Sunday, 28 November 2021

The Barn

 by Michael Barrington

double macciato

She was asleep now, her head leaning on his outstretched arm, her delicate, dainty fingers finally relaxing their grip on his huge, calloused hand. The musky scent of her beautiful, long hair, she was so proud of it, stirred up old memories of happier times. He knew every inch of her face, her lovely, big brown eyes, that always seemed so full of wonderment, her delicate lips…He was afraid to move for fear of waking her, but he needed to relieve his numbing arm. And he must do so quickly before he was forced to make some abrupt movement that might disturb her. It was pitch black. He mustn’t turn on the light.

            Gently, ever so gently, he raised her head with his arm. Then reaching across his chest, inch by inch, feeling for her neck, taking infinite care not to pull her hair, he eased it carefully down onto the pillow with his good hand. As he rolled onto his back, he felt the tingling, burning circulation begin to return, then slowly drew his numb arm to his side.

            She must sleep. She needed to sleep. Albeit the sleep of exhaustion.

She’d cried so much all evening once the visitors had left…had spoken so very little. She’d always been careful with sharing her thoughts and even more sparing with her words. She’d just kept repeating, “why him, why him…. why?”

            He had drawn her tenderly to himself, holding her tightly in his embrace where he knew she felt safe. She did not resist.

Curled up on his knee, she clung to him with the fierceness of a wounded animal, as he sat on his favorite chair next to the open fireplace. The sound of the crackling, burning logs, and the low regular moan of the winter storm outside, provided fitting accompaniment to the expression of her grief. Her constant sobbing seemed to come from the very depths of her small, delicate body, and against his huge bulk, she looked like some tiny rag doll.

He could feel the heaving of her breasts against his chest, and the tears soaking into his shirt. He was filled with unutterable tenderness. He wanted with every ounce of his being to take her pain away. He wanted things to be so different. He wanted to change what had happened. But for this one time in his life when she really needed him, he felt helpless, totally helpless. And for him, that tapped into the very core of his manhood, his very being, adding still further to his inexpressible sadness.

            He couldn’t remember how long they remained, locked together. It was she who finally suggested they go to bed. And he had carried her there. Like a helpless child, she had allowed him to help her undress and then lay her gently on the bed. He tucked the comforter around her shoulders. They said nothing. There was nothing more to say.

            Jake padded through the house, from back to front, shutting it down for the night, a ritual he always claimed for himself and one that usually gave him a deep sense of peaceful ownership. But tonight… 

He turned to take one final look at the slowly flickering, dying embers. His huge powerful frame filled the bedroom doorway, and his normally stooped shoulders were now just a little more hunched as if carrying an extra burden.

He undressed in the dark as he usually did.  Protectively, he reached over to touch her, to draw her close to himself, unsure; but she responded. Her sobbing continued, hour after painful hour, until finally, there was just the sound of gentle breathing, the darkness, and the raging storm outside.

            He didn’t sleep. This was not a night for sleep. He did not know how long he had lain there dozing, ruminating, pondering over things. His built-in alarm, however, told him it was time to work. Despite everything, the inexorable life of the ranch called him into action. There were beasts to tend to, animals to be fed.

            Slowly, gingerly, he slid one leg from under the blanket, feeling for the warmth of the sheepskin rug on the floor. Pushing himself upright, carefully keeping one hand on the covers so as not to drag them off her shoulders, he eased himself off the bed.  She didn’t move. He paused to listen. Her whispered rhythmic breathing assured him she was still sleeping.

            On mornings such as this, routines were a blessing, he reasoned. He must focus on essentials; he must stay centered. He needed to be strong for both of them. There were things that needed to be done. Even while lying there beside her, with the winter wind howling and baying at the house like a pack of hungry wolves, he hadn’t failed to notice the constant tapping of a loose window screen, probably the one near the end of the porch. He would deal with that later.

