Saturday, December 31, 2011

Give Way to Wings

Funerals are weird things, a gathering of friends lost and known, a connection between people. Robyn Allcott sits next to her sister, her brother on the left, his former coolness dissolving as they bid farewell to a mother much loved.  There's nothing more to achieve here. A life well lived if cut short. Each pondering the meaning of life, death, the universe and everything. Time's toll taken, yet in this moment standing still.

An  undertaker's rep rather than a preacher reads meaningless words from a meaningless book. She wasn't a religious woman. She tried but nothing suited from Baptist, to evangelical. She'd tried them all but Elizabeth Allcott had never found the spirituality she sought and her family wedged on the wooden pew knew it.  What universe was she entering? Brought up as Anglicans, children as Catholics through marriage, there'd never been a serious discourse on what kind of service they or their mother wanted. It was never discussed.  The droning of a stranger reading predetermined words from an idiotic book had parishioner's dozing and jolting to consciousness and feeling silly that they weren't taking these events in a more sombre view. A Clairvoyant had told Robyn's sister during a 'reading'. "You're mother is in a field of daffodils, tranquil and happy." Her sister had taken it as an omen.
 
Robyn however felt like she'd fallen down the rabbit hole. The one staple in her life, the glue to her family, the matriarch, no longer around, just wrapped within a wooden box. Funny and stupid at the same time. She's dying for the wake to begin so that she can have a drink.

Red eyed and consolatory, mourners shake hands, offer hugs and are asked back for sandwiches and champagne. The coffin slowly moves through the curtain destined for little more than incineration and ashes poured into a pretty urn.

"Be still dear heart," the voice is one she's heard since the moment of her mother's death. Four days have passed and she naturally imagines it's her head coping with a dire situation.  She never carries a watch and is eager to see the mourners leave this pathetic show of remorse. She asks Uncle Jack the time. He's a fob watch man and takes great pride in pulling the ancient timepiece from his vest, "4:30 my love, shall we go?"

Cars pull out, tears are wiped, the event most dreaded over. It crosses her mind that the birds she'd seen over the past few days were more portends. Her mother loved the colourful Lawries and Lorikeet's that rarely visited their garden yet had been there in profusion after the day she died.

Folks file in, food is laid on the table, glasses filled and dour soon turns to celebration of a life well lived until she sees it. There, beneath the Gardenia hedge, a flash of white; still, frightened, pathetic.

She's bored with the platitudes and expressions of sympathy, and the busy crowd don't notice her kneeling beneath the leafy tunnel to reach for the prize.

"Shit!" her voice still low, the thing's bitten her finger and it's throbbing like the time she jammed it in the kitchen cupboard, "Don't be like that . . " she whispers and clasps it firmly around its shoulders, retrieving its reluctant form, gently but with enough power to prevent its escape.

Each person there has a story to tell, a journey followed or forgotten. These people are little more than pin pricks on the map of her human heart. Some from overseas, some she barely knows, it's a welcome opportunity to escape. With her captive caressed between strong hands, she leaves them to their tea and marmalade; metaphorical of course, since they're all getting pissed on VB and cheap bubbly and devouring the sandwiches made with tears the night before. She slips away unnoticed and takes it into the kitchen.  Beats getting pissed to the point of falling over and she's done that a few times.

Her mother was her universe, her centre, the sensible soul in a life of regret and confusion and having these people invade at a time like this is an intrusion. Isolation right now is not just desired but necessary.

"I know you,"  the thing begins to talk. They often do but not in such an articulate manner. Thousands of tiny hairs raise on the back of her neck. The same way they did when her lover took a finger to her spine and traced it from nape to base. As if something dressed in ice had walked by her, leaving its frigid chill and exciting force behind. All of a sudden the kitchen became sub-arctic, a place of low latitude as she laid it gently, feet first on the kitchen bench. Then the warmth of Capricorn spun a wave over her . . it talks.

Its voice unlike any she'd ever heard, gentle and consoling, weird since the blood on her index finger is dripping from its bite.
"You bit me?"

"Sorry. You scared me a little.
" Its yellow crested head bobbing as if in some weird greeting. 

"Are you hurt? Hungry?"  she finds asking these questions of such a thing ludicrous, but this is a ludicrous situation.

"I'd kill for a sip of champers," his rather odd accent refined and beguiling. Pigs might fly but all she can see is rodents somersaulting, this is the weirdest thing. Just as winter is creeping into her soul, the loss of someone so close, so loved, this thing brings spring.

She wonders where her mother is now, not burning in some incinerator but has perhaps made a passage to something more significant. She looks at it . . strokes it  . . . feeds it . . God forbid, she begins to talk to it.  "I have fallen down the rabbit hole haven't I? Or gone completely mad?"

It has no ears, no paws, no whiskers just the feathers of an angel, the eyes of a devil and the voice of ambrosia, "Now then," it speaks, "Where shall we start?"

Her legs are wobbly as she closes the doors blocking its escape. This is a catch beyond a catch and she's feeling unbalanced but incredibly curious.

"What are you?"  It eyes its situation, head cocked, windows shut, sliding door shut, no escape through walls of glass or gyprock.

"We had something like you a couple of years back," she begins, "He came and stayed for a while, loved my dad, hated my mother, bit her finger and pulled her hair. Friendly, funny then he left, joined the others and now . . its like you're here again."

"Ah, not me my sweet, this is the first time I've visited you." His head cocks as he eyes the necklace she's wearing, a small golden key given to her by her mother for her 21st birthday.

"There is no light you know."  It volunteers.


Why she believes his revelation she isn't sure but had always hoped there was a light to walk towards and angel wings to enfold.

"What then, what is there? A hole, darkness?"

"It depends on who you are, where you've lived, what you've done. I think your mother is moving in the loveliest of gardens, each daffodil a soul to keep, a reminder of what was."

She's spinning as it talks, "Life's like a telescope," it continues, "We focus on the large and miss the minutia, everything exaggerated and magnified beyond appropriate proportions. We actually crave the simple, the small, but it takes death to make us realise. So few of the living focus on the small. It's like Alice, take the blue pill and all is huge, take the pink and all shrinks. It's perspective my sweet."

"Does it work for suicide?" she's feeling low. Life has little meaning since he left, since she left, since they left. "What if I do it, finally . .just end it"

"What about your kids? You'd leave a nasty stain with such a selfish act." 

She loves her children, grown as they are but they no longer need her like they did. She's sad, useless, ageing and wants escape, to wonder in a garden full of daffodils.  It's time to die, time to fly.

"You don't have to die you know," it postulates, matter-of factly as it struts across the granite bench, "You can metamorphosise. I did. I never fancied passing through, and was always afraid to fly, yet here I am, 250 years later, talking to a lonely girl in a far off land. If you follow the rules, it's easy."

This is stupid. This 'thing' on her kitchen bench having a conversation about the afterlife, offering hints on how to perpetuate the soul. But it's hard to disagree with a soul that lives, is free, does what she's always wanted to do, and opens an avenue of escape.

"If I do this, accept whatever proposition you're asking, what's the price. I mean there's always a price?"

She's lived long enough to know that life is not a cherry pie.

 "Nor Cherry tart or pineapple" he begins to chuckle, "I knew Lewis Caroll you know. Kept me in a cage for years until I finally talked to him like I'm talking to you, poor man fainted and left the cage door open . . I took my chance at liberation."

Her curiosity is overwhelming, the voices of revellers now beyond the dour mumblings of mourners as the wake becomes party and salt stings her eyes, she's ready for a new adventure.  "What do I have to do?"

He dips his head. "Don't go further, it's not all hearts and roses. Dinner and candlelight."  She's overcome with the sadness on such a face. She's leaning, two arms on the kitchen bench, hands splayed against the granite as he slowly climbs sideways along her left arm.  He leans into her face,"No point crying over spilled milk" 

She is crying and milk has long been spilled, "How, how do I do it?"

"An old man once gave me very good advice," his black eyes staring into hers, now stained and forlorn, "Be careful what you wish for .. .there's a fine line between achieving your dreams and losing your head."

"I'm over being the strength, the stalwart, the respectable, the honourable. I've given up so much, enjoyed so little . . "

The door bursts open, "What are you doing?" says her sister, "People are wondering where you are. Oh my god what's that?" The 'thing' on her shoulder bobs its head from side to side eyeing the stranger with suspicion.

"Lou, just leave it for now." Robyn begins to sweat, she doesn't want it to talk to her sister, this is a conversation for two and the interloper isn't welcome. 

"Fine, be like that, but people are wondering where you are!" 

It tip toes onto her shoulder, agitation in its voice, and whispers, "Get rid of her." 

Lou swishes through the door grabbing the width of her flowing skirt as she escapes, miffed and rebuffed, convinced her sister's lost all reasoning. The door is locked behind her.

She listens intently to its instructions which are simple and clear. It is a willing supplicant and she obliges. "I don't want to hurt you..." She's unsure, his suggestion suspends all belief.

"I'll be fine. To be born again, first we must die - just make it quick,"

She strokes him with a lover's touch before firm hands dispatch it with a twist of its neck leaving it lifeless on the black bench top. She feels stupid, angry, sad. What has she done? Killed an innocent thing due to voices in her head in a moment of grief and depression. Tears dampen perfect plumage as the room begins to spin.  A tunnel - that's how she'd describe it. A vortex emanating from the painting on the wall, clouded and dark, menacing. Not the ethereal walk into the light she'd imagined as she holds the tiny corpse to her breast.  The tunnel encroaches as a middle class kitchen gives way to tumbling and pain and fear. Her heart races, as she's sucked into its pull. Day gives way to night, the spiral consumes them both in deafening noise.  Her shoulders hurt. Legs shorten, face lengthens, fingers fail and toes freeze, bones creak and she shrinks. She's fallen through the looking glass with him still clasped to her breast. The spiral envelopes them both, retreats into the wall as she blacks out.

