Saturday, July 31, 2010

Am I Beautiful



"What's the key to  you're heart?"

"What kind of question is that?"

"Don't answer my question with a question. No, I'm serious, the key to a man's heart is his stomach they say, what's the key to your heart?"

"Don't mind a nice feed but food is sustenance, not a key"

"Then what is it? What is the key to your heart. How do I unlock that latch?"

"OK . . erm beauty"

"What? That's a bit vague"

"OK beautiful women"

"Am I beautiful?"

"Sometimes, well you were"

"Am I not beautiful now?"

"Oh for goodness sakes, we've been married 25 years aren't you over that already?"

"No . . I would  like to think you still find me beautiful and that I have the key to unlock your heartl"

"Of course I do, your lines are created by experience, your curves, through childbirth, your eyes by wisdom, your hair through longevity, your hands by labour, your smile by love. Of course you're beautiful, I love you. You're the most beautiful thing I've ever seen."

"So you think Im beautiful? Am I the lock and you the key?"

"Absolutely"

"Unless . . you're Megan Fox."

*slap*


Posted for Magpie Tales 24

Friday, July 23, 2010

Charlie

A car backfires. A flinch. Perspiration beads and soaks a visible V on the front of his dark T-shirt. His skin effervesces and prickles. He begins to itch. She stands behind him on the sidewalk and places two firm hands upon his shoulders and grounds him.  "Lofty? You OK?" She whispers into the back of his neck, brushing its nape with her warm breath. The big man turns to face her and lies, “Yeh. I’m fine, just made me jump a little.”  Inside his heart is arrhythmic, the adrenalin courses with terminal velocity from his toes to his fingertips. Her touch helps him relax and he begins to breathe.

They walk arm in arm but there’s not the closeness of the past.  His hands are in his pockets. It's she who craves the contact. He retreats when she tries to kiss and trades the gesture for a gentle index finger, bent and brushed gently against her cheek. Yet, he loves her, he always has and always will. She is his sweet Lorraine.
 
He towers above Lorraine. An attractive and imposing man, he's easily noticed but quietly spoken.  He's carrying a little weight these days but not so much that you'd notice. "The good life catching up," he says dismissively. She loves the fact that he has a slight pot belly, it's his only flaw.  Grey locks are distinguished, kind eyes hide a secret but he has a smile to melt the soul. The traces of a handsome youth are still perceptible on his barely-lined, clean-shaven face.  He is her gentle giant and she loves him to distraction.

He's been a good husband and provider despite a painful past and she knows women find him handsome and desirable. God knows there are enough 40 'somethings' out there to tempt. They stare and coo and tilt, giggle like schoolgirls when they meet him with desire on their lips and infidelity in their hearts. Oh yes, he's quite the catch, even in his latter years. That kind of attention, she can do without.  She'll have nothing of the cougars, he's her man and that is that.

Lorraine is a ‘pocket rocket' with a big mouth and nasal twang which belie her country origins. The Grafton girl inside, now all citied up and living in the burbs. She's looked after herself, stayed slim, well groomed and subtley fashionable. The woman can talk but since he is a quiet man, she fills the gaps, punctuates his pregnant pauses and leaves him with his thoughts. No need to talk while she’s on a roll. Can't get a word in edge ways.  Except lately.  These days she struggles to form the words. These days she’s not sure she wants to know the answers to the questions yet unspoken but milling in her mind. 

Lorraine is sick with worry.  Her intuition is acute and while she can't quite put her finger on it, all is not well with Lofty. He’s distant, uncommunicative. Often absent even when he’s present. He's dispassionate, secretive, edgy, agitated. He has nightmares and hallucinations, he drinks too much, stays up too late.  On the rare occasions they make love, he no longer takes the time to explore her petite form with his large but gentle hands or to lavish  her with languid kisses and sexual caress.  Lofty is definitely off his game and she's afraid. She’s afraid he’s seeing someone else. The dream invader lurks while night envelopes and she lies awake pondering his infidelity and wondering how she couldn’t know or tell.

