Wednesday 30 September 2020

This Wonderful World

 

by Tony Domaille

espresso

 

You can roll your eyes in your mind. Sometimes you have to do that. Rolling your eyes is rude, and I’m not rude. In any case, Star is my sister and I didn’t want to hurt her feelings.

I roll my eyes in my mind often with my sister. Star isn’t her real name. It’s Jeanette, but when she took up with what I call the Save the Earth brigade, she changed her name. All her friends did. Alan, Mike, and George became Orpheus, Dolph, and Pye, whilst Amy and Caroline became River and a symbol no one can pronounce. Their Earth names, the say. They’ve renounced their given names as part of saving the planet. How my sister being called Star is having a major effect on global warming is beating me, so like I say I roll my eyes.

‘You do know that burger you’re eating is murder,’ said my sister.

I stopped chewing. ‘I ordered at the counter. I didn’t shoot the kid serving.’

She rolled her eyes. That wasn’t lost on me because she doesn’t try to spare me like I spare her.

She said, ‘Rearing beef releases excess methane into the atmosphere. The poor animal is executed, in a horrifyingly inhumane way, and the meat is transported in vehicles that pollute the atmosphere. Then it’s sold in disgusting fast food outlets, like this one, who don’t pay their taxes and so exacerbate poverty and poor life outcomes for millions. It’s actually mass murder.’

I put down my burger. In truth, it wasn’t the best thing I’d ever tasted, but now it seemed to have even less appeal. Star took a bite out of the falafel, vegan wrap which she was shamelessly eating, even though she had bought it elsewhere.

‘Jeanette…’I began.

‘Star,’ she corrected.

I sighed. ‘Alright, Star. I thought we were meeting to talk about Mum’s care, not for you to lecture me about my role in exterminating humanity.’

‘We are,’ she said.

‘And it was your idea to meet in Burger King,’ I said.

She shrugged. ‘I was just saving time. Me, Orpheus, and River are staging a sit-in here from four. I thought it would save on faux shoe leather.’

I glanced at my watch. Three fifty-one. I definitely didn’t want to still be there when three aging hippies, incapable of basic clothing coordination, started shouting slogans and accusing the police of holding up a fascist state.

‘I think mum should go into a care home,’ I said.

Star nodded. ‘Me too.’

‘Really?’ I said. ‘We never agree on…on…’

‘On what?’

‘On anything,’ I said.

Star closed the wrapper around her wrap. I guessed she was saving some for the sit-in. ‘That’s because you’re a bourgeoise shit who doesn’t give a toss about anything but his own comfort.  But we agree on this.’

I was about to point out to my sister that this bourgeoise shit paid for Mum’s care at home and looked after the bills for her bungalow. I also regularly subbed my sister who hadn’t worked in more than a decade because she wasn’t prepared to pay taxes to the capitalist system. But I saw Orpheus and River coming in and decided a retreat was a better plan.

‘Okay, Jeanette,’ I said, just to aggravate her. ‘You enjoy your sit-in, and I’ll go visit Mum and deal with all the arrangements for her, just like I always do.’

‘Good,’ she said, and then rose to hug her friends and exchange air kisses.

Mum.

Not for the first time, I thought about what it must be like for her as I drove to her bungalow. A son totally wedded to the accepted norms. Job, house, car, holidays, and everything that can be enjoyed with a substantial salary. And a daughter with dreadlocks, the dress sense of a bag lady, and not a penny in the world but pockets full of causes. Two people brought up exactly the same way yet living and seeing the world totally differently.  I thought it must drive her crazy to have a child who lived with such alien views and acting in ways that were often embarrassing. Now to add to her troubles, I was the one who was going to be telling her that her independence was going to be taken away.

Mum is only in one of two places when I let myself in. Her bed or her chair, and I knew the drop in carer wouldn’t arrive to help her to bed for a couple of hours yet.

‘Hello, Tom,’ she smiled as I entered her living room.

‘How are you?’ I said, kissing her forehead.

Mum said she was fine, but we both knew that wasn’t true. She was virtually immobile, almost always in some pain, and dementia was just starting to take hold. We both knew she couldn’t continue to live alone, and that day-care wasn’t enough. Now we had reached the time when we were going to have the conversation no one wants to have.

