Reliance

New and exclusive fiction from Maia Jenkins, winner of the Baileys Prize/Grazia First Chapter Competition and the GQ/Norman Mailer Prize. Maia will be reading as part of Litro Live! at the London Short Story Festival on Saturday 21 June – find full details here.

Photo by uhltank (copied from Flickr)
Photo by uhltank (copied from Flickr)

It isn’t until he’s on the floor that he remembers what he said last night. His cheek and jawbone throb beneath his skin and a pair of heels does a demi-plié to the right of his eye. The Reliance is busy – humming, rancid air, a Saturday evening after the derby. No one has noticed him hit the ground.

“Hello Diane.”

The toe taps. Another foot flips his body like fish in a pan.

“And Andy, hello to you too.”

Andy pulls him to his feet, cups his armpit and leads him to the bar. Diane follows dabbing his lip with a paper towel although he isn’t bleeding. She’ll love this. He knows Diane is enchanted by her imagined history and she’ll love all of this. He remembers the first night he took her out she pulled a photo from the mantelpiece and flashed it under his eyes.

“This is my great-grandmother,” she told him. “She was born in 1900.”

“Wow,” he said. “No one’s born in 1900 these days.”

“You have a way with words, don’t you?” she said. He liked this idea.

“I’m actually writing a book,” he said. He wasn’t.

“Get you,” she said. “Title?”

He thought of the last place he’d been.

“The Reliance.”

He knew right then they’d be a disaster; that there would be battles worthy of monuments in that living room but he carried on. Now look at them: Andy, his boy, slouch-shouldered, sheepish, sweaty-faced; Diane weeping into someone else’s cheese and onion crisp crumbs. He’s the only one left smiling. He’s a laugh – always has been – but he’ll never forget the night he cracked the one about Andy’s bad leg and he’d looked him in the eye and said “You know, Dad, when everything’s a joke it’s much harder to stay on the laughing side of the stocks.” He’d made a joke about that too. Andy hadn’t laughed at that one either.

Thing is Diane loves men like him: big men who use words to their advantage; men who treat the arrangement of big words like they’re the building blocks of one-track path to the mysteries of the universe. Men who talk too much and realise too late that they don’t have quite enough to say.

“Fancy a drink?” he’d said the first time he saw her.

“Depends,” she’d said. “What are you offering?”

“Great Pinot Noir back at mine,” he said, trying to sound all impressive. “My parents used to drink it at our age.”

“My parents used to drink anything at our age.” He wanted her immediately.

“Double Jim Beam, mate,” he says to Thierry behind the bar. “With a straw.”

“What’s that for?” says Andy.

“Just fancied a straw,” he says.

“He can’t hold the glass up to his mouth he’s shaking so badly,” says Diane. “What did I tell you? Been like this for months.”

He never wrote a word of the novel but let it hang over his marriage like smog, settling thick and black over every argument, every time he reminded her he could have had his way with words, been a writer, started and even finished writing The Reliance if it weren’t for her insistence on existing.

“I think you owe Mum an apology,” says Andy, standing as if to take another swing. He doesn’t think he’ll ever get used to how tall his son has become. He sips the whiskey. His teeth are soft inside his head, his left incisor coming loose.

Diane never understood those mornings before work when he was freshly shaved, clawless, shrouded in a wicked hangover. She never understood why he wouldn’t change Andy’s nappies or take him to the park. She’d never learn. Talking to that woman started to feel like throwing a pebble down a well and listening for a clatter that never came.

“Sit down, Andy.” He looks up and gives Diane wink. She still blushes the same deep shade of red.

Andy sits.

“We’ll be alright won’t we?” he says to her.

She looks away. He remembers that when she was sad she’d arrange his clothes by colour, transforming their drawers into thickset tiered rainbows. He remembers that one night after The Reliance he’d cracked her across the jaw for asking where he’d been.

Andy watched on from the corner, short-stack, eight years old and screaming “Stop fighting! Stop fighting, please!”

“Mum and Dad aren’t fighting,” Diane said quietly. Looking down at her weak wrists and trembling frame he’d realised she was right. It was no fight. He drinks to forget the sound she made when she hit the ground.

“Just say you’re sorry,” says Andy.

He ignores him. “Not bad though,” he says. “Just like I taught you. Low jaw punch, twist in the waist, keep it tight and bam. Release.”

Andy grips his bottle between his hands as if to warm them. “You never taught me anything,” he says. “I never learned anything from you.”

What a joke. Moved, he bends towards his son and laughs. “Where do you get it from then?”

