fiction, life

Niksa

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I met Niksa when I rented a room in his house, an old fisherman’s cottage he had renovated for tourists who visit the old town of Dubrovnik. He liked to talk; fuck me, did he like to talk. He cornered me in the kitchen as I made a cappuccino, and we had a conversation of sorts – the kind of one-way interaction where I was given the role of Listener. He spoke at length about himself and his life, never asking anything of me, never giving me pause to respond. I listened in a polite manner, but as time passed I became aware from his tone and words that this interaction was for his benefit, that I was a pair of ears, no more, and that he was tolerating me being in his home as a paying irritant. He did not want to be “running a fucking guest-house in Croatia”, he explained – a fact I had already surmised.

He was a retired merchant seaman, and while his physical home was between these exposed stone walls, his nervous twitch belied his unsteady land-legs. He told of how he earned his sailing stripes in the Seventies, running “concrete” from Colombia to the Caribbean Islands, shipping apples the other direction for great profit. He had crossed the Panama Canal more times than he could remember, then spent the Eighties traversing Suez to complete the matching pair. He told tales of happier times in what are now the more war-torn cities of our World. He described how he would walk down the broad avenues of Mogadishu, arms thrown around the shoulders of “buxom Negresses”. In Beirut, he had been felated by a “towel head’s bitch” won in a poker game, after a night in the clandestine bars of the old town. He bought a “handful of Wogs” for the night in Calcutta, and “Chinks for his entire crew” in Shanghai. He ticked a bucket-list item in Bangkok when he was “banged by a cock”, which I thought was nice of him to share. There were other ports and cities dropped into the tale, so many I cannot recall. He stopped short of suggesting Sea Shanties be written in his stead, but casual racism aside, it was clear he had great affection for the World at large.

But things change, and we are only as arrogant of life as we are right now, in this moment.

As I sucked the froth from my cold coffee, he moved on to explain how he was in New Orleans when Katrina struck. He was evacuated to Houston a shredded man, becoming disabled by anxiety and sleep apnoea.  Banned on health grounds from crewing container ships at the age of forty-five, his life ended. He struggled with living on land, but the “shit little sailboats” didn’t come close to satisfying his considerable sea-itch. As a means to kill time (and not himself), he invested the profits from his apple-smuggling to renovate and rent holiday homes in his homeland.

He fell silent and stared at the flagstone floor. I looked into my pale coffee and wished I was somewhere else. Then he smiled, looked all around the room to make sure we were alone, then moved closer. I backed away a little, but he followed. He whispered that for the coming Winter he has found illegal passage, working a frigate running the Indian Ocean. Shh… He tells me this voyage will be his last, and that he has no plans to return to land. I can see in his eyes that this Winter will be his last. He asks me what I think of that – but my mouth fails to fashion a response. He stares at me, face falling, disappointed I am not rubber stamping his plan. He turns and leaves me alone, the silence buzzing in my ears.

I make a fresh coffee.

A man of contradiction, that within an hour came across as insufferable and vulnerable in equal measure. I did not know if I felt nauseated by him, sympathetic, or couldn’t have given a shit. What I do know, is that there is a renovated fisherman’s house in Croatia that will be up for sale in January – a fantastic business opportunity. Anyone want to invest with me?

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life

Distilled

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There was not a single time when I was wrong,

only those moments where I was told as much,

so it became fact.

When they would crush my confidence so small

it could be squeezed

into a miniature Vodka bottle.

At night I would suck down that harsh liquid,

so they could compress dreams afresh tomorrow;

distilled once again into that tiny space.

Over the years the nights became longer,

that vessel became larger,

and I grew accustomed to the taste.

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epistolary, life

Biting the Bullet

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Once on the bridge, she climbed the barriers that society-erected for her own safety. To pitch forward now would mean she be devoured by the shit-brown Thames, yet at this moment she is content to remain chewed, but not digested. She stands upon her own precipice, and observes all that orbits around and within.

SHE had emailed HIM to meet. To ’bite the bullet’, she said. Spontaneity was a precondition as, “nothing she did was ever planned more than minutes in advance”. He fired back a message, traversing that tightrope betwixt appetence and indifference. Then he waited.

The answering email entered his Inbox a week shy of two years later.

He sent his own, prompt counter. He asked, with genuine concern and hoping to not sound creepy, where had she been? Drinking, came the reply. He suggested a Social Media connection to be more efficient, given the “minutes” they would have to arrange something physical. In a surprise move she expedited a phone number where he could make contact in her Shadow World. A request to remain old-skool, and use text messaging. He did so.

Two more years passed.

He called her phone, but the number she had provided was now disconnected. No matter, for he somehow knew where she was to be discovered. And there he was, also upon the bridge that spanned their Worlds. He edged towards her, and she grinned at him in recognition. He asked, with genuine concern and hoping not to sound besotted, where had she been – drinking? Worse, came the reply. He stepped forward. Panic drenched her as he got too close, so he froze in time.

They drank each other in for two, additional years.

Now he plans to terminate this standoff, but he is confused. He knows not if he holds out his hand to pull her into his Artificial World – or whether he desires help to pull him onto her precipice.

