Part III

I seem to have written a trilogy. The smallest trilogy in literary history, perhaps, and very likely the worst, but a trilogy nonetheless.

It started here and continued here and here it finishes. I can’t really figure out how I could add another chapter. But I never say never (except just now when I said it twice) so you never know (ok. three times).

*

She left again one cold July morning as the fog was lifting. I had awoken to find her sitting, cross-legged, on the wooden floor, sorting through the pile of her belongings. To her right she carefully packed what, I assumed, she most valued, back into the same canvas bag with which she had arrived, and to her left she tossed everything else, with a careless flick of her wrist. It was mostly the things that we had acquired together that she chose to shun. We both knew that it was time to move on.


Upon seeing me enter the room she motioned towards the scattered discards with little more than the raise of an eyebrow.
“You can keep that stuff, if you like,” she said.
“Thanks.”
She caught the tone of my voice and looked towards me seriously. “Please don’t say something sad,” she murmured, “say something funny, instead.”
As it had always been. Asking of me what was beyond me to give. Testing me. Calling my bluff. She hadn’t changed, nor had I. Perhaps that was the problem. But I could think of nothing funny to say, so I just stood there, quietly watching her complete the process; politely watching her leave me
.


Eventually she stood, put the bag over her shoulder, and smiled. “Gotta go,” she said, “train to catch.”
Before she turned away I found the strength to ask of her, “Have you grown tired of me? Bored with me?” Sometimes the easiest thing is to assume the blame.
But she looked genuinely puzzled.
“No,” she replied, “what ever would make you think that? If I had waited that long then I would have had to waste the next ten years of my life trying to make you interesting again.” She smiled, one last time. “It’s best to go now, while we’re both still so fascinating.”


I can’t remember if we kissed. I don’t think so. That would not have been her way.


And then she opened the door and put one foot back out into the world.
“Will I ever see you again?” I asked.
She paused for just a second. The whole world paused for just a second. “Yes,” she assured me, “even if, come that day, you do not recognise me.”

*

Life After the War

I was reminded of this story today. I wrote it quite some time ago and had subsequently forgotten about it until now. It actually did perform sort of OK in a writing competition and was awarded a massive $100 prize and subsequent publication.

That never actually happened.

But, in stark contrast to more recent posts here it contains no sexual innuendo, nor anything that tries to rhyme. Not exactly a breath of fresh air, but something of a change, at least.

Although there is the familiar mix of love and tragedy. I can’t seem to escape that theme.

**

It was a winter when news arrived that the war had been lost. And so, as the sun was setting on a cold afternoon we waited for the bus that was to take us to where my father’s ship would dock.
We were thankful for the shared warmth inside once the doors closed behind us. Everyone on board did their best to rest during the long journey down the mountain but a corrugated and winding road rendered sleep impossible for all but this eight-year-old boy.

They had to wake me as we came to a halt at the waterfront and parked alongside other buses, trucks, horses and a ramshackle collection of bicycles. I was still wiping the sleep from my eyes as we made our way through a shallow freezing fog along the gravel path that led to the wharf. There we stood, the three of us, huddled together in silence, wondering, each for our own reasons, what would happen next.
We heard the sad call of a horn through the fog before gaining any sight of the ship itself and I felt them both, my mother and older sister, stiffen beside me.
When its dark shape slowly materialised through the mist I began to see movement on board. Soon I could make out men taking up positions along the deck, many of them smoking and exhaling huge clouds of smoke and condensation as they looked out over the harbour. I recognised them from my imagination as men of adventure who had crossed wild oceans gathering riches from mysterious foreign lands. I imagined too, a cargo-hold and chests bursting with gold, silver and diamonds. And I imagined, on that bitter July morning, that we had come to collect not only my father, but also my father’s treasure.
By the time the ship was alongside us the sun was shining and the wharf had become a scene of high activity as ropes were thrown from above and secured to the bollards that lined the dock. I could hear men shouting orders and swearing and I was aware, too, of a tangible excitement in the air, but my mother and my sister remained rigid and silent. Looking up onto the ship’s bridge I saw a man with the sort of dishevelled white beard that one might imagine to be a nesting place for birds. He was attired in a brightly coloured uniform adorned with glistening medals and I was immediately reminded of pictures I had seen of another man from another world far away.
“Is that Santa Claus?” I asked.
It was then that my sister began to cry. Suddenly it had grown even colder and as the fog was lifting I began to feel the chill of the impenetrable sadness that had descended upon our family.