Andy smashes the bottle against the side of the table and lurches towards his chest. Just in time he dodges into Diane’s arms where she holds him for a moment in surprised disgust as much as tenderness. He wants to tell her so many things. He wants to tell her last night he pissed a bed she wasn’t in. He wants to tell her the other men in The Reliance would have hurt her in exactly the same way. Each and every one, he’d bet. What a joke; we had a laugh, didn’t we? He starts to giggle as tears slip down his face and he falls to the ground unaided this time by Andy’s fist and as he stares up between the circle of heads and the light around them he opens his mouth and says both what they want to hear and not: “I’m sorry. I never meant a word of it. I never meant a word.”




Litro Live! at the London Short Story Festival

LSSFIf you’ve been paying attention to the literary pages recently, you’ll know that short stories are on the rise. George Saunders won the Folio Prize for his collection Tenth of December; writers like Colin Barrett have succeeded in launching careers with short story collections. In this modern age of mobile apps and movies at your fingertips, smaller sometimes can be better.

Litro has always been dedicated to publishing and promoting short fiction, so we’re pleased to announce that we’ve partnered with the first ever London Short Story Festival to bring you a pair of free live events on Saturday 21 June. First up is the Speakers’ Corner at 1pm, where Litro authors Maia Jenkins and Sabrina Mahfouz will read their stories. In keeping with the festival’s dedication to brevity, the reading will be a short pop-up event, so be sure to get there early! It takes place at the dedicated Speakers’ Corner in the entrance of Waterstone’s Piccadilly, and is free and unticketed.

Following the reading, Sabrina Mahfouz will be joining us for a short writing workshop in the festival’s Writers’ Space (also at Waterstone’s Piccadilly). This starts at 2pm, and the exercise will focus on developing your characters. We’ll also be talking about Litro’s forthcoming themed issues, and the best ways to submit to us and grab our attention! This event is free and unticketed, but be certain to turn up early as space will be limited. The Writers’ Space is open throughout the festival for writers to work on their fiction between events.

MaiaBWMaia Jenkins: Maia Jenkins grew up in Singapore and France but moved back to the UK in 2009. In October 2013 she won the GQ Norman Mailer Student Writing Prize for her essay ‘To the Weakness of Others’, which was published in the July 2014 issue of GQ. She also won the Baileys Prize/Grazia First Chapter competition, and was recently published in Grazia magazine. Her short memoir piece, ‘Lessons’, appeared in Litro #132; her reviews of the stage production of American Psycho and Galveston, by True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto, have appeared in Litro online. She is currently working on her first novel, All a Darkness.

Sabrina MahfouzSabrina Mahfouz writes plays, poems, films, articles and stories. She produces workshops, theatre and events with the aims of making the arts more accessible for all and creating awareness of social issues through creative engagement. Her creative work has been recognized with a number of awards.  Most recently, these include receiving the 2013 Sky Arts Futures Fund Award; an Old Vic New Voices Underbelly Edinburgh Award; a UK Young Artists Award; The Stage Award for Best Solo Performance; an Old Vic New Voices TS Eliot Award and a Westminster Prize for New Playwrights. Her short story ‘Flat Pack Pirate‘ apeared in Litro #119. Her first book, The Clean Collection, is available from Bloomsbury.

If you’re intrigued by these events and want to know more, the full schedule for the London Short Story Festival can be found here. There are plenty of must-see events on the schedule, including the launch of Salt Publishing’s Best British Short Stories 2014, and events with Colin Barrett, A.L. Kennedy, Jackie Kay and Alison Moore. Amazingly, as we write there are still tickets for Salt Publishing’s Best British Short Stories 2014 launch on Friday 20 June, as well as Colin Barrett’s events at 12.15pm and 5.00pm on Saturday 21 June. Barrett’s debut Young Skins is one of the best collections in recent years, so these events shouldn’t be missed.

As for Litro, we’ll also be taking our live events on the road this summer, as we head to the Latitude Festival in July. Full details of Litro Presents at Latitude can be found here.




Litro Live! at Stoke Newington Literary Festival

stokeyfestSummer is almost here, and we’re excited to announce that Litro Live! will be kicking off its festival season this June. We will be at the fifth Stoke Newington Literary Festival on Sunday 8 June, with a very special event: the launch of Litro Represents, our new bespoke literary agency.

For the last ten years Litro has been publishing stories by the most exciting new writers, alongside work by established authors. This one-of-a-kind Litro Live! event brings together three of the most promising young writers from the pages of the magazine, as well as the first authors to be signed up to Litro’s new bespoke literary agency, Litro Represents. Reading from their works-in-progress will be: Maia Jenkins (winner of the GQ/Norman Mailer Prize), Rebecca Swirsky (shortlisted for the Bridport Prize) and Reece Choules (finalist for the Aesthetica Short Fiction Award). The event will be hosted by Litro editor Dan Coxon.

