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"