writing the broken relationship

Oblige us our marriages, funerals and even our graduation

Starting sentences in the middle – strange use of verbs 

A cute object becomes the focus of such hatred.

Happy ever after.

Unrepairable shoes.

Magic 8 ball – using it to decide.

I leave you for my leg.

If you want to kill something – just stay cold.

Losing your head. To a train.

Magnifying glass. Feeling small.

Being given ugly things.

3 years 3 years 3 years.

All the sweet horses.

Shiva in the corner – quiet courtyard. Where is everybody?

Two dark police horses appear in front – the hairs from their tails swish across my face like the sting of your dismissal. The box trees are dried and brown.

I am unable to walk without heading groundwards, flailing my arms – some berserk windmill shaving passersby – you see me like this.

Tripping on the pavement, my tongue refuses to act as a guardian any more – the words come out unhindered by sense, order or punctuation.

There’s a ring I keep in a box. Plastic, so I can see it. I’m supposed to wear it but I would have to cut my finger off if I were ever to lose it. There could be no other excuse.

Tiny hard raindrops join me, cool my coffee. Remind me there’s a sky. Once in a rainstorm I was restored.

5 minutes. Here in this place the grey is marble table top and the green is wilting fig tree.  London in August so quiet – cleared of life. Writing the spaces inbetween us – how could they change – we’ll scribble them – a joining without touching and the charcoal smudges and changes and the pencil feathers.

Are you matching people with food again?

Is it strange to buy a smoked salmon bagel from a Japanese woman? She seems unaware, unaffected. Alongside the sushi there are brie baguettes. And good Italian coffee. Did we mix this up? Did everything gradually lose its definition and turn to plasticine sludge?

Too many fingers too many eyes too many toes too many pricks.

Glad for it – glad of it – someone’s shoulder rubbing mine but the reflection isn’t yours. Your hand still wrapped around my wallet, still holding my money, my notes. Your ring finger is a little fat – stubby – but that’s not kind and anyway it doesn’t matter now – all those wasted feelings. Should recycle them – bank them as carbon offset. The modern approach.

A man is narrating our lives in a language I don’t recognise.

Here are:

A roll of undeveloped film

Bag full of empty words.

An answering machine – with a message on for every eventuality – everyone who might call – “if it’s Alan, I’ll be there at 4 …” – except for you. No message for you.

All the gift cards torn in half.

Breaking up on Christmas Eve. What’s so fucking special about Christmas. Now my eyes are scouring, everything loaded, every incident significant, every person a suit full of memories, loves, desires, disappointments in the pockets. In the lining.

Every gesture a snapshot. These streets a maze of possibility – perfect – every doorway wants me.


This is a response to several objects in the Museum of Broken Relationships. One of them stabbed my heart, several were banal and skimmed my surface, some hummed like electric wires, all had been chosen. Chosen and placed. 

Helen Bailey 

Crisis and Opportunity

I remember I was wishing I was back in Edinburgh, that oasis of culture and sophistication.  Surely I thought, London had something more congenial to offer.

But she had been so desperate to speak to her  – her terse message on my mobile voicemail had propelled me out of my hotel room on this cold, rainy August day, to the deafeningly noisy place of her choosing.

When I arrived she was waiting outside, a forlorn, bedraggled figure, standing beside her nearly purple and emerald folding  bicycle. “Thank Goodness you’ve come” was all said she, no kiss, no ghug.  Lugging her bicycle like an awkward piece of luggage she led her way into Pret a Manger, pushing her way through the crowded shop, barely turning to call over her shoulder “you choose something for me”.   I watched her unceremoniously grab a place by the window as soon as soon as it became vacant. As I paid for our food I wondered why she’d demanded this meeting.

She sat sullen, staring ahead as I pushed through the throng of people.

In an effort to break into her world, I complimented her on a mirrored pendant she was wearing,  fashioned in the shape of a tango dancing couple, and suspended from a heavy silver chain with a bulky fastening. Without looking at me, she fumbled with it and slapped it down on the table, “ Here, you can have it”.

She’s always been something of a Drama Queen, but I just couldn’t read her at all this time, despite knowing her so well. She’d left Edinburgh last year and she’d only sporadically   kept in touch,  preferring her new life, even  although she knew I came to  London  every couple of months or so.

She toyed with her sandwich, and eventually when I asked what was wrong, she wrathfully met my eyes. Raising her voice over the chatter and the retro musak she spat

“You don’t mean to tell me you don’t know what I’m talking about”

“No Jenny, tell me”

“Huh. Look” she spat, “don’t pretend with me.

