Monday, 30 April 2018

A Field for Polly


by Bronte Pearson
elderflower cordial 

He remembers when the flowers pinched the grass and sang the biographies of the bees with each hiccup of the wind. He’d run into the field with his sister and float through the daisies like bubbles and then plop right into the flowers’ big yellow eyes while jesting about who could run quicker and who was their mama’s favorite.
            Polly had been born seven minutes after him. Every movement and sound she made reminded the world that she would always be seven minutes behind him. Her brain didn’t move as swiftly as his, and her understanding of the world was tangled like a plate of spaghetti. That’s how their mama always tried to explain her differences; she had a spaghetti brain while everyone else had a waffle brain, and that was okay because spaghetti was just as delicious, if not more. They just tasted a little different.
            Nothing kept Polly from enjoying the world, despite her differences. His best memories were because Polly made life vivacious and free. She blew with the wind and breathed like the trees. She gave life to every soul who knew her, especially him.
            Things were different now though. Life had been simpler when they could run free in the fields and play hopscotch on the driveway. Now, the world had spun backwards. Chaos ensued after the evil of the world was tempted out of hiding in the name of politics, and now they were under attack for simply existing. Their mama never told them exactly who was out to exterminate them, and perhaps that was the fault that led to Polly’s death.
            Polly didn’t understand why the sky boomed in the distance and why everyone ran after the fact. She couldn’t comprehend that people existed who failed to see the treasure within a human heart. She was a helper and a nurturer, so the moment she saw that tangerine splatter in the distance, on the one day they decided to sneak out of the house while their mama ran errands, she ran towards it to tell the plane to stop. She thought it would listen. It didn’t.
            He couldn’t run after her in time. Polly ran like a swarm of ants out of a hill towards the flood of people trying to escape the explosion. She thought she saw someone trapped in the flames, so she ran to help. He couldn’t save her.
            After Polly died, he stopped paying attention. The world had taken the most special person in the universe, and after the fact, it may as well have stopped turning.
            Now, he looks out across the rubble that used to be their hometown. Weeks have passed now since the bombing ended. People are dead, literally and figuratively, tossed up in the debris that used to be homes or schools or shops. Only a select few remained. The rest were exposed into what they really were—a conglomeration of brick, cement, and wood that now dotted the landscape like needles. The airstrikes certainly didn’t end after Polly’s death. They kept coming until everything was demolished. Luckily, most of the townspeople had been safely evacuated in time after the first couple of strikes. They were lucky and unlucky, all at once.
            They are back in town now. He walks through the debris with his mama, sorting through the wreckage in the hopes of finding old pictures and keepsakes. That’s all anyone could do anymore. They all just looked.
            He stops flipping through insulation for a moment to look out toward the field where he and Polly used to play. The flowers and the grass are gone, and the trees that lined the outskirts of the field are strewn about the dirt. The earth has been raped of its beauty, and it lies vulnerably for everyone to be reminded that not all the earth’s creations are beautiful. Some creatures survive for destruction.
            He closes his eyes and tries to picture the flowers and Polly’s face giggling among them. He feels warm tears swallow his cheeks. He opens his eyes, shakes off the image, and begins sifting through the wreckage to take his mind off the horror.
            After collecting what they could for the day, he decides to take a walk. There is no fear of destruction now that all has been destroyed, so his mama lets him go. He wanders through the sea of debris and watches as other families collect whatever belongings they can salvage. He admires the pain on their faces. He knows he shouldn’t feel delighted to see their broken hearts, but it reminds him that he isn’t alone, and that somehow makes things better.
            In the middle of what used to be the road, he stumbles upon a can of spray paint. He picks up the can and wipes the dirt from the nozzle. The can is dented on the left side, but the weight of it says there is still some paint left. He was never artistic, but the can seemed to be something worth keeping. It had survived the devastation.
            He takes the can and hugs it as he runs as fast as he can past the families in the neighborhood. He hopes no one will stop him and claim that it is theirs. This was his beacon of hope. No one can take that from him.
            Once he gets far enough to the outskirts of the town where few people are wandering about, he stops running, squatting to catch his breath, and he once again observes the can. He looks ahead and notices half of a wall standing. He can’t tell if the building had once been a home or a business, but he figures it doesn’t matter. Nothing belongs to anybody anymore. Not really.
            He approaches the wall and stares at the ash in the crevices of the brick. He hates the ash for being there. He knows it was a product of Polly’s demise. It couldn’t help but to have been born of the explosions, but he hated it all the same.
            “Polly didn’t deserve this,” he scolds the ash.
            He lifts the spray paint, presses the stiff nozzle, and moves it in shaky lines until a black flower paints the surface.
            He steps back and admires the flower and pretends it is Polly. Now, she would be the central focus of the wall. Her memory was a far more important symbol of what happened than the ash that colored the cracks. Behind the wall lies horror, but amid it, the flower shines, and if he stares long enough, the world becomes a little more beautiful again.
            He smiles and begins making his journey back to his mama, spray painting flowers on all the remaining walls along the way. He swears he won’t stop until he can resurrect Polly’s field.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Tha Last Fight


By Alan Cadman

 

a jar of porter


On Woking Common an eager crowd is baying for blood. Sovereigns are being exchanged in a flurry between the Victorian gentry. Tom looks up at his younger opponent, who has fire in his feet and iron in his fists. If he can land a lucky punch, just the one, he might beat him. Peelers are nowhere to be seen; the fight is on. Filling his lungs with the damp dawn air, Tom loosens his fogle. He steps up to the scratch and raises his fists. He knows that, one way or another, this is going to be his last fight.