There are 50 of them raping the orange tree and dropping luscious fruit to the floor in favour of their seeds. She understands their squawks and banter. She loves their look, but none speak to her the way he did until . . .

She moves to feel her face, yet feathers now form fingers. She flexes and the yellow crest atop her skull widens. She speaks but her voice has changed. She knows it's happened. She is born again, the way he promised.

"We made it .. how do you feel my love?"  He's hanging upside down from the citrus branch in a comical yet athletic pose. A feathered trapeze artist, before releasing his grip and gliding to her feet. Black eyes meet black eyes, wings enfold. She's swears she's smiling if a bird can do so and she's never been happier.


A little whimsy...thanks Jeff.













Monday, December 26, 2011

The Watchful Gaze of a Sheltering Sky

 

He stares at leathered hands, coarse and calloused.  Once steady now trembling with advanced age and the rigours of a disease that won't be cured. What a piece of work those hands. He'd held his sweetheart close and stroked her hair, their tender touch had felt her body. They'd lifted children onto the stockyard fence where he'd broken horses with a settling whisper and a gentle palm. They'd made whips and ropes, stitched leather with a craftsman's skill. They'd stroked from wither to flank along stifle and fetlock. Gloved they'd been wound in rope to bring down calves. They'd grasped a tankard close and helped to quench his parched mouth along the dusty trail. They'd blistered with the burn of a billy, taken too late from a campfire and bled too often through the carelessness of nail and hammer.

He's a weathered man in the outback, living a life he wouldn't trade for quids. No regrets.  The lure of fast paced cities never tempted him away from the slower state of rural life. A horse breaker, a steer roper, a builder, a farmer, a father and a husband. A simple man with simple needs and a love of the great outdoors. He's the only one left now. No hospice or palliative bed provides him comfort and the news received is fatal. It took all his strength to ride out here to make a stockman's choice. He needs the night air to clear his head. Focus on his task.

He gazes up at a blackened sky set twinkling by the Southern Cross' companions. Clear, wide, endless. Hands still shake, painful and weak as he unpacks his swag. His back cringes with each bend as he gathers tinder from ever vigilant eucalypt. Trees which so easily surrender their fuelling bounty. Amid the red dust he strikes a match and watches the pyre begin to catch. A slow glow that grows into a warming flame. A beacon of light and dancing gold before he surrenders to the dark.

He strokes the stock horse's muzzle and unhitches the bridle with the flick of a throat latch. The horse doesn't move as the bit is slid from a peach furred mouth. "Good lad," he coos and pats his equine companion on the shoulder. "Move on now...don't need you any more." The horse turns tail and wanders slowly into the night. Head low as if he knows this is goodbye.

The fire now crackling its explosive fuel creates a chimney trail. Orange stars reaching for those of silver as they blend into the night sky. Thin lips force a wry smile as he nods towards the stars as sparks fly upwards. He loves this place. The dirt, the trees, the billabongs few and far between. The constant chirp of crickets, the smell of red dust and smoke. It's been his life, he knows no other. It's here he needs to die, among the wallabies and bandicoots.  He unrolls his swag close to the fire and unlaces boots that have as much character as his sun-lined face. His trembling hands hold tight the gun and massage its barrel with kindness rather than fear. Resolution rather than trepidation.
A shot unheard, a man unmissed, a horse let loose. A good life, lived well. A death of his own choosing, free and final beneath the watchful gaze of a sheltering sky.

Posted for The Tenth Daughter of Memory "Smiling as the Sparks Fly Upwards"

Monday, December 5, 2011

Wasting Time

She wonders where the time went, this odd human construct designed around the rising and setting of a tiny star. "Jesus, can't remember what I did last week." she talks to her dog because those she loves are no longer living in her space. "Who came up with 365 days, and leap years, and peak hour and 24/7" She doesn't understand what time has to do with it. "Time, flexing like a whore, falls wanking to the floor..." David  Bowie had it right. For her however, time is running out.

She's lost all concept of time. Seventeen years old, a forgotten curfew and an open car door. Rather than wake her father up and face the inquisition, she sneaks into the Valiant and curls up on the back seat. To young to drink, but drunk. Too intelligent to smoke, but stoned. Embracing the cold leather and pulling a thin picnic blanket over her to retain warmth. He won't punish her but the lecture will be too much, and the night has been so much fun. So she sleeps, oblivious to the hour until the sun rises. The car becomes an oven, and she's slow-roasting before she leaves and raps on her sister's bedroom window to rouse a sleepy 9 year old from slumber. The reluctant sibling threatened to the point of unlocking the back door. Finally she sinks beneath the duvet. Just in the nick of time.

He was lovely. Attentive. Thinks her  exotic in her fancy dress harem girl's costume and funny accent. "When are we going to make love," he asks ad nauseum. She wanted to, but isn't on the pill, has a boy at home. Doesn't trust the horny Englishman.  Their timing is never right. They party, they pash they pet, but never actually 'do it' until the final rendezvous. Well-planned until, all goes pear shaped with the hurl of a pan and a relative's blackened eye  To this day she regrets having not fucked him the first time he asked.

"It's time we...." she knew what was coming and she wants to. He's, beautiful, brown eyed and long haired, surf tanned with a VW combi and a double bed.

"Yeh, " she agrees during a camping trip in the far west of NSW,

"Do you know what you're doing?" She says it meaning - "Do you know that this simple act is one of making love and of the utmost importance me?" He takes it as a literal caution and assures her he's wearing a condom. Not so romantic at all.

He leaves her shortly afterwards. Time has a place in that as well - two-timed and oblivious until his calls stop, his visits slow. The bastard doesn't have the courage to break it off while she watches the clock waiting for him to come. Oh he came... and went. She feels dirty knowing she's put her mouth around that which another woman also caresses. 

The clock ticks above the mantle. His parents in bed. Her in a red and white uniform, reeking of fried chicken from the casual job that feeds her urge to travel.  A thick, constant, rhythmic tick and a chime every 15 minutes as they sip Tia Maria through a thin layer of cream at 2am. His hands slide along her thighs, his lips tight against hers, the moisture in her body unbearable, the love in her heart fit to burst, the lust in her loins eager for his entry.

"Play Baker Street," she says. And he diligently obeys.

Not because they have a love of Jerry Rafferty but because it is the longest 'A' side LP available and allows them 35 minutes of lovemaking on the couch. The clock ticks and marks time.  The same clock that stops on the day he dies after nine years of marriage, happiness, children....snuffed out too soon. The silent clock still clinging to his parent's wall. No battery will revive it. A constant reminder that her great love is no longer.

Time has little bearing after that. School, children, work...punctuated by moments of fun, hilarity, affection, friends and then the quiet desperation with time passing too quickly, loneliness hovering too slowly.  Time covers like a damp blanket. Suffocating inspirational flames, as the hands on clocks spin wildly, the digital numbers flick and click and before she knows an empty house is echoing like a tin locker.

Then he comes along. Comfortable as an easy chair and persuades her.  She looks at the clock. It's 3pm, broad daylight and the risk of someone coming home, but it happens. Clumsy, quick, dispassionate. She's out of practice. It's been a long time between drinks for him. Still, she is fucked and he is beautiful. She's not for him, and he not for her. Just a fling because he's there. She regrets it even though she loves it. A moment of madness, more moments of madness before it's all swept beneath the bed.  She deludes herself into believing she's in love. He becomes distant because it was just a fuck.

"Meet me at 7, Gleebooks in Glebe Point Road..." She doesn't know him. She's met him online but he looks nice enough. Gives her his Facebook account, his mobile number. Tells her she's 'terribly pretty' and she falls for it. High hopes that it might work out this time. She stands outside in the pouring rain for half-an-hour before she musters the courage to call.

"Hey, It's Elly. You stood me up already?"

"Oh God no," he sounds like he's forgotten completely, "I came down earlier and the shop was shut, I thought you were a no show."

"I messaged to say I'd be a little late, the traffic was awful,"

"Five minutes.....I'll be right there."



"Hi... you look lovely, want a drink?"

So.. all is good until he runs out of time.  "Sorry, I have to go. Opening a shop next week but I'd like to keep in touch."

They walk down the street, he puts his arm around her, "Am I what you expected?"

She nods agreement.

No invitation is forthcoming, just a kiss on the cheek and, "It was great to meet you. Will you be alright walking to your car."

"See you on Facebook...." are her parting words. Her smile is sad and unrecognised as she pops her broken umbrella and walks another 100 metres to her car, "Well that's two more hours I'll never get back!" She holds back tears.

She arrives home, empty, jaded. The house quiet and dark, then reads the messages on her iPhone:

"Hey Mum, how was the date, did you have a good time?" Her son  wants to see her happy before her time runs out.

"You alright? Coming home?" Her friend's waited up on another continent to console her.

"I liked you, let's do it again"  The new man messages.

Perhaps it wasn't all a waste of time.


