The Conch Shell Roars – Karen Schauber

The Cessna Grand Caravan 12-seat seaplane circles a tiny speck in the Andaman Sea on approach. Henrick watches the sky flare into magenta, scarlet, and saffron as dusk closes in. The island, flanked with sands the colour of Carrara marble and warm azure waters should exhilarate, but instead his heart sinks. There is no pleasure to be had here.

It has been ten years since his last visit. The familiar fragrance of cashew trees permeates the air over the gentle murmur of waves. A towering vertical mass of limestone marks the way and Henrick begins the final leg of his journey via longtail boat. A sea of spray rushes ahead foretelling of his arrival.

He and Astrid loved to come to this paradise. She came for the snorkeling, spellbound by the colourful corals and displays underwater. And, for the titan trigger fish, hawksbill turtles, blue spotted stingrays, the fabulous little nudibranchs, all within arms’ reach. He, for the stunning panoramic views aboveground: the sea shining like glass beneath a cerulean sky, where he would while away the hours beneath the faint rustling of palms, reading.

Astrid loved sea life. Even after she waded out of the water limping up the beach, leg dripping with blood, a long tentacle wound around her waist and thigh, its tiny stingers fiercely embedded in her skin, she would stop to look with fascination at the peacock-blue man-o-war bubbles resting on the sand; their intense inky colour alluring.

Henrik adored Astrid’s adventurous and playful impulses. He acquiesced of course, when she had wanted to return yet again to this paradise. He had suggested they go back to Lord Howe Island in the Tasman Sea. Each dawn they had been greeted by a blue-breasted fairywren vocalizing at the window of their bungalow; every pristine vista otherworldly. But they had many opportunities ahead, and one year here or there, they would still cover everything on their bucket list.

The longboat pulls up alongside the dock at the moonlit bay. Tiki lights stand like sentries flanking the path along the beach up to the main compound. The air eerily still and quiet. The beach, empty, save for memories. Henrick drags his feet. His flip-flops catch on nothing, but he stumbles nonetheless, releasing a cry too absurd and overblown for the tiny misstep. Grief like a heavy blanket, drags along the sand.

He smoothes down the edges of his ghost-white linen shirt, now untucked. Strands of silver and grey at his temples curl softly. His hand brushes the wayward wisps to the side, winding the longest unruly curlicue behind his ear. Bending down to pick up a pink conch shell, he rolls it in his hands, feeling its weight and heft. He clutches it to his belly loud like sorrow. There is nowhere to run. Astrid disappeared here. The tsunami pulling her down deep never to be seen again.

Henrick raises the conch to his ear listening for her roar.

 

Karen Schauber is a Flash Fiction writer obsessed with the form. Her work appears in 30 international literary magazines and anthologies, including Brilliant Flash Fiction, Bending Genres, Carpe Arte, Ekphrastic Review, Ellipsis Zine, and Fiction Southeast. The Group of Seven Reimagined: Contemporary Stories Inspired by Historic Canadian Paintings (Heritage, 2019), celebrating the Canadian modernist landscape painters, is her first editorial/curatorial flash fiction anthology. Schauber runs ‘Vancouver Flash Fiction’, a flash fiction Resource Hub and Critique Circle, and in her spare time, is a seasoned Family Therapist. A native of Montreal, she has called Vancouver home for the past three decades.

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The Old Man – Charles Prelle

The old man is born upon the sea, his tiny boat a piece of drift wood to which he clings. His gaze falls upon his reflection as he speaks in tongue to the beast below. A spell taught to him by his father and his father before him. His eyes roll shark-like as he relays his incantation, his voice rippling like a sinking stone.

The old man’s reflection hunts him. It floats upon the surface of the sea like oil. The reflection observes the world of the old man, its long white beard stretched sagely skyward. The beast circles below, stalking the shadowy outline of its adversary. Long has been its wait. Its siren call bubbles upon the skin of the sea like boils.

