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John Saul

John Saul lives in Suffolk. He has published over 100 short stories as well as the novel Heron and Quin, which when reviewed saw parallels drawn to the work of Samuel Beckett. The short fiction has been brought together in four collections, the most recent being even the butterfly must endure the storm. His collection Call It Tender (Salt Publishing) was described by The Times as 'witty and playful', proof that 'the short story is not only alive but being reinvigorated in excitingly diverse ways'. He recently had an article in The Author. In 2016 short fiction will appear in Gargoyle and in Configo, where an interview will also be published. John Saul reading an adapted audio version of 'Chelsea' is available at Axon Journal, accompanied by the music of Jan Pulsford.








white linen surging into the room

slow breathing room

breaths of Chelsea 

white drapes billowing in the summer night

one drape fills, the other falls

I told you Vera, there are several Chelseas

this Chelsea, by virtue of its drapes

filling, falling

billowing in the summer night

has become part of Venice

by virtue of its drapes

of Rome

for the balcony open to the sky, Marrakesh




From your wracked feet to your moley stomach, Vera, your crooked teeth: all is beautiful. Our bodies have shaken and trembled. We were there with our bodies. We were our bodies. We were physical, chemical, laden with lust. At the time. And what now? Good, when you walk beside me on the pavement in your indecipherable art skirt, with your strong calves and sad smile. Walk, carrying the good in us and the not so good, a few more yards along the old human wagon trail. There we go up the Kings Road, traipsing notions as well as things, dreams as well as artichokes—to be pulled apart for supper, leaf by leaf—tangerines, gloves, table mats, that unsurpassable parasol of yours. We forge at some pace, past market researchers and leafleteers, hanging tightly on the other's words in a hope they're true, indestructible—let me change sides, bending as closely as I can, ah, so I did hear you say what I thought you did—talking and eating and laughing all at once—saying how our mouths dismantle the remarkable geometry of a tangerine.


white drapes in the night

rising, falling

the billowing beyond heaven                        that's taking heaven as a yardstick

beyond any idea of an architect with a branch office in heaven

of a textile manufacturer with a factory in heaven

beyond any heavenly official

at the ministry for winds and breezes

whoever is responsible for winds and breezes

that's quite enough about the linen, now on to the white

so bright

white, brightest in paradise

bright linen surging into the room


Our mouths full, walking the parts of our dreams we can't communicate, walking talking, every fifth shop worth a phrase, the clothes shop with their logo matching the monogram of your initials; the chiropodist who could do something with my feet but not yours; the benefits of yoga in being able to stand still like a tree, the deals on brushed-steel knives with wicked blades at Peter Jones …


breaths of Chelsea 

suggestive of what                   we may come to that              once Vera stops rummaging in the cupboard

Vera has arranged the drapes

the floodlight on the balcony

—I'm looking for some clips

—What clips?

Vera paused rummaging

slid open the balcony doors

       inspected the drapes

       despaired that they had not been fixed more firmly


unaware the billowing in the summer night is enchanting

       is seductive, seducing, seduciary



I love this

love the bright streetlamp against the window of the room below                bringing the street inside the house

love the grips on the ground-floor window             

       how you can cup your fingers in and pull

       it's a new kind of building work

       building by pulling, so pull

the house stands on a square of air


… walking the dreams without attempting to realise them. Walking the dreams and our odd collection of objects, me with those old gloves with the crocheted backs I'm looking to replace, you your mighty parasol, which is blue, very classy blue, night-sky blue. Café manager, travel agent, restauranteur, I won't begin to list all you do but this too is you: a parasol under your arm as comfortably as a violin bow, I almost said ukulele, as you simultaneously peel a tangerine in the bright midday and watch over your shoulder for the number 11 coming up behind

—It's a matter of squirming and skewering

you say handing me some

asking if I sense our tongues swivelling the segments into line

on our pink and perfect turntables


the teeth sink in and pierce

wait a moment


teeth and

eating a tangerine is altered for ever


I would like to alter love-making for you similarly, raise the pitch of passion—amid the thought comes the 11. How quick you are, your athletic blondness dashing up the stairs. We sit together, your heady fragrances leaving traces on the lower deck, your sad smile traded with the driver. I saw you offering it as a kind of collateral. He had to agree to carry your paraphernalia. You smiled, he shrugged. He nodded as you most carefully propped the parasol in the wheelchair bay. And so we sit now side by side. Me at the window, you at the aisle. Joy.



love the breezes inside the room

me inside you



Your lips on my ear. Quietly: The Kings Road was built as a royal avenue to Kew. If Charles II comes the other way in his carriage we shall have to pull aside. Up on the pavement. You think so Vera? I do. Vera? Yes? Thank you. For what? For that whisper of history, but why the whisper?

       —I was distracted. I thought I saw a fool I used to know, outside Peter Jones.

       —Who? Where?


Nice, Vienna


—It wasn't him.


