Books From The Pantry: We can order the same or taste each other’s (Part 2 of 3) by Mark Anthony Smith

Carrot Cake

The chiropractor asked if we are married. Marie said we weren’t. I smiled as I was able to remind Marie about her past medical history. “I’m not interrupting, am I?” Marie laughed despite her back ache.

Afterwards, she said she felt bubbles in her veins and had to walk about for a bit. I was pleased to walk, however awkward my legs were, as I’d sat through her hour of treatment. Marie said she could feel the benefits after just one session. We ordered carrot cake and shared some dandelion and burdock at an art installation cafe.

Then we watched a video in darkness. The screen projected large fingers with cardboard hands on each. They clapped like finger puppets. I wondered why I was restless. It was like not being able to sleep when Marie stayed with me. I wanted to be awake every moment as our time together was limited.

Marie was used to sleeping alone. So, we didn’t cuddle all night. We held feet instead of hands so she had space and didn’t get too hot. She no longer had to put a pillow between us to support her back. The chiropractor had been a really good experience and we felt intimate.

It always amazes me how Marie remembers song lyrics. Then, as I’m recalling her history to the chiropractor’s questions, I realise that I do listen. I just respond to the song’s melodies more than the words. I do attend. But it depends on the context and the purpose. I switch off when listening to music. That’s why I ask Marie to turn the car stereo off. I attend to her instead.

Beef stew

“It’s not my cup of tea,” she texts as she later says she had mushrooms and fried eggs for tea. I know that you wouldn’t eat beef stew. You’re a vegetarian, I text. Later, she asks me why I left my partner. It was the little things, I reply.

“I’d have pulled the gate off its hinges and burned it,” she says. I feel sad because I know Marie would do no such thing. She is being incongruous. I wouldn’t even need to ask her to close the gate a second time. Even with her hands full of shopping bags, Marie would go back and shut the gate. It is different with her.

She listens and remembers. I do tidy up after Marie. But it’s no hardship. I just like to be organised. I think that’s from being in the army. Marie still insists she’d have burned the gate.

“No! You would not.” Marie texts some laughter faces. She is teasing me. I can’t believe how tetchy I’ve been. I just know I listen more to her. I am older than I was. But I just give back what I receive. Marie has shown me love. And I have fed those loving acts with thoughtfulness.

The Full English

“I am absolutely gagging for a fried breakfast. Sausages, fried bread…” Marie laughs. Nothing else enters my mind as I help her with her coat. We head over to a cafe that takes me back to my truck driving days. I locate a squeezy bottle of mayonnaise and Marie finds a table. “They do vegetarian sausages,” she beams. “Don’t you like ketchup?” She knows I think tomato sauce is for girls. I growl like a man and she laughs.

The breakfasts are brought over and I am consumed by the extra large plate full with three slices of toast on the side. I go straight for the black pudding, mushrooms and beans. I chew as a tension is relieved. I can taste it. My eyes are closed as I slowly savour my mouthful.

“Why do you love me?” I look at her. I smile. “You should never ask a serious question when a man is eating.” I put my fork down and multi-task. It’s not a distraction because I do love Marie. “I love our patience,” I say. “We both have that.” She smiles and listens.

“When you’re outside, your dark brown hair looks almost ginger or red. You look so girly on bright summer days. It reminds me that you take risks and let your hair down sometimes. I love how youthful you look.” She smiles.

“Then, sometimes when you wear your glasses, you look like a school teacher. Do you remember looking like a surgeon, in scrubs, with that apron you wear at work?” Marie nods and laughs.

“Well, you remind me about how responsible you are as a mother and at work. I can’t believe you spin so many plates. You say I’m more laid back. But I’d wobble if I had to live your average day. You’re an enigma.” I think. “You’re my star!”

I tell her that she is preferred without make-up and that I will love her no matter how she looks. “It comes from within.” I tell her that eye liner almost makes her look oriental – or at least, Spanish. I talk about her face shapes and how long or round her cheekbones look at different angles. “You could pass for three or four different women.”

I love her because she listens and second guesses what I’m thinking. Marie seems to be one step ahead of my needs or wants. She always has time for other people too.

I take a few mouthfuls of my breakfast as she beams. Then I talk about the time she video called me on the train. There was a noisy crowd of football supporters who intimidated an older lady by shouting and climbing on the seats. Marie wasn’t afraid to confront them in a non-threatening manner. They calmed down before the conductor came. Then she reassured the lady. “I do fear that you’ll come unstuck,” I say, “but you do right not to ignore it.” Too many people turn a blind eye nowadays.

“I also really love the ways you spend time with your kids. You teach them traditional things. I mean, you can easily afford to ‘fob them off’ but you don’t. You bake, make jigsaws and craft. Your girls care about other children and they apply themselves instead of fritting their times away.”

“They do have fun,” she answers. “Yes. But they take a real interest in the environment and other’s difficulties. They’re beyond their years, really.” Marie smiles. She smiles a big smile.

“I think I love your deep, dark eyes best of all. Do you know where my favourite place in the world is?” She shrugs and scoops up some beans. “Your left shoulder.” We both laugh.

There is a happy silence as we eat. I tell her how I drifted through painful days for months. I talk about seeing everything brand new again and I talk about my writing. I love to write about the human condition; about social commentary but I’m also attracted to the escapism of horror. I just don’t quite know how to marry the two. I don’t want to be pigeon-holed. I want to write about anything that feels real, alive or…dead. I laugh.

“Ah! The Horror – yes!” She loves to listen to me talk about books. Marie says I come alive with my passions. “I know you say it comes from within but it’s nice to have a muse,” I reply.

She smiles again. “Marie! You don’t need to worry about me. I have this knack of overcoming adversity because I have a strong faith. I believe in you too. You give me hope. And I’ll always look out for you. I always will. As much as I can promise…”

There is a silence as we comfortably eat together. She passes the mayonnaise before I even reach for it. She knows that I love her. It’s just nice to hear it sometimes. She can see how much I care by my purposes in life. Marie says, “actions speak louder.” And it’s true. I was bowled over by the milk-tray pillows and the trips out with the video calls. She always seems to choose the right presents, too.