Written for The Tenth Daughter of Memory "Under the Cover of Time"

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

L'mergance

I liked Angelo when he moved in. I was woken early by the muffled sound of footsteps on the wooden stairs, and the sounds of loudly whispered "Watch the corners!"  As two men lumbered clumsily up the spiral staircase lugging a heavy hardwood bedhead.  There are a hundred of the things snaking up in this old apartment on Rue St Deni; narrow, old, groaning as loud as the men climbing them. Angelo was flamboyantly giving directions but not participating in the lifting.

Curiosity about the ruckus and the new neighbour had me peering shirtless fresh from the shower, and wrapped in little more than a towel. My toothbrush still 'a la bouche' as I gurgled through the foam,  "You need some help?"

"No, I think we're good. Thanks." Angelo ignored the puffing and huffing of his labourers and didn't seem fazed by the semi-naked 30 something dripping toothpaste on the floor.

" I'd love a glass of water though? They haven't turned on the utilities in the flat yet."

"Done" say I. And retreat behind the door, wipe my mouth with the back of my hand and grab a T-shirt.

That's how we met. Simple, easy. Two men, neighbours in a refurbished 17th Century Parisienne apartment building, with pipes so rusty they banged when you turned on the hot water. Rooms so small, you couldn't swing a cat.  Just as well, he was fond of his cat. We clicked, right there on the fifth story landing.

The moving day over, I invited him in for a drink. A 'welcome' to the neighbourhood kind of thing, with no more intention than to be friendly. Again I was caught out, wearing little more than cargo shorts and still bare-chested in the warmth of the evening. The noise of the street rising like tropical mist and the voices of those bustling in the thoroughfare tainting the relative quiet. He came dressed immaculately, standing in the doorway with a chilled bottle and a winning smile. A picture of sartorial elegance in jeans and a loose, collared shirt. An unnecessary cashmere sweater draped around his shoulders and tied in a knot. Looked like he'd be more at home in Monte Carlo than the backstreets of St Denis.  The ensemble completed with matching light brown leather belt and shoes.  I took the cigarette from the side of my mouth and shook his hand.

"Martin Montalbert....good to see you again. Come in mate...All settled?"

He nodded and passed the Sauvignon which was dispatched without aplomb, and poured into two huge Reidel glasses. Something very civilised about sipping from such awesome receptacles. The fine glass so liquid, you could bend the rim with a squeeze between your forefinger and thumb.

We sat on the balcony overlooking street. He kicked off his shoes. Our legs outstretched and feet resting on the railing. The cafe below bustling with after-work punters. The
prêt a porter pushers jostling cling-wrapped clothes on mobile wardrobes. The hooker outside the porn shop being ignored by passers-by and the burlesque club across the street barely awake in the early evening.   

The sauvignon icy, the brie runny, we introduced ourselves more thoroughly. Me, the widower next door who was left too young  by a woman who drove too fast. Without children, my career now replacing my love life. Him, starting fresh in a new city. Although he didn't explain why, other than he was sick of the parochialism of the country and felt a little misunderstood with his cosmopolitan ways.  He had a knack of conversing yet revealing little. Being men, we don't probe, just accept. 

There was something about this tall but mousy man. He had a feminine beauty about him, made obvious by waxed eyebrows and full lips. Betrayed by broad shoulders,  like those of a swimmer, and a distinctly triangular body. The face of an angel. Girlish with flawless skin and the absence of five-o'clock shadow. Sweet, serious with the hint of mischief behind his eyes.  

With a bottle between us and the sun setting, we shared tales of when and what if, triumph, loss, regret and dreams.  Me regretting not getting back on the horse. He, lamenting the love that he'd yet to find. More importantly we spoke of new beginnings.  This was a turning point and a city change for us both, as we clinked glasses and slowly became inebriated.  It was a wonderful few hours before he rose and said farewell.

"We should do this again."

He spoke softly but sincerely, as he walked through the door. Not waiting for me to say yay or nay.  It was days before I realised he'd left his shoes tucked under the tiny table on the balcony. I smiled and brought them inside and placed them by the door. If someone leaves something behind, they want to return. I was hopeful. He was the kind of man I could call friend.
***
It was an odd friendship, him working nights and I days. But weekends provided respite and we'd wander the shopping districts and museums within the city of light. It wasn't unusual to find us nestled in the tiny park surrounding Tour St Jacques on Rue Sebastopol. Taking in the shade, reading quietly beneath its shadow in the heat, or lounging beneath the small patch of sun that bathed the postage-stamp sized piece of grass surrounding it. Ogling women from cafes, sipping espresso and pondering the state of the nation. He was a decent chap but elusive about his line of work.

"I'm in entertainment," he'd said when pushed, but offered little more.

"What sort of entertainment?"

"Theatre, I'm a performer of sorts, but let's not talk about work," and with that, no more was said.
I'm not one to define people by their occupation so I just let it slide.  Such were our times together. Great conversation but the avoidance of the personal. Mutual respect for privacy.
***
The note had been slipped beneath the door. I'd have barely noticed it if not for the red envelope glaring 'open me' beneath my feet. It was from Angelo asking would I feed his cat and water the plants. He'd been called away suddenly and wouldn't be back for six weeks. Six weeks! The note was rushed and apologetic,
"I wouldn't have asked but I know few people in Paris. I'll explain everything when I return." 
Inside the envelope the key to his apartment and 50 Euro for my trouble. Dutifully I wandered next door to scope things out. His apartment was immaculate.  Two chocolate coloured couches facing each other in the small lounge room with faux fur throws loosely but carefully thrown across their back. A low coffee table in-between creatively strewn with fashion and lifestyle magazines. Light voile curtains billowing in front of a partially opened window allowing the hum of the city to permeate. A window seat beneath its sill, lined with sweet-smelling geraniums, no wait...I know that scent. 

The sly dog must have had a woman in here before he left. The fragrance of her, still present. The same worn by the woman I once loved and lost, and a sundress draped across one of the sofa arms. A pair of red patent stilettos parked parallel at it's base. 

Don't know what it is about other people's places, but I felt the urge to pee and headed for the bathroom. Female toiletries on the small glass shelf above the sink. Bal A Versailles perfume in its characteristically ornate bottle, the source of the wonderful scent. Soft beige towels folded to perfection on the stool beside the shower and a woman's apricot silk wrap hanging from the hook on the back of the door. This was weird. I'd never seen her come or go, let alone notice that she'd virtually moved in. Took a slash in the loo and flushed. Opened the vanity looking for the soap. It was laden with cosmetics and Clinique skin care. She had good taste, expensive taste and obviously a passion for taking care of her complexion. Cylindrical bottles of Premarin whatever that is, lined neatly on the top shelf.  I  fed the cat, now sitting on the windowsill examining my every move, glanced once more with a wry smile at the red shoes and locked the door behind me.
***
It was exactly eight weeks when I heard the key turn in Angelo's latch. I'd missed him. I managed to hit the hallway in time to see her walk through the portal and shut the door. A blonde. Tendrils of perfectly twisted hair dangling half way down her back. A  tall blonde who afforded enough of a glimpse to see her ass, tightly clad in a pair of skinny jeans, before the latch was bolted on the inside. Ah well, later. Must be the woman who's almost moved in.  Definitely - as the familiar fragrance of Jean Desprez lingered in the musty hallway. Love that scent. Marcel used to wear it. A pang of pain rose in my chest as I remembered her. I always remembered her as she wasn't. Beautiful, lithe, living dangerously. In reality she was a loose canon and a loose woman. I shake the thought of her before I become maudlin. I haven't seriously thought about another relationship since she was killed. Time heals but enough has not yet passed.

I'm slightly worried about my new found acquaintance. He hasn't called, is well overdue to return and I've run out of cat food. This combined with the curiosity about the blonde with the red patent shoes puts an idea into my idiotic head. The shoes. I grab the tan leather with the pretext of 'returning' them to their rightful owner and rap on the door of Angelo's flat.

I'm not a man who's easily shocked. I'm not a man who came down with the last shower but as the door opened far enough to extend the safety chain, I saw a face I found familiar but barely recognised.  The door suddenly shut and I could feel the thud of her back against it. I swear I could hear her take a breath before the door opened fully this time.

"Er Hi. I'm Martin....from next door? I thought Angelo might be back, he left his shoes at my place. "

I must have looked like a right royal twat standing there with a sheepish and slightly lovestruck expression, proffering another man's footwear to a woman I've seen once before and never met. She smiled and asked me to come in.

"Do I know you?" Shit where did that cliched line come from.

"I think you might," she sauntered over towards the window wearing nothing but the silk wrap that had previously hung on the bathroom door.  She placed her index finger into the soil of one of the geraniums to check for moisture, "You looked after them well," she cooed as she turned full frontal and faced me.  "Martin, it's me....Angelo." 

The hard-on I'd been developing quickly became flaccid.

"What? Don't be ridiculous."

By now I'm wearing the expression of an incredulous lover. One who's just discovered his wife in bed with another man. I know the look. Shit I've 'had' the look.  She turns towards the window and the profile's distinctive but the chin's different, the cheekbones more refined. The outline of her body beneath the sheerness of her wrap unmistakably female.

"Martin, it's where I've been. It's what I've done. I couldn't tell you until you could see for yourself."

I'm still holding the shoes, now loosely held by a limp grasp as I scrape my tongue metaphorically from the floor. 

" I would have told you but thought you might be disgusted. Might not keep an eye on things for me....."

I need to sit down and flop unceremoniously into one of the couches, accidentally kicking the red shoes.  She/He/Shim....Jesus whoever, whatever, it's beautiful. Understated, shapely but I can't speak. Angelo's reluctance to share personal information now blatantly clear.