Venice, Rome, now London. Feel the rock, stop, thrust, throb. Bus-ness, you say softly as we advance into the tops of plane trees. Surge, slap through foliage (treetops confident another poet, more of an apprentice than the real thing, will this day pass by to call them canopies). Joy.


       husband, partner, lover, fool

at the leak of information on my predecessor

—It wasn't him.

I hear he was mostly fool

the Fool

the Fool began and ended on your sofa


apparently he didn't like your kitchen

dismal place, he said, the light's not right

       couldn't love the little pond, he said, what's the point of goldfish in a pond, he said, never knew anyone with a pond

he said



Vera has darted downstairs to check the parasol and no doubt smile again. Smiles splashing like paint from a brush, daubed at places throughout the day. One will brighten a corner of the driver's windscreen, affecting his attitude to mopeds and zebra crossings. Light-footed on the stairs, Vera: back beside me. Apparently this parasol is perfect for the big outside table. It has been wind-tested. Her hands wave a quick breeze about my cheeks, as if it's fun to be wind tested. What happened to the peel? she asks. Puffing both cheeks I say I have it stored. I want to look, she says. I gulp. Gone. Already the tangerine is a memory engulfed by the joy of riding on the bus, that imaginary overhang at the front. With Vera, local guide. See the Thames? Where? There. Up there, she maintains, is an ancient garden which sells cheesecake, it's over three hundred years old. Yum I say—I jest, I'm jesting. I know, she says. I know you know that I know that you know, I tell her. Well of course, she says: I know you know that I know that you know I know. I also know, she adds, that eventually this sequence will have a breakdown. You will think you know and you won't know.


—It wasn't him? You're sure?

ponds may be all right if you're a goldfish, he conceded apparently, a marauding heron, a mosquito

mosquitoes play in the pond       in the lilies       in the pond grass       they enter by the window with the brass grips       party in the dark sofa                

and, he said

with anyone spending the night on the sofa, as he had       they will have a tremendous time        their syringes probing       plunging first, thinking afterwards        siphoning his blood       having it fly above him       look       there it goes       his blood flying       there and there       in those neat airborne sachets

—I'm sure.


Lips to my ear again. There's ancient and modern, Vera whispers. Ancient garden; new bus. The latest diesel-electric hybrid technology. The best performing bus of its kind in the world. Here in Chelsea. The batteries power the motor which drives the wheels … Yes, I say: why are you whispering this time? I was listening to the engine, she says, it's a quiet engine. Ah, I reply stumblingly (I was floundering) you were quietly observing, like—floundering—a flower. Yes an English rose, she says. But as I was explaining … a battery powers the motor. The energy lost in braking is recycled—regenerative braking, it's called—so the engine only runs when it needs to charge the battery. Unlike me, she says, whose engine runs all day. OK, I say. OK, she says, smiling at this very Vera conversation. And pushed forward in part by diesel-electric hybrid technology, partly by her smile, the number 11 swings about a corner, a great hall of space, filled, for us decorated, with leaves, likewise keen to be referred to as canopies. I'd like that, I say, still referring to this cake. How about you, what would you like? I'd like a man with fire, she says looking straight ahead. A man who makes things sing, makes things fly.


       as you stop before the cupboard shelves

one drape touching at your ankles

I love your shoulders

can I love you a little at a time, starting with your shoulders?

(did the Fool love your shoulders

unfortunately love them, or fortunately?


and imagine that was it for the shoulders

no more shoulders, was that the fate of the Fool?

wanting the present tense but forced to use the past

feelings unaltered but

the grammar realigned)


You weren't bothered, you knew none of this. Your mind had turned, from diesel-electric hybrid technology to cakes and operating margins. You had a café to manage, courses to follow, in barista management, plastering, business administration, the maintenance of air conditioning.


could it go wrong, falter?

       the breezes inside the room

wrong, turning to a dream

the fragrances, wrong

imagine the tangerines

wrong, dry as all dead things

may it never come to mosquitoes on the sofa I prayed

no foolish afternoon across the street

staring at a closed door, holding a bright bunch of flowers; come eleven

the dark street of another Chelsea

eleven o'clock, streetlamp on the door, the door failing to open, the phone calls failing, flowers failing, sorry to end up tossed in the river, sorry to have been involved at all, failing even to fall properly upon the water

       may it never come to that because I

love the drapes; the whispers, like news from palaces; the breaths; the place on your shoulders



The 11 is too slow; you slip down the stairs without me. I'm wrapped in the bus-ness of the lurching and perching, among the trees. The canopies. You've left without a touch, a word. Down you skipped and out, to walk the pavement faster than the traffic. I'm watching you carrying the wind-tested parasol, halting cars to cross the street, in Chelsea. Watching you Vera, with your paraphernalia, your strong calves and your sad smile. How I love you.


Click here to listen to John Saul reading an adapted version of 'Chelsea' at Axon Journal, accompanied by the music of Jan Pulsford.


©2016 John Saul



Author Links


John Saul home page

'Names': story by John Saul in The Manchester Review

Publications by John Saul at Salt Publishing

More by John Saul in Southword Journal






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