“Tell me” I invited

She was incandescent with rage and could hardly speak her words “I skipped through the images of that digital’ camera I bought for Jerry, and I found some of you. You know which ones I mean”

I swallowed hard and keeping my voice even said  ”You shouldn’t go poking around in other people’s personal belongings Jenny “.

“Just as well I did, or I might have stayed ignorant, trusting like a fool, and hoping he and I had a future”

“Don’t you?”

“No Mum.  I’m finished with him now.”   She rose, grabbed her bike, and fled from the shop, into the drizzle beyond.

I sat for a long time, looking at the trinket she had discarded. I’d have given anything to have shielded her, to have kept here safe, calm and rational,  but, after all she was now a  grown up. Clearly it was too late now.  I grimaced as I thought of that traditional bottom drawer, old-fashioned I know, but useful and pretty, that I’d been accumulating for her for years.

If only Jerry had resisted snapping us …….

The poor innocent girl never did understand him, she hadn’t recognised the signals he had been sending her. Never sympathised with his predilections. She’d said little beyond chuckling when he bought a mankini.   And clearly she had negged twigged that the silver chain on her necklace was actually fastened by nipple clamps.

Mum I may be to her but to my clients I’m Mistress Cranbourn, dominatrix extraordinaire.

I contemplated the weak sun outside, reached for my mobile and rang Jerry. We agreed to meet later at Coco de Mer I need some of their imported intimate shampoo, good for many things, especially cleaning glass.

Maybe afterwards we could  take in that new exhibition at the Tristan Bates Theatre, what’s it called “The Museum of Broken Relationships”   How apt.

Made a mental note to get a spare set of keys to my flat cut for him, now that he’ll officially be my lodger from now on.  Tempus fugit and all that. Wondered with a frisson if he’d be late….. what a naughty boy!

Isobella  Stewart


We’re in Mum’s sitting room, packing up. Her chair has moulded itself to her shape, the cushions still dented. Not that she was big – the opposite in fact, she was under 5 foot and had recently lost weight so that she was no longer round and plump as she used to be. But she’d had the chair so long and sat in it so much that it’s taken on her shape.

I keep expecting her to walk in, keep hearing her voice – “What are you up to, you girls?” – not angry, but puzzled.

It’s a small house, almost like a wendy house, but there’s more here than you’d think – plaster and china ornaments on every available surface, photos of us and her grandchildren on the mantelpiece, half-finished knitting and sewing projects in the footstool with storage space.

And in the cupboards, both down here in the sitting room and upstairs in the bedrooms (hers and the narrow guest room), we find bundles and bundles of old letters and postcards, every school report we ever had, boxes of photos and of newspaper cuttings, recipes mainly.

We started in the kitchen and bathroom, thinking they would be easier to deal with – but her death’s too recent, we hadn’t realised how much emotion can attach itself to a toothbrush, the lavender smell of her soap, the blackened baking tin that she used to roast the potatoes in every Sunday when we were growing up.

We stop every hour or so for a cup of tea from her china teapot with the pink rose pattern. I think if Jen had her way we’d stop every half hour, but as the oldest I feel I have to urge us on. I feel the weight of all this stuff towering over us, a mountain that we have to scale, step by painful step.

Our brothers are both regrettably snowed under with work and family commitments, which are somehow always more pressing than any that us girls might have.

We’re sitting quietly on the sitting room floor, leaning our backs against the sofa and surrounded by piles of papers when I notice the box. It’s old – from the 1950s perhaps – made of that thick brown cardboard that I remember from our schooldays, when it sometimes used to have a label saying ‘London County Council’ on it. It’s tied up with a bow of red ribbon, which strikes me as odd – something so decorative on such a plain box.

I pull it over, undo the bow and pause, looking across at Jen. Her hair’s untidy and there are bags under her eyes. “Well get on with then”, she snaps.

I ease off the tight-fitting lid. Inside is a tiny pair of baby’s bootees, hand-knitted in pale yellow wool, with yellow ribbons threaded round the ankles so that they can be pulled tight to stop the baby kicking them off. There’s a lavender bag beside them to keep the moths away and it’s worked up to a point, there are only a few holes in them.

Underneath the bootees is a bundle of papers, also tied with a red ribbon. I untie the ribbon and open the first envelope. It contains the birth certificate of a baby girl born to our parents in 1950, two years before I was born.

“Susan Margaret” I read, and I show it to Jen.  She looks up in bafflement. “Our grandmothers’ names” she says, “ I used to ask her why neither of us were named after them, do you remember?

“Yes I do – and she used to say…..”

I pause and she completes the thought for me – “ Oh we didn’t want to do that – we thought we’d start afresh with you two – nanna and granny understood.”

