Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Sex of Syntax

The wonderful and devastating thing about the English language is the connotations attached to certain words. Limpets on the hull of a wooden schooner. The charismatic wisteria strangling an ancient oak. They decorate and destroy and he uses them as embellishment and weaponry.

Small, doesn't always mean diminutive, short of stature, tiny...it can mean feeling 'small' insignificant, unimportant. He's aware of the irony, being big-boned and having lived a life so large but she manages to make him feel 'small'. He attaches connotations to most words and she knows it. She uses the language of his craft, unwittingly and wittingly to give an impression. He chooses the interpretation of his words reading syntax where there is none and understands when language is loaded, a weapon strung, sprung, waiting for the release of some invisible incendiary that will send him into a spin of linguistic confusion. Lost in meaning or nonsense. Overinterpretation or misunderstanding. Why can't she be plain, forward, honest.

She hones her relationships with words. Carefully chosen. She runs them up the flagpole to see if they fly. Throws them on the tarmac to see if they stick. Others grasp them like falling snowflakes to have their meaning melt in the palm of their once warm hands, now rendered cold once as they realise her words are false, wasted, there to cause reaction not solace. He reads meaning where there may not be one, where there may be some. "Give me a sec.." means an hour. "I'll call you back in a few..." could mean a day. She avoids the specific. He needs the detail, the literal interpretation and she makes him feel like a foreigner, taking language literally and expecting its formal interpretation.

Her craft depends on words and she crafts his sentences as carefully as an artisan creating a sculpture. Each curve and bend intentional. She knows how she'll interpret his words then deride him for thinking too much, reading too much into what was meant to be read. His comprehension always flawed. He either skims or overanalyses but she sprays words at her as horticulturist sprays indiscriminate weeds. She a wildflower and he, just a nettle. Her words can lift and sting, light and extinguish, burn and chill.

She wrote for him once, with him twice, about him many times; now he can't write a thing. He stares at the page. Instead of white it transforms,  rouge as a Dutch whore. "Write about me..." she begs. It's a statement not a question and the page teasing, tantalising but he's a poor punter bereft of inspiration with nary a bill in his pocket. He's longing to sate his lust. He wants to write. The white turns to red again as his imaginary muse lifts her satin skirt exposing alabaster thighs and a story begging for the taking. He can smell the sex of syntax as she turns and bends and he drools at the box gap before he snaps the lid of his laptop shut. Nothing but a cursor blinking on the unwritten page.

Perhaps a walk. The dog's eager as he grabs her lead and she jumps and twists with excitement, "Been a while girl."  He laments as he snatches the red lead from a lacklustre door knob.

Why he takes a lead, he doesn't know. The dog's obedient and never in need of restraint. The labrador snuffles the rough ground as if searching for a truffle and grabs a stick. Retriever all the way, she'll carry it with her. Man and dog, inspiration lost but fresh air and sunshine found, traverse the concrete path, wonder beneath the graffiti'd underpass and into a field expansive and lush. The dog runs and sniffs whilst his mind remains distracted by the red whore and the tease of the page.

"I got nothin." His thoughts articulated in the emptiness of an azure sky and emerald field.

The dog momentarily drops it's stick and glides into the murkiness of a pea soup pond relishing the cool and the sludge against a double coat designed for snowy climes, not the arid summer of an antipodes. "Oy, get outta there," his writer's block distracted by the wading labrador.

"Filthy woman..." he shouts as she surfaces and shakes muddy droplets all over his jeans. "Shit dawg..." The filthy woman comment draws his thoughts back to the lascivious testing of a blank page and the red whore.

They wonder back as he examines the graffiti on the underpass. Perhaps there's inspiration there among the tags and scrawls. Charlie the Unicorn grabs his eye as he remembers the You Tube sensation and he smiles. "Hello Charlie..." The unicorn winks back or at least he imagines it does. He examines his shoes and remembers the unfinished manuscripts. Half written fantasies, dramas...nothing complete, nothing culminating in a cliff hanger ending. Perhaps writing isn't his thing. He likes his camera. He enjoys taking photographs but for whom and why? Clearly he doesn't like it that much since he forgot to bring the Canon with him. Something he regrets a little, "Could photograph the graffiti," he thinks aloud.

He and his soaked canine return. He washes his hands and looks around a sunlit room. Empty, silent, too clean to be true and lacking in inspiration.

"Perhaps it's because I'm not depressed or in love or sad.." He analyses. He's always analysed.

"You think to much," she'd told him in happier days. He wanted to write when he was with her, his muse, his inspiration. There was a time he had no shortage of inspiration or material. A time when novels were easy, stories natural. Without her, he has no inspiration. Just an empty soul and a heavy heart but not enough to pour out on the page.

He trawls You Tube. Music is inspirational right?  Dubstep beats give way to ballads about friends and lost love and he's getting depressed. He watches dancers gyrating like his Dutch whore and again is momentarily distracted by a stirring in his pants but its distraction and creative destruction. He moves from the laptop to the desktop.

He sits, upright, ergonomic in front of a new desktop computer. He thought buying it would enforce discipline, help his concentration and perhaps bring life to an otherwise blank screen. He clicks on Facebook. She isn't online. He clicks on Skype. She is, but he doesn't want to interrupt her. They have a deal, she must talk to him first. He's afraid of being needy, saying too much, feeling too much, wanting too much. Even that, he can't write about. Secret business. Personal business, not for the printed page. Then without acknowledgement. She's gone.

He types a line and deletes it before it's finished.

"Shit..I got nothin'" he wants to call her, ask her to inspire him, ask her to help him, motivate him. He wants her to come round, undress him, put her mouth on him, hold him when he sleeps, post coital, warm and with the sun streaming through his bedroom window, but those days are gone. She has her own problems and he's become less part of her life these days. She keeps her secrets and is trite and polite - gives him no food for thought, no succour for stories that once leaped onto the page. She has no interest in helping him find his muse. He wants to tell 'their' story and his mind wonders to the dirty stain on the ceiling.

"Damn valley gutters....need to get on that". The stain slowly permeating the gyprock, soaked by a concoction of gum leaf tea, percolating through the ceiling after summer storms. It makes the pattern of a slightly familiar face but he can't place it.

He gets up and pours a glass of wine, "Loosen up a bit, it'll come..." he tells the freezer as he breaks four ice cubes into a cheap Semillon.

"Yeh, couple of these and it'll come." It doesn't.

After four, he begins to cry. "If she was here...It would be different."

He knows it wouldn't, but he hopes it would. He goes back to the screen, still blank and white until the whore reappears, "You don't want me baby?" she asks, bare-breasted, and hands between her thighs.

"I can't afford you honey?" Even the imaginings of sex give no food for thought.
She fades into white as quickly as she originally bled onto his screen.

Start menu: shut down. Blocked again. "Fuckit. I'll clean cupboards."

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Resurrection...well....almost

A few months ago, I closed a site that had encouraged me to write - about everything - due to waning interest. Constraints of time, dissatisfaction with the format and well, some imagined intimidation at being 'judged' for your work (which I like actually) caused interest to dwindle. Since then, a few of us have been flailing in the world of writing and miss the challenge and contributions. My point? The Tenth Daughter of Memory is returning and this is as good a place as any to let you know that JeffScape has decided to attempt a relaunch of sorts.

However... things have changed.