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life

Randy’s Disease

PART 1 of Many (all identical)

Randy had an incurable disease. He called it “Randy’s  Disease” as he felt alone with the problem, but he was sure he was not the only person suffering. Maybe nobody else had ever spoken out about the untreatable, social-embarrassing symptoms.

He recognised these symptoms when they flared. It was like clockwork when the feelings came on to him, starting with a cold sweat. Two years exact from the start of any relationship Randy had ever held, this happened to him:

He would start looking at other women. Looking would progress to chasing. Chasing would end in fucking. Fucking would give way to dating. Yes, dating – because deep down, Randy was a committed romantic.

When Randy began a fresh dalliance, the knowledge of this inevitable, two-year cyclical disease made him feel nauseous. It would leave a bitter taste in his mouth, whenever he lowered his face between his new beau’s parted thighs for the first time.

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epistolary, life

Red Lights.

She knows he can not pay. Her door remains locked. A student with no cash, he is depositing the memory of her perfect curves within his wank-bank, so can splash out later. Yet she puts on a show.

She pulls at her nipples, teasing them hard. Running her hands over her firm breasts and down over her flat stomach. She gives a wiggle, then turns. He can see thin black material circling her waist then disappearing between the cheeks of her petite ass.

Why? Maybe she hopes that in a few years this boy will return to her, a man with disposable income and energy to burn. He will come back to this very window, remembering her as she is now – perfection. Not the Amsterdam relic she will soon become, ignored for not being young enough, or beautiful enough. With her wider hips, and softer breasts. Too old for this job at the age of twenty-eight.

Or perhaps she is performing this routine for the benefit of the man with the camera. He stands across the street, staring, as he has done for the last hour. He is too old to be acknowledged by someone as young and beautiful as she, not without payment. But how much will she cost? Two hundred Euros, and a lifetime of regret and shame.

She unlocks her door. He steps inside, pocketing his camera as she takes his hand.

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epistolary, fiction, life

230V 40W (Part 2)

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Part 1 can be found HERE and should be read first.


I didn’t believe her at first when she told me, but that was guilt suppressing her words. I knew, I think. I mean, it is fucking obvious when you play the record backwards; you can hear the sound of the devil emanating from the vinyl.

I looked up the old newspaper records at the library. Vast numbers of microfiche, slipped under a light, seeking out the confirming article. It took time, but I found it. A tiny box, hidden away at the bottom of page eight.

“In [withheld] Court, yesterday, Charles Hamilton Grant, was sentenced to prison for eight years on the charge of Paedophilia. His child abuse history had gone back five years, starting when his wife died. His known victims numbered six during this period. Families of the abused shouted as the Judge read the sentencing.”

Six. Six that came forward, anyway. My Sister was a seventh. She pleaded with me not to tell my parents, or anyone. I could see the shame etched on her face. I only felt anger. Once again, I didn’t understand her emotion.

It was easy to track him down. A run down flat on an estate, built on the edge of the spreading town. The door gave easy enough, cheap wood splintering as the sturdy lock remained intact. I stepped inside and the smell of cheap aftershave took me back through the years.

He had grown old, and frail. The eight years inside had not been kind to the man. He didn’t recognise me at first. When I told him my name, his eyes widened, then a strange calm fell across him. He was compliant when I asked him to sit down. I took the bulb from my bag and held it out to him. He frowned as he did my bidding, reading aloud the etching upon the bulb. All throughout, he was calm, accepting. Right up to the point when I forced the bulb into the socket of his eye.

 

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epistolary, fiction, photography

230V 20W (Part 1)

I still remember Uncle Charlie. He is dead now, just over ten years. He was not our real uncle, which always confused me. I guess sometimes people use family labels to simplify relationships for the sake of the children. Charlie did that.

He lived across the road from our house. He would make an effort to come over and play with my sister Lizzy and I whenever our parents went out. He would bring cans of fizzy drinks, crisps and chocolate. He would not stay long, maybe half an hour, but he said that was time enough for fun, and that as an adult he had responsibilities.

He always made us play “musical chairs”, but with just the one seat occupied by uncle Charlie. The music would play and me and my sister circle him like predators. He would stop the music and we would fight over who got to mount his lap. First to five was the winner. My sister always won.

Her prize was to go upstairs with him and play a special game, a game only winners were allowed to enter. As the loser, I would be shut in the garage where I would stare at the solitary bare bulb in the ceiling, until I went blind to my surroundings.

CLASSIC ECO 230V 20W Made in France . h328

Their game did not last long. He would soon return downstairs and let me out. He would ruffle my hair and say goodbye, promising I would win next time. I never did. After he had gone my sister would stay in her room until Mum and Dad got back, while I watched cartoons on the television.

I remember the police cars outside his house. My dad broke the news to us that he had died. I was sad. Also angry at my sister for not being as upset.

Last week something strange happened, but I am certain, I saw Uncle Charlie in the supermarket.I must remember to tell Lizzy.

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art, fiction, photography

25 Staples

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25 Staples – by Ashley Lily Scarlett

A collaboration …

Image by Ashley Lily Scarlett who posts here on Hijacked Amygdala, and also blogs at Syncopated Eyeball, Between Scarlett and Guest, and strata of the self.

