Thursday, 19 July 2018

R.E.S.P.E.C.T.


by Richard C Elder

ruby port


A bright-blue winter morning. January 5th. In the driveway of the redbrick house a hearse stands waiting, its tailgate an open maw. A burbling exhaust growls a warning as it slavers onto the frosted concrete. Swathed in black coats and steaming breath, two funeral directors wait to be summoned in.

Gary stands motionless in the front room of his father’s house. He’s twenty-eight, tall and athletic. His mother lies upstairs in her coffin, ready for the journey to the church. Gary stares through the window at the hearse. The chromed deck is rolled out, empty and shining and cold. For some reason it reminds him of a Pizza oven. Family members swirl around him like fish investigating a wreck. 
‘How are you, Gary?’ a face asks, its beard and moustache glinting in the sunlight streaming through the glass.
He doesn’t acknowledge the question, doesn’t show recognition. 
‘Gettin’ Dad,’ he announces, his voice too loud, each word a dagger-thrust. 
A florid, chubby face. Aunt May, his mother’s sister. She’s blocking his path to the door.
‘Do you want me to come up with you?’
‘No,’ he mutters, his eyes burning. ‘Tell them five minutes. We’ll be ready then.’

The staircase is a steep mountain path, forbidding and misted. He knows what he’ll see when he gets up there. Grabbing the newel post he dips his head and starts the climb.
What a way to spend my Saturday, standin’ here freezin’, waitin’ to box-up some aul doll. Shite.
Frowning, Gary stops on the first tread. The hallway is empty, the front room door closed. At the far end of the hall he can see the cat in the kitchen, biting at a ham. The only people he can see are the two funeral guys in the driveway. The tall one is at the far end of the hearse wiping a blemish from the windscreen and talking on a phone. His colleague is at the open tailgate, standing side-on to Gary, hands in his pockets, marking time, his polished shoes jerking up and down, up and down. Two glass doors separate him and Gary, both of them closed against the cold. Gary stares at the pale, pinched face which twitches and frowns under the shock of red hair.
Is there any friggin’ chance? Some of us have a life. Give me a friggin’ break!
More words, but Red’s lips aren’t moving.
Gary’s breathing has almost stopped. He’s light-headed and more detached now than before, in the front room. He sways then leans on the post. May appears in front of him. Smiling, she covers his hand with hers, feels tremors rattling through the rigid fingers gripping the painted wood. Leaning toward him she whispers, ‘I heard him, what he’s thinking. And you heard him. But no one else did. You know why, don’t you?’
Choking, he shakes his head but the words come as fast as a slot machine jackpot, ‘She told me, that last night. I thought it was the tablets. Passin’ it to me? You know? You know?’
May studies his face, sees confusion and distress, asks, ‘So what will you do about him?’
Gary wipes his brow with the back of his hand, saying, ‘Dunno. It’s not as if he said it out loud.’
‘But you want to do something?’
Sniffing and swallowing, he gives her a hard look, murmuring, ‘Yeah. Definitely.’
May stands on tiptoe and puts her soft lips to his ear. ‘Tell her,’ she purrs.
Chanel has him salivating as electricity surges through his groin. ‘Who?’
Words spiral into his head on hot breath. ‘You know who,’ she whispers, her tongue flicking across the fine blonde hairs covering his ear lobe.  
‘She’s dead,’ he groans, blood rushing through him, his body filled with fire.
Like a tarantula pinioning a frantic bird, May’s hand tightens on his, crushing resistance. ‘You need one minute alone with her before they come up. Hold her hands and tell her, then leave him there.’
‘This is mad,’ he hisses, trying to pull away.
May’s green eyes glitter and she digs her nails into his skin. ‘What was it he called your mother? An aul doll? Eh? Yes. So get on with it.’

