PART OF THE The Gift of Reading ISSUE

‘It’s important you chat to someone through the procedure, so we can see which areas of the brain light up.’

The Common Breath are an exciting new publisher releasing excellent books and creating a wonderful literary community. Their latest publication is The Middle of a Sentence, short stories from a wide-ranging collection of up-and-coming and established writers. Here we share two stories from Ruskin Smith and Jenni Fagan.


Stories taken from The Middle of a Sentence
Edited and published by The Common Breath


By Ruskin Smith

She came towards me all in white—white jeans, a thin-looking white top—hugging herself as if the air was cold although it wasn’t, it was warm, it had been warm all day and even now the birds were chirping in the trees around the wasteground as she walked beneath them veering side-to-side a bit. Her shoes were deep white platform soles but big for her—one foot kept slipping off and she was crying now, or sort of crying, words I couldn’t understand, or whether they were words or groans and as she went to turn—the wall curves round, a slope towards a path behind the baths—she doubled over, stumbled to one side and whacked her temple on the wall. She went down slowly to her knees and made a noise and curled up with her forehead on the pavement. I had no phone on me, and no-one else was in the street. I looked around at all the flats, the windows, hundreds of them—glass, reflected glass, reflected sky. Nothing. She made a noise as if something had struck her in the gut. If anyone turned up they might think I was here involved, my bag of beer and ice-cream dangling, when I was only walking back from Co-op. If I left her she might not be safe—the things you heard about from time to time that happened on the wasteground, in the news. I squatted down beside her—Do you need a taxi home or anything?

She crawled sideways into the wall and all the broken bottles there, scraping her face. I stepped away to breathe and turn my back. She turned her face to yell at me—Jamie’s gone, I think it was. Her rows of teeth were very straight and white and too wide for her mouth, and as she shouted it her face had seemed to shrink around them. Then she curled up in a ball again, her hands in front of her now like a yoga pose. Her handbag, plastic and transparent, like a child’s toy, was on the concrete there in front of her, a fiver and some coins and lipstick I could see.

Jamie’s gone, she yelled into the ground, as if realising it for the first time. A woman walked by on the other side but in a rush, and talking on her phone, not noticing.

The ice-cream would be going soft. My beer was probably getting warm. She had gone quiet again. If I turned my back and stood for a few seconds I could almost think she wasn’t there at all—it was so still, the evening, a perfect night for walking outside in your tshirt, all the birdsong going on and on.


‘Ida Keeps Falling’
By Jenni Fagan

She is to be awake throughout the entire procedure. They’ll slice the top of her head open, saw through the bone (make it like an attic hatch — so they can peer in) and she was told to bring a friend.

– It’s important you chat to someone through the procedure, so we can see which areas of the brain light up.

– This will help you diagnose why I’m falling over all the time?

– Yes, we hope so.

All they know so far is that it is not a cancer, nor a tumour, she’s had a CAT scan, been to oncology, it is not Meniere’s disease, nor is it benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, no acoustic neroma, no vestibular neuritis, no herpes zoster oticus. Inner ear fine.

– This will be worth it, Ida, if it means you stop falling over.

It’s not possible to nod in agreement so Ida blinks. Her friend blinks back and they are smiling then. It will be. It’s so awkward, falling over in front of everyone, in the office, the water cooler shaking, bruises, arnica, staying home more and more. There is a tugging above her, then the surgeons fall momentarily silent.

– Well, Ida, we appear to have found the problem — the reason, for your balance issues.

– What is it?

– It’s a little man, bout as big as your pinky nail.

– What?

– Yup, tiny little thing he is, and he’s drunk, on a bicycle, cycling round and around.

– Okay — so, what do we do with him?

-Well, with your permission, Ida, we’d like to cut him out.

Signing a form then, a disclaimer, a dizziness and the surgeons working quickly so the anaesthesia does not wear off and wondering what he’ll look like, if they’ll let her take him home in a jar.


The Middle of a Sentence, edited and published by The Common Breath, priced £8.00

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