Below is a selection of extracts from Black Balloon: In by Marie Peach-Geraghty is set in the police station on Hawaii and follows a world weary detective on an unexpected journey. Katy Gearing’s poems look at self perception, self harm and recovery. Lytisha returns to look at the idyll of her childhood to find a very different place. Mark Done’s piece about a soldier’s return to Nottingham leaves us thinking about our assumptions when we see Saturday night revellers.
The air in Detective Dane Lloyd’s former office hung warm and heavy, like something already used. He glanced at the broken air conditioner near the tiled ceiling and sighed. His headache was half from the heat, and half the beer from last night's celebrations. His own retirement party for crying out loud, but here he was again, all hands on deck since they called him in at five a.m.
The press already crowded against the doors to the building, international too. This boat case was the weirdest and biggest damn thing that had ever happened around here, and he wouldn't want to leave that crew to Detective Jenks. No way. Jenks was still green and over-excitable, like one of those police dog pups they have running around in training. No, better that Dane was here himself to oversee it, and give the press a statement if need be.
‘Again,’ he said.
Detective Jenks pushed a button on his PC. As the recording played, a white line danced against a black background; the lifeline of a voice. It was a man, his tone pitched high with desperation.
‘Mayday, mayday, mayday. This is The Serenity. Mayday. This is the Serenity, 3LXY573, MMSI number 503123456.’
Dane was always amazed that people remembered the standard format under stress.
‘If you can hear us you can save us, come in? We are thirty-eight point one-three degrees north, eighteen point three-nine degrees east off the coast of Honolulu. Assistance is required, I mean really goddamn required. There are one hundred forty-three people on board.
There were. Oh God. The nature of the issue is…’
The captain tailed off. Dane listened hard. In the background he heard seagulls, the radio’s static hiss. Nothing out of the ordinary.
‘…the nature of the issue…is…’
There was a clattering as the radio was dropped, then the transmission ended. Dane had heard some chilling stuff in his time, but the sound of that radio dropping took the cake.
Jenks fixed him with a wide eyed look that makes Dane feel old. The man was wired alert.
Dane shook his head. ‘I think fourteen is the charm,’ he said. ‘Where is she?’
‘Interview room three, Detective.’
‘Okay ‘ he said. He pushed himself out of his chair with effort. ‘I'll go.’
Jenks nodded, serious. ‘Coffees?’
‘Three sugars in both.’
‘Roger that,’ said Jenks. He turned in his chair. ‘Do you like your watch, sir?’
Dane smiled and showed him his wrist. It was his retirement present, a weighty gold watch from the whole team at the Hawaii County Police Department. It was inscribed with a reference to their traditional Thursday nights at the bar.
Time to get ‘em in, Detective Lloyd, it read.
Dane approached interview room three, and nodded to the guard.
‘Just couldn’t say goodbye to us then, detective?’ the guard said.
It was a variation on a phrase he’d heard five times that morning. It
wouldn't be the last.
‘Guess not,’ he said, and opened the door.
The reason why I can’t lock the door when I bathe
By Katy Gearing
It’ll be four years before the stomach acid stops rotting your teeth, but the taste
will burn in your throat for much longer. Ignore this. There are veins on your legs
in the shape of ribbons and men and women will press them against these
as if to suffocate themselves. Ignore these.
Pay attention to the smooth flesh you have and cherish it. By this point you’ve
already maimed too much of your body. You will make yourself run from the
lamppost to the house with the green door in approximately 7.4 seconds and if
you don’t you’ll replicate the cracks in the pavement on your wrists. You’ll learn
that scar tissue is softer than normal skin and maybe that is why, four years later,
even more of your body is covered in it.
There will be no bed sheets in your possession that aren’t stained with blood.
You’ll still find different excuses each time. No one is fooled by you wearing
long sleeves in the heat of July. Do not pretend your heart is as bare as a
thunderstruck branch in January because the grooves in your legs tell a different
story. They will heal quicker if you open up and shed your old skin. There is
more light in you than you think but a lamp is no use when hidden in a drawer.
Drink up the morning sun; you don’t know it yet, but there will come a time at
3am four days before your 20th birthday with the realisation you may never see
another sunrise. The screams of your best friend will be pervading your ears.
