Saturday, 26 November 2022

Saturday Sample:Potpourri by Anushka VR Mrs Maurier’s , mulled wine

 I curled up by the window in my room with a book in hand. Gossamer like snow fell softly from the sky. My window overlooked Mrs Mauriers garden. Even the biting cold weather hadn't  deterred the frail old woman from gardening. It was her garden alone that held a profusion of colors within its brick walls and created a splendid contrast against the sparkling white snow.

Flowering quince threatened to spill its red blossoms over the garden walls, orange witch-hazels glowed like miniature suns while the white Christmas roses blended merrily into the background with only their emerald green leaves visible from a distance. That much needed burst of color distracted me from the book I was currently reading. My train of thought circled around Mrs Maurier.

She was a quiet old woman. She wasn't the kind to indulge in gossip or show up at Christmas parties. She kept to herself. Mother said the other neighbors initially held a ton of interest in unearthing the eccentricities of Mrs Mauriers life. But all anyone knew was she had moved into the sprawling bungalow after her husbands death. As the years passed by people began to lose interest as they realized she was just a plain old widow who lacked any form of social skill. The only thing remarkable about her was the garden which held a myriad of flora, all year round.

I sympathized with the old lady. I had always been the peculiar kid on the block who'd rather stay home and read a good book than graze your knees playing a pointless and physically strenuous game. I knew what it was like to be judged when your only crime was being an introvert.

Mother always nagged. A constant complaint as to how I never went outdoors like the other kids. Id sigh and wave her away with my perpetual excuse about not having many kids living in the neighborhood to play with. Besides quite a few of them had gone missing. Is that what she wanted, Id ask in a nonchalant tone to get her off my back. Shed reprimand me and walk away.

Someone tapped my shoulder, startling me from my random musings. It was mother.

Mrs Maurier, has passed away. It happened last night. Her executor is downstairs right now. He said he would like to talk to you.

I was taken aback. A few second ago I was awe struck by the old womans green thumb and now she was dead. I had never really interacted with her despite having her as my neighbor all my life. Apart from the courteous nod she occasionally graced me with, there wasn't a single instance I could recall when Id actually had a conversation with her. I couldn't fathom why her executor wanted to speak to me.

Why?I asked in a perplexed tone.

Im just as curious as you, kid.

We made our way downstairs. A grim looking man wearing a perfectly pressed navy blue suit stood in the living room.

 

I am Mr. Johnson, Mrs Mauriers executor. And you must be Anna,he said in a baritone voice.

I nodded, unable to comprehend why this man was standing in our house.

Mrs Maurier would like you to have her entire collection of books. Calling it a collection would be an understatement. Its more in the ranks of a library. She said and I quote Anna is the only child who never ran amok in the streets whiling away her time pointlessly. She has her nose buried in a book rather than other peoples businessI assume the two of you must have been quite close as she held the books very dear to her.

I was touched. Fifteen years she had been my neighbor. Or rather I had been her neighbor. She had practically watched me grow up. Not a word exchanged between us and she had left her enormous book collection to me a complete stranger.

My mother and I thanked him. He said he would arrange to have all the books delivered to our house once he carried out the remaining aspects of her will.

 

Years later, when I came home from college during the winter break my mother was bursting with her trademark form of enthusiasm when she stumbled upon some gossip

Remember Mrs. Maurier?she asked.

Ma, just tell me what you have to. I doubt Id ever forget her considering the hundreds of books sitting in my room for years now. She is the reason I am not splurging all my money on books and…”

Yea yea. Books schmooks. Listen up!she said cutting me off midway. I gestured for her to continue.

Well, the new owners are tearing Mrs Mauriers bungalow down since they want to build something more modern in its place. And apparently they found small skulls and bones buried all over her garden. All those children that went missing every few months ended up in her garden. Can you believe that?!

My mothers morbid fascination disturbed me. I was convinced my mother was conjuring up a juicy piece of gossip just to tease me. I ran up to my room to get a look at the garden.That is when I saw it. The garden was in shambles. Black and yellow tape surrounded the house. The garden had been dug up in multiple spots. That lively place was devoid of anything but dry brown grass and vicious weeds.