Words by me. Oh, and my photographs can be found at One Possible Reflection if you’re interested.

Enjoy.


 

When I was twelve, Dad’s work took me from our small town home in Nevada, to the city of Detroit. We rented a rundown house just off 8 Mile Road, neglected and dirty, but Dad said it was cheap. The backyard was huge with a big oak tree in one corner, off of which hung a double-width swing suspended on thick ropes. I sat on that swing, alone, most days.

When I was thirteen, as a gawky boy from the dust of Mojave, I found it impossible to make friends. Kids used to either beat on me or ignore me. Then Macie moved in next door with her Mom and Dad. She was even more weird than me. Our parents got on well, so she and I spent the summer together in shared silence. We soon became girlfriend and boyfriend, but I never told her that we were. We sat on that swing together, most days.

It was around my fourteenth birthday when Macie disappeared. Her parents were still at the house, but Macie was no longer around. My Mom and Dad would speak about her in hushed tones. When I asked after her all I got told was that she had gone away for a while. Macie came back three months later with hair shaved and metal in her head.

As we sat on the swing, I stared at the side of her head. Then I asked her what happened:

She told me, “I got myself a summer job in the zipper factory. I fell into the biggest machine in the place, and when I came out I looked like a jacket.”

I laugh-snorted. She looked at me, sad.

“You are teasing me. Tell me the truth,” I begged.

“OK. You got me. I am an Alien in a human skin-suit, and this zip is how I get in and out.”

This time she smiled. I could tell it hurt her to smile, and not a physical pain.

“That’s silly,” I exclaimed. “Tell me the truth.”

She stopped the swing and climbed off.

“I don’t remember. They told me I stepped out in front of a bus.”

I stared at the side of Macie’s head. The ladder of staples glinted in the sun, a shallow arc from just behind her temple to the top of her ear.

“Stepped out? By accident or did you do it on purpose?”

She turned to face me.

“I don’t remember.”

 


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life

Shifting Sands

Tears had formed, and as he closed his eyes tight, the pool burst free and ran down his cheeks like a tram track. The newspaper lay folded upon his lap. On its front page an image of a candy-striped deckchair was prominent, and italicised text accompanied:

“It is time we eliminated the reminder of our cloth-cap heritage. Move forward with the times, eliminate our industrial past. We have a master plan for the rejuvenation of the town. We began two months ago with the dilapidated seafront.”

But this is my home, he thought, this town has been my life.

On the number twelve bus, Bill watched his neighbourhood pass through the window. His head was pressed against the glass like a small child. He absorbed the impact of each rise and fall of the suburbs. What he saw was different from when he was young, when both he and the town were in their heyday. In truth, Bill’s neighbourhood had died many years previous; this was now just the place he lived.

The seafront was quiet in comparison to when he last visited. He approached the stretch of beach, next to the team staton, where the deck chairs were hired out. He paid his money then lowered himself into the candy-striped deck chair. He reached into his pocket to withdraw the small scrap of this morning’s headline.  Looking down he re-read the article and again a tear formed in his eye. Taking a pristine white handkerchief from his hip pocket, he slipped it beneath his glasses lens and vigorously rubbed the socket of his right eye until it turned red.

In 1950 he was handsome and suave.  He had worked most of the bars, clubs and cabaret establishments along the front; it was his life, his income and was how he met his wife. A host with a handful of one-liners, he supplemented his income calling bingo for the septuagenarians in the Conservative Club hall.  Ethel, in contrast, was a class act. She was beautiful; she glowed. He would stand in front of audiences at “The Pear Club”, and with microphone in hand he would announce her onto the stage. She’d twirl to the centre of stage in her golden ball gown with incredible grace; transfixed, he would watch as she spun her honeyed web around him.

This is our home, he’d think, this is our life.

In 2015 they had been sat on the seafront, a candy-striped deck chair each, both looking every wrinkle their age. It was one of the hottest days of the year, and the beach teemed with chalky sun worshippers. Ethel wanted ice cream, so he joined a long line of pasty tourists for what felt like a lifetime. When he returned with the treat she was gone.  He took a lick of his ice cream, but it tasted bitter, so he became angry he’d spent the final minutes of her life, queuing for this.

Now it was twelve months later. To his right, a shop front was being ripped apart and refitted, just as the store next door was being boarded up and estate agent signs placed on the façade. Directly in front of him was an old run-down building.  Rusted scaffolding had been erected to preserve the remainder of the building. Above the door was a faded sign, it’s lettering faint and indistinct to all but Bill: “The Pear Club”.

He began crying and the tears blurred his vision; the scaffolding melted away and the club was once again pristine and gleaming. Posters proclaimed acts of vibrant music and enchanting dance, of unique cabaret and a thousand one-liners.  There was a buzz about the venue and the sound of laughter and applause echoed from within.  Then, a figure appeared at the doorway in a golden ball gown. She lifted her hand and in a wave, cast her web, beckoning him towards her.

This was my home, he thought, this was my life.

 

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