The war, as far as I could tell, had been going for a lifetime, so I had never known my father. He had inhabited my life only via stories and fading photographs. The most fantastic of such stories were delivered by my sister and they told of a man who could perform acrobatic acts with the skill of a circus performer and who could run faster than a leopard. He could hypnotise the fish in the river and scoop them out with his hands. He could encase you in a bear-hug that blocked out the night. Every day, it seemed, I was told that he would soon magically reappear, and so it struck me as hardly surprising he should choose to do so concealed within a box.

We watched as the gang planks were lowered and the first of the ship’s passengers began to disembark. First off were those carried on stretchers by their uniformed colleagues and then others with arms in slings or with bandaged heads and patches across their eyes. I saw men on crutches without legs. There were nurses fussing around amongst it all, wearing crisp white dresses and expressions of perpetual concern. It was as if there had been an explosion on board and the debris was being expelled in waves. Most of the able-bodied personnel were kept on deck to convey a series of crates and equipment along a human line that led to the convoy of waiting trucks.
The unloading of the ship was long and laborious but throughout my mother remained silent and strong, her arms tightly around us both such that I could feel the vibrations of my sister’s sobbing and laboured breathing transferred through her body.
Eventually they brought the boxes out. They were made of cheap wood and each was carried solemnly down to the dock by two soldiers who, having set them all on the ground in front of us, stood nervously to one side wondering what to do next. Nobody told us which of the boxes was ours. Everywhere around there was weeping and then somewhere within all the grief the man with the coloured uniform and the beard appeared out of nowhere and held out his hand to my mother. She kept both her arms firmly around our shoulders and glared back at him. And then she spat in his face.
“Do not dare touch me.” she said, “We give you our whole world and you give us back only a box of bones.”

We found the box with my father’s name on it amongst all the others, and soldiers helped us load it onto the floor at the back of our bus for the return journey. Most of the other passengers chose to cram themselves as close as possible to the front. I heard someone complaining about the smell.


The next day we lowered our box into a deep hole and my uncles helped us shovel dirt on top of it until it was gone. I suppose that I still did not really understand what was inside.


And I suppose that I never will.

**

She Left. And Left a Piece of Her Behind.

I don’t mean her bum. Because she didn’t leave any skin in the game at all.

I wrote this just to tag onto the bottom (no, no … not another butt joke) of another fictitious piece I wrote a while ago.

She wandered back into my house one warm day in November. I don’t remember what year it was. She picked up the cigarette that she had discarded upon leaving, from where it waited, smouldering patiently in the ash tray. She put it to her lips and I felt the familiar warmth against my cheek as she inhaled and restored it to life.
Her hair was still dark and wild but she seemed taller. Perhaps it was just that she stood taller. Her eyes may have changed colour a little.
This time she had brought with her a faded canvas bag which she dropped onto the floor, leaving it to slump there like a dead animal.
She stubbed out the cigarette eventually, before smiling half-heartedly at me and walking into the bedroom.
She closed the door behind her and slept for two days without moving. I went in only occasionally, to confirm that she was still breathing.

While she slept I quietly emptied her bag and set about washing all of her clothes and leafing through her collection of paperbacks, searching for sections that she had underlined. Absorbing the words that she had taken into herself seemed an act far more daring and intimate than handling the underwear she had worn. There was a personal journal in amongst the books, but there I drew the line. It was not a matter of respecting privacy, but rather that I was terrified by what I might read.

