Saturn's inhabitants are invisible to the human eye. But they write messages on the beach.
We spent five years learning to decipher their language.
Through these notes of love and hate we saw that they are just like us, only a little worse.
We left, disappointed.
I have a great collection of worries. I keep them in jars scattered around my house. I don’t have shelves for them because I worry that if I did, some of them might get hidden at the back and I’d forget them.
London has sharp teeth for drawing blood and strong molars for grinding dreamers.
The din of screeches and sirens could be cackle of schadenfreude.
But meet her alone at night on the Hungerford Bridge, and it’s a different story.
Like The Shard, she resembles a proud Doberman, and I wonder if she’s been misunderstood.
I’m a garden painter. I paint people’s gardens. Sometimes I’ll paint a lawn blue or paint polka dots on a tree trunk. The paint is made from organic plant feed and washes off in the rain. My job angers some people. But why? It’s like make-up. And is it worse than picking flowers?
I put my heart and soul into that soup. I boiled my heart for the stock and dispensed each the last drop of my soul for seasoning, using a pipette. They ate half the soup in one sitting, with bread, butter and Stilton. Then they put what remained in the fridge and forgot about it.
Ryan got the plus and minus mixed up and sparks flew. Beth shrieked and Ryan yelled at her. He blew the car’s fuse then, followed by his own. Ryan was always getting life's plusses and minuses mixed up, Beth thought, with sadness. It was part of his charm when they met.
He was so unnoticeable that when he spoke, people thought the wind was making strange noises, and whenever he had a rendezvous, his date thought she had been stood up. So unnoticeable his mother didn’t even notice him when she was giving birth.
With lithe, tanned fingers she unpicked my whole life.
All the angles were wrong, she said. And it was overworked. Messy.
She left me blank as a newborn.
He had learned that whenever he had a difficult and tedious task ahead, he could switch himself off and let another self do the hard work. Then, when it was done, he would switch himself back on and assess the work. Though never perfect, it was usually what he would have done.
Our landlord takes weeks to respond when there’s a problem, but forbids us from fixing anything ourselves. Then, when he needs us, he’s mad if we don’t answer straight away. Also, he won’t let us call him Landlord. It has to be My Lord or My Lord and Master.
They sent a cleaner satellite into space to hoover up all the pieces of broken or unused mini satellites. It was a disaster. The cleaner was overzealous. And a cleaner who throws away every crumpled piece of paper with scribbled notes is worse than no cleaner at all.
She wrote with a scalpel and her characters never smiled.
But in person, she was all light.
Now in her 80s, her latest book was the darkest, most jagged to-date.
Yet at book signings, she could flirt with the winsome flair of a three-year-old.
They were strangers when a Stradivarius violin landed across both their laps. They knew what to do. They'd go on a date, engage in some psychological push-me-pull-you and drunken fumbling, use the violin to play jingle bells on the subway in June, then bin it and move on.
Siding with her enemy when she was being bullied was a sideways tactic that sometimes produced miracles: she and her bully on the floor, drunk with laughter, high-fives and hugs. But it could backfire. One time the bully felt patronised and Martha ended up in a coma for a month.
Women who fell for him hoped his ‘I’m no good, enter at your own risk’ shtick was a plain bluff. Or a triple bluff. But he really was no good, and those willing to take logic for a long walk were liable to end up lost and lonely.
“I move in progressive circles that celebrate ethical non-monogamy, authenticity and non-negotiable self-care. ‘Normals’ find me confusing, that’s all”. Crispin’s parents frowned. This was the third time a family friend had rung to complain about his treatment of their daughter.
In her book his behaviour was on the level of “warn-other-women douche”.
In his book he did nothing wrong. Whose book was right? They asked a dozen book groups. Two weeks later four had agreed with her and four with him. The remaining four are still debating.
After the storm we went outside to survey the destruction. We expected to find broken doors and the loose roof tiles in pieces at our feet. But, strangely, the strong wind seemed to have blown the tiles back into place and fixed the door hinges.
We named the hurricane Nightingale.
She lost her ashtray, so smoked out the window. A small rain of ash fell on the head of a priest. A depressed young man thought the priest had dandruff and felt a little better about his own problems.
There were three of us that summer.
We sat on the grass tanning our legs, making daisy chains and failing to study.
We talked about boys, our futures and local gossip.