Saturday, 28 April 2018

To Hold a Hand

by James Bates 

spring water

Short Bio: 
I am retired after many years teaching and doing course design for an electronics control company. I have been writing for a number of years: haiku, poetry, short and long fiction. My stories can be found posted on my website: www.theviewfromlonglake.wordpress.com


"See you later," I waved, "Hope it all goes well."
            My brother waved back and made his way to where the eye technician was waiting. His look belied his true feelings. I knew how nervous he was. His eyes were pretty bad, scarred years ago from a rare form of glaucoma. There'd be a lot of tests over the next two hours and the end result was be this: Would he be able to continue to drive or not?
            A moment later he was taken into the inner catacombs of the eye care clinic. Now it was just Beth and I.
            "Where's Tim?" she asked, less than a minute after he'd left us, "Where'd Tim go?"
            I tried to reassure her, "It's all right, Beth. He just went for his eye exam. Remember, we talked about this. He'll be in there for an hour or so."
            "Oh. Okay."
            Shit. I shouldn't have said, "Remember." I felt like an idiot. Beth is in her seventh year of dealing with Alzheimer's. She's still able to live at home, and Tim does an admirable job of caring for her, but still...you've got to stay on your toes.
            I'd brought the two of them here last year for the same tests and the entire time Tim was away from us Beth asked every five minutes, "Where's Tim? Where's Tim? Where's Tim?" She had been pretty agitated. I'd reassured her each and every time by saying, "He's just getting some tests done. He'll be back soon." But, that's how it is with memory loss; you forget.
            I was ready for the same scenario this year. After Tim left us, I made sure Beth was settled and at ease. "Do you want something to drink? Some water? Tea?" A blank look and then a shake of the head. No. "Are you comfortable? Not too warm or too cold?" A blank look, then a nod of the head. Yes. "You're okay then? A another nod. Yes.
            Okay, good.
            Beth was wearing all black today: black slacks and a black turtle neck. Our Minnesota winter was winding down, but it was still cold out, so she had on her black winter coat and black boots. Black is, was, and probably always will be, her favorite color. Today it set off her short cropped, white hair which framed her angular face. Around her neck she wore a heart shaped, polished piece of obsidian on a black cord; a gift years ago to her from my brother, worn today to, as Tim told me earlier, "To make her look pretty."
            I opened my magazine, a publication put out by the Minnesota Department of Natural Recourses. The lead article was about an artist who did plein air painting of northern Minnesota scenes, specifically of the land around the boundary waters and lake superior. They were well done, in my estimation, and I had brought the magazine along to show Beth. At one time she was well-known regionally for her elegantly exact paintings of flowers: peonies, lilies, hepatica and many other types of native plants. She called her work "photorealism" and it was not only beautiful but highly sought after. Over the course of her life she'd won many awards, and her work is still featured in galleries in the upper Midwest. She hadn't painted in over ten years, though, not since the onset of her disease.
            "Beth," I said to get her attention. She turned a sleepy eye to me and I pointed to a scene of waves crashing against a rocky shoreline near the Split Rock Lighthouse on Lake Superior, "What do you think about this painting? Do you like it?"
            She looked at the colorful watercolor: the myriad shades of blue, azure, cyan and teal for sky and water, the tones of brown,russet, amber and chestnut for the trees, the feldspar and olivine minerals of the igneous rocks, and the soft vanilla white of a nearby birch clump dotted with shades of summer green for its leaves. I gave her time, wondering what her reaction would be. In years past, she would have had an opinion, lots of them. In fact, she used to write art reviews and commentary for a local newspaper. But that was a long time ago. Today, she pondered the painting for maybe a minute before looking at me, shrugging her shoulders and silently shaking head to the negative, indicating, I guess, she had no thoughts on the subject.
            "Do you remember that you used to paint? I asked, not wanting to let go of the moment, "Both you and Tim did."
            She gave me a long look. Would she remember? She had produced nearly seven-hundred and fifty paintings over her lifetime. More than enough, to my way of thinking, to remember some of them, or least one or two, possibly her particular favorites. But, no, another shake of her head to the negative.
            "I don't remember," she said, and sat back. Then she closed her eyes as if exhausted by the effort.
            "That's too bad," I said sympathetically. I thought for a moment, not wanting to give up on helping her to retrieve a portion of her memory, tiny and fleeting though it may have been. I leaned over and said, "They were really good." I'm not sure if she heard me. Probably not. I watched her eyes darting under her eyelids, moving rapidly, engaged in a world all of her own design, her own creation. Entranced, I watched and wondered, "What could she be seeing? What was she envisioning?" After a minute, though, her eye movement slowed, and her eyelids went still. Soon her breathed deepened as she dozed off.
            I spent the first hour reading, checking my phone and making sure Beth was doing all right. She was. She dozed a bit and was awake a lot. I was happy that she was comfortable and not agitated like last year. Once when I asked how she was doing she said, "I'm fine. I like watching the people."
            I didn't blame her. This was a big outing for her. Usually she and my brother stayed home and spent the day together, their only break being an occasional walk in their quiet, tree lined neighborhood. Outings like the one we were on were becoming fewer and farther between, what with his failing eyesight and her increasing memory loss. It occurred to me that getting out like this was good for her. She hadn't asked where Tim was except for that one time when he'd first left.
            Into the second hour, I was reading and, to be honest, kind of dozing off a little myself, when I felt a stir to my right. It was Beth. She was awake. I glanced at her and smiled and she smiled back. I went back to reading. Suddenly, softly, I felt her move again and in a moment her hand slipped over the arms of each of our chairs and into mine. Her left hand into my right hand. It was cool to the touch. She gently interwove her fingers into mine and with her right hand, leaned over and covered them both. Then she patted them. She and my brother had been together for over forty-one years and in all that time, I doubt she and I had ever even touched, and certainly never held hands. Even to shake, "Hello," in a way of a greeting. We were not what you'd call a physically demonstrative family.
            I was shocked, yet, at the same time, curiously touched by her action. What would cause her to do something like that? I turned to her and smiled, "Are you doing okay?"
            She smiled back. "Yes. Yes, I am." She was silent for a moment and then added, "Thank you for being here with me."
            Well, I never...What do you say to something like that? Well, obviously, "You're welcome," which is what I said. I paused a beat and then added, "I'm glad to be with you." She didn't say anything in return, she simply smiled back at me. We were both quiet. Then I had a thought. I went ahead and seized the moment and asked her something I'd been wondering about for the last few years, "Beth, I have a question for you. Do you know who I am?"
            She gave me a long look, still holding my hand and said, "Nooo. No, I don't. I'm sorry, but I don't remember."
            "Do you know who Tim is?"
            "Oh, yes," she smiled happily and perked right up, "I know Tim."
            "Well, I'm Tim's brother," I told her, "I'm Jeremy." She stared at me. Another blank look. I added, "Like Dennis. You know. You're bother."
            "Dennis?"
            "Never mind," I decided not to push it and make her uncomfortable about not being able to remember who her brother was. I shifted gears and asked, "So you're doing okay, Beth? Should we just sit here?"
            "Yes."
            So we sat together. I went back to my magazine and read. I held it in my left hand. Beth continued to hold my right hand while she watched people come and go from the waiting room. We were quiet with each other, but comfortable being together. It was a good feeling.
            Fifteen minutes later when Tim came back and saw us he smiled, "I guess you guys are doing pretty good. He pointed to our hands, still interlocked, "Beth likes to do that sometimes. It gives her a sense of security. I'm glad you were there for her."
            He sat down on the other side of Beth and she immediately released my hand and took a hold of his. By then both her hands were nice and warm. Tim and I talked for a while about how his appointment went before we all got our coats on and left. We went out to lunch, and then I dropped them off at their home. "See you next week," I waved good-bye. I liked to visit with Tim and Beth on a weekly basis. It was good to stay in touch. Then I drove the half hour drive west to my home in Long Lake.
            I don't know if I'll ever forget that morning with Beth and being with her in the waiting room; being there when she needed someone to give her comfort and a sense of security; being there to help fill in for my brother; being there as a friend. I'll tell you one thing, though: I was glad to do it, glad I was there.
            Oh, Tim passed all of his tests. He can still drive, but with restrictions, and has to go back  next year to be tested again. I guess, now, it's a yearly thing for him. He wants to know if I can drive him and Beth. I told him I'd be happy to. 