There’s no smell of woman on him, surely she'd know if he were having an affair. But this unspoken divide, this gaping space between them is widening in slow motion, leaving her stranded on the leeward side and pushing him further asunder. 

They lie together but with no intimacy, a warm breeze billowing the curtain lace. Their bodies visible beneath just sheets, whilst unwanted blankets fall in gentle folds at the bottom of the bed, landing in luxurient piles upon the polished floor.  She turns to face him pillowside,  “Why don’t we make love so much any more?” She softly quizzes. He is oblivious to her carnal preparations and looks past the fact that she is naked, ripe for the plucking,  “Awe love, it’s not you, it’s me. Just not in the mood tonight”  he whispers, then pats her on the hip as any man would a beloved pet and rolls to face away. His eyes avoiding hers, his eyes avoiding sleep, his eyes welling with silent tears of guilt. They both lie there with their forms connected but not entwined.  It's praying on her mind and unhinging his.

Lofty has a secret. One he’s not yet prepared to tell. He's tried everything to sever these ties using reason and persuasion but it will not end. His companion is inextricably entwined and will not release him, ever. He's tried to shake this shackle but the other will not be discouraged and even lunged toward him with a blade not so long ago, inflicting a three inch vertical gash into his wrists that pumped red until he fainted.  Lorraine deemed this self-harm and forced  him into therapy.  He'd complied since he could not tell her the truth. He held his secret fast, although he desired to be wanted to be a better man, to be reunited in his wife's affections, to be a faithful husband, a diligent lover, the man that she once knew.  But she would never understand and divulging his indiscretion would mean the death knell for his marriage.

He makes his clandestine rendezvous without stirring  his wife. Tip toes across the polished floor with silent steps and through the partly opened door. She sleeps the sleep of angels whilst Lofty isn't there, unaware that next to her is just the indentation of his body, a stray silver hair upon his pillow.  As morning light filters through and REM sleep stirs her dreams, he slides cautiously between the sheets before she wakes to see him there, oblivious to his wonderings.

Things are bad some nights.  Prone in the dark, basking in the heat, beads of sweat trickle from his furling brow, racing bizarrely down his temple before dropping to the pink pillow case and staining it magenta. His head spins with the drone of bugs and the rhythmic circulation of the ceiling fan. When he can resist no more, he drifts. Heavy reluctant lids blink slowly then close and white noise intensifies as sleep takes hold. He dreams the dream he dreads. He dreams of his secret.  He tosses and turns, he groans, shouts and sobs until her gentle hand touches his shoulder once again and the normally strident banshee gently whispers, "Lofty honey, it's OK, I'm here, Shhh, shhh."  He turns towards her body and submits to an unconscious embrace.   At least his secret drives her husband into her arms on such occasions and for this she is eternally grateful. Eventually the noises in his head subside, he spoons her tight but feels the presence of the other waiting in the wings, peering through the cracks, jealous of the moment. He thinks about the pistol in his bedside drawer. His secret doesn't know it's there. Neither does Lorraine.

 "Lofty, this has to stop" she chides as the night terrors take hold once again. Her lack of empathy embitters but he understands. His hands begin to tremble and he's developed a nervous tick.  He can't divulge his secret, he can't confess his sin, he can't let it and fears he's going insane.  Lorraine will see him committed, or his secret will see him dead, such is his paranoia. If Lorraine knew, she'd harangue him about psychiatrists who'd probe his inner sanctum and expose what lay within and this he would not permit, not for love or money.  He will not be judged, drugged up or locked up so he keeps it all inside, seething under the surface, raging with a smile. But his secret won't be silenced and knows the truth. It sees, it teases, it provokes and is becoming impatient with its life in the shadows its existence unacknowledged.

This night it is becoming unbearable, his secret wants out. The voice in his head become intense. The panic and taste of bile rise in his throat as his secret whispers a name, 'Charlie' and begs to be divulged.