The new system in mind provides longer periods of both submitting and voting, as well as limits the types of entries a specific Muse will accept.  The system, so far, looks wonderful on paper, but it is obvious to those involved that said system will undoubtedly run into problems.

Which means what, exactly?

Which means that, starting in November, The Tenth Daughter of Memory is going to launch a 3-cycle "beta test" to try out the next system, with the hopes of having a full relaunch in time for the "4th Annual River of Mnemosyne"  challenge.

The beta test will be all-volunteer and done in private, and, well, we need volunteers.

Although 10thDoM comes with a warning, it's not for pussies, it's not necessarily for writers since you can post almost anything there that 'fits' the muse but it is a forum for credible writers who want to take their craft to others, receive feedback and enjoy the ride.

Anyone interested in either participating, even just occasionally, or administrating, please email us at 10thDoM@gmail.com.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Narcissus Transformed


The first time he brought her flowers, was her last. She wasn’t alive to see them bloom. For 20 years she’d longed for him to send her a gift of anything; chocolate, the book he’d written especially for her but never sent, flowers on her birthday or a Christmas card. The only gift he’d ever given her, an item of clothing that she admired, had been ‘re-gifted’. She often wondered who actually bought it for him, and how they might have felt knowing that it was being worn by someone other than its intended. Still, she wore it as if wrapped in his embrace, comforting and warm until its threads withstood no wear and it was relegated into a suitcase of relics that marked her life.

She’d have made love to him had he written her a poem, hugged him for a token of his affection but these moments had been rare. He’d made the effort to attend her funeral even though it was a world a way from the place he now calls home; strange for a man who considers he never had one. Only twice had he crossed oceans to visit her. Wonderful visits full of adventure, laughter and intimacy. 

She’d visited him many times, in many places, none of them where he really wanted to be, but he’d been sparing with his thanks, then, she had been grateful just to connect. Despite his intentions of travelling the world, he had remained land-locked and, as he aged, lonely. Never having the will or resources to wonder beyond his self-imposed boundaries. Yet he'd kept in touch.

Sure, in his 30's he'd had women besides her. Beautiful women, professional women, artistic women, crazy women...all had come and gone, none stayed. None showed an understanding of his personality or a deep love of him, despite himself. Quick fucks, long fucks, sympathy fucks, slow fucks, sad fucks...once the gloss wore off, they wondered into other men's arms, leaving his bed cold and his heart steeled.

He places the bouquet upon her casket, watched disapprovingly by a sea of faces, none of whom know who he is. This foreigner, this interloper, stealing a moment.  Funerals are like that, everyone thinking they have a special connection with the body in the box. None knowing the connection she had with him. He did. He didn't know how great until her passing.  Her children know of course, and a few close friends remember him, have heard of him – spoken about lovingly and affectionately by their friend.  She waxed lyrically about him; beautiful and gentle, sweet and misunderstood. Her interpretation coloured ,but her love of him solid and unwavering.

 He was solemn, and for the first time in a long time, tears other than those of a crocodile glistened on his now crow-footed eyes. A shadow of his former self, he looks older than his 54 years; sadder, worn out, beaten and unhappy. She would have hated to see him this way.  His glossy dark hair now silver grey. Skin pale and sallow, his gait hampered by a limp once slight, now through neglect, pronounced and painful. A nagging pain he’s carried all his life. He bears the wound as his badge of courage, a reminder of the fallen and his own guilt. A badge long undeserved. A courage lost and forgotten.

He was a young man when she met him. Arrogant, confident, beautiful and talented; penniless of course. Full of hope and aspirations, unwilling to put in a hard day’s work for a decent day’s pay.  Damaged by some, desired by many, loved by few. His tenure with friends short lived due to an impetuous nature and unforgiving soul. Not much of a prospect really, but she had independence and money and didn’t need financial gain, just his affection and the tokens that accompany friendship, love.

His selfish ways didn’t faze her, nor did his angry temperament or his impatient heart. She saw beyond the mask, inside the shell. She saw the softness he tried so hard to hide. The vulnerability he tried to shake. She knew who he was, what he was, and loved him anyway, unconditionally and with deep sorrow over the lack of  reciprocation. He could never be hers because she could never be his. All she wanted was for him to take a little more interest in her. Repay a little of her kindness and affection. Treat her as special, even though she wasn't. 

“Why do you hold me in such high regard?” He’d often asked.

“Because I love you. That’s what people who care about each other do.”

The answer was always the same. Love him she did, care about him she did, as if he was her son, her brother, her lover, her friend. A love she longed for him to articulate, as he had in the beginning, but as the years went by, he rarely did.

“The words have more meaning if I issue compliments rarely. When I do say thank you, or I love you, you know I mean it,” So he would explain away his refusal to reassure her.

She disagreed and said she loved him all the time. Even when he was harsh and difficult.

“I tell my children I love them, my friends that I love them…and I’ll be damned if I won’t tell you that I love you …”

His cell filled with messages each night - “Good night sweet prince,”  For twenty years, she’d sent a goodnight wish. Long after she'd found another, was happy in her skin. She never forgot him, never betrayed him, never stopped loving him. She was nothing if not reliable, loyal, honest and true. He knew that, he appreciated that, but never told her even though he knew how much it would light her life and thrill her heart.

So now, he brings her flowers. Sweet sunshine on stems, Daffodils, Narcissus tazetta, their significance unacknowledged, but she would have understood. This is her last bouquet.  These blooms would have elicited tears of joy, had she lived to see them.

She’d have taken solace from his despair, and outpouring of emotion. Only once had she seen him cry. At last, a cognitive sign of love, a sign he really cared. He finally has the strength and will to communicate in a language she would have understood. A language so sincere and heartfelt, yet one he was so determined to avoid during her lifetime.

As he places the bouquet of sunshine on her casket, and the unmailed book,  he finally whispers the words she longed to hear.
 “I love you - thank you - I’m sorry.




Friday, July 20, 2012

Ignition

Sylvia Embleton sees a lot from her French window. She’s been an invalid for some time, and the window and TV are the closest thing to company that she gets these days. Her carers position her chair so that she can watch the goings on in the street and access her LCD TV without having to move. She’s discreetly hidden behind the veil of a sheer curtain. She knows these boys sitting across the street, idling their time on the wall next to the bus shelter. They're the same ones who graffiti'd the shelter and then her front door after she'd called the police. They'd got off Scott free with little more than a warning. However the repercussions for poor old Sylvia were frightening. She won't be game to do that in a hurry again. They harassed her for days, throwing eggs and empty spray cans at her window as she hid unseen behind the curtain. Three days later her beloved cat disappeared and she’s had suspicions that they were the culprits ever since. They can no longer see her, but she watches them. There's little that goes unnoticed by Sylvia. Time is her friend and street gazing the respite between soap operas. She was tempted to call the police again that night as she saw a hooded boy hacking at the base of a loose stop sign. Little evades her sharp gaze. The body’s weak but the mind is active and her vision acute. Only the fear of repercussion prevented her, “The RMS will replace it in the morning…” she convinced herself.

Mitch Bowes was never a 'sensible' boy and his penchant for the practical joke born of an indulgent father and trickster, further perpetuated by admiring glances and giggles from onlooking mates. An attention seeker, Mitch had long moved beyond setting fire to turd-filled brown bags and had graduated beyond putting laxatives in his teacher's mocha.