About the auhtor 

I am retired after many years teaching and doing course design for an electronics control company. I have been writing for a number of years: haiku, poetry, short and long fiction. My stories can be found posted on my website: www.theviewfromlonglake.wordpress.com

 

 




Friday, 27 April 2018

Delphine

By Valerie Griffin

 

Gin Sour Cocktail



Delphine’s shaky hands gripped the faded photograph with its worn and ragged edges. It was taken a couple of months after Henry had left her, declaring ‘that he couldn’t do this anymore’.

Every day she stared at the apparently carefree, rosy-cheeked woman from the past. The woman with the cheeky eyes and flirtatious demeanour. It was a false coyness, she knew exactly what she was doing with her brightly coloured, slightly parted red lips, shiny and sticky with lip gloss. She’d loved that red swimming costume. It had turned heads for many different reasons. Her arms had been plump and welcoming and her then voluptuous chest fought against the constraints of the fabric. She’d bought the blue swim cap with the two large white blooms sitting coquettishly to one side as a statement.

She sighed, coughed, then winced as her now deflated and shrunken body racked and protested. This hadn’t been part of her long term plan. If only she’d known…but then, she did know. She knew the day the photo was taken. The jaunty swim cap, not there to protect her hair from the wet, but to hide the fact that the chemo had destroyed it all.


Thursday, 26 April 2018

Bats Downunder

by Mehreen Ahmed

 dessert wine

 

 

They sat by the lake. 

Mila Chowdhury did. Papri’s fiancé Rahim Rahman did. They waited for Papri. Rahim, wore rimless reading spectacles. He took them off and looked at Mila with the bare eye. Mila felt uncomfortable. She made no eye contact, but she knew that Rahim continued to look at her. Mila was distracted by a host of flying foxes headed for an unknown destination. They flew self-organised in perfect harmony. A vulture swooped low by the lake and picked up food scraps left overnight by people. Those who may have picnicked here by the lake. Or had nameless yearnings for transcendence under the midnight stars and shimmering moonlight. 

Such yearnings burned at the far end of an alley too. This place, disreputable for scandalous affairs, juxtaposed crudely to Mila’s, grandparent’s respectable House of Chowdhury, situated within a short distance in the same neighbourhood. Known as the fallen zaminders, or kings of a principality, their old money shielded them from being pushed out in the cold. It was not a bleak house. In their own right, they basked in the glory of being one of the most influential families in all of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. Patrons of art and culture, they made sure that there were never any dearth of culture in this house. The members of the family paid visits to the local cinema theatres nearly every week, streaming the dashing, postmodern hero Waheed Murad’s top hits.

Many neighbours thought this house was a fun house; endless joy emanated from here. Every evening, a huge straw mat carpeted its front yard amongst the monsoonal tiger lilies and thorny roses; a secret garden grew hidden in the foliage of juicy berries and tall neem trees. Short of an oriental paradise, the image of an idyllic moon conjured a midsummer night’s dream, in which mad Puck’s touch sparked many emotions of tenderness and romance to boot. The members of the House of Chowdhury jostled tonight on the mat to listen to their youngest son, Ashik sing. He sang love songs; songs that would easily melt the hearts of many. 

He surely ignited romance in one such woman, the neighbour Raja Hashem’s wife, bibi Khadijah. Bibi in the language meant ‘the wife’. Bibi Khadijah, the young mother of three, craved for Ashik’s company beyond the legal limits of friendship. Her own husband, failed to amuse her. And this provoked an unsavoury behaviour in turn. She moved further away from her husband and fell into an abyss of ennui. Only her love for this spirited youngest son gave her the thrill to live. Bibi Khadijah was a woman of great beauty, an enchantress by a long shot in the neighbourhood. She didn’t think that age mattered. Ashik was five years younger than her. He was only twenty-five and she, thirty.  

