Holding up the champagne flutes, Di and I looped arms and tried to take a drink, laughing.
‘Happy New Year!’ she said.
‘Here’s to turning forty,’ I replied.
‘Oh God. Don’t remind me.’ She covered her eyes. ‘I’m dreading it.’
I knew she was. ‘I’ve had an idea. Let’s make it a celebration, a joint party. And I challenge you to do forty new things before you’re forty.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Is there anything you’ve always wanted to do, but not got around to, or been too chicken? Well, now’s the time. You’ve got eight months to do it in. Make a list.’ I opened the kitchen drawer to pull out a pad and some pens.
Di thought for a moment. ‘You mean like belly dancing?’
‘Yes. Exactly like belly dancing,’ I handed her a pen. ‘You’ve been saying for years you wanted to learn. Write it down.’
‘Okay, I’ll do it. What about you? Back atcha.’ She pointed. ‘You’ve got to do it too.’
‘Alright…I’m going to get a second piercing in my ears.’ I touched my earlobe. ‘My mum never let me when I was young – said it was cheap – and I forgot about it till now. I’m going to buy myself some tiny diamonds, stylish ones.’
‘Good choice. I’m going to read War and Peace. Always intended to, but never found the time.’
‘Good luck with that,’ I replied. ‘Life’s too short! I’m going to volunteer on a charity project for a couple of weeks, somewhere in Africa or maybe India.’
‘Great idea. I’ve always fancied seeing Dubai, so I’m going to quit my job and go work there.’
I frowned. ‘Won’t Jack have something to say about that?’
Di shrugged. ‘I don’t care, he’s never home. I think getting a divorce will make it onto the list too. How many are we up to?’
‘Oh, not even ten yet. Miles to go.’
‘Right then, I’m going to get myself arrested. Never done that yet.’
‘Too drastic! I’ve never even spoken to a policeman in my life,’ I said. ‘Don’t get arrested in Dubai – they still have death by firing squad. You might not even make it to forty.’
She thought for a moment. ‘I’m going to try smoking pot, or maybe something stronger. Pop some acid and go to a rave. Do they still do that?’
I shrugged. ‘No idea. It sounds a bit extreme. It’s not really what I had in mind…’
‘Well, now you’ve started me off. It’s your fault.’ Di laughed.
I tried to bring the conversation back to sense. ‘Is there any food you’ve never tried that you like to?’
‘Hmm, magic mushrooms. What’s that called? Psilocybin, yes that’s it. I’d give that a try.’
‘No, I mean like…trying Japanese food, for example.’
‘Nope. Though I’ve always wanted to own a katana: one of those curved, razor-sharp blades…’
‘Oh, well we can put that on the list.’ I smiled.
‘…and to behead somebody with it. Somebody famous, or obnoxious. Jeremy Clarkson, perhaps.’
‘Maybe this is getting a little out of hand.’ I put the pen down.
‘I’d like to learn to fly,’ Di said.
‘Oh, that’s a good one. Do you mean like a Cessna; pilot lessons?’
‘No. I mean like, flap-my-arms-and-launch-off-the-balcony. Fly. Like this.’
She lifted her arms like a football supporter watching a goal scored, then stepped right out of her silver glitter shoes and ran through the living room, her chiffon dress trailing and rippling like the skirt on a hovercraft.
Di shouted, ‘I’m going to fly!’ then crashed through the patio doors and straight over the balcony rail.
‘Wait!’ I sprinted behind her, almost grabbing the fabric of her dress as she slipped on the smooth floor where the snowfall had melted then refrozen into a thin sheen of ice.
I couldn’t bear to look over the edge; I live on the sixth floor.
The policeman passed me a tissue and patted my shoulder. ‘Don’t blame yourself, Miss. A lot of people take it hard at this time of year. Even closest friends often don’t see it coming.’
‘She was depressed about turning forty this year. I can see now: she was acting strangely all evening.’ I sniffed.
‘I’ll break the news to the husband. Are they separated?’
‘I think they were having trouble. I don’t know why he didn’t come to dinner with her.’
It took me an hour to clean up all the broken glass from the patio door.
I was tempted to text Jack, but it was too risky, so checked my online banking instead and was satisfied the police had already broken the ‘tragic’ news.
Then I flushed away my insurance policy: the psilocybin container with Jack’s fingerprints on.
Angela mostly writes short stories and has been published in Café Lit and Backstory Journal as well as shortlisted in various competitions. She is currently working on her debut novel having recently completed an MLitt in Creative Writing with University of Glasgow.
The conductor’s wife carried his balls in her purse, so he said. She was a bully, convinced that she was smarter than, more successful than, more desirable than he. Plus, her purse was bigger. In rehearsals, he had become so nervous that his baton kept slipping out of his hands. “What’s bugging you?” I wondered. “My wife,” he might have said─ but now I can’t be sure. At the podium, he watched my bowing arm for cues. My staccato, sautillé and spiccato all helped him feel the vibrations through his feet, he said. I wondered if he knew he was deaf. “I love you,” I whispered, to test him. He didn’t answer but launched into the latest story about his wife: how she’d taken to fishing out a can of Mace from the purse where she kept the balls, and setting it like a centrepiece on the table. He recited these details to me in the Green Room with his eyes squeezed shut from the effects of the spray. I held his hand, the one without the ring. I liked him to look less married, if possible, for the sake of my fantasies, which throughout my life have always been the best revenge against reality.
Cheryl Snell’s books include several poetry collections and the novels of her Bombay Trilogy. Her latest series called Intricate Things in their Fringed Peripheries. Most recently her writing has appeared in Gone Lawn, Sleet Magazine, Necessary Fiction, Pure Slush, and other journals. A classical pianist, she lives in Maryland with her husband, a mathematical engineer.
It was uncannily quiet in the afternoon. I felt like a water sodden dead log as I walked to the summer cottage through the Whittle Thorn forest near our house, within the suburbia of Whittle Thorn. Moments ago, I heard in a news report an abduction in the suburb. Surrealistic, how some news sunk in without having any effect whatsoever, other than this parched feeling at the back of the tongue on a scorched afternoon sun. But I kept walking through the forest. A whipping bird lashed out as I slowed, I felt a whip crack my back. It did not bring a tear to my glass eye. They were a dry desert, prickly as cactus. I rubbed them a couple of times, I wish something would rub off from being with the best ones. There were the best, I tried to hang out with in their tranquil hangout.