‘Mum, I have something I need to talk to you about,’ I began, and I told her as gently as I could that Jeanette and I felt it would be best if she had care all the time and that meant going into a care home.

I thought she’d be upset. I thought she’d be resistant. But she listened carefully and then said, ‘I’d like to have lived out my days here, where your dad and I were happy, but I know I can’t be on my own anymore. Don’t worry, I won’t make a fuss.’

I gave her a hug and made us a cup of tea. I wanted to talk to her about what to do with her home and everything around her. Eighty-five years of life, sixty-five with my dad. She was surrounded by so much of monetary value, but also by so much that must mean a great deal to her.  It occurred to me that when everything was sold up, there would still be plenty of money left, even after the care home fees. I didn’t need or want anything, but there would be enough to set Jeanette up for the rest of her life. I found myself rolling my eyes because I knew she would give it all away to her causes.

‘What are you thinking, Tom,’ said Mum. ‘I can see things turning over in your head.’

‘Just about your home, Mum,’ I said. ‘All your stuff. You know you’ll just have one little room where you’ll be going?’

She smiled and shrugged. ‘It’s only stuff.’

‘It’s your whole life, Mum.’

Her smile was replaced by a frown. ‘Oh my, Tom, I thought you knew me.’

I was confused. She really didn’t seem to be bothered about leaving behind almost all her possessions and the home she and dad had worked so hard to buy and improve and keep.  For a moment I tried to imagine how I’d feel if I had to give up all those things myself, and it felt horrible.

‘I thought you’d be upset,’ I said.

Mum took my hand. And then she told me things I never would have thought she would say. She told me that my sister and I were her greatest pride. That nothing hanging on a wall, standing on a carpet, tucked in a cupboard or in a jewellery box gave her the tiniest fraction of that pride. She told me that her greatest love had been my dad, and nothing on Earth could come close to that. And she told me that she had loved her life but that the world she had known was gone.

‘In what way?’ I asked. ‘Surely you don’t miss twin tub washing machines and outside toilets and no central heating.’

She laughed. ‘You are so materialistic, Tom.’

‘There’s nothing wrong with liking nice things,’ I said.

Mum squeezed my hand. ‘But it’s not the nice things that make this wonderful world. It’s the people, and the time we spend with those we love. It’s hearing the birds sing, seeing the stars, being moved by music or art or kindness. And it’s leaving things unspoiled, not putting ourselves first and knowing you’ve helped people who couldn’t help themselves. What makes this a wonderful world is putting everything before the so-called nice things. We used to do that you know.’

‘I love you, mum,’ I said.

‘I love you too, son,’ she told me. ‘But do me a favour, will you?

‘Anything.’

‘Give your sister a little leeway. I won’t pretend I like the way she looks a mess, or the antics she gets up to some of the time, but she just wants the world to be wonderful.’

I nodded. It was the first time I’d heard Jeanette mentioned in years without rolling my eyes, visibly or not.  And I was a little ashamed that I’d spent so long dismissing her causes and beliefs because she presented as whacky. I wasn’t joining any sit-ins any time soon, but for the first time in my life, I found myself questioning what really does make a wonderful world.

 

About the author 

Tony has written a number of award winning plays, published by Lazy Bee Scripts and Pint Sized Plays, that have been performed across the world.  He has also had a number of stories published in anthologies and magazines and Café Lit. You can follow him here - https://www.facebook.com/tonydomaillewriting/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday 29 September 2020

Cause for Celebration

 by Alex Rankin

red wine

The man waits with tender anticipation, his palms face down on the table. He wears a faint smile at the thought of what is to come but also at how things have come to be, the days, the years, turning everything mellow like a softening fruit.

A smell wafts in from the kitchen, interrupting his thought process. Its aroma is rich and glutinous yet it stirs his gut only modestly. This is not because it is unappealing, but because of its steady presence; a dish that has punctuated many occasions of his life like a shot of his favourite liqueur.

Voices echo out on the landing then the front door opens and a whirlwind of bare limbs and smiling faces rushes into the hallway. The melee discard their belongings on the floor, fanning themselves against the heat and uttering gentle commands to the children hanging off their hips or clinging, like ivy, to their thighs.

