The people in the next room were quietly discussing my fate. The door was ajar and I could hear the murmur of their conversation, though only the occasional word was intelligible. After a while they got up and left, locking the outside door behind them. I heard an elevator, then silence. I had only one means of escape, through a grimy skylight in the ceiling of the room they had just vacated, and which I now entered. I was soon on the roof. At the end of the building I found a fire escape, and at the bottom I emerged onto a wide tiled patio overlooking the lake. An elderly woman stood a few yards away, near a bed of flowering shrubs. She was gazing out over the water, wrapped in a towel, her hair covered by a bathing cap. Was she associated with my captors, or just an ordinary hotel guest? She looked up as I approached and smiled. The air had seemed unusually still when I was climbing down from the roof, but a sudden gust of wind now caused her towel to flap open, revealing that she was naked, and exposing her pubic hair. She seemed unconcerned, perhaps even amused by this. 'Fancy a dip?’ she asked.
What We Did
Howard had heard his wife speak of their various trips so many times over the years he could almost predict the exact phrases she would use. Each time they met new people at a party, or on holiday, she'd offer up these mementos. But lately he’d noticed that the stories had been changing. She had started adding fresh material, details he didn’t recall. There was the trip to Thailand for example, where she claimed they had visited a temple in Bangkok decorated with broken crockery. He had no memory of this. She described a church in Mexico where the corpse of a young girl, preserved by the dry atmosphere, was on display in the crypt. Again he had no recollection of it. Was he losing his memory? Was she losing hers? He was confused, and didn’t know how to talk to her about it. Over the next few months the stories became increasingly elaborate. He began to dread going to social gatherings, wondering what outlandish claim his wife would invent. After she told the story about killing, with her sandal, a three foot long mamba discovered in their tent during a safari in Zambia, he decided to confront her. 'Do you think anyone really cares where we went or what we did?' she said. 'I’m so bored with those rituals we engage in, that seeking of common ground. Are other people telling the truth?'
The strawberries were the largest Phil had ever seen - some approaching the size of mangoes. They were growing along the bank to the side of the path, perhaps a hundred plants, like mutant aliens from a 1950s B movie. Many of the fruits had deformities, small extra protuberances, and in a few cases forked bodies. He had been thinking of picking some and taking them back to work to share with his colleagues, but now he wasn’t so sure. Were they safe to eat? There was no sign advising against it. He bent over to smell the strange fruit but they seemed to be odourless. As he stood there thinking he became aware of a strong scent of cheap perfume, and turned to find a small woman in a pale raincoat, sky-blue running shoes, and mirror shades. She seemed to be watching him. 'Know anything about these strawberries?' Phil asked. 'The sins of the fathers,’ the woman said. 'They'll set your teeth on edge.'
Simon Collings lives in Oxford, UK, and has published poems, stories and critical essays in a range of journals including Fortnightly Review, Stride, Journal of Poetics Research, Tears in the Fence, Ink Sweat and Tears, Lighthouse and PN Review. He has published two poetry chapbooks: Out West, Albion Beatnik (2017), and Stella Unframed, Red Ceilings Press (2018). His work previously appeared in Issue #69 of The Cafe Irreal.