It's Charlie who is the subject of his infidelity and midnight wonderings. It's Charlie who brings the devil and his hoards incarnate when he dreams.  It's Charlie who's whispers are constant. It's Charlie who reminds him of the gunships, agent orange and who laughs while pointing out the twisted and dismembered bodies on the ground, the battle-scarred and bleeding, the broken and the wailing.  Children scorched with napalm, forests stripped of foliage, entrails on the trail, the incessant thud of rotors and the cacophany noise as they do their dastardly work.

 It's Charlie who steals his time and makes him flinch. It's Charlie who will not let go and wants him in a body bag. It's Charlie who peers between the door jamb and watches him make love. It's Charlie who makes him jump with a car's backfire. It's Charlie who wants his life.  An epiphany emerges. Charlie wants his wife.  His marauding hands upon her breasts, his thin lips  upon her neck. It's Charlie who wants him out of the way so he can own Lorraine, his last vestige of normality.

Lofty is determined, cold rationality takes hold and he is totally in control. The white noise ceases, the voices are silenced. No secrets, no lies, it must end. He's going to kill tonight. He extends a tanned and muscled arm to the bedside table, silently opens the drawer, slowly winds his fingers around the grip and pulls out the pistol . . .



Posted as a Tenth Daughter of Memory contribution to "The Morning After"
Also for Magpie Tales 24

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Jezebel

Rosebud adorned walls illuminated as morning sun encroaches over newly painted sills. The window shadows dance across her bed flashing daylight in her eyes and she wakes. The house is quiet with little more than birdsong to punctuate the silence as she rises and glances towards the clean pressed clothes upon the chaise. Defiance crosses her visage as she resolves, “Not today!”

Today she is feeling festive, today she wants to flirt. Today she is gregarious, geared toward glamour. Without any particular place to go and with no particular reason in mind, she decides to be flirtatious, ignore the neatly folded attire and step outside the square.

Deep within her wardrobe hides a dress for Mardis Gras. Shoestring strapped and sleeveless, slimline to the waist then Fiesta ruffles emanating from the hip and she feels oh so Flamenco. Kicking back one leg the fabric unfurls, soft and fluid. She is a rainbow ice cream swirl and spins until she’s dizzy. The melee of hues dissolving into a spiral curl. “Perfect!” She's happy with her choice.

Feeling incomplete without the accouterments, she swoons before the dressing table still reeling from the dance. Soft dark curls are brushed with the care of haute coiffure,100 strokes she had been told but loses patience after 20 as the waves spring wildly into place.

She runs fingers over each cosmetic, from lipstick to eye liner, examining each tube, case and compact with the intensity of an artist contemplating which sable brush will complete his masterpiece. She settles on a fuchsia gloss to complement her dress. She twists the tube evocatively, elevating its proud pink blush and draws the moist, waxy colour from outwards to centre across her lips. She rolls lips and kisses the mirror to assure an even coat. So pleased with the effect and the brightness of the hue that she draws delicious hearts of pink upon her own reflection, “Lovely!” she thinks as she admires her handiwork but does not enunciate the word. Mascara next. She twists the dainty brush, prizing it from its rest as if drawing a fragile silken thread. Highlights of black tenderly applied to already long, dark lashes accentuate their thickness and curl. A sweep of bronze blush across her cheeks complete the party girl.

She garnishes her arms with chimes of silver, dinging and jangling, clinking and tinging. Sweet Romany music with each flick of the wrist. She's in a gypsy mood and they complement her look. A string of coloured beads adorn her silken throat, the look almost complete, she slips on her pretty strapless shoes and swirls effortlessly into the sunlit day.

Sashaying down the street she views her reflection via sideways glance towards each shopfront window. Oblivious to her surroundings, she curtsies to her mirrored friend and strikes a dancer's pose.

Towards construction sites she wonders but all she sees are flowers blooming from dark doorways as she meanders through an imagined and animated world of colour, sound and song. She is bewitched while being watched.