Maia JenkinsMaia Jenkins: Maia Jenkins grew up in Singapore and France but moved back to the UK in 2009. In October 2013 she won the GQ Norman Mailer Student Writing Prize for her essay ‘To the Weakness of Others’, which will be published in the July 2014 issue of GQ. Her short memoir piece, ‘Lessons’, appeared in Litro #132; her reviews of the stage production of American Psycho and Galveston, by True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto, have appeared in Litro online. She is currently working on her first novel, All a Darkness.

Reece ChoulesReece Choules: Reece Choules regularly contributes to The Culture Trip with articles on film, literature and music. His short stories have appeared in The Southbank Review, Inkapature, The Dying Goose and Cigale, and his story ‘Staircase‘ appeared in Litro #130. He was Long Listed for the 2013 Fish Publishing Short Story Competition and was a finalist in the Aesthetica Short Story competition. He is currently working on his first novel, The Drift.

Rebecca SwirskyRebecca Swirsky: Rebecca Swirsky is currently being mentored by Stella Duffy after winning the Word Factory Apprenticeship. Her fiction is featured in Matter, Ambit, The View From Here, Ink Sweat & Tears, The Pygmy Giant, Stories for Homes anthology for Shelter, Cease, Cows and a number of British anthologies, including the Bridport anthology. Her story ‘Hotline to Almighty‘ appeared in Litro #131. She is currently shaping her debut novel-of-stories, A History of Symmetry.

Other highlights of this year’s Stoke Newington Literary Festival include Ray Davies, Jonathan Meades, AL Kennedy, Mark Kermode, Seamus Milne, Tanya Byron, Claudia Roden, Lynn Barber, Ben Watt and Joanne Harris. Check out their website for the full programme, as well as tickets for Litro Live! on Sunday 8 June.

We’re also offering you the chance to join us and meet our writers, talk to our editors, and enjoy one of the UK’s newest literary festivals. Visit our Stoke Newington Flash Fiction Competition page to find out how you could win a pair of weekend tickets (worth £120) to the Stoke Newington Literary Festival, and have your story published on the Litro.co.uk website.




Lessons

Monthly by Victoria Kovalenko (detail)
Monthly by Victoria Kovalenko (detail)

I was never any good at biology. I thought I instinctively understood how the body worked and, come exam time, made up grandly narrated stories about red blood cells combining smoothly in the veins like ingredients in marinara pasta sauce. For the photosynthesis diagrams I drew a vase of big, sagging plants drinking up light from a smiling sun, all carefully sketched in with a bright yellow highlighter. It all made sense to me but, needless to say, I didn’t do very well and, after Christmas, I was moved to the front of the class to stop me from getting distracted. [private]

Our classroom was typical of science labs everywhere: grey, draughty, three rows and three columns of inexplicably high stools, a trolley of brightly coloured chemicals. Our teacher, Mrs Bevan, was one of those women who paint makeup around their features rather than on so she always resembled the colouring book of a toddler unable to stay within the lines. For the first time in my life I was with the bad children, the other boys – and they were mostly boys – who were also notorious for getting distracted.

And I was a welcome distraction for them. The whole hour and a half they would torment me, steal my notebooks and fill them with obscene doodles, poke me in the ribs with pencils, make crude references to the length of my skirt or the colour of my hair. One boy, Ben, had a particularly nasty habit of flicking my shirt up, exposing my back to the entire classroom behind us. I can’t say why this bothered me so much. It wouldn’t upset me now but at fourteen your skin crawls more easily.

Mrs Bevan never saw the act itself, only my reaction.

“Maia Jenkins,” she’d hiss. “Eyes to the front and stop squealing.

Ben and the other boys would crouch behind the assembled wall of their open ring binders, collapsing in paroxysms of silent laughter as I pulled my shirt down and tried not to cry.

One afternoon, Mrs Bevan took one of the clear liquids from the trolley of lurid chemicals. “I’m going to place a small amount on your finger,” she announced, holding up a pipette. “Then you’re to rub your finger and thumb together. You will notice a powdery feeling. This is because the liquid is mildly corrosive.

Mrs Bevan distributed the liquid. Ben gave me a horrible grin. I felt my skin lightly dissolving as I pressed my finger against my thumb.

Many years later, Ben and I became friends and, gradually, something a little more than that. His smile became kind; his laughter, gentle. The first time I let him pull up my shirt – all the way over my head this time – I couldn’t stop thinking about those difficult first biology lessons, that clear, mildly corrosive liquid, and how I’d shivered to think what a whole bottle could do. [/private]