I love to scrub her back and brush her hair. I like to moisturise her legs and make her green tea. These are all acts of love. Sometimes though, it’s just nice to hear “I love you.” It’s nice to hear words because words make things happen. We finish our breakfasts. I am stuffed but managed to finish the extra large plate. “I think we’ll skip puddings,” she laughs.

Spinach

Marie gives me strength and convinced me to try spinach. I wrote her a poem:

Girl, 46

“Was your day OK?” It’s just you
look away and I don’t bee
line to your honey smooth
forehead. I don’t see your worries –
those collected in blemishes or bags or
even uneven sags that I don’t see.
You are not Exhibit A or B
or even C to be looked at like
a commodity. You are more,
my eternal amour. You
are my best sounding-board friend
and the perfect true love; my lover in dreams
and in each creamy rich chocolate
waking hour and day. The only
one with that timeless girl’s heart – like
the laughter of bicycle rides –
and that sunrise smile as you nurture
other smiles around you.
You wear it loosely, care-free
as you ‘pay it forward’ or tightly tied
back on those few fraught long days.
Your happiest actions
outshine all that is outward
as they come from somewhere
softly ageless and inside. So,
let me now ask you, please.
You are important to me,
“Are you alright?”
“Was your day OK?”

Haddock and chips

It’s a lovely summer evening so we head to the park with wrapped fish and chips. There are lots of dogs running free. I think people are more tolerant here. People in London would probably have their dogs on a tight leash. We get lots of “hellos” and eye contact. Marie and I find a park bench overlooking a quiet football pitch.

“Did you order extra chips?” There is a mountain of them. The server didn’t skimp on salt and vinegar either. I start laughing. “Bloody hell! That’s a heart attack waiting to happen.” Marie’s eyes widen. The haddock is absolutely swimming in fat. It wasn’t even drained from the deep fat fryer. She chuckles and says, “I think you’re supposed to catch it first.” We eat off the same white paper which is threatening to tear beneath the sodden fish.

Mitzi ambles over. She looks like a white Yorkshire Terrier. The owners vaguely call her but leave the dog to sniff at our tea. I’m not sure if to throw some chips on the grass. I ask Marie if I’m quite reserved. She smiles and strokes Mitzi. My fingers are really greasy. “I think you think about your actions on others,” she replies.

At last, the owners call their dog. We look over the field onto the horizon. Marie nuzzles into my shoulder. “We can’t just ride off into the sunset,” she says. “We both have responsibilities.” I feel sad. I’m going home early in the morning. I agree – although I’m trying to find a workable solution. There is silence. Then we find a bin for the daft amount of left-over chips and hold hands back to the car.

Macaroons

“We really should have had some tea,” Marie says. I fall back onto the pillows trying to catch my breath. “Yes. But the macaroons were tasty.” We have just made love again like we invented it. I feel like a teenager despite the aches. Marie has thought about everything.

The hotel room has a large window which overlooks the bar and eatery with a glass roof. I talk about listening to the rain on windows. “It’s like being in the womb. I love being snuggled up in bed whilst listening to the rain on the window.” Marie agrees. We make love again. Then cries as I moisturise her legs. “No-one has ever done that for me before,” she says. “Well, you ordered the array of ‘milk tray pillows’ for my neck,” I reply. I like to scrub her back in the bath, too. I like to show her a maternal love as well as the more manly kind.

I cuddle Marie and she drifts off. I am too busy with my thoughts. The hotel room has oriental-like sliding doors to the bathroom and a writing table. I think about making a quick coffee. Marie awakes as the kettle boils. I make a coffee. She is grumpy as she stomps to the bathroom. “I’m not Jesus, you know,” she barks, half asleep. Marie has to be up early for work.

I later ask her if she remembers that night. “Of course! But I don’t remember mentioning Jesus.” I smile. “That hotel room had the world’s loudest kettle.”

Cheese and Ham Baguette

The first time it happened was on my very few trips into town. The short bus ride really makes my neck and arms sore. There’s too much braking, swerving and accelerating and too many potholes. I don’t enjoy going out. It’s purely functional and I’ve had enough after two shops. I really can’t browse CDs – the pains distract as it feels like I’m standing on children’s building bricks.

I am sat eating a ham and cheese baguette with a latte. I bite into the hard crust and then there’s a shock. I wipe the sweat from my brow. I spit the tooth into the palm of my hand. My tongue searches for the new gap and I think about getting older. I finish my sandwich as I text Marie. “When did you last go to the dentist?” I frown. I am sweating more.

The second tooth presented itself on my tongue as I woke up at my children’s house. It really freaks me out. Marie talks about flossing and black plaque. I buy some flossing tape but it doesn’t become a habit because my arms hurt and the novelty soon wears off. “You should really go to the dentist,” she says. I hadn’t been for four years. I tell Marie that I’d rather saw my leg off.

I finally get to the dentist after a six week wait. Even for me, that is a long time not to see a specialist because I’m anxious about my tooth loss. I joke in the waiting room about the drill being a lawn mower outside. Something else in the clinic room sounds like a hedge strimmer. I wipe my brow. Marie is there, on the phone, to compliment me for being responsible.

A few days later, I am eating a chocolate bar that is cold and hard from being in the fridge. I feel my top left incisor free and covered in the chocolate I’m eating. I feel faint. It’s the third tooth in as many months. Marie is incredulous. “At least you’ve still got a nice smile,” she says. I brush my teeth more than once a day now.


Mark Anthony Smith was born in Hull. He graduated from The Open University with a BSc (Hons) in Social Sciences. His writing has appeared in Spelk, Nymphs, Fevers of the Mind and others. In 2020 he is due to appear in Horror Anthologies published by Eerie River and Red Cape Publishing. ‘Hearts of the matter’ is available on Amazon.