            After making his usual mug of black coffee, taking care to leave the pot on the heater to be ready for her when she arose, he edged his way down the cold, dark stone-floored hallway towards the back door. In the alcove he had specially designed for this very purpose, he flopped onto the hard-wooden bench and began the ritual of pulling on his knee-high, heavy snow boots. But this morning felt different. As he mechanically began lacing them up, he found himself unexpectedly saying, “he had the same size as me," but then caught himself, realizing quickly that this kind of talk could only lead to more pain.

He stamped his feet in as much an impatient gesture as one that would ensure his comfort.  

Grabbing his cumbersome parka from the rack behind him he struggled momentarily with the zipper, and almost immediately began to feel its familiar comfort and increasing warmth. It was only then that he saw the other one and it caught him unawares, total of guard. It was identical to his, hanging there, alone. Why hadn’t he noticed it before? The sight shook him to his core.

Obscure, strange, unwanted feelings were starting to emerge from deep inside him. Intuitively he knew that they were too dangerous, too volatile to entertain. If given space, they would be like some huge flood from a broken dam and would sweep him away.

            “But this is his,” he murmured to himself, drawn to look again at the hanging parka tentatively reaching out to touch it. “It’s his.”  And then catching himself again, he paused for a second, straightened up to his full six feet four inches, and remonstrated, “I must get to work; I have lots to do.”

            Hurriedly, pulling on his cap and wooly mittens, he let himself out the back door. The force of the piercing, freezing, icy-cold wind, caused him to pause momentarily as he caught his breath, focused on his direction, and then trudged out across the yard and towards the barn.  But the rumblings and murmurings kept pace with him.    

             Never to see him again. Never to hear his voice. Never to feel the warmth of his companionship again. To be no more. Gone. There was such finality to it. It didn’t make any sense. One’s own flesh and blood. A wonderful human being. Someone you had helped bring into this crazy world. But now… gone!

           Neither of them had been great talkers. But they knew who they were when they were together. They had a special bond. They understood. They enjoyed being with each other. They liked working together. They cared about each other. No!.. No!.. Not ‘cared.’ It was more than that. Much more…. So much more.

Jake struggled to get his lips around another word that was insisting on being formed, that was so strange, so foreign. It was not a word they could ever have used with each other. In any case, they really didn’t need to. But now…Things were forever changed.

Leaning into the biting, bone-crunching wind, as he lumbered through the white snow-covered yard, the imprints of his size twelve boots creating black symmetrical patterns, Jake suddenly stopped in his tracks as if pulled back by an imaginary, giant hand.  Straightening up, he turned his head to watch the watery, winter sun, just peeking over Milligan’s Ridge to the east, weep down the hillside covered with trees, now starkly gray in their December nakedness, and slowly cover the valley floor with what to him resembled a massive shroud. 

He shivered, tugged at the collar of his parka, and beat his arms vigorously across his body, hoping to encourage circulation and warmth, while at the same time his soft, squinting, blue eyes took in the whole panorama. There were mornings when he felt that this place was his chapel, where his spirit was at one with nature, where he felt he could touch the heavens. Today, it had the empty eyes and waxen look of a corpse. It was bitterly cold.

The low rising sun finally spread to touch a corner of the barn and Jake couldn’t but notice that it briefly cast a sort of soft spotlight on the extension, highlighting the newness of the boards. He felt a tightening in his chest. His body went rapidly from hot to cold and back again. Beads of frozen perspiration clung to the tufts of gray hair protruding from under his wooly cap. “What’s happening to me?” he complained to himself, shaking his head in disbelief, his eyes misting over. He quickly raised a mitt-covered hand, wiping the back of it across his face. 

They had built it together in the spring. It was their last project. It was while they were working on the barn that he told him he was enlisting, volunteering.  He wanted to serve…. He needed to do something special for his country…. He had thought it through… There was to be no argument. 

But now this.

Gone.

Gone forever.

The loss was soul-crushing, and for the first time in his adult life, Jake was possessed by an anguish and sorrow that clawed and gnawed at his very being. Suddenly, unexpectedly, a chilling, primordial, guttural utterance possessed him as he screamed back into the howling wind at the top of his lungs, “A father should never outlive his child.” And then with clenched fist pumping the air, remonstrated at the barn. “I want him back…. I WANT HIM BACK.”