The old man holds the line carefully, his coarse hands sensitive to each pull and twitch. He counts backward in his mind, steadying himself for the fight. His fists tighten and slacken in a macabre dance with the beast. One thousand sixteen, one thousand fifteen, one thousand fourteen. The beast gives an almighty tug, its flanks writhing below the surface. His hands begin to bleed from the line cutting into them. Drops of crimson fall upon cerulean like rain.

The old man’s reflection smiles up at him with lion’s teeth, its dark eyes trained upon the old man. Five hundred fifty, five hundred forty-nine, five hundred forty-eight. The beast struggles against the force from above, its primal flesh tearing, the barbed steel boring deeper within. It lashes its powerful tail, violently darting toward the deep.

The old man mops pearls of sweat from his brow with a scarlet handkerchief. Salt water laps the side of his boat. His arms grow weary from battle, his lean muscles strain and tear. The air around him grows breathless as the beast rises to meet him. He knows the sea is waiting.

Five, four, three.

The old man’s reflection morphs.

Its eyes roll back. Its ethereal flesh shimmers with glorious emerald scales.

The sea parts.

It rises weightless into the air.

 

 

Charles Prelle is a writer and playwright based in London, UK. His past theatre work has been staged at the Bread & Roses Theatre, the Old Red Lion and the Chapel Playhouse. Charles also writes short fiction and has been longlisted as part of the Flash 500. On Twitter @CharlesPrelle

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Our Language – Aldas Kruminis

The language unites; divides
the world into shaded lights.
Each nation under same roof
obtains resources from different providers.

Each window painted with blight
and doors locked in fear of privacy.
We see the pain but keep the windows shut;
knock for help but doors remain locked.

We don’t understand each other.
We look for secret passageways into the rooms
like we are treading through medieval
stone steps into the bedrooms of affairs.

Our hearts are open, but keys
are turned to hide us from the world.
We fear to be exposed, seen raw or naked
or worse, in our worn stained pyjamas in the comfort

of our bedroom. We fear to be alone.
The world does not understand. We share
the same doors. I hear your cries and screams –
I take out my key, but yours is still there

turned to lock the world away.

 

 

 

Aldas Kruminis is a writer from Dublin, Ireland. He has spent the last few years dreaming of a successful and prolific career as a writer; so he earned a Masters in Creative Writing from Loughborough University. His work has been published in Terrene, Idle Ink and more. More at: https://aldaskruminis.wordpress.com/

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Bitch – Sam Agar

I wish I could run. It’s my favourite thing. Having the wind push against you as the ground moves below. Closest thing you can get to flying, I reckon. Me and my man used to go out and catch that feeling together. When we were younger, it was different. He was kind. Protective. Used to be his touch was gentle. Now his hands are hard. Full of sharpness and edge. Can’t help but wince when they come close. Only makes it worse, of course. Those itchy fingers winding up my throat to squeeze. As much as I deserve for flinching. Should know better, me. Should know well by now. Don’t remember when the change happened. It’s not like a light switch, not that quick. It drips in over time. A cold shoulder turned your way, a cross word or two thrown into the air. And then before you know it, you’re backed into a corner while he spits venom at you and raises the fist. He’s not evil, my man. I love him very much. If I told you what he’d been through, you’d understand. You wouldn’t hold any of it against him. But I won’t. He’s very private; doesn’t like other people knowing his business. You’ve got to respect that. He tells me I’ve no respect so I’m trying to be better. There’s a lot to be working on, in his eyes. I’ve a lot to be doing to be good enough for him. I don’t mind. I’m all for self-improvement, me. It’s my purpose, being with him. Meant to be together, us two, that’s what he’s always telling me.

When he lost the job. I suppose you could say things got worse around then. Wasn’t his fault, of course. His manager is a bastard. Never met him myself but I’ve heard enough to know. My man’s wasted in that place anyway. Overqualified and more talent in him than the whole lot put together. I was happy, I’ll admit. Selfish really, but it meant we could spend more time together. I thought we could go out, take a trip or two. It wasn’t like that. The first few days we went for a morning walk. Short enough they were and always ending up at the offo. Then back to the flat where we’d sit on the couch in front of Maury. After him it was Bondi Rescue, followed by Countdown with a finish of Come Dine With Me, in four parts. The full catalogue of daytime television reeling before us, and him crushing cans between his fingers. The pile growing high by evening but not a word from me.