Books From The Pantry: We can order the same or taste each other’s (Part 1 of 3) by Mark Anthony Smith

Sausage rolls

As a girl, I can’t see her now. Sometimes, I think I can see her back then. But memories are fuzzy things. They are elusive or become mixed up with something else. Some of my reminisces are concrete. They are set in a strong emotion like the first time I was mesmerized by a spaceship on the big screen. Others are composites like a cut-and-paste photo-shop. Try as I might, I cannot take myself back to my school days. I can’t see Marie in the school dinner queue as she ritually pays for her daily sausage roll and beans. That is the only constant from all those years ago. That we both ordered the same for our dinner each day. I didn’t know this, then. It’s only since talking with her that we realised we ordered the same school dinners. I look back.

Marie says she was quiet at school. It’s hard to imagine her like that. She did well and she didn’t like boys. They were too angry all the time. She is a lot more confident now in her mid-40’s. I still see her vulnerabilities, at times, but mostly, she finds an answer to most problems. I look at our recent photos. We are always happy together. And I tell Marie that she could pass for three or four different women depending on how she wears her hair or the angle from which the snap was taken.

She’s changed a lot since how I vaguely remember her outside the classroom in her school uniform. Her hair is longer and she’s a lot chattier. Marie is a manager at a fashion company. I think that has brought her out of her shell a bit. That, and the passing of time. She’s had children too. So have I. Two girls who are now at secondary school. They’re at the ages when I first knew Marie. I can’t really picture her.

We eventually left school and went our separate ways. I joined the army and Marie went to college. I never thought I’d ever meet her again. Nor did that question even enter my mind. I didn’t think about her. Then, she came back into my life 30 years later as I try to recall how she was at school. But I can’t really. I must have bumped into the teenage Marie. I’m sure I did. I just can’t think of a concrete situation where that happened. I just vaguely recall seeing her sometime, from recognising her back then, from an old school photograph. I want to think that I’ve always been there for her. But I’m sure she existed for 30 years without me. She probably didn’t even give me a second thought as I went through army basic training.

Now she has come back into my life, I don’t want us to go our separate ways again. I want to think that she is my one constant in this ever changing world. All those years ago, we ordered the same school dinners.

Scrambled eggs and mushrooms

I remember Marie seeing my newspaper article on social media. That’s when she contacted me and offered her help. She lives down South. But she could organise a supermarket delivery if I was short of food. I felt really blown away by her generosity. She always helps other people and she tries not to judge.

I remember us, much later, walking past a homeless guy. I was in pain and wanted to go home. I felt angry with myself because I had little patience. Sometimes, I give someone in need some change. But I was skint. He was the public face of the government’s social policies. I wanted to feel angry at the politicians yet they are faceless. So, the vulnerable people, on the streets, take the wrath instead. It’s not usually their faults. The notion of a meritocracy is a myth. I had to be reminded of this as Marie found time for him.

The homeless guy was called David. He had been a successful musician until he went bankrupt because of a few accidents at a gig. He hadn’t seen his children for six years. He said it was tough. Marie made him smile. She gave him some change too and never questioned whether he’d spend it on drugs or alcohol. “Live and let live,” she said. I agreed.

That’s the trouble with people nowadays. They don’t realise that a smile can make a difference. I try to smile and say, “Hello,” even when I’m in pains. It might be the only warmth someone has received that day. I try to make a small difference to others. Marie agrees. It’s the small gestures that make a big difference. I just get really annoyed that people see my pains but don’t make allowances for my unseen disability. They carry on talking even as I’ve lost the thread. I can’t keep up.

Marie saw past the difficulties reported in the newspaper article. She said I wasn’t weak at all. I was strong because I was standing up for others as I added my ‘case study’ to the mounting evidence. Those with disabilities are struggling like the increased homeless folk. Marie said, “don’t look at what you can’t do. Look at what you can.” Her understanding was like a ladder that lifted me out of a pit of unending days. I could look forward to her video calls. She made me feel sexy again. She genuinely listened and I was her sounding board. She never judged me. Her scrambled eggs tasted good. I wasn’t in the dark like a mushroom. Marie gave me my appetite back. I learned to love my world again as I adjusted. And Marie expanded the premature end to my travels by taking me with her when she video phoned.

It feels like fate. She is exactly the right woman to come into my life at exactly the right time. I began asking questions. I am still in pains but the world is new as I have lost my preconceptions about other’s appearances. Marie has awoken me. Her interest makes me question and listen again. It feels like a good thing.

Veggie Supreme Pizza

She doesn’t like the ways animals are treated. I went without meat for two days but wanted to gnaw someone’s leg off. I said I’d never eat meat if we ever lived together. I felt trepidation after saying this. I’m not sure I could stick to Marie’s principles. I like pork too much. We share a veggie supreme pizza for tea.

Marie tells me about cows that are constantly impregnated to produce milk. I find that horrifying, too. And she is nervous about confined spaces. We didn’t dwell on battery hen conditions. That can’t be a good life. Being cooped up in a small cage. I’m not sure chickens know any different though. We should be more ethical towards life.

I agree that all life is equal. But I believe in God. Man was made flesh to rule over the earth. So, I think all lives are equal. But only mankind was made in God’s image. That makes us his highest creation. But with knowledge comes responsibilities. So, just because we can cage a bird, it doesn’t mean we should. There is plenty of space to let farmed animals roam. It’s about maximum profit, I tell Marie.

“You believe in God?” I tell her I do. Nothing is an accident. There’s too much order about for our universe to just be the effect of a random explosion. You only have to look at the beauty of a rose to see that there’s a creator behind it. And I don’t think that when our physical body dies that that is the end. We live on, I’m sure. We have the capacity to love and think up poetry. I’m sure those attributes don’t die when our proteins wither. Einstein said that energy can not be created or destroyed. I think we just take on another form.

I said to Marie that if I go first, I’ll look out for her. In death, I will order her toiletries and find her car keys. I’ll fold her clothes and stop her if she doesn’t see the car as she’s crossing the road. I will always watch over her. She thinks that’s sweet. “But don’t you think it’s a bit creepy?” I think.