And we hurt each other in ways that only best friends can.
When Masie was in trouble as a child she used to hide under chairs. And when she didn't get what she wanted, she would stand on the table.
She’s 40 now and does this when she's drunk.
It's charming or embarrassing, depending on how much you love her or how far she goes.
His therapist was away on family business for a week. Selfish, thought Jim. Some unusual things had been happening and he needed him. Less for the insight or understanding than for the audience. Jim’s life, with his own droll commentary, needed its weekly, paid audience of one.
Beth was looking for the right vessel into which to pour all the overflowing love she carried around. Stan was a flaming cauldron. Had her love been flammable it could have been fatal. But it was gentle – more milk than petrol – and they both found rest.
Your fidelity goes with the curtains but it doesn't match the colour of your eyes.
What do you suggest I do?
Wear coloured contact lenses. Or have a fling with your boss.
Contacts irritate my eyes.
Then a fling it is.
I’ll never stop asking you for style tips. Thank you.
Last summer we adopted a pantomime horse from the pantomime horse sanctuary, and I think it's the best thing we've ever done.
We'd always wanted a horse but never had a stable. So this is perfect.
We have great conversations over breakfast, and the back end is excellent on the economy.
A universal law: when you insult or complain about a friend’s friend, that friend will be the one your friend runs to when they have complaints about you. And your insults will be replayed in crisp, stereophonic clarity.
She thought time was stealing her effervescence. It looked very much that way. But in fact, time was keeping it safe for her, out of harm’s way, protected from the damage of loss and divorce. And as with a pension fund, she started getting it back on her 65th birthday.
She should have pinned him down about what he wanted – or didn’t want – before letting him pin her to the sheets. He was devious and won that round. We’ll make it best of three, she fatally told herself. She won the next two rounds but then lost five years of her life to him.
I want to go and live in December said the child.
You talk about living in France. Why can't I live in December? Or just go there for a day-trip?
When the child grew up, time tourism like this was possible, but only for the super-rich.
With enough absinthe, Bob could shed his accountant skin and become a life and soul Surrealist, bringing the house down with his toilet humour, spiky oddball quips and delicious amorality. Too much of it though, and he’d become a soap-operatic, fight-picking donkey.
Ghosters use time as their messenger. Time the thief, not its cousin, time the healer.
Time the thief is no good with tact. But it provides a free delivery method.
So free it's cheap. So cheap it's shabby. Free as a free pass. Or a free lunch.
We raised our goblets. Each held the finest wine and a thimble of our own personal venom.
We swapped goblets and drank the contents in one.
Our next half hour was a lifetime. We'd swallowed the antidote to lifelessness.
When it wore off we were sick for a week.
Project your own decency onto others and half the time you’ll be stung by disappointment.
Project your own mire and mistrust onto others and you’ll rarely be disappointed.
You get to choose.
“One person’s meat is another’s poison”, said eighty-year-old Ann.
“One person’s revelation is another’s platitude”, said eighteen-year-old Joe.
“All profound truths feel like cliches to me now”, he continued.
“Maybe they’re revelations in waiting”, said Ann.
The problem with having friends is that at some point they inevitably morph into "visitors”, Nancy thought to herself as she folded yet another set of bed linen.
The conversation turned to unconscious beliefs. Gerald had something to say. “I know two wrongs don’t make a right, but I worry that deep down I genuinely believe two terrible decisions make a wise one.” He paused, knocked back his triple whisky and tried to kiss her.
Fifty first dates in her fiftieth year, and what has she learned?
That weirdness and wholesomeness is not a continuum. Not for her.
A body doesn’t find the perfect Goldilocks spot between blood and bone.
She wants her weirdness and wholesomeness in all the right places.
I know she's my friend because when the giant mille-feuilles of a grand gesture crashed to the floor she didn’t say she told me so, or laugh, or take pictures. She was on her knees with me, sorting through the cream and heartache to find the hidden insights and gems.
He wasn’t without tenderness towards his conquests, but his was like a farmer’s towards his beasts.
He put in the effort. The early mornings. The dedication. The loving care.
All to deliver them safely to the slaughterhouse.
My husband carries himself with a strut and wears an invisible crown. I can see it out of the corner of my eye. Sometimes it looks like a halo. Other times, the devil’s horns.
Em doesn’t believe our time on earth is a mere 1st chapter. It’s a prologue.