Then new words started to form, and this time as the tears flowed down his craggy, weather-beaten face, he chokingly allowed them to take shape. “I loved him” …he whispered to himself… “I really loved him.”

And the barn alone stood there listening as a witness, passive, silent, immutable, as pitiless as the grave.  

 

About the author

Michael Barrington born in Manchester UK, lives in San Francisco, California. He is the author of The Bishop Wears no Drawers, a memoir & Let the Peacock Sing, a historical novel. Becoming Anya will be released next month. He has published several short stories. (www.mbwriter.net.)

Saturday, 27 November 2021

Sticky Lips and the Stray Cat

 

by Henri Colt

vodka martini

 

My girlfriend and I had just returned from an overnight trip into Manhattan. A night of gentle love-making on the pillow-covered king size bed at The Surrey followed drinks at the Carlisle

and dinner on seventy-sixth and Madison. Our morning walk across Central Park in a light summer rain kept us in a tender mood, but the drive back to Westchester was mostly silent, each of us locked in our own thoughts. After getting out of the car, I escorted Chris to the front door.

 

“I can’t stay, you know.”

 

“Awww,” she said. “Baby is so important he just has to get back to the office.”

 

I put my hand on her waist. “It pays the bills,” I said. Then jokingly, “I didn’t see you change this morning. Are you still wearing a little bit of nothing under your dress?”

 

She turned and bent slightly forward to slip her key into the front door. “Just nature’s natural fur,” she said without looking up.

 

I nudged her from behind, putting my hand on the back of her short, knit skirt. I could almost feel the warm, soft triangle between her legs. My palm cupped her snuggly. Nestling her, I wrapped my arm around her waist. Her thighs squeezed me…hard.

 

She leaned her cheek on my shoulder. “Hmmm,” she said, pressing herself against me. I kissed her behind the ear and inched my lips down toward the tip of her nose. I scratched the nape of her neck playfully.

 

“Stop,” she whispered, “you know I like that.”

 

“You could undress here, you know?

 

She giggled, but it sounded more like a purr. “You mean on my doorstep? I don’t think so. I have neighbors.”

 

“They’ll just be jealous.”

 

“They’ll gossip.”

 

“Let them talk.” I brushed myself against her. The word ‘relentless’ popped into my mind.

 

“I’m serious,” she said. “Stop.”

 

But my hand was still trapped between her legs. I sort of just left it there, fiddling, as if it had a mind of its own.

 

“Stop,” she said, in a way that made the word sound like it had two syllables. I restrained a smile when I felt the tautness in her thighs relax. Grudgingly, but with my arm still wrapped around her waist, I grasped her hand and lifted it to my lips. A sweet almond aroma rose from my fingertips. I breathed deeply, making sure she would hear me.

 

“Did I upset you?” she said.

 

“I’m not sure,” I ventured. “Maybe it’s the mixed messages?”

 

“It’s just a word,” she said. “There’s no need to make a big thing about it.” Pulling away, she adjusted her skirt and turned the key. The door popped open and she stepped across the threshold, then pivoted on her toes. I loved her toes, but they were concealed in those soft black loafers she bought on Lexington Avenue. No socks.

 

With her back to the hallway, she looked at me. I marveled at the way she ran her tongue across her teeth and scratched the corner of her mouth with her little finger, as if she were removing a spot of lipstick.

 

“My lips get so sticky,” she said, suddenly opening the cross-body Hermes bag draped over her shoulder. She pulled a tube of lipstick from the purse. Its black and gold logo was unmistakable. With perfectly set short black hair, a shapely figure, and deep blue eyes, she stood statuesque-like in the doorway. I peeked past her at the small marble coffee table covered with books. A crystal vase overflowed with bright yellow tulips. The lights came on automatically.

 

“I had a wonderful time,” she said, “but you know that.”