At about six, the air would grow thick and heavy. My man, he’d start muttering to himself. Throw me sharp looks. Blamed me, he did, for the redundancy. Said I put too much pressure on him. My very existence. Nothing I could say to that. I’d try and take myself away, off the couch and into the other room. He’d always catch me. The punches I can take. Learned to measure against them with deep breaths. The pain still comes, of course. That burning sting running under my skin, banging every nerve. I find a kind of comfort in it, if I’m honest. Makes me sound strange but it’s true. The kicking always takes me to another place. Could never learn to channel them into anything other than black agony. He can always find my soft spot. Sometimes it’s as if he knows exactly where to land the heavy boot. Send me reeling, spluttering, puking. No dignity left when the kicks fly in.

He’d leave me then. Off to the pub maybe, I wouldn’t know. Couldn’t tell which way was up, a heap in the corner like I’d be. He’d come back in the early hours, all delicacy and love, picking me up off the floor like I was some kind of princess. Sour breath on him as he purred away all the sins of the day. And I’d forgive him of course. Always and without question. It’s my purpose, you see, and what are we without a purpose in life? Nothing. And the heaviness in the air would break and I’d bask in the warmth of his love and softness. Usually he’d pull out the bottle of whiskey. Kiss it until he folded into himself. And with the rumble of his snores vibrating through my bones, I’d sleep.

Last week he brought a woman home. What could I do? I know my place. She was rough looking and smelled like a blocked drain. When she saw me she laughed a little, then asked if they could go into another room maybe? My man told her to get on her knees. I put my head down and closed my eyes. Pretended to be somewhere else. I always try that but it never works. I can never be anywhere but here. After the woman left, my man sat down beside me. Bared a toothy grin and nudged me gently. Pointed to the tattoo of my name on his arm. Reminded me how much he loved me and wasn’t I his special girl? And that was it, only that evening he cooked us steak for dinner. If you know my man, you’d know that meant that he was having a great day.

I don’t mind visitors don’t get me wrong. Not that we get many, only Barry. Barry’s his best friend, apart from me. Brothers they are, not by blood, but that’s what makes it stronger. Barry’s alright. He’s got thick black hair that sticks out of his ears and he’s missing all his bottom teeth. Lost them at the bookies. I like Barry because he’d always throw me a gummy smile and toss a kind word my way. He’d never look at me much or ever touch me because my man doesn’t like anyone touching me. Once or twice a week, Barry and him would settle on the couch and watch the races. Not much said only one or two words, and depending on the take for the night, a laugh between them. I’d like it when Barry came over because it meant my man was in a good mood. No kicks or punches, maybe just a light slap if anything. Unless he was on a losing streak. Then I’d be hiding under the table in the other room.

Barry was good to us after my man got let go. When he came over he’d always bring a few tins for him and a bag of chips or a couple of battered sausages for us both. Go for a walk, he’d say, do the both of you some good. My man stopped leaving the flat. And me of course, but sure I’d never be going anywhere without him. He always kept me close when we went out. Didn’t like me walking anywhere but by his side. We’d match each other’s stride, me and him. Find our own rhythm and let it fall into place. I didn’t mind him keeping me close. Made me feel safe. Back in the day we used to go running together. Those were the best times. Feels like a dream that, another time and place. We stopped doing that a long time ago. Think the idea started scaring him. Like he was afraid if we did, I’d go too far. Get lost from him.

A few nights ago, things got really bad. I blame the Grand National. Never liked horses, me. Himself and Barry glued to the couch all weekend and me in the corner watching the dust billow by. It would’ve been alright except Barry won. He was jumping up and down like a fool when his horse came in. Like a little boy he was and I would’ve been enjoying the sight of it if not for my man’s face. His teeth clenched and cheeks inflated with huffs and sighs. And Barry there, singing and yipping. Had a feed of cans in him but should’ve known better, in my opinion. You shudda listened boyo, he was saying to my man between cheers, shudda come in with me, we’d be rich together. I watched as my man’s fists made knots of his fingers. Barry’s chuckles slowed and fell away in his throat. My man looked on in heavy silence and Barry knew then what he’d done. Glanced my way, he did. Didn’t look directly at me but focused his gaze somewhere behind my shoulder. A hint of darkness on his cheeks as he collected his paper and his John Players. Mumbled a goodbye and then left us. Just me and my man.