A man ushered me into a cottage that smelt of burnt toast and burnt egg omelette. Nothing in this cottage could shepherd the delight of surging romance, a notion. Barren was not how I felt; it was a feeling of a much deeper sense of being abandoned. The abundance of hatred filled my heart from treachery and betrayal. This man whom I called ‘Uncle’ when I looked upon him as an ‘Uncle’. He shredded my childhood, put me through a paper shredder. As I recalled that other afternoon, I was at his place. Obedience was not in dearth, around the clock that was all I did. Obey, and followed him around the house until he broke. Hunger and lust were cascading like ink streaming out of a bottle. Real ink, who saw it these days, anyway? I did. I saw how his eyeliners darkened, painted with sooty coatings of coal ink. He grabbed me. I blinked and passed out.
When I woke up, it was evening. Bodily pains and shivers ran through my spine, I saw a diminishing sun over the horizon. Heavy like a dead log, I felt no remorse until I stood up and felt it, the blues between my thighs. Doors were open and I saw a few men. Jabbering away, one looked my way, I heard about the abduction then. Played the part, I was burning up, Uncle had a round head scar which I saw for the first time. With all the other men, he too was listening to the news of abduction. Play the part? What part was he playing? In the heart of it, I lay low and waited for my chance. I wish I had a crowbar.
Uncle entered the room and looked me in the eye.‘Oh, how could you? You heinous son of a bitch, how could you do this? You heard me,’ I said out loud in my mind, those lousy moments as I glared back at him in silence as always, waiting for the next instruction. Instrumental to this abduction, Uncle took me under his wings after I became orphaned. Courage failed me and I waited it out, for my turn to avenge. Uncle held me by my shoulder as he walked me to the cottage. Others didn’t. What more could they do to me, I thought.
Despicable people had vulnerability, and hubristic in thinking that no evil could touch them. Of course not, because they were all evil themselves. Evil upon evil upon evil, compounded to make a hot air bubble of ever-growing evils, when one day the bubble had to burst.
The cottage smelt of what it did: burnt toast and burnt egg omelette. Heaps of other kinds of smells entwined the space. Cocaine and alcohol staled the air, to say the least. Concern was how to smell the fresh air, still, and feel free. This was claustrophobic. Uncle’s gang was here already. They were planning something big. Uncle was hiding in plain sight all this while, playing a double part of a benevolent elder, deceptive and whimsical. It was now clear. I sighed, but not resigned looking for ways to get out of this. Burnt toasts and omelette. This wasn’t enough. There had to be dust storms and coal dust spatters; inhale to make lungs a perforated organ full of holes, I somewhat prayed. I was out of my wits.
Uncle sat me down in a chair while he negotiated with his gang. They were selling me out to the highest bidder, while oil was hotting on the puny cottage stove for more omelette. My prayers were answered. I saw a hole in the cottage floor. An object was flashing a shine to my glass eye. I picked it up when no one was looking. Sharp as a razor blade, I kept it in my fist. When a child was born it entered the world with its fist closed; it held a one-way ticket to the blue. This razor was that ticket. I began to cut myself, I screamed until they noticed. They couldn’t sell damaged goods.
Blood flowed from the cuts but they bandaged every one of those wounds, while Uncle negotiated in the other room. I lay alone for a bit, then jumped blindly through an open window like a petrified kangaroo. Uncle hadn’t counted on this; I had lost some blood and they thought I was weak. Boom. Boom. Boom, I heard gunshots coming my way; I made it to a darkly dense hedge. Camouflaged in the forest, I hid myself well amongst the browns of its plains. Charming as it was, the cottage could have been a safe house but it only housed crooks like Uncle.
The party was over, or I hoped it would be soon, but people still hopped around, lurking; my heart was thumping. I feared there were more, more like me, at risk. At least, I knew the Uncle’s hideout if I could get away I would burn the whole house down. Night owls came out of the woods, and sat on high branches, I wasn’t, not yet. Still, hiding away from the ubiquitous dance of spotlights through the forest. One of the owl’s hoots instilled in me some hope, the highways were close, and I knew, if I made it through this if I could somehow get to the highway soon.
Something was burning again. It trickled through my nostrils. Not more burnt omelette. Smoke was rising over the cottage, a spark there must have started a fire that was devouring trees and the forest denizens. More and more torches were snuffed out, useless against this fire’s luminous forces. Caught up in this towering inferno, the cottage was burnt down to a cinder too, with everyone in it before they even knew what struck them or how—raging, engulfing, a breathing dragon, and I? I was already in the firm clasps of the owl’s solid toes, as it towed me away. The party was over soon. It seriously was.
Multiple contests’ winner for short fiction, Mehreen Ahmed is an award-winning Australian novelist born in Bangladesh. Her historical fiction, The Pacifist, is an audible bestseller. Included in The Best Asian Speculative Fiction Anthology, her works have also been acclaimed by Midwest Book Review, and DD Magazine, translated into German, Greek, and Bangla, her works have been reprinted, anthologized, selected as Editor’s Pick, Best ofs, and made the top 10 reads multiple times. Additionally, her works have been nominated for Pushcart, botN and James Tait. She has authored eight books and has been twice a reader and juror for international awards. Her recent publications are with Litro, Otoliths, Popshot Quarterly, and Alien Buddha.
Brigadier Robert D’Alby of those famously Glorious Roscommon’s was a mighty fine, hench figure of a man. As an impeccable Sandhurst officer cadet it became crystal clear that D’Alby was hewn from exactly the right old-fashioned, ornamental stuff. Possessed of athleticism, but devoid of contagious narcissism; he employed RP to acclaim a martial style-of-life, minus today’s all-too-familiar, fanatical ‘boot-polish-up-the-kilt’ mentality. Unerring Apollonian devotion to tours of duty, irreproachable ethics & a Spartan indifference to physical discomfort, made D’Alby splendid soldierly material. Additionally, D’Alby’s tendency to remain celestially aloof (distanced from clamorous subordinates) enabled access to private thoughts beyond the woefully limited appreciation of rough-&-ready non-commissioned comrades. Uninventive fellow officers bored D’Alby too: their impossible drunken mess parties, latent homosexuality, imbecilic gambling & monomaniacal brutalism, interdicted him from honourably pursuing a deeper camaraderie. Above all, he abhorred their collective flat-Earth disregard for synthetic cubism, et seq. Still, such wilful textural blindness didn’t prevent (or detract) D’Alby from admiring Britannia’s venerated strength of character; nor could various mind-boggling patterns of crude, spiteful behaviour, intemperately disseminated amongst Blighty’s privately educated landowning ruling-classes, annul an intuitive esteem in which he held this ruthless creed- neither did that intrinsic nationalistic exceptionalism existentially flaunted over generations of folk deemed lower in rank, status, or quality, by English gents.
