Each tethers a moment in time, offering a sense of eavesdropping on stranger’s secrets. Many are portraits of love, others a sidewise glance at grief or betrayal. Woven by Mackintosh’s deft fingers, even the deepest losses are shared as exquisite parcels to be marvelled over. In ‘Hindsight’, the author opens with an image of cartwheels and trailing silk, before revealing that it’s these slippery fabrics that led to our narrator waking with his “heart fractured.”
There’s poetry whirled into these tales, and imagery rich enough to leave your senses tingling. Though most of the stories are only a paragraph or so long, they’re packed with details that evoke more than the sum of their words, and yet lie lightly on the page.
The author appears drawn to our mortal frailties, casting her eye, and her pen, with compassionate candour over the indignant indignities that tarnish old age. ‘On Warren Ward’ captures this with vivid tenderness: “She sleeps most of the time, but her dark eyes open as the nurse tips her gently to ease the soiled pad from between her legs. ‘Hello, Annie, my lovely. Don’t you fret. We’ll have you looking like a picture in a jiffy.’”
Dashes of humour add to the humanity of these pieces, placing you deep in the settings until you want to grasp a hand and stroke the papery skin.
Textures come into play in ‘Triangle’, in which a red velvet ribbon, ‘a splash of flame’, spell out two terrible truths.
Mackintosh crafts sentences that have the power to add layers or illustrate scenes, ensuring every paragraph has the potential to contain an entire life or love-affair. In ‘Abby and the Astronaut’, a single cunning word-choice foreshadows what follows: “A fountain ejaculated in the lobby of his building.”
In ‘World Enough’, the simile that halts my breath is “a breast sewn shut like a smile.”
In ‘Jericho Road’, Mackintosh holds the thorny business of domestic violence up to the light, opening with the unambiguous line: “The first time I see them he’s beating her head against the roof of his car.”
As our narrator intervenes to prevent a possible murder, a clear-cut situation turns murky. “The morning sun spotlights the place on the roof where her face was pressed, filmed with skin cells and sweat and DNA.” The mention of ‘DNA’ hints at a myriad of outcomes, yet it’s the next line that may be the most alarming in this tale: “As she gets in the car, she shoots me a look under her brows, hostile, strangely triumphant.”
Mackintosh’s stories have the power to infuse the real world so that we emerge slightly drunk on her prose. This is strikingly evident in ‘A Still, Small Point of Reference’, a story of enduring fascination, both of the narrator for a character referred to intimately in the second person, and that person’s patient vigil watching for the return of a pod of whales or dolphins. The sensuality of the seashore setting is harnessed by artfully pieced sentences: “The taste of salt against your mouth, the sweet drag of fingertips on peeling summer skin.”
And in the final story, ‘The Shape of Things to Come’, echoes of ‘Hindsight’ shine through: “Turning cartwheels through the ragged grass, Karen maps her own future.”
Mackintosh is an author who embraces the familiar and unknown, and invites you to join her in marvelling in both with equal fervour. A delicious collection to savour with every sense from taste to touch.
What are you reading? I’d love to know. I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com.