When the House of Chowdhury woke up to Ashik’s songs, bibi Khadijah could not restrain herself. Regardless of the various moods exuded from those songs, melancholic or lively, she thought, he sang them only for her. His love songs touched every beat of her heart. The lyrics that I loved you so much that only the moon knew its depths. Whether or not, he sang them out of deference to her, or out of actual love, no one could tell. But as time rolled by, and time and time again, those very lyrics sung in her presence, were like a call of nemesis to her ears. They left her undone. Trying to stay confined in her own house was futile. Neither could she stop listening to the songs, which could be heard anyway, because of the close proximity between the two houses, separated by a flimsy gated wall. By any stretch of imagination, on a full moon, this garden reshaped into the mango grove in her mind, where the enchanted Krishna and his Gopis came down to play. To bibi Khadijah, they seemed to perform ritual dances to the magical tunes. At behest of her muses, she felt like a Gopi herself to the amorous god, whose open invitation awaited to resume romancing.

Such unbridled thirst pulled her towards the house like a star to a black-hole; it behooved her to respond to her senses. Songs, which made her feel beautiful. She felt whole in all those jewellery and the saris she wore. They made her forget about the chores and her children and the drudgery of a prosaic husband, Raja Hashem, who seemed to live in his own world anyway; like a happy idiot, oblivious to everything.

His name, Ashik, meant lover. Ashik couldn’t deny that he too desired the young mother, bibi Khadijah; the forbidden fruit, a mother of three, and married to the neighbour. They both knew that love neither understood, nor respected any boundaries. It was literally coveting the neighbour’s wife. However, nothing could or ever would obliterate the feelings they harboured for each other. Nor keep them away from their mischievous dates. The rendezvous? What other place, but the shady end of the alley. Just as well, the alley offered lovers like them some kind of recognition, a panacea to the souls, which cured them from all kinds of afflictions inflicted by society. A place where clandestine relationships thrived. Some were romantic interlude, others more promising. It was yet to be discerned, exactly how Ashik and bibi Khadijah’s relationship transpired. 

Nevertheless, another romance blossomed right here in this house as well. A verandah enveloped the House of Chowdhury, whose privacy sheltered the lovers. Mila, saw it come to fruition. The hay-day of their lives, when the leaves of the guava trees trembled at the slightest touch of a pecking bird; its whistles whipped the core of young hearts; the agony of restive days and listless evenings; the sallow lantern didn’t quite reach the far side of the balcony. Where in this dim obscurity, another young couple sat in two cane chairs with their fingers braided into each other. This couple was not Ashik and bibi Khadijah, but a different pair of lovers from the same House of Chowdhury. 

Her name was Lutfun Azhar, and his was Sheri Chowdhury. Lutfun, had just turned eighteen and Sheri, twenty. Cousins from their father’s side, they dated here at sunset every evening. They didn’t have to go to the alley, for theirs was a more legitimate relationship. Other members of the family recognised this relationship in tacit support which encouraged them further. Mila sensed the subtle sweetness in the air. She heard their words describe the nuances of love in quiet adoration for each other, summing up to heavy sighs, and soft murmurs. They also saw that their niece Mila, watched them without a din, but they smiled at her curiosity. They were not remotely bitter, nor concerned. There was no place for such negativity in their hearts, which oozed with the ripened juices of love.

Memories were always precious. Their telltale hearts told magical stories. Impossibly intense love stories; stories of Romeo and Juliet, and Laila and Majnu, which only inspired optimism. None of these tales ever happened concurrently. Never in the exact same sequence, nor in the same place. But in completely separate moments in history. Still, they spoke of the same profound themes of love in the sacred hearts alluding to no profanity. Invaluable tales gathered like a relic in the repository of the mind. Nostalgia heavy with gripe, rekindled. Good and bad entwined. 

Lutfun was a virtuous women, kind and pious. She loved people unconditionally and her guileless smiles said it all. Her smiles beguiled everyone. She possessed a natural selflessness like the perfect Hyperborean land. Such innate endowments became stronger with every passing season. These were some of the qualities that made Sheri Chowdhury fall in love with her. The gentle lady that she was, bestowed her affections readily upon Sheri. When Mila eavesdropped on their conversations, they let her in on it. She stood there in the dark passageway and listened away to every story they told. She observed how they kissed, held hands and whispered nothings at soft twilights. 

It all seemed like a fable to Mila. That this sort of kindness should prevail in pursuance of love. Utopia, at best, something so divine that even time didn’t or wouldn’t tarnish. These were exemplary instances. However, they also provided a rare glimpse into the natural order of things of what should be, but rarely is. Like the perfect sun or the moon, or precise forces of gravitational pull, such love could find itself a home in the celestial pantheon, but few and far between. Sheri could easily die for Lutfun, as did Romeo for his Juliet.

A cloud rumbled. Mila looked up at the sky and then at Rahim, who by now had put his glasses on. He looked out at the lake unmindfully to say, “I wonder what’s keeping her?”
“Hmm, don’t know. There’s going to be a storm soon,” she said. “What should we do?”
“I don’t know. At any rate, I don’t think we can sit here anymore,” he said. “Why not come over to my place. I’ve got my car.”
“Thaanks, I can walk home. My house is not very far,” she said.
Rahim looked at her tentatively. Mila knew, he wanted her in his car somehow. But she felt awkward. What were they going to talk about anyway? Money? Investments? Those things didn’t interest her. She looked up at the layered clouds against the vibrant autumn colours meeting on the edge of a dull horizon. Rahim kept a close watch hoping that somehow she would change her mind. But Mila’s passions lay elsewhere. She was the quintessential introvert, who pondered and observed the world around her. No one would understand, nor even care for her love of incessant rain fall. The thunder, and the swishes of the gusty winds were music to her ears. Losing herself in the mists and the opaque drizzles of a ponderous sky, in her nature.

Mila didn’t respond. He got into his car and drove away in moderate rage. She didn’t understand the reason for this rage. Why would someone remotely related to her get upset? Apart from the fact that Papri Khandaker was a close friend of hers, there were no other ties with Rahim that he should be upset. Mila’s refusal to get into his car, and then to his place wouldn’t be right without her friend being present here. Her role models, uncle Sheri and the virtuous aunty Lutfun, would not approve. However, bibi Khadijah and uncle Ashik may have, she wouldn’t know. At any rate, in both cases, love had to spring both ways that brought people closer. Not force, much less anger. 