Sobbing envelopes him as he pushes on the bedroom door; it moves smoothly across the carpet pile, makes a shuffing sound. His father is sitting at her bedside, stroking her hair, blinded by tears.
‘Dad,’ he breathes, ‘Dad, it’s time.’
‘Son...I know. But I can’t...’ 
Gary kneels by his father’s side, holds him. His mother lies still and calm, crisis past, pain gone.
‘Dad, it’s time. They’ll be up in a minute. You go to the bathroom and wash your face. Get steady.’
His kiss drying on her forehead, Gary’s dad stumbles from the room. Gary bends over his mother, reaches into the coffin and takes both her hands in his. They’re cool and soft. He tells her the tale and that he loves her, then places a kiss on her cheek. As he straightens he hears a soft knock on the door. Shuff. The tall guy enters the room first, smiling sympathetically, warmly. Gary steps back to give them room. As they make for the coffin lid set upright in the corner, Gary asks the tall guy if he can have a quiet word on the landing. Red says he can manage. 
They leave the room, pull the door closed. But before Gary can speak, a shriek shreds the silence. He throws the bedroom door open. 
Red is cowering on the floor, tearing at his hair, staring wide-eyed at the coffin. He turns his face toward Gary and the tall guy and reaches for them with straining arms.
         On the pale skin of his left cheek is the imprint of a hand: four fingers and a thumb glowing bright and hot, as if he had just been slapped.

 




Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Filthy



By Bren Gosling

a nice cup of tea 

Monologue for theatre. Contemporary time period.  Narrator is Doris Fletcher, late seventies. The action takes place in the spartan living room of her tower block flat. She is wearing dressing gown, slippers and a turban hat. She has a London accent.
                                                     
To people my age, the way youngsters speak these days, well - it's a like a foreign language. And there's no respect, is there? I often wonder what they teach them. When we was young we had to speak proper, else we'd get a clip round the ear. Take my gran'son Terry. He speaks fast as an express train. But he's a good boy really. Comes and visits his ol' Gran every Wednesday after college. I do 'is tea. Well, gives 'is Mum a break, and it's something for me to think about other than my arthritis and 'Bluey', my pet cockatiel. Bluey keeps me company since my husband passed, 'specially as I'm stuck up here on the thirteenth floor. Don't get out much. Lovely views though...
I'm always telling Terry he's got to slow down if he wants me to catch what he's sayin', and I try to teach him to pronounce his words right. Mind you, it was 'im who educated me in street speak, 'im who taught me wicked don't mean nothing evil and that buff aint got anything to do with a polishing rag. It was Terry who brought me the leaflet about the Silver Surfers down Bethnal Green library. Two afternoons a week I go. This volunteer chappie takes me and brings me back in the community transport minibus. He's not much older than Terry with a tattooed neck and a ring through 'is nose; 'ave to call 'im 'Rizzla', (I ask you)!
When I first went to Silver Surfers, didn't know my cursor from my dongle but the tea and company helped me stick with it. Terry gave me his old laptop when he upgraded. Set me up on Skype. Marvellous, hundreds and thousands of people online at the same time. You ought to see what I can do now! Yesterday I looked up this old map of the street where we was brought up. All back-to-back. Pulled down years ago...
The other surfers are older but I enjoy going and we have a laugh. Except recently I've had this bit of bother. One of the new gentlemen. Silver Surfers don't get many men so he was popular from the beginning. Dressed real smart and quite a ladies' man. A distinguished moustache, waxed and turned up at the ends. If I was my grandson’s age I'd probably say he was fit. Anyway, Mr. Fit is what I called him (not to his face, mind). His actual name no one could get the hang of. Something Ukrainian. I didn't get much of a look in. Gladys Peach and that Elsie from Bow who always pitches up looking like she's about to go on stage, they bee-lined him from the start. That's why I can't work out why he chose me. I never gave him any hint of encouragement.
Just before half term, we had a session on webcams and something must have clicked for Mr Fit because over the week we were off he started sending me all these pictures. To begin with it was just his face. In fact, until he got the hang of the camera the pics were more wall clock than face.  I showed Terry when he came round and he laughed and said, ‘Gran, you’ll ‘ave to send him a few ‘selfies’ too.’ He had to explain that one to me. See what I mean about a foreign language?  Even then I hesitated. I don’t like having my picture taken. When I was in my prime that was different. Had plenty of admirers back then; I was never camera shy. But who wants to see mug shots of a shrivelled up old bird like me? Mr Fit, apparently. 
He said I had a nice bone structure. Lovely eyes. Could he see a full head and shoulders?  Next day when I got back from the hairdressers I gave him what he asked for, didn’t I? My laptop’s got a built in camera so it was easy. Well, the compliments pinged up on my computer screen like confetti. True, I was flattered. I thought, Doris Fletcher, maybe this will lead somewhere special. You never know, do you? And it did lead somewhere, although special wouldn’t be the right word.
We agreed to ‘check in’ at eight the next evening. He was keen to do it earlier but I didn’t want to miss Coronation Street on the telly.  By day three he’d obviously become more handy with adjusting the camera because I got shots of him sitting down, standing up, and then close-ups of that wonderful moustache. Oh, he did look handsome. By day five, I almost couldn’t wait ’til it was time to go online. I was anticipating he was going to ask me to dinner.
He did say he wanted to see more of me. Would I mind standing up, give him a twirl. That sort of thing. Eat your heart out, Gladys Peach, I thought! On day six when it was time, I switched on, and was shocked to see him bare-chested. I mean, it was the middle of winter. There was snow on the ground. When he said I should remove my top as well, I switched him off.
On the seventh day, I didn’t want to but I couldn’t resist logging on at our usual time. He was there, waiting. And very direct. Said he wanted to show me something. That’s when the camera pointed down into his lap. Mr. Fit had turned into Mr. Filthy!
Next time I did Terry’s tea he brought a mate along. I asked him if Terry kept up with a girl; he’d never mentioned anyone. The cheeky lad winked and said Terry had no time for girls – too busy watching porn on the net. Terry jumped on him: ‘Mind your manners in front of my Gran!’ If only! Didn’t know the half of it, did they?
            And Mr. Fit? We haven’t seen him since at Silver Surfers – online or off.
                                                            ----------------