They’re on roof trusses and on ladders, smiling down or hodding bricks. They whistle and wink, laugh and taunt as she passes by. One wolf-whistles loud and sharp making all turn to cast their gaze. She is coy and flattered, smiles and accepts it anyway. Why not? She’s in her party dress and feeling good today.

She sidles close to men who pique her interest. A few sit round a tiny stove preparing solder, eating chips and sipping from enamel mugs. Real men, big men, tough men in blue singlets, their white hankies tied at corners and spread across their shaven skulls. They have muscles and bristles and hair upon their chest. They wear steel capped bother boots and rub their calloused hands. They’re tanned and sinewy with labour, smelling sweet with sweat. They laugh towards each other and speak rough talk that she can’t quite comprehend. Their accents aren’t familiar but upon spying Jezebel, they cajole her into lingering and linger she does.

She’s not shy today. Perhaps on any other day she might have been frightened by their gruffness but she’s in her party dress and a perfect pair of heels. She’s all glossed gussied and guileless so willingly accepts.

They’re sweet to her these burly boys. Four of them in all. They offer compliments and hot chips and she marvels at the little pot of solder that dances as she does. They give her tea in a mug, sweetened with condensed milk. They ask her where she lives and compliment her looks. They request a twirl to show off her dress and they admire her, legs, her lovely shoes. They comment on her luscious lips and lascivious lashes. She tells far more than she should until . . . mid-sentence . . . she's aware of an encroaching shadow, shading her moment in the light.

A woman with tears in her eyes, her hand upon her decolletage breathing gasps of horror and relief swoops upon our Jezebel.

“Oh my sweet pea, I was worried sick, you’re miles away from home. You know you’re not to wonder beyond the garden gate!”

“Just talking to the building men” quivers our Jezebel, now fazed by her mother’s anguish, bangles jangling as she pouts and puts a finger in her tiny mouth, still salty from the chips. Salt water trickles down her cheeks.

“God! Look at you in your best dress and my Jimmy Choos! Where’s your tricycle?


Her mother thanks the burly boys for their kindness and attention. They laugh and stand and bow as tiny Jezebel leaves their kindly court, she smiles through her tears at her Musketeers four as a firm but loving hand pulls her away.

Tomorrow she will wear the clothes draped neatly on the chaise but today she's feeling festive, and full of tea and chips.




Posted for Tenth Daughter Of Memory - "The Morning After"




Friday, July 16, 2010

Epiphany

He smokes his last cigarette and dwells on the ebb and flow of the tidal river. Sitting slumped on sun-warmed concrete steps, he's dressed casually in faded jeans fashionably slashed across one knee and a loosely fitting T, its brand name bragging 'surfer' although he’s never waxed a board.  Early morning joggers pass a cursory nod and exhale misty breath in the early morning sunshine while he watches gulls scramble for scraps and scrap among themselves whenever scraps are found.

The baby stroller is parked with the break on fast and a Botticelli angel sleeps within. Her tiny hands tucked to her side, her cupid lips relaxed and flush, eyelashes thick and curled, her plump little cheeks just begging to be kissed.

He takes a deep drag on his cigarette, contemplates the swirling smoke and the accidental ring that rises like a halo before his eyes. Then the pang of guilt slugs him and he stubs it out half finished. It’s not the guilt of smoking in front of the infant that has him reeling, it’s the darkness in his soul that wracks, the dangerous thoughts, and the resentful bitterness. Then there's the temple-bruising epiphany. It's his predicament that causes guilt and brings him to this point of desperation. He doubts his sanity. He is sinking into depravity and connivance as he hatches an ill-thought out plan.

Qualifications came easily, establishing his own business did not. He plied his trade with skill and a deft hand. His work was quality, he knew that, but being a good provider had proven a daunting task when faced with competition. He found himself overworked, overwrought, over anxious and underpaid. He struggled to administer and drowned in paper work, bad debtors and keeping track.