Bibi Khadijah and Ashik were just as passionate as lovers, as any other couple without a doubt. However, they would never be allowed to date in the house like Sheri and his girl-friend Lutfun. Despite the fact that Ashik was Sheri’s brother, Ashik and bibi Khadijah dated far down by the alley with all other shady couples with equally shifty commitments. At Ashik’s beck and call, bibi Khadijah came out at nights after putting her children to bed. When her husband sat with the boring evening newspaper, she snuck out courageously to meet her lover, over by the designated lover’s den. 

The lovers’ den was a cave in a small mountain conveniently located out of sight. At night time, lovers enshrined the cave with glowing candles. This was the moment when the cave became a sanctuary, illuminated with impassioned dialogues. This wasn’t the place for Sheri and Lutfun at all, but only for the strays of the moor. Ashik Chowdhury wasn’t one. He belonged to the same House of Chowdhury, a house held in high esteem. This dungeon was not the most sought after place for a lover like him. But his circumstance decreed otherwise. His amounted to an unsightly affair, a profanity, not seen in the same light of reverence as Lutfun-Sheri. 

What difference did it make anyway, Mila thought in circumspect. Why should society condemn the types of the Lady Chatterley or the Madam Bovary? Were they any different from the Laila-Majnu, and the Romeo-Juliet kind as far as love was concerned? All’s fair in love and war, wasn’t it?

It depended on how those songs that Ashik sang on evenings really affected the people in the house. Surely, for Lutfun and Sheri, they meant love and worship of utmost purity. A union of a celestial pair sanctioned by society, favoured by their elders. Every other evening, they sat beside one another on the same mat under the watchful eyes of their elders, holding hands in perfect bliss, exchanging tiny, coy smiles. Whereas, bibi Khadijah, would push herself in through the gate and hover at the fence darkly, like a dithering shadow, waiting for a welcome cry from someone to join the party on the mat. Although she and Ashik were Cupid blind as any one else in love, the elders of the House of Chowdhury looked upon her as nothing other than the beautiful, lush wife of their quiet neighbour. Clueless to their affair, however, this the family would never have condoned, if they knew so much as a word.

Her husband Raja Hashem hardly spoke to anyone, but commanded huge respect in the neighbourhood on account of it. A learned man, Raja Hashem couldn’t understand his wife’s fantasies. To him three healthy meals, clothes, and ornaments sufficed; from head to toe, bibi Khadijah was covered in jewellery like a Queen. But her insufferable ennui was hard to break. No one could. Not even her own children, apart from Ashik, could break the bounds of ennui. Although she couldn’t go even remotely close to Ashik in the House of Chowdhury, she found a full life here in-spite of it, away from the stifling atmosphere of her own. For her husband wouldn’t notice her great beauty, let alone compliment it. Deep in his studies, he lived a life of the mind, a scholar, until one day something knocked him.

One night, he decided to not to read his news-paper, but to engage with his wife. As he looked for her in the house, she appeared no where. He thought, maybe, bibi Khadijah was with the neighbours, but he wished she were here tonight. As the night progressed, he gradually fell asleep. However, when he woke up in the morning, she was still not in bed. Her side of the bed had not been slept in all night. Suspicion didn’t enter his mind, because he was not the sort. But when he entered the dining room for breakfast, he found his children sitting glumly without a mother. As soon as they saw their father, they broke down in tears. 

Raja Hashem now feared the worst. He walked over to the verandah, and found a note pressed under the heavy volumes of War and Peace on a feeble cane table by the red rhododendrons. He saw it and swiftly pulled it out from under the two tomes. It read very clearly that Raja Hashem should not try to look for her as she had run away with her man next door. Was this some sort of a joke or serious elopement? Indeed, but as Raja Hashem struggled to grapple with the reality of the situation, he read the note a few times, and then looked at his children’s innocent, sad expressions. They had no idea where their mother had gone, let alone, why she had gone. They stared wide-eyed at their befuddled father, who was at a loss for words himself. Then he grabbed his children in panic and embraced them with all his heaving heart. 

It was bold, but no act of nobility. Raja Hashem’s sanctimonious life, or at least how bibi Khadijah would interpret it, did not keep her ennui at bay. What Ashik could give her, Raja Hashem could not. The couple settled at the far end of the alley, without the blessings of the House of Chowdhury. Their elopement did not make his family proud. It caused such a turmoil, that Mrs. Chowdhury, the mistress of the house had to disown him. And Ashik, forced to part with the glory of the House of Chowdhury, thought this sacrifice justified his love for her. If Romeo-Juliet, Laila- Majnu could transcend to a metaphor for love, theirs could too one day. In the heart of it, he felt that they were equal. They had more in common, than naught. Because, in terms of the society’s rebuke, none found a sympathetic hearing from any quarters. Conversely, Lutfun-Sheri thought of themselves as the proper embodiment of Romeo-Juliet, since they fared so well. But the definition of the real McCoy of the world remained indeterminate. Because, love machines like Lady Chatterleys always justified their affairs not futile, but as just as sacred.

 

About the author:


Mehreen Ahmed is an internationally published and critically acclaimed author. Her books have been nominated for Aurealis Award for Fantasy Short Story/Novella (2015), Ditmar Awards for Best Novels (2016), and Author Academy Awards for Global Award Literary Merit and Publishing Excellence in Historical Fiction (2018). She lives in Australia.



Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Pancakes will make you happy.


by Riham Adly 

Breton cider


Ghosts from the future haunt me. I see the genesis of my new fat cells, all glorious and unhindered, going on strong in my belly and thighs. I get those flashes of premonition every time my feet carry me there—where I shouldn’t be.