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

The Eternal Question

by Boris Glikman

drink: a cup of Russian tea from a samovar



Alexander was in his early thirties at the time of our conversation, more an acquaintance than a friend, and a distant relative. Our remote consanguinity produced a certain awkwardness in our relations. I was never quite certain whether I could be open with him, as one usually is with kinsmen. Our previous meetings were too fleeting, too fragmentary. A christening here, a funeral there. Certainly not the right occasions to strike a friendship. Only one salient impression remains in my mind from our prior meetings. It was a wedding. I chanced to direct my gaze at the opposite table, and at that moment a certain uneasiness, or perhaps rather a vague anxiety, crossed Alexander's face, like a shadow, and was gone in an instant. Such a mien stood out like a dark rock amongst the sea of bland, drunken faces.

The Fates, whose ways are unknown to the common man, noticed our separate paths. And so it came to be that on the last weekend of September an invitation was extended for me to attend a gathering at the country estate of my maternal grand-aunt. It was unclear to me of what relation she was to Alexander. Nonetheless he too received an invitation. I gladly accepted, happy to leave the metropolis where I had spent the last ten years working for a local insurance company.

As I remember, we had a long, happy day of outdoor activities. We were carefree and acted almost like children in our innocent happiness. The fresh country air was a welcome change and we savoured it like a delicacy. Our dogs took eagerly to the great open spaces of which they had no prior inkling, having been brought up in the crowded city.

It was nearing the eleventh hour. The wonderful day was coming to an end. Our companions had long retired to bed, sleeping the sleep of the saints. Such a sleep only comes when one knows that all that possibly could have been done in a day has been done. Too often sleep is an interruption, an annoyance that prevents us from engaging in our favourite activities. And so we retire to sleep in frustration and have dreams for consolation. The sleep of the saints is without dreams, for dreams are for those who do not live their lives to the fullest. I too longed for the saints' sleep, but Alexander was in the study with me. A dying fire, the only illumination in the room, greedily devoured its few remaining offerings. Now and then his face was lit up by the last flicker of a fading ember. Deep thought was etched into every line of his face, ageing him indefinably.

