Mark Russell ~ Five Prose Poems

The Help

The Sloan fam­i­ly from Ottery St Mary packed away their tow­els, chairs, balls, and kites. They col­lect­ed their rub­bish, bagged it up for the bin by the car park. Edward, the youngest, point­ed at the sea. Everybody watched a man, drip­ping in sea­weed, emerge on his hands and knees. His face was dark with mud. He spat out water and sand, shiv­ered, sur­veyed the peo­ple on the shore­line. His eyes widened, pupils bulging and black. He stood, straight­ened him­self, shook his legs, slipped his back­bone into place with his hands. When he stretched upwards to become his full self, he must have been eight feet tall, stur­dy but loose and agile. A group of young boys and girls screamed and ran to the kiosk, but the own­er bolt­ed his door and board­ed the win­dows before they made it to with­in fifty yards. Two body builders backed slow­ly away; an elder­ly woman in a cheap sarong col­lect­ed her valu­ables and com­plained bit­ter­ly; a drunk­en stag-do, so bois­ter­ous ear­li­er, began to fight among itself; an American tourist threw his sin­gle-use bar­be­cue at the fish-man. Edward put out his hand in greet­ing. Fish-man tried to speak but green bile spewed forth from his mouth. ‘Do you need direc­tions?’ Edward said. Fish-man nod­ded. Edward’s moth­er Anne ush­ered him toward their SUV. ‘Come,’ she said. ‘We need a babysit­ter.’ On the dri­ve home, fish-man sat oppo­site the chil­dren in the back. He tried to speak again. ‘I’m hun­gry,’ he growled. ‘Don’t wor­ry,’ Anne said. ‘We’re near­ly there.’ Fish-man smiled. ‘I like chil­dren,’ he said.


Field Trip

After count­ing more than three thou­sand worms, cat­a­logu­ing them into their dif­fer­ent species and wash­ing our hands thor­ough­ly, we were set fair for cool beer and bar­be­cue. Chloe want­ed to bathe in the lake, but Paris and Annaliese per­suad­ed her to take a show­er in our makeshift camp. It was basic but with zero chance of bar­racu­d­as. We ate a lot of trout with lemons, and fin­ished all the beer before sun­set. Eric played gui­tar and the Maguire sis­ters sang old blue­grass stan­dards. So, in the morn­ing we were dis­ap­point­ed to dis­cov­er every­body had sun­burn. We turned to Kwame for an expla­na­tion because every­body knows he sleep­walks. ‘I don’t remem­ber any­thing from my sleep­walk­ing. I’ve told you that hun­dreds of times,’ he said. Li Na put the ket­tle on. ‘Has any­body checked the worms?’ Nobody had, of course, so Manny and Steve went off to do it. ‘Where’s Chloe?’ Paris said. Chloe’s sleep­ing bag was gone. There was no sign of her any­where. Steve came back. ‘The worms are fine,’ he said. Randi Maguire, the most assertive of the three Maguires, cleared the trel­lis table and laid out a map. ‘Chloe’s got a few hours on us. Let’s take a grid each and spread out.’ Eric picked up his binoc­u­lars. ‘Stuff this,’ he said. ‘Remember the last time we all woke up with sun­burn? I’m not going through that again. Who’s with me?’ Everybody raised their hands except Randi and Kwame. ‘I guess it’s you and me, Kwame,’ Randi said. The two of them grabbed their bags and struck out for the inte­ri­or. The sky turned grey. It became incred­i­bly humid. ‘Where’s Manny?’ Paris said. Everybody looked at Steve. Steve tried to smile and backed away. Paris reached out to warn him but he pan­icked, lost his bal­ance, and fell into the bear trap. ‘Shit,’ Eric said. ‘These field trips don’t get any eas­i­er, do they?’


A Good Night Out

It was late and I was walk­ing home past the Royal Concert Hall when I spot­ted Rowena lean­ing against a wall. The ground around her was lit­tered with cig­a­rette butts and she looked cold. I think she saw me and tried to pre­tend she didn’t, but I stopped and said hel­lo. ‘Would you like to bor­row my coat?’ She lit anoth­er Silk Cut and skipped light­ly from one foot to the oth­er. ‘I’m fine thanks, Carl. Just wait­ing for a friend.’ I looked at my watch. ‘Well, if you’re sure,’ I said, and zipped up my Parka. We stood for a sec­ond. ‘I only know about three pieces of clas­si­cal music,’ she said, ‘and they’re from films, so I don’t think they count.’ She inhaled. ‘I think the con­cert start­ed about an hour ago,’ I said. She stubbed out the cig­a­rette. ‘I’ll give him ten more min­utes,’ she said. ‘Ok, I’ll see you tomor­row, Rowena. Have a nice evening,’ I said. A taxi pulled up and a young woman jumped out wear­ing the same coat as me. As I climbed in the back, I heard Rowena say ‘Carl?’, but I did noth­ing and we drove away.


Up Country

It’s such a pret­ty lit­tle sta­tion, you say, as we sit wait­ing for the train to move off again. The guard tells us that we have stopped to meet the express com­ing the oth­er way. He says the trains swap staff here. Our train helps to replen­ish the oth­er train’s buf­fet with food and drink. He says we can get out and walk around if we want because it’s run­ning late, some­thing about an inci­dent on the tracks thir­ty or forty miles up coun­try. The shrub­bery is full of spar­rows. It’s quite ear­ly in the sea­son and we can see some snow­drops across the sta­tion car park. The guard says why don’t we wan­der over, maybe get a drink at the pub, to give him our num­ber, he can text if we’re not back in time, not to wor­ry because the train won’t leave with­out us. Things are cer­tain­ly dif­fer­ent out here. We want to believe him. We want to think that every­thing isn’t a trick.



I was walk­ing into town to sign on for my Jobseeker’s Allowance, when I met Kiki. She stopped and gave me a kiss on each cheek. She put down her 10-litre steel jer­rycan and leant against a wall. ‘You all right?’ I said, when she had caught her breath. She pulled out a cig­a­rette. ‘You got any match­es?’ I looked at her jer­rycan. ‘I don’t smoke any­more.’ She put the cig­a­rette in her mouth. ‘Congratufuckinglations,’ she said, unzip­ping her jack­et and tak­ing a tis­sue from her pock­et. ‘Do you remem­ber Mr Hamilton?’ she said. ‘Vaguely,’ I said. ‘Do you remem­ber him telling me that I was good at Chemistry and that if I worked a lit­tle hard­er I might pass my exam?’ She wiped her brow. ‘That was so dis­re­spect­ful.’ She took off her back­pack. There was a sound like glass­es knock­ing togeth­er. ‘He hurt my feel­ings, Mikey,’ she said. She pulled out some milk bot­tles and set them down. ‘Nice bot­tles,’ I said. She smiled tri­umphant­ly, pulled a Mars bar wrap­per from her back­pack and extract­ed a sticky lighter from with­in it. ‘He lives up there, behind the park,’ she said. She lined up the milk bot­tles and stopped them up with long pieces of lint. ‘Really?’ I said. ‘I didn’t know that.’ She packed them back up. ‘Yea,’ she said. She leant against the wall to fin­ish her cig­a­rette. ‘Well, nice to see you, Kiki,’ I said, and quick­ened my step into town. ‘Yea. See you, Mikey,’ Kiki said.


Mark Russell’s work has appeared recent­ly in Poetry Wales, bath magg, The Rialto and Mercurius. He lives in Scotland and can be fol­lowed on Twitter @mark59russell.