Soft, dark hair
falls across her face
as she sleeps.
I watch her chest rise
and fall,
committing every moment of
my daughter’s babyhood to
memory …
this second-born is the last child I shall
my Sitara;
beautiful, innocent,
but in whose birth
I lost that which makes me a
without choice,
they took my femininity,
and with it, the love of my
husband …
plans of a large family
no longer attractive,
dreams shattered in
the work of a doctor
whose job should be to protect—
not mutilate—
at the bidding of a
who care not for the rights of


Yesterday, my family held a surprise party for my Mum’s sister, Josy. It is her 70th birthday, so we all decided a party was in order. Mum was one of ten children—seven girls and three boys—and I’ve heard so many stories about their childhood. Although their parents had very little money, in many ways I would have loved to be one of them. They were always (and still are) very close, and their childhood sounds like it was idyllic. Josy is the second-youngest, but my dear Auntie Gwenda (who was the youngest) died in 2008, so Josy is the youngest living. She’s had a hard life, all in all, but she’s the most generous and giving person I’ve ever met. She genuinely would give you her very last pound if you asked her for it. She’s just a lovely lady.

The story I want to share today is based only very loosely on reality. It’s the kernel of an event, taken and changed into a short story. I’ve changed the names of all the sisters, but I can tell you that, in this story, Henrietta is Josy. I hope you enjoy it. (In the photo, Josy is second from the left. Mum is the one in the wheelchair at the front.




“Henrietta Joyce, outside. Now!” Edie grabbed her sister’s wrist and yanked her from the chair. The rest of the siblings trotted behind.

“What have I done now?” Henrietta asked, huffing as she struggled to keep up.

Ten children tumbled outside, and were met with a thick blanket of humidity. This whole summer had been hot and sticky. Hannah and Cherry lay a blanket on the grass, whilst Gillian produced the boxing gloves; the Carmichael children’s most revered playthings.

“Seriously? The gloves? What am I supposed to have done?” Henrietta looked from sister to sister, none of them meeting her eyes.

“You took my floral jacket without asking and left it at the dance hall. Now, I challenge you to a fight.”

Henrietta shifted feet. “Come on, Edie. You never wear it now you’re going steady with Charlie. You only have eyes for the leather jacket he bought you. I think it’s because you love hi—”

“Shut up, Henrietta! I do not love him. What do you know about love, anyway? You’re nothing but a silly, little girl.”

Henrietta sighed. “Hannah, hand me the gloves.”

“Ha! I knew I’d get you.” Edie beamed as she stretched in preparation. “Best of three. Loser carries the other’s school books every day for a month. They do all their chores, and that includes Little Gran’s shopping.”

“I hope you’ve got a free calendar, Edie.” Henrietta turned to her sisters and whispered those words that were a red rag to a bull: “She’s too chicken to do this.”

Edie flew at Henrietta, but the younger sister was more nimble. She ducked and dodged Edie’s gloves, finally delivering a sucker punch that knocked her sister to the floor. Pauline counted to five, and the first round was over.

Henrietta bounced from side to side; throwing fake punches. “Round Two,” said Pauline, throwing her arms dramatically in the air.

As the two girls fought over the floral jacket they all knew Edie didn’t even want, the rest of the sisters knew better than to pick sides. Seven neatly-ribboned heads watched the punches fall.

There was never any question who the winner would be. Bespectacled Edie was at a disadvantage the second her glasses fell to the floor. Cherry leaned over to Hannah and whispered in her ear, “Edie’s crazy, I swear. She was never going to beat Hetty, was she?”

“I know,” Hannah replied. “But that doesn’t matter. Edie had to fight as a point of honour. You know how it works, Cherry.”

Shaking her head, she sat back in time to see her older sibling crumple to the floor. Caroline (always the saviour!) rushed a glass of water to her side.

Peering through narrowed eyes, Edie glared at her sister. “I hate you, Hetty. Why are you so good at this?”

“I’m not good. You’re rubbish.” Henrietta laughed and skipped back inside.

“I hate her,” said Edie to the rest of her sisters as she felt in the grass for her broken spectacles.

happy families

I was given this picture prompt back in December and let my brain wander to dark pastures.

Evil Snowman


happy families

childhood’s fingers claw at
my brain
taking hold of that part of me which
dragging my thoughts into winter

the screams
brittle as ice
that battled inside of me
force their way
into the air
they slash and scratch
at my face and arms

a loop of festive tunes
plays like a dirge
snowmen snarl and hiss
child catchers in action

breaking this
little girl
taking this
little girl
killing this
little girl

for all your false beauty
i know the depth of your
i’ve witnessed it
tasted its bitterness
recoiled at the
rotting stench of
happy families
and i need you no more

the shade in which i live
is bearable
and there are moments
i feel the sun
warming my shoulders
touching my skin with
fresh beginnings
and in those moments my
barren dreamscapes
become fruitful and
full of life

The New Arrival

Harriet beamed at her husband. “He’s beautiful, isn’t he?”

Dan stroked his new son’s head and smiled. “Perfect. Just . . . perfect.” He turned to his daughter and said, “Lola, come and say hello to your little brother.” But Lola was having none of it.

“No. I don’t want to. He stinks.” She stuck out her bottom lip and crossed her arms. This little girl was ready for battle. She had known, from the moment her parents told her there was a baby inside her Mummy’s tummy, that bad things lay ahead. Now, here she was, faced with this ugly, little ball of pink, and already her parents loved her less.

“Don’t be silly, Lola. Come and give him a kiss. He wants to meet his big sister.” Harriet spoke softly and held out her hand.

Still scowling, Lola took her mother’s hand and stepped closer to her parents. She stood on tiptoes and peered underneath the powder-blue blanket.

“Lola, this is Thomas. Isn’t he wonderful?”

Lola harrumphed, and stood back down. “He looks like a pig.”

When her father berated her, his voice was louder than usual. But rather than frighten her, it only made her more determined. “An ugly, stinky pig. Mummy, why did you grow a pig in your tummy?” Her turquoise eyes sparkled as she realised she had her parents’ full attention.

“Lola Kay, you say you’re sorry. That’s a horrid thing to say.” Dan’s voice quivered as he tried to maintain control.

The little girl didn’t move. She could taste victory. If she just kept this up, they would leave her horrible, attention-grabbing brother at the hospital, for someone else to take care of him.

“Say you’re sorry. I’m sure we never raised such a hateful little girl.”

Dan’s neck and face flushed red, Lola noticed; her bravado backing down. They would choose her over her brother, wouldn’t they? Her chin wobbled, but still she remained silent.

Harriet stepped in. “Lola, honey. You have to treat Thomas kindly. He is your brother. He may be little right now, but he will grow bigger; like Daddy.”

The doorbell rang, making the little family jump. “I’ll get it. It’ll be Mum and Dawn.” Dan jumped up, and his daughter watched him carefully as he left the room.

Turning back to her mother, she raised an eyebrow. “Thomas will be as big as Daddy?”

“Yes. He will. And when he is, he will look after you. You never know when you might need him. You know what I think?”

“What?” Lola rested against her mother’s leg, and cast a surreptitious glance at her brother.

“I think he will love you to the moon and back, and what’s more, I think he will hope you love him just the same.”

Chewing her lip, Lola took a longer look at Thomas. He wasn’t so ugly, she supposed. With a swift movement, she planted a kiss on the top of his head. “Okay, Mummy. You can keep him.”

As she ran to fetch her toy box, Harriet shouted after her, “Daddy and I love you, Lola! To the moon and back.”