Dotted Line Dotted Line

Fiction Winter 2019    poetry    all issues


Cover Florian Klauer

Jan Allen
Eight States

Gwen Mullins
Our Way in This World

Erin M. Chavis
Lemon Lemon Lemon

Dayla Haynes
That Thing for What's in Between All the Stuff

Isabelle Ness
Celestial Body

Diana Bauza
Lani's New Moon

Sarah Blanchard
Two Out of Three

L. L. Babb
The Point

R. C. Kogut
Best Man

Elisabeth Chaves
Drummer Grrrl

Paul Attmere

AJ Powell
Gone Days

Kimberly Sailor

Writer's Site

Paul Attmere


How can she do this to me, my daughter? She moves into my flat last year—against my wishes by the way. Puts her damp cheek to mine and tells me her father will not suffer the indignity of a home for the old, will not pass on surrounded by strangers. Now she’s got in a carer, while she’s cavorting in some Paris hotel with some up-start from work.

The care worker bends over sighs and tucks the bed sheets in. I put it to him, this jumped-up pair of trousers: “Why do you have holes in your jeans?”

“That’s a good question, Mr O’Grady.”

He’s Irish and sounds like my old man. I’m a London boy born and bred.

“I guess the holes are fashionable. Can I call you Frank, Frank?”

“You’re old enough to be wearing grown-up clothes, aren’t you? And no, you can’t call me Frank.”

“All right then, we’ll keep it formal . . . Frank.”

Cheeky fledgeling. “You’ve tucked in these sheets too tight. You think it’s funny torturing a man with no legs?

He loosens the sheet on one side of the bed.

“What you doing, wasting your time on cripples like me?”

“Cripples, is it?” he says, lip out, shaking his head. “Can you not find another word for a man in your unfortunate situation, Frank?”

The only way the fireman could separate me from the dashboard was to amputate just above the knee. They left the rest of my legs in the crumpled remains of my beloved Triumph Dolomite. I was knocked out and they kept me like that—sedated—for two weeks. When I came round my first word was, ‘shit.’ I haven’t changed my opinion. “Do you have children?”

“Not yet.” He sucks in his lips and rolls his eyes to the carpet. “I was sorry to hear you lost your wife.”

“Lost? She’s not down the back of the sofa. She’s dead, you gibbon.”

“But you’re alive, Frank.” He drops to his knees and starts picking up used tissues I’ve thrown on the floor.

It’s a moment I’ve lived over and over. My wife managed to free herself from her seatbelt so that when we hit a tree—her pulling at the steering wheel, screaming for me to stop—the impact catapulted her clean through the windscreen. I succeeded in ending her pain—cancer had already spread to her bones—but for me, the pain was just burrowing into the marrow.

“And just to clarify, your daughter hired me through an agency to look after you while she’s away. You do know she’s in Paris, right?”

“Just because I’m a cripple it doesn’t make me senile. My body’s knackered but I’m as compos mentis now as I was when I killed my wife.”

On all fours, scrabbling around on the carpet, he stops and turns, like a dog that’s discovered it has a tail. “You did what?”

“Didn’t Rachel tell you?”

He shakes his head, such a small movement from right to left—more like a nervous twitch.

“Rachel’s my daughter.”

“I know who Rachel is,” he says.

“If I hadn’t looked at her,” I add. “I would have driven us off the cliff edge together, as planned.” I could toss a doggy treat into that gawping gob of his. Truth is, making a beeline for the cliff edge, I glanced at her—I could never resist those grass green eyes—before losing control of the car. We slammed into the tree at sixty miles an hour.

“Now pass my teeth,” I say. “I can’t speak proper without them.”

He silently passes a glass with my false teeth in, the previous lightness to his actions replaced by slow, heavy movements. It’s a relief. He was beginning to annoy me with his perpetual let’s-look-on-the-bright-side tone.

“You tried to kill the both of you?” he says.

“Tried and failed. So if you happen to leave a box of paracetamol on my bedside table, expect me to tip the contents down my throat and join my wife in the never after.”

“Right,” he says and ambles out with his hands full of used tissue.