Time Magazine picked its top One Hundred Influential Women carefully. None had the body shape of apples or even watermelons. They were all pears and peaches ripened to perfection.
I hear little Johnny cry, a hungry wail. He must be wiggling and kicking his little legs, shaking the crib a little. The musical mobile will distract him.   
Cortisol level going down!  My mind screams. You have work to do.
“Mommy needs this. You need it too.”  I close my eyes and whisper, imagining the tight whorl of his baby ears.  

In whiplashed seconds my serotonin-starved brain orders my limbs to barge straight into the, the….the kitchen—where I’m always defeated. At the worktable I line up my gear and all needed ammunition.

 I whip my eggs just like a good mother gently pushes her kid on a swing, increasing momentum till it’s the right amount of swish.
Will I ever be the good mother pushing Johnny on a swing, one day?
I add the milk, never spilling a drop, unlike the tears I let loose down the furrows of my chubby cheeks.
I reach out for the vanilla powder from the cupboard. All I need is a pinch. My fingers rub the magic dust before its release. A little over the top and the magic does no good.
I add in the sugar and salt. Salt likes his sugar and sugar loves her salt leaving the baking powder jealous and always forgotten, but hey, I forget nothing.
I beat in the flour. Too much force−like when a man beats inside a woman against her will− is no good. I imagine flowers, imagine hand-pulling them out, before holding them up like I hold my Johnny. I love flowers, but yanking their roots from the soil is not love. Didn’t they fall off and die anyways? Maybe plucking them out is not so bad? Yes, not so bad at all.
When the batch is all whipped and ready, I pour a dollop on the greased pan and listen to the loud sizzle.
Johnny’s cries are louder than that sizzle.
I watch the edges of the batter curl up.  I flip when it’s just the right shade of gold, like the haze at dusk when I’m drunk on chocolate kisses. Wouldn’t it be nice to have some real kisses?
The nipples of my rock-hard breasts leak into my shirt like the dripping maple syrup I pour on the golden stacks. I bring the plate and rush to Johnny. I hold him with my free arm. I place the plate on the bed and scoop a mouthful. He opens his mouth and shuffles up my painful chest.
“Here you go, little fellow. Pancakes will make you happy.”

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Love’s Eternal Flame


By Paula R C Readman

vodka on the rocks


“Your words are so bold like stolen kisses for the soul,” she said coming up behind him.

He turned away from studying her painting that hung upon the wall in the expensive gallery. “Your work,” he said, taking her face within his hands, his lips a breath apart from hers. “Is a heart racing picture of the mind, a shadowy ship that sails through the night, when love’s lingering touch caresses bare skin, and leaves footprints upon the soul like in wet sand.”

She stepped away from him, threw her head back and laughed,  her hair cascading like a peat-filled stream after a heavy summer downpour around her shoulders. “Oh Peter, it’s over, your silky words don’t wash with me.”

“You my darling dream, my eternal flame, are tearing my world apart.” 

“Such sweetness in your words brings many lovers to your bed, Peter, but I can see through your lies.”

“Okay,” he said, defeated, letting his hands dropped to his side as he turned back to the painting showing a ship, with full sails crashing against the rocks, and a lone figure on a shoreline. “At least, my love for you wasn’t wasted as it has given you fuel for your paintings, Connie.

Monday, 23 April 2018

Crosswords and Clear Skies for a Sunflower


by Maria Zach

Americano, no milk

We bonded over crossword. Do you, by any chance, know the currency of Romania, she asked me. Our relationship escalated to pancakes for brunch. After we exhausted the newspapers on our floor, I went up to the library two floors above and nicked newspapers from there. Before long I was banned from the library. She couldn't walk up two sets of staircases. So we thought up puzzles; designed our own crosswords. When she tired, she mused out loud - I wonder whether the sky is clear. I'd disengage the brakes and wheel her outside and she'd turn her face up and tell me, I feel like a sunflower. Pretty little sunflower, I told her. Perhaps, I should have asked - how does one feel like a sunflower.


Sunday, 22 April 2018

Brotherly Love

by Robin Wrigley

campari and ruby grapefruit juice

 

On one of the centre aisle tables sits two elderly ladies tucking into a meal as though it might be their last. Their table fortified by various paraphernalia used to enable their perambulations. A blue four-wheeled contraption with handlebars, brakes and a small satchel-bag made to assist the user to remain upright while walking; a pair of metal and plastic crutches for the other lady. There is very little conversation between them, their concentration confined to their eating. As their father taught them as children, ‘we come to the table to eat, not talk’.
     At another table two well dressed women with a young baby in a highchair to one side. The child seems happy and well-fed; its podgy, pink cheeks gives the impression of a kookaburra chick seeking a feed from an attentive mother hen as it takes intermittent sucks on a proffered feeding bottle. After a satisfying gulp, happily pushing the bottle away and attempting a small handclapping exercise that results in a rattle hitting the ground for the ladies to retrieve.
     Gerald sat there looking around as he did on the Friday lunchtime’s he had been coerced into agreeing to meet his sister, Jenny for lunch. She is late as usual. Fortunately, this assignation doesn’t happen too often and after half an hour, she would realise they didn’t really have anything in common and would invent a need to leave early. But at least it put her mind to rest that she was maintaining family ties now that her husband Frank, who passed two years ago, was no longer there to share her daily life.
     Lucky bastard, Gerald thought, especially now he was the listener to all of her ailments, a myriad of minor aches and pains that nobody ever died of. He recalled with a wry smile one of the last times he visited Frank in the general hospital with his sister. Though she was there to visit her dying husband she used the time to recant her own physical ailments. Frank had looked fed up and whispered to Gerald that ‘he wished her tongue was as tired as his ears.’ Caught up in her own laments his remark escaped her.
     Gerald had returned from a lifetime in Africa where at least he’d been happy as a celebrity by virtue of the colour of his skin and his comparative wealth. Also there was the lovely Joyce who joined him most weekends and never took anything for granted. They were the happiest years of his life. Now, as he looked around he wondered why he had bothered to return to this, his homeland.
     He begins to think like a wildebeest, when the grazing area goes deathly quiet because the herd has shifted, unbeknownst to the animal who suddenly finds itself alone and vulnerable. For Gerald though, the maddening silence is instead replaced with ceaseless chatter which proves far more disconcerting than the eerie silence of the veldt.
     He looks over to his left at the next table beyond the elderly ladies, who having finished eating are discussing possible seconds. Beyond them a middle aged couple sits without talking in that air of boredom that surrounds two people whose only common attachment is a band of gold. They are both well dressed for such a time and place; the small feathery headwear on the lady probably indicates they are about to attend a wedding or some such occasion and need to kill some time.
     One table down from them sits another couple acting out a familiar scene of the Spratt family. They are casually dressed and the waitress is just serving their order. The man has a colourful, healthy looking salad plate while the lady is served what appears to be a huge hamburger accompanied by a miniature tin bucket of chunky chips stacked neatly on top. They are big enough to act as wheel chocks for a light aircraft.
     On her return to the counter the waitress approaches Gerald’s table; she stops to say that his wife has just arrived indicating with her eyes the entrance door. He follows her gaze in a dream thinking it might be the ebony features of Joyce but no a tall thin woman dressed in mauve is waving to him, a cool smile under newly coiffured hair.
     ‘Oh that’s just my sister.' He sighs. 'Thankfully, not my wife. She won’t stay long.’