Well-cushioned by the UK parliament’s Armed Forces Pensions & Compensation Scheme, D’Alby remained fighting-fit at thirty-seven in the wake of this index-linked military retirement, plus subsequent induction into the ‘Guild of Ancient Mariners & Venerable Fishmongers’ (via an old boys’ network) which facilitated another lucrative career opportunity; a stint of reclusive commitment this time, further serving his class with insignia keeping his end up in a private sector lighthouse. Generously endowed & left to his own devices; a proud wickie, embellished with frilled epaulettes, he kept Bishop Rock Lighthouse shining bright & spotlessly clean. Recreationally, during an abundance of spare time D’Alby manufactured basic collectibles, inc. hand-woven cotton rugs- sundry novelty shaped candles, model warships (frequently embattled within bottles) & craftily assembled reactionary objets d’art to be sold as bric-à-brac for cash at mariners’ fêtes. Despite crackerjack diversions, piecemeal, his lonely life’s daily routine drifted surreally into an unplanned concatenation of doubtful occurrences (albeit his loyal service was made as comfortable as possible by portable paraffin heaters, frozen crabsticks, the BBC World Service’s It Sticks Out Half A Mile, & Scilly regional radio). In the fullness of time, Robert quietly monitored how natural power emitted from those loose & fecund bowels of Mother Earth reigned supreme- that is, put simply- the Everyman, nature’s sentient nonentity, merely floated upon her ethereal waves. Yet one who could curry Poseidon’s favour was blesséd indeed. So, weather permitting, Robbie irregularly attended an austere mariner’s guildhall, where a gracious & most proper art of ingratiation was taught in confidence to select scholars. There, inside Twisted Bobbins Sentinel Chambers, one could confidentially manipulate mystical gifts according to one’s breeding, wisdom & talent; ancillary occult factors being two tools of divine provocation (each empowered with prodigious energy) enabling a righteous seeker to beseech & become adorned with charmed privileges afforded to orthodox craftsmen. These were twofold: one pukka velvet wishing cap (immaculately derived from legendary Fortunatus), & the other a pair of elegant ivory lorgnettes, proffering all-sightedness.
Now, as amusing as this esoteric bourgeois scenario may appear, it was not entirely satisfying. Hence, influenced by the compelling literature of Aleister Crowley (on loan from Bobbins’ hypnotic Worshipful Master), Robert sat forlornly under a pointy puce cupola; staring disconsolately through tight fitting magical retinae at his unemployed, purple Hampton Wick. Hallucinatory masturbation just wasn’t working: hard-core, no-nonsense skulduggery was called for. So one day, this abstemious xenophobe- inasmuch as his wasp’s waist seldom played host to dodgy foreign foodstuffs- clipped his magnificently glossed monkey wrench moustache, smeared petroleum jelly around his unloved ring-hole before purposefully penning a charmingly succinct advertisement, all set to be tastefully displayed in the Lonely-Hearts section of City Limits, a cooperatively run alternative weekly listings magazine, ref: pubescent wantonness; an announcement he dispatched post-haste by the utmost economical means of a tax deductible supplies boat, which fortnightly ferried rations of baked beans marinated in orange tomato sauce. ‘Attention boys & girls! Any cute proletarian teenagers out there, hankering after pagan erotica in a lighthouse, should call D’Alby now. Admission is free!’
‘’Oh, yes. London. Now there’s a filthy big city chock-full of perverted deviants.’’ He thought fiendishly- inconspicuously revelling in tutto-anale imagery. On the surface both Robbie’s deportment & attitude conveyed a cultivated character, a noble esquire who coveted beauty & classical repose above all else. But beneath this calm exterior, D’Alby frantically required several hard-knuckled fist fucks. Assimilating contradictory hyper-religiosity & hormonal pressures resulted in self-adjudged guilt; his pallid superego took waxen umbrage, wanly scolding a Dionysian id for its clammy, impure ruminations: ‘’just lay back & think of Merry England!’’
D’Alby tentatively undressed in front of a full-length cheval mirror; perturbed, critically reviewing his aging reflection: an inner resentment grew uncontrollably dark. Most shocking were nauseating surly features that obnoxiously emerged without invitation; ugly, outlandish, bizarrely misshapen in every last ghastly detail. Each flaccid aspect called for slashing &/or expert mutilation. A self-defacing element imbued Robbie’s mind: ‘‘Oh, for a Black-&-Decker Workmate!’’ Robbie hated it. This damned chimera was alas no longer he; rather a mocking minacious curse.
As giant hailstones crashed around surrounding toughened glass, D’Alby laughed uproariously, artistically smearing arterial blood across his scarred gammon-pink nakedness. Having sliced off his inverted hairy nipples, & super glued them to his knees, he recklessly took a rusty cheese grater to the ship’s fringe benefit tomcat, whilst ejaculating over vivid adolescent memories (of his gang goosing by House Apostles ceremonially attired in uniform coats & cocked hats with ostrich plumes) during his assignment as a Charterhouse fag. Relaxed, he reflected upon infamous full moon initiation rituals he’d witnessed agog; rough sleeping orphan Stan Crabbs, a plausible cephalopod, came unstuck. A rootless persona non grata, Stan’s ovoidal working-class corporation was collected; drugged & bewitched by sinister decree. Manhandled by St Agnes’ sturdy yeomanry downstairs into Old Lanes’ spellbinding crayoned pentagram; forcefully shoved, Crabbs fell prostrate between scary cloven hooves- where he was instantaneously plagued by ankylosis & force-fed slough from millions of damned excrescences while his chafed tramp’s sphincter was invaded by vile swarms of chattering animalcules (besieging his cerebrum & infesting his congenitally stunted imagination with obscure forms of regimental Catholicism). Cruelly enough, metemsomatosis irretrievably undermined Crabbs’ innate processes of perception, rendering his alchemical substitute frenetic, barren, snarling & regardent (why such random, forsaken educationally subnormal vagabonds were solemnly condemned to suffer so, fuck only knows). ‘’And then all us nonpareils, chartered fishermen, aristocratic seafarers & the like, steamed the fat plebeian cunt & gouged out his oculi. He can’t see anything now.’’
Following an eccentric, two-month long collage of auto-erotic overload (resulting in the first instance of little more than a sore willy, & secondly, through the latter period, only dizziness, nausea, & an acute sense of futility born of self-mutilation), having received no expressions of interest, nor any letters of reply, Bob nonchalantly applied enchanted Fastskin Elites before decisively jumping overboard. Resplendent in top-of-the-range Speedos; determined to swim ashore & hard ride Shanks’s pony onto central London immediately, in full Picaresque personage, to get balls-deep into heavy-duty cottaging. He wondered what the precious all-seeing mincer would make of that. Beat off an all-penetrating stethoscope perhaps, or tickle an ever-swollen vulva? Because whatever it is, wherever it’s coming from, unequivocally one’s throbbing erogenous zones need a jolly good going over now & again, just to maintain a soupçon of sanity. Seen?