She’s covered in your blood. It’s the first time you’ve ever seen her cry.
Behind Avondale Estate
Her eyes scanned the
it had once been her
playground, a space for
The dens that had been
created, the stories imagined,
the lives lived out in
summers never ending.
Where were the trees
Where were the bushes
they’d danced around?
Where were the voles, foxes,
field mice they’d watched?
Listen, the stream sounds
subdued in plastic piping.
Where is the bird song?
Where is the horse?
A colour drained cracked
concrete expanse and
disused factory faced her.
Back then the stains on our
fingers had been from berry juice.
Stevie sways through the crowd of punters gathered at the bar of The Bell Inn. He leans against the counter and looks down at the dashed grain of the wood.
Like lines in the sand. Tracks across the desert. Three months. Three months since lips crusted with sand, diesel fumes at the back of my throat.
Stevie’s head jerks upright and the bartender comes into focus. He’s only a few years younger than Stevie, but in his eyes, the bartender's a kid. He's setting up three Jägerbombs in a row. The shots are suspended in blinking glasses of Red Bull.
‘Pint over ‘ere,’ Stevie shouts.
The kid behind the bar blushes. There are pinpricks of blood from a shaving rash on his neck.
Babyface. Not seen any action. Not seen anything.
Stevie catches his eye. The kid might be about to say something but thinks better of it. He pulls the pump. Beer clouds the glass. Stevie throws back the pint in six gulps and pushes himself off from the bar. He exits past a couple staring into nothing, through a huddle of Panthers fans draped in replica jerseys, to a cold night and Slab Square.
The Council House clock is chiming ten. In ten more hours, he will walk away from the bleary row of terraced houses in Basford. He sees himself waiting with his kitbag under the fluorescent lights of Broadmarsh bus station.
Next stop Catterick. Then Cyprus. Then Camp Bastion. Another tour of Afghan with 2nd Mercians.
Stevie looks up at the buildings that are illuminated purple and past them, to the sky and stars beyond. It must be the booze or the night air because Stevie feels like he’s moving. He’s weightless and being lifted up. Slab Square is below him. He moves further out, looks down at the hulk of the floodlit castle, at the neat rows of streetlights spreading out from the city centre. He is propelled far out into the blue-black night. The earth spins below him. The blackness wraps around Stevie. He feels safe. His memories are blanked out. He’s falling, he's being thrown back to earth. He tries to stop but there’s nothing he can do.
Have to go back. One more time.
A small village in Helmand. On patrol at midday. He’s backed against a wall waiting for Jimmy to ghost past the door of the mud-bricked house. Jimmy will cover him. Stevie will
shout, ‘All clear’ and they’ll leapfrog on to the next one, just like they’ve done hundreds of
times before. Stevie’s about to move, rifle raised, when a boy walks towards him out of
nowhere. He’s carrying a hemp bag on his shoulder.
Piss off,’ Stevie hisses.
The boy stands there, his brown eyes fixed on Stevie. The boy’s hand reaches for the
top of the bag.
Jimmy shouts, ‘The bag, Stevie. What’s in the fuckin’ bag?’
From the doorway, there’s a flash of movement. Stevie turns and fires off a burst of three rounds. Tack tack tack. Everything is still. The screaming starts. The boy runs past Stevie to the door where a woman lies against the door-frame. She’s dressed in black and her hands are white with flour. There’s a neat hole above her left eyebrow. Stevie looks at the bag lying on the dusty ground. Pale apricots have spilled out of it, each with a curl of leaf still attached.
Stevie hears the sound of a voice from somewhere.
‘Can you hear me? Are you alright, sir?’
Stevie is face down on the hard slabs. His head aches. There’s snot and blood on his shirt. He looks up at the paramedic kneeling beside him.
‘Yeah. I’m okay.’
Stevie sits up and cradles his head in his hands. He looks around. Two officers watch him from a police van parked in the square. Their radios click and hiss across another Saturday night. A group of students are tied together at the ankles. They stagger across the square, counting as they go:
‘One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four..’
Black Balloon book launch, 7pm Thursday 8 October at Antenna, Beck Street, Nottingham.