, in all its glory, was returning to the city.

The falcon family was growing rapidly, mostly because the park hosted a world-class buffet of fresh pigeons.

I spent another hour in the park, knowing that Orville would be back in our apartment by dusk and both of us would be eager to get back to the manuscript. Before I left the park, I decided to take a turn on the carousel, a ride which had been my favorite as a child and to this day brought back wonderful memories of a world growing up in the city.

I made my way further down into the park toward the carousel. The Central Park Carousel, officially the Michael Friedsam Memorial Carousel, a vintage wood-carved carousel located in Central Park in Manhattan stands at the southern end of the park, near East 65th Street. It is the fourth carousel on the site where it is located.

Children, adults, everywhere. I was beaming with delight. Then I noticed as I stood amongst the spectators that the time of the ride was running too long, and there was no one at the controls. I walked over to where the attendant should be and saw a note saying he had to go to the bathroom. I instinctively knew where the controls were and slowed the carousel. When the carousel stopped, I asked the lineup of parents and kids if they would mind if I could take a turn by myself in honor of saving the lives of terrified children and horrified parents. A quick vote was taken. Over 92.6 percent agreed that I deserved the treat.

By then, the attendant had returned, barely hitching up his pants, then brushing off the crowd for being so demanding and critical, mostly because he repeatedly said he left a note and that his handwriting was nearly perfect and they were overreacting, but grudgingly agreed that I deserved some kind of reward for my services.

I rode the carousel myself for a full cycle. In the beginning I was delighted, but as my turn continued, I started remembering all those who had made my life worth living and longed to share the ride with them.

That would have made for a perfect day.

Meet the Author!

Arthur Davies has been published in a collection, nominated for a Pushcart Prize, received the 2018 Write Well Award for excellence in short fiction and, twice nominated, received Honorable Mention in The Best American Mystery Stories 2017. Additional background is available at Arthur’s website, www.TalesOfOurTime.com and Author Central site on Amazon, (https://www.amazon.com/Arthur-Davis/e/B00VF0GDG4).

‘The Mussel Speaks’ by Christian Ward

Though our shells

are the perfect shade of grief,

one taste of the meat

confettied with herbs 

and doused in white wine

is enough to make

even grey clouds politely bow

and head away. Yes,

naysayers will say it looks

like a wad of chewed gum,

but these are the sea’s ear bones.

Listen to its secrets,

how they can dissolve you

among the currents 

and rebirth you as a basking shark

or the humblest of anemones 

disguised as stars.

Meet the Poet!

Christian Ward is a UK-based writer whom has recently appeared in Open Minds Quarterly, Obsessed with Pipework, Primeval Monster, Clade Song, Uppagus and BlueHouse Journal.

‘Lidice’ by William Falo

Steffen felt the villagers’ hatred as they peeked out of dark windows when he walked by, and knew they despised his presence. He hoped the terrors of war would stay away from Lidice after he met Julia.

Hey, German, she called him.

Fredrick was making regular rounds in the distance, and his black helmet bobbed up and down like a crow strutting around a cornfield. The radio crackled.

“Steffen, the order has come that this village is going to be targeted.”

“Targeted for what?” 

“For extermination. Commander Heydrich was killed. A message the SS found hinted that the assassins had a link here.”

“What about the people?”

 Fredrick remained silent.

“They can’t just kill them,” Steffen said.

“I heard the orders came from the Führer himself. The woman and children will be sent to Ravensbruck. The men killed.” 

He stopped talking when Julia walked toward him. “What’s keeping you?”

“Nothing, you look beautiful.”

“You just love me because you’re lonely.”

“That is not true. It’s because you’re the prettiest girl in Czechoslovakia.”

“What about Germany?”

“Yes.” He wanted to warn her, but if she told the others, he would be killed or worse. He had seen what the SS can do.

“Can you leave here tonight? It’s going to be dangerous to stay here.”

“No. I can’t leave without telling anyone.”

“Don’t go to the town center later.”

He ran away.

A man gave instructions to bring all the residents to the center of town.

The soldiers forced the woman and children to board a truck. Julia was with them, and she was crying. 

“No,” he said. He paced while the misery spread. Children called for their fathers while mothers sobbed. 

A line formed to enter the trucks. He would never see her again if he didn’t do something now. He saw her blonde hair start to flutter when the wind increased. The line shuffled forward.

Blonde hair. Lebensborn.

“Major,” he yelled. 

“Yes, what is it?”

“That woman with blonde hair is pregnant.” He pointed at Julia.

 “From you?”


“Good job. Now she can have the baby in Ravensbruck.”

“I wanted to ask about her going into a Lebensborn home. She has blonde hair and blue eyes.”

