Imogen Phillips

Imogen lives in Brighton and writes on the train up and down to London. She is currently working on a collection of stories. They are celebrations of the untamed; aiming to untangle the thoughts that coil inside us like snakes. Some short, some very short; all vignettes that give insight into the mess and murk of womanhood. The collection is intended to be read slowly, medicinally. One a day before a meal, with a glass of water or wine.
She has been known to contribute to various online literary platforms, some of which are included below.
twitter: @ImogenRosePhil1


It wasn’t a particularly bad day, in the grand scheme of the year. No one seemed to have noticed the passata and Pino staining her teeth. The new range of keep cups had been signed off by Mark, and she had resumed not caring. Even the journey home had been fine. No run-ins, no sudden need to cross the road.

The familiar sag of the sofa. But she’ll have to get up again, for the wine. For the wine and something to put it in. It’s a Tuesday night, and it looks like life is carrying on.

Six pounds from Co-op, syrupy and perfectly numbing. Not in the dark; she sits under the bleaching light of an eighty-watt uncovered bulb. There are lamps, at least three in the living room alone, and yet they remain off. Shoes are still on, as though she might just pop out; do something, see someone, engage with the world. They used to go out. For Maya, an evening not doing, making, meeting, watching, trying, was an evening unspent: Tibetan momo-making, documentary screenings, Capoeira classes, and once even pregnancy yoga just to see what was different.

Drinking the wine, as though the closed door to her left isn’t jammed shut with boxes and someone else’s worldly possessions. Not rotting, not doing anything at all, merely in staring stasis, inviting a clammy wave of guilt to wash over the rest of the flat. Inescapable in its invisibility. If only it could be seen, this rotting air, then maybe she’d get someone in to look at it. Pest control? A plumber? Whichever; a heavy tool bag with a few milky teas throughout the day.

The wine’s half-drunk now, fridge unopened and shoes still on. Down she looks, squeezing one eye shut to steady the other. She’s reduced. Like milk left warming too long. Like a grape on its way to raisining.  Ribs swell more than breasts, and trousers scrunch around the belt that can’t quite hold them up. Long stopped looking in the mirror, or even looking up enough to compare herself to anybody else.

At the window, she sees a shade of herself, and stares blankly straight through. The person there looks far too much like a Tim Burton character for it to be her. Best ignored entirely. Out there, where life moves, over the road, lit by street and moon light; a skate park. A concrete bowl with sloping peaks around, and twelve or fifteen bodies rolling over its surface. Big enough for three disparate groups to sit apart, only crossing paths in the middle. They float before ducking and rising again, some falling like dust blown from a windowsill. Most have white string piping music into their ears as they move, back pockets full of change and loose ultra-slim filter tips.  It’s too far to see their faces clearly, and so they form a blur of youth on four wheels.

It would obviously be weird to rock up there, no skateboard in hand and no idea how to use one if she did.

She doesn’t quite manage to process this before she’s crossing from the dark of the trees that border the park, over the boundary to where they play in indigo light. There are butts all over the floor, and still she asks you guys don’t have a lighter do you as though the likelihood is slim; she’s just wondering on the off chance. The ones that do hear her see her too, in work clothes and old running shoes which she changed into, half-shoved onto feet at the door. The ones that don’t, carry on, swooping and sliding along the surface of the concrete, over crunchy leaves and stray ring pulls.

Wait here you go, look

For what?

You just asked for a lighter?


Oh I see, just a move was it?

No, no I’ve got a cigarette in my pocket, a pack.

Alright, no need to show off-

You can- do you want one? If you want-

No cigarettes as of this week, but thanks.

It wasn’t the person talking to her that made her go, that reflected her paper-moon face back at her. A group of six to the left, by a complex of recycling bins; overflowed and graffiti covered. They weren’t just looking, their power tool eyes drilled holes in her with their half-covered baby faces. The fibres of her shirt stood on end, scratching her skin, turning her on heel and away.

Not summer anymore, and so quickly dark. Nearly at the edge of the park, sounds behind her change as bodies come past, over the road and into the grubby pub ahead. She thinks she’ll join them, why not who’s to stop me and I’ve got no meetings tomorrow. Thinks of a fridge magnet in her aunt Beth’s kitchen, Checks Herself Before Wrecking Herself, and then sees her pale feet pouring out of the bashed up Asics. She turns in the direction of home.