It started like it always starts. Him telling me how worthless I am. A rotten piece of shit. Would be on the streets if not for him. Do I know how lucky I am? It was Barry’s fault, not mine. All I did was sit there. All weekend they drank and filled the room with farts and sweat. I didn’t say anything of course. Maybe it was the way I turned my nose up at him. The little huff of air that escaped from me. Doesn’t like any cheek, my man. I made moves to leave and that’s when I knocked over his drink.

Whiskey and glass rolling across the floor as cold fear rushed through my veins. There was a snarl from him. A kind of crackling in his throat and he was up off the couch and on top of me.

He’s my leg pinned under his hip and that’s enough to bring a howl of pain out from me, only my face is pressed against the floor by his hand so the sound muffles and falls away into the cracks of the lino. His breath is hot and the smell so rotten my stomach turns. That might be the worse thing of it all, if I’m honest. His foul breath sliding up my nostrils and settling into the back of my throat. Cigarettes, whiskey, onion and garlic from his evening kebab. It’s hot and heavy and it’s spreading rot inside of me. Wafting over me in putrid waves, making my eyes water. He punches my side, catching a rib with his knuckles, sending me kicking and scraping away from him. I get back on my feet but so does he and it’s a stand off now between us. Doesn’t happen often this, usually I take it and then he leaves me be. But I can’t have that hot breath in my lungs anymore. We’ve eyes locked and I’m breathing heavy and so is he. Panting, the two of us. Waiting.

A warm sting flashes through me, a kind of anger bristling my bones and heating my blood. Makes me feel bigger somehow. I feel brave. And I’m looking into those grey eyes and seeing nothing of my man. He’s gone from me now. Been gone for a long time, I reckon. And I decide. The thought springs into my brain and makes that rage in me flare up brighter than ever. I don’t like it when he puts his hands on me. I remember, then. I have teeth. It was love that held me back before but there’s not a whiff of it left in this room. All that’s kept between these four walls is the stale air of pain and sadness. So when he charges at me it’s not the door I turn to but his barrelling body. He goes to clip me over the head and I don’t think anymore. I sink my teeth into his arm, just above the tattoo of my name.

A high-pitched yelp from him and I should let go but I only bite down harder. It’s him feeling the pain now. It’s him breathing through. He’s shaking the arm and I’m holding tight but my jaw’s burning with the strain of it and the strength’s leaving me. Another shake from him and we disconnect. I’m thrown backwards from the force of it, bang against the couch. He’s stumbling back, blood dripping down his elbow and a look across his face. Surprise, pain, anger. All mixed together with creased brow and slanted mouth. The heel of his boot tries to land on a pile of crumpled cans. He’s losing the footing, sliding from under himself. When he falls back, we get stuck in time, him and me. Frozen in our own rhythm. It’s like he’s floating. The hard crack of his skull against the edge of the coffee table breaks our spell. A low kind of huff from him then and a deep sigh. Wide eyes looking at me, searching for something as gurgles bubble between his lips. His hand reaching out, catching air between fingers. The thick velvet snakes under his ear and down his throat. I can smell it. The hint of metal landing against my tongue. It tastes bitter and sweet all at once.

It was quiet then between us. I felt so tired, felt it down to the root of my bones. Might have dozed off for a while, I’m not sure. The thunder of the rain on the window had me up with a jump. Forgot where I was for a second. Then I saw my man and it all came back. He was stiff and grey. The hand still outstretched and reaching. His eyes staring at me, glistening with a black shine. Follow me around the room they would and give me the shivers. I sat by the window. Perched there for a long time, watching the rain dribble down the frosted glass. Following the drops as they slid downwards, slow at first, then fast, too fast, racing by before disappearing completely. Bursting into nothing to join the puddle at the bottom of the pane. Time never meant much but looking out that window took it away from me completely. Minutes, hours, days passed me by as I watched the outside world move beyond. I thought about running. What it would feel like to run in the rain. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine.