These days his immature brain gets its jollies off in far more dangerous ways. But like most 15 year old males, his brain isn't wired for consequences, just showing off. The other boy sitting with Bowes on the wall is Jonathon Finch. His affection for Bowes has been waning for some time but as his enabler and follower, he panders to the petulant prankster's whims. Some of the pranks they've been responsible for had them rolling on the ground in hysterics and tearing up. Others had Finch's heart in his throat as he came dangerously close to causing bodily harm. Oddly it wasn't the fear of being caught, it was the pure adrenalin of coming close to beating Bowes at his own game; taking control...being the king pin prankster, not just emulating one.

Like the time they'd bottle-bombed a whole cul de sac of mailboxes. Bombing 11 mailboxes had been an ambitious challenge and by the time the last went off, there were people chasing both boys down the street. Only the last explosion and the shards of glass showering down on the pyjama-clad angry mob, halted their pursuit. Then there was the time that Bowes talked Finch into prank-calling the police saying he was hiding in a cupboard at Denny's because there was someone robbing the register. Bowes had neglected to tell him to keep the call under 2 minutes and it was traced. Man he'd slid halfway down that slippery slope when his old man found out. Grounded for three weeks and the X-Box sold on e-Bay. Still, he got off with a warning and the adrenalin fuelled a need to do something even more reckless.

By far the worst, the most dangerous, and the most thrilling was when Finch finally had the balls to take the lead, as both of them armed themselves with rocks and hurled the missiles onto passing cars below the overpass. Bowes always being careful to strike the roof or trunk, Finch aiming directly at the windscreen. He'd hit his target more than once and watched cars careen to the hard shoulder, and giggled and whooped victoriously as bloodied and mesmerised drivers exited their vehicles and examined the damage. He’d been fuelled by the report of one poor woman who was hit months ago in a similar incident, now resigned to a wheelchair and feeding tube. Yeh, that shit’s exciting. That shit really is the bomb.

The two are sitting on the wall at the crossing of 5th and Mapex watching traffic and brainstorming the next prank to relieve their truant boredom. “We could go shoplift Flanagans. There's only that dumb girl behind the counter, she don't know shit. You could crack on to her and I'll pocket ...well ...what should I pocket?"

Finch’s enthusiasm is feigned. Bowes sideswipes Finch’s head, "Lame, dumbass...what'll you nick? Muesli bars? All the good stuff's behind the counter and I’m not in the mood for a felony.”

Finch stands corrected but his feelings, and the side of his head is hurt, "Yeh well not as lame as ordering concrete for old man Corelli's driveway...that backfired didn't it ...the guy wouldn't pour it 'cos there was no formwork. Nice work genie-arse!"

Another thump hits an already bruised arm and Finch is becoming more than defensive. "I am a fuckin' genius you dick. How about the time..."

His sentence cut from his lips by another put down from Bowes who’s growing tired of Finch’s whining. ".and...don't fuckin' tell me who's the brains in this outfit Finch. You're a pawn in my game. It's me, I’m the genius in this outfit and always have been. You're just the minion doing my bidding. Peon."

Bowes is aware that the once doting follower is fast becoming the leader and risk-taker. He's threatened by the slow coup and resents Finch's rise from meek to menacing. Finch on the other hand has been seething inside. His partner in crime is irritating him beyond belief and the resentment has been burning him up for a long, long, time. What was an ember of distaste is fast becoming a wildfire of revenge and the cogs begin turning in Finch’s mind.

Before another backhand can be delivered, there's the screech of tyres and the dull thud of a slow collision at the cross street that has both boys springing to their feet. An irate delivery man inspects the ding in the back of his van as an apologetic woman frantically checks the small child in the back of a Ford Fiesta. The dingle is fixed amicably as the two concurrently check damage, exchange details and move the still drivable vehicles to the side of the road.

  "...went through the stop sign I reckon," murmurs Finch.

"Well thank you captain-fuckin’-obvious. Let's get outta here, there's nothin' goin' on. Wanna hit X-Box and rape zombies?" Bowes dismounts from the wall assuming Finch will be in tow.

Finch has had enough of the berating and thumping and is still rubbing his arm. Bowes takes all the credit for their pranks and frankly, most of their menacing acts in the past have been his idea, but largely executed by Finch. Bowes likes to keep his hands and nose clean since he was caught circulating nude pictures of Melanie Rice from school. That little contretemps and subsequent police warning made him leery and so Finch had become the fall guy in Bowes’ eyes, the perpetrator, the one to take the greater risks.

"Nah man. I'm gonna head. I'll catch you tomorrow." Each boy heads off in opposite directions. Only one hangs out of sight. The flames have fuelled an idea. It's a good idea, a dangerous idea but it's now exploding inside his head and sliding down the embankment of thought. Plans are afoot. Bowes, the knob, has left his hoodie and baseball cap on the wall as Finch returns to souvenir the garb.

“Perfect!” He mumbles and rolls the sweater and hat, tucking it underneath his skinny arm, “You’ll come in handy mutha fucka!”

It's late and the intersection is quiet, poorly lit in this part of the suburb. One of the stop signs is dangerously loose after the collision the day before and easily wheedled out of its concrete mooring. The other, on the opposite corner of Mapex Street, needs a little work but nobody sees him beavering in the dark with little more than a tyre jack. They're old, they've been in the ground for over 20 years and chipping at the base of the pole soon renders the second sign loose enough to pull from its moorings. Damn it'll be fun watching the cars speed through thinking they have right of way. Finch imagines the scenes of carnage, Grand Theft Auto style skids and slides, entertainment for a bored vandals, sitting on the wall at a safe distance and admiring their handiwork. This is gonna be the best prank....ever, and the best revenge.

***

Doris Beecham is thrilled. At 78, she's requalified for her Driver’s License, as is the requirement every three years. She's a capable driver and knows her limits. She never drives at night, always adheres to the speed limit and avoids the freeway. The ex-University Lecturer has a sharp mind and a great wit, faculties that she's proud of as she frequently beats ex-students in complex Sudoku matches or the fine art of chess. Her slender frame is in pretty good shape for her age.

Her 70-year-old younger sister Maria, is not so fit and puts on a brave face as arthritic bones fold into the passenger seat. "God Doris, this used to be so easy! Takes me ages to get comfortable these days."

Doris smiles and takes her sister's cane as the less able woman lowers herself with a wince into the Camry's front seat, before lithe Doris herself slips easily into the driver's side.

"I'm really looking forward to this aren’t you?" A little shopping, a little lunch then a movie...quite the old girl's day out wouldn't you say?" Maria fondles the tickets for a matinee performance in her hands, "Pass the mints Dor?" She takes a cool mint from the pack as Doris pulls cautiously from the curb and glides into the street, heading towards the remodelled intersection.

Davis Bryant is in a hurry. His delivery is precious and someone at Peakhurst Hospital is waiting for the delicate cargo in his care. He takes his job seriously and pathology delivery is something he's proud to do, much better than his old courier job. He feels a sense of contribution and care. The undersized van with "Emergency Blood Delivery" emblazoned on the rear window commands respect and he's earned it. But today, he’s driving a little fast and the radio is a little too loud. He’s a man on a mission with self-imposed peripheral vision.

Lucinda Sims is late for work and the kids aren't cooperating. Her voice resembles that of a Banshee as she shouts orders at them. "Jenny get your shoes on, you'll be late for school! And Michael, where's your lunch. It should be in your bag. Hurry up you two...get a wiggle on!"