Evan Hayexists in Britain & rather than follow spurious leaders- over the years he’s intermittently found it therapeutic to write out various thoughts, feelings & ideas as short stories to be examined, considered, & interpreted by clinical practitioners who may be able to offer him professional psychological assistance.
You can find more of Evan’s work here on Ink Pantry.
Jordan saw her early that morning in the car park outside the local convenience store he passed as he walked to work. She was sitting in her car, maybe waiting for someone, and he wouldn’t have noticed her were it not for the rain making her move her head closer to the windscreen to peer through the droplets. He recognised her straight away. It was Pamela. He knew her from work, but she didn’t know him.
Her bobbed dark hair, smooth skin and prominent cheekbones dominated the twenty-three-year-old Jordan’s thoughts since he first saw her a year ago at the factory where they both worked. But Pamela was out of his league. For one thing, she was ten years older. Then there was the status thing. She was on a higher salary, he earned the basic. She drove a car, he didn’t even have one. Did celebrities date “normal” people? Mum earned more than Dad. Dad wished he had a better paid job. All relationships were dictated by status.
As he passed her car, his gaze fixed on her for a few seconds and the look was returned. It was brief, but nonetheless, a perfect start to his day.
In the factory later that morning, time was ticking away quicker than usual. Jordan had suggested an idea for improvements in the department which could result in smoother operation and higher quality output. His supervisor recognised the potential and encouraged Jordan’s initiative. A meeting was quickly arranged for that afternoon so he could outline his plan to the person at the top – the managing director. A one-on-one meeting with the managing director was big news. Jordan’s throat was drying up as meeting time drew nearer.
He nearly didn’t knock on the office door. His inner voice said to just do it. You’re here now, why not? Lay out your plan and then get out. You don’t need this pressure. He knocked and her voice called to him to come in. Pamela, the managing director, sat at her desk, conservative, striking, with that her business-like, yet warm smile.
“Hi Jordan.” She used his name. Female husky, professional; it made him feel sick, but a good sick. “Come on in, have a seat.”
His shy eyes avoided hers at first.
“How are you today?” I recognise him.
“Not bad,” he stammered. Standard answer – doing fine so far.
“Your supervisor told me you’ve got an idea for some improvements?” I’m sure that’s that guy I saw this morning, the one me and Audrey think is hot. I can’t believe he works here.
“Yeah, it’s nothing great.” Don’t say that – too negative.
“It doesn’t matter. I’ll listen to any ideas. It’s good to know that staff are work-conscious.”
Jordan quickly outlined his proposal, the odd word losing its way before finding the road out, blue-collar dampening as he spoke.
“That’s a really good suggestion, and it’s actually something I’ve been thinking about too.” Good looking and on my wavelength.
“I think it would definitely increase production,” he added. We’re thinking the same. This is good. Now leave the room.
“Absolutely, I totally agree.”
Pamela thanked him promising she’d get back to him whether or not his suggestion was to be taken further. He returned the thanks and stood up to leave when she spoke again, taking him by surprise.
“Jordan, do you happen to live on Westwood Street?” I need to know if it was him.
“Yeah I do,” he replied. She saw you. Big deal. Don’t look too much into it, but out of curiosity… “ Was that you this morning in the car park?”
“Yeah it was,” she smiled. “I was picking up a friend who works here. That’s weird.”
“Yeah that is really weird.” It should have been just a smirk, but he inadvertently flashed a full beam grin her way. She was picking up a friend. That means she could be single. So what? Why are you even thinking that?
“So what’s your plans for tonight Jordan?” Keep it formal but find out if he’s got a girlfriend.
“Not much. Quiet one.” Standard answer again. What ARE you doing anyway? I don’t think you’re doing anything.
“Well enjoy, whatever you’re up to.”
Ask her the same thing. It’s only manners. “Up to much yourself?”
“Tonight’s TV night. Catch up on Game of Thrones. Do you ever watch it?” I’d watch it with him.
“Yeah I like it.” I’d watch it with her.
They exchanged pleasantry goodbyes and he left.
For the remainder of the shift, Jordan’s workstation was cloud nine. Now that she was out of his sight, that distance brought a new, restrained bravado. His relationship with Pamela could metaphorically move up a notch. She had spoken to him, referred to him by name. They had even talked about what they were doing that night, the female husky, professional voice maybe not so intimidating now. He could talk to her again, find out if she’s seeing anybody, ask her out.
That evening at home in his room, Jordan kicked himself back to reality. He could never seriously contemplate a relationship with Pamela, and surely she could never reciprocate. The woman he wanted would remain a dream until he found love in second best. It all came back to the status thing.
The same evening, Pamela logged onto Facebook. Let’s seeif he’s on here.
Andrew Newall lives near Falkirk in Scotland. His short fiction has been published online and in print. His work has most recently appeared in the pages of Flash Fiction North, Razur Cuts and Dark Dossier.
Griffith Park in the early morning. Mateo cycles past joggers and dog walkers. A group of elderly Koreans in wide brimmed hats doing Tai chi. Off to the west peacocks in full voice at the zoo. He enjoys this start to the day, cutting through the park down into Franklin Hills and then across to Sunset, which he rides all the way to downtown. At Angelino Heights he stops at a coffee shop and checks the app for the day’s first pick up.
Mateo can make his own hours, but the best times to ride are from around eight to three. With UCLA out for the summer he can make good money on his bike for a couple months, and then go meet up with his mom and all her spirited siblings down in Guadalajara. The first package is at a realtor on Wilshire. Mateo drains his second cup, adjusts his helmet, and pushes off into traffic.
Noon. It’s hot, July letting LA simmer. Mateo has been staying hydrated, avoiding hills. He’s in line at a Jamba Juice, taking a breather. Ordinarily, he’d go another hour or two but he’s baked and wants to head down to the ocean. He takes out his phone to shut off the app but another job lights up the screen. A lawyer’s office just a couple blocks away, a package going to the Federal Courthouse over by the Civic Center. Just one more job. Mateo hits the accept button.
The package is bulky and digs into him through his backpack as he navigates standstill traffic. He lifts the bike up steps and walks it across the wide plaza to the courthouse. Two uniformed officers check his progress at the entrance. They are surly, uncomfortable in the heat. Mateo hands one of them the package, has him sign for it on the app.
He is a block away when the blast sends him sprawling, hauling all the breath out of him. His ears are muffled as if underwater. Blood trickles from his nose. The bike is on its side, wheels spinning. Car alarms, dozens of them. Then sirens. So many sirens. Another sound, harsher, urgent. Officers are barking at him to remain on the ground. He feels a sharp pain in his arms as his wrists are cuffed. A realization comes to Mateo, his brain joining the dots. The package.