When Barry came bustling in with a bag of cans I didn’t make a sound. I watched as he banged against the door and lit up a cigarette. He took the smoke out of his mouth and brought a closed fist up to his face. Coughed and hacked and made some noise about the smell in here. When he saw my man he stood still for a very long time. Looked at him, then around the room. Let out a strange kind of laugh. Sounded like half of it got trapped in his throat on the way out. He bent down so quickly he dropped the bag. A can burst open and rolled under the couch. Barry was shaking my man, grabbing him by the shoulder. He was muttering to himself. A sharp step back from him. A look of fear on his face. He felt the coldness of my man. Could see his stiff limbs and blood caked dry against his neck. Barry ran out of the room. Came back a few seconds later with an old towel. Kneeled down and tried cleaning the blood off his skin. His mutters became shouts as the cloth turned rusty. He threw it down. Started shaking my man again. Rocking on his heels. Nonononononono. The word tumbled out all at once. Then silence. It dripped into the air and settled over the room, drowning us.

Barry let himself down on the couch, heavy and precious in his movements. He put his head in his hands and he was crying into his fingers. Something in the hunch of him reminded me of my man. It moved me to my feet, up and next to him on the couch. He looked at me through a bloodshot haze. Reached over and put a hand out. I flinched a bit but Barry just patted me gently and took his hand away. There’s people I should be calling, I suppose, he said into the room. His voice was cracked and heavy. He pulled out his phone and I looked at my man. He didn’t scare me anymore. I leaned over just close enough to get one last sniff. Take him in one last time.

Barry started telling me about myself as we waited. He took me away from my man. The smell was too much, I think. Him retching into his collar and so it was outside on the front steps where we sat. Barry had looked at me through his tears. Met you when you were just a pup, he told me. You were born for greatness. A smile from him and a tickle under my chin. You’re a pedigree, just like your Da. He was a fine racer, lucky for me many times. Shudda had you out there just the same. Barry shook his head. I told your man, told him to train you up, get you running. Sure that’s what you were born to do. What’s a greyhound’s purpose only to run? Barry shrugged then and crumpled into a long sigh. Shudda done more, he said with a thickness in his voice. It’s no life, this. He was silent after that, his words hanging in the air and floating towards the clouds. Maybe he would take me running. The grass was just there, ahead of me. I could see it. Smell the sweetness of it, fresh from the rain. I got up on my feet, my breath catching from the thought. Then a van pulled up and Barry had me by the neck.

They have me in a cage now. Put me in there after they saw my man inside. What happens now? Barry asked and when they answered his shoulders dropped. His head shaking and his eyes closed tight. He’s bending down to the cage now, telling me goodbye, I suppose. I wish he’d taken me running. Before this part, I wish he could’ve given me that. With water brimming his eyelids, he manages a shaky smile. I look into the empty grey space where his teeth should be. And there’s nothing I can do only be here. Exist in this small space as the walls squeeze against me. Maybe they’ll take me running. The thought brings me down to the floor of the cage. Puts my head to rest against my paws. I think about what it would feel like to sprint. To have the ground move beneath me. That fresh air blowing my ears back. I can almost feel it. I close my eyes.

Sam Agar is an Irish writer who has been writing for many years, enjoying a passion for fiction from a young age. Having recently completed a Masters in Creative Writing in the University of Limerick, Sam is currently working on a collection of short stories.

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Therapy – Jeanna Louise Skinner

Probing questions drill into the black oil of my consciousness, until secrets gush from my lips like a geyser. I tug soft woollen cuffs over scarred wrists, wrap arms across my shucked oyster chest. Nerve endings now “hyper-aroused”, mind and body exhausted, yet I’m unable to rest. I need to do, to act, but I’m bereft and overwrought. I’m Schrödinger’s glass: half empty, half full; headspace narrowing with each useless thought. What am I supposed to do with all this emotion? I’m drowning. Drowning in the sea of me. And you’re no longer around to toss a life jacket.