She is a professional, in the full glow of her career. All she touches spins into gold whilst his world crushes to ash. She thrived and still does, she's well-regarded, articulate, beautiful, so very beautiful.

He loves the sweeping French roll of her hair and the slim lines of her skirt as it hugs her curves and accentuates her shape. He loves the rhythmic click of her stiletto heels as her slender form diminishes, moving closer to the exit. He smiles at the tantalising sway of her hips. She has feminine wiles and knows how to use them to get just what she wants. He loves the ritual flick of hair and the sight of her manicured hand as she sweeps up her keys before twisting shoulders to give that provocative glance towards him, mouthing “I love you!” as she leaves. If only he could believe her words.

She has never been a natural mother. She loves their angel but instinctive she is not. As a bitch introduced to C-sectioned pups, she had trouble bonding with her child and the pleasures of maternity. Soiled nappies and ‘posit repulse her. Breastfeeding offered no euphoric ‘let down’ or maternal swoon, as it did for other women. The drudgery of domesticity made her melancholy and morose and he longed to see her happy. So their roles are now reversed and he is now mother.

She is barely present, he is always there. She revels in her work, he tires of domestic bliss. Their lovemaking has dwindled from the passionate and risqué exploration of each others bodies to blasé and boring.

As he whiles away the morning in the soft winter sunshine, he looks at his angel’s face with anguish. This is not all it’s cracked up to be. The child has brought them pain and disorder, discord and discomfort. They should never have had a baby. Neither was prepared, yet here this tiny thing is driving them apart.

Eyes glazing and nerves unfeeling, he gently turns the stroller towards the ebbing tide, careful not to wake the child. He flicks the break loose with a deft touch from the tip of his boot and effects a tiny push. The stroller slightly jolts and begins to roll. A sleeping baby winces but does not stir.

Suddenly conscious of his despicable desperation, he springs sprightly to his feet and reigns in the errant carriage. How could he even think to harm this perfect blend of them, let alone act upon it? Shame pervades his being, soaks his soul so deeply he doesn’t even glance to see if anyone has noticed. He looks down at this perfect thing made out of imperfection and the blood drains from his face.

He flicks on the break and tucks the child in gently. He strokes her tiny cheek, corrects a wayward curl. Tears well, as contemplation of such darkness fills his heart to breaking. They fall sparingly on to the pale pink blanket forming polka dots of cerise.

Another epiphany whacks him on the side of the head - he needs to get some help.

Contribution for Theme Thursday on a Friday . . . run along now and see if you can help some others . . .

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Burkha

Christmas Eve and he's pissed off. He should be with his family in Darwin enjoying seafood and champagne and his mum's Lithuanian silkė su grybais and deep fried dumplings. She'd never cottoned-on to the traditional Christmas meal even though she emigrated here 30 years ago. He should be sitting pogged on the verandah watching the lightning of a cooling summer storm roll in over the bay while the kids struggle with their training wheels and fill themselves to bloating with cheap lollies from their stockings but no . .  he's out in the Indian Ocean just off the north west shelf wondering how on earth 'they' manage to sneak through the flotilla of patrol boats.  Foreign debris, most destined for a free flight home, when he couldn't even afford to take the kids to Seaworld.

Dulinskis leans hard against the patrol boat railing with the retrieval hook in hand. He's there to rescue another 'reffo'. Another stinking cheater claiming asylum against certain death, hopeful of moving forward for a chance at life without going through the 'proper' channels.

He hated cheaters.  But these bastards still manage to find the dosh to pay a smuggler's bounty and reach Australian waters. He isn't enamoured of illegals, even less so after being dragged out at Christmas. The pricks sure know how to time their entry.

She can't swim, let alone keep afloat. Her swaddling clothes wrapped and warped around her frame like a  funeral shroud.  Waves of warm water ebb and flow over her flailing form, pulling her down into the depths. The thin blue fabric of her burkha twisting against her every breath, strangling, slow and suffocating. She is drowning, submerging, submitting - giving up after her ordeal, and the thought of dying panics and terrifies her.

