Saturday, 11 October 2014


                        'I'm afraid they are not very good swimmers.'

My English teacher once told me that the secret to writing was to understand that all words dress differently and that to be able to use them properly you have to see what they are really wearing.

I don't know what I was waiting for but I think I was expecting the doctor to come out with words like hypogonadism or flagellum or oligozoospermia. The kinds of words that wear bullet proof vests and night vision goggles and carry M14 sniper rifles. But he used different words. Words that wore Bermuda shorts and Converse trainers.

Apparently my sperm are trying to win an egg and spoon race with a pair of chopsticks. Apparently my sperm are jumping out of aeroplanes with umbrellas instead of parachutes.

Throughout the consultation my wife sat next to me with a look on her face that I knew well.

It is a little known known fact that cows have four parts to their stomach to enable them to digest grass. They are called the rumen, the reticulum, the omasum and the abomasum. Similarly my wife is the only woman in human history that has a secret place somewhere between her mouth and her brain, a place where she is able to store her words until absolutely necessary. Words that you would cross the road to avoid. Words that wear shoulder pads and helmets.


                                                                    (C) Ally Atherton


Stairs aren't a problem



                    Stairs aren't a problem as long as you stick to the rules.

It was always left foot first for Kathleen. On small step at a time but always the left foot first because that's the way it had always been.

And then there were doorhandles. The briefest of touches. A tap of a finger would do but it was important, potentially life threatening. She knew the kind of terrors that awaited her if there wasn't that touch on the handle before leaving a room or that left foot first on the stairs.

Small things but important things.Anything to avoid that phone call in the middle of the night or that knock on the door. She had learned the hard truth at an early age.

When she was eight she would always avoid the red flags on the playground

until one day her foot slipped. None of the other kids noticed anything out out the ordinary but at that very moment the Earth stopped spinning, the ground fell from beneath her feet and her father decided that she was old enough.

                                                                       Ally Atherton


Love of my Life



I really wanted a Snickers but the love of my life was too much of an opportunity to miss, so I put the coin in the slot and pressed the button.

I don't know what I was expecting. I was on a deserted platform in the middle of the Scottish Highlands and hundreds of miles away from home. I turned towards the strange little vending machine and searched for the returned coins button and that's when I felt a small tug on my sleeve.

A girl of about 10 was stuck to me like a barnacle.

'Is it you?' she said.

'I beg your pardon.'

She seemed to be highly amused and excited about something.

'Which button did you press?' she said.

'That one,' I said, pointing at the love of my life button, 'But I have a feeling it's not you.'

'Of course not silly,' she said, 'because you're my new Dad.'


She pointed up at the new dad button and then at me. I hadn't seen that one and was sure it wasn't there when I looked the first time.

'I'm not your Dad.'

'Yes you are. I pressed the button and then you came.'

'Don't be ridiculous,' I said, 'I've been here all along. It's you that just appeared out of nowhere.'

'No. You're here because I pressed the new dad button.'

'And I asked for a lover, not a daughter.'

''It works every time,' she said.

'Where's your mum?' I asked.

'Haven't got one.'

'Then who are you with?'

'You,' she said.

She had Sarah's blonde hair. And the more I looked there were other similarities. Her stubby nose. Her pale features. And freckles. I was being ridiculous but the resemblance was uncanny.

'Why do you keep looking around?' she said.

'In case the love of my life makes an appearance.'

'You didn't ask for a lover,' said the girl.

'Yes I did. I want my money back.'

She laughed. A familiar laugh that took me back eight years.

'No you didn't. You pressed the Love of your life button.'

She had a point but it was screwing with my head. When Sarah died it wasn't just a wife I lost but our hopes and dreams for the future. And we hoped to have children.

I looked straight at the kid and I saw Sarah looking back at me.

'This is ridiculous,' I said.

'Is it?'

She walked back over to the machine, placing another coin in the slot.

'Don't press that button,' I said.


I had seen that button from the beginning but hadn't had the nerve to press it. It was a word that filled me with dread and excitement in equal measures.

'No. Please don't press it. It's not right.'

She pressed it and we both held our breath. And waited.

                                                         (C) Ally Atherton


Written for  Sunday Photo Fiction