Before Rachel left last night, she’d tried to introduce us, but I pretended to be asleep. She told him I was sulking because she was going away for the weekend. Of course, I’m missing her but that’s just a nagging inconvenience compared to the void my wife’s left. Don’t tell me the universe is indifferent to suffering. It’s lapping it up—the fact he’s here, rubbing salt into my wounds, proves that. I take the teeth from the glass. It’s not a full set, just six front ones on the top row from where I rode my bike into the back of a milk float when I was sixteen. My wife insisted I soak them every night; they taste cold and minty from the toothpaste in the water.

When the care worker returns, he puts a mug of tea down on the bedside table and walks towards the curtains. “Your daughter tells me you haven’t been out for a year.”

“The curtains stay shut.”

He pulls the curtains open with a flourish. “My feeling is the light’s good for you, Frank. My name’s Kyle, by the way.”

When he holds out his hand for me to shake, I take the mug of tea he’s placed on my bedside table and fling it against the wall. “Keep them shut, Paddy.”

He crouches down then stands up, hands holding three shards of broken mug. “Paddy?” he says. “I haven’t heard that one since holidaying in Bangor as a kid.” Then he disappears and returns with a portrait of my wife. “This room needs something, Frank. I found it behind the piano in the hall. It might cheer you up.

My sister in law painted it just after we moved into this flat in 1969. It’s a portrait of my twenty-three-year-old wife sitting in a tatty old chair, passed down to her by my mother, wearing a red dress I bought for her from Marks and Spencer’s. We were fresh from London—newlyweds starting a new life next to the sea. I started up a picture framing business, while she kept home. That was one of the first pictures I framed. At the end of that first year, she was pregnant with Rachel and I spent my first year’s profits on the same Triumph Dolomite wiped out by that blasted tree. The chair is still in the corner, a bowl of potpourri arranged on the seat by my house-proud daughter. She says she’s going to restore it—it’s a Chippendale or something—but I told her to get rid of it along with everything else that reminds me of her mother.

“Your wife?” Kyle asks, positioning the painting on the wall opposite the bed. “Here all right?”

I remember her standing there, pouting full lips as she put on lipstick, adjusting her skirt on hips that, even when she was a pile of bones under white sheets, still made me want to pull her to me. The tip of my tongue nudges the roof of my mouth but won’t commit to snapping “no.” I grunt and turn to look out of the window. Black clouds have rolled in across the English Channel. A tear trickles down my cheek. I grab a tissue and pretend to blow my nose—dabbing the tear before squishing it into a ball and tossing it at Kyle. It hits him on the back but he doesn’t notice. He steps back from the painting, folds his arms and cocks his head to one side.

“You know how much that hurts, having her here?” I say.

Still admiring the painting. “You can’t just shut yourself away like this, Frank. I’ve worked with old people before and . . .”

“And what, you find digging up painful memories gives them something to smile about?”

“She’s pretty,” he says then turns to me. “I’ve got to ask though, why did you do it?”

“Do what?”

“You said you killed your—”

“You got yourself a girlfriend?”

“Yes . . . I mean, no, she’s . . .”

“She know you go sniffing around men’s dead wives?”

“My girlfriend’s . . .”

I pitch my voice high, mimicking his Irish accent: “My girlfriend’s . . .”

He drops onto the end of the bed and rubs his eyes. “She’s gone, all right?”


“My fiancée needs a break—time to think. We were supposed to be married next month but . . .” A thud against the window interrupts him. He springs up from the bed to the window and presses his face over a greasy smudge on the other side of the glass. “What was that?”

“What was what?”

“Something hit the glass.” He opens up the window and leans out. “Could’ve been a bird. Do you think it’s dead?”

Although I’ve never seen a seagull crash into a window, Rachel claims it happens a lot. “We’re eight floors up. Of course, it’s bloody dead.”

He turns and looks at me with eyebrows raised. “Let’s see, shall we?”

“You’ve left the window open,” I call after his departing footsteps, clapping down the parqueted hall. The front door slams shut leaving me with the persistent ticking of the old drop-dial clock in the hallway. I’ve asked Rachel to stop winding that clock. She says it reminds her of her mum—exactly the reason I want rid of it. My wife was always buzzing around the antique shop next to the train station. She’d come back all excited with bric-a-brac or larger pieces like that clock. Even after the diagnosis, before chemo started, she would disappear every Friday and return, more often than not, with something old and useless. I put my fingers in my ears to mute the ticking clock. A few minutes later the muted slam of the front door to our flat followed by Kyle’s footsteps clip-clopping down the hall. “My daughter finds you’ve been wearing shoes in the flat she’ll string you up,” I call.