They float down both sides of the table to land kisses on his cheeks. He receives them like marks of approval, a sign that he has accomplished what was required of him; as a father, a mentor and a protector. They tell him of the trials and trivia of their day, while the children peer timidly round the table leg, murmuring for mummy to shift her attention back to them. He smiles at both of these of things and takes a long drink from the glass of red wine that has been keeping him company until now. The alcohol floods his bloodstream and he feels his sense of contentment amplify.

More people arrive; husbands and cousins. They come to him with a handshake or a squeeze of the shoulder and congratulate him on his accumulated years. He avoids their eyes and politely deflects the reminder with a 'thank you', not wanting to be drawn inwards to thoughts of ageing.

In a timely fashion, the food arrives. Elbows bump and hands criss-cross one another to reach for platters of oily vegetables and glistening meats. He relishes in this ceremony, knowing that the goodness of the food is being shared amongst all who are dear to him, as it should and always has been.

A toast is made to his wife, the cook, and he hurriedly lifts his glass. Her soft, green eyes dart about the table in a panic and he loves her then; always the observer, but so rarely the observed. He loves his daughters too, their sweet faces, buoyant with the promise of youth and the beginnings of family. He's been good to them, he thinks. He's provided. And now they are blossoming.

He tops up his glass and drains it. Then he grins, forgetting what made him smile. Does it matter?

The conversation drifts around him now, detached and incoherent. Words are directed his way, but he scarcely engages in their meaning. He drinks again and the room becomes a little brighter.

Dessert arrives, and the guests tuck in just as enthusiastically as before. The dish is offered to him but he waves it away, frowning as though it is an unwanted distraction.

He's lost his train of thought now and other notions are beginning to cloud his head. What cause really is there for all this celebration, he wonders, when age only brings about weariness and the inevitability of lost dreams? He looks around the table for recognition of this fact, but everyone is too cheerful, caught up in merriment or at least pretending to be.

He leans forward and the surface of the table fills his vision. The marks and callouses are like reminders of the paths he's taken and the ones that were cut short. He shakes his head as failings assume extraordinary weight, that he did not return to his hometown often enough and the promise of some land and modest vineyard was never realised.

His wife speaks quietly in his ear, rousing him from his stupor. The guests are leaving now and he senses their vivacity funnelling out of the door. He tries to say goodbye but it comes out like jumbled words uttered during sleep.

Then, he is left as he began, with only a glass to keep him company while the threads of his thoughts whirl about, too fractured and imperceptible to recall. Rest is the only rational thing left to do and he drags himself to the bedroom, where the afternoon sun shoots long lines through the slits in the shutters.

Monday 28 September 2020

Traumatized

 

by Luke S

weak tea

I was sixteen years old, squashed between two older men and being thrown from side to side by the rough sea that was punching the large boat. I could hear the quiet whimpers of terrified soldiers. An explosion went off in the distance. I knew I was getting closer but I couldn’t see it. The mixed stench of blood, urine and smoke crawled to my nostrils and slithered up them. I gagged and stumbled forwards into a tall trooper before I fell back into the wall yet again. I shouldn’t be here, I thought quietly.

John grabbed my head; it was the same every day. With a powerful shove he smacked it against the wall. I let out a loud groan of pain.  “S-stop it John, I’ll tell mother!” I stuttered.

John crouched down to be level with me, still grabbing onto the top of my head, “Haven’t you realised that mother doesn’t care about you, little baby Albert?” He said in a mocking, baby-like tone. My two other brothers behind John, Jeffrey and Ronald, chuckled joyfully at my pain. John then pushed me down onto the grey carpet and kicked my arm. I screamed and then heard a loud shout from my strict mother for being too loud. John smirked, “You see what I mean when I say she doesn’t care about you?”

I stood up and punched John in the stomach, he stumbled back. Looking up at me menacingly, he growled the words, “You’re dead!” All three of them started walking towards me.