It’s true that I’m quite a private chap. I struggle to use public loos if there’s other people about. And I’m quite tactile in a relationship. But I don’t need to see my girlfriend’s ablutions or watch her shave her legs. I think about this. Or rather, I try not to. “OK,” I say, “Then I’ll always be within ear shot.” We both laugh.

Marie thinks there’s something more but she hasn’t made her mind up as much as I have. She asks me to explain God and I struggle. Not everything can be explained. If I knew all the answers then I’d be God-like. But I’m only made in his image. I’m not totally sure what that means. God is male. And yet women are made in the image of our Heavenly Father too. I think it’s more to do with the Trinity. So, it’s less about appearance because our eyes can deceive us. We rely too much on our eyes at the expense of our other senses. I think ‘in his image’ means we have a spirit and a soul as well as a consciousness. But I’m not all knowing. I don’t need to know everything. Love doesn’t need to be quantified to be looked on with awe.

Enchilada

Marie looks beautiful as we go on our first date. She calls it dinner even though she’s a Northerner. It sounds more formal than tea. She knows I have my dinner at mid-day. This is an on-going joke as I begin to sound ‘di…’ before I mock correct myself with tea. We go out to eat anyway. She chooses a Mexican restaurant.

She is wearing a short sleeved dress that I say looks oriental. The eatery is busy. We find a table for two near the window that looks out onto the street. I already know I’ll order a latte. Marie looks at the vegetarian options. I watch her as she traces the menu with her index finger and looks flummoxed. “I’ll order the same as you,” I say. She smiles. “You don’t have to order the vegetarian option. You like your meat.” She decides on a green mojito and a vegetarian enchilada made with mushrooms.

“But I want the same experience,” I remark. I talk about travelling alone, which is fine, although there is no-one to share the experiences with. Photos only go so far in painting a conversational picture. She listens. “Well, we can order the same or taste each other’s,” she suggests.

I order a latte and a burrito filled with ground beef. Marie won’t try mine. The portions are large and we end up taking half of it with us when we leave. It is really busy and I’m in pains. She helps me through the weave of tables. I think about the connotations and we laugh at something private.

Smashed Avocado

Marie orders smashed avocado on toast for breakfast. I quite like them. I’m not sure if an avocado is an aphrodisiac but I really don’t need a chemical high to feel aroused when she’s about.

There’s a mother berating her kids. She seems unaware of other customers as she swears and tugs at the boy’s hood. I tut. Marie says that she’d never talk to her girls like that. “Some people lack empathy and awareness for those around them.” I say it’s because everyone wants to be a celebrity. But, in truth, it’s probably more to do with socialization and parents. Either way, social media pulls people away from parenting and promotes people who are famous just for being famous. I drift.

“Have you ever had a car accident?” I mention the time a woman pulled out in front of me from a junction. She said she didn’t see me because the sun was in her eyes. Luckily, I was only doing 30 miles per hour. But she wrote my car off. I was alright. But the lady had popped home twice whilst I was waiting for the recovery vehicle and she didn’t even offer me a drink. “Again. That’s a lack of empathy,” I say. I ask if Marie has ever had a car accident.

Marie tells me about the time, in her twenties, before having children, that she skidded and her car left the ground. Her scarf had been cut in two by the shattered windscreen. She was lucky not to have more than a few cuts from glass shards. My mouth goes dry. I can see her back then. I go quiet and think about my own mortality and hers. I don’t know what I’d do without Marie. I don’t know why I picture her smashed up car when she’s alright. I ask her why we put ourselves through imagining past events that make us feel uncomfortable. “Why do motorists crane their necks to look at accidents?”

“People want to feel.” We are so unfeeling in our everyday lives as we rush about. We are taught to use our heads more than our hearts at work. I think people look at those less fortunate because it gives them reprieve from their own worries. We can feel better about our lives.

Marie makes me feel better as she says she takes less risks with driving now. “I’m more experienced and more responsible now I’m a parent,” she comforts. I smile. Being a parent does make a lot of people think of others outside of their own difficulties. It’s nice to care about others. The smashed avocado is a winner!

Pre-packed Salmon sandwiches

I hate travelling backwards. I tell Marie that the little boy I look after has never been on a train. “Well, he loves buses. Maybe you could take him. A train should be smooth on your neck.” This sounds like a good idea. I’m stuck in a chair every day on tablets. I could pace myself. “As long as they aren’t salmon sandwiches,” I say. She looks puzzled.

We talk about ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates. I always get them mixed up, I say. I don’t really. I just like listening to Marie being the confident expert as I pretend to be helpless. It’s a great way to flirt.

I was on a train once, coming home on leave, and a woman stank the carriage out with some supermarket sandwiches that were out of date. She was trying to describe the greyish salmon, over the phone, to customer services. Everyone was changing their seats as they held their noses. She opened the window. It was freezing on the train.

Marie wrinkled her nose. “I like trains,” she said. “I like the feeling of not being in control. You have to totally trust the driver. There’s nothing you can do if it crashes.” I think about rollercoasters and shudder. I think about staying sober on nights out. “I like to be in control,” I surmise. “Maybe your world is safer than mine.” We talk about ontological security. How safe are we in the world? “It depends on your safety net,” she says. “Whether you have people around you that are dependable.” I think. I say that past experiences definitely shape how you react to adversity in the present. She agrees. Then she asks me why I’m smiling.

“It just sounds like something a woman would say. Enjoying the feeling of not being in control, on a train, as the scenery hurtles past. Is it a sexual thing?” Marie smiles. “Most things usually are,” she winks.

Shepherd’s Pie

I remember the first time I saw Marie since leaving school. It was dark when she finally parked in the street. It seemed to take forever as she had a long drive. I could hardly eat my shepherd’s pie because I was so excited. Marie even had the confidence to pick me up from my ex-partner’s. We had texted and talked for almost two months over the phone.

I should have asked her what car she was driving as she announced, by text, she was here. I grabbed my bag of medications and felt anxious. I didn’t want to tap on the wrong car window in darkness. She saw me first. The distance between us seemed longer than it was. My chest was somersaulting. We hugged after thirty years. I wanted to remember every detail.