“Alive,” Kyle stands in the doorway, a little out of breath, clutching a seagull in both hands. He slips off his shoes, pulling the heel against the other shoe’s toe, and enters my bedroom in his white socks.

I take my fingers from my ears. “Throw that thing out the window. And then shut it. Are you trying to finish me off by freezing me to death?”

He stands for a moment smiling, tilting his head as he did in front of the painting. “I thought you said, what was it now Frank, you wanted to join your wife in the never after?” Then he relaxes his grin, widens his big blue eyes and holds the bird towards me as if presenting a prize. “I don’t think there are any bones broken. Maybe she’s stunned . . . even concussed.”

“Flush it down the toilet,” I say.

He cradles the seagull close to him and puts his mouth close to its twitching head. “Are you concussed?” He looks at me. “I’d given up finding her when I saw her in a hedge. It must have broken her fall.”

“Her? How do you know it’s a her?”

“Just get a sense of it being a girl bird.”

“When Rachel comes back she’s gonna flush you down the bog when she finds a seagull living in the flat.”

He grabs a pillow from the side my wife used to sleep and places the gull in the centre. It raises a wing but nothing more; one eye remains open and unblinking, the other half shut.

“That’s my wife’s pillow, not a place for dead birds.”

“You don’t mind do you, Frank? It’s just for a bit.”

I can see my wife looking up at me from that pillow. The pain from cancer that started in her breast, before spreading to every part of her body, contorted her face into a permanent expression of pain. If I’ve done one good thing in my life, it’s ending her agony. “You’re here to look after me not play Doctor bloody Doolittle,” I say. “Now do something useful and make lunch.”

“That’s a point,” says Kyle. He shivers and pulls the window shut. “I’ll feed her some of that liver your daughter left you. How you can eat that stuff I don’t know.”

“Just get me something to eat and while you’re making it think how you’ll get rid of that bird, not keep it alive.”

“Her names Muriel, what do you think?”

Hearing my wife’s name spoken loud is like having hot needles jabbed into my ears. Is he doing this on purpose?

“It was Gran’s name,” says Kyle and winks at me. “She was a funny old bird too.”

“Just get my lunch on.”

Kyle leaves the seagull on the pillow with me. It’s not big. It must be young. There’s an even split of grey and white feathers and an orange beak that occasionally opens up as if expecting fish. When she stops moving, I call him in. “She’s dead,” I say but he checks her and soon enough she’s lifting that wing like an invitation to come under it. After that, it’s all about the bird. I keep calling it the bird and each time he corrects me.

“Her name’s Muriel, Frank,” he says. “You can feed her if you like.”

“I’m not feeding that bloody bird when I haven’t eaten myself. The sweet smell of liver and onions wafts in from the kitchen. “Where’s my lunch?”

He puts one finger up and returns with a dish of liver and onions. “I almost heaved cooking that muck,” he says, and lifts the bird—with the pillow—and they disappear into the kitchen. Bloody lovely, the liver and onions, but when he returns to take my dish, I keep the compliments to myself.

“Our Muriel ate a little raw liver,” he says.

“She’s not my Muriel. Stop saying that. Muriel was my wife’s name as you no doubt know.”

“Really?” he hesitates. “I’m sorry, Frank, I didn’t know that.”

“You knew all right, my daughter must have told you.”

“Honest to god, Frank, my gran’s name was Muriel.” He hesitates. “She’ll pull through, you’ll see.” He takes the plate and starts banging pots in the kitchen.

“I don’t give a damn if she pulls through,” I yell after him.

Towards evening, the newlyweds in the flat above start making their bedsprings moan—it’s a sluggish rhythm that never seems to get much beyond the can-we-just-get-this-over-and-watch-telly tempo. Muriel and I were always at it when we were first married. We would do it everywhere, even the kitchen on occasion. Memories of making love to my Muriel send my cock into an erection. It hasn’t done that for a while. I do nothing with it and allow it to wither in my hand. I remember, after we made love, Muriel would always tuck herself under my arm. I’d apologise for the smell. She’d giggle.