You’ve got my lighter!


It’s in your hand there-

No, I

I can see my lighter in your hand

Take it then. I left mine at work, that’s why I-

Where’s that then?

On my desk somewhere, –

Your work- where do you work?

MOOFREEME. The magazine, well it’s mainly online now. Instagram and stuff, I’m the-

Did you wanna come for a pint? I thought I saw you heading towards the pub.

They buy the same amount of drinks, even though she feels she should be paying. And so it carries on just like this, back and forth with the drinks, and the whens and the hows and eventually, the ifs. First date fodder. His friends weren’t inside the pub at all, and thank god. One of them would surely have smelled her out, caught her red-handed in her sad and sorry lonely state. Could have sensed her thirty-first birthday was not so far away.

They have no trouble ending up back at home, back on the sagging sofa in its cherry corduroy glory. It is easy with him. So very easy. She’s been doing this for years of course, and he’s been working up to these years all his life. It’s just right, for right now.

It’s not ‘accidental streetwear’ at all, what is that anyway? These are just my running shoes

I know, but all my friends in Berlin have trainers like them – and wear them – out

Wear these, out? Thank god I found you for sartorial critiquing.

Fuck off man I’m being deadly serious.

I can tell, all three of your wrinkles are out in force.

Twenty-three. Not twenty-five, or a too-far twenty, but twenty-three. It’s not preying on her mind, but it might tomorrow morning. Tomorrow morning, when she’ll have to do things and answer questions and make decisions that she alone can make.

In the bathroom, she flushes. Her mouth is hungry and tongue dry, it needs salt. She smooths her eyebrows back in place, and opens the door. There’s a light on, and her bedroom is open. He’s not lying on her bed naked with a throw pillow clutched between his legs. He’s not even standing at the mantelpiece looking at her collection of novelty plastic drink stirrers. In there, she finds him leaning on a hip, one hand in his back pocket, peering at the Popstarz karaoke machine. Peering, it seemed, but now peering looking more like placing a cd inside, closing the lid, and pressing play.

It’s a relic to my teenage years, I’m sure it doesn’t work-

…where’s the intro from the Tide is High coming from then?

What’s your plan here- you’re going to Atomic Kitten me into bed?

On her nineteenth birthday, a week before she went to university, when most people were drinking the top two inches from their parents’ booze, she was in her bedroom, with Maya. Maya, her best friend, crossed the road from her house at number thirty-nine, with a sparkle-wrapped box under her arm. It was handed over in solemn silence. The Popstarz machine. Unboxed, it stood on her desk; a titanic present. They had been microphoning hairbrushes for ten years, and had exhausted the entire repertoire of the local pub’s karaoke CD a matter of weeks after they were legally allowed to be in there. Now the possibilities were all but endless. Whatever song could be stripped of vocals and oversynthed, they found on CD and added to the collection.

The Tide is High was their best one. Reach a soaring crescendo for the second round of I’m not the kind of girl who gives up just like that, and fall back on the suedette sofa behind. Every time better. Karaoke then came with her every place she lived, a test for each new relationship and friendship-group along the way. It was strange then, it was jarring, that this skateboard scrap, this fleeting fancy, had headed nose-first in its direction. Premature, like he’d used her childhood nickname without asking permission.

So used to her own party line about just liking casual sex, she would forget to register whether an interaction made her feel anything else, or more. As long as she could meet her own gaze after, check both lips and all teeth were in place, it was fine. Life would do its time passing thing, work would be gone to and normality resembled. She wore a tungsten suit, tightly bound to protect vital organs and fleshy bits. A steady medication of six-out-of-ten experiences, with mostly men who required nothing but a positive reflection of themselves from her. Anything that dipped its toe deeper was met with toxic retaliation; a burning sting and lingering sore.

Like when Rob from work had brought her some leftover daal for lunch, because he’d made too much the night before. With his brown brogues and black turtleneck, he placed himself on the fringes of her desk.

Hey there colleague! Or should I say ‘Miss Editor Supremo’

Oh not sure about–

Don’t be silly you’re a total BNOC around here


Or rather BNIO – Big Name in the Office. You don’t put the little words in the acronym do you?