Its journey complete, the Norwegian tanker anchored out in the gulf near the entrance to the Mexican port town of Tampico. The January day was blustery, the water choppy. Huddled on the dock, the welcoming party: police officers, government officials, Frida Kahlo. A sturdy boat brings Trotsky and his wife ashore, their final stop after a decade of restless exile. Kahlo greets them as if they were old friends, ushers them onto the president’s personal train for the half day trip to the capital where her expectant husband, Diego, waits.
Like a Jackson Pollock, Kahlo and Rivera’s relationship was messy, colourful, complicated. A pairing of leftist artists, the boundaries of expression and convention purposely blurred. Marxists both, a celebrity of the revolution now in their midst whom they could offer safe harbor at their iconic casa azul, the blue house.
Cobalt inside and out, the house occupied a corner hidden among palms and tropical plants. The tranquility enhanced with birdsong and the rhythm of water fountains. Leon and Natasha explored the cool interior filled with the artists’ work and indigenous collections. They hugged, feeling a world away from Europe’s new turmoil and Stalin’s malevolence.
A summer downpour leaves its humidity to linger. Birds emerge from shelter, making announcements. A young man arrives at the house carrying documents. He is known, trusted, having spent a full year selling the deception. He enters Trotsky’s study with deference. Leon takes the documents to the window for better light. The young man reaches into his jacket and grips the cold iron of the ice pick.
It takes a moment for the brain to properly process that it’s hearing gunfire. But the repeated sharp cracks and urgent shouts in Hebrew confirmed there was a situation. Connor and Craig were waiting by the main entrance for a ride to the local store. An Israeli, middle-aged with greying hair ran into view. He knelt and fired off his Uzi in the direction he’d come. The settlement came alive with the sounds of combat, Israelis responding to unseen assailants. Craig took off running through the main gate. Momentarily rooted, Connor followed.
Some fifty yards up ahead Craig hurdled a low fence topped with barbed wire. No time for prudence. Connor followed suit, the wire slashing at his ankles. The gunfire behind them was intensifying. Then an angry flash and a loud, abrupt explosion. Clumps of earth falling around Connor. Craig’s heaped body, unmoving. A landmine. A voice. Connor turned toward it. The Israeli with the grey hair was standing the other side of the fence, weapon held across his body. Come back, he said, but slow. Go slow. Shaking, Connor locked him with his eyes and took the first step.
Daybreak, water the colour of slate. A lone figure stands in contemplation, close enough to the river that its current splashes over her boots. This stretch of the Niagara resides in the commonplace, revealing nothing of the chaos up ahead. Annie steps back up onto the grass, the October dew staining the hem of her dress and petticoats. She adjusts her matching bonnet which, like her dress, was once the tone of ripe plums, the garments now faded and frayed.
Farther down river the water quickens, a menace in its energy. Annie observes it coursing over rocks, dragging reluctant branches. Then rapids, the river shapeshifting, relentless. The air resounds, vibrates. Ahead, the torrent launches itself into the void. Annie is still, awed by the force of nature, her clothes absorbing the clouds of spray thrown high by the Horseshoe Falls. Tomorrow, her birthday, she will plunge over the brink in a barrel.
A small crowd has gathered at the launch point, the interest mostly morbid, as few expect Annie to survive. But this stoic woman in her sixties, widowed since the Civil War, remains confident that prosperity will follow. She engages with a reporter, offers a brief smile to the photographer. The large, oak barrel has been lined with thick blankets. Annie climbs through the opening and settles, cushioned. Resigned to being accomplices to such imprudence, two men in buttoned vests and rolled shirtsleeves toss their cigarettes to the ground and step into a rowboat.
Untethered, the barrel rolls in the calm stretch of the river. It appears inert, laden, until the current imposes its will. Annie’s breaths are shallow, fast, as she braces for the rapids. They receive her with disdain, muscles of water pounding the sodden oak. A thunder fills the barrel, invincible. The energy fractures. Freefall. Annie is relaxed, expectant.
The foul weather provided Joan with a temporary stay of execution. Although on the cusp of summer, Northwestern France was awash from relentless rain. The pyre, assiduously constructed, now lay sodden and deserted in the center of the walled city of Rouen. There were those who believed the intemperate conditions to be a divine rebuke.
The late spring regained control; renewal and growth continued, belying the solemn event at hand. The pyre stood centerpiece, timbers slowly shedding their moisture. Commerce, music, livestock all returned to the market square. Below ground a teenaged Joan remained chained to the stone wall of her cell. Once a conduit for the unlikely French victory at Orleans and the inspiration for a resurgent army, she was now a pawn in political maneuvering and betrayal. Baseless whisperings of heresy and witchcraft grew into formal accusations, sealing Joan’s fate.
Mercifully, the thick smoke took Joan before the serpent of flames claimed the wooden cross in her clasp. Her prayers had fallen upon the onlookers, the crowd having to retreat from the blaze. On an adjacent rooftop a black cat narrowed its eyes from wayward embers. It groomed lazily and settled on a ledge as the flames absorbed the martyr.
David Patten is an educator living in Colorado. He was raised in London, England, but has spent half of his life in the U.S. He loves reading and creating short fiction. He is hoping to increase the audience for his work.
You can find more of David’s work here on Ink Pantry.
I turn another page. To an article. About the beach. Specifically, how to walk your dog. At the beach. Okay. This I know. Not about walking dogs. But the beach. That’s what I know. Now. But not always. When I left my husband. Ten years ago. When I got in my car and began to drive. Through one state. And then another. And another. And another. Driving, driving, driving. I finally reached the ocean. And that’s when I stopped. Not that the ocean was my destination. It wasn’t. There was no destination. Just escape. I stopped because I was driving a car. Not a boat. And cars don’t float. Actually, I’d never seen the ocean before. Or the beach. I mean, there isn’t an ocean or beach in Kansas City. And that’s where I’m from. But now I’m at the ocean. On the coast of North Carolina. Far away from Missouri. And my husband. (Thank God!). So I decided to stay. Here. In Wilmington. But just for a while. Not long. Just a little while. I found an apartment. And a job at a beachwear store. Selling bathing suits to tourists. Selling tacky souvenirs made from seashells. Selling t-shirts. And I still work there. Ten years later. Believe it or not. Selling beachwear to summer tourists. Selling golf paraphernalia to winter tourists. What can I say? I like it. It’s a job. It’s fun. And it pays the bills. Speaking of beachwear. And the store. We received a shipment of t-shirts this week. Lots of new designs. And one is a Chihuahua. Really cute. I’ve been pretending it’s Max. My imaginary dog. I should use my employee discount. Get some of those Chihuahua t-shirts. In different colours. One for every day of the week. Just for fun. To wear. To work. I mean, why not? They really do look like Max. And he’s such a good dog. My Max. My imaginary dog. Now I can pretend I walk him on the beach too. Thanks to this article. In this dog magazine. But okay. Enough of that. Enough pretending. My lunch break is almost over. Got to get back to the store. And selling, selling, selling.