It occurred to me that I had waited long for this moment, to be close to Alexander, to glimpse into his unfathomable soul. I believe it was the combination of the lateness of the hour, our seclusion and the wonderfulness of the day that had passed that allowed him to open up to me, as never before. He began to speak, his voice detached and hoarse, his speech directed more at fire than at me. But I listened, avariciously catching every word that passed from his lips, my yearning for bed gone.

"Every word is a bloodless being, its life-force sucked out a long, long time ago. An insurmountable mount exists between the sublimeness of the feelings that filled my inner being as I gazed into the infinitude of the heavens tonight and the utter mediocrity of the words that we use to describe our precious inner possessions. These thoughts, these sensations are the very essence of my identity and to equate them with some trite, impotent words is to deny the very uniqueness of my experience. Yet tonight I feel an inexplicable desire to communicate.

Throughout my life a certain question has held a pincers-like grip on my mind, refusing to vacate its dwellings, until it has been demolished by the indubitable answer, a proof. To quench that insatiable doubt became of paramount significance and overshadowed all other interests a normal, balanced young man would possess. I often wondered if I was the only one affected by this damned malaise. A thought terrorised me: was this question, this doubt, a valid concern or was it just some aberrant preoccupation due to the wanderings of a spoilt mind, the product of an undisciplined and self-absorbed character? If this question could be given a crude physical form, then it would roughly translate into something like: why am I here on this Earth? Who is responsible for my existence? My parents, that is obvious, are directly responsible. But I wanted to search out the fundamental raison d'etre. I believe I have finally found it. History holds the ultimate responsibility. My chronic doubts were soothed by irrefutable facts of the past.

So often people scorn history, but history is people acting in unison, people being more than just independent units. The whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. The depth and ferocity of pent-up frustrations, resentments, aggression and idealism that is liberated by the great historical events is unparalleled in any other human endeavour. People become prey to rabble-rousers, willing to sacrifice all that is precious to them for some Great Cause.

My being is directly and intimately caused by one such cataclysmic event. My genesis was a catastrophe; war was the seed from which my existence germinated. A chain of cause-and-effect links connects my life to that of my ancestors in those momentous times. Somehow I feel that era to be an integral part of my very being." 

Alexander shifted slightly in his chair, as if trying to get a better view of the events in his mind.

"The turning point in the life of my forebears was the Revolution. The Revolution facilitated the union of the maternal and paternal branches of my family tree. It would not be inaccurate to say that the maternal twig was grafted onto the paternal tree trunk; only the Revolution could make this kind of fusion possible. 

My father’s family was always a seemingly incongruous mixture of lofty idealism and urbane sophistication. If one word could characterise it, it would be "intelligentsia". Before the Revolution they threw themselves into a wide range of intellectual enterprises and philanthropic activities. When the Revolution made its fiery entry, those forebears unhesitatingly accepted its demanding principles. Throughout the land at that time, intellectuals who previously fought only with words and ideas were asked to defend the aims of the Revolution with arms. My paternal side did so outstandingly, volunteering for the local revolutionary brigade. I believe some of them were machine-gunners on an armoured train.

While these momentous historical events were taking place, the maternal side of my family was busy looking after their old decrepit grocery store in a sleepy, provincial town. They came from a long line of small traders and had a decidedly narrow outlook on life and its possibilities. They welcomed the Revolution for pragmatic reasons. It was their hope the new regime would help them solve the problem the old regime was never able to solve. For years the family had been trying to obtain the vacant shop next door, as they wanted to expand their business. Year after year the case went in and out of court. The family had to endure the legendary inefficiency and ineptitude of a bureaucracy in its waning years. Those were the nadir years of the monarchy. I will not bore you at this hour with the petty case details."

The last ember died away, giving up the vain fight against the primordial, all-consuming blackness. I did not stir for the fear of interrupting Alexander's story. He continued, his inner truth providing the illumination that was lacking without.