The Major thought for a while. “You there.” He pointed at a soldier sitting on a stump. “Get that blonde hair girl and bring her here.”

“Thank you.”

 The soldier dragged her over while she struggled to get free. “Send her back to the medical unit in Prague. Tell them that she is for the Lebensborn program.”

He forced her into the jeep. 

“Steffen, where are they taking me?” Julia yelled out.

“To a safe place.”

“Why?” The jeep started forward.

“To have a baby.”

“I’m not pregnant.” The jeep drove away. He saw her look back once and hoped they wouldn’t find that out for a few months.

He heard gunshots and laughter coming from the barn. He ran toward it. 

He saw Fredrick pointing his rifle at the villagers lined up in a garden at the back of the barn.

“No,” Steffen yelled, and he knocked Fredrick to the ground. The others threw him against the wall. 

“Fredrick, help me stop them.”

He didn’t, and he heard the shots as they dragged him out.

The major shook his head. “It must be because you’re going to be a father. Instead of shooting you, I’m sending you to the Russian front.” 

Before they took him away, he saw the soldiers burn every building until nothing was left. Lidice vanished.

Four years later

Steffen limped to where Julia’s house used to stand, reached down, and picked up a clump of purple heather. It felt soft in his hand, and filled the space left by losing two of his fingers. He put it up to his nose and hoped to smell traces of Julia. 

The wind changed directions, and he heard a soft voice. A blonde-haired boy ran to him, “Mister, you want to see the garden my mother planted?”

“Steffen, leave that man alone.” It made him stop. He knew that voice. He looked up. The face looked older and the eyes emptier, but she was beautiful. 


“Steffen, this is your son.”

He fell to his knees. “I’m sorry.” He cried. “I tried to stop them. I’m sorry.”

She reached down and touched his face. “You saved my life.”

“But how?” he pointed at the boy. 

“It turns out that I was pregnant.” Julia smiled. “They put me in the program, but I was able to get my baby back when the war ended.

The boy ran over and asked, “Are you okay, mister?”

“I’m wonderful.” He looked into her eyes.

Julia smiled and helped him up, then held his hand while they walked toward the center of Lidice, where a field of wildflowers had started to bloom.

On the orders of K. H. Frank, 173 Lidice men were shot on that fateful day in the garden of the Horak farm. The women and children were taken to the gymnasium of Kladno grammar school. Three days later, the children were taken from their mothers and, except for those selected for re-education in German families and babies under one year of age, were poisoned by exhaust gas in specially adapted vehicles in the Nazi extermination camp at Chełmno upon Nerr in Poland. The women were sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp, which usually meant quick or lingering death for the inmates.

Having rid the village of its inhabitants, the Nazis began to destroy the village itself, first setting the houses on fire and then razing them to the ground with plastic explosives. They did not stop at that but proceeded to destroy the church and even the last place of rest – the cemetery. In 1943 all that remained was an empty space. Until the end of the war, the sight was marked by notices forbidding entry.

The news of the destruction of Lidice spread rapidly around the world. But the Nazi intention to wipe the little Czech village off the face of the Earth did not succeed. Several villages throughout the world took over the name of Lidice in memory of that village, and many women born at that time and given the name of Lidice still bear it today. Lidice continued to live in the minds of people all over the world, and after the war, the Czechoslovak government’s decision to build it again was declared at a peace demonstration on June 10, 1945, at Lidice, which was attended by Lidice women who had survived. 340 Lidice citizens were murdered by the Nazis, 143 Lidice women returned home after the war ended, and after a two-year search, 17 children were restored to their mothers.



Meet the Author

William Falo lives with his family, including a papillon named Dax. His stories have been published or are forthcoming in various literary journals. He can be found on Twitter at @williamfalo and Instagram at @william.falo


Autumn reds,
a colony of yellow tansy,
on roadsides, goldenrod,
though, when I was born,
wattle flowered 
from the day before
to the day after.

I sit on the porch
at dusk,
humored by color,
though I’d prefer to be cured,
as house shadow,
drawn out by the western sky,
crosses my face, my lap.

Sun speaks to each of us in turn –
my light is certainly worth having 
but you can’t take it with you.

A mother, father,
three sisters,
I’ve lost for good.

I prefer the sun that shines,
not the one that speaks.

Meet the Poet!

John Grey is an Australian poet and US resident, recently published in Sheepshead Review, Stand, Poetry Salzburg Review and Ellipsis. Latest books, ‘Covert’, ‘Memory Outside The Head’, and ‘Guest Of Myself’ are available through Amazon. Work upcoming in Washington Square Review and Red Weather.