Laura Stamps loves to play with words and create experimental forms for her fiction and prose poetry. Author of 43 novels, novellas, short story collections, and poetry books. Most recently: CAT MANIA (Alien Buddha Press 2021), DOG DAZED (Kittyfeather Press 2022), and THE GOOD DOG (Prolific Pulse Press 2023). Winner of the Muses Prize. Recipient of 7 Pushcart Prize nominations.
Amaya can’t suppress a wry smile. An item of gossip has reached her. It seems there are those intent on labelling her a witch. Such an archaic term, unused for centuries, its connotation pejorative. Amaya ponders that maybe it’s because she’s an outlier. During that unenlightened age, it was a convenient term for nonconformist women, especially those who, like Amaya, preferred to live alone.
She’s a curator; a purveyor of aesthetics. Her specialty is The Renaissance. For a modest fee patrons can roam her gallery of Caravaggios, da Vincis, and Raphaels. Bold work from over a millennium ago, the world still searching for an identity. Crossing Amaya’s palm with an elusive gold coin, however, will favour you with an altogether more unique experience in her gallery.
A gentle knock at the after-hours door in the rear. Amaya opens it partway, the orb in her palm chasing away the shadow from her cat’s eyes and long, greying hair. Cassian steps inside. The darkness is heavy, the air cool. Raising the orb, Amaya sees a man younger than her usual patrons, hair and eyes raven, brooding. There is an audacity about him as he presses the gold coin into her hand.
They stand before Cassian’s chosen piece: Botticelli’s iconic Birth of Venus. Amaya places a hand on its centre and it expands to fill the whole wall. She regards Cassian expectantly. Previously bold, there’s a hesitation. He appears about to turn away, but then takes three confident steps and leaps into the painting.
Venus is before him, an alabaster statue, hair to the waist. Zephyrus, clutching his nymph, propels her ashore, the ocean rising with his breath. On the sand the guardian Pomona waits, mantle ready to clothe the goddess. Materials in hand, Cassian sits and begins to sketch.
If Looks Could Kill
Perseus had been spending time in Sicily and the Italian mainland. Pasta, wine, caprese. When your father is Zeus it’s a filial duty to oversee operations in the Mediterranean. Not one to usually procrastinate, Perseus was wrestling with this latest assignment, the hit on Medusa. Since he was a boy he’d had an acute phobia of snakes, so that was going to be something of a problem.
Naturally, Medusa’s reputation preceeded her, so the inhabitants fled Karpathos for the neighbouring islands of Rhodes and Crete once word of her approach had been received. For five years now the small isle in the Southern Aegean had been hers alone. Walks on the beach, exploring coves, collecting shells, and a steady diet of olives, feta, and vegetables from her garden. Despite the seclusion, exile had its benefits.
Blue skies, ocean salt in the air. Medusa finishes threading wire through the holes in the butterflies she’d inadvertently turned to stone that morning. Now it’s a wind chime. In her solitude she’d learned to control her power, but still had lapses. A large shadow passes across Medusa’s face, a bird of prey swooping in and alighting on one of the pine trees in the statue garden. One of Athena’s owls. A trusted companion of Medusa from when she was in service to the goddess. Since the banishment it has come to the island regularly.
Someone is coming for you, it says.
Medusa nods, trailing a hand over the owl’s feathers, damp from spray. A few of the snakes get too curious, the owl pecking at them. Perseus, it adds.
Medusa withdraws her hand. My half-brother Perseus? The owl confirms. His quest is to return with your head. The snakes hiss and snarl. Medusa allows a brief smile. It’ll be good to see him again. The owl hops onto her shoulder and they head out for a stroll along the cliffs.
Clear day, crystals of sunlight on the calm Aegean. Perseus has been rowing since dawn. Now he rests facing the island, the tide pulling him toward the beach. Crags scattered with vegetation rise up from the sand. Above, shielded by pine trees, Medusa watches her assassin. The snakes are restless, quarrelsome, as if they already sense his apprehension.
On the ascent Perseus’ sandals send loose rock and gravel over the edge of the path. Turned to scrub and grass at the clifftop, he steps over a fellow Spartan, entombed by Medusa’s gaze, sword and shield still at the ready. In front of him a small house fronted by a garden of statues, silent companions. A breeze stirs wind chimes. From the roof an owl watches Perseus’ cautious approach.
Perseus! Social visit? At her voice he whirls around slashing at the air with his sword, shield falling to the ground. He recoils, caught in her gaze. Paralyzed by his phobia, Perseus stands rigid, eyes closed. Close enough to smell her half-brother’s fear, Medusa traces a finger over his face. I’ve learned to control my power. She speaks softly. So you are not a permanent addition to the garden. Two of the snakes break free of the mass to menace the intruder. As they slither around his neck Perseus faints.
Medusa’s head looks defiant. Mouth and eyes wide open with rage, the snakes twisted and vengeful. Perseus places it in a sack and secures the opening.
You’re taking a risk. What if it fools nobody? Medusa is working on a plate of olives and cheese, holding up occasional pieces for the snakes to squabble over.
It will, says Perseus. It’s his fourth week on the island. His half-sister has cured him of his phobia. In return he has fashioned a reasonable facsimile of her from mud, clay, and pigments. He cannot return empty handed.
The owl will give me word, Medusa says, standing and pulling him into an embrace. Sinewy, the snakes burrow through his hair. They part and Perseus gathers sword, shield, and the sack. On the beach he places them in the boat and looks back up the cliff. Medusa raises a hand in farewell. He does the same.
Six in the morning, mist rising from the surface, the chatter of tropical birds and primates from the dense rainforest flanking their small boat. It’s long and narrow like a canoe, Elliot perched at the bow clothed in khaki, boasting zippers and Velcro and hidden pockets only an angler would wear. At the stern, hand on tiller, Santiago guides the craft through the still waters, as the old man has done for decades.
Santiago maneuvers them into a horseshoe pool off the main river. It’s sheltered by overhanging branches that shed pods into the water. It’s a feasting ground. Elliot baits his line and stands astride the bench for balance.
The first two times the bait is gone, either slyly taken or slipped off. Elliot packs it tighter around the double hook and casts again. This time the line goes taught, the carbon fibre rod doubling in on itself, threatening to snap. Elliot reels and pulls, reels and pulls. Mantenlo tenso, says Santiago. Keep it taut.