"One fine August day, as summer was bidding its adieu, the Great War arrived, unheralded and unwelcome. It brought with it suffering on an unprecedented scale. No longer was there time to deal with matters not vital to the security and well-being of the country. The family's hopes of settling the case collapsed.

With the Revolution came the heartfelt belief that all the wrongs would be righted and true justice would prevail. It must be said that the grocer's family was not interested in the new social order or in fighting for the principles of the Revolution. They were the quintessential opportunists and looked excitedly to the day when the new rulers would cut the Gordian knot and enable them to obtain the vacant store. Little did they know that the new regime had its own ideas on the concept of private ownership; ideas which, unheard of at the time, were justified by the abstruse field of philosophy. The family, of course, was unable to obtain the shop next door. The real predicament that befell the hapless family happened soon after the takeover of the town by the insurgents. Their own store was confiscated by the revolutionaries and became the national property of the Great Socialist Collective.

One of my ancestors on father's side was a rising star in the revolutionary battalion, which was stationed for a time in the shopkeeper family's town. He cut a striking figure: fiery black eyes, a great moustache curled according to the fashion of the day, and the splendid insignia and uniform befitting his high rank. The duty of justifying the actions of the revolutionaries to the local populace fell on his shoulders. It was no easy task under any circumstances. The heads of the families of the town were asked to attend a meeting at the local public hall. To say the atmosphere was charged would be a great understatement. Amongst the audience was the store owner, still hoping that somehow, in some way, the flow of the events could be reversed. Always a man of action and never lost for words, the enterprising grocer managed to persuade the revolutionary to come to his home with promises of delicacies and a comforting drink. Having endured the privations of a soldier's life, the revolutionary was an easy target for the shopkeeper's enticements. 

The store owner had a young daughter, barely out of adolescence, shy and always quick to blush, and possessing a certain homespun charm. An unlikely match they were! He, a revolutionary commissar, imbued with the fresh principles of Justice, Equality and Freedom. She, a mousy daughter of a provincial shopkeeper. He needed the comfort of a family that was missing from his hectic life; she wanted to break out from the claustrophobic, stifling atmosphere of her home. They fulfilled each other's needs to perfection. Their fates became intertwined during those heady days, months and years of the post-revolutionary society. As events rolled inexorably towards their climax, a child was born—a child of the Revolution."

Alexander fell silent for what seemed an unbearable duration. I was not sure which would cause the greater offence, my staying or my leaving, and I let my mind wander over the finer  points of etiquette. My restless ruminations were cut short by his words, spoken slowly and decisively, without the shadow of the inner torment that darkened his earlier speech.

"When the winds of fate blow, we are merely leaves, picked up, carried by the gust and arbitrarily rearranged. But I have said enough for tonight. It is time we retire to beds."

Upon waking the following morning, the memory of the late night conversation immediately came to my mind. After attending to my morning toilet, I almost ran out of the room, so eager was I to see Alexander again. But, alas, he was nowhere to be found. The hostess was in the dining room. I inquired of his whereabouts only to be informed he left early without leaving any message or even saying adieu. The groundsman, who saw him leave, said Alexander looked rather distressed and seemed to be in much hurry to get out of the estate. 

I have not seen Alexander since that night. His closest relatives have given me only vague answers to my persistent inquiries as to where I could locate him. Even if he does not want to see me again, his words will be with me forever. 
 

About the author

 BORIS GLIKMAN is a writer, poet and philosopher from Melbourne, Australia. The biggest influences on his writing are dreams, Kafka, Dali and Borges. His stories, poems and non-fiction articles have been published in various online and print publications, as well as being featured on national radio and other radio programs.

 
 








Monday, 16 July 2018

Sunburn

By Iris Green

iced sangria


“Kill me!” Iris cried. “Kill me now!”

“Iris is that you?” Zach asked.

“Any second now a foul alien creature will explode from my abdomen,” Iris explained. “Kill me now before it’s too late!”

“Is that Saran Wrap?” Zach asked.