Meanwhile, Dan thinks we live once. And only fully for six months max: that period after leaving school, before losing the novelty of freedom.
I sometimes wonder what their marriage is like.
Martha had pins in a globe marking the hundreds of cities she’d searched for her love and not found him. Another city next week.
She suffered acute physical and mental long-sightedness, so how could she know he lived across the hall from her.
No pie in the history of pie making had ever achieved such a sublime balance of flavours, such originality, such delicacy.
Only problem was, the pastry on the top was tough as concrete. Completely Impenetrable. So no-one could actually taste it.
My aunt was a professional people reader. She was often hired to sit in the corner of a bar and #read the character of her client’s date. Afterwards, she’d give colourful descriptions – ‘raisin heart, spaghetti spine’ or ‘the peach’s peach’ – and a mischievous thumbs up or down.
”Immortality! Half price for One Day Only!"
The poster was huge and had an ultraviolet glow about it.
“100% organic Himalayan Nose Bloom and Pre-Dawn Picked Xanonian Perennials. Money Back Guarantee!”
“I’ve worked out my problem,” Ted announced, drunk, “I’m too clever for myself.”
“Wrong,” said his better self, “you’re not clever enough.”
Unsure whether this was a compliment or insult, Ted threw a punch.
The fight lasted weeks and nobody dared to intervene.
There was an unexpected crispness in the air.
Summer had taken a day off and asked Autumn to cover for her.
Theirs was a respectful relationship.
Unlike the persistent stand-off between Summer and Winter, whose love affair some centuries ago had been brief, but devastating.
If you ever get the opportunity to tango naked with the ghost of Valentino on the grave of your enemy while the angels throw roses and your blindfolded ancestors play an ecstatic milonga; take it! And get pictures.
It was a vivid dream. You, knock-kneed, trousers round your ankles, head covered in cold spaghetti, juggling raisins while begging your little sister for life advice.
In the day I smile at you as if all is forgiven. At night my subconscious has its sweet, private revenge.
Our small denials and delusions are like parachutes, breaking each heavy fall. But the wise love to caution us with the sad tale of Franz Reichelt, who bet his life on a parachute suit, and died of extreme delusion.
It was a suburb of eccentrics, brimming with strange pets and curious customs. The Morgans bred Marmosets. The Keelers kept Kinkajous. And the Zacks got around in a family-sized zorb.
So the Clarks, with their Labrador and Volvo, became the true local enigma.
I worry that my ancestors are watching my life and rolling their eyes. “Life’s truly wasted on the living,” says one. “Well, not ALL the living, but definitely that one,” says another, and they keep watching, cringing and groaning.
I also have some irrational fears.
She used to nudge me awake in Physics class. Years later she was nudging me awake each morning—gently, with her whole body.
Years have passed. I can't imagine life without her.
But now she's trying to nudge my soul awake. I fear it can't be woken and I'll lose her.
To some, her diffidence was like a broken window. An invitation to break in, take what's there, and smash a few more on the way out. To others, it was the tap of the silver fork on a wine glass. An indication to stop and listen—this person has something to say.
“I think you lack a key mental component and it leaves you at a disadvantage”.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“Emotional cowardice. It’s the universal antibody. I see it because I lack it too.”
They gazed out at the blazing aurora and she hoped he wouldn’t try to kiss her.
Latest concept in minimalist architecture: the windowless, doorless house. Because a view is a distraction, leaving the house is unnecessary and guests are a public nuiscance.
Perfect house for the avant-garde tastemaker (or a sleeping robot, or a writer).
The Music To Fireworks Championship had some surprising entries this year. One ran an asymmetrical Catherine Wheel to a #calypso beat. Another matched Roman Candles to Sting. The winner was quite conventional–mostly Rockets to Wagner–but it won for its exquisite timing.
The rumour was that he was venal in his generosity. That there were strings attached with every generous act. That he was Machiavelli in a monk’s habit.
At first, he was my guiding light. I’d ask myself what he would do and the right path would glow.
It took years for me to see it, but he wasn’t who I thought he was.
Now he’s my guiding black hole. I see the path he’d take, and I scarper the other way.
Neptune laughs at our solitary moon, and that we can't even be bothered to give her a name.