The fish is strong, angry. A fighter. It breaches in a commotion. Breathing hard, Elliot brings it toward the boat. Es piranha, says Santiago reaching for the landing net. But Elliot raises the rod too soon, the frenzied ball of muscle arcing at him. Instinctively he holds out a hand, Santiago’s ten cuidado, be careful, a fraction late. With the violent precision of a steel blade, the piranha removes Elliot’s index finger at the mid joint.
Elliot’s mind can’t process what he’s seeing, stalling the shock and pain. The piranha thrashes in the boat, gasping. The disturbance has caught the attention of an alligator on the far bank. Santiago watches it slide into the water. Mantener la sangre en el bote, he tells Elliot, wrapping his hand in a small towel. Keep the blood in the boat.
It wasn’t unexpected. She’d been waiting. At first it was just small things, like water seeping through a breach. An occasional headache, clear bubbles moving across her cornea, shape shifting like a lava lamp. Later, her skin feeling loose and oily, like it wanted to slide off. Then the insomnia. Restless nights filled with echoes of her history. An accounting. Taking stock. Jigsaw pieces of her life falling like confetti into colorful prisms. That was when she knew. It was time to go to the woodlands.
A maze of primordial secrets, forests hold the keys to the truth. Givers and sustainers of life, their trees gatekeepers of the knowledge. She arrived in the northernmost woodlands, where the sky is a canvas for all things celestial; a glimpse of infinity. On a hilltop she looked out over the forest, the moonlight casting silhouettes in black and white. Silent, save for the occasional call of hunter and prey. She sat in contemplation.
The meadow grass was cool and soft under her bare feet. Movements assured and graceful beneath a long robe of sapphire, in her green eyes the wisdom of the gemstone and a promise of spring. Her black hair fell sleek and straight, the moon’s fingers combing it in satin.
Enclosed, she heard the murmurs of recognition, smelled the fragrance of earth and timber as the forest received her into its midst. She wove her way deeper into the interior, the path marked by a thousand fireflies and an owl swooping from branch to branch. They would lead her to the provenance.
This is the place, veiled by a patchwork of interlocking branches, ageless and sacred. The earth hugging her feet, soft as velvet. Above, wisteria vines in their thousands. Purple, pink, fragrance that can be tasted. Smiling, she reaches out her hands and bestows the gift of herself. A double helix hangs suspended, as if a lantern in the darkness. It starts to rotate, the stairways embraced in a dance of life.
With each rotation comes a spray of vivid, falling petals, each a recognition of a life lived; the entirety of her story. Here Ts’ai Lun who brought paper into the world, there Cornelius, final breath preserved by the ash from Vesuvius. And here Edmund, navigator on Drake’s wooden vessels, and there Natasha, swept up in an October revolution. Spent, the double helix dissolves into the night. All that remains is her robe on the forest floor.
It took fifty of the strongest men to pull the two-story structure through the western gate of Troy. The width had inches to spare but part of the ramparts had to be removed to accommodate the neck and head of the impressive wooden horse. The siege had lasted a decade, but now the Greeks retreated back to the fleet anchored in the Aegean, leaving the horse as an offering to Athena. The return of peace.
Jostling, shoving, Trojans thronged to see the powerful stallion, pride restored. They lit fires, cooked food. Wine flowed. The historical event too late for Homer and his Iliad, but a prize for Virgil’s later tales.
Night. Embers strewn like cat’s eyes, revelry now just echoes in the stone walls. Soft thuds as Odysseus and his men emerge from the low belly of the beast and drop to the ground, weapons drawn. Gates opened for the returned Greeks, deception complete. With awe two children are observing Odysseus, believing him to be an emissary of Athena. He approaches them, holding a finger to his lips, bidding silence. Kneeling now. “Can you keep a secret?”
A landscape of mud. Thick, invasive. Like a disease it spreads and clings, fueled by the autumn rains that have pummeled the endless fields of Flanders. Now, with the onset of winter, comes a hardening as the frigid air coats the mud with a shell, until the next thaw once more releases it.
Unforgiving, this landscape. Nothing to redeem the harsh shades of brown and black. Bruised and brooding, the low December sky rolls over the battlefields, resolute in its indifference. Wood frames and sandbags encased in grime as they give shape and symmetry to the network of trenches. Horses, limbs in a tomb of clay, stand forlorn in deep puddles. Just beyond the horizon the charred and jagged edges of Ypres.
No nature’s song here, the birds long exiled by artillery that has gouged the land into submission. Young men, adversaries in a conflict they don’t understand, dwell a hundred yards apart in deep man-made fissures. Tomorrow arrives a counterpoint to challenge the malevolence, the first since hostilities began. Christmas Eve.
Two privates from one of the Welsh regiments were the first to notice. Through the periscope they spotted dozens of small beacons along the top of the German trench. Candles, the tiny flames reaching out into the twilight. Word spread and soon the British trench is abuzz, soldiers queuing to look through the viewfinder with disbelieving eyes. The barrage ceased, a dissonant sound punctures the air. The Germans are singing carols.
The following morning an impromptu and unauthorized gathering, as ragged and weary men from both trenches converge on the sludge and frozen earth of no man’s land. Many remain concealed though, distrustful, yet with an uneasy gratitude for the lull. Men roll cigarettes, make small talk. A German officer breaks open a bottle of Schnapps. Somebody kicks a ball high into the air and a disorganized game ensues. Laughter and handshakes as these men, thrown together as combatants on Belgian soil, cling resolutely to life.
The day after. No more gatherings, the carol singers now quiet. A steady rain has erased the candles. Officers in both trenches bark orders, using their boots to shake men out of reverie. The screech of ordnance as a shell hits no man’s land, sending shrapnel in search of targets. In both trenches young men press hard into the sandbags, their lives once more in the balance.
David Patten is an educator living in Colorado. He was raised in London, England, but has spent half of his life in the U.S. He loves reading and creating short fiction. He is hoping to increase the audience for his work.
Deep below the lake’s murky surface, there sits—in tact—a house. A two-story structure of Carpenter Gothic details like elaborate wooden trim bloated to bursting. Its front yard: purple loosestrife. Its inhabitants: alligator gar, bull trout, and pupfish. All glide past languidly: out of window sashes and back inside door frames. It is serene, and it is foreboding. Curtains of algae float gossamer to and fro. Pictures rest clustered atop credenzas. A chandelier is lit, intermittently, by freshwater electric eels. And near a Victrola, white to the bone, a man and a woman waltz in a floating embrace.