“Yes,” Iris answered. “I’ve been Saran Wrapped to this telephone pole.” Her legs and feet were wrapped together and her arms were straight at her sides. She was wrapped from her ankles to her stomach; her exposed skin squashed against the transparent wrap.

“Who did this?”

“My best friend in the whole world, Vicky.”

A horse fly was buzzing around Iris’s face. Zach flicked his hand at it until it flew away.

“The sun will be up soon,” Zach pointed out. “You’re gonna get a sunburn on those white legs." The wrapping process raised the hem of her dress up so some of her thighs were exposed. “A bad enough burn and you could get skin cancer. I think Vicky is trying to kill you.” 

“What are you doing out so early?" Iris asked.

“Going to the Grab & Save for some smokes. How long have you been like this?”

“Since about midnight. Vicky is really pissed at me, something about a boy. She can be way too competitive.”

“Aren’t you going crazy out here?” Zach asked.

“I got some sleep,” Iris answered. “I can see the big screen TV in the Hartman’s house across the street. The African Queen was on, that’s when I fell asleep.”

“What’s on now?” Zach asked. He turned to see.

“Looks like Bugs Bunny,” Iris answered.

“There’s bird shit in your hair,” Zach said, not taking his eyes off the Hartman’s TV. Iris’s short jet-black hair had a splash of white near the top of her head.

“That’s a bad omen,” Iris commented.

“Nonsense,” Zach replied. 

“A bird shitting on your head before the sunrise is a sign to go home and crawl into bed for the rest of the day.”

“My parents are taking the boat out on the river this morning,” Zach said. “You wanna come along?”

“You know I do.”

“I know you really love the river. Bring sunscreen this time if you’re gonna wear one of those sundresses. And your big goofy straw hat.”

“Here comes old Mrs. Stilman,” Iris said, her head turned to look down the street.

“In all of her blue-haired glory,” Zach chided, “and walking her mean Chihuahua. Don’t ya just love small town life? Want me to stick around and make sure it doesn’t piss on your boots?”

“I’ll be okay,” Iris assured. “You’re probably dying for a smoke by now.”

“Be at the marina by eight?” Zach asked.

“Wouldn’t miss it,” Iris answered.

Iris was right Zach wanted a cigarette bad. He meandered down the sidewalk toward the convenience store. Behind him, he could hear Mrs. Stilman.

“You’re going to get those snow white legs sunburned,” she said. “It’s supposed to be a warm day today.”

“Kill me Mrs. Stilman!” Iris cried. “Kill me now!”
 

About the author 

Iris' history of publications includes Slice Magazine, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Birmingham Arts Journal, Downstate Story, Bluffs Literary Magazine, and CafeLit. Her novel “Redemption Story” is currently under contract with Ricky’s Backyard and should be published soon. She is an English/Literature major at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois and hopes to use her learned skills to enhance her writing ability. Iris lives in an empty nest in the same town as her university with wife Bonz, five dogs, and three exotic, though unwieldy, birds.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Auburn Strands