A few weeks later, the newspapers confirmed albeit with a more sombre and appropriate tone what my mother had narrated.

Mrs Maurier had killed each one of those children who had gone missing and buried them in that lush green enclosure. Every media outlet was obsessed with this case but what no one could quote figure out was the motive.

Why would a simple widow kill all those innocuous children?

Mrs Maurier’s motive was clear to me. She really hated children. I had known each one of the missing kids. And all of them had been whirlwinds of trouble. Shattering her windows with their silly games of catch, sneaking into her garden to steal peaches and uproot flower beds just for the fun of it, mock her as she hobbled along on her way to the grocery store. One would probably say thats just kids being kids. But not all kids wreaked havoc. At least I hadn't been like one of them.

I had been spared the fate she had dealt to them. Perhaps, she saw that I was more like her. The quiet one. The good one.

 

Friday, 25 November 2022

I Spit on Your Wonderful Life: The Movie by Todd Mercer, plain Listerine antiseptic mouthwash

 

It’s the most difficult stretch of production, when we shoot the night scenes on location and the entire group of us spend two weeks on a vampire’s schedule. We kick off the workday around 9 pm, shoot until near dawn, sleep the day away, then start over again.

You’d think beginning that late would assure that all personnel were awake and on time to the set. But no, there’s no time that’s late enough. One celebrated actor whom I won’t name by name has to be rousted from his bed each evening, either hungover or deep-diving through REM-sleep that’s interrupted by whichever Production Assistant draws the short straw.

My body won’t go along with the day-sleep, so my night shoot experience starts like a fun day at camp, stretches onward indefinitely to the far horizon, then gradually disintegrates into technicolor hallucinations and a walking dream state.

That’s the job.

The dentist from Peoria who sold his thriving practice to move out here and work as a fifty-something P.A. who leapfrogged the dues-paying years and promptly hit the jackpot by falling on Tom Hanks from a catwalk before being promoted three times is skippering this project. He’s an honest-to-God Director, and nothing makes sense in life anymore. This is his first time in charge, Curtis’s. Like he never even made a short film before. Not sure if Curtis is his first name or last name and we’re too far beyond it to ask now. One thing I’ve learned this year: Karma hates me, so Curtis is my boss. I take great pains to mask my seething resentment against this fool’s undeserving unprofessional ass. So far, so good, still employed.

The man has no earthly idea what he’s doing but is such a nice guy that no one else cares. Only me. His multitude of rookie errors are instantly forgiven by the studio brass, without any critical comments. They casually up the budget here and there to compensate. It’s only money.

We’re working through the usual challenges that come with shooting a feature at night: too dark, people fall down, easy to over-light so the viewer can’t tell it’s night. The piercing sirens of emergency vehicles carrying from distances and bleeding into our microphones during takes. It’s too dark. Really not my favorite.

At first the more serious drinkers on the crew aren’t sure when to drink, but like always they figure it out. They make it a priority.

The dentist has articulated his vision for this film. It’s supposed to be a cross between “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “I Spit on Your Grave.” High concept, one might say. Through some mystical form of elven magic, Curtis got the studio to greenlight his ludicrous screenplay. They gave him (a man who is a dentist) complete artist control. Final cut authority. A dentist. Just sayin’.

Curtis had zero going until his new best friend, Tom Hanks, agreed to play the lead, “Jimmy Stewart,” as a favor. After that news circulated, the Hollywood A-list heavies battled each other like parents over toys at a Black Friday sale for the chance to be in this highly unlikely dog of a film. Then it had momentum. That’s how we got where we are.

Between takes the dentist stands over our star and says, “Everybody wants your character dead, but it turns out their lives would be much worse without him. Ride that paradox, Tommy.”

Tommy?? Is that a thing?

Hanks says, “Got it. Will do.” Then we film the scene, and damn, it’s pretty special.

Nobody hates to say it more than me, but it’s like John Cusack holding the boom box over his head earnestly while Peter Gabriel sings level of beautiful, it’s that great.

We’re shooting out of sequence, but once the dentist’s editor (who used to sell extended warranties on vehicles) slaps this patchwork Frankenstein together, it’ll… well it’ll be a complete movie. Let’s not get too carried away by the momentum.