 

Jeanna Louise Skinner is a romance writer from Exeter who has been published by Ellipsis Magazine and The Cabinet of Heed. Bitten by a radioactive sloth as a teenager, procrastination is now her superpower. Twitter is her Kryptonite. Follow her @jeannalstars and @UKRomChat.

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Antoine and Marie – B F Jones

They say I’m too old to fly. They say I’m unfit. They say I support Nazi Germany. They say I’m a collabo.

I take a swig and hope the alcohol will dissolve the cloak of betrayal weighing on me. I wish I’d had someone right here with me. I wish I was a child again so Maman could make it all better.

They forget what I did. They don’t know who I really am. They just make up rumours. They forget. The night flights. The crash in the desert. The survival. The books. The prizes. The speed records. The dedication.

I take another swig. I’ve lost the will to defend myself. I’ve lost the desire to write. The desire to live.

I bring the bottle to my lips again. But it’s empty.

*      *      *

I must confess I am worried about Antoine. His last letter was tainted with discouragement, despair. My Antoine. My little Prince. So reluctant to grow up, yet so courageous in his adult life. But those accusations have taken their toll on his pride. I worry that’ he’s taken to drinking. My boy, pro-Nazi! My wonderful, courageous son, a traitor!

I feel his pain as if it was mine. I wish I could take it all away, just like when he was a little child.

*      *      *

In his last letter, Antoine told me he’d be out flying again. Over the Mediterranean, France and Italy.

I don’t know when exactly. The mail can take a while those days. His tone was better, that despair replaced with the excitement of a new adventure.

That brave, restless, wonderful boy of mine.

*      *      *

I’m out flying again. I have forgiven and forgotten. I’ve left the bottles alone. I’ve got inspiration and strength again.

I’m ready for my new mission.

*      *      *

They find the body washed out outside of Marseille.

It’s unrecognisable. The sea has done its rapid damage and plumped up the man’s face and sea creatures have pecked out his eyes.

There is nothing to identify him but the uniform of a French aviator.

The news report that they believe it is Antoine de St Exupery, who failed to return from his mission a couple of days earlier.

But they have no way to tell.

*      *      *

If only the sea could talk. And tell me what happened. Was it really my boy’s body they dragged out of the sea? Did it hurt? Did my baby die before hitting the surface of the water or did he drown?

And now that I am fading away, I will never know.

 

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Keeping Watch As My Ex-Husband Dies – Janice Northerns

I stare out the window, remembering
walks to the last soda fountain on the square
for breakfast those Saturday mornings,
our hands twined so tight it was hard to hold
the paper sack. From his hospital bed,
my ex-husband calls What are you looking at?,
wants to know what he’s missing.

Just thinking of those fountain Cokes and doughnuts
from Stinson’s Drug, I say. Remember walking
down the street, sugar on our mouths? He frowns.

He is young enough to recall the taste
of first dates, but doesn’t. Doesn’t even remember
our kids’ names when I tell him how our boy
sat the bench at yesterday’s Little League game.

What he remembers instead is last night’s dream
of a Nazi death camp, how I left him there.
And now as night falls, he begs me not to go.
How to tell him he was in a war,
but not that one? No context for his memory
but the heartbreak of my actual leaving years ago.

Those early mornings we drank our Cokes
from to-go cups, too young for coffee, ice chilling
doughnut glaze to grease slick in the back of my throat.

Now a sticky film coats his brain
as he searches for words, waste water
swirling up in black-bubbled aphasia
so that he spits out Please, I need a drink
of thirsty.
I hand him the glass, and as it shatters
to the floor, I stare once more out the window

but find against sunset’s glare dust motes streaming
into a reflecting pool of transgression: years I spent
back-pedaling, pulling away, leaving him in the dust,
dust that now waits to reclaim, settle him down
into the long dark furrow to come. He doesn’t ask again
and I don’t say that I am making a list of all he will miss.