I wake with a start. Kyle appears in the doorway to the bedroom with the seagull on the pillow. “You’re awake at last,” he says. “I let you sleep—a lot of moaning going on there, Frank.”

“What moaning?”

“There’s a problem,” he says and sucks his lips in like a child choking back tears. I think Muriel’s wing’s broken.” He places the bird next to me. Muriel’s head stays still, one eye-rolling left and right. “I’m gonna put her out of her misery.”


“Don’t know.”

“Break her neck?”

“Is that the only way?” His phone beeps. He slips it from his pocket and rolls his eyes to mine.

“Fianceé?” I say.

Kyle steps away from the bed, staring at his phone and chewing his upper lip. Apart from her twitching eyes, Muriel doesn’t move. When I look up, Kyle’s gone.

Summers, as a child, we would leave London and visit my grandparents in the country. My grandfather would get me chasing Sunday lunch around their backyard, so I’ve snapped the necks of countless chickens. Perhaps I should help the poor lad out. He doesn’t look capable of snapping a bird’s neck. When I reach my hand towards the robust neck of the bird, I know I can’t do it—I can’t be responsible for another Muriel’s death.

Kyle walks back in and hovers over the bed; his cheeks are damp and shoulders tensed unevenly so the right shoulder is higher than his left.

“Everything all right?” I say.

“My girlfriend says it’s over.”

He reaches for the pillow but I grab Muriel and hug her to my chest.

“Leave her alone.”

“Frank, she’s suffering.”

“My Muriel had cancer,” I say.

He opens his mouth, lips tense around unformed words.

“The accident was my attempt to end her pain.”

Kyle puts out his hands. “And putting our Muriel out her misery—it’s the same as your wife. Give her over, Frank.”

“No!” Muriel’s wings spasm in my hands, her head rolls back and she thrusts her beak forward, opening it wide. More of a gull-whimper rather than a cry leaves her mouth, followed by another louder attempt as her beak opens wide. After the third or fourth attempt, she’s making ear-piercing screeches.

“She’s in pain, Frank,” says Kyle. “We need to do this.”

I drop Muriel onto the bed where she begins thrashing around on the same pillow my Muriel would rest her head after long bouts of chemotherapy. “Look, lad, this bird—it’s worth a shot—she might just fly.” One of Muriel’s wings stretch wider than the pillow but the other stays pulled to her.

He raises his voice. “Can’t you see, that wing’s hurting her?”

Muriel withdraws the outstretched wing into her body before spreading both wings in a violent impulse to fly, to wriggle free of death’s clutches.

“Will you look at that?” says Kyle.

“Open the window.”

He dashes to the window and flings it wide. “What now?”

“Throw her out.”

“But she’ll . . .”

“Do it. I can’t.”

He shakes his head. “But I can’t.”

I roll to the edge of the bed and push myself up to sitting. “Then I’ll find a way.” Before I can lower myself onto the floor and begin the impossible task of transporting bird and pillow to the window, Kyle grabs the pillow. Muriel snaps her wings into her body, then out again.

“Think she’ll be fine, Frank?”

“I don’t know,” I say.

Kyle rests the pillow on the windowsill and slips his hand under her body. I see my Muriel propped up by that pillow, reading one of those romance novels she was so fond of. Sometimes she’d laugh at the ridiculous plot or overblown characters, but it wasn’t unusual for her green eyes to let a tear loose down her cheek. “Throw her out,” I say. “And the pillow with her.”

Kyle remains statue-still, arms folded, peering out the window where he’s just dropped, Muriel. She must have followed the pillow to the ground. It’s over. Poor thing. He turns to me, teeth clenched, fists balled like a defeated boxer as Muriel swoops upwards—framed by the window behind him—drawn by thermal currents, spiralling high into the blue cloud-free sky.

Paul Attmere is an actor and writer. Originally from the UK, he now lives with his family in Krakes, a small town in Lithuania. He’s been published in Spread the Word—Flight Journal, Running Wild Press Short Story Anthology 2019, and due to be published in Vol. 7 Anthology of The Writer’s Games in 2020.

Dotted Line