 

About the author

 

Todd Mercer’s short collection, Ingenue, was a winner of the Celery City contest. His digital chapbook, Life-wish Maintenance is available free at Right Hand Pointing. His poem “Overextended” won a Dyer-Ives Poetry Prize in 2022. Recent work appears in Literally Stories, MacQueen’s Quinterly and Spartan. 

 

Did you enjoy the story? Would you like to shout us a coffee? Half of what you pay goes to the writers and half towards supporting the project (web site maintenance, preparing the next Best of book etc.)

Thursday, 24 November 2022

A Strange Hello and Goodbye by Peter Jenkins, strong tea with lemon

After a lifetime of being largely anti authority, and fiercely independent, I found myself in desperate straits. My parents had died when I was young and I had various support from relatives friends and neighbours.

After university, I found myself a job but became depressed. I was so low and lonely that I started going back to church, something that had not happened since I was a small boy being taken by parents. I had left the church behind and prided myself on my atheist views. Because I went back to the same church I was confirmed in, I went to see the vicar, who was still there, and he suggested I went to see a colleague of his for counselling. This would be another first because counselling wasn’t even in my mental backpack – another middle class talking cure for the worried well.

Because I felt so lonely and anxious I did follow up his suggestion, and I made an appointment to see the counsellor, which was in a very posh building in the middle of town – run by a doctor. The person I went to see was not a doctor, but he told me he was a Jungian counsellor, and also happened to be a priest. I estimated that he was about sixty, a large man and gay with it, I thought. Had to be – a single priest.

I’m not sure how that session went, but we did swap some personal information, and he told me where his set of parishes were, including his “home” parish. We made a second appointment, but I was not sure I would go back. He was exactly the sort of man that I distrusted, made fun of, and generally would not have anything to do with; a gay, Christian priest….

I did go back to the second appointment. By this time in my life I was living alone in a house I had bought with the remnants of my parents estate. I was very unhappy there, and despite the counselling I was getting worse, ending up with a full-on breakdown, and hospitalisation. The counsellor  (David by name) did end up getting involved in this incident because he was called up by a worried friend, who went through my address book to find him. That was it really – after a short spell in hospital, I came home and resumed my life, even more desperate than before. I did not resume the counselling but one evening I was so lonely that I drove out to Reverend David’s house in the countryside, to see him. I sat outside his house in my car but that was it. I had not arranged to see him, and for some reason was unable to get out of the car and knock on the door. I wanted to talk to him and yet at the same time I could not.         

Eventually, after what seemed like hours, David’s front door opened and he  walked down his long driveway.

 

‘Would you like to come in, or would you hate to?’ he said in his deep mellifluous voice. 

 

‘I’d like to come in……’

 

We went into his house, which was a large modern detached house, the ancient vicarage having been sold off by the church some years ago. We went into his sitting room, where the log burner was sending out inviting warmth.

 

‘Would you like a cup of coffee or tea – I’m having one……’

 

‘Yes please.’

 

That was it…….no  “what are you doing here”………or  “what on earth do you think you are doing”……Simply accepting the fact that I was there, and making me a coffee.

 

We did talk as we drank our hot drinks.

 

‘I just wanted to see you’ I said. The conversation was not exactly desultory but it was stilted, as he gently asked me neutral questions.

 

The time came when I should leave and go home.

 

‘I don’t want to go home’ I said.

 

‘If you would like to stay, you need to ask me’ – I think was the reply.

 

Relief flowed through me. I still thought he was a gay vicar, but I was so desperate not to go home.

 

‘I have a spare bedroom’ he said, ‘which is made up.’

 

He showed me the room – gave me a glass of water and said goodnight. There was a connecting door along the upstairs corridor which he closed. So there I was – going to bed in a strange man’s vicarage, with really no idea about what I was doing.

 

In the morning, I woke up to the smells of a cooked breakfast being prepared. I had a shower, and then got dressed and went downstairs.

 

‘Would you like some breakfast? Did you sleep well?’