Marie drove smoothly. She eased her clutch instead of snapping at it. I didn’t even need to remind her about my neck. I asked her to turn the radio off. “Why?” I said that I wanted to focus on her with the least distractions. “You are funny!”

She parked in what was to be christened ‘her parking spot’ outside my flat. We held hands. We always do. “You looked like a rock star as you walked up the street,” she remarked. I laughed and offered her a green tea. We put some music on and she kneeled down at my feet. I leaned forward and rubbed her slight back. I couldn’t help laughing. “What are you laughing at?” I said I was just pleased to see her and that my mind was in neutral. “I wasn’t thinking of anything,” I said. Then, I laugh again. “A rock star? Well, what do I normally look like?” We laughed.


Mark Anthony Smith was born in Hull. He graduated from The Open University with a BSc (Hons) in Social Sciences. His writing has appeared in Spelk, Nymphs, Fevers of the Mind and others. In 2020 he is due to appear in Horror Anthologies published by Eerie River and Red Cape Publishing. ‘Hearts of the matter’ is available on Amazon.

Books From The Pantry: The Burning Circus by Mark Sheeky

Mark Sheeky (b. 1972) is a contemporary artist and renaissance man. His childhood passion was computer game design, producing music on software of his own design. In 2004 he began oil painting and decided to devote his life to art. His oeuvre is typically fantastical or surrealistic, and has painted over 600 works, produced and published 30 albums, and has authored four books of poetry and prose since his first novella, The Many Beautiful Worlds of Death (2012) while illustrating and contributing to many more. An occasional performance pianist, he is part of poetry and music duo Fall in Green.

Mark Sheeky: The Burning Circus (2020) is my second poetry anthology, my first was ten years ago, and I’ve certainly changed a lot as an artist and writer since. It’s a collection of poems about circus characters: a clown, a juggler, a tattooed man, a lion tamer etc. I thought this would be a rich pool of ideas and characters to choose from, perhaps, I thought, characters with interesting and distinct personalities that can represent different parts of all of us. Art must always tread the line between the personal and the universal. I think poems, especially, work best when people can identify with them, see something of themselves in them. I wanted to add a mix of feelings and stories and situations that we could all sympathise with.

For The Burning Circus I wanted to add an overall structure or narrative, to create more than a simple collection of poems. I think a book is an artwork in itself, and should be structured, contain a sense of unity and overall neatness. Poetry itself is about structure and order in writing, after all. Here, I added a few poems to the start and end that hint at something more, an indication that these characters are parts of a whole psyche.

In each poem I’ve tried to represent something of both the circus performer and their act. The Juggler, for example, spaces the words like hoops tossed into the air, and I often focus on how the different circus characters might feel, or their origins. The Lion Tamer compares the immigrant lion tamer with the lion, an animal captured and shipped from war-torn Africa. The Dwarf paints images of a life of a man looked down on, metaphorically, as well as physically.

I always wanted to illustrate the book, too; the visual beauty of the book is as important as the aesthetics of the words. I wanted to make something pretty, a book that people would love to own, so I spent some time drawing in pen and ink for each poem and put a lot of work into the cover and overall graphic design – I think this is a vital part of the art of creating a book. I love pen and ink for illustration, it’s so expressive; every mark, every hand movement, captures the exact feeling of that moment in time.

John Lindley, former Cheshire Poet Laureate:
Divided into three linked sections, Mark Sheeky’s astonishing new collection takes us on a journey, via a ‘fragile caravan of dreams’, in which the passing scenery is seen as if through a distorting mirror; a journey whose twists, turns and destination are wholly unexpected. In images so tactile you half expect the greasepaint to come off on your fingers, this is language, from one of our finest poets, that dazzles without attempting to disguise the grit of sawdust beneath the sparkle.

Clown Face

Crushed into beetles’ petals, for my lips
I can feel their sun, encased in the austere lacquer
and made into a paste for laughter.

Something like my father’s face, romanced
with a rim of lightbulbs, and tears of his hope
walks a well-worn script.

Where Aztecs ruled, a child-hand curtseys,
and a tent of insects applaud the basket,
their bloody farewell crying a smile
to the Northern rain in my heart.

The glitter thrown to the wind falls to the dust of saws.
Stars to ashes, heaven’s applause.

Skin

I make a canvas of my chest
each ink-prick a penitent step
towards an unknown light,
explored like a crow explores night.

The roses decay with my flesh
in organ lament for each love,
oak-carved in solemn phrase
to bleed their scent beneath strangers’ gaze.

As years roll, each Sisyphean scar
etched across virgin skin becomes art,
my heart pushed out from in
to weep, more like Narcissus’ kin.

Now I am a museum,
artefacts of sad youth on show, blue-black.
My menagerie keeps me warm from without,
prayers back on track

towards God again
and my solitary pain.

Amazon Link UK
Amazon Link US
Amazon Author Page
Mark Sheeky’s Website

Books From The Pantry: The Never Ending Life by Anum Abdullah: Reviewed by Isha Crowe

I was given The Never Ending Life to review for Ink Pantry. I didn’t know what to expect, and after having read it, I still don’t know what to make of it. Is it an autobiography? Is it a self-help or motivational book? Is it a fictional story? It appears to be a mix of all three.

The author, Anum Abdullah, is a young woman who tells the reader about events in the life of a young woman. Or several young women; it isn’t clear. Some parts are written in third person, others in first person, but it is not clear why this is.

I veer towards the assumption that the author is actually writing about events from her own life.

She also tells stories that at first seem to be (auto) biographical, but after reading a few lines it becomes obvious that they are not. They are fantasies of what might have been – of how she would’ve liked things to be. They are daydreams put on paper.

It took a bit of getting used to, but after a few chapters, I started to like this concept. Because don’t we all do that: fantasize of how things could’ve been if only…? Abdullah just took these mind-wanderings to paper (or screen) and published them. Her writing style is poetic, dream-like and sweet; her sentences are a joy to read.