There's been a teacher's strike and the kids are starting later than usual, it's given them cause to dawdle, and Lucinda cause to fret since her boss is less than understanding when it comes to family matters interrupting her work day. The man can be an asshole when she takes time off to nurse sick kids or attend school functions. His attitude adding to the panic of the morning.

“Get in the car, both of you! Stop mucking about!" She can feel her blood pressure rising and the discomfort of an elevated heart rate as she slams the front door and scrambles to the car, throwing her arm into her coat sleeve, her bag slipping from her shoulder to her elbow and spilling its contents on the driveway. "Shit!" she exclaims as she scrambles to find her keys among the spillage of cosmetics, bills and scattered coins. “Just another fucking day at the office.” She mumbles out of earshot of the squealing kids, now struggling with their seatbelts.

***

Finch has uncharacteristically not told his 'mate' about the prank he's planned, and sits wrapped in an oversized hoodie on the brick wall outside number 28 Fifth Avenue. His face obscured by a baseball cap beneath the gangsta hood. Neither of which belong to him nor have been missed by his adversary. Adjacent to him is a bus shelter, now empty from the morning rush. To anyone passing by he's an invisible punk waiting for public transport. He' noisily slurps a "V" from a can although he really doesn't need the adrenalin. He becomes mildly annoyed when the 'bum fluff'' he refers to as a ‘moustache’ is momentarily pinched by the half retracted ring pul .

"Motha fucka!" he exclaims while wiping his top lip with his sleeve.

He's sure this is going to be ‘the day’, he's sure there's gonna be fireworks and a conflagration, a shitstorm at speed, and he wants to be there when it happens. He wants Bowes to know that he's capable of planning something on his own. He wants to knock the punk off his perch and soar like the vandalistic eagle he can be. He wants Bowes to pay for the pushing and prodding and overconfidence. Today Bowes is going down with the rest of them. It’s all downhill from here.

Maria begins to cough, a Kool Mint momentarily lodging in her throat.

"You alright there old thing?" Doris asks her sister, looking momentarily sideways before bringing her spectacled sight back to the intersection.

It's too late to prevent ploughing into a small blood delivery van and a speeding four-wheel drive. It's a blindside, a king hit, as metal twists and windscreens shatter, the SUV being the largest vehicle ploughing hard into both other cars. The cacophony accentuated by the screeching of tyres from vehicles behind the three-way collision drawing to a halt or swerving to avoid the fray.

Neighbours begin to run forward down their front paths as steam rises from overheating radiators. Lucinda, blood streaming from her nose and eye manages to release the door and checks on the children in the back. The blood delivery van is leaking petrol and two old ladies are slumped unconscious, pinned by the crushed dashboard.

All were oblivious to the removal of two stop signs. Finch lights a cigarette. He doesn't smoke but in the melee nobody notices, nobody cares. Pedestrians, concerned drivers, victims alike are too distracted with their mini Armageddon to notice as sly smile in a grey hoodie lobs a lit Zippo into the pooling fuel and watches blue meld with orange before a plume of black smoke finishes what he began.

As he slinks away from the encroaching sirens, the screams fade. He's now the mastermind. He is the prankster, he is the genius. He cocks the peak of his baseball cap sideways and removes the hood. He divests the sweater and shoves it and the cap into a Sulo bin waiting for tomorrow’s garbage pick-up. He is unaware of the curtain being pulled aside in one of the houses he's passing, now wearing his own clothes. He's walking adrenalin and confidence, no longer living in Bowe's shadow. Bowes will get the blame. The adolescent mind and its ignorance of consequence fired by ego. And if anyone saw anything...It's Bowes hoodie and hat that they'll notice. He's pulled off the best of pranks.

Nobody knows, nobody saw, nobody to tell....except the woman in number 25 dialling 911....she saw it all from a small pane of glass, through her French windows between episodes of The Bold and The Beautiful.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Give A Dog a Bone

Or in this case, give a bro a dollar. My dearest friend Jeffscape and a bunch of talented young filmmakers are within cooee of producing their own short to launch their careers on the festival circuit. For Jeff, the script writer, it's been a long time getting to this point and they're poised to make their debut. I have total faith in his writing and organisational skills and now it's time for all our blog friends and facebookers to put their money where their faith is and help them finance their first venture. Their goal is a modest $7,500 but $5000 will get them across the line. You can pledge as little as $1 but given that a litre of milk is $2 and you'll probably spend more on Sushi this Friday than $10, how about giving a little to be part of a great story, a wonderful short film and hopefully in years to come, be able to say "I knew them when...." Please support "Dog" and help get this little project off the ground.

Dog

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Dignity (Part 1)

It begins with an ending. Two bodies sweet and snug as the winter sun rises, and the chill of dawn makes him pull the duvet over her bare but beautiful shoulders. She's facing away from him as he settles back into the pillow. He loves to smell the fragrance of her hair and have his knees locked into the back of hers; his arm thrown across her waist in a sleepy embrace. He's not a morning person but just caught a glimpse of her as he stirred and couldn't help but stare. Knowing she's his, she's close, and that she's forgiven all. It's Sunday morning, the worst is over and neither lover wants to stir from the warmth of the bed. They nestle and nuzzle, and doze and sleep.  Prolonging the moments so long waited for. Out of adversity comes opportunity and he made the most of his. They're together, happy. In love.

***
Suicide is painless right? Hard to tell as she works out how it must be done. She has kids and doesn't want them to find her soaking in a bloodbath. She likes beautiful linen and doesn't want to see it soiled with the remnants of whatever effort she takes to end her life. It has to be blood free, no vomit, no opening of bowels - just her and the note apologising for being a bad parent, a lousy daughter, a needy lover, a poor money manager and a general waste of space. She isn't of course, but at times that's the way she feels. No, it needs to be planned more carefully. The note phrased just right. The moment engineered so that they understand, so that they will forgive - so that he will forgive.

"I'm sorry Mrs Melville . . ." her specialist's calculating voice practised in the delivery of bad news, "That pain in your shoulder and upper bicep is serious. . . "

She knew that the pain was 'different'. It was deep in the bone, not quelled with Deep Heat or Emu Oil, not crimped by Voltarin or Neurofen Plus. It was problematic, and finally she had it seen to. She harks back to her father, his surgery, his survival and eventual suffering at metastatic cancer long after he'd been 'cleared' of the original pariah. Being this way was humiliating, degrading, there's a better road to travel and she's itching to start.

"Wait a minute, let me interrupt you there . ." She says it quietly and uncharacteristically with almost a cool preparedness for the conversation that could follow. She knows that the constant pain in her arm isn't normal. At first she thought it a repercussion of a fall, then perhaps her attempt to tone using hand weights, but the pain at night had become unbearable and smiling through it during the day impossible. Nobody knew, she never told. Except for her specialist.

"What'll happen if I don't have surgery or chemo?"

His eyes gaze at the MRI chart on the wall, hers down towards her sun-browned shoulder; once admired, now never acknowledged. She rubs it gently to warm the increasing pain. The man in the white coat is taken aback. None of his patients have challenged the proposition of treatment.

"Mrs Melville... " She gives him leave to call her Wendy.

"Wendy . . . " his tone softens, "It'll spread. Through your bloodstream, into organs, lymph nodes and other bones and eventually . . . "

She doesn't need to hear the end. "Thank you." she cuts him short, "I'll handle this on my own."