 

The conversation carried on like that through breakfast. At some point, David did say that if I wanted to, I could stay a little longer. There were two rooms upstairs I could use – a bedroom, and next to it another room which I could use as a lounge. Although I was still a bit suspicious of David’s intentions, I went back to my house and packed what I needed.

 

 I stayed at David’s house for two years…..at no time was his behaviour anything but polite and pleasant. I really needed to revise my prejudices about priests and posh people – he told me that when he was a boy, they had servants in their house; hard to believe but also hard to mock, as he was being so good to me. God knows what the people who lived in the village thought about this arrangement. I did not attend his church, but gradually went out and about a bit more. I pretended that no one knew I was living there. I hardly ever saw anyone else but David anyway.

David simply and without expectation, looked after me – you might say parented me.  Mostly he fed me. I was not working, and spent a lot of time reading, and sometimes entertaining the odd girlfriend when he was out for the day. I worked my way through a lot of Dickens volumes.

The Reverend David continued his life pretty much as it was before I moved in. He went about his parish duties, preaching on a Sunday, and looking after me.

 

Gradually I regained some of my old motivation, and applied to continue my education. I sold my house and continued to live with David. It came to a bitter sweet end when he was planning to go on a cruise, and offered to take me with him. I blurted out something about not being gay, and he visibly recoiled. I know now that his motives were from a purer love than a sexual attraction. Although the living arrangement continued, he became a little more distant and polite.

Eventually I moved out into a girlfriend’s flat – and he also moved house.

The final act of love occurred when my girlfriend was eight months pregnant and we were going to be evicted. David bought a house and rented it to us, paying the mortage off as we went, and allowing us to buy the remainder of the house when we were able to. When we married, he officiated.

 

When the Reverend David died, his family knew nothing of our friendship, and they overrode his wish to be buried in his favourite rural churchyard, which dated back to the stone age as a hilltop burial site, and was reputedly on a major ley line. The family organised a traditional service in the nearby town. I often thought of David and of how his last wish remained unfulfilled, and how I could somehow rectify it. I had been very upset by the family’s decision, and that our close relationship was never acknowledged.

           So finally…..on the seventh anniversary of his death, on a beautiful warm late spring day, a small group of us who had been close to David travelled to that rural churchyard and while it was quiet and we were undisturbed, carried out a private ritual there, overlooking the river and countryside; some prayers and meditations, and a short personal goodbye, and buried under the apple tree a momento of one of his small trinkets which I had kept.; a perfectly crafted artificial egg, which symbolises renewal and the potentialities of life.

 

We felt David could rest there happily.

About the author 

Peter is an ex local government manager, who has always enjoyed writing but never seemed to have the time. Attends creative writing classes which have improved writing confidence and stimulated the interest in sharing with others. He lives in Suffolk. He is retired, and now hopes to write good stories rather than boring reports!

 

Did you enjoy the story? Would you like to shout us a coffee? Half of what you pay goes to the writers and half towards supporting the project (web site maintenance, preparing the next Best of book etc.)

Wednesday, 23 November 2022

Promises, Promises by Dawn Knox Drink, flat lemonade

  

Father and son Gnome studied the enormous campaign poster. The image of a smiling Gnome with arms outstretched in front of a panorama of the Garden was emblazoned with the words

VOTE GARBEDGE FOR HEAD GNOME

and underneath in bold type,

WE CAN BE GREAT! WE WILL BE GREAT!

‘Impressive, eh, Son? He’s got my vote. What d’you think?’

‘I’m not sure. He hasn’t actually said what his policies are.’

‘It’s obvious. His poster says it all. We can be great, we will be great.’

‘Hmm. But when you get right down to it, Dad, what does that actually mean?’

 

About the author


Dawn’s three previous books in the 'Chronicles Chronicles’ series are ‘The Basilwade Chronicles’, ‘The Macaroon Chronicles’ and 'The Crispin Chronicles' published by Chapeltown Publishing. 

You can follow her here on 

https://dawnknox.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SunriseCalls 

Amazon Author: http://mybook.to/DawnKnox  

 

Did you enjoy the story? Would you like to shout us a coffee? Half of what you pay goes to the writers and half towards supporting the project (web site maintenance, preparing the next Best of book etc.)  

