Paul Smith




The Mattress Conspiracy


None of us saw it coming.  It was slow and subtle.  First, a lot of small stores went out of business.  We wouldn’t miss them.  They were tiny – nail salons, currency exchanges, party stores, boutiques, all of them located in strip malls.  Then the stores were vacant for a while.  Soon after that other stores popped up with names resembling each other – American Mattress, Mattress Firm, Sleepy’s, the Bedding Experts.  One by one, they populated our neighborhoods.  Then we noticed they were run by people we had never seen before.  They looked foreign, with narrow faces and eyes that converged on their noses like a pair of tight ends.  We couldn’t tell what country they came from, maybe somewhere in Southern Europe or Central Asia, where their countries’ names were hard to pronounce.  And we noticed that all the owners seemed to know each other.  We suspected they were looking for more real estate.

But we were wrong.

They had all the real estate they wanted.  It wasn’t about mattresses at all.

It was all about box springs.

The prices of box springs soared.  The mattresses were loss leaders.  Soon, mattresses were going for around a penny each, but these intruders had cornered the box spring market.  Box springs were being sold for thousands of dollars.  This is the way conspiracies start, with something simple that transmogrifies into another thing of complexity and popetus.

Who were these people?  Some said they were the computer hackers from China and Russia, a cabal of revolutionaries from one of those Asian countries people had forgotten, the heirs of the Romanov dynasty, friends of Archduke Ferdinand, the caliphate, hedge fund managers from offshore banks.  They started to gobble up everything.  And they did not stop at box springs, either.  Pretty soon they owned all the boxes and all the springs.  You couldn’t package anything unless you wanted to pay hundreds of dollars for a box.  Springs?  Forget it.  They owned all the springs that got made, including mainsprings on clocks and watches.  Now they controlled time itself, because nobody could tell time without a timepiece with a mainspring.

That is what finally did them in.  Without timepieces, nobody knew what time it was.  We all walked around dazed, wondering if we should go to bed and sleep.  We fell asleep everywhere, in the bathroom, in the kitchen, outside in parks, on the sidewalk.  We saw the folly of owning mattresses and box springs because it became comfortable and fashionable to sleep anywhere we felt like sleeping.  The conspiracy got crushed under its own weight.  The foreigners evaporated.  Nail salons came back.  Mattress prices stabilized.  So did the price for box springs.  The government, eager to show us it had control of the situation, established price controls on the mattresses and springs.  And anyone selling them had to be licensed by the Bureau of Sleep.   Along with price controls, the Bureau of Sleep mandated strict sleep hours, so that we now all get eight hours of sleep every night or we can be fined.

The government tried locating the conspirators, sending agents overseas to search the Caucasus, the Bosporus and the Dardanelles, and the Far East.  No one was ever found.

Since no one was found, the government told us the Mattress Conspiracy never really existed.  We didn’t believe it at first, but we grew to accept it, and finally it became law.

Then we went to sleep.


Paul Smith lives near Chicago with his wife Flavia, belongs to the Rockford Writers Guild and writes fiction & poetry.  He likes the bus and drinks Newcastle Brown Ale.  If you see him, buy him one.

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Patri Wright


It Starts with Her Awkward Hairline

the bit behind her ear, along the bone,
I accidentally on purpose stroke
as the comb starts to move freely. Her head
between my knees, a kiss on her lobe —
something she wouldn’t get in a salon —
and fingers that look for further lugs.
The part along her neck too, the transition
of neck and scalp, like beach and sea
where hairs grow upward. Once she
hid it from view, calling herself simian;
and now it’s a zone, one she says I made
for her, that wasn’t there before.
I kiss this too, following the teeth
and say: ‘Repeat: “I am beautiful.”’
She says: ‘You are beautiful.’ Still that’s
better than it was, as I work on her
one stage at a time. All that’s left now
is the style, and I start back with the comb,
fan out a fringe as she watches TV.
The filaments are the days we’ve got left.
Roots of silver I cover with cosmic blue.
And here an echo, almost unheard.
I did this for another. I was smaller.
We had an electric fire. She wore
rollers. And it was far from a chore,
rather utmost pleasure, untangling
strands until they flowed like rivers.
I still seem to know how much pressure
to apply, not to hurt a single nerve.