Saturday, 21 April 2018

Crazy Old Wilbur


                                                                           by James Bates                                                                           

                                                                       English breakfast tea

The two old friends, Becky Johnson and Maggie Jones, were among last ones to stop by Wilbur Smith's estate sale. Dead now for two weeks everyone in the small town of Long Lake had wondered what was to become of the house, or Crazy Old Wilbur's place, as the small stucco home on Lakeview Avenue was referred to.
            Wilbur's wife had died twenty years earlier and she'd been sixty-five. Wilbur, everyone guessed, had been around the same age as she was back then, putting him at eighty-five or so now, this year of his own demise. Anyway, he'd been retired when Edith Smith had passed, that was for certain. What he'd been doing in all those years as a widower was anybody's guess. Becky and Maggie had their opinions, reinforced by what they'd seen wandering through Crazy Old Wilbur's place that bright spring afternoon. The day of the estate sale. The day when everything the old man owned was on display for all to see.
            "No children, I guess," Becky said to Maggie, pawing through a table full of old men's and women's clothes.
            "I heard that they had kids, but they were all dead," Maggie said, picking up and quickly discarding an old bra of Edith's. "Jesus, this thing has to be fifty years old. Didn't that crazy old coot ever get rid of anything?" She took out a handkerchief and diligently wiped off her hands.
            Becky looked around, hands on hips, surveying the tiny living room jammed with boxes of old clothes and tables full of every kind of piece of junk one could imagine being accumulated over one's lifetime: kitchen ware, old lamps, furniture, magazines, newspapers, etcetera, etcetera. And then there were the tools; boxes and boxes of tools, mostly gardening related. Wilbur had been a gardener, that was for sure, and he had the tools to prove it: trowels, hoes, hand held claw shaped things that looked dangerous to the uninformed; all kinds of gardening paraphernalia, hoses, shovels, pitch forks, wheel barrels. Tons of stuff, really.
            The two friends picked through the boxes, more curious than anything, before finally deciding that no, not today, thank you very much. They didn't need any of Crazy Old Wilbur's junk. Not one little bit. In fact, what they really wanted to do was to spend a solid five minutes with some soap and warm water getting cleaned up.
            "Let's get out of here," Maggie said.
            "Lets," Becky responded, "Why don't you come over to my place. After we wash up we can have some tea. Maybe a nice cup of Chamomile?"
            "Sounds wonderful," Maggie said and checked her watch, "It's nearly five. They'll be closing soon, anyway."
            The two old friends made their way through Wilbur's lifetime of debris and went out the front door. It was early May and the sun was low behind the back of the house, bathing the front yard in golden late afternoon light. It was a yard planted from boarder to boarder and meticulously cared for. Right up until his passing, Wilbur had continued to maintain and improve upon the gardens he and Edith had begun planting when they had first moved into the little cottage style home on Lakeview Avenue over fifty years earlier, back in the mid sixties. Even though Wilbur and Edith were reticent by nature, gardening was their passion. Throughout the years they had dug up the lawn and planted flower and vegetable gardens in both the front and back yards. They were gardens that neighbors had not only enjoyed the sights of, but even begun to depend upon, looking forward every year to new displays of gladiolas and hollyhocks and whatever else the quiet couple decided to plant; the same gardens that Wilbur continued to nurture and maintain even after Edith's passing, the old man carrying on their floral tradition in spite of the death of his wife.
            On this day, bright tulips of yellow and orange and mauve and red were blooming in profusion. Mixed in were white narcissus, yellow daffodils and even some tiny blue cilia. Maggie and Becky paused on the front steps to take in the colorful scene.
            "What's going to happen with the gardens?" Becky asked.
            "I heard someone bought the house and they're going to tear it down. Bulldozer it to the ground and build one of those big new ones. I'm assuming the gardens with go, too. I guess it's supposed make everything easier."
            "A brand new house?" Becky looked up and down the street; a quiet, tree lined block of predominately one story bungalows built a hundred years earlier. "It'll look stupid here, won't it? A big, huge house. It'll look out of place."
            "The price of progress, I guess," Maggie said, "Time marches on."
            "Phooey," Becky spit out derisively, "Maybe it marches on, but that doesn't mean that it has to go in the wrong direction."
            Just then Jacob Fry, the man in charge of the sale, stepped outside for a cigarette. He lit up, blew a stream of smoke away from Maggie and Becky and said, "Say ladies, I couldn't help but over hear you talking about Crazy Old Wilbur's house and garden."
            The two friends both made it a point of waving Jacobs cigarette smoke away. Becky said, "Yes, it'll be sad to lose these lovely gardens. They're so pretty."
            Jacob looked at her with interest, "Who said anything about losing the gardens?"
            "Well, that's the rumor, isn't it?" Maggie said.
            Jacob laughed, "It might be the rumor, but it's a rumor that's wrong. Wilbur Smith loved these gardens. He'd never let anything happen to them. In fact," he leaned close, an air of the conspirator about him, "I guess I can tell you," he winked, "You can keep secret, right?" The two old friends nodded and Jacob continued, knowing full well that what he was about to say would be all around town by the next day, if not sooner. He didn't care, in fact, he was counting on it. "Wilbur left his land to the city for green space."
            "What?" Maggie and Becky managed to sputter at the same time. They were both incredulous. "Green space? Crazy Old Wilbur? What the...?"
            Jacob held up a hand to interrupt the two friends and their sputtering, "Yeah. Although he didn't call it green space. He said, 'I want the city to have it. I want people to enjoy the gardens just like Edith and I have. It'd mean a lot to the both of us.' At least that 's the way I heard it from Sam Rickenbacher on the city council."
            "Well, I'll be..." Becky started to say.
            "...damned," Maggie finished her friend's thought.
            "Yeah," Jacob said, "It was a wonderful gesture on his part. At least I think so, anyway."
            Then he stopped talking while he smoked, taking his time while looking out over the pretty front yard, bursting forth in a profusion of springtime color. Becky and Maggie joined him, all three quietly enjoying the peace and serenity of Wilbur and Edith's gardens. They even saw an early arriving bluebird.
            When Jacob was with finished with his cigarette, he bent down and ground it out in some soil and stuck the butt in his coat pocket. Maggie and Becky watched and shook their heads, in complete and shared agreement regarding the filthiness of Jacob's habit. He stood up, looked at the kindly old ladies and said, "He did a good thing, Crazy Old Wilbur did. A real good thing." He smiled and went inside to close down the estate sale.
            Captivated by the magic of the beauty of the front yard, the two friends stayed on the front steps for a while before leaving. It had been a long day and they were both looking forward to that refreshing cup of tea Becky had offered earlier. As they walked past a particularly color clump of daffodils, they both remarked how happy they were that the gardens were not going to be destroyed but would remain into the future for all to enjoy.
            A few hours later, the sun had set low in the west casting long shadows over the gardens, gardens that now and forever would be referred to as the Long Lake Gardens and Green Space. Nobody figured the old couple would mind the name at all. Not on little bit. Not as long as the flowers Wilbur and Edith had planted continued to bloom.
            Besides, that's the way the old couple wanted it.
            The last words Edith, or Edie, as Wilbur had affectionately called his wife - his favorite name for her for the fifty-odd years they'd known each other, starting in grade school and continuing on for all of their married years - the last words she ever spoke to him were, "Take care of the gardens, Will. Please take care of our flowers." Then she was silent for a long moment before softly adding, "Please..." It was the last word that escaped her lips with the last breath she ever took. Will, as Edie had affectionately called him all those years, held his dear wife close for one last time. For many minutes, actually. When he finally stood he looked around the room and wondered how he was going to spend the rest of his life without her. A life he'd be the first to admit, if anyone asked (and no one did), was so much more empty now without the love of his life in it. The love of his beloved Edie.
            So, years later, when the same cancer took over his body that had taken over Edie's, Will didn't protest. He didn't seek treatment, and he didn't try to get better. He reasoned it this way: What was the point? He'd lived long enough. It was time to move on. It was time to be with Edie.
            He knew what he needed to do. He'd figured it out long ago. He went ahead and contacted the Long Lake City Counsel and told them of his plan. After a few weeks of back and forth meetings, Wilber's plan was approved in a closed door session. When he heard the news, he sighed in relief. "Now I can let go," he thought to himself, "Now I can join Edie. Now I won't be alone anymore." Two days later he died at home in his sleep.