 

 

A native Texan, Janice Northerns now lives in southwest Kansas with her husband, two dogs, and a laptop. Her poems have appeared in The Laurel Review, Chariton Review, Roanoke Review, Southwestern American Literature, descant, Cold Mountain Review, and elsewhere. Her awards include a writing residency from Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts, a 2018 Tennessee Williams scholarship to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, second place in Southwest Review’s 2017 Marr Poetry Contest, and the Robert S. Newton Creative Writing Award from Texas Tech University. Read more of her poetry at http://www.janicenortherns.com or follow her on Twitter @JaniceNortherns.

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The Slave in the Kitchen – Dan Brotzel

He is there when they come down in the morning, a grumpy hairy beast in a scuzzy pair of pants and an old Ninja Turtles T-shirt. His feet are bare and his hair is a mess. He thinks of himself with a certain grim masochism as ‘The Slave in the Kitchen’.

‘What do you want to drink?’ he snaps.

‘That’s mine!’ says number 1, snatching at an old fairy tiara.

‘I had it first!’ shouts number 2.

Number 3 is chasing the cat on all fours. The cat is terrified and escapes into the garden.

‘What you all wanna drink?’ he snaps again.

They say nothing, so Slave brings over drinks for numbers 1 and 2 anyway. The baby is now trying to put its head through the cat flap.

‘What about cereal?’ he snaps. The cat sneaks back in past the baby, and jumps onto the table.

‘I don’t want cereal. Just toast,’ says number 1.

Slave shakes some cat treats to get the cat off the table. This works, briefly.

‘Let me think…’ says number 1, who is now playing Candy Crush on the iPad.

‘YOU DON’T USE THE IPAD WITHOUT ASKING!’ snaps the slave.

‘What if I could just have…’ says number 1. He knows she is about to ask for something off-menu he has neither the time nor the energy to make.

‘…Chocolate eggy volcano bread!’

‘Right that’s it!’ he snaps.

‘Beans and a wrap, no cereal,’ says number 1 hurriedly.

‘I want a wrap!!’ shouts number 2, as he tries to push the baby through the cat flap.

‘YOU’RE ALL HAVING CEREAL!’ he snarls. The cat is back on the table, and with good reason. Every time it jumps up, it gets more treats.

‘But the milk gives me phlegm in my throat!’ complains number 1.

‘I want a wrap!’ shouts number 2. The baby starts crying.

Slave makes three bowls of Weetabix, with microwaved milk, and slams them down on the table. Brutally he shoves the cat off the table.

‘Don’t want cereal!’ snaps number 1, spooning her Weetabix with disgust. She is now downloading a new app onto Slave’s iPad.

‘My milk’s too hot,’ says number 2, and starts to cry. The cat has jumped up onto the table again and is now sniffing at someone’s Weetabix.

He stands on a chair and pretends to cry hysterically, till at last they all stop and look up at him.

‘I’ve got to put some slides together for Phaedra’s keynote by 11,’ he sobs to the cat. ‘Do you know anything about innovative cloud-based supply chain planning solutions?’

 

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Sonorous Wave – Mehreen Ahmed

Two helicopters flew over our heads, like a duo dragonfly in the autumn sky. This afternoon, my sister and I sat under an old, oak tree in our garden by the River Bhairab, Those were the days, when we chatted silly, and talked about every nonsense that entered our heads, giggling over nothing.

“You always live in your head,” my sister declared.

“Let me guess, you don’t like that. This life of the mind kind o’ thing,” I laughed

“You know how it is, thinking, dreaming.” I laughed first, then she laughed with me.

I hadn’t actually realised it until now that she mentioned it. Yes, I was the more reflective one, she, the extroverted. But that was all the difference we had; we both stood on a common ground of compassion. Well-bonded in togetherness.