A negative is that she refers to the same events over and over – specifically to a break-up with a romantic partner. It is as if she wrote this book for her own catharsis, and that, indeed, would involve re-visiting the same upsetting events many times over. But for a reader this soon becomes repetitive and dull. Had the book been a quarter of the length it is now, it could’ve covered the same points far more poignantly.

Abdullah’s experiences and feelings are recognisable; most potential readers will have been through similar experiences, and certainly through similar emotions and fantasies. That characteristic is both a strength and a weakness.

To young people it might be nice to learn that they aren’t alone in feeling what they feel; that someone who appears to be quite successful in life has coped with the same problems and challenges as the reader. For them, The Never Ending Life might be a reassuring read.

Hence, I would recommend this book to people in their late teens or early twenties, who could do with a bit of emotional backing-up.

Because of Abdullah’s poetic writing style, lovers of poetry might also appreciate this book as something to dip in and out when the mood is right.

The Never Ending Life

Books From The Pantry: The Heartsick Diaspora and other stories by Elaine Chiew: Reviewed by Yang Ming

In her remarkable debut short story collection, The Heartsick Diaspora and other stories, Singapore-based writer Elaine Chiew takes us into an intimate world of the Singaporean and Malaysian Chinese diasporas.

This collection, comprising of fourteen stories, is set in different cities around the world and each of them shines a light on people who are often torn between cultures and juggling divided selves. Chiew compiles her stories based on a ten-year time frame with her initial story, Face, which won first prize in the Bridport International Short Story Competition 2008 and through The Heartsick Diaspora, which won second prize in the same competition in 2010.

In Face, it tells the story of an elderly woman, Yun, who suffers from urine incontinence and her strained relationship with her American-born Chinese daughter in-law, Karen. She lives with her son, Qiang, and his family in London. Her granddaughter, Lulu, feels uncomfortable around her, as ‘she smells like wee’. Now, Yun decides to return to her hometown in Malaysia, which baffles Karen and Qiang as both of them are able to provide care for her, unlike back home, she has no-one.

The depiction of her racist encounter with a group of drunken youths on the London tube and her reluctance to talk about this is an honest take on some of the struggles faced by South East Asian diasporas who find living abroad daunting. On one hand, she wants to be a good grandmother, but on the other, that fateful encounter cripples her.

A Thoroughly Modern Ghost of Other Origin feels like an Asian version of the critically acclaimed film, The Sixth Sense. The protagonist in this story is a teenager who has the ability to see and communicate with dead people (yikes!). One evening at a laundromat, he encounters a girl-ghoul, Boo. The thing is, she has an insatiable appetite. Slowly, an unlikely friendship is formed between them. Things get complicated when she keeps asking for more food, and he has to come up with various ways to appease this confused and lost spirit, other than feeding her with joss paper food, which the Chinese burn during the Hungry Ghost Festival.

Written from the first person perspective, this piece explores the theme of identity. What kind of ghost is Boo? Does she belong to the conventional race categories in Singapore – Chinese, Malay, Indian and others? In fact, does this even exist after death? Chiew cleverly weaves in the fact about the Malay ghost, Pontianak, and Chinese ghost, egui, at the beginning of the story to set the tone right.

In the title story, The Heartsick Diaspora, four writers find their cultural bond of friendship tested when a handsome young Asian writer, Wei, joins their group.

Interestingly, the narrative is written in a play format with sub-headings such as Introduction of Characters, Acts and Scenes. The writers are a motley group and when everyone gathers at the weekly writers’ sessions, their different personalities inevitably clash with one another. The palpable tension between the strong-willed Chandra and the soon-to-be divorced Phoebe towards the end of the story is expected. Yet it’s necessary to resolve the ambiguous relationship between Wei and Chandra.

Ultimately, The Heartsick Diaspora and other stories is laced with wry humour, intricate details and multi-layered characters. Chiew possesses a talent in writing lyrical prose that oscillates between humour and seriousness. She has a knack of injecting subtle humour that allows the reader to laugh and cry for the characters at the same time.

For instance, the opening paragraph of Face set me guffawing:

“‘Why should Lulu know how to roll spaghetti with a fork? We’re not Italian.’ Karen bangs the saucepan on the stove because this is how some Chinese people take out their frustrations – by abusing their cookware.”

Similarly, there’s a paragraph in A Thoroughly Modern Ghost of Other Origin which I couldn’t stop laughing at:

My other sister, Bee Khing, sleepwalks and has, more than once, scared the urine out of our neighbours by showing up in her long white nightdress at the void deck very early in the morning while old men are doing tai chi.’

Chiew doesn’t compromise the use of Chinese vernacular, which adds a distinctive flavour to her stories. She writes such vivid descriptions of the places inhabited by the characters that I feel like I have been transported to Belgravia, Singapore and New York. But what distinguishes this collection from the rest is that Chiew highlights the displacement and identity of the Chinese migrant communities. As an Asian writer straddling between cultures (the UK and Singapore), I identify with the pertinent question of belonging. Who am I in this globalised world? She’s definitely a writer to watch out for in the years to come. At the beginning, reading the book was a slow-burning process. But as each story progresses, it grows on you. And you will want to read it again.

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Books From The Pantry: The Coal Miner’s Son by Patricia M. Osborne

After tragedy hits the small coal mining village of Wintermore, nine-year-old miner’s son, George, is sent to Granville Hall to live with his titled grandparents.

Caught up in a web of treachery and deceit, George grows up believing his mother sold him. He’s determined to make her pay, but at what cost? Is he strong enough to rebel?

Will George ever learn to forgive?

Step back into the ’60s and follow George as he struggles with bereavement, rejection and a kidnapping that changes his life forever. Resistance is George’s only hope.

Thank you Deborah for inviting me over to Ink Pantry to share my news about The Coal Miner’s Son, Book 2 in the family saga, House of Grace trilogy. All books may be read as a trilogy or stand-alones.

It seems quite fitting I return to Ink Pantry, considering that is where my writing career kicked off with my first poem ‘How to give birth to an Alien’ published in Ink Pantry’s anthology, Fields of Words.