Maggie and Becky and their friends and neighbors walk past Wilbur and Edith's gardens every day. It's mid July, the little stucco house is long gone and the spring flowers have long ago faded Now it is glorious summer and the summertime flowers are in bloom: purple and white phlox, terra-cotta coneflower, blue bachelor buttons, yellow sunflowers and a myriad of other plants and colors. "It's a riot of color," neighbors say proudly to anyone who asks. "It's the best garden in the city, if not the entire county," they are quick to add. Whether or not that statement is true or not, it doesn't matter, because for Crazy Old Wilbur's neighbors, they are as proud of the notoriety of the gardens as if they were their own. Which, in a way, they are.
             Though Wilbur has been gone from the world for three months, his and Edith's gardens flourish. The city has provided jobs for kids from the local grade school and middle school and high school, just like Wilbur had requested. Being young, some of the kids (but not many) need proper supervision, and Jacob Fry is just the person to do that. He's firm, but kind. The kids like him. So, yes, the gardens are profiting by the meticulous care the school aged children are giving them. Everyone agrees, they've never looked better.
            Do Wilbur and Edith watch over the city's new green space? Does the reclusive couple know how beautiful their flower gardens continue to look? Maggie and Becky often wonder. They've taken to walking to the Long Lake Gardens and Green Space every day to sit and relax on one of the teak wood benches scattered here and there. Some mornings they even bring along their tea and sip a refreshing cup of chamomile. It's a perfect way to begin the day, nestled among the pretty flowers, twittering song birds and busy bees and butterflies. Of course, they'll never have an answer as to whether or not Wilbur and Edith are watching over the new green space, and they really don't care. What the two friend do know, however, is this: really, when it came right down to it, maybe Crazy Old Wilbur really wasn't so crazy after all.

About the author

Website: 
www.theviewfromlonglake.wordpress.com

I live in Long Lake, Minnesota with my life-partner. I enjoy walking, gardening, bird watching, reading, writing, bicycle riding and playing with my four fantastic grand kids. I'm retired after working many years as a sales and technical development and training instructor. I collect old marbles, vintage dinky toy race cars and YA books from the 1900's and am a passionate yo-yo player. Life is good. I am a fortunate man.