by Edel Willliams

weak tea 


Her auburn strands were the first thing I noticed about her. That beautiful chestnut brown hair falling in waves around the prettiest face I had ever seen. She jaunted across the square and as I sat and sipped coffee in the early morning sun, my eyes tracked her every move from one side of the morning market to the other. At times she was provocative, cheeky even, using a huge smile, or a batting of her long-lashed eyes. But she got what she wanted, at a price she wanted and the stall owners, well, they got a bit of attention. As she walked away, they were left with a grin on their faces, outrageous thoughts in their heads and some coins in their hands. But when our eyes met, that was it for me. I held her gaze as she walked towards me. I could see her part her lips and her breasts rise and fall as her pace slowed and her breathing quickened. Her tongue moistened her ruby red lips as it danced across their surface. She stopped right in front of me and when I said hello and simply fell into her mesmerising eyes, she held her breath, the same way she did when I asked her to marry me a mere six months later. But the day she told me we were to be parents was the happiest day of my life. While I watched her belly swell, I thought my heart would explode with the love I felt for her.
     And now I couldn’t find her. The blast hit and I had been thrown out of our open doorway as I stood having a smoke and taking in the early morning sun. All I could do was try and focus on where I was as a cloud of dust, ash and rubble descended on me. I don’t know how long I lay motionless on the street. I sat up, encrusted in grit and pushed the loose debris off my body. A shower of grey powder fell from my hair and I wiped my hands across my eyes so that I could see better. But I couldn’t hear anything. It was almost as if someone had shut off the sounds of the world. I banged at my ears until I noticed a soft buzzing. But it whined louder and louder morphing into a piercing ringing that pulsated inside my head until I had to grip my ears in pain. I felt sick. My eyes closed involuntarily against the noise and as I leaned over to puke, I didn’t realise I’d vomited all over myself. But none of that mattered. I needed to find Maria. My Maria. While I crawled on my hands and knees towards the collapsed wreck of my front door, fighting my way through disgorging dust, smoke and debris the ringing stopped and the screaming started. Swollen voices full of agony, torment and urgent pleadings saturated the air. The noise was deafening. Turning my head slowly for the first time I realised my whole street and the streets beyond had been blown apart. But at this moment, I didn’t care how or why. As I crawled on my cut and bloodied hands, grabbing at lumps of concrete and hurling them behind me, I realised that the piercing scream I heard nearest me was my own petrified voice. I closed my mouth and continued to dig.
     I picked through the rubble for what seemed like hours. My hands were torn up and greased with my blood. My clothes smelled of puke and sweat and urine. Exhaustion caused me to feel faint and the world swam in front of me numerous times, but I resisted the urge to give in to the dizziness. I lifted up brick after brick, until pushing aside a splintered slab of wood, all that remained of my front door, I saw some chestnut curls and then a space. Panic  gripped me and I tore at the rubble and debris that lay between me and my Maria. Her hair was coal black and slick with blood. I pushed her head with my hand and called her name over and over. When I thought I heard her whimper, I screamed behind me for help and as had happened countless times in other places, the urgency of the call caused those digging to scurry over debris to help get to a survivor, - a possible survivor. ‘Maria Maria, amore mio, Maria wake up,’ I screamed over and over.
    But with every movement of my hand, every attempt I made to grab her head and turn her face towards me, reassure her, tell her I loved her, I was here, her head just sagged there, lifeless. Hands were placed on my shoulders and the helpers melted away or scurried off to help others. There was no helping my Maria. She was already gone. The wails of the old women shrouded in black who were already mourning the dead came closer, to include my Maria in their desperately lonely laments. It was at that moment that my heart ripped in two. I never realised I could feel such pain and still be alive. I lay down beside my wife, put my ear to her motionless head and prepared to die. Just as I did, there was a momentary break in the horrible wailings all around, enough silence so that I heard the weak cries of a newly born baby.


Saturday, 14 July 2018

Losing Tony


 by Gill James 

Earl Grey tea

The clock on the church tower has just chimed two. She said she would be here at three. Lunch was over and done with at one. Even the dish washer was loaded. And now it has run. It's too early to unload it. Yet I can't settle to anything else. Will she be on time? I don't know. I don't know her at all. Is she like me? Does she waste a huge portion of her life being much too early for fear of being late? I don't even know whether I want her to arrive ahead of time, so that we can get it over with, or late so that I've got more time to get myself ready.
My stomach churns. Can I keep my lunch down? Will I be able to offer her tea and will we get round to eating the cake? Is it stupid to offer tea and cake on an occasion like this? At least the weather is warm. We can sit in the garden. Being outside always makes things seem better doesn't it?
She'll be a complete stranger, won't she? I've not met her before. Just that one time in a dream.  When she was six or so and she'd managed to swim a length of the school swimming pool. I was standing holding a towel for her. Out of the water she came. Athletic and strong and at the same time so feminine and completely my little girl.
Now I can feel my own heart beating wildly and the hall clock ticking. They're in harmony. They are both counting my life away.                         

