Alex Horner + Laura Gavin

Unzipped

Let’s get outta this bleedin’ thing. Cor that’s better. Been in there all day. See, it all started with Harry and that incident. Now me and Harry, we go way back. I mean, we was spawn together, me and him. Used to go cruising the mud flats. Then…well, let’s just say Harry’s not too keen on me at the minute. I weren’t to know that was Harry’s missus, was I? ‘Er face looked like the backend of a jellyfish. ‘Course, no one rightly knows which end of a jellyfish is the back. Anyhow, Harry was after me blood. I never saw him like that before. Looked like he’d been jellied alive. I legged it (if you’ll pardon the expression) back to mine, sharpish.

Anyway, so I hears that Harry’s lookin’ for me, right? So I goes to Terry the Trout, see if he knows anywhere I can lie low for couple o’ days. He says, ‘I’ve got just the thing’. Pulls out this ‘costume’, he calls it. And I’m thinking, ol’ Terry’s lost it. Proper crackers. But he’s not kiddin’. ‘It’ll take the heat off, mate, Harry’ll never find you up there’, says Terry. So I get meself all snugly-tight in this man-suit, pop the ‘ead on top. Suddenly I got all these pink wobbly bits. Weird long fins, them human’s got. Their tails are split in two, an’ all. ‘One more thing,’ Terry tells me. ‘That ain’t technically a bloke. That’s a lady-suit.’

Well, I says, s’all same to me, Terry. I’m an eel, at the end of the day. He just shrugs, lets me ‘ave it for a share of me next catch.

I got a few looks, topside, don’t get me wrong. All them other ladies, turns out they cover up those wobbly bits. So I hid for a bit in this lovely rectangular pond. Some ol’ dear came out the box o’ bricks at the end, sat on the edge, all dainty-like. She had this little stretchy number on. I was thinkin’, I oughta get me one of those. Then she saw me. Started screamin’. Had to move on.

Bit later I’m havin’ a breather, back near the bank-side, warmin’ me scales and all that, when this geezer comes up. ‘Lost your clothes, love? Easy access,’ he says, grinnin’ all over his face. Well, I ask you! I drew meself up, looks him in the eye and says, I ain’t that sorta lady. D’you know what he does then? Only leans over and grabs one o’ me wobbly bits! Well I’ve ‘ad enough. I start makin’ for the water, I’d rather face ol’ Harry. Man starts chasin’ me, asks me if I fancy a dip! So I turn round and clock him one, right on the nose with one of my lady-fins. Then into the river I go. Didn’t see his expression but I betcha it was a goodun.

So ‘ere I am. Haven’t seen Harry yet. We’re ol’ pals. I’m sure we’ll make it up. Second thoughts, better hold onto to this lady-suit. Just in case.

The Teller’s Fortune

There was a knock at the front door.  “It’s open,” she called, gathering her long skirt and shawls and getting up. Her figure had begun to widen of late and she had piled more layers on to hide it.

He stood tall in the hallway, and closed the door behind him with an air of ease. A little younger than her, perhaps, and not her usual sort. When she greeted him, his gaze was so level that it made her feel suddenly off-balance, skewed.

She showed him into the room: curtains drawn, and thick with the smell of incense. After several years of supplementing her income by telling people what she read in their desperate faces, she knew the importance of theatrics. She’d even swathed the lampshade with thin fabric so that it bathed them both in rose-tinted light.

They sat at the table. The stones sang out a clattering tune as she cast them onto the tin plate.  “There’s a woman; elderly, grey-haired. Worried about you. Name of Susan…or perhaps Jean -

“Can I stop you there?” he said.

“Pardon?”

“I know you’re guessing, Samara. You’ve been doing this so long that you’ve almost begun to believe it.”

She shuffled on her seat, a little thrown.  “What do you want, then, if you think I’m such a fraud?”

He said nothing, reaching forward and plucking a stone off the plate in front of her. A tiger’s eye gemstone.

She sighed. “Do you want a fortune telling or not, love?”

He held up the stone near to his eye, like he was trying to see through it.  “Yes,” he replied. “Yours.”

He threw the stone with such vigour that she flinched, thinking it was aimed at her. But it smashed on the plate, scattering hundreds of tawny shards.

“What..?” Her breath caught in her throat.  He stood up and lent across the table, close to her face.

“I predict you’ll stop fooling yourself about your job and apply for that financial course.”

She felt the blood leave her cheeks.

“I predict that when you wake up on the 14th of May, you’ll be carrying a baby. I predict that Henry will offer to marry you, because neither of you will know what else to do. You won’t be in love, but you’ll be happy enough.”

She was leaning so far back that her chair protested under the weight. But he kept on.

“And I predict that you will die. I know how and I know when but I won’t tell you.” One corner of his mouth twitched. “No one deserves that.”

Her mouth was dry as dust. “Who -

He took something from the tin plate.  “Payment,” he said and was gone.  The door closed and she rushed to the window, staring after him. Then she turned slowly, snuffed the incense out in her cold cup of tea and stood shaking in the middle of the room.

Outside, the man tossed the tiger’s eye stone, whole and smooth, into his jacket pocket. He smiled to himself, and continued on his way.

Illustrator: Alex Horner

Writer: Laura Gavin