When she finally awoke she swung the bedroom door open and walked past me naked, across the floorboards and into the shower. I heard the water splashing over her body and her gentle humming of a tune I vaguely recognised. When she emerged she stood and dressed methodically in front of me. It was only then that I realised I had never really seen her naked before.


When she was fully clothed she reached into her skirt pocket and magically extracted another single cigarette. She looked over suspiciously at the pile of her books that I had arranged on the table, her journal sitting on the top. She exhaled a cloud of smoke towards the ceiling before looking across to study me carefully.
“I’ve been thinking of giving up,” she announced, though it was not obvious, at the time, what she might have meant.
We just stood there gazing at each other for a minute or two, or until I could take it no more.

“Who the fuck are you?” I asked at last.
She fiddled nervously with a few strands of wet hair that refused to remain in position behind her ears. She smiled at me sweetly before she spoke.
“I was about to ask you the same question.”

*

And now, in reference to the poorly chosen title of this post, I cannot resist but finish on a silly note, the way all things are best finished. I should point out, in closing, that it is me who constantly finds himself as the butt of all jokes, and so always keeps his tongue firmly planted in his cheek.

She left a piece of her behind
A little trace that I might find
Out of mind, but not forgotten
Memories of her gorgeous bottom
We shared a moment, shed a tear
My eyes fixated on her rear
A target far beyond my class
But what a lovely piece of ass

Back to Life

As I reported a week or so back (so most of you have quite understandably forgotten) I somehow squeezed into the 2nd round of the NYC Midnight Micro Fiction Competition, though well back in the field.

For those of you who are not aware, the word limit is 100 – which is fairly crazy. But anyway ….

For me, this time, the requirement was for a Horror story about ‘hatching from an egg’ and including, somewhere in the 100, the word ‘confuse’.

The obvious way to go might be a story about opening the fridge one morning and discovering that half a dozen eggs had hatched overnight and given birth to an angry flock of man-eating poultry. That would probably have worked best with the judges, I suspect.

Instead, though, I decided to suggest that the greatest horror story of all might be life itself. I tried to create an egg/womb/sleep analogy alongside one of life/death/afterlife/rebirth. I was trying to suggest that sleep was a form of afterlife – a sort of transition period – a brief holiday from the horror which is life ….before doing it all over again (and again and again). A quick debrief from God before being shot back out through the birth canal.

I think it may have been a bit ambitious in 100 words. It’s taken more words that that to try to explain myself. But this is it …

Here we go again.
After only a brief respite in the afterlife; before-life; temporarily enclosed within the egg. Warm, dark, and misleadingly comfortable.
Soon to be forcibly reunited with the calamity of self-awareness; coerced down the tunnel, back towards the blinding blue light. Birth? Or death in reverse? Where one’s first confused screams of terror will be only briefly audible in the looming chaos of existence.
A tiny fracture forming upon the surface of the shell precedes reincarnation. Not a miracle, but a curse. The first hints of dawn glow menacingly on the horizon.
As it ends. So it begins.

Here’s another thought.

As you are probably aware, the suicide rate is much much higher within affluent society, where everything is pretty good, compared to struggling societies, where everything seems pretty terrible. Even with the constant threat of war, disease, rape, murder, starvation and so, even when things seemingly couldn’t get any worse, people tend to go on and on and on – even when things actually do get worse. We lucky ones, on the other hand, are ready to call an end to it all if 3 instagram posts in a row don’t get a like.

So it stands to reason that the suicide rate in heaven must be very high and, in hell, virtually non-existent. Suicide is a mortal sin, and therefore most likely an immortal sin as well … so there’s only one place to send the offenders.

So … unless we are all doomed to revisit this mortal coil over and over again (not just until it kills us) we are all bound for hell.

I hope I’ve cheered you all up.

Sleep well, everybody.