Change of Plan
Every time he checks the blueprints, something’s different. When he questions the architect, he sneers, as if to demand “What are ya talkin’ about bub; you were on board with the designs – just yesterday.” But upon today’s examination, the roofline has taken on a monstrous fortress-like appearance. Worse yet, each day, it continues to grow in strangeness. Now, as the house is complete, he does not question its organic shapeshifting. He lies in bed aware—as walls fold and floors slide around him. The house lives, takes on new forms, and against his will, locks its doors and windows.
Connecting Stars Like Dots
When I was a kid, I would sleepwalk. I remember having a recurring dream. Today, it seems to be such a mature dream, intuitive and analogous, for a boy of about eight years old. I dreamt I would slice an orange. And nature would whisper to me that when one slices an orange it displays 13 sections. Always 13. Only 13. But the orange I sliced had one section more—or less.
I would begin to sleepwalk, the gauze masking Lazarus’ eyes bound tight around my own: making me maneuver the furniture in our house as if by radar, blindly gliding past hard corners and pointy objects.
My siblings, Mom, Dad, were use to my meanderings. I would find a presence, sense a group of my brothers and sisters as they sat watching Johnny Carson, hee hawing at his stand-up comedy routine. I stood there, too, mumbling, asking them for help in a language only the desperate can understand. “Why,” I’d ask simply, pleadingly. “Why is my orange different? Why am I different?”
I would feel an arm drag me to the side or a kick in the butt almost take me to my knees.
“Go to bed, Keith!”
“Stop blocking the TV.” “Mom, Keith’s at it again…”
A hand, assuredly my surrogate mother, Kathleen, gently guided me on my precarious walk back to the orange grove and the knowledge even then, on some subconscious level, that all was not right with me; something was wrong, because my surroundings told me so. I was witness to Mom’s beatings on Kathleen. Just a kid, I was already sensing the dread to be caught up in Mom’s manic moods. I had begun wetting the bed and being punished sarcastically by Mom on each occurrence. And the dream came slice after slice after slice.
One night, it took me to the place of the big “orange ball” we kids played with… when around two in the morning, my twin Kenny awoke and went looking for me, finding me standing at the free- throw line staring blankly at the basketball hoop in our backyard.
I would surely shoot and miss.
I relate still to this image, me standing outside in the dead of night, head cocked slightly upward, blind eyes unlit by a phantom moon, while my mind connected stars like dots, hoping to map out the answer to my riddle through some astrological means. I could sense the half-horse, half-man archer, Sagittarius, lull me in my trance with the moral principles and laws of the universe… pointing his bow and arrow in the direction I was to follow, however far, however near.
Keith Hoerner (BS, MFA) lives, teaches, and pushes words around in Southern Illinois, USA. He is frequently featured in lit journals (75+ to date, including decomP, Fiction Kitchen Berlin, and Litro—to name just a few). He is founding editor of the Webby Award recognized Dribble Drabble Review, and his memoir, The Day the Sky Broke Open, is a recent Best Book and American Writing Award Finalist. A collection of short fiction and poetry, entitled Balancing on the Sharp Edges of Crescent Moons, publishes later this year.
‘I never thought I could meet you again like this,’ Lu said to Mr. Ray. Her voice tried to control her agitation.
They both continued walking on a cemented pathway, heading to the community park. At a distance the Gumamela flowers greeted them in their full blooms in red and pink rooted on the side of the benches. It was the blossoming season.
‘At a certain point before this moment, I thought I must not see you,’ Mr. Ray replied. ‘I mean, as much as possible, I was of the opinion we must refrain from any crossing of our paths,’ his voice was steady.
‘I understand,’ Lu said with a sigh, ‘but at least let me tell you this. I’d like to express my deepest gratitude in favor of the people and the children you helped in my community. In the end, you stood beside them,’ her voice near to breaking point. Mr. Ray looked up at her intently.
‘You owe me nothing and the community. I just did what I needed to do,’ Mr. Ray replied firmly.
She continued, ‘I thought you were one of them. Those despicable business owners who only care for their greedy interests.’
Lu’s eyes, expressing humility, fixed on Mr. Ray.
They reached the benches and sat on one of them, silently for a moment. A huge Talisay tree provided a magnificent shade as the sun basked them at ten in the morning. A soft wind roused the leaves and the twigs to stir lightly.
‘I could have done that a long time ago, Lu. If that was what I call for and if I only pay attention to my interest.’
He paused for a moment.
‘Our family owns this place from way back in the Spanish era. And we have all the papers to back it up. Fortunately, I grew up in this place too,’ Mr. Ray said in a clear, light voice.’
‘Yes, you did,’ she said pensively. She stared at the Gumamela blossoms. Her memories flew back when Mr. Ray would fancy giving them to her when they were young.
‘I had a charming childhood in the community. I loved the neighbourhood, the people, the children, and the camaraderie,’ Mr. Ray recalled. His face was shining.
‘And I respect their tenure in this place. Most of all, I love your vision with them. That library and the little park. A little ideal Eden of yours, but I share with your vision, Lu.’
Mr. Ray smiled at her. Lu smiled back.
‘I thought your company already sold them to a new investor. That is why there was a threat of demolition against the community. And you were one of them. A notion I had before your cousin confronted me and urged me to encourage you to take your side with them. If not, the future of the community and my family will be most unfavorable,’ her voice rose mildly. She sighed and stared evenly at Mr. Ray.
Mr. Ray stood up and took a step from the bench.
‘It was the workings of other greedy relatives,’ he continued, ‘My cousin told me about your meeting with them. They said you were firm against your views on the community conversion into a highly commercialized area.’
His eyes were gleaming with admiration as he gazed at her.
‘Yet, instead of a feeling of displeasure with you, my other relatives became impressed and saw a refreshing and meaningful perspective about your vision,’ he expounded.
Lu recalled the engagement with his relatives. It was indeed intense. Yet, it unfurled her significant discovery and realization of the true character of Mr. Ray.
‘I never thought of that. I just wanted to say what I had to say. That very moment there was a great realization I discovered about you,’ Lu said. Her eyes bared with wonder as she glanced at him.
‘Yes, it gave me hope, Lu. I thought if you had turned down my interest with you, you could have told them about your disinterest in me. Told them you do not care about whose side I was with.’
He beamed and sat comfortably beside Lu.
They were a picturesque image of two contented souls.
Children came to the park.
Lu and Mr. Ray were jovial as they watched the children about to play hide and seek.
Lu envisaged the kids’ laughter seemed to revive the congenial wind to budge the branches of the trees and enthralled the Gumamela blooms surrounding the park to dance gently by trailing the rhythm of the wind.
Zea Perez lives in the Philippines. She writes children’s stories. But only now did she dare to share some of her writings. She has some pieces published at Flash Fiction North, Literary Yard, and soon at TEA. She also writes reviews for Booktasters and Goodreads.
Yu can find more of Zea’s work here on Ink Pantry.