Angelo walks over towards me and takes the shoes. "Thanks Martin, I'd forgotten I'd left them."

As she bends towards me there's a further glimpse of the body beneath. Firm breasts, soft skin and that tantalising fragrance. "Oh..." she whispers, "The name's Christianne. I've never felt like a man. Never been able to cope with being a man. That's why I moved to Paris," she's smiling, a sad smile, no trace of that mischief I'd seen in Angelo. "I began gender reassignment before I moved in, this is the final result. What do you think?"

"Well I guess you won't be needing these any more then..."  The shoes are dropped beside the patent pumps as if they're meant to be together.

"Actually I do need them, they're my right of passage."
***
The room was red and dark and a pall of smoke clung to the ceiling like a mink to an ageing socialite. The non-smoking rules didn't apply here. It seemed few rules applied. The patrons varying from suited businessmen to churlish Hens, gays and transsexuals. To call it eclectic seemed an understatement as scantily clad waitresses plied all with alcohol and flirted outrageously for serious tips. Christianne was the star, if that's the word in the seedy world of cabaret, and the whole audience paid attention when she performed. The jeering stopped, the heckling ceased. Even the chink of glass and the giggles of the women on the table adjacent to mine stood silent while she oozed across the stage, all a glitter and feathery, dressed in little more than pasties and g-string. She was mesmerising.

Tall, elegant, slightly masculine in her angular body but what a body. Tanned, firm, beautiful. She's the kind of woman that you'd love to brush by and feel her outline. The softness of the feathers on her costume, the fullness of her breasts against your chest. The girl can dance, long legs, well-muscled and an arse to envy. The corniness of the performance involving a stationery chair, fades into oblivion when she comes on stage singing in that sultry but sexy voice.

I was about to leave when I heard her call across the room, "Martin! Wait!" Christianne now stripped of the glamour was pushing through the crowd thronging around the bar, and hurrying towards my table.

"
ça va Martin...you came!"

"You were awesome." I meant it, she was beautiful, sexy, talented but above all feminine.

"Thank you Cheri, I'm so glad you came."


This was the last time Christianne took the stage. I just wanted to see her, just once. Her new life was about to begin, as was mine, and burlesque was not factored in. Her body was not one to be shared any more.

***
A tall and immaculately dressed woman wanders beneath the Rubinias in the park and walks towards the grey stone of the tower carrying a plethora of boutique shopping bags. Unnoticed and unremarkable to the homeless man shuffling through his belonging. Ignored by the lovers exploring each other in dappled sunlight on the grass. Spied on lustfully by the man peering over his Raybans at tanned and shapely legs and the sheerness of her dress. She removes a pair of brown Italian leather shoes from one of the bags and tenderly strokes their sides before laying them dormant in the crevice of the tower. 

The man with the Raybans still watching as his lascivious thoughts remain unspoken. She rises elegantly from her crouching position and walks towards him, the lingering fragrance of Bal A Versailles as tantalising as her sashay.

"Bonjour Martin," she whispers as her hand languidly slides across his cheek and down the curve of his neck. He rises and puts his arm around her waist. She tilts her head with feminine coy.

"All done?" he asks.

"All done..." the words lost in the connection of their lips.



Written with great difficulty,  for The Tenth Daughter of Memory "The Curious Case of the Brown Shoes"

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


She takes a shower and exfoliates, the sweet smell of fruit essence sloughing soft skin. Volumes of effervescence in her long brown hair rinse along her body and race to reach the drain.

She pats dry and binds her hair in a towel. Warms wax and tackles her her arms, her legs, everything until she's baby smooth and wraps herself in a cheap sarong. A gift from Bali, cool and sweet as the cicadas drone outside, reminding her that she really hates the heat. She smooths body lotion on her hairless form and splashes a little Bulgari white on pressure points; behind ears, knees, ankles.

She places cotton balls between each toe, and sits on the laundry basket, painting her toenails. Creams hands and manicures her short, shapely nails; blows whisper warmth upon them to hasten the drying process. She glosses her lips and removes the towel turban. Plucks stray strands from her eyebrows and moisturises her beautiful face.  She examines herself in the full-length mirror, her hands running from shoulder to hip. Curved, tanned yet wonders why he doesn't find her gorgeous. Perhaps the mole behind her thigh, the scar above her knee. She's only 25 yet her flaws are obvious to her and since his rejection, clearly obvious to him. She deserts the reflection holding back tears and wraps the sarong around her, lamenting the slight freckling of an over tanned decolletage. She hopes he will remember her as perfect, yet all she sees is faults.

She ambles to the refrigerator proffering an affectionate hand to her large dog, "Ce sera la chien va bien." she whispers.  The hound looks at her with pleading eyes as she opens the freezer door and fills a large glass with ice. Careful of her drying nails, she uncorks a bottle of Château Fage Graves de Vayres 2007, a souvenir of a recent visit to France and watches the yellow liquid, fountain over the cubes.

She sits; takes a seat on on a Papa San chair and opens her computer. Straight to iPhoto and the slideshow she never finished of their last holiday together - it's been 2 years since she was his travelling companion. Careless times and carefree hearts. How she yearns for that feeling they shared, from Bordeaux to Biarritz...heady times of love and lust, sunshine and wine. She opens her playlist and selects a song, a sad song, a reminiscent song of times gone by. A song that sounds sweet and celebratory with a melody that holds the hidden truth. She steels herself and sniffs her tears back into oblivion, takes another sip sips. On the surface, she is beautiful. Beneath, she is broken,  half the girl she was before she met him.

It was her beauty that attracted him and her maturity and intelligence despite being much younger. He'd never lavished her with material things but was romantic and sweet. His arms were strong. His mouth tender. He wrote her poetry and prose, played piano for her. Touched her tenderly and talked about things she never knew.  He spooned and didn't mind her morning breath, her wake-up scent. He wore her like a jewel, then like an old cardigan before he discarded her like an old rag and didn't wear her at all.

She didn't believe him when he said he was penniless. She ignored him when he said he didn't care. She stuck with him during his silences and self-centred pursuits. She stood against the wall as he played his computer games, adoring his outline, giving him space but it was never enough. With time, he became blase and treated her as he did all his women. With disregard and silence. The closer she became, the less he would divulge. The more she asked him to talk, the more she was stonewalled, shut out. The more he ignored, the more persistent she became. She barely knew herself; this pleading, desperate thing, longing for conversation, touch. Contact beyond sex.

She draws a bath and sinks beneath the surface of the water. The sarong billowing around her, the noise of cicadas fading as liquid muffles their sound. Eyes closed she sees him clearly projected, sitting at her computer a towel around his shoulders, tapping keys and ignoring the world around him. Her hands on his hair and fingers sliding backwards. Thumbs touching the outline of his ears, gliding from his cheek to the nape of his neck and across his shoulders. Such perfect skin. They were good times, wonderful times. He was a god in khaki and surf shirts, energetic and lithe.  She was naive and easily swayed by his charm and looks, his maturity and apparent worldliness - before false promises became a reality.  He made her swing and sing. Lifted her across puddles and held her hand. He showed her the art of love and lust. He was in her, on her, around her. At least that was her version of the truth.

She lifts her head and the water sheers from her face and shoulders as she grabs her glass of wine and fingers the rim tenderly, the way he'd once used his fingers. Gentle, probing, drawing patterns on her flesh, outlines across her face. A sad song is playing  in the background as tea light candles flicker devils on the walls. He has become devil and stolen her soul. She can no longer choose the rose-coloured view or forget his psychological cruelty.

The liquor takes effect and she tears up. She remembers lovemaking. He remembers sex. He asks but has stopped giving. Its now her mouth on his skin, her hands on his body, her gyrations that gave him pleasure while he just laps it up.  Occasionally,  when he's had a few drinks he rolls her over preferring to 'feel' rather than 'look' to sate an appetite rather than reciprocate. She can't remember foreplay, romance....well perhaps once or twice. He holds her now with a limp and inanimate arm. A shallow gesture to shut her up. He rarely kisses her without penetration.  So infrequent is true intimacy, she has difficulty remembering.  He was her Prince, sweet and adoring. He's now her cane toad, parasitic and inactive.

She replaces the glass on the corner of the tub and sinks again into the deafness of fluid.

He was brave when she met him. He rescued her heart, soothed her soul. Gave her breath, built her up, put her back on her feet. She shared her secrets, bared her soul, gave him all until that moment when the emptiness struck and she knew that she'd been taken. She'd kept nothing and had become a shadow of her former self. An emptiness overwhelms her. His silence guts her. His moods break her.  His deafness is her cacophony. His ignorance her torturer. 


Now the lukewarm waters of the bath her saviour as she tires and begins to sleep. The throbbing in her wrists subsiding and the sad song drawing to a close. She doesn' hear the glass shatter.

"What the fuck are you doing?"

The bathroom door swings open and she turns a barely conscious glance from her semi-submerged state. She's blissfully drowning in a pool of cerise.  Life streaming from two small incisions in her wrists.  The half-empty bottle on the corner of the tub. The glass smashed into a thousand tiny shards on the slate floor.  He's too late. Heaven was made for two but he chose himself above her. She is only one, drowning in her loneliness.  She slides into unconsciousness beneath the tide mark. He doesn't stop her.  It's not his fault. She's self-destructive. It's not his problem and he let's her go.

He scoops up the half full bottle with an angry grasp and takes a voracious swig of he liquor. "Bitch...it's your funeral," he mutters. Wanders into the living room and casually lifts the phone. "911. John Ryan, 354 McEvoy St. My girlfriend's just topped herself." 