Tuesday, 22 November 2022

By Sheer Luck by Carrie Kartman, cappuccino

By sheer luck Kate arrived early, thanks to nabbing a parking spot just a few doors down from the cafe. He had suggested meeting here, and though it was not a place she knew, she’d agreed, and now she prayed it wouldn’t be unbearably hip; she hadn’t dressed for that. After checking in the visor mirror for lip gloss on her teeth, she summoned what faint hint of optimism she could, launched herself from the comfort of the car, and scanned for a “No Parking” sign or red curb she might have missed. Once on the sidewalk, she noted the sun breaking through the morning haze, and regretted not wearing shades. She didn’t look her best while squinting in the sun, then considered that it didn’t matter. The odds were, she wouldn’t be trying to impress anyone today. And anyway, focusing on looking her best all the time was a habit she was trying to shed, in favor of, “this is how I look, take it or leave it.”

 

She tried to be inconspicuous while sizing up the patrons at tables in front of the cafe. Was Alain one of them? Relieved, she saw he was not there yet, which meant she was not being sized up herself. A brief reprieve. She stepped into the cafe, the fragrance of fresh pastry and ground coffee washing over her. There were wood beams high overhead and a wall of floor to ceiling glass revealing a massive coffee roasting apparatus. A low murmur of conversation filled the room, as customers sipped their coffees, studied their computer screens and phones, and took little notice of her. There was no sign of Alain, and Kate went back outside to wait. Maybe he wouldn’t show, and that would be a relief. Certainly she’d be angry, even disappointed for a couple of hours, but it would be short-lived. At least she would not have to provide engaging small talk and politely continue a tedious conversation with someone she’d be happy to never see again. Yes, she concluded, a no-show would be fine, and I can get on with my day.

 

 But looking up from the seat she’d taken near the cafe entrance, she saw Alain walking toward her. So here we go she thought, it’s showtime. She smiled despite herself, what an absurd endeavor to have gotten myself into. At least I won’t watch him all the way up the sidewalk. That’s simply too painful, for both of us.  I’ll pretend I haven’t seen him yet, and then I can act surprised and pleased when he’s within greeting range. And so she did. Alain was better looking than his photos, and he had an easy, relaxed stride. Well, you never knew, now did you?

 

Inside, perusing the menu displayed in black letters on the brick wall behind the counter,  they began the predictably awkward sequence of ordering their drinks, with someone you have only just met, who you might never see again, or who you might decide you want to know for the rest of your life. Then they settled at a table in the sun, together with her cappuccino and his pour-over, black. She decided she would see this coffee date through, since he wasn’t a no-show after all. There was just a glimmer of interest and hope rising in her chest, though she dared not allow it room to breathe. Not yet.

 

About the author 

Carrie Kartman is a writer, actor, and educator, with an MFA from San Francisco State University. Her writing has been published in The Crone's Words, Gambles and Balances, Wingless Dreamer, The San Francisco Review, Curves on a Sidewalk Street, Twins Magazine, and CitySports Magazine. 

 

Did you enjoy the story? Would you like to shout us a coffee? Half of what you pay goes to the writers and half towards supporting the project (web site maintenance, preparing the next Best of book etc.)

Monday, 21 November 2022

Ollie by Thomas Hobohm, cane-sugar cola

 

Here are the facts: his name was Oliver, he was 11 years old, a border-collie, gray-white with plenty of spots, awfully stinky, insatiable, always setting the toy on your lap when you were trying to get work done or read a book, nudging it forward with his snout, tossing it up in the air with all his might so it landed right on your laptop and closed your Chrome tab, insufferable, to say the least.

The date: September 9th, Thomas woke up dazed, plinked one and a half cups of kibble into Ollie’s bowl, not a teaspoon more or he might get fat, unlatched the cage, grabbed a protein shake, didn’t even notice the stillness, the silence, the pure rigor mortifying the air of the studio apartment. It wasn’t until after work, deep in the dusk, swinging open the door to no greeting, not even a bark, that Thomas sensed something was off. It was the smell, and then those glass eyes, they were blank, beyond blank, like little portals to oblivion, and Thomas thought, ‘oh, so Ollie’s dead.’