We have all come a long way since our Open University days and when Ink Pantry was first set up with ex-students as elves. At that time I had never considered publishing more than the odd short story or poem, never mind a novel, and now I have two novels published and am over halfway through with the third, which I aim for a March 2021 publication.

Before House of Grace, my first novel, I struggled to write a short story with more than two thousand words, yet now all my short stories want to become novels.

Monday 9th March 2020 is not only the launch date for The Coal Miner’s Son but the third anniversary of publication for House of Grace.

Both novels are available on Amazon Kindle and paperbacks may be ordered via Amazon, good bookstores, or your local library. Signed paperbacks are available by contacting me via my website.

Patricia M. Osborne is married with grown-up children and grandchildren. She was born in Liverpool but now lives in West Sussex. In 2019 she graduated with an MA in Creative Writing (University of Brighton).

Patricia writes novels, poetry and short fiction, and has been published in various literary magazines and anthologies. Her first poetry pamphlet ‘Taxus Baccata’ is to be published by Hedgehog Poetry Press in Spring 2020.

She has a successful blog where she features other writers and poets. When Patricia isn’t working on her own writing, she enjoys sharing her knowledge, acting as a mentor to fellow writers, and as an online poetry tutor with Writers’ Bureau.

The Coal Miner’s Son is the second book in the House of Grace trilogy.

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Contact: Via website or email: [email protected]

Where to buy books

House of Grace

The Coal Miner’s Son

Signed paperbacks (for further details)

Books From The Pantry: Poems for a World Gone to Sh*t reviewed by Claire Faulkner

I bought this book on a dark and rainy day in Birmingham last year, and although I’ve dipped in and out of it during that time, now seems like an ideal time to share my thoughts and review it.

Published by Quercus, Poems for a World Gone to Sh*t, is a lovely anthology containing classic and contemporary poems. Each remind the reader that whatever they may be going through, however difficult or dark life might seem, that they are not alone, and things will get better.

It’s a collection which you can easily pick up and read depending on your mood. Some of the poems you may already know. Some maybe completely new to you. You can read one at a time, go through each chapter, or if you felt like it, attack the entire book in one go.

I like the mix of writers this the collection offers. Included are verses from; Lemn Sissay, Margaret Atwood, D.H. Lawrence, Rudyard Kipling and Hollie McNish.

Subjects are varied. Some more relatable than others. In ‘Soup Kitchens’, Hollie McNish expresses her anger and frustration at politicians who decide policy about charitable aid. “…I’ve had enough.” She says, “…I can’t even be arsed / to rhyme if these people are leading the country.”

Some of the poems are enthusiastic and many are inspirational. The positivity in Maya Angelou’s ‘Still I Rise’ always lifts my spirits. As does this extract from ‘Little Things’, a poem about acts of kindness by Julia Carney. “Little deeds of kindness, / Little words of love, / Help to make earth happy / Like the Heaven above.”

I liked the poems about nature. ‘The Moment’ by Margaret Atwood is a beautiful and thought-provoking piece about the environment reclaiming itself from humanity.

I found ‘Tall Nettles’ by Edward Thomas positive and uplifting. Most people hate nettles, but Thomas admires their strength and beauty. They survive and grow to cover everything else. “This corner of the farmyard I like most: / As well as any bloom upon a flower / I like the dust on nettles, never lost / Except to prove the sweetness of a shower.”

I enjoyed reading this collection. Some of the poems made me laugh, some made me reflect, and others made me want to shout out in agreement. There is something for everyone in this book.

On the back of this book, the blurb says “Discover the amazing power of poetry to make even the most f**ked up times feel better.” It’s a good sales pitch for a good book. Poetry is powerful, and sometimes the world does feel like it’s gone to sh*t. So what better way to pick yourself, take a breath and read this anthology.

Books From The Pantry: Poetry Wonderland by Young Writers edited by Machaela Gavaghan reviewed by Claire Faulkner

Knowing that I enjoy reading poetry my Mum mentioned a book of poems written by children from schools in the local area. ‘Would you like to read it?’ she said, ‘I can get you a copy.’ I agreed, and a few weeks later, as I was leaving my parent’s house following Sunday dinner, Mum handed me the book. ‘It’s very good’ she said, I’ve enjoyed reading it.’


Poetry Wonderland is an anthology edited by Machaela Gavaghan. The book was published and organised by Young Writers, a group who run competitions and work with schools up and down the country.


For this competition and publication, Poetry Wonderland invited primary schools from Cheshire and Staffordshire to create wild and wonderful poems on any topic they liked, the only limit was the limit of their imagination.


In an age where funding of the arts in schools is decreasing it’s a real joy to see children in primary schools being encouraged to use their imagination and enjoy the experience of writing poetry.


On a personal level, I find that there’s something very honest in poetry written by children. It’s expressive, truthful and open, Poetry Wonderland had some great example of this. There is a full range of poems in this book, a mixture of styles and structures, some rhyming and some following a set pattern.


If I Had Hope is by Lily-Mai Jackson aged 9 from Wistaston Academy in Crewe and describes hope through each of the senses. It opens with:

If I had hope
I would touch the falling hearts that are far away
and fill them with magical tears…

This beautifully written poem finishes on a dream:

…If I had hope
I would dream of smiles and perfume for
Christmas

The freedom of imagination in these poems also makes me smile. The Picnic On The Moon by Millar Anderson aged 11, from The Ryleys School in Alderley Edge, is just brilliant in its approach and explains what might go wrong if you decide to go to the moon:


The picnic on the moon,
It was a nightmare…

The tea was cold,
The drinks floated off,
The aliens ate all the sandwiches…

Determination and positivity also come through in many of the poems. One example of this is, I’m Walking On A Rainbow by Poppy-Jane Powell aged 8 from Burton Manor Primary School in Stafford:

Imagine if you could walk on a rainbow,
Who said you can’t?
W is for walk
A is for another rainbow
L is for learn to walk on the rainbow…

Creative writing also gives a platform for freedom of expression, and I think we can all relate to Tired by Grace Ivell, aged 9 from Broadbent Fold Primary School in Dunkinfield:

My neighbours alarm clock is loud…
…they need to get a new one
A bit quieter, I think.