The Mac is still projecting pictures as he closes the slideshow. The song still plays on repeat. He sits in a Papa San chair and swigs from the bottle as he cranks up a video game and waits for them to remove the nuisance in his bath. 



(Er no, not depressed just having a crack at writing anyway to a sad song)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Chiaroscuro Part 2


He hears the voices of children, cheering and running alongside the ambulance. It was a relief to hear English spoken after crossing the Channel and languishing for hours on a train listening to the groans of others and the screams of some. He's in better shape than most but still bound and bandaged and unable to move. The convoy of ambulances crawl slow as hearses through the gates. There's a strange gentleness after so many weeks of rough life. Everyone is kind and he's given American tobacco in a tin, curved perfectly to fit his hand and pocket. It was a joy to have grapefruit for breakfast and trifle with sherry after dinner even if he had to be fed like a baby. He missed his mother, but even here in Middlesex, it's too far for her to travel, so for now, he convalesces alone.

He lies near the window and can feel the warmth of the morning sun on his face. He feels the bindings with still blackened fingers and his eyes sting.

"Mr Dixon?" She sounds young and sweet and slightly familiar. "Time to change your dressings." 

Warm hands and slender fingers unwrap the bindings on his thigh as he feels the water trickle along his skin. The softness of the sponge is soothing and the sting from the burn relieved further with some unction she applies. The mastery of her touch stirring more than it should and reminiscent of the woman divested of a soft and yellow dress, naked between crisp sheets.

She unbinds his eyes and clears her throat to distract herself as much as he, at what she sees. He doesn't hear her gasp when she finally views his uncovered face. Again, warm water soothes although the burn is healing well, it stings and he winces. She leans forward enough that he can feel the warmth emanating from her skin. She smells sweet, a strange combination of Palmolive soap and a familiar perfume, clean, fresh. She makes small talk while she works.


"Where you from then soldier?"

"Great Harwood, Lancashire and you?"

She ignores his question, "Harwood? You're a long way from home. Do you want me to contact anyone for you?"

"No thank you ma'am. They know where I am, but you could write a letter for me."

"Done,"  She agrees and he's pleased for the opportunity to extend her company at his bedside.


He hears the trickle of a wrung cloth in her kidney dish, "Once we've finished here, I'll grab a pencil and paper."
 

"What's your name?" he asks.

"You can call me Nelly. I'll be looking after you while you're here. You're all my boys in this ward."

They chatter briefly, the conversation light and breezy as the day outside and careful not to mention the horrors of the Somme.  She looks sadly out of the window, and feels remorse and guilt for the young man she's bathing who will never bathe in such light.  So much promise and potential. Like one she once knew, so briefly in the past.

"It's a lovely day out there Jack. Would you like to go outside, I can get a chair and walk you to the garden?" He smiles. He can't see hers but he knows she's smiling back and he knows it's beautiful.

She settles him in a timber seat. Unseen gardens stretching before him. Unseen flowers attracting bees to their sweet nectar. "Right then," she adds, "Let's get on with that letter."
Dear Ma and Da

I've arrived in Edmonton, Middlesex at the BMH and a very nice nurse named Nelly is writing while I talk.  The doctor's say my leg is healing well although I find it hard to bend and the soreness in my thigh keeps me awake at night. My face is slightly burned but my eyes are useless. They dress my wounds and re-bandage but I cannot see anything. Just dancing colour, what I remember of violet and red. I hear everything. I hear Darnley in the bed next to me having night terrors. I hear Smith across the way shouting in his sleep. They'll walk out unscathed eventually. Not Bennett. He's lost both his legs. He'll be wheeled out in a chair or carried in a box. Too soon to tell.  
They're helping me here to feel my way around and a man is coming next week to spend some time organising training with for the war blind. I don't want to go there. I just want to come home.

Jack 
They're quite the 'item' at the BMH but the time has come to leave the sanctuary of rehabilitation. He loves the warmth of her body walking beside him, arm linked in his and leading him into the sunshine. He'll miss the softness of her voice and the gentleness of hands that no longer bathe but caress which both excites and distresses him. She tells him to mind his step as he's led toward the bus bound for Manchester. His helplessness preys heavily on his mind.

"I won't forget you Jack," she whispers, "...write me when you get home. Let me know how you're coping?"

Before he takes the tentative steps into the vehicle he turns, hands clumsily feeling their way around her face and resting on her shoulders. She doesn't wait for him to risk missing his mark but moves forward into him and presses her lips to his, folds her arms around his neck and leaves a lingering kiss. One too long to be mistaken as a fondness. One that tastes of another time, another place but he pulls away.

"Be a good lad now and learn your Braille, get a dog . . be independent as you can."



"I'll see you . . ." he says.

The words trail as the ludicrous thought of him ever seeing her elicit a sigh of sadness. 


He doesn't want to 'see' her he wants to feel her, wants her with him all the time but how can he ask her to be his life's companion, marry an invalid, spend decades caring, slaving, serving a man who is incapable of feeding himself anything other than a sandwich or a piece of fruit. He fights the urge to declare his affection as he turns and boards the bus resolved that she deserves another, deserves better. He can't see the look on her face, the tears in her eyes, as she blows him a kiss she knows he cannot catch. 

***
She clasps the letter to her breast after reading between the tear-stained lines, as the ink blots bleed onto the white of her uniform. The sadness rises with suffocating strength as the blow of his closing words pound. He is the one for her, he always was, long before his sight was taken. Now that he can't see, she can maintain the charade but he's slipping through her fingers. She knows his mother writes on his behalf and any form of intimacy between them impossible under such circumstances, but she needs him to know.  She is no longer what she once was, the war changed that. She throws a few belongings into a battered leather suitcase, counts coin and last week's pay.

She sits on the side of a dormitory bed and opens a small brown paper parcel tied with twine. It bears a stamp and French postmark from months gone by. She unties the rough hewn twine and pulls the sheer silk stockings from their tomb. Slender fingers glide the treasured gift over shapely feet and knees, straightening the seams and clasping them at the thigh. She slips on a sunshine yellow dress and skillfully draws the zip. It still fits. A little out of style but sleek and seductive. She draws the brush from a bottle of nail polish and masterfully paints her nails. Sweet lips are smacked with red and lashes lengthened with black. She stands, smooths the dress, grabs her coat and valise then heads towards the station where she buys a ticket to Harwood, Lancashire.

***
His pipe almost done and smoke now lingering at ceiling height. The smell of roast beef permeating the room and the sound of china being laid, rouse him from his contemplation.

"Jack . . " she taps him on the shoulder and strokes the side of an unshaven cheek with the back of her hand.  "What are you daydreaming about? Lunch is ready."

"Colours..." he says, "Black days, green uniforms, red wounds, yellow memories... "


 She smiles - she still has the dress, now folded and wrapped in the same brown paper as the silk stockings and bound with the same string.  She never confessed and he never asked but he knew who she was. He remembered the texture of the dress, the downslide of the zip, even the sound it made falling softly to the floor. He kept his wisdom under wraps a smug secret of his own. He rises from his chair as she links her arm in his and walks him to the table. 

Nelly, "Did I ever tell you what my favourite colour is?
 

She glances at unseeing eyes and wonders if he even remembers colours. 

"No darling, I don't believe I do,"

"Yellow."



Written for the Tenth Daughter of Memory "In Love, In War, For Lust, Forwarned" 

Like what you see here.... this ain't nothing compared to what you'll see every week on The Tenth Daughter of Memory. Read, participate, compete. Only competitors can vote. There's no restriction on the type of entry other than it MUST fit the Muse. There are only four rules but we stick to them like glue.  So if you have the courage to flex your creative muscles with published writers and a few wannabes, blend I with a  competitive edge and come on board.




Because nine muses, just aren't enough.

Chiaroscuro Part 1

He sits in his easy Grandfather chair and opens a pouch of tobacco, presses the sticky shreds into his pipe and lights it, drawing the glow with short sharp breaths. The tobacco ignites and aromatic smoke swirls seductively around his unseeing eyes. He's in a contemplative mood and the pipe helps him focus. He can't see his surroundings; they think he doesn't see anything, but he does. He's full of memories which play on rewind in his head during these moments. A life not quite flashing before him, but salient episodes rising and ebbing with memory like the haze emanating from his pipe. He wasn't always blind. He saw once - before the war. He remembers; he remembers everything in vivid colour.

***
It's a small working class terrace in the depths of Manchester. A front sitting room, back room, kitchen and an outhouse. Three small bedrooms upstairs. One, shared for many years with his two brother's Billy and Donald, is now his alone. Another belongs to his two sisters Daphne and Marion. The his parents' retreat.  

They're in the sitting room after Sunday lunch.  Two easy chairs and a settee and a photo of the 'boys' in their uniforms on the mantle. The girls winding wool from a skein on their hands, giggling and chattering.  His mother's knitting. His father reading the paper - still wearing his flat cap and Lancashire clogs when the telegram comes.  His mother wipes her tears on her apron before she's even opened the door. The very sight of the postman outside his usual round time, with that red and white rimmed envelope, is enough to bring dread to the surface. Its words read before eyes meet and its meaning is fully comprehended.