My piano playing technique is a little unorthodox. What I do is I shrink myself, then clone myself multiple times. Ten of us then perform extraordinary acrobatics across the keys while one little clone tap dances on the side to keep the beat.
She was shackled to hope. He was fettered to the view that life is suffering.
They crashed into one another with so much force their chains eventually cracked and splintered.
Free now, they danced.
And their ropes and chains tangled till they were bound to one another.
The wise man made me carry the heaviest box.
When I opened it, bright light flooded the room.
It had been a heavy box containing only light.
And now it was empty I could toss it in the air.
I was confused.
Was he a wise man, or just a prankster messing with my head?
The arsenic and cyanide muffins look absolutely delicious! But I need to check, are they gluten-free?
She finds more comfort and cheer in his kaleidoscopic mood swings than in the constancy of any previous lover.
She is the coral that thrives and rejuvenates in a storm-tossed sea.
They say it can illuminate the shadows, excise the parasites that run from light, and shine a torch on all lost and hidden gems.
We all want it.
But when it finds us, most of us run.
I’ve been hanging out a lot with my ghost lately. She’s a good laugh.
And I know that one day she’ll take over from me, so I might as well teach her the ropes: the places to haunt, the music to play, the grievances to never let go. That sort of thing.
My life has changed since pulling that cracker.
Dad got a mini-screwdriver.
I got a mini expectation manager.
I used to think I needed to lower my expectations. Turns out I don’t.
The device’s finely-tuned algorithms nudge me to keep my expectations appropriate.
I don’t live in the past; I live with the past.
The past is my messy, loud, selfish and irresponsible housemate who often steals from me.
People say I should just move out.
Thing is, now and then she can be unusually wise.
And, maddening though she is, I kind of love her.
Everything eluded him: women, a good job, money.
He’d tried therapy, meditation and hypnosis, all in vain.
Then he saw the add: ‘Channel your Inner Villain’. He’d nothing to lose (except perhaps his soul).
And it worked. Within six months he was a successful, happily-married Satanist.
Once, for an entire day, everyone I saw had the same face.
There were differences in age, skin colour and gender, but it was the same face. Everywhere. In every painting and photograph. On everyone, but for a solitary figure in the shadows. And that person had my face.
I’m not going crazy. It’s just that now and then I misplace my sense of reality. My obedience to petty laws of common sense and physics and dull, brainwashing precepts like “what goes up must come down”.
Sometimes I like to hover a while, that’s all. No cause for alarm.
Inside the cabinet was a locked compartment to which my grandma had the only key. It had two bottles, identical but for slightly different labels. One was her favourite gin, the other, arsenic. She lived by her motto: always read the label before you drink the contents.
It’s 3019. Like an unborn baby’s gender, a new lover’s character scores can be learned.
Some choose not to. But not Mia.
If his maturity levels match his passion she will fall to her knees, she decides.
They do. So she does, overlooking other potentially worrying scores.
When other good things elude us, so does sleep, thought Elsa, nursing her heartache. Sleep is a fair-weather friend.
They had to cross a dangerous bridge to get some better grass. So they split up. Dan got mugged by a troll. ‘Ben’s got my wallet,’ he said, ‘go for him’. When the troll got Ben, Ben said ‘go for Joe’. Joe beat up the troll and crossed the bridge so they all got the good grass. But trust was lost.
There's an imaginary book called 'common sense guidelines for emotionally mature people'. I try to keep it in mind.
But then its title changes to: 'the absolute rules you have to follow if you want to be a nice, sensible boy or girl'.
Er, no thanks! Stupid horrid wanky book!
He is hyper-vigilant. Like a detectorist scanning for gold, he scours every moment for any trace of disrespect.
She is oblivious to the number of times friends have helped themselves to a portion of her sunlight.
He pities and envies her ignorant bliss.
Cupid was drunk. He should have taken the day off but the rum in his system from the night before gave him too much confidence.
He positioned his #bow backwards, shot himself in the foot, and fell in love with a falling leaf.
There was no antidote, only time.
It had been years, but Ava knew she was close to finding the true love switch hidden somewhere in Dan’s tangled psyche. And she did. The only problem was, the switch was metal and rusted over. She called in an electrician who fixed the issue but then sadly electrocuted them all.
In matters of the heart, Neville believes in nuclear disarmament and strong negotiating skills. But he is Neville Chamberlain in a world of Churchills and Hitlers.