I was sitting on my stiff bed in my room, rubbing bruises and tentatively touching my eye that throbbed from the punches that I had received from my brothers the previous day, when, suddenly my door burst open and my tall and skinny mother stood there. She stared at me with the cold eyes that her ghost-like face possessed, “Off the bed! Don’t mess it up! Anyway, your father has been out at a pub since yesterday, find where he is and bring him home.” I hesitated; I was only 6 after all. “NOW!” she screamed. I got up reluctantly and walked across the rough carpet of my room, across the short hallway and down the flight of stairs. I put my black, leather shoes on and began the walk to find my father. Hours passed and I found yet another pub, I opened the door and entered it, crouched down and searched around. To my relief, I saw him, sitting at a table by himself. I sneaked around against the walls and reached him, “Uh-father?” He looked at me, “Mother sent me, she-um-said it’s time to come home.”

 

One year passed. I was in my room yet again, wriggling into the wrinkled sheets of my bed in my oversized, grey pyjamas I switched off the light. I tried to find a comfortable position. It was no good, the bed was old and overused. There was nowhere comfortable. I put my head to rest on the pillow and slowly drifted off. Suddenly I awoke, petrified. I was unable to move. I tried to turn my head. It didn’t budge. I started to panic. Everything underneath me felt the same. Slowly my eyes adjusted to the gloom; I was still in my room. A figure suddenly appeared out of the corner of my bedroom, it was completely black except for the eyes. They were plain white and emotionless. The figure took a few steps forwards. I tried to shout but nothing happened. It took one pace forwards. Two paces forwards. Three paces forwards. I shut my eyes tight, I couldn’t look anymore. More footsteps could be heard, getting closer and closer by the second. The sound stopped and a new noise began. Breathing, deep, slow breathing. “Albert...” said a rasping voice, “you have been chosen.” 

           My only thoughts were that I was going to die.

         “Join us.” This time many voices spoke, but they were all the same. I opened my eyes reluctantly. Now a dozen cloaked figures stood in three rows of four, the original one at the front of them all, “Join us,” They spoke in sync, “Join us. Join us. Join us. Join us. JOIN US!” I found movement in my fingers. The figures disappeared. I screamed and heard the door of my parent’s room be flung open.

 

My large father jumped into my room, wearing nothing but a beer-stained white vest and baggy pyjama pants, “WHASS ALL THE RACKET?” he shouted, “WHY YOU BE WAKING ME AND YA MOTHER UP?” 

          I sat up; sweat dripping from my forehead, “People…in my room…couldn’t move.” 

        My mother walked into the room now, wearing her purple night-gown. They both looked at me like I was mad. 

      “What are ya talking ‘bout?” My father growled. 

       “There were…people in my room and I…couldn’t move…they disappeared.” 

        My mother walked over to me and slapped me around the back of my head, “Nonsense!” 

         They both stormed off and slammed the door of the room.

 

The boat swayed massively and I fell on the ground, dropping my rifle. To my surprise, an older man around twenty-three years old helped me up and picked up my rifle, “You alright, lad?” he asked, handing me the gun. I gripped it firmly with two hands. 

“Yeah, thanks.” 

The man smiled and looked around. Another explosion went off, nearer than the last.  “What is your name, lad?” he asked, the smile gone from his face. 

“Uh-Albert.” I responded, a little confused. He looked at me with a serious expression, “When those doors open, you stick with me. Do you understand?” 

I nodded.  

“I’m Robert.”

 

I was awoken very early by my mother; it was a dark grey school day. I groaned and sat up rubbing sleep from my weary twelve year old eyes, then made my bed as neatly as I could. I trotted downstairs, only to be shouted at for going too slow, and made myself a small bowl of porridge. I sat down at the long, family table of our house. I ate a couple of spoonfuls when I noticed Ronald smirking at me from the other side of the table. What is he so happy about now? I wondered, They haven’t done anything to me yet. Unless- My question was answered when I felt something large grab the back of my head and it was smashed into the bowl of porridge. “You’ll have to be cleaning that up.” I turned around; John was behind me, looking pleased with himself. One shard of the smashed bowl had cut the left side of my forehead, leaving blood trickling down my face. 

“Mother!” Jeffery shouted, sniggering a little. “Albert smashed his bowl and it nearly stabbed John!” I stood up. John wiped some of the blood from my forehead and spread it all over his face. My mother came rushing downstairs. 

“M-mother!” John pretended to be hurt and limped over to her. “A-albert smashed his bowl on the table for some reason, turned around and punched m-me!” 