Sorry this is boring of me Rob, but I am incredibly behind on-

Say no more! Just um, just basically brought you this daal in case you haven’t sorted your lunch yet? Made way too much yesterday. Turns out lentils are just like rice.

Ah, you shouldn’t-

No prob, honestly there’s mountains left at home

But you hang onto it- I’ve got to get this mock-up done

I’ll pop it in the fridge shall I? Already got your name on it, so-

Had she kissed Rob? Yes. Even let him stay over three or four times. He had wanted to take her back to his, because he had a lot of plants he was very proud were thriving in his care. But she didn’t want to see his Ikea bedsheets, so she had brought him home. And been something like happy to do so, but she did not want his lunch, his care, or his thought.

It was not so different, with the one in her bedroom now, not better, more, ‘It’ or any of the above, but his hand on the Popstarz karaoke machine had made her stop; become aware of the bones of herself.

Quickly she manoeuvred him onto her bed. Away from Maya and the Atomic Kitten CD. His body freckled and pale, with a wash of something darker on his arms; left behind in summer. A familiar sprinkling of ink marks, experimental with whimsy; sketches of something cool, then. Bart Simpson, a milk carton next to an old glass milk bottle, three stars below his right nipple. She had her own; a constellation of permanence. So long kissing her thighs, she started to think of things other than whether there was any more wine in the house, or any of that spliff left in the ashtray by the bath. She had started breathing in colours, seeing kaleidoscope patterns and remembering dreams. She felt current running through her, something was switched on. Too much. She flipped them both round like speech marks, she now where he had been, to come back from that place of pleasure where she had no control. She hadn’t spent enough time there, didn’t know her way around.

The thing about practice is that it doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes for speed, and ease of action. She knew to push upwards against him a little harder when she wanted to take his trousers off, because his hips would lift half an inch from hers, allowing for smooth passage. Likewise, he knew to bite her neck as he fumbled with her bra hooks, providing distraction if he couldn’t unfasten them right away. They had both been practicing. The pads of his fingers soft and tracing gentle paths from hip to hip, organ to organ, like the wheels of his skateboard lying still now, by her front door.


Her mother had always told her that when she wore skirts she had to keep her legs closed. Urged to keep it in, to withhold the sharp breath of womanhood, to be a Nice Girl. The word that her English teacher had forbidden, the words that came dripping in irony when used about boring women and stupid women. The word used to defend the hopeless, shallow men that her friends went out with throughout university. A word that comes at the end of ellipsis, when no other word could be more damning. The quality that Father Christmas looked for in all children in order to save on coal. Nice, instead of angry, nice rather than wild.

Sitting in a dentist’s waiting room, her mother in hushed tone over the quiet rip of turning magazine pages. A sharp nudge at her knees to bring them together. The irony that she owned only one skirt now and kept her legs open at all times in case of a passing something or other, was not lost on her. That instruction, imperative, order, was entirely lost. Lost and unbidden, yet lingering somehow.

Not one person here  came to the dentist to see your knickers.

I didn’t come to the dentist to see any of these people either, Mummy.

The point is that it is ladylike to close your legs


Just stop it!

Sad child instead of angry. Angry woman with far too much to be sad about. Deep lust where loss had made a hole. A writhing relay with no time carved out for reflection, or for feeling anything at all. Cold sex a numbing cream for every joint. Joints smoked in thirds at the end of cold sex to fall asleep and forge some way to morning. This, every week. As many nights as she could orchestrate a person being in her bed, and enough alcohol storming her bloodstream that nothing else came into focus.

Rob From Work had fundamentally misunderstood. Like others before him, he had confused his own desire to be close to her, with her having a need for intimacy with others. He was wrong. She had slipped up letting him pass the twice-mark, and was paying for it in almost daily instalments. It wasn’t just the lunch offerings, or the sharing of zany, zingy new teas; Rob undermined her very mode of existence. Detached and separate, transparent in her refusal to join in. By connecting himself to her, he connected her to the rest of them, who she had successfully blurred into one mid-to-late-twenties mass. They were perky, ambitious types; not quite spin classes and Gin O’clock, but somewhere very close by. In them, was something that had washed from her outermost layer of skin, some connectivity that made slow decay hard to justify.

We absolutely need her on the team Steph, she’s a goldmine.