 

I wasn’t sure whether to leave or to wait patiently for an invitation to come in. Perhaps she expected me to say goodbye. A stray cat sauntered across the driveway and brushed against my leg, arching its back repeatedly. After curling itself twice around my ankles, it groaned plaintively before vanishing into the shadows of an afternoon sun drowning in the treetops.

About the writer 

Henri Colt is a physician-writer and wandering scholar who marvels at beauty wherever it may be. His short stories have appeared in CaféLit, Rock and Ice Magazine, Flash Fiction Magazine, and others. 

 

Friday, 26 November 2021

Red Dots on My Face

 

By: Harris Mellor

vanilla frappuccino

I avoid mirrors often. I’m told that it's not that bad even though I know self consciously that it takes over my life; however, today I must look at myself in the mirror like I used to do. I loved when I could look in the mirror and admire the color of my eyes without being horrified by my appearance. I was told that I should be showering more--they recommend seeing a dermatologist. People can be cruel. I hadn’t looked directly in a mirror for four days.

            Why are you lying to them...tell them that you refuse to look in the mirror anymore. Tell them you keep the lights off whenever you're alone so that you don’t see the red dots all over your face that no one else seems to have. Tell them you have tried everything and it just doesn’t go away...it's life. They don’t understand because they have never had it, it's so embarrassing.

            I need to look at myself today...I need to assess how bad it has gotten.

            The bell rings. I throw my hood on and run outside and to the buses. I sit alone on the bus, have my hood covering most of my face, and my head is buried in my phone so no one can take another embarrassing photo that I don't want to look at. The bus stops. It's my stop. Thank the bus driver, get off the bus.

            I sprint into the house, and my mother greets me gently.

I slam the bathroom door. I can’t let her see me like this. The kids at school thought it was worse than ever. I can’t imagine any mother would like to see the monster that puberty has created. She probably doesn’t even recognize who I am anymore. She acts as if the red bumps haven’t been forming furiously on my face for months now...she tries to ignore it, to make me feel better. What have you become? You used to be so handsome, you would get compliments, now I feel complimented when people don’t stare at me from a distance.

            The lights in the bathroom are off, and I move my hand over to the bottom of the light switch about to flick it on and reveal to myself what I have become. I feel the irritation on my face. When I smile, I feel the dry skin that forms around the whiteheads spread amongst my face. I hate it, I refuse to smile anymore because when I do there is literal pain. I really don’t want to turn these lights on...please God make the red dots go away. Suddenly, I realize I need to do this. I place my finger under the switch, and flick the light on.

            Fuck.

            My forehead is littered with red dots, surrounded by white pus at the top of each papule. My nose is filled with blackheads, and cystic acne that is starting a war under the crevices of my skin. My cheeks...oh my cheeks. They are so irritated, the redness would make one think I was born with rosy cheeks, but upon closer inspection they will realize that the irritation has just been piling on. Tons of red dots lay atop my irritated cheeks and they are spread out like buried treasure. The acne spreads down to my chin, and even near my mouth. How the hell are you going to kiss a girl now? You're not...you’re disgusting.

            I then frantically look for Q-Tips in the drawer of the bathroom. Q-Tips were a more effective way to eliminate whiteheads. I yank them out of the drawer, and there are plenty.

            I take two of them and put them in between pimple number one. I press…..I press….I presssssssss POP! That's one. Blood begins to ooze. Onto number two. I press…..I press….I presssssssss POP! That's two. More blood oozes. This process continues until I get to six.

Suddenly I take a look into the mirror, and blood is streaming down sections of my face. It seems as if I had been mauled by a bear. Directly above the bathroom mirror is a picture of me and my five siblings as young children. I looked happy. I looked so happy when I was younger, and I was proud of who I was.

           The tears combated the blood, and made my face seem like a war zone. The pimples mixed with the watered down blood from my tears left quite the spectacle on my face. It was as I was watching the tears flow out of my face however, where I noticed something about myself while looking in the mirror.

            My eyes are so damn green. They are the greenest eyes I’ve ever seen. I’ve never seen someone with such green eyes. And they are actually pretty, they are glassy and vibrant. I love my eyes.

            I smile. 