I think of the last time I saw Tony. It was a day just like this. We walked down to the corner shop to buy some ice cream. His idea and his treat. As usual I had to trot at his side like a pet dog. He eats well and he's a good cook. He remains thin because he's he walks everywhere and so fast. It's hard to keep up with him. 
He's always been a bit of an enigma, my son, my first born. Yes he's tall and strong. Years of dancing, ice-skating as well as the fast walking have made him muscular and supple. He can be strong. He's got back up after blow upon blow. Yet he can cry buckets about a sad film or the death of an animal. He is so talented and creative - and messy. Out of chaos comes beauty.   
He daydreamed as we ate the ice cream. It was as if he wanted to tell me something but couldn't quite get round to it. I knew, though, when he left that day we would never see him again. He confirmed this later by phone. And no, we've not seen him since. Not for over three months. We mourn him. He is gone from us. Forever.                               

I decide I must look my best to meet my unknown daughter. I'm glad I had my hair bleached white. It doesn't make me look old - quite the opposite. I'm sure Tony would have confirmed this and certainly his younger sister approves.        
"Just, think, Mum, you could have purple streaks put in. Tony would have loved that," she says.
Yes I'm sure he would. Well at least I can go for purple eye shadow but I stick to a more conventional lipstick shade. Who knows what she'll be into?
I decide I can't slop around in my jeans. I must be smart even if I look casual. I select a top in my best green and my beige linen trousers. Will it do? If only I could ask Tony. He was always good at helping me to find the right clothes. I got that promotion when he chose the bright pink suit for the interview. That white linen skirt he found the day he got the job at Selfridge's lasted for years. And what about those high boots he picked out when we went on the day trip to France? I wish I could ask him now.
I look at the mugs and plates I've set out and decide they're wrong. I open the china cabinet and get out our best tea set. This is an occasion. We must treasure it.   
                    
Seconds after the church clock chimes quarter to the hour I hear the clatter of heels on the footpath. I brace myself for the doorbell. I don't have to wait long. My mouth is dry as I make my way to the door. I see the silhouette of a very tall person through the frosted glass. It could almost be Tony. I am trembling so much that I can hardly open the door.
I manage at last and there she is. Soft blond curls frame her angular face. She is wearing a short shift dress in my green. What about that then. Size six, I would say. Size six for goodness sake. Well, at least she won't be stealing my clothes like Tony used to steal his father's. Her make-up is immaculate. Subtle. You can't really see it's there. A small patent leather bag hangs from her shoulder. Under her arm she is carrying what I recognise as a painting. It is wrapped in brown paper. She hands it to me. "This is for you. You might like to get it framed."
She slips off her jacket and sits down at the dining table as if she's been coming here for years.
I open the packet. I recognise one of my book covers.
"Thank you," I say. 
She nods and looks down at the table. "Oh you've got the best china out."
"Well it's a bit of an occasion, isn't it?"
She shrugs. "What's the cake?"
"Raisin parkin." I remember how much Tony used to like it.
She grins. Her face crinkles and her eyes are just like Tony's.                                 

We chat. It's as if we've known each other for years.
Then though there is an awkward silence. She puts her hand on my arm. "Should we go round to that picture-framers you told me about? I could help you chose something."
"That's a nice idea."
It's less than a mile away but it's too hot to walk. We take the car. We can't stop right outside. The primary school is emptying and lots of mums have come in cars. We have to park about four hundred yards away.
We set off.
She strides ahead. The heels don't faze her. I have to trot along, just like I did with Tony.     
She pauses and turns. "Come on, Mum."
The sun catches her hair. She looks really pretty. My lovely daughter Toni.    

About the author

Gill James writes fiction for all ages. She also works as a publisher and creative writing lecturer. 
He latest work 140 x 140,  a collection of Flash Fiction is published by Chapeltown.

www.gilljames.co.uk
http://www.gilljameswriter.eu/
http://bridgehousepublishing.co.uk/ http://www.chapeltownpublishing.uk/ http://cafelit.co.uk/ http://trtpublishing.co.uk
http://www.creativecafeproject.org/
http://www.thehouseonschellbergstreet.com/