  Gillian Wallington

Ironing Bored

I wake up with the dammed light piercing my eyelids. Forgot to put the fuck off sleeping mask on last night. Lang is up of course. I can hear the clink-clank of crockery in the kitchen, and … yes, he’s humming. Next it’ll be the deck at full volume. I can hear his steps approaching: “Fresh ground coffee for Madam” he’ll say chirping away like a black bird in April. The place would be thoroughly ventilated (ie freezing) and he’s probably washed the kitchen floor already.

Last night, instead of sheep, I counted how many days we’ve been together: 532. 532 mornings woken up by dazzling light, coffee aromas, endless chirpiness and unsafe floors. That coffee stain on the ceiling is never going to come off.


Más vale sola que mal acompañada

Lang left the ironing board. I never iron anything. I’ve perfected the shake-before-hanging-clothes-technique guaranteed to just do.

Why? At first I thought he’ll come back for it, but six weeks and it’s still here. At the beginning he used to iron my clothes, I used to think that was so romantic until it made my teeth ache. His little way to teach me a lesson? Wouldn’t put it past him.


I’m clearing the wardrobe. Capacity well passed its sell by date. Oh, God! The shirt Lang bought me from Urban Outfitters and the T shirt he made from the shop. Both their labels still attached. I smiled and said “lovely!”.

He never looked at me, not really. Otherwise he would have noticed, wouldn’t he? My friends used to envy me so much, “breakfast in bed every morning?” Some of them haven’t spoken to me since he left. I think that’s just polite distance before they pounce on him. Go ahead! Welcome to Cloy Town, see how far you can walk in treacle.




Rapid birth, childhood gone in a blink

and wheels  before it was legal.  Born

of a fusion of lightning and don’t care,

I caught  him Friday night  between

a Vodka  Red  Bull  and  a Jagerbomb,

timed  for detonation sometime after

midnight.  0 – 60 miles  per  hour  in

7.1 seconds.  He wasted all of them.

The Gift of Strings

So  the ukulele  passed  between  us, light as a  joke

losing  humour on  the  third  retelling, the stuff  of

Formby  window cleaning  and bad jazz. But if he’s

puzzled  by  this gift, the disappointment  flickers

past.  Guitar hack – he plucks each string, studies

tuning, fingers C and G, and I could disappear now,

become the  audience  dark  behind  his  spotlight

a blur. His  fingers  blister by  the weekend. He

discards  the ‘Bob  Dylan  Ukulele  Songbook’ and

focuses  on Nirvana;  strums  ‘Lithium,’ growls lyrics

that scratch and bite between the frets. Reworked,

‘Teen Spirit’ becomes a plaintive call for love and

loses nothing of its punch. But love is  just a  lyric,

a  battle over copyright. And I’m  in  shadow

beside   the door,  aware  of shifts  from  major  down

to minor,  a standing ovation he seems surprised to

receive. This string, this thread that runs  between

us   –  I  could  pull  it  taut and  feel  a  last  vibration

faint  beneath  my fingers, hear its resonance, watch

it snap.

A Brief History of Glue

He’s the third man, watching corners and we are fast,

slippy with paste, as vans and cars concertina at the

traffic lights. I sponge paste onto dirty tiles beneath the

bridge – man two unfurls a poster, spreads it and I paste

over, dab down the corners, move along the wall – and

this time, it’s smooth. We are not caught. Man three is

sharp and into me, so in to me and I don’t want to

remember hereafters, or songs on mix tapes made for

other girls. Let me forget the wife, or the blonde

daughters I didn’t have with him. Let me forget, or I will

be unstuck or wallow in what he left – rent arrears, half a

bottle of Captain Morgan and no coke, and a hard back

copy of a ‘History of the Paris Commune’ by Marx,

gathering dust, with a suggestive quote written in his

slanting left hand across the frontispiece – something

about green apples and spurting liquid that I’ve not been

able to source. And it’s when I trace the curl and weft of

words, the serif of his name – it’s then I lose adhesion.

Jackey  Smith

The Art Of Giving

 The first present he gave me was on our first date.  We arranged to meet at Seven Dials.

“Do you know it”, he said

“Of course I know it” I replied with a pfff! at the end

I was 15 minutes late.  Got lost –as usual.  I looked at the wrong bit of the map.  I thought Seven Dials was the Uppers St Martin’s Lane end, not the Earlham St bit.

Surprisingly he was still there.  He laughed and while I garbled apologies he gently lead me to Sanford’s, the map shop in Long Acre.  He bought me the user friendliest A to Z in the shop.