About the author

Harris Mellor is a seventeen year old from New Jersey. He attends Christian Brothers Academy on the Jersey Shore. He has found a love in writing, and intends to further his studies in college.  

 

 

           

           

Thursday, 25 November 2021

The Stranger at The Feast

 by Ann Bright

gin and tonic

Linda stood looking at her reflection in the gilded full length mirror smoothing her hands over the white lace dress made especially for her and she didn’t see the wide hips, the heavy breasts, the thickening waist, she saw a curvaceous, sexy, elegant, beautiful woman.

She slipped her feet into the satin court shoes-she was pretty sure they wouldn’t last all day!-and picked up her bouquet of dried lavender.  With a deep breath she left the dressing room and walked into the bedroom with its huge four poster bed, where her daughter, granddaughter, sisters and mum were waiting.  They were a tight and powerful group these women, they had always been pillars of strength for each other, during the most difficult of times they listened together, they cried together and Linda’s life would have taken a very different path if she hadn’t always had them there to rely on.  She had brought Sarah up as a single mum sheltered by the protective wall of her family.  Although they had lived with her family until Sarah was old enough to go to school and Linda could work full time, although they had been secure and Sarah had received enough love for ten children, Linda had carried the weight of the shame of being an unmarried mother around her neck, dragging her head down, never feeling good enough to look people in the eye.  She had had boyfriends in the past, but so many would be one date wonders when she revealed that she had a child.  Occasionally a good one would come along who would talk of the future and making a family of the three of them, but her insecurities and scars of betrayal from the past saw her shut down and push them away.

Until Bill came along.  Of course it didn’t matter to him all these years later that she’d had a child out of wedlock, the world was a different place now and Bill wanted to be with Linda just as much as she wanted to be with him.  This was no one-sided love affair destined to end in heartbreak.  And he was pretty close to her idea of perfect-dependable, handsome, strong, so very kind, thoughtful, generous, loving, and he made her feel safe, thank cupid for e-harmony.  Her life had always been a struggle and she'd been so lonely for so long, but then asking her came and for the first time since that first time, shed let herself go.  He was the right man for her and they’d met just at the right time in their lives.

The bridal party went to their seats leaving just Linda and her mum.  The door opened as adagio for strings played.  Linda and Bill’s eyes met, his enormous smile matched her own and she saw him wipe away tears, this was the happiest moment of her life.  And suddenly she couldn’t wait to get to him, couldn’t wait another minute to be his wife.  It felt desperately important to her that she should belong to another, that they would belong to each other.  She clasped her mum's hand and began the walk down the aisle towards her love, thankfully her mum's slow pace forced Linda to take her time so she could take it all in as she walked towards her future.  Her people were on the left and she searched the smiling faces for Tracey, her oldest and best friend-there she was blowing her a kiss.  They had always been single together, but Tracey had never had any trouble finding a mate, she was just a bit too wild to be tamed! The attractive man next to her looked familiar and Linda figured it must be her new Mr Right now, she said she’d be bringing him-she must have seen photos of them together on Facebook.  Turning to the right there was all of her new family and bills friends that were now their friends. 

Before she knew it the ceremony was over and she was walking back down the aisle on the arm of her new husband.  She was a newlywed at 59! But she felt giddy as a bride of any age. They walked together between the applauding guests and made their way into the reception area. After the initial hugs it was time for photos, some inside, some outside in the hotel gardens.  Glasses of champagne were passed round and the guests drifted off to the bar and the various comfy seating areas.  Suddenly arms were around her, it was Tracey.

“You did it!! About time one of us did really” she laughed!

“ We need a photo of just the two of us,” Linda said and they looked for a pretty backdrop in the garden.

"Hey could be you next,your new fella is pretty good looking, a bit of a change from some of your usual guys!”

“ I didn’t bring him. That’s over. He was too boring, I think I’ll go back to dating 35 year olds”

“ So who was that next to you then? I thought I recognised him.”  Linda said.

“I dunno, but I’ll tell you what,a couple of glasses of fizz I’ll be hunting him down later,” Tracey winked.