No car, not even a driver’s license, so Thomas had to call in a favor to get Ollie’s body to Pet’s Rest Cemetery and Crematory in Colma, a fenced off grassy green field of dogs and cats and bunnies and gerbils and birds, surrounded by real cemeteries, humid humanity wasting away right next to all their best friends. Thomas carried Ollie, or the shell of Ollie, into Pet’s Rest, shuffling forward with eyes on the floor. The receptionist, a short woman with a punk slash of a pixie cut, yelped, ‘Excuse me, what are you doing? Do you have an appointment?’ Thomas felt like howling, ‘No, I don’t, I’m sorry. I thought I’d just, like, walk in here and get him incinerated? Is that not how it works?’ But he put on a front, acted laid-back and withdrawn, sort of sociopathic, and monotoned, ‘No, sorry.’ Unbothered, she replied, ‘That’s okay, here,’ and rolled out some sort of gurney contraption from behind the counter. Thomas gently heaved the shell onto it, and then she covered everything with a piece of pristine white tarpaulin.You want him buried? Spots start at a grand.’ He shook his head, ‘No, thanks.’

‘Oh, you’d like em cremated?’ He nodded.It’ll take about 8 hours. Did you bring your own urn?’ Thomas thought no, of course not, who has a spare urn just sitting around like that? Where the fuck would I even buy one if not here? But he just demurred, ‘No,’ and the pixie, ‘No worries, we have a selection, take your pick,’ motioning to a wall sagging with shelves of stacked ceramics. Thomas picked a brown bulb with an imperfect white-sand glaze. $250. Steep, but fair enough considering there would be no more vet fees from here on out. He signed the forms, paid the toll, and asked, ‘Can I just chill here until it’s done? I don’t really have anywhere else to go.’ She motioned to the plush armchairs opposite the urn wall, ‘Of course, you’re welcome to wait.’

Thomas sat down and pulled an abused copy of War and Peace out of his tote. 7 hours, or 300 pages later, he was carrying Ollie’s ashes out to the Uber. Thankfully, the driver didn’t say anything besides, ‘You’re Thomas? Laguna Street? Okay, hop in.’

2AM. Mission Dolores. It was his favorite park. It didn’t matter what part of the city they were in; he’d bite down on the leash, hard, and pull it South, towards the Basilica, the rolling hills, the tennis courts and soccer players milling about, but not at this hour, never again. Thomas let the tears flow freely as he plopped his backpack onto the grass and lugged the urn out of the front pocket. He’d duct-taped it airtight for the walk over; as he separated the sticky adhesive strips from the cold earthenware walls, they made a sppprzp noise, which matched how he felt inside, in some obscure way. The tape all removed, Thomas pulled off the lid and set it on the grass next to his bag. He carried the body of the urn twenty feet away and unceremoniously tipped the ashes over onto the damp loam. Then he walked back to his stuff, rejoined the body and head of the urn, unzipped the main pocket of his bag, and yanked out five lukewarm dasani water bottles. Slowly, methodically, he unscrewed the caps, walked back over to the white streak of soil, Ollie’s former form, and unleashed the flow. Thomas wanted the water to carry Ollie deep into the earth, all the way to the bedrock, maybe even to the molten core, so he could fertilize some plants and bring some fresh life into the world, even in death. Also, Thomas didn’t want any unsuspecting park goers accidentally trampling over Ollie and dragging his dust through the mud and asphalt. In this way, the water killed two birds with one stone, by ferrying the debris of Ollie down into the underworld on its own little river Styx.

Everything laid to rest, Thomas slung his backpack over his shoulders and walked out of the park, onto 18th street. He stood in front of Mission High School, brought the urn up over his head, and slammed it down onto the pavement like he was warming up for a volleyball game. Shards everywhere.

About the author 

Thomas Hobohm lives in San Francisco, but grew up in Texas. They're interested in interrogating queer desire. When they're not reading or writing, they like to play volleyball and explore independent cinemas. They can be found at: https://www.thomashobohm.com/

 

Did you enjoy the story? Would you like to shout us a coffee? Half of what you pay goes to the writers and half towards supporting the project (web site maintenance, preparing the next Best of book etc.)