Blind Dating With Sylvia Plath (Application to Love)

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Love me or loathe me,
you do the math:
it’s time for blind-dating
with Sylvia Plath!

Romance lies
behind one of three doors.
Our contestant is Agnes.
She’s just been divorced.

She’s sixty and sexy.
She won’t be repressed,
commodified like cattle…
but it seems I’ve digressed.

Escaping her marriage
and its perilous jaws,
I present you with Agnes.
I demand your applause.

[A glittery Agnes
ascends to the stage.
The make-up does wonders
for masking her age.]

Welcome, my darling,
and do take a seat.
I’ve got three living Ken dolls
for your libido to meet.

[Poor Agnes starts wincing
under the spotlight.
Poised on a stool,
her dress looks quite tight.]

Our sort of people
are men without flaw,
false teeth and glass eyes –
should this not be the law?

[With the uproarious crowd
in a state of unrest,
the first door creaks open
like a treasure chest…

A young man emerges
tanned from head to toe,
wearing pink branded briefs
spelling out the name “Joe”.]

Come out of the closet.
Close enough to touch.
He comes with a six-pack,
and an all-too real crotch.

He’s a prime piece of beef.
I can tell by the cheers.
He has us all salivating –
so what’s with the tears?

[Agnes whispers to Plath.
Her response seems to stun.]
But who cares if this hunk’s
the same age as your son?

Don’t you for a second
think that you’re a perve!
A young shatterproof man
is what you deserve.

You’re choosing this man.
I’m ending the game.
Do you not think your ex
would do exactly the same?

[Prose] Ahead of the Curves

by Robert Gould

Let’s take a step over the magazine soaking in urine. It’s safe to assume that’s urine pooled in the gorges scarring these bathroom floor tiles. Tonight, we’re taking a seat, but we’ll be careful; careful to the point of pedantry. Our tights are only pulled as far as our knees. Nervous fingers sit inside them, fluttering and straining against the black elastic. Our red pumps have only the toilet’s sad ceramic pedestal to partition themselves from that dirty floor. They sit perched, with heels digging into the leaking fissures.

Time spent in these spaces should instill us with modesty. We all perform foul tasks on a daily basis, even the creole socialite who looks up us from her now wet and crinkled magazine cover. She’s been shot from the pelvis upwards. A sheet of cotton-candy-coloured vinyl has been seemingly stretched across her body. A headline of “AHEAD OF THE CURVES” arcs above her like a colourless rainbow. The shadows granted by these new folds made her dull expression appear more loaded. Her eyes seem narrowed yet pronounced, as if peering from behind a hijab. The bubbled paper brought already plump lips into the third dimension. Yet all we can think is even this Goddess, this internationally renowned beauty – even she has bowel movements.

But there’s no one to share in this fresh humility. We’re most likely alone in this train station bathroom, and we’re definitely alone in this cubicle. The blue Formica-like walls of each one curve into the floor, and are clumsily grouted into it. The walls are thick: should there be a struggle, you might not hear it. Should there be violence, blood can’t trickle through.

But let’s have a listen. The cistern above our head sounds hungry. The chain hangs straight as a rod. But wait just a moment – is that weeping we hear? Well, it certainly isn’t snorting. No one could be so disillusioned with their life that they would get high in such a miserable station. Then again, perhaps it was a coping mechanism. These bathrooms are putrid. A single glance could reduce a pillar of society into a degenerate in desperate need of inebriation. Where are the cleaners? What exactly are they being paid for?

Let’s take a step over the magazine soaking in piss. It’s safe to assume that’s piss pooling in between these tiles. Tonight, we’re hopping from tile to tile until we reach the sinks, evading the thin crucifixes of piss along the way. We’ll be careful; careful to the point of pedantry.

A sudden hiss! We shiver. Flick your neck. Follow the sound. We can’t do it, though, can we? There are two sources, two air fresheners at opposite ends of the room; one above the sinks, and one above the hand-dryer. They are timed to coincide. They are timed to conceal.

What are they hiding?

“What are you hiding?” we utter breathlessly.

Two beams of lavender-scented mist working together, unknowingly. Let’s swallow a wad of saliva wrought from terror. Let’s take a walk to the other three cubicles. We have no time for pedantry now; ridding ourselves of paranoia is far more important. Clumps of once-wet tissue paper have been twisted to spell out an expletive on our first door. We’ll push it in and find… nothing at all. We’ll carry on.

The next door bears a big battered sticker promoting organic food. It seems to be the most welcoming of the cubicles, and a look inside proves the theory true. The floor is comparatively clean. There is even a sanitary bin and toilet brush supplied. The only drawback is a smell that grows stronger and stronger as you trace it to the next door…

Crack! Slap! The door bounces back to us after a fierce kick, allowing for only a flash of the trauma inside. But we know what we saw.

A man, crossed legs, a forehead, a bullet hole. Blood splattered like a tribal headdress on the wall behind him. A jumpsuit and a badge.

Here is the cleaner. What was he killed for?

And in this destitute station, who are you going to tell?

[Prose] Spot of Joy

by Robert Gould

Inspired by Robert Browning’s dramatic monologue, “My Last Duchess“.

Lucrezia de' Medici (1545-1561) Alessandro Allori Italian 1535-1607

Transgressive and blessed; my life was boiled down to two points of interest. There is no breeze to shift the dusty stock that remains six feet deep under soil, a neighbourhood of thirsty roots and blind, lumbering larvae. But my legacy is not restricted to a wedge of tombstone; to this day servants give pause as their eyes meet a set resting in taut lids, chancing flagellations from impatient masters – all in the name of tasting my thrills from a painting on the wall.