He heaves the wringing, writhing blue mass from the crystal brine and lands her on the deck like a fisherman lands a yellowfin. She recoils, gathers her saturated robes, kneels, puts two hands beneath the blue in prayer-like pose and mutters words of thanks in a quavering voice, "Tashakur mikonam! Tashakur!! Tashakur!!!!"   She is drenched. He forces a polite smile as a modicum of sympathy takes hold and he wraps her in a Navy issue blanket. It isn't cold, she'll dry off soon enough he thinks, before turning his attention and hook back to the others. He leaves her still kneeling and heaving, a small blue pyramid of submission. A pose that looks so natural and yet so wrong.

All around him his crew are digging  the dirty dags out of the water while the smugglers burn their sinking craft. No boat, no evidence, no turning back.  Still, they pluck the bastards who ply their nasty trade out of the big blue as well.  There are 25 of them this time, all claiming to be children of war. Few have papers to identify their origins. They could be Pakkis, Taliban or from Timbuktu for all he knows but they'll all  be shipped to Christmas Island on Christmas Day and 'processed' eventually.  Dulinskis feels a little comforted in the knowledge that he isn't the only one missing out on the Festive Season.

The detention centre is clean, a little too clean. The people are cool and unsmiling and she understands nothing of what they say.  Her saving grace is being separated from the asshole who calls her wife, for that she is eternally grateful.   The buildings are starkly white and antiseptic, an odour she hasn't smelled since being hospitalised after a beating at Ali Habad outside Kabul. The beds are sparse but comfortable, the food strange but sweet. Soft mangoes, plenty of meat and greens, no spice, but she forgives because food is food and it has been a long time since she has been able to eat more than one meal a day and retain it in her belly.

She attends her English class, she speaks with her counsellor, she chats in broken English to the guards through the mask of blue. She watches television. She's never watched television.

Once a month the hairdresser comes and combs her luxuriant, black, straight hair, braids it in a European style and she feels gorgeous, feminine, worthy. Such a small gesture means so much.  When it's time to meet with him, she dons the blue and feigns respect but wears someone else' dress beneath. A small act of secret defiance. All the time they talk, she remembers his casuality with the stick. He beat her if she argued, he beat her if she was menstruating, he beat her if she did anything to feel more like a woman. He raped her within the law and beat her within an inch of her life. He beat her hardest when he found her stash of foreign magazines beneath the mattress. Left by marauders, their pages filled with beautiful women, beautiful lives. He beat her . . often and hard and she will never forgive him for it.

Months go by but she is dogged. While they sew their lips in protest, she reads. While they climb the razor wire topped fence, she verbalises. While they protest in their native tongues to ears deafened with insensitivity, she writes. While they hunger strike, she studies.  While they wave plaquards and complain about their treatment, she learns English and the ways of the promised land.  Her .  . an Afghan woman, no education, no language, no rights, no freedom. She, who'd begged within a puddle to put food on their table.  This woman who dragged a gasless car across the country filled with nothing but their few worldly possessions.  She who'd saved the smuggler's fee for the past 10 years. She is becoming someone else.

The wife beater stands close enough to touch, his body pressed against the cyclone fence ignoring the terse instruction to "Step back mate!"  He spits at her feet and calls her whore.  He will  be returned to his traitor's lair while she walks through open gates. She might be ignorant but she isn't stupid and secreted her papers, her badge of authenticity.

She walks beyond the  open gate. The sun glints off the razor wire. Strangers extend open palms in welcome.   She turns her head, so slightly to profer a parting glance. Her face, sun-browned and radiant, her lips glossed and lush. Her visa in her pocket. She smiles the beamish smile of freedom.

The Burkha burned, her bridges broken, her shackles released, her war is over.

It's another holiday weekend. Dulinskis leans hard against the railing of the patrol boat and fishes a flailing yellowfin from the warm Indian Ocean . . "Bloody reffos . . " he mutters under his breath.