“So who is he then?” Linda wondered,

And then suddenly her past came screaming into her present.  See needed some space, she needed to breathe.  “I’m just going to the loo, we’ll do our photo when I get back” and she set off towards the hotel but took a detour that led to a section of walled garden, the perfect place to hide and gather her thoughts. 

She was 18 again and the most beautiful boy she’d ever seen was smiling at her across the club.  She looked around, thinking Tracey must be stood behind her, but no, it was her he was looking at and now oh my god, he was walking over to her.  He asked her to dance and pretty much from that moment on they were inseparable.  He took her out for meals, with menus she’d couldn’t understand of exquisite food so alien to what she was used to, they went to the theatre, out for drinks with his fancy friends in his little red convertible.   If ever she felt out of place he just held her close and told her she was the most special, that she was better than anyone else, he was her passport to a different new world and she loved it.  He took her shopping, spoiled her with the latest fashions.  He was known in the best shops.  They were in love and she was delirious, so when he suggested they have a weekend away, she knew what it meant, but was more than happy to go along with it because this was forever.  And when she found out she was pregnant at 19, he was thrilled; they would get married, he said, money wasn’t a problem, he worked for his fathers company and had a very healthy trust fund that provided his comfortable lifestyle.  She would have a custom-made dress, he said, that would hide any small bump that might be showing.  They’d go on a luxurious honeymoon to Italy, he said, and then when they got back they’d move into a new flat together and prepare to become a family.  It was a fairy tale come true and they wanted both sets of parents to find out on the same day, so she waited to tell her mum and dad  until she’d had a chance to meet his parents. He assured her that although they’d be shocked they’d love her just as much as he did and everything would be fine.  And it wouldn’t make a difference if they weren’t happy, because this was their lives and their future. 

So Linda sat on the armchair in the bay window of the house she shared with three other girls from the office, waiting to be picked up to go and meet his parents.  She was wearing  a pale yellow full skirted, drop shoulder  dress, with white lace trim and white shoes.  She was holding a small white handbag and a pair of white lace gloves. She gripped them tightly; she was nervous but excited too.  And she waited, and she waited.  An hour had gone by and still no sign.  She was getting worried.  What if he’d had an accident?  As the hours passed and the sun went down, the horror of reality started to dawn on her.  He wasn’t coming.  As the hours became days she realised with a sickening feeling that she was alone.

“Linda”

There he was, this man who broke her and built her at the same time.

“ I had to see you”

“Why? After all these years, why?”

“Because I had to say I’m sorry, it broke my heart to leave you but my parents threatened to cut me off if I didn’t walk away from you.  They sent me away “

“But we were in love.  We were going to have a baby together. How did you just turn off your feelings, how could you stop caring?”

“But that’s the point; I never stopped caring and loving you and not a day goes by that I don’t think about my child and how wonderful our lives would have been. I had to see if we still had a chance”.

Linda bowed her head and tears fell silently.  He took her in his arms and time melted away, she felt a surge of emotion as she held him, as though nothing had changed.  She looked up into his deep blue eyes, but this time she wasn’t mesmerised as she’d had been all those years ago; this time she felt rage.  He moved forward to kiss her and she placed her hands on his chest, roughly pushing him away.

“No, you don’t get to come to me on my wedding day, when I’ve finally found the right man and try and turn my life upside down again.  Walk away now before I tell my new husband who you are “.

“Well it’s not that simple though is it, I have a child.  I don't even know if I have a son or daughter. It’s my right as a father to meet them “.

Linda felt dizzy. Sarah had never known who her father was, and Linda knew the right thing to do to would be to introduce them today and let her decide if she wanted to have a relationship with him.  The foundations of her world were shaking, what she was about to do made her feel sick to her stomach.

“There was no baby, I had a miscarriage.  I have no children, just nieces and nephews that I’ve always treated like my own. So if you’d stuck by me, who knows how it would have turned out.  But you didn’t.  Don’t ever come looking for me again."

She turned and walked away, her legs were shaking but she had never felt stronger, she went back to her guests, back to her husband, back to her future.