When we were growing up, much of the political discussions in our house centred around the partition of India. Discussions which shaped our world views, so much so that it made us opinionated. We always heard about these eternal qualms between the Hindus and the Muslims. The Hindus, who suffered in the hands of Muslims at partition, and now it was the Muslims turn to suffer in the hands of the Hindus. The power shifts, after the British had left. The crooked history, never left us at peace, not today, not ever; if any, it made us even more crooked, hating everyone, in our loveless lives. This clockwise and anti-clock motions of emotions, ran hot and cold, politics played and churned out generations of despicable events.

Dramas that we saw around our kitchen table bore that testament. Our parents, endlessly bickered over what should have been the right course. Disagreements, led to high levels of anger, at times, shouts grew louder, arguments deepened. We listened, and left the table when we couldn’t endure anymore. We started living in a distorted reality of ideas.

I looked up at the sky, such a serene afternoon, today. At the far end of the garden, our Gardener, weeding nettled locks from a thorny rose tree. He looked at us and nodded a greeting with a smile. We smiled back. The garden looked deliciously luxuriant or decadent, this time of the year. It burst into all sorts of nature’s vibrancy, as the colours of spring changed to warm scarlet, deep magenta, sea turtle emerald and saffron pouring onto our lawn. Impeccable, was the word that summed it up. However, the Gardener’s intrepid work at cleaning the fallen, decrepit leaves, could not be ignored. It was his job to bring the garden to a full bloom every spring, of roses, and white jasmine, and pink daisies, and his job as well to clean it all up throughout autumn. Yes, pink daisies, the most prolific of all, the Nordic goddess, Freya’s sacred colour, symbolising, love, beauty and fertility.

The Gardener couldn’t do much to change the seasons’ natural laws. In autumn and in winter, the colours faded anyway. However, it all became replenished and resplendent, the next monsoon, when all the colours returned. He cared for the garden. It showed, how tirelessly, he kept at it, sprucing it up from fertilising every priceless tree to watering them diligently. He never slept or ate. He lived over by the river, in this hut, with a leaky roof, through which rain water dropped. But, he seemed to enjoy this drip, and didn’t bother to fix it.

“It is beautiful, wouldn’t you agree?” I asked my sister.

She looked at the garden, then at the Gardener, and then his broken hut by the river. And nodded in agreement.

“Do you think, he is in love?” she asked.

“Maybe, we never really speak to him, do we?” I said.

“Hmm. I wonder sometimes.”

“We do speculate a lot,” I laughed.

She laughed with me. The Gardener overheard. The tinkle and the words, carried over by the autumnal air.

“Should we ask him?” asked my feisty sister.

“About what? If he is in love?” I asked in disbelief.

“Yes, if he can create this lush place of such breathing, blooming flowers, he must have a heart, too; sensitive enough to love and to kiss.” The Gardener, in my thoughts, he swam in the deep river, and then suddenly, he kissed a girl there, in the river’s depth, a secret he harboured. He somersaulted in the water and swam away.

I looked at her puzzled, “You do realise, our parents would kill us if they heard us speak of the Gardner’s love life.”

“Yes, I do realise. Do you think, life would be any less miserable with the Gardner than it is right now? To the contrary, life may actually flourish.”

We both looked at his hut. And thought how the rain water never affected him. Then there was a cry. It came from the Gardner. We rushed towards him. He had cut off his index finger, and then tried to re-attach it. Red blood oozed out on the manicured lawn. A snake had bitten him, a brown, poisonous viper. It slithered away right before us.

“Oh! No!” We screamed. “You must go to the surgery at once.

“It’s okay. I’ll go to my hut and rest. I’ll be fine tomorrow.”

“But you’ve lost so much blood.”

We couldn’t tell, if he heard us. He dropped the finger, and walked away. My sister began to run, but towards the kitchen to ask the chef if he could make some broth for the Gardener. In a bit, she returned with a bowl of broth, while I hung around the garden, and saw how the soil soaked up all his blood; the blue finger lay inert; we went into the hut together. The hut was bare as bones. We heard the sonorous river convey,

Roof’s torn portal led to spacetime above;
Earthlings seen copious, but tiny pebbles on the top;
Gardener’s elusive, ubiquitous apparition, to summon;
Hollered life’s tales of bittersweet paradox.

 

Image via Pixabay

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