She books her flight the next day. No cash just credit. Her life insurance and superannuation will cover it eventually. A doctor's report, a few emails, an EFT transfer of funds and within a week she's ready to roll.
***
She's worked it out. She's often talked about Dignitas and going to Switzerland for Coquille Saint Jacques and a bottle of DOM before taking the fatal draught. Dying with dignity is her need, choosing her own demise and moment, a want. God, she'd even written it on the papers stored in the two-ringed binders marked "House/Will" so there would be no ambiguity. All her secrets lie within those folders. The personal loan details, her credit cards, bank details, what to do should she die, insurances even the music she wants played at her funeral . . .easy.  Not like when her parents died and the estate was left in a shambles.  A mass of sentimental stuff that she wanted but could not keep, she wasn't going to leave that mess for others;least of all for those she loves. She's felt the heartache and doesn't want it to infect them with the same malaise.

But now? Why now? Life had been hard. Single parent, decades of loneliness and then falling in love with the wrong man. Difficulty with employment and money that slipped through her fingers. She was a sad survivor, a fact she only recognised once her home became an empty nest.

Meeting him was beyond wonderful and she didn't imagine the impact he would have on her, or her life. The fling was brief, he was much younger and no future in a sustained romance but the friendship became lasting, She remembers the touch of his skin, the smell of his hair, his smile . . they were the bonuses. The shape of his hands, the way his eyebrows raised when he was nervous. The realisation and sadness that she cared more for him than he for her, struck and compounded an already difficult decision.

The date not quite settled, she would meet him once more. She would travel, see the sights, taste the food, and soak in the exotic ambiance of a distant place, a world apart from her own banal existence. She'd sleep for the last time against his beautiful body, feel his warmth and breath, his hands upon her hips and breasts. She would touch his face, massage his shoulders. Then she'd drop her bombshell and hope he wouldn't shatter. She needs him, more than ever. Oh yes, she has it planned.

"I'm at the airport. Pick me up?"

He's stunned. She'd threatened to surprise him on a number of occasions but he never thought she'd follow through. She'd be afraid he wouldn't want her, pick her up, treat her the same - but he did.

She fobs his enquiries off with "Just needed to see you. Needed to fulfill the plans we made."

He thought he knew her, he thought she wasn't a mystery but this was one out of the box. He's pleased, the timing's right and he's ready to comply.

He notices a difference in her, a quiet resignation. She's less feisty and more morbid but puts on a brave face.  He watches her exit the shower, towel wrapped, hair cascading damp around her shoulders. She's lost weight and despite her age, looks good, tanned from an Indian summer, and sweet-smelling from the shower.  She's unaware of her voyeur and dries off her shoulder and arm with a wince. He says nothing.

She cooks him a meal that he wolfs without acknowledgement. He's never been strong on compliments and to him, food is fuel. To her, it has heart, is prepared with love and should be savoured. She's a little disappointed that he doesn't comment or seem to appreciate her efforts.

"Are we good?" The phrase a constant seeking of reassurance from her that usually elicits a "For fuck's sakes," but this time he's softer.

"Yes of course." He's a little surprised that she'd say it now between forkfuls of food, but acquiesces, "I wish you'd stop. We're good. We're fine. Everything's fine."
She begins to cry.

"Jesus, don't." He's losing patience, tears don't faze him but they make him feel awkward and he has to respond. He sees them as female manipulation until she speaks. This isn't just female melodramatics and he silently chastises himself for thinking as much. His expression doesn't change. He just stares and sits motionless.  For the first time in a very long time, he has nothing to say and disengages his mouth and lets his brain process her words before speaking.

"You're what?".

"I'm dying. Finally."

"Fuck. I told you to give up smoking" The attempt at levity designed to mask the lump rising in his throat.

"It's not smoking my darling, it's bone cancer. Hereditary I guess. My Nan had it."

"So what now?" There's little empathy in his voice.

"Now we do the trip, then you come with me to Switzerland. My treat."

He's heard this story before and put it down to amateur dramatics. In fact he's told her never to mention it again.  All of a sudden it has a ring of morbid truth and he's not prepared for the truth. She usually protects him from it. The only time she lies is to make him feel good, afraid he'd react badly to the truth. This is new.

"You're not . ."

"I am . . "

"Do the kids know?

"NO and you're not to tell them. I've arranged it so they don't know. I've left a letter with my solicitor. I don't want them to know. You've kept our secrets safe before, you keep this one OK? Promise . . PROMISE . . .!"

He's torn.  He knows he should tell her family, but she's his priority now. He'll be hated as an accomplice and he'll be hated as the harbinger of bad news. Tell or be silent. He's never had his loyalty tested this much. They'll sleep on it, maybe he can talk her round. Truth be told, she knows he'll try to work around her. He's a master manipulator himself and has been pushing her buttons for years but this time, she's hard-core, resolved and no charm or threat will sway her decision.

"Shit Wen' you put me in a hell of a position. It's selfish for a start!" The irony of the statement makes them both laugh, nervous, but laughter nonetheless.

"For once my sweet prince, this is not about you. It's about me and I want you with me when I do it."

He's shocked by her resolution. She's aware that what she's asking of him is impossible, unfair, but if anyone can do it. He can. He's cool. He says he doesn't care but he's loyal and true and her best friend.

She cries and he holds her. Kisses her neck and strokes her hair. He once dreamed that she'd died. Long before they'd become lovers and had been surprised by the level of emotion it had caused him but this? This was real, this wasn't good. This made him 'feel' and he wasn't adept at 'feeling'. It made him care and empathy had never been his strong point.

"Let's not talk about it now. We're on holiday," she wipes the mascara tinted tears from her cheek and begins to clear the plates. "We've got a trip to plan,  things to see see and . . "
He pulls her close and the plates crash onto the tiles. Making no effort to clean the mess, he holds her tight and she shuts the fuck up. She just drowns in his embrace. This time, he's in no hurry to release her. The tell-tale, 'right time to back off' shoulder pats don't come. This time, she knows he'll follow through.


Continued in Part 2

Dignity (Part 2)

His head's spinning. He doesn't want her to die. He doesn't want her to suffer.  Shit, he'd be kind to a dog or a cat but her? This is different, and for the first time, he doesn't know how he feels. All confidence melts from his soul and he is in a state of confusion and uncertainty. And he's angry.

It's not spoken of for weeks. He wants to, she doesn't. He broaches, she changes the subject. She's become the mistress of diversion, a skill he once practised to perfection whenever she wanted to talk seriously. He's not comfortable with the tables turning.

They travel, they see what they want to see, visit who she wants to visit. He's lovely as ever. This time, he makes love to her, not just sex. There's a desperation in his passion that she enjoys. He's more willing to embrace her, kiss her, feel her, hold her long after they're done.  The difference in their ages doesn't matter and he doesn't mention her waffling, her absent mindedness. He doesn't even comment on the way she drives. He's tighter, warmer, sweeter but he can't look at her. He can't look into those brown eyes; they burn and he doesn't like the pain.  These are Halcyon days which she knows are drawing close to her last.  These are end times, wonderful times and she's on cloud nine. She's standing her ground. Feeling confident, self-assured. These are alien emotions after years of being afraid and insecure.

She's cooks him lasagna but he picks at food he'd normally devour without it hitting the sides.

"Don't do this," he's staring into his plate.

