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Plaits by Tania Hershman

Someone behind started plaiting my hair.
Hey, I said.
Sorry, he said. Just given up smoking... hands fidgety... hang on.
I sat there waiting for the lecture to start, feeling the gentle tug as he pulled one section of hair over the other. My knees said, Marry him. Don't turn round, just decide.
We married six months later. His face was as delicate as his hands were dextrous, his temper cool and his love eccentric. He washed my hair, made me pies with pastry messages on top, grew prize-winning roses, and said that the washing up was his meditation.
When I cut my hair, he said that it was fine, that he could tickle my scalp now, but his hands were disappointed, and soon I smelled tobacco.
Stress at work, he said.
I talked to a wise friend, who said, Grow it back. My knees said, He should love you any way. I saw him in a cafe with a woman I didn't know. His fingers were playing with her curls. I threw up in a rubbish bin and went home. I found a pack of his cigarettes and started one a day, even though my knees weren't pleased.
I love you, he said in bed, when my hair had reached my shoulders again.
I know, I said, and fought my knees' insistence that I go into the garden and dig up his rose bushes.

Tania Hershman is originally from London and now lives in Jerusalem, Israel, with her partner and two cats. She is a science journalist by day, but by night (or occasionally in the afternoon) she writes short stories, the shorter the better. Tania received an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University College and is working on a collection of science-inspired stories, two of which have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4, with several others published or forthcoming in several publications including Route's Wonderwall anthology, the Orphan Leaf Review, Front&Centre and Spoiled Ink. She is waiting for the day when it is the short story writers who get the enormous advances and believes many a novel could have been a great short story if the writer had known when to stop. www.taniahershman.com

A Small Blue Bead On A Salt-Caked String
by Vanessa Gebbie

Fingers on thighs is what Jacob dreams of, here on deck, his head full of the creaks and smells of pitch-dipped pine, memories crackling like St Elmo’s fire. Fingers on dark thighs, petticoats, the swell of soft waves at midnight, the scent of apples. He’s meant to be watching, but there’s nothing to watch, just the swaying heavens, nothing to feel but the stroke-rolling of the soft deck beneath him.
It is a blind damp star-pointed night, slow moving. The sky bellies up and down, dark on dark, waves sucking, breathing in a salt heart-beat; thud…thud….thud. Wet salt wood, tarred ropes (the foot-catchers) snake here and there; high masts, empty, waiting, like rictus-fingers or splayed legs insistent to heaven, and rope petticoats swaying, loose-weave in the dark.
In his drowsy pocket, nothing save salt. Jacob, half awake, feels in his dark pocket for the star that lived there, and it is gone below the horizon.
Before, on watch, his sleeping hand in pocket, in his sleeping fingers a bead. A small blue bead on a salt-caked string.
“It will keep you safe, Papa.” He can hear his child Meggie’s voice, feel it in the beat of the sea… thud…thud…thud… “Mama gave it me. Ssssh. It’s a secret.” Stooping, he felt small fingers tying the treasure round his neck, then small arms clinging round his legs on the quayside, his trews damp with salt tears before the sea could get them.
Now. The sky bellies and heaves as though it would soon vomit. Jacob’s bead, on its little salty string? Round the thigh where his fingers slept not many nights since.
In his dreams he knows the storm will come…or the foot-catchers… they will fetch him in the night and pivot him into an ocean made of stars.

Vanessa Gebbie is a journalist. Her short fiction has been published in print and on the web in literary magazines such as Absinthe Literary Review, Aesthetica, Cadenza, Gator Springs Gazette, Buzzwords, Inversion, Momaya Review, Smokelong Quarterly, Flash Me, Artistry of Life, The Angry Poet, The Drill Press, QWF, and many others. She has had some success in competitions, notably winning joint First in the Willesden Short Story Competition earlier this year, judged by Zadie Smith. She has twice been shortlisted for the Fish International Competition (writing as Tobias Williams). She teaches Creative Writing to residents of a drugs rehab, and co-ordinates writing from the homeless, asylum-seekers and refugees in her home city of Brighton, for anthologies to be published by QueenSpark Books. She is the founder and editor of Toms Voice Magazine, a specialist ezine for Creative Writing by those fighting addiction.

Night on Thursday by Bryna Rene

I’m up late, patching the hole he’s punched in the wall.

I scoop spackle out of the can, and watch it run like slow honey over the ragged gash. He’s taller than I, and his fist hit the wall where my head would have been, if I’d been standing in the right place. Only the red paint is scarred, but I hurt all the same.

He’s watching me. I say nothing. Our nightly dance, resumed.
There’s a shard of glass clinging under my toe. Wreckage. I should reach down, work it free. But I don’t. Pain blossoms like a bright flower under my skin, spreading up my calf until my whole leg is thrumming with it.
In the morning, I will show him the slice in my toe, and tell him it was his fault.
Every man has two faces, and his is as dark as night’s doorstep, dark as the mutters that follow him home from the bars. Now, he seethes, eyes red like torn skin. But tomorrow he’ll wake to sunlight on broken glass and spackle, wearing the face I love, and beg me to forgive him.

I step to the side. There’s more glass, more pain.

More little slices of revenge. He leaves me with a curse, and topples a chair on his way out of the kitchen. I do not flinch, this time. I only force my face into a mask of perfect serenity and grind my toes into the floor.

Bryna Rene is a professional stylist and aspiring novelist from Providence, RI, USA, currently hard at work on her first fantasy series.

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