Churchill in a world of just Nevilles might have seemed silly, and Neville in a world of just Churchills, a positive hero.
I hope his ex-wife is another Neville. Or at least a Churchill.
Due to lapsed judgement, the perfection of Virtual Reality brought about a rise in the Actual Reality crime rate. “I forgot it was Reality” was the tragic, ubiquitous phrase. People were forgetting that their lover, doctor or therapist was real, not an object or avatar.
She was by far the best candidate: impressive CV, eclectic skill set. She was also witty and exuded a summer's day warmth. Only problem was - and I knew not to brush over this - she wasn't human. She was a snail.
My superior was trusting me with this decision.
He thought he was moving through paradigms like levels on a video game. Really, he was using them up like cats lives. When he got to the last, he hurried to the next, only to find chaos. And not the romantic sort of chaos experienced from a safe boat. Pure chaos, without end.
Scratch the surface of his erudite eloquence, ply him with enough whiskey, and you might find an endless river of demotic platitudes.
She liked to bathe in that river. It reminded her of home.
Her requests for days off work were always met with “of course, anything else you need?” and her profuse apologies with “please don’t apologise!”
They all thought she was cursed with a poor immune system.
Noone suspected that in the art of the malinger she was virtuoso.
At the behest of the despotic king, the soldiers did a chicken dance then shot each other in the foot. It was either that or be beheaded.
From hospital beds, a revolution was plotted.
When he doesn't listen, her thoughts and feelings might as well be snowflakes falling on a hot plate.
But when he does listen, the snow lands, and they build an igloo with it. And it lasts all winter.
We have no recipe, no ingredients, no music. No bed, no plants, no paintings. No soap and no perfume. We don't even have running water. But we do have time. Perhaps we could improvise?
If you overlook the damp problem, the asbestos, the motorway, and the six generations of noisy, neurotic ghosts, it might well be the best house you'll ever regret buying.
He handed her the pen and asked her to sign.
"You can trust me," he said, in a voice as sickly sweet as out-of-date syrup.
His dress code, etiquette and mannerisms belong to another century.
Her ethics and thought patterns belong to another planet.
Whether this is a match made in heaven or hell, time will tell.
She walks on her hind legs, and when she stamps her hooves on the pavement, neon sparks fly. She speaks a dozen languages and is cryptic in all of them.
They say she speaks the language of trees. This sounds like folklore, but I’ve seen the way the forest reacts to her.
I don’t know her well, but what I can say with certainty is that I’ve never known anyone like her.
He could be the epitome of the good, strong Martian when he wanted to be. So it was disappointing that he chose to be a typical self-destructive, melancholy and unpredictable Earthling most of the time.
At birth, Ed was given a book of join the dot drawings, and Sam a sketch pad.
Sam was scared of the blank page so drew nothing. Ed, meanwhile, scribbled everywhere, ignoring and resenting the prescriptive dots.
They had received each other's book by mistake.
Mo sails through life on a luxury liner called oblivious. Or so it seems to her sister Jo. Mo says, does and wears what she wants with no thought to who might hate her for it, or why.
Jo, on the other hand, writes her own scathing reviews to beat others to it. She has a noticing eye.
Jo wouldn’t swap places with Mo. She cherishes her noticing eye, even when it inhibits and stifles her.
But one day Mo noticed something that passed Jo by. And it was something of real importance.
Jo was meant to be the noticing one. Now she questions everything.
He liked to think he had a skeleton key mind. His thoughts could unlock any door.
But she was a door with no keyhole.
He could have just knocked. She would have let him in if he'd just knocked.
Sal wore social masks. Ben had a social veneer.
Sal could choose different masks and throw them off at will, but removing Ben’s veneer would require an operation and might be permanent.
Everyone but Sal felt they could trust Ben.
Sal felt she’d married the wrong man.
His human disguise wasn't convincing for a second.
But maybe it was for a split second. And sadly, that's how long her glance lasted.
She wasn't prepared.
She'd been warned of Werewolves, Mermen, Minotaurs and Satyrs. But never the Ware-elk.
When I collected my grandmother’s ballgown from the dry-cleaner's, it smelt salty fresh. I found traces of seaweed and then a note:
"Thank you for lending me this. It was just right. In return, I’ve mended the seams and removed your hex (which I’m happy to return if you want it back).”