My mother stared at me, her eyes wide. I knew what was going to happen next.

 

I stood in a neat line, my male classmates in front of me and behind me. The door to the school opened and our slender teacher stood there, staring us down with her soulless eyes. She walked slowly down the line, inspecting the uniform of each and every one of us, trying to spot the slightest mistake in neatness. She reminded me greatly of my mother. I heard the loud “CRACK!” as she slapped one of my classmates around the back of his head for having his tie slightly out of place. It was my turn for inspection before I knew it. She looked me up and down then at my hair. I could have sworn that I saw a little smirk before she hit me for a strand being stuck up. I gritted my teeth and looked at her with a sense of hatred as she moved onto the last set of students. The gaunt women finished her inspection of everyone then walked back to the front of the line and gave us the signal to go in. We obeyed and stepped through the door one by one before going to our seats. I sat down at my wooden desk and looked to the front of the room at the blackboard. I set my English and laid my maths book inside my desk. She scribbled the date and the word “Test” on the board before underlining them both. “Write these in your books and do it quickly!” 

I opened my book to a clear page and wrote down the date and title. Mrs. Chapman looked over us. “As you all know, we are doing are test on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. It must take up at least three pages in your book. You may begin.” I dipped my quill into the pot of ink next to me and began the long writing test.

 

I got up extremely early in the morning and rolled off my bed, walking to the corner of my room, I threw my pyjamas off and crouched down to pick up my clothes and pulled them on me. I silently opened my door and crept past my parent’s bedroom and down the stairs. I grabbed the house keys from behind the curtain at the door and unlocked it. I stepped out of the house and closed the door, locking it. I took one last look at the house before walking away, dropping the keys as I started. Off to war.

 

The boat came to a sudden stop. I looked at Robert but he wasn’t looking back. Fear took over me, swallowed me in its dark mist. Then it happened; the doors opened and we charged into the entrance of hell. Water now stained red, splashed on my pants, leaking into my boots. I barely knew what was happening. A man on my left side got a bullet through his skull, forcing his brains and blood to drip out the back of his head and bounce in the water. I stumbled onto Gold Beach, (nothing golden about the place, at least not anymore), Robert beside me. I took much needed cover behind a large lump of sand, still thankfully with Robert. I shakily propped my rifle on top of the lump and fired blindly. The stench of blood and dead bodies crept up my nostrils as helpless souls screamed for help, seeping their life’s elixir into the blackened stained sand. Explosions went off everywhere, surrounding me it seemed in every direction.  After receiving the nod of approval from Robert, I wearily ducked out from cover, not really daring to put my head up. With one hand, I fired in-front of me, still without looking. Suddenly, a smoke bomb rattled across the coarse sand before coming to a stop at Robert’s feet. It detonated and an ominous grey cloud of death wrapped itself around me like a cobra. I felt like I had plummeted into nothingness. I charged forwards, coughing as I went. Escaping from the deathly jaws of smoke, I looked around for my friend. “ROBERT? ROBERT WHERE ARE YOU? ROBERT!” I knew that I couldn’t stand still so I scurried forwards. An explosion went off close to me; instinctively I threw myself onto the ground before crawling forwards like a dog. I called for Robert one more time, but it was no use. I stood up and darted to my right but the fighting didn’t get better that way at all, I should have stayed at home. I thought, It’s over. I am going to die.

I threw myself on the ground as if I had been shot and lay there, hoping that the fighting would eventually stop. There was a large clanking sound to my right, I turned my head in that direction, completely forgetting that I was pretending to be dead. A shell was on the floor about two metres away from me. I scrambled away like a maniac, getting far enough away before it detonated. I got up again and ran in a completely random direction. My ears felt like they were going to burst. Spinning around frantically, I darted back in the direction where I had lost Robert, “ARE YOU OUT THERE? ROBERT? ROBERT?” I had no idea why I was shouting. My voice was lost in the chaos, It was worthless. I looked in all possible directions that he may have gone and ran in the direction that I thought was the most likely. After a few minutes of running, I found what I was hoping I wouldn’t, “Robert...” I muttered. His mangled body was lying in the dirt, a bullet hole through his throat. “Robert-it’s all my fa- GAH!” I screamed, flopping to the ground as a bullet pierced my shoulder. “HELP! SOMEONE! MEDIC!” My cries were heard as a young medic came over to me and dragged roughly me towards cover. My relief was short-lived and ended when a shell rolled behind the medic’s feet. It caused a short explosion, killing the medic and sending me flying. I landed on the ground and my face lolled to the side into a large flame. My skin caught fire and I screamed the loudest scream I would ever let out. Luckily, there was a small pool of bloodied mud that I smashed my face into, eliminating the fire. I rolled over and muttered, “Help me…” Then I passed out.