I regret very much to inform you that your son Pte. W. Dixon, no 49268 of this Company was killed in action on the night of the 21st instant. Death was instantaneous without any suffering.
Your son's artillery team was in the advance party against the enemy. The attack was successful and all guns reached and new positions established. Enemy shelled our positions killing Pte Dixon and wounding a comrade. Impossible to retrieve his remains. He lies in a soldier's grave where he fell. I and the C.O. and all the Company deeply sympathise with you in your loss.
Your son always did his duty and now has given his life for his country. We all honour him and I trust you will feel some consolation in remembering this.  His effects will reach you via the base in due course.
In true sympathy
Sgt. August Martin, 4th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers

His father takes the photograph from the mantle, straightens his cap and sighs, "Oh Billy my Lad."  That's it. That's all that is said. A second son sacrificed in the name of King and Country.

He longs to serve but his father needs him in the shop. Two sons on the Western Front is enough sacrifice for a working family to bear. The youngest he's told, will stay put. Yet the yearning to serve is a self fulfilling prophecy. The following day, and against his parent's wishes, their youngest son Jack, enlists.

He's always admired them. His elder brothers so dashing in the photographs on the mantle, wearing Army greens and spit and polished boots. Their gleaming livery and noble smiles. It's his turn to shine now. 


At first they didn't give him a uniform, just an arm band, but after a week in Barracks it arrived. Coarse wool that made him itch. Thick socks that didn't stop the blisters from heavy leather boots stubbornly refusing to be pliant. But he cut a fine figure and was proud to wear it, and the colours of the  2nd Battalion, 25th Brigade of the East Lancashire Regiment. 

He's waved off by a stoic father, a teary mother and two distracted sisters, too young to understand the implications of war. The train is bound for the outskirts of London to meet up with Canadians and other Brits. They're all on the platform kissing sweethearts and hugging their mothers while onlookers wave flags and cheer them forward. It's a good feeling, having the ability to make a difference as they wave goodbye to an ever-diminishing crowd on a cold and fading  platform.

Spirits are high as they smoke and sing and make introductions. Lancashire lads, now fish out of water, dressed in green, feeling green. Soon to be cannon fodder for the fields of France.

Dear Ma and Da
We're in a camp just outside Luton a nice little town where we can buy whatever we require. There's a moving picture show and a restaurant and some shops. The roads are good and we can ride a bicycle if we can scrounge one.
There isn't a lot of time. We have to work at it all day. The uniform itches and I had to go to sick bay for some calamine lotion for relief. I have blisters on my feet from all the marching but I'm better off than Jimmy McAllister who behaved badly during his first week here and has been put on Sentry every night, walking past barracks while we all sleep. His potato peeling skills are improving I shouldn't mind.  We are enjoying fine weather, but very cold nights. In other words I may say in all my 19 years, I have never been so pleased as I am with conditions of this place, experienced in the last 24 hours. This is the real thing and makes one feel more war-like every day. We are 40 miles from London and can get a pass quite often, so hope to see the city in a week or two.
Your son
Jack



She's sitting at the end of the bar in a sunshine yellow dress, shimmering and obvious among the sea of khaki and navy blue. She has a Rita Hayworth black Fedora obscuring one side of her face, while she eyes uniforms with the other. She's wearing stockings with thin black seams, a luxury for girls at home. She's like a Hollywood actress sitting there in a  with a plunging neck, and smoking a cigarette. He's shy but she's beautiful, striking. He's innocent but he's brave. He's a soldier now.  A virgin soldier in every manifestation of the word.

"Excuse me Miss, can I buy you a drink?"

She smiles, "You shipping out soon?" 

Long fingers point her cigarette to the ceiling as red lips embrace it's tip and draw back. She exhales the smoke in seductive whirls. She's so sophisticated to him.

He tells her 'yes' and buys her a gin and tonic. They chat about the war, the world and how it's a shame so many young men have to leave and that she'll have to find a sugar daddy before too long, since all the handsome chaps are off to fight. She drags a finger with a long polished nail from his throat across the brass buttons down to his chest giving him chills. He's still oblivious to her profession but she's sweet and indulges obvious nerves.

"Dance?" she asks, and he's willing despite his two left feet, but glad of the lessons he'd had at school. She's warm against the coarse wool. His hands around her waist, her arms around his neck and she smells of rose petals and Capstain 20's. His mates are giggling at the bar, mocking the young gun with more than a pistol in his pocket, all too aware he's unaware that tonight will cost him a pretty penny.

"Coming back to my place?"

He's caught off-guard having never been with a woman, but too proud to confess it and ever the gentleman.

"Aight lass,"  he says softly, "I'll walk you home"

She opens the door and pulls him gently through the threshold by the sleeves.  The room is feminine and curtained, with a Queen Anne dressing table adorned with perfume bottles, long gloves and a dressing table set. A small stool in front, where he imagines her putting on her makeup, gliding those stockings along her legs. The thought of seeing her thighs more than arousing. There's a double bed beautifully made in soft pink and pillows, lots of pillows, plush and scattered. A harsh contrast to the barracks cots, and so inviting.

"Undress me." She whispers it as a statement not a question. Hot breath against his neck.

He hasn't a clue where to begin, but she's experienced and makes it easy as his fumbling hands are directed along the small of her back up to the nape of her neck. Her zip glides gently as he feels the bareness of her shoulders and the smoothness of satin covered buttocks. Four hands keep sliding and a shock of yellow pours onto the floor like liquid gold. Her hands guide his between her thighs as he smells her sex and feels his own. Polished fingers unbutton jacket and belt, slide braces over his shoulders. His shirt pulled from his torso. He feels blissfully out of control and comforted that she isn't. Mouths pressed tongues dance, and he understands what's meant by a true French Kiss. Bodies now naked and in sync, she slides into bed with a single movement and without disengaging. Skin on skin, he 'gets' it - hands, hips - he loves it. Her curves unseen between the sheets but soft and undulating flesh moves expertly beneath his body. Firm breasts are hidden but available to touch. He toys teasingly with each nipple and she moans. The left providing more arousal than the other as she guides his erection into her. Pleasure is short but overwhelming. He's falling in love or mistaken lust.

He doesn't mind parting with the ten quid at the end of the night. In fact she asks him to stay until early morning. He sleeps, curled in the warm embrace of a sweet-smelling whore.

I don't even know your name but took note of your address before I left. I am snatching a few moments to write a note and it is one fine morning here and the grass and trees are green and pretty. I know you have other men but I don't have a sweetheart and before we mobilise I would be grateful if you would send me a photograph.  We are all men here and a pretty face would cheer me up no end.  I will try to get hold of some silk stockings for you if I can.
The trip over was remarkable in that we had fine weather almost all the time and I was not sick a minute of the time. France is a beautiful country. The moon is just coming up and it reminds me of the evening we spent together. It is as big as the mirror ball in the dance hall and shines just as bright. Slept on some soft pine boards last night but if wood is any harder let me never see it. Must close here, lights are taboo and the light of the moon is failing me. Please send me the picture and tell me your name.
Yours
Jack

She doesn't reply.

"Stand to. . . " the order's bellowed one hour before dawn and they're roused from sleep in the muck and the damp.

Bayonets are fixed and ready for dawn's raiders. Shells fly and machine guns rattle. This was 'the morning hate' the first volley in a deadly game. Strangely all goes quiet for breakfast. After the "Stand to" - rum is issued to the soldiers who busy themselves cleaning their rifles before  inspection by senior officers. Pompous and zealous in their examination of muddy boots and dented helmets, they fulfill their pretentious duty.

"Fix your belt son!" to one who's belt is barely there.

"Your weapon's filthy," to another, knee-deep in mud.

The young recruits still attempting to stand at attention and present themselves well. The older guard raising eyebrows and thinking 'what does it matter, we'll be torn to shreds tomorrow.'

Sandbags to fill, duckboards to repair, latrines to dig, all under the shower of flac from enemy lines.

He's scared. Early excitement and anticipation fades to fear and trepidation. He's wet, cold his sanity retained only by the memory of a nameless beauty in a stunning yellow dress.

As it quietens in the afternoon, he leans against the hardened clay wall and smokes, makes silly ornaments from shell casings and bullets and takes the time to roughly draft a letter in pencil.

Under a blanket of black, they fetch food, water and supplies, run sentry two hours at a time and fight the urge to sleep on guard. The boys at the front retreat. The boys at the back advance. Fresh meat for the coming conflagration
.

Dear Ma and Da
A few lines to try and tell you what it is like out here. I am giving no state secrets away, only telling bare facts, so I think I can sign my name on the back. I did intend to write to you a few days ago, but there was an awful din going on we were staying in a cellar in the day and working in the trenches or in front of the trenches at night. It was impossible to sleep through the noise of shells that kept hitting the walls. We get out for a day or two then have to go back for two or three nights. There has been heavy fighting round this way for the last two weeks. I've been at the front line for what seems like weeks and without a rest we out here are wondering if ever they will relieve us, and wonder “Will they ever come” It takes us all our time to keep together. The noise is bad but the gas gives me a right royal headache. We were in the trenches a few days ago during the day and saw Germans coming to attack. We had to cross a bit of open ground and they fired at us but we lay flat. Otherwise I might not be writing this letter at all.
After they had had found their position they started shelling, and it was hell with the lid off what with gasping for breath and expecting to be blown to pieces, to say nothing of being unable to see. We have lost a lot of men this last few weeks. Rather a sad thing happened the other night we were out doing barbed wire in front of the trenches, they had been warned that we were out there, we had almost finished when two of our men were shot right through the head by our own people, but things like that are not talked of in the papers.

As much as I wanted to be here,I now long to come home.