The second thing he bought me was a beautifully embroidered cushion stuffed with sweet smelling herbs, like lavender, thyme, peppermint.  I said “Ah!” and “Thank you!” while I tried to suppress a sneeze.  My fault, I hadn’t told him I was allergic to thyme and peppermint.  That night I opened one of the seams, emptied the cushion and replaced the contents with newsprint cat litter.

The third gift he gave me was a mate cup, complete with silver straw and a packet of mate.  He bought it from the tea shop in Neal Street.  We went there at my insistence.  I looked at all the pots, vessels and teas, but what I really wanted was a Chinese fan.

For our six-month anniversary he gave me a calendar made by his own fair hands.  It was beautiful.  He marked my birthday (sweet!), the day we met, his birthday and his mother’s birthday (ugh?)

The following gift was a set of ‘his and hers’ towels, pastel green.  Mine was always in the wash.

Then he gave me a tear collector and a little sack of demined soil.  He said proudly “I collected it all myself”

In the last few weeks he brought to the flat a plaster sculpture of his nude self, sitting like Rodin’s Thinker.

The last two things he ever gave me were his sculpture of a woman screaming in pain with a great big hole in her chest; and a leather head-harness with ears.  Time to go, I thought.

Before I left I took a hammer (that I had given him) and smashed his plaster mini image.  The broken shards made a great pattern on the carpet.




You have wrung me dry

The tears on the verge of overflowing

In the plastic receptacle

Urine yellow

The day that you left the empty space behind

With your keys

I cycled through the hushed streets

And damp fields behind our house

My breathing and legs heavy

I rode for an hour until I could no longer see

The next morning

I noticed that the ‘His’ to my ‘Hers’ towel was missing

Are you using it to wipe away the memories?

Nichola Charalambou

Time Heals

It’s a bright, chilly, breezy, intermittently showery day, shafts of sunlight floods the other side of Neal’s Yard outside ‘The Little Shop of Funkiness” with its shocking pink frontage and old fashioned slatted windows a sign says ‘No More Grey Days.’

I sit amidst a clutter of wet metal tables and chairs, mixed family groups,chattering children,babies in buggies or slings and smartly dressed tourists with luggage-in-toe. They see a lined, taut faced elderly woman, curly bobbed grey hair, flowery skirt over black tights, black ballerinas and a full rucksack of shopping at her feet.

Spanish speaking waiters in black flit between blue, red and green painted oil drums containing tall swaying plants, eagerly clocking customers. The sculpture clock on the wall says five to one. I must ‘move on’ my therapist says or shall I buy some more plates to replace the ones I smashed?

At the summer party she had flirted with him by sitting on his knee and I’d joked when we got home.

‘She fancies you, that ‘pear shaped’ girl.”

“You’re a jealous spoil sport,’ he’d replied.

It was my first day back at work after a lovely Christmas when I came home to an empty house and found the note and him gone.

“I am leaving you. I love Cath, the pear shaped one. Ken”

Today I’ve bought a pair of peacock feather earrings and the The Lonely Planet Book of A Year of Adventures from Urban Outfitters; from the ‘T’ Shop a “Going, Going,Gone! design and a trashy watch; finally nipple clamps, silver handcuffs and Japanese Rope Bondage from Coco de Mer.

Time does heal!

Phyllis Lane


How to throw a Frisbee

‘A Frisbee!’

‘Well you kept saying you wanted to do more exercise.’

‘Yes!  Cool.  Thanks.’

‘I thought it would be nice to do something together.’

‘Yes.  It will be nice in the summer.’


‘A Frisbee!’

‘What was wrong with a Frisbee?’

‘How can you think giving a Frisbee as a birthday present is a good idea?’

‘But it was fun, wasn’t it, in the park?’

‘No.  You threw it at my head.’

‘It’s not my fault you can’t catch.’

‘Why would I want to stand in the rain trying to catch a piece of cheap plastic?’

‘At least you’ve learnt to throw now.’

Linda Fuller

Birthday Present

You want a psychic reading, you say, disappearing in a haze of incense and crystals.  It’ll give you time to find me a present, you add, flashing me a grin I can’t reply to.  I remember when we first came here, just after university.  We would excitedly jump from second-hand records to second-hand clothes, wallowing in fair-trade, recycled, home-made.  We covered ourselves in tat and thought we were the coolest.  Now you buy Orla Kieley and our music is all downloaded.

Outside Kiehl’s a sign advertises “Youth Regenerator” and I consider this, but don’t think you’ll get the joke.  Maybe theatre tickets, Chicago, haven’t you always wanted to see that?