 Twenty-Six years passed. I was sitting alone, on my armchair in a small dingy apartment, wearing a stained white vest, baggy trousers and holding a bottle of beer. I took a large swig of the mind-numbing nectar. Damn it- I’m just like that wretched father of mine. I’m glad he’s dead. I thought, looking over at the smashed family photo that I’d left on the floor. I gently touched the burns on my face yet again, thinking absently about the beautiful redhead who had glanced my way this morning from under a dimly lit streetlight, probably on her way to work, before I snapped back to the here and now and counted up the money in the two wallets that I had stolen that day. Six pounds- I still didn't have enough to pay my rent though. I looked around the apartment and only then realised what a mess I was. I stood up and walked from the living room and kitchen to the room opposite me. It was part bedroom and part bathroom. I tossed my dirty clothes on the floor and hopped into my tiny grimy shower. I washed all I could and dried myself with a damp towel. I put on my neatest clothes and set out of the apartment, locking the door behind me. I searched the streets for anywhere that I could get a job, stepping over chewing tobacco and cigarettes as I went. People looked at my face in disgust as I walked past but I was learning to ignore their taunts and sneers instead of beating the life out of them. To my great surprise, the redhead from earlier wearing a uniform that resembled that of a manager's stood at the other side of the road and instead of looking repulsed, she smiled at me kindly before crossing the road towards me, “Hello,” she said, “How are you?”

 

 

 

 

Sunday 27 September 2020

Deception

 

by Michal Reiben

lemonade

A young man settles himself down next to me on my bed.

“I’m sorry to see you’re sick. I’m Jack and I am new here. What’s your name?” he asks and he cuddles me.

“Anna.”

“Well Anna, when you get better and you happen to feel lonely you can always come to my room for a chat.”

He then heaves himself off my bed and leaves. He’d made me feel special.

A few days later when I am fully recovered I decided to take him up on his word. I climb up to the attic where most of the staff’s rooms are located to look for his room and find it immediately. His door is wide open, and loud music from his radio is blasting through the attic. I can make out about a dozen children gathered around him,  they are all laughing hysterically and staggering around.

“They must be drunk?”   

Jack catches sight of me. “Anna come and join us, we’re having fun!”

I shake my head for I don’t like what I’m witnessing.

I dash away back down the wooden attic stairs. I feel bitterly disappointed. The only reason Jack had invited me for ‘a chat’ was to get me drunk along with all the other kids.

“Why is he doing this? It’s crazy?” My thoughts flutter like a trapped butterfly.

Since I’m curious about Jake, the next morning I again make my way up to his bedroom and cautiously open his door. I am relieved to note there is no one inside and creep in. It is a large, sunlit room and much to my surprise after what I’d witnessed the previous evening, it’s remarkably tidy. I scrutinize the room, it is dominated by a large bed which is covered by a red, and dark blue striped bedspread. I step up to the open deep-set window, through which bright sunlight is streaming into the room. I notice how lovely the school grounds look from this height and breathe in the sweet-tangy scent of the Pine trees which floats through the window. As I turn away from the window, I catch sight of a white bundle wedged between a chest of drawers and the wall to the right side of me.

I simply have to investigate, wriggle my hand behind the chest of draws, pull at the bundle until it comes out and falls onto the floor. Now I can see it’s a stuffed envelope. Upon opening the envelope I am amazed to discover that inside is a large wedge of money.

“This must be the children’s pocket money which Jake takes in payment for his alcohol?”

With my heart in my mouth, I take the bills of money out of the envelope, and with a strong thrust throw them out of the window. For a few seconds, I watch as they twirl around in the air, then I bolt out of the room.

“Who’s having fun now, dickhead?” I think jeeringly.