Rob, I’m not sure what you’re talking about so close to my desk but I need to get on with this

Yes! God yes, absolutely, just telling the gang how much of a weapon you’d be at the Pub Quiz. The woman is a human enyclop-

Rob, I need-

Say no more, I got you, let me moonwalk away in silence. Quiz is tonight – well its every Wednesday if you fancy it

I’ll bear it in mind

We would be so lucky. Ok I’m off,

Goodbye Rob

Hasta luego, thanks for, yup.

Fury rather than rage; for its destructive, whirlwind qualities. For the way that it sweeps her from pillar to post with the heat of a scalding pan, and the speed of something with no intention of slowing down. The stink within her, the beast that crouched, voiceless for the first twenty years, had been gaining strength for the last eight. She could feel it, smell it, sometimes see it in the half-reflection of muddy shop windows. Another her, but a her as much as the one she allowed out, took to work, showed face.

Her mother had large feet, bigger than they needed to be, bigger than was reasonable for a tallish woman. She hated her daughter’s neat size sixes, guiding her into the wide-fit aisle at Marks & Spencer, and insisting on inserting orthotic insoles into every pair. Close your legs, control your feet, and stop walking like a pigeon. The wiry parts of her burned with straightening irons, with the disapproving removal of a hug as she commented on the unruly state of her hair, her collar, her smell.

It seems that women have to be clean. And if they happen not to be, must wear so much sand-brown makeup to cover their dirty faces, that no one could be any the wiser. To protect the sensitive stomachs of men; the lily-livered gatekeepers and their dicky tummies. But not her, not anymore. She would not go any further to placate, to settle. She’d chuck a few Gaviscon their way, and stomp past, leaving an unbridled stench in her wake.

Not caring as an act of rebellion. Not looking after herself as personal protest. Unfortunately, becoming a Sherpa to the male pleasure centre is not the same as throwing off the bounds of expectation and living careless; free. Angry woman, with enough to be sad about to be just that; sad. Spinning, rolling, further away from a chance at peace or calm or whatever came from stillness. A lone woman, and a woman alone. Skateboards, briefcases, umbrellas and occasional gym bags at her door most nights, another satisfied interloper in her bed. This is not the quiet, happy independence women fight for, this is barely living. Living through, living just.


A new phone, ordered at night with wine in her eyes; one which you can draw on in your own handwriting. Girls at work were endlessly scrolling through to-do lists on their phones. There’s a little icon of a hand and its pen in the corner. So, she writes, with left index nail, a sloping, cursive script she managed to create despite being left-handed and smudging every piece of homework through school. It says Help Me now. Nothing to-do, but Help Me.

After work she craves salt. Finishing a bag of sour cream and chive pretzels, as she upturns piles and empties drawers to find it; a black swimming costume, not new, not sexy, not bought for a holiday in the sun with friends and local wine. Racer-back, from Sports Direct a decade ago. Fluffing slightly at the chest where it’s been wet and dried, wet and dried, soaked in chlorine from the local pool. Before they all had mobile Aperol Spritz trucks and five pounds to rent a pastel-striped towel, she went to lidos in London to actually swim. Forty lengths at least each time, and a few saved up at the end for floating. On her back, eyes half closed, inside-of-a-shell sound in her ears.

The sea’s full of salt, of course, enough to quench a craving forever. Each drop of water in there’s got salt in it. And now at the beach, peeling tracksuits from her legs, skin mottling with goose-bumps. Life’s been hard, but not hard enough to make her feet so. The stones hurt her as she makes her way from small puddle of clothes to vast expanse of water. Up and down over a bank of pebbles, into the open lid of the sea. There are dog-walkers nearby, in anoraks, with tiny plastic bags and treats in their pockets. Gulls too, picking up chips; soggy now, long from the fryer.

Woman with a Jack Russell sees her as though floating slowly into the water. Then some men and their pugs, talking about whether they can use a pre-bought stir fry sauce when mum comes for dinner, don’t notice her at all. A freckled young girl finishing her run and isn’t wearing her glasses and has quite a lot of sweat in her eyes, thinks she can see some crazy woman swimming in the middle of November. She squints at the shape for a second, wondering, but really needs to get home and feed her cat.

In the water she dips, bobs, swims a little, then goes deeper, opening up her spongey pores to let the salt in.