It’s raining and I pull down my hood.  I see you sitting on the bench outside the healing shop, knees tucked up, sheltering from the rain.  I hurry past, and wonder how long it will take for you to realise I am not coming back, or whether your psychic had already given you this news.

Linda Fuller

William Stoddart Piano

I’m sitting in my usual seat, Row G seat 32, green side. I’m always there when you give a recital. You know I’ll always be there just as I know you’ll look straight through me with unseeing eyes, as if I never existed.

The orchestra walk on, tune up. The brass section share a joke, first violins adjust their posture, turn the pages of the score. There’s a low buzz of excitement, a cacophony of notes stream around the stage as the orchestra tunes up.

The orchestra leader walks on. I don’t have to wait too long now. He bows briefly, luxuriant hair tossed forward. He sounds a single note on the Fazioli piano and the orchestra replies. The Fazioli has been brought on especially of course, because it’s yours and it goes everywhere with you, replacing the majestic Steinway that has been temporarily stored.

I find myself sweating slightly in anticipation. The applause resumes as the conductor appears. Maestro! He raises his arms once to the audience and once in the direction of the wings. I breathe deeply as you make your entrance. You, Maestra.

You walk briskly to the piano, and arrange the folds of your Japanese dress on the stool. There is tangible suspension as the audience falls silent. Today you will play the Brahms. Was it one of the works he composed for Clara Schuman at the height of their passion?

I continue to stare at you, although the music you play is only a distraction. Each time I see you, I return, in my head to 14, Earlham St with its grey front door and the vintage shop downstairs.

I’d saved for that Stoddart piano, a present for your 22nd birthday. I’d even cashed in some premium bonds that an elderly aunt once bought me for Christmas. I thought you’d always play it for me and you’d never need to go to a practice room. I never told you that I’d had to borrow the final £100 in order to buy it. At the auction, my heartbeat must have been audible as the hammer came down on Lot 231 and I’d secured the deal. It was the only baby grand I could find that would go up the stairs to our flat.

It was such a hot day, the day that the piano was being delivered, the day of your 22nd birthday. I’d told you that August 18th would be filled with surprises. You woke me and I kissed you all over.

“There you are” I said “ 22 kisses for every year of your life. And there’ll be more at every birthday. That’ll be 1000 kisses deep, very soon.”

We breakfasted on fresh juice, coffee and passion. “Next, we’re going to the psychic reading place for a laugh.” I said. “I’m not worried about what they say. She’ll probably tell you that you’ll be a famous pianist and that you’ll be ecstatically happy with a man whose name is the same as mine.”

You made that funny face and laughed at me before I kissed you again.

Was she called Mystic Meg? I paid £15 for her birthday predictions, which weren’t very different to those I’d anticipated. Fame. Marriage to a man with the same name as mine. Two children. And homes in three cities, apparently. So perhaps my expectations had been exceeded.

You were so bloody happy with it all.

“What next, darling?” you said. “I think this might already be the happiest day of my life.”

We walked down Monmouth St, drunk with one another, drunk with the heat of the day. I told you that when I had more money, I’d buy you some outrageous underwear in Coco de Mer. We went in, scrutinised the nipple clamps, plugs and fetish gear. We giggled at the fliers for master classes in oral sex.

I couldn’t resist buying you a silly present. A plate. “Pussy licker” it said.

“See Puss?” I said “You have me on a plate, now and forever!”

You picked up a book on Japanese bondage. You said “D’you think it’s more… elegant than other bondage?” We laughed.

We arrived back at the flat just in time, as the van drew up. Two men were lifting out the top of the piano, wrapped in a blanket. I still wondered if it would go up the stairs.

“Oh my god!” you said, “Can it really be for me?”

You were so touched. I nuzzled your neck and was rewarded by a waft of “Guerlainade” that clung deliciously to your skin.

Finally, the piano was brought to rest in our small sitting room, its wood warm to the touch with a rich, musky smell. You touched its curved legs, let the music stand down, and caressed the keyboard lightly. You turned to me, looked at me and, never taking your eyes off me, you kicked off your shoes and slowly took off your clothes.

“Stay there” you said. “Don’t touch me. Just look.”

I watched you as you played the Debussy, your breasts occasionally brushing the keys. Then we fucked on top of the piano.

Now, as I look at your Fazzioli, the instrument that accompanies you to every concert hall, I wonder if he ever fucked you on top of that shiny lid?

Of course, I sold the Stoddart piano when you left me. I hated the very sight of the thing. It was slightly chipped where I kicked one of the legs. Some of the notes were damaged by my banging destructively on the keyboard.

I never paid my father back for the money he’d lent me to buy it. The man with the same name as mine. I often whether you and he are really “ecstatically happy”.

Astrid Sutton


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