"Sweetheart, I've thought about this. It's planned, it's organised. I know it's the coward's way out but I don't want to lose my hair, feel sick, be a burden."

He tries to interrupt but she puts a finger to his lips. Such a beautiful mouth, it pains her to shut it up.

"I don't want suppositories and palliative care, some stranger helping me shower, asking if I've shit myself today. I don't want long lost friends looking painfully at me. I don't want my kids to sit vigil listening to my breathing. I don't want anyone to have to make a decision whether I die at home or in a hospital. But...I don't want to die ALONE!"

She needs to gather herself because the emotion's swelling, "I need a friend now. A real friend. Just be there with me. You are my last love. My impossible romance. You've made me happy, sad, angry, elated, silly . . you're the light, always will be. Help me?"

He shakes his head. This time he clears the plates. She doesn't see his face as he rinses them. She'll never see that expression of sadness on his face, no-one ever has. No-one ever will.

They're at the airport, tickets for Switzerland on the bar. He drinks a beer, she takes a cocktail. She's a nervous in planes. Ironic that she's paid a small fortune to end her life and she's afraid of dying in a plane crash. They laugh nervously about it and she swears she sees him well up. His eyes are bloodshot, like they get when he's had too much wine but he's only had one drink.

"I love you" she says.

"Love you too . ." he whispers, for only the second time since they met. Although she knows his idea of love is different, she accepts it as true - for him.

"Take care of Louise for me. She's fragile after that asshole left her. You're what she needs, someone calm and devoted, someone who'll treat her as she deserves."

He ignores the request but he's thought about her daughter more than once since they met.
"Ready?" He kisses her hand in a rare moment of public affection and they make their way towards the departure gate.

He'd seen people die before. Usually in less peaceful circumstances but the pain of watching a friend give up her life was an unfair burden for him. He couldn't say 'no', didn't want to say 'yes'.  Holding back the emotion was hard, he'd never done anything so difficult although he feels the same way he does on Memorial Day and the 4th July or when he hears of a death too soon. The same feeling he has when  when he has to euthanase a pet.  He's happy he spent last Christmas with her and a family oblivious to their closeness, but he's empty, cold, remorseful. He wants to sleep and shut it all out but she won't give him respite. He wants to run on unwilling legs. He wants to sob and release, but he maintains composure.

Everything happens according to plan. They dine and he makes an effort to savour rather than shovel. They drink champagne and reminisce. He pays bill and they leave.

At the clinic, there are formalities all conducted with sensitivity and compassion. A final briefing i given to ensure she's making the correct decision. Her firmly stating that this is what she wants and an exchange of paperwork. They have a quiet moment alone. He holds her hand, stays strong and smiles.  They declare now 'dying' affection for each other and before long, it's over.  Peaceful, fast and merciful, just what she wanted.

***

Only when he closes his apartment door behind him does he realise the severity of the moment and falls apart, overwhelmed with emotion that she would have liked to have seen, since he rarely showed his fragility when she was still alive. The moment poignant to him now. Nevertheless, he cries for her, for him, for her children.

He's on a plane, taking her home. He knows her kids are going to be furious with him. He knows that in doing what she wanted, he's damned either way and terrified of the reception. She'd organised everything. Even left him money to ship the casket home and to travel with her. He was angry, upset, confused, scared about how he'd approach her son and daughter, but loyalty rules doesn't it?

Charlie and Louise pick him up. There was history there. Charlie, the son and a friend made over time.  Louise, the daughter who had never approved of the friendship between what she perceived as a young 'gold digger' and her mother.  She didn't like him. She didn't know him, but the letter left by her mother had explained the truth. Told her of his value, their  deep and enduring friendship and she'd softened a little with grief. He could feel her stony stare throwing desperate daggers as he walked down the ramp. He'd seen it before.

"I'm so sorry," he says, unsure whether to make the first move. He shakes hands with the boy and bear hugs with familiar friendship, "Good to see ya man!" 

Charlie slaps him on the back and takes one of his bags. His attention turns towards Louise.  This time she actually looks into his eyes and the glare dissipates. She puts her arms around his neck and kisses his cheek.

"Thanks for being with her, for bringing her home." 

The gratitude is sincere, the kiss is not. She too is confused, disappointed, upset.  Once through the doors and heading into the car park she opens up.

"You knew? . . You knew and you didn't tell us?" She hits him on the chest, she slaps his face and he takes it. A man who would normally retaliate stands there under the stark open sky and cops a beating from a woman he thinks hates him. He gently grabs her wrists until she submits and dissolves in tears.  She presses her forehead against his chest and he wraps around her. For now it's the best he could do to break the barrier between them.

"I'm sorry, I'm so, so sorry but I couldn't. She wanted to do it her way. She was my friend. She was insistent. Lou, listen to me . . . she wanted to do this. We talked about it. I tried to change her mind but she wouldn't have it. You know what she's like, tenacious, determined."

Louise knew. She knew of all things that her mother was strong, willful yet fragile. She knew that her mother was lonely, sad, disillusioned. She also knew that her mother trusted this man.   Wrapped in his arms she began to breathe. She remembered her grandfather dying. Slowly, painfully, suffering the indignity of home nursing and palliative care. It struck her that yes, this perhaps was a better ending and that what he he did was braver than she gave him credit. The ultimate personal sacrifice.

She pulls away and looks into his eyes, he's crying, moved. The stone facade now broken, the arrogance gone. She sees someone different this time. Compassionate, caring, damaged but honest and she begins to forgive. He made the ultimate sacrifice for a close friend, and helped her mother through it. She takes his hand

Charlie man-slaps him on the shoulder, wiping his own surprising tears, "It'll work out man. It'll all work out."

A band of three, united by one common thread wonder towards the bulky items receiving dock and greet the waiting funeral director.

***

It takes months of correspondence, more months of healing and occasional visits but ends with a beginning. Wendy knew it might, and after the reunion with Louise, he hoped it would. Two bodies sweet and snug as the winter sun rises and the chill of dawn makes him pull the duvet over her bare but beautiful shoulders. She looks uncannily like the photograph of her mother at the same age.

Out of adversity comes opportunity and he made the most of his. They're together, happy. In love.



Posted for The Tenth Daughter of Memory "Testing the Friendship"
Posted for The Tenth Daughter of Memory "Testing the Friendship"

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Indelible

The tattoos Garcia wears and those he crafts, carry the weight, respect, menace and symbolism that a convict craves. These aren’t your everyday mini-mall, hot topic tramp stamps. These are the real shit, hard core tribal war cries; gangland affiliations, shibboleths, insignias, teardrop kill counts. These are caution codes worn by brothers with their attitude on their skin. He’s long lived in the world of thugs and kept his nose clean. He’s revered by lifers, gangsters, one-percenters, killers in the world of, shanks, shakedowns, race riots, solitary confinement; yet finds karma in his skill It’s a lucrative business but not without risk.

He picks his time, preferring to work on Dan Keyes’ shift. Dan’s a warden with a past who wears it on his full sleeve, now covered with a pale blue chambray shirt. He’d get Louis Garcia tattoo the other if he were working on the outside, but Lou‘Skinman' Garcia is a lifer with no prospect of parole for killing the bitch who two-timed him, and the man he caught her fucking in his own bed. He’d probably have got away with 20 years and good behaviour if he hadn’t used a machete to do the business.