Your son

Jack

He's going 'over the top'.  A daytime excursion into the belly of Hell - he'd rather be doing sentry at night. The smoke is thick as mucous and he's armed to the teeth but laying low. Foreign tongues invade his ears as he waits for artillery to split the air.  He can hear his heartbeat. His ears are ringing and he's terrified that even breathing will give his location away. He leans into the wall, fixes his bayonet with frozen fingers and waits for the call. They scramble above the trench and he begins to crawl, comrades fall as he scurries on all fours through the wire and remnants of yesterday's fray.

Men left where they fell, twisted, torn, grimaced smiles and dead eyes. The eyes of his brothers spur him on.  Not even a crow dares land here in Hades.  Bodies strung out like wreckage washed up to a watermark. Dying on the wire. Fish caught in a callous net, hanging grotesques in crucifix poses. Pegged as they died, suspended on their knees and riddled with bullets. There's a flash of red, then white, then black as he's thrown and winded, his face burning, his leg shattered.


Dear Mr Mrs Dixon

I am writing to inform you that your son Jack was involved in a skirmish during the recent assault in Normandy . He was wounded in the lower leg and sadly has lost his sight due to the impact blast of a grenade. He's resting comfortably in Calais. He will be well enough to travel within the month but will need your support once he is demobbed. Enclosed are his medical records, forwarded in advance to assist with some necessary preparations.
We have little hope that he will regain his sight although his leg will heal completely. I am sorry to be the bearer of such bad news but he is luckier than some who perished on that dreadful day and many who suffer here still.


Yours faithfully

Matron G Card
British Military Hospital
Calais FR

Continued in Part 2

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Breaking In

 

A manipulative man will break her - with force. A noose around the neck elicits screams and panic before a hog-tie and trip. Crush and conquer. Bring her to the ground. A flailing beauty once wild and majestic reduced to pathos in the dust.  Too terrified to resist. Too bound to move.  He mounts and kicks, whoops and whips; she flails confused. They speak different languages, "Give up bitch" he screams, "Fuck off redneck" she thinks. He sticks like Teflon. Dust and chaps flying. Arm swinging wild and victorious. Her legs resist, her neck arches and jerks, her hips revolt in an effort to throw, as spindled legs take all her cerebral effort to enforce the flight instinct within.  He is a rough-rider when she wants - needs gentleness. He chases, traps, ensnares, dominates and breaks. Manual manipulation mangling her mouth.

Every synapse draws on the instinct to flee. She's trapped. Cold steel pressed against soft lips and tongue. Hard men block her escape. Sweat pours...eye-whites stare into his. "I am afraid, don't hurt me." He seizes an opportunity to master and subdue. It's humiliation of something wonderful and she resists. Foam slides between her legs, from her lips, until beauty fades and submission gives way to survival. The fight fades with bitterness. She is conquered - broken.

A good man takes the gentle path. A good man doesn't need to 'break her', he understands her.
A firm hands caress muzzle and throat. Palms glide along her neck, spine, across her flanks, her rump; Down to hock and stifle with a gentle grip, firm but fair. The hand that holds the wither flinch, and the voice that whispers "Whoa, steady . . ."   It's the stroke of tenderness on shoulder and thigh that meets with least resistance. "I will be gentle with you, don't be afraid."

He leans against her, ebbing weight across her shoulders. His arms outstretched from neck to flank. Soft palms, safe hands. His warmth against her side. Reassuring, nonthreatening. Tough glides, slides, calms, and she dips her head. He mounts; gingerly, gently as she flinches with the weight. Dulcet tones and reassurance to her insecurity soothes. He maintains his massage as knees press gently into her girth.  "Walk on. . walk  on . . " 

It's not the words that propel her or make her willing,  but the constant and persistent softness of his voice, the reassurance of his touch, the safety in his presence. The foundation of trust. She takes a tentative step.  Unsure but forward. Hands gentle on her mouth, thighs firm against her spine.

He is master not commander. She is slave yet willing. She capitulates. She is not conquered. She is calmed, a willing supplicant to gentle persuasion.

She is his. And he is hers. Bound but not broken.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Cathartic Hurling

"You should..."

 I hate that. Should what? Not feel, not fall, behave, conform, be normal?  Put up with your domineering control, your invasion of my personal space, your disregard for all that's decent. I'm out of control after a life of doing what I 'should'.

You're not shielded by that glass you know, it's no two-way mirror, you're visible, transparent. I see you. I hear you. Your hypocrisy. Your shallow life, your poor advice, your misguided loyalty, your selfishness. You just want me to be as miserable as you. I hurl pebbles at your morality, your judgement, your anal retentiveness, you're false accusations and attempts make me conform disappear.

One to wake you up. Two to get your attention. Three to make you alert. Four to exert a reaction. Five to make you get off the couch. Six to rile you up. Seven to really piss you off.  Eight to make you shout. Nine to make you reach for the gun, the baseball bat, whatever defensive tool you think you need. Ten to make you open the front door.  Eleven because it's loud. Twelve because I have more in my hand. Thirteen because you'll get superstitious and duck. Fourteen because that's how old you behave. Fifteen because . . shit, because it's a nice round number divisible by five and three. Sixteen because I wish I was. Fuck it, have the remaining handful . . 20 to shatter your facade, expose your narkiness, shit you to tears, bruise your two faces.

So good to see this world is alive with all its failings and fallacies - personified by you. Two-faced, uncommunicative bastard and your progeny of selfish brats. Your silence as vehement as your outrageous over-vocalisation and emotional bullying. Tonight I'm high and not taking any of your shit. You're an idiot, a moron, a thorn in my side, selfishness personified. Empathy murdered. Enjoy your leather sofas and wide screen TV. Revel in your designer accoutrements and flash cars. A dick in a dickie suit is still a dick. Can't wait to see you crumble like so much windscreen glass. 

Try as you might to hurl the pebbles back, I am not made of glass.  I'm Teflon.  I'd rather my own company than suffer yours.  It's all good. Pretending you don't exist.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Going Under


"Are you hot?"
Stupid question really. Does a brick sink?

It’s melting. They’re melting; into the couch, into each other. The air’s oppressive and the humidity high, despite being almost midnight. The lazy waft of a ceiling fan not enough to cool their glistening skin, or to dry the emerging sweat on their foreheads.

"Coming for a swim?" Her question is unanswered.

Nicola loves to swim at night. Nothing but the massage of tepid liquid and the flicker of moonlight in the safety of a limpid pool. All quiet save the crickets and the occasional night bird. The fragrance of jasmine loping over the fence permeating the night air with the sweet scent of summer. The darkness of salt water embracing her, buoying her.  It’s soothing, euphoric, cooling and calming, and leads to imaginings of his touch. How she imagines his touch -  gentle, scintillating, arousing. Like listening to Brahms before bedtime.  She heard once that drowning was a wonderful way to die. She'd drown in his arms if he'd let her.

Nicola and Ian have been friends for a long time. Intimate friends in every way except physical. Sharing their secrets, woes, joys, loves and hates. They've laughed with each other, cried with each other, fallen out with each other, fallen asleep with each other. She's criticised his choice of partners. He's told her she needs to relax and get laid. But they always end up together, if only metaphorically, joined at the hip. He lives too far away for anything more. That's the problem. The tyranny of distance means infrequent visits. It's an unusual bond. Yet they remain comfortable as an easy chair, happy in each other's company without having ever taken it further.

He’s massaging her feet.  He’s only here for a short time and she wants to pack everything she can into his day, into her day, she's exhausted. He just has a few short weeks in her company and she's trying to keep him entertained. It's not necessary to pander to him.  He’s just as happy mooching about the house, rumbling the dog, making fun of her unruly hair and clumsy ways in the kitchen. He's just happy to be there.

She’s lying prone on a two-seater couch. Head leaning back over the arm. Her hair cascading down its side. He stares at her exposed neck and decolletage and daydreams while she relaxes; her eyes half shut and staring at the rotation of the fan. Her legs are limp and warm in his lap, as his musician’s hands play her toes like some finely tuned instrument. 


Secretly she doesn’t want him to let his grip loosen. She never has, but he's never made a move. It’s a rare thing for him to touch her beyond the odd welcome hug or the rescuing hand that pulls her across a busy street; helps her manage a steep incline or occasionally rubs her shoulders.  

Secretly he wants to touch her more intimately but he's worried she'll get the wrong idea. He loves her but he's not 'in love' with her. At least he doesn't think so. Then he hasn't been in love so how can he tell? But there's no profit in it. No benefit to either of them to get down and dirty. Still, she has a wonderful neck and broad beautiful shoulders and a regal demeanour that charms him. The urge to slide a hand from her ankle along the inside length of tanned legs is hard to quell.

This is one dip he's reluctant to take, and his response is lazy as the air is heavy. He doesn't want to unhinge her from his grasp but she's giving him that 'it's time' look and he knows he must. 


"Yes. I suppose so...in a minute.” His hand does slide along her inner thigh and she smiles as she becomes lost in the sensation, finally.
***
She's ready, wearing nothing more than a sarong. He's waist-wrapped with a beach towel. Their discretion before the skinny dip maintained only as an attempt at faux modesty. They've seen each other naked in the past during their brief travels. They'd shared beds and bathrooms but this time she was sweeter, slimmer, tanned and looked sexy, apart from the sallowness around her eyes. Yes, she is beautiful.

"C'mon . . " she urges, and takes his hand, "Don't be shy. You promised..."