My dear Duke of Ferrara has the distinction of being the first man to share a chamber with me, and on the night of our nuptials I sat perched on his bed like a pinioned bird. My eyes traced kidney-shaped emblems of iridescent mosaic arcing above chalky pillars. My husband emerged, his naked gut groped by candlelight. From darkness the rest of him followed, still tense and bloated from that evening’s feast.

“And still my hunger persists…” his stroll toward me seemed to say, and I welcomed it. Surely the singular advantage of this requisite union was to be our congress? My Duke may not have been in his prime when his path crossed mine, but all around the palace were memories of his glory, and it was likely my adolescent heart fell for a portrait rather than the man himself. He was late for our first acquaintance, and I recall my father pacing the withdrawing-room, decrying the pitiful manners of my Duke. But I waited patiently, gazing upon a preservation of his halcyon days as I did so. His lips were plump but rigid, his skin was as white as milk, with a chin and cheekbones set to pierce its glutinous film. When my Duke finally did appear, all I could recognise were hard, black eyes that promised me embers of the young man rendered in oil paint.

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[Prose] Perpetual Disappointments

by Robert Gould

Some say it takes a village to raise a child, but I would honestly rather I were raised by wolves than to have grown up in this backwater town. The thought occurred to me as I was hitting the filter of my cigarette. My lips were beginning to scorch, but I kept on sucking and spluttering on the hot smoke. I wasn’t ready to return to my date with the world’s most highly functioning coma patient. I peered through the restaurant’s window. I was impressed by just how trendy its interior was. Between the soft lighting and marble table tops, it was undoubtedly the best establishment in town, but that’s pretty much the equivalent of being the most symmetrical turd in the toilet bowl.

When I returned, Rhys continued to drone on like a hungry whale. I eyed up my wine glass. Barely a thimble’s worth remained. I downed it, hoping this would prompt him to buy me a new one. He didn’t notice. In the hands of anyone else, the subject of your father’s oil company would have been at least mildly titillating. But this boy was dryer than a nun’s vagina. He didn’t converse; words literally crawled out of his mouth with ugly, spastic legs. I had been plotting my escape since I first cracked open the menu. With my glass empty, I could finally smash it to the stem against the side of the table and swing it through my left eye. I’d have to get buried with an eyepatch, but it would be the stuff of legend. Online-dating networks would collapse. No one would want to try it for fear of being bored to death, just like that girl in Wales. I would be infamous. My skin prickled at the thought.

A waiter glided past our table and took my wine glass. Instinctively, I screamed at him.

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[Prose] Sweetheart

by Robert Gould

The elevator hummed as it ascended the spine of a Canary Wharf tower block. Encased within its carpeted walls was Heather, who pinched the grey fuzz between her fingers and mentally likened it to the filter of a low-grade vacuum cleaner. It looked incongruous in an otherwise lavishly furnished building. For a young Welsh migrant, Heather had a convincing air of grace and self-assurance, but even she felt intimidated by the lobby’s amber-flavoured aesthetic. She had done the route a countless number of times, but never alone, and certainly never at an hour as late as this. She was mildly relieved to see a familiar face behind the reception desk as it reduced the risk of her being mistaken for a prostitute, but she was a paranoid drunk, and so a kernel of dread remained.

Her heels hit the marble flooring with a set of hard clicks as soon as she reached the building’s fourth level. This hastiness saw her coat catch on a resident fire extinguisher, loosening it from its hook on the wall. It fell with a dense, echoing thud, and Heather cursed under her breath. She decided not to replace it for fear of creating more noise, as she knew Charles shared this floor with Theodore Wyard, a wealthy but disgruntled geriatric who once divulged a sordid marital history to Heather when she insisted on bringing him a bottle of port as a joint Christmas present from her and Charles. Mr. Wyard invited her in for a nightcap, and three measures later she left his apartment with knowledge of a wife and child who he had left behind in Windsor. It seemed the only thing he retained from this pastoral setting was his love of hunting. Before closing the door on Heather, Mr. Wyard imparted one last fact: if she or Charles were to cause any excessive noise after 10pm, he would detach his antique Browning shotgun from the living room wall and pay them a visit.
“And you can be sure I won’t be looking to borrow some sugar.” Mr. Wyard said with a wheeze before shutting the door.

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Letter to an Ex, Part 2

by Robert Gould

I can’t hate you more than you hated me.
Unlike you, he kisses me in public;
I shook when he did it for the first time
in a crowded street, under Christmas lights.
I was afraid of what people would think,
of the contortions their faces would make
when they saw what I had always hidden
behind closed doors, between cold sheets.
He felt no shame in being seen with me,
and yet he couldn’t wait to take me home.

And I don’t care if this lasts forever,
or if it fades as fast as your love did.
It’s enough to know that I can be loved
like I deserve to be – in broad daylight.

Letter to an Ex

by Robert Gould

One day I saw a couple holding hands.
Were it not for his grasp, she would have slipped
on a path encrusted with winter’s sand.
My respect for this stranger slowly dipped

as I thought of all you preached to me
each night in between puffs of something foul
about the dangers of dependency.
I used to hang on every vowel.

For the longest time, I pitied this girl.
I thought of the faith she placed in his care.
It plucked at my nerves, and drove my toes to curl
to think she had the strength to dare,

to trust someone enough to take their hand.
It was a cold day in a lonely town,
and if her heels gave way, she knew this man
would ensure she’d never hit the ground.