It’s almost impossible for prison guard Dan Keyes to watch, but ever since the first paedophile found his way into the correctional protective unit, he’s been obsessed and disgusted by the preferential treatment they receive. Now another one, worse than the rest, is coming under his watch. At least most of his charges have good reason for their incarceration, but these animals deserve nothing better than castration and release into the general prison population. That, to Dan’s mind, would be justice served.

Garcia and Keyes are unlikely compadres, hardened, and unusually principled. They have a healthy respect for each other; one, the father of a dead child, victimised by a monster; the other, a monster, paying the price for the ultimate retribution.

They have built a strange alliance over the years. Keyes turns a blind eye as inmates get inked and pay for the privilege. Garcia arranges ‘favours’ without arousing suspicion.

“They’re bringing him in on the weekend,” Keyes whispers to Garcia as he finishes the intricate design on an Aryan Nation arm, “$500 in it for you, but you’ll get time in the hole.

”All good.” The tattooist nods knowingly. Between them, there is a quiet understanding.

It’s one of those stinking hot days. Brothers are in the yard seeking shade against the basketball wall, or lazing beneath one of the six elm trees lining the double razor-wire capped fence line. Even the turret guards leaned lazily against their posts. It won’t take much for tempers to fray or craziness to erupt. Only the slow accumulation of storm clouds in the distance, aching for a deluge, offers the promise of cool relief.

The tell-tale windowless van shimmers through the heat haze and causes 200 heads to turn. There are never prison transports on Sundays, this one is piquing interest.

“Hey Keyes,” The officer turns to face a heavily tattooed man,“Who they bringin’ in on a Sunday?”

The loudly spoken question attracts the attention of other inmates Keyes shrugs and leaves his post to investigate as the van draws to a halt.

“Who you got there Jonesy?” Keyes shouts, as if he doesn’t know and loud enough to draw attention from the yard.

The inmates now on their feet, fingers entwined in the cyclone fence like so many caged chimpanzees. The receiving guard gestures with a pelvic thrust and draw his baton in an arc across his own neck.

“A Chester!"

The words shear past Garcia’s ears and slam into the heads of others. A Paedophile killer is not welcome here. Keyes hates them as much as the inmates whose murmurings begin to crescendo.

The van is empty save the appearance of orange overalls. The man is shackled, hands cuffed behind his back. His bald head glowing with sweat as he glances sideways at a line of bare-chested men, peering menacingly through the wire. Tempers are exacerbated by heat, inflamed by the newcomer. The chanting begins, and the perp looks nervous as he’s pushed into reception for processing.

Keyes cringes at the memory of post mortem photographs of a sweet child abused, maimed and tossed aside like so much garbage by a sick mind controlling an insatiable body. A smiling ‘rock spider’ sitting in the processing room across from his desk, another creep crying crocodile tears for protection. All Dan can do is hope the animal is ready for some rough-housing, and he knows just the man to do it.

It takes a while to gather a willing team. Rock Spiders are protected and not easy for the general population to access. One fenegles 180 days after a brawl - time to ‘cool down’ amid the molesters and rapists, separated from the murderers and cop killers. Another, with three tattooed teardrops above his right eye, claims persecution and gang retribution. A third associate, 'needs' to escape a violent prison ‘creditor’. All viable excuses for temporary removal, all orchestrated to achieve a purpose. Garcia simply takes advantage of his alliance with Keyes. Before long, there are half a dozen of them in the protective custody wing with the“tree jumpers” and “diaper snipers.

Garcia breaks down his portable CD player, using the tracking motor and attaches it to a mechanical pen with Saran Wrap. He runs a ‘needle’ taken from a secreted wire brush in maintenance, pulls the spring out of the pen and stretches it out over a candle to straighten it. Heat has tempered it into a perfect point. He mounts the needle to the hub atop the motor and hooks the hub into a 9V battery. From his pocket, he retrieves a vial of black ink; home-made with burned down baby oil.

He smiles at his accomplices, “More permanent, better quality”, then glares at the terrified man on the floor.“We’re gonna do you up real nice .

Four others pin the new inmate down in a Jesus-like pose. He’s flat on his back, mouth gagged and head steadied crushingly between a giant’s knees. Only the fear and, this time, real tears betray his futile resistance. The creep can’t move. The quiet whir of the tattoo gun is ignored by Keyes who’s keeping watch. Garcia sets to work. This time there’s no fineline, no feathery fill, no antiseptic or gentle cleanse as the blood melds with salty tears. Just the deep penetration of an unsterilised and blackened needle, and silent screams of pain.

After the creep's release, not even the bar code he professionally tattooed over the engraved “Rapist” on his forehead fully hides the word. He’s taken to wearing his hair long and shadowing his face with a baseball cap. He closes his eyes when he strips to shower. Even the mirror image of the profanities of his crimes tattooed across his chest and back revolt him. He looks away when he urinates, the black letters on his penis a reminder to always keep it in his pants.

Garcia is almost finished with a teardrop tattoo when Keyes whispers in his ear. “Another one tomorrow, sure you want another 90 in the hole?”

The big Latino sneers, “Got nothin’ but time Keyes, nothing but time!"

Posted for The Tenth Daughter of Memory "Tattoos and Teardrops"


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Still Waters Run Deep

He came into her life after it had been ruled by violence.  She, too young to know, too old to care but overwhelmed by his attention and affection. She fell hook, line and sinker for a drifter, a handsome younger man. Loved only marginally less than the child conceived by rape; the other treasure of her life.

They were thick as thieves, tight as a drum, joined at the hip. Whatever cliché described the bond between Maria and her daughter Estelle, barely described the golden tie that bound them.  That was Maria’s perspective. Estelle had been born after an encounter with violence yet loved as a child of fortune. Maria was besotted with her daughter. Estelle knew her mother.
He on the other hand, was besotted with Maria.  People never understood how a woman so alone, so destroyed by her past, could find a partner so sweet, so gentle.  The man in her life loved her more than life.  He was gentle, kind, understood the delicacy of her mind.  For her mind was a storm.  Thoughts of mistrust, delusions of grandeur, the fear of the dark, Maria fought persistent and constant battles with the voices in her head.
‘He’s cheating on you,’ they would say. ‘He looks at other women you know?’
She occasionally won the battle but the war raged on as voices persisted. ‘There is another, there might be many…’
She busied herself with domestic duties.  She played music loud; so loud that the walls reverberated.  She read.  She swam, allowing the cool stones of the river bed to massage her back, while its crystal fluid ran over her body.  She found solace in the river.  The trickle of water, the sound of birds, the deafness it afforded as she submerged her head and drowned the voices beneath its flow.
It was on one of those days wrapped in sticky heat, as cricket’s and grasshoppers deafening drone subverted all other sound, that she saw them.  Sherolled against the smooth  pebbles of the riverbed, righted herself and crept towards its grassy, willow-shaded edge.  There they were the child she loved, and the man she adored.  As the sun cast shadow beneath the stony bridge, she crouched beneath the trees and watched their exchange.  At sweet 16, her daughter, Estelle, was in the embrace of a man twice her age.

What she sees, a lucid mind would piece together.  What she knows, the same mind would evaluate.  What she assumes, a cool head would rationalise.  But she does not have a lucid mind nor sane thought, not even a cool head - despite the dripping locks, and droplets of river water massaging her skin, her mood becomes hot and the wiring in her brain begins to arc . 