Patri Wright has been shortlisted for the 2015 Bridport Prize, and poems from his pamphlet Nullaby have been published in several magazines, including Agenda and Brittle Star. He is a Lecturer at The Open University and teaches Creative Writing.  Website:

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Juliet Humphreys




My Favourite Coat

It was never mine —  a seventies Afghan,
with its heavy red and yellow stitching
and tendrils of fleece I yearned to twist —
if I could only twirl

into the girl whose coat it was —
freed from school to loiter outside the tube

on a wet winter afternoon.
Her hair still straight in the rain

she wore the arm of a boy
across her shoulders as if it was nothing,
pulling Silk Cut and a pink zippo lighter
like a magician conjuring fire.





Juliet Humphreys has had poems published in a variety of magazines including The Rialto, The North, Acumen and Orbis.

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Adele Fraser




What the Queen Knows

Sometimes, I talk as if throwing darts at a board,
hoping some will hit target and score the prize
of a response from you.

Other times, I wrap myself in your silence,
its softness, its warmth, a blanket
sheltering me in wordless sympathy
and making me feel safe.

When I’m spilling confessions like milk,
you steadfastly refuse to cry over them.
And when I scream that the sky is falling in,
you do not even glance up.

Alice, you know what the queen knows:
only the unmoving can provide protection.




Adele Fraser lives and writes in Snowdonia. She has degrees in Literature and Philosophy. Her poems have been published by a number of magazines.

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M. G. Stephens



Missing Silverware

Phantoms annoy my memory palace
Late at night into early morning light,
Streeling through the halls like banshee, they sing
Dissonantly and claim to be me
Or my siblings or old friends and lovers,
Even to aping our gestures, taking
Our old dramas and monologues, twisting
Them around into new provocations.

In other venues in the memory
Palace, antique butlers and maids are dimmed
By senility, recalling nothing
Of past events in the ancient dining
Hall, claiming to have no memory of
The rococo world inside of these rooms.




M. G. Stephens is the author of nineteen books, most recently short poems in Occam’s Razor (2015). His works include the novel The Brooklyn Book of the Dead; the memoir Lost in Seoul; and the essay collection Green Dreams. The Brooklyn Rail is currently serializing his boxing novel Kid Coole over the next year.

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Anas Hassan




Bibi, are you living?

When the snoring stopped
as you perched by the fire

with loving impudence you asked:
Bibi, are you living?

You listened awestruck to your Scheherazade,
her convoluted ancestral tales,

repeatedly embellished tales of
Salim and Anarkali, Layla and Majnun,

the knighted poet of the East,
the Bollywood tragedy king.

There you sat coiled, mischievously,
sipping hot salty tea –

green tea, you said,
though it was more dark Thames brown.

You crave it on the ward now
but they don’t have it here, of course.

Fear keeps me vigilant
in the uneasy stillness.





Anas Hassan lives in London. He is a strategy consultant and keen runner, and speaks French, German and Arabic. He studied history and international relations at Cambridge. His poetry has recently been published in The Interpreter’s House magazine

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James Parris




One Under at St Paul’s

Central westbound, strangely
grabbed from standing sleep
by scream of brakes which didn’t
stop when we did

but migrated into mouths
of those who saw him under.
Someone sighed.
Some other knelt and looked.

How cold the pillow
onto which he pressed an ear,
and listened to it sing.
What violence in that lullaby.





James Parris is a writer and performer currently based in East London. He also works as a theatre and filmmaker and his first short, A Lone, is currently in post-production with Try Hard Film

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