To me, anthologies like this show how important it is to develop interest in the arts for younger children. Hopefully all those involved in this project will have had fun and this will encourage them to read and write more poetry in the future.


My Mum was right. I have enjoyed reading this book. It’s reminded me to have fun with my own creative writing, be more open with ideas and to read more children’s poetry.
For more information on Young Writers and Twitter

Books From The Pantry: Planet in Peril: An Anthology For Our Time edited by Isabelle Kenyon of Fly On The Wall Press

A new metaphor is as useful in the climate fight as a new solar panel design. We need poets engaged in this battle, and this volume is proof that in fact they’re in the vanguard!

Bill McKibben, Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College and leader of the anti-carbon campaign group 350.org.

Editor Isabelle Kenyon speaks about brand-new anthology of eco-poetry, photography and art: Planet in Peril.

“Fly on the Wall as a Press aims to talk about the most pressing issues of our time, and I knew that there is possibly nothing more urgent than our current fight against the rising temperature of our planet. Anthology “Planet in Peril” is founded upon the belief that words have the power to change and I have been extremely heartened and emboldened by the passion and heart of the creatives featured, aged 8 to 80. I believe that no book can ever come close to describing the devastation which climate change is currently causing and will continue to cause to many ecosystems. However, in my humble opinion, this anthology certainly comes close. Divided into sections of vital ecosystems and continents, the artists weave the world as they see it: the beauty, the intricacy, the devastation and the vulnerability. Some imagine a dystopian future, or perhaps what is now becoming a reality, for our future generations.

For this project we will be fundraising for WWF and The Climate Coalition. Dr Michelle Cain (Oxford University), has kindly written a foreword which really brings home what this book aims to do: interweave scientific research with artistic disciplines. The former Derbyshire Poet Laureate, Helen Mort, and Brazilian based wildlife photographer, Emily Gellard have been commissioned and really bring a sparkle to the book.

This project will extend beyond print media, however. Our children and our children’s children will have to live with the potentially irreversible effects of climate change. Consequently, I have decided to run several initiatives intended to involve and educate children of all ages in this project. First, the anthology showcases a section for twenty poems submitted by writers under the age of 18. Two poetry workshops have taken place and so far, three school visit are planned, designed to engage them in poetry writing and art inspired by the book and its themes.”

Further details can be found at Fly On The Wall Press. Enquiries should be addressed to [email protected]

Pre-order your copy of Planet in Peril. Special discount code to Inksters:
INKPANTRY10 (valid until the 4th of August 2019).

Extract from Kittiwakes by Sue Proffit

Bursting from the cliff-face
in an urgency of light,
catherine wheel of wings
flinging its spirals seawards

over glittering water,
they pocket the cliff
in hairs-breadth nests
where chicks stick, smudge-eyed –

the growing silence
is sucking them out
of rock, water, rapturous air,
leaves me bereft –

so few of you left.

Extract from ‘where she once danced’ by Anne Casey

she is drowning in a sea awash with cobalt
deadly metals fill the channels where she breathes

her lovely limbs are shackled down with plastics
her lungs are laced with deadly manganese
a crown of thorns to pierce her pretty head
a bed of sludge to lull her in her dreams

Books From The Pantry: The Green Man Awakes: Legends Past, Present and Future edited by Rose Drew: Reviewed by Claire Faulkner

The ancient story of The Green Man has always fascinated me. Whenever I visit a new church or woodland, I always look for his face. When I recently found him in Manchester, on the cover of a poetry book in the middle of a stall at a publisher’s fair, I knew I wouldn’t be leaving him behind.

The Green Man Awakes: Legends Past, Present and Future is a wonderful collection of verse published by Stairwell Books. Edited by Rose Drew, the collection covers the myth, symbols and stories associated with the ancient pagan forest deity.

There are some beautiful poems in this anthology. I enjoyed how each poet expressed their own vision and interpretation on the myth. Some investigate old Norse rituals or ancient belief; some offer a more recent interpretation. The Green Man by Andy Humphrey is one of my favourites in the collection. A present-day setting for the ancient god.

Each evening, his labours at an end,
the green man
catches the number ten bus
and makes his silent way
through the glistening, lamplit streets.

I like how this poem sets the Green Man living in the now, and I love how the poet describes looking at him.

I sneak a glance
when he’s not looking, try to make out
stray twigs poking
from under the cap, the stubble-fuzz of lichen
on his jowls, the weatherbeaten
crags of brows.

Some poems relate to a darker, deeper presence. Green Man by Pauline Kirk, describes the still powerful god trapped, not only in stone, but also in our collective memory.

You barely glance upwards
but your ancestors knew me,
changed me to new faith, and into stone…

Kirk encourages the reader to keep searching for the lost in order to rediscover forgotten knowledge.

Look up! towards arch
and ceiling boss. Find me,
and I will show you what lingers still,
deep in the groves of your mind.

Another of my favourites in this collection is The Green Man by Dave Gough. In it the god speaks directly to us. And he’s waiting. His world was cleared for stone buildings. ‘Let them come,’ he says, because he knows the power he holds over people, and that one day he will return.

I moved the hand that carved my face…
..The great forest will return
with the seasons and the stars
the sun and moon and rain.

Poems about superstition and forgotten history also weave through this collection. Midsummers Eve, 1840 by Tanya Nightingale is a magical poem, with beautiful descriptions of friendship and youth.

It describes two young girls walking through a graveyard to perform a ritual to help them find husbands.

Suddenly they are both circling, spinning,
Throwing fern and hempseed
And saying words
They don’t believe in and have always heard.

Boxing Day by John Gilham examines how we perceive and remember ancient earthworks. Although we can never truly understand the true meaning of such monuments, Gilham concludes that we should accept

that the gift of God is the land and the people
and the voices whispering through the last leaves.

If you enjoy reading about myth and legends, and have a passion for poetry, then this collection is definitely for you.

The Green Man Awakes. Legends, Past, Present and Future is published by Stairwell Books.