What she sees is a thoughtless lover.  What she knows is that he is being unfaithful. What she assumes will be her undoing.  She is deaf to their conversation.  The babbling of the brook beneath her feet and the incessant pitch of insects escalating, preventing her from hearing the conversation.
“You know I love your mother, you know I stayed with her even though sometimes she acts crazy?” He holds Estelle close and she nuzzles into his shoulder.  Slender fingers push a lustrous lock behind her ear with the tenderness of a lover’s touch, a father’s care. “I can’t stay with her Estelle.  She is suffocating me with her neediness.  You do understand that, don’t you?”

The teenager embraces him, brown arms clinging as if it is her last moment on earth, desperation and sadness filling her once bright eyes.  She falls to her knees, her hands dragging from his chest, face leaning into his thigh before he gently pulls her upwards and kisses her; wraps her in his embrace.
“I’m sorry my darling, I will stay in touch. I love you as if you were my own.”  He passes her a note which he folds and kisses.  Estelle takes it from him, her hand lingering long in his, and presses the squared paper to her lips.
Maria watches from the bank.  A slow rage begins burning inside, evaporating the cool and quiet effects rendered by a momentarily calming stream.  Of all the people to be unfaithful, she never suspected her own daughter.  The voices chant ‘Cheating child…  Teenage whore…  Devil’s spawn.” As she remembers her own lurid past, she projects the harlot’s curse, “Like mother, like daughter. The voices are evil in their persistence today.

She rises from the shadows and dresses with haste.  Maria creeps unnoticed through the curtain of draped willows until she is beneath the sandstone bridge.  As he walks away, her daughter falls once more on to her knees and sobs into a tiny square of paper, scrawled with words of affection in his hand and a contact number, should she ever need him.
“What have you done?  What have you done?” Her mother screams.
Taken by surprise, Estelle knows the nature of unbalanced love.  Estelle well remembers the hand of unjustified punishment caused by little more than tensions, alcohol and hormones.
“Mom, what’s wrong with you, what’s the matter?” The question from Estelle is fraught with faux concern.  Her own heart already broken by the departure of the only man she knew as her father.
“I knew I couldn’t trust you.  I knew I couldn’t trust him!”  The hatred in her mother’s eyes is enforced by bitter words, “He was mine, mine alone!"  I’ve seen the way you look at him, the way you idolise, the way to flirt and tease.  It’s enough, it’s too much.  He is all I have once you've gone.”
Maria rushes at the girl and catches her as she rises to her feet.  Her hands around her throat, still tear filled, and push her backwards into the free flowing stream.  Estelle struggles between sobs and a newfound terror.  She knew her mother was unbalanced, odd.  She knew her mother heard voices.  She knew her mother was jealous, difficult and possessive, but above all she knew her mother loved her –until now.
Maria’s bony hands clasp tight around the girl’s neck.  Strength summoned through demons turned the petite body face down into the water.  Estelle’s struggle is short lived and feint. Within minutes she has been claimed in violence, as she was in conception but by the same stream that only moments ago, had brought her mother peace.
The drums begin pounding inside Maria’s brain.  Where is he?  The traitor, the paedophile.  She looks up from her handiwork and scours the path beside the bridge.  The stream once with its quiet lulling rhythm is now pounding in her head.  Rapids rushing, thundering falls; they are an ominous call to a battle that must be won.  He must pay for his infidelity; he must justify the end and the means.  Crazed, confused, she resolves that no woman will have him, none than other than her.
She looks back once more at the place where her daughter lay, the body has disappeared beneath the river’s surface.
Trent Marshall has fished here for many years.  May through to July the trout run and he becomes a popular man at home.  Mrs. Marshall happy to claim the product of his leisure allows him to indulge and spend hours making flies, casting lines and enjoy rare solitude beside the languid river.  As he sits beneath the willows chowing down on homemade rye bread sandwiches, swilled intermittently with homemade Ginger beer, he sees her.
A woman.  The glimpse of red fabric beneath a dour grey trenchcoat, muddied at its hem. She is pale, thin with a hint of fading beauty, and kneeling beneath the bridge. Her bony hands frantically separating the bull rush reeds that have accumulated during dry times, and the slower pace of water flow.  Her face is distraught and her movements frenetic.  He wonders what she’s looking for but he’s never had the courage to approach her.  Like so many observers of odd behaviour, he is a watcher, a waiter, not one to become involved.
“Just another crazy.”  He assumes .He packs a rod and reel and the day’s catch of two sizeable trout into his tackle box. He glances once more over his shoulder at the woman who has become a familiar sight.  He mumbles something to himself about how these people should be taking care of, put somewhere safe, and how he pays taxes to provide facilities for such weirdos.  And yet he is somehow fascinated by a woman who could have once been beautiful yet has clearly lost her mind.
“Trent, do you remember that young man,” his wife asks as she dutifully scales a trout in preparation for frying.
Her husband is preoccupied with the precision of winding a fly. His burly fingers are struggling with the delicacy of such a task. “What young man?” He doesn’t raise his head.
“That young fellow that came to do some yard tasks for us, you remember, he was a musician or an artist or some such thing.  Painted the shed, tidied up the attic, even got that old Buick going?  Nice young man he was.”
“Indeed he was, what about him?”
They found him dead.   Throat cut and face down by the side of the road near Maria Markham’s place.  I wonder what became of her?  Odd woman that but I heard they were an item once.” Her prattling continues extolling the virtues and woes of age differences as he winds nylon around feather and holds his handiwork up to the light
“Stop your gossiping woman.  Tragic about the young fellow but no point wondering.  The police will sort it out soon enough.  None of our business it isn’t…  None of our business.”
A rational mind would never have committed the act.  A rational mind with criminal intentions would have far better covered her tracks.  A passionate mind filled with voices and misconceptions followed a young man and his suitcase to a lonely bus stop, late one Friday night.  A mind halted by jealousy, assumption, misconception, guilt and the delusion of betrayal, followed a one-time lover.  The confrontation began with tears and pleas, followed by accusations and irrational ravings.  No matter how he tried to explain the constriction she had caused, how patient he had been, how he held her during the nightmares and reasoned with her during her outbursts –no matter how he told her that he loved her how beautiful she once was, how she needed to get help, but he just needed space, her blue eyes glazed. They had even embraced and her pleading ceased.  He had kissed her and told her he’d be back before he saw the glint of steel and felt its stinging cold.
After, she meandered with vague purpose towards the river washing her bloodied hands in its cool embrace.  She began mumbling about fish and whores and begging for the return of a daughter bonded by a golden thread.  It was there that she felt the grasp of invisible juvenile hands around her ankles.  It was there that she surrendered willingly to the call of a water nymph, and slid silently beneath the crystal flow.
It was there that Trent saw her up close for the first time, face down, her body entangled among the reeds. Not the odd rambling woman in nondescript clothing, but a slim red sati-clad corpse, her lipstick still apparent on water-swollen lips.  Her hair, dark and wild, swept across her eyes by the flowing stream.  She was beautiful and peaceful. He swore she was smiling.
He never told his wife that he was the one who discovered Maria's body.  He feared she would not scale the fish that he caught there had she known.  Yet for years afterwards he would cast his flies, reel in his line in the hope and wild fantasy that somehow she still existed beneath the rivulets. Occasionally, he’d catch a glimpse of red…and wonder.


Posted for The Tenth Daughter of Memory Under The Water's Surface, Heartbreak; The War That Follows