They venture beyond the pool gate and he dives in with a quiet splash. The warm water streams across his skin and the freedom of an unclothed and well-toned body feels liberating. As he emerges and shakes his hair, water beads on his boyish and hairless torso. He is lovely, youthful, even when wringing wet. She's already divested the sarong and is descending the shallow-end steps.  He submerges again and swims between her legs brushing her thighs and more with wet tresses before coming up and around her. His front to her back as arms finally embrace, and hands clasp gently across her breasts, then slide from dry to wet as they glide into the water, across her belly and down between her thighs.  He kisses her neck as she turns, and her mouth presses against his.  He sits on the bottom step, chest deep in the dappled dark water and she straddles him slowly.  It is heaven. Exactly as she'd planned it. For him, a bittersweet surprise as the merging of liquids bring them both to orgasm. Their pleasure muffled. Little is heard, nothing is said, as water laps at the skimmer box. Now lovers, they hold position for what seems like hours, until she breaks away. They swim silently together. Beyond where her feet can touch the bottom and she smiles.

"I've always loved you," she whispers as he takes her in his arms.

His feet still firmly planted on pebblecrete.  Tears are barely discernible against a glistening face but he is crying. He places firm hands upon her shoulders. He kisses her, slow and long. He doesn't want to let her go. He feels her body relinquish and give in to the pressure as she sinks without struggle.
***
Peter Farmer can't sleep. The sheets around him are damp with sweat and his erection's making him hope that his neighbour's taking a midnight dip. He hears the lapping of the flap on the skimmer box and stands aside the curtains, peering lasciviously through the window and down to the pool of the house next door. Hand wrapped and applying pressure where it pleases him most.

He's often watched her swim at night.  Watched her drop the sarong on the steps and seen the line of her shoulders, the arch of her back and the curve of her buttocks. She's curvy, shapely. The face isn't much but she's got a body he'd like to penetrate, and often. Pity she'd fallen out with him after his wife left.

He's watched her since he moved into Culvert Close. A quiet cul de sac with their houses adjacent at the end of the street.  He watched her get out of her car and ogled her legs as she reached for the garage door. He watched her hang washing on the line in the flimsiest of covers. He'd even become brave on a couple of occasions and ventured into her yard before she got that yap trap of a dog. Watched her bathe, watched her cook...she was titillating, exciting and roused something in him that riled him up, an anger and a passion. Anger that she'd never fancy a man like him. Passion as he obsessed about being with her.

She was a friendly neighbour once and brought him a 'welcome basket'. They'd shared cofee and chat. He'd only tried to be nice when he attempted to kiss her. Well perhaps his hands were where they shouldn't be and he'd rushed in a little too quick. But it had pissed her off and she'd told him in no uncertain terms that she wasn't interested, when the palm of her hand connected and stung the side of his face. Still, he'd like to fuck her.

She doesn't seem to know that he can see her from the second bedroom. See her body glide through the black liquid.  He sees it, lusts after it as the beads of water cascade over her shoulders and straighten normally wavy hair - as she breast-strokes silently from one end of the pool to the other. He sees it all and imagines her a mermaid in the dark. Usually singing just for him.

But tonight, he's getting an eyeful and it's more than he bargained for.  Just as he's about to jack off watching the lovers perform on the steps, his erection softens. He watches her sink into oblivion. The menacing hands of someone he's seen with her on rare occasions, are holding her down.  A violent act or erotic play?  He's getting stiff again and repairs to the bathroom to finish what he started.

***
"You have to be kidding!" Ian's question is rhetorical and he's hoping that he didn't hear it through the sobs.

"I'm not...I'm deadly serious." Nicky replies, "I can't stand it any more. I can't stand the pain, the ostracism, not having you here to help me deal with it. You're my best friend. I need you."

He takes his responsibility as her friend very seriously but this is an impossible ask, and he's vacillating between hanging up, exploding in anger, or just biting the bullet and booking a ticket to go see her.

"Well top yourself then! I don't care!" his voice is mean and he's about to hit the kill switch.

"Don't you hang up on me!" The sobs have subsided and she's now pleading through puffy eyes.

Eyes that were so beautiful, so brown, now reddened and sad. He doesn't have the heart to hang up and his sudden twang of compassion is tearing at his very fibre.  He's not normally persuaded by emotion.

"Nicky, you're 35 years old. You can't just give up. There are medications, pain relief, sometimes miracles happen. You're still fit. Perhaps it'll never take hold." He's lying to her for the first time.

She would never ask him to do this if it wasn't real. He's feeling pain in his own chest now but it's not a disease causing it.

"Don't do anything, I'll be on the next flight." He doesn't hear the 'thank you darling' before he hangs up and begins to heave.

They talk about it. Wildly, madly, then softly and sadly. Over three weeks of constant discussion.

"I know someone who drowned." Her tone matter-of-fact, "someone who was brought to the surface and resuscitated...he told me it hurt for a few minutes then...the pain goes away.  Ian, I'm in pain. All the time. How much worse can it get? I trust you. Help me. Will you do it?"

Of course he would. He's rarely been able to say no. His own life was falling to shit anyway. He'd never told her how he felt about her. He'd never become the man he wanted to be. He'd never achieved the things he wanted to achieve. Life had lost its purpose, its meaning. If he got away with it, he'd disappear. She'd given him money. He knew places he could go. If he didn't. Tough shit. Not much to live for without her anyway.

They didn't plan when. Just how and why.

***
He releases his gentle touch from her shoulders as she rises, smiling. The water sheering gently from her hair and face. Her mouth still tasting of his salt she kisses him again on the mouth. 

"God why didn't we do this years ago?" She asks.

He has no idea because it's perfect. 


"C'mon." He trails her tenderly by the hand into the shallows and exits the pool via the steps. He loves the look of her as she ascends looking more like a Bond babe than a dying lover. He holds up her sarong and wraps it tenderly around her, kisses her cheek and whispers. 

"Now you've got something to live for yeh?" 

Nicola nods and smiles. "Don't leave me."

"I'll be back in a couple of months," he promises and her heart soars.


The night is spent in his sweet embrace. She feels a little better as she drops him at the terminal. She kisses him goodbye without moving from the driver's seat. She's not up for seeing him off and drives away as soon as he slams the trunk. He waves and smiles and she catches what she hopes is not the last glimpse of him in her rear view mirror.  He disappears through the sliding doors.


***
Nicola once again wears the sarong out to the pool and slips silently into its cool embrace. Closes her eyes, hands on her own body this time re-living the events of last night. She swims, head above water, body buoyant and remembers his touch. She rolls on her back and stares at the Milky Way, one constellation they can both see at night.  The water's embrace reminds her of his. She's lost in the moment until a rough hand clasps tight around her mouth. Another firmly around her waist, immobilising her while the water tries to rush in through her nostrils.  She's swirled like a maelstrom to face her attacker. Eyes wide she recognises the face of the man she once slapped. She struggles to breathe and kicks the body forcing itself into her.  As he infiltrates, the water seeps in through his fingers. She can't breath. Drowning is not gentle. His fist comes down hard on the side of her head. Pain releases and she sinks.

***
The Church's "Under the Milky Way Tonight" plays softly in the background. A condemned man's request.  He's strapped to a gurney in a small chamber although the restraints are unnecessary. A large glass window to his left, and glossy green painted walls on three sides with the exception of one where there's a small locked door.  He's already been prepped with an intravenous line in each arm and can barely feel the saline solution coursing through his veins. He's quiet.  Resigned.

Prison Officer Markus Schwartz is the short-straw man who's been charged with the execution.  He whispers to the Chaplain, standing beside him, along with  a couple of other guards and a waiting physician.

"I've never seen anyone so calm. Usually we have to restrain them or sedate them just to get them in here."

The Chaplain raises his eyebrows with a supercilious expression.  It's the first time he's witnessed such a thing and has no idea what to expect, but Ian's laconic smile does come as a surprise.

"No remorse in that one...." he chirps, Bible in hand.

The smugness in the Chaplain's voice a testament to his conviction that this man is a cold blooded killer about to be redeemed. There's little more 'cleansing' than death and forgiveness of the Divine. The apparent irony in the willingness to break a holy commandment doesn't faze him, not at all.

Ian Carter, the man on the gurney with a soporific smile, had not confessed. Nor had he denied. He'd remained silent after his arrest. An eyewitness account and a voracious prosecutor winning over 12 men and women true, in a State with little tolerance for sexual predators who murder.

The same eye witness who's now peering through the chamber glass with a self-satisfied smirk.  The same eye witness just aching to see an innocent man die. The one clever enough to leave his 'seed' dying in the chlorine instead of inside his victim. The one who'd reported the floating body of his next door neighbour. The one who'd punished her infidelity to him, and incriminated the love of her life.

The bitch deserved everything for rejecting his advances. And this bastard? Well he's getting his right now. He just wishes that Carter was distressed. Its annoying watching the serenity on the face of a man about to die. Half the fun is the 'look'. The way they plead and scream in the face of their own demise. His wife had it, a plethora of undiscovered young victims had it, Nicola had it. He desperately wants Carter to have it.

Schwartz presses another button as the green vial empties and a small river of sodium thiopental  syrups its way through the line. 

Ian swears he feels the brush of her lips against his, and the warmth of her hands on his chest. He smells the sweet Jasmine so reminiscent of that heady summer night and lolls into a catatonic state. He can see her standing there. Naked and smiling. Water glistening on her golden skin. She's beckoning him to swim. She's almost with him, and finally the tyranny of distance is usurped.

Posted for The Tenth Daughter of Memory "Harmony of Liquid, Melody of Light"