The ECG monitor is like rain. Every bleep, every patter, is a bit of heaven crashing down on the sullied pavement. He looks around and feels something hard and immovable in his throat. How long had it been there? Was it lying there in wait all those years as he sang, drank, laughed and cried? He tries to look around but the monstrous ball in his throat holds back his breathing. He turns his head gracelessly, suffering his suffering.
What he sees are forms. Bleary figures almost invisible. He wants to reach out to them and tell them he’d like some tea. Lifting his arm up is like lifting a crane. He gives up and falls limp, knowing he would never get the tea he craves. A voice rings hollow in his ears; so hollow and muffled, is he drowning? The voice talks but a bolt of memory silences it. A faint memory of him sleeping in the sea, the salt cracking like fireworks in his ears, the sun warming his eyelids.
“Let go.” Miraculously, he can translate the sound of the spoken words into a coherent noise. Though the identity of the voice was as alien to him as his own failing body. Water gurgled up in his mouth, depriving him of the will to even hate his body. That deceptive parasite that all our lives fools us into deceptive comfort. I hate it – he musters up the strength to feel! His eyes, grey and falling apart, shoot open, his drowning mouth falls from his jaw revealing a cavernous aperture like a tomb. I hate it! Take it away from me. With every thought he conjures, more water gushes forth from his bottomless lungs. The great hard thing in his throat softens and he feels it falling apart, he feels it like flesh going down his esophagus, its destruction revolting him more than its presence ever could. Take my body away, let me go, let me go!
“Let go, dad. Please.”
Jane. Jane? Jane!
And the drowning takes over before the last smile could birth itself.
Woman With Dementia
The ripples in the pool are outside of time. They are the same ripples that held her aloft on her boat in the long-dead harbour. It was there, on that boat, that she met him. He was English, had a dark moustache, and knew sailing better than he knew his own body. He used to take her all over the island on his boat. He was a kind, wild sort of man, he lived la vita bella, and wouldn’t sacrifice it even to love her. Then a war flashed. Everything changed. The ripples served only the bombs, their masters. He was called for duty. She spent weeks and months trapped in shelters that smelt of damp and sewage, where your mother sneezed straight into your eyes. When she emerged into the charred daylight, she found a world without him.
What was his name, a stranger asked her. William Wakefield, he was twenty-four then, served in the RAF, was shot down in a skirmish over the harbour.
Do you think about him, a smiling, incorporeal voice asked her. No, no. I’m a married woman now. He’s just a story, a fairytale, that’s all. He’s dead, after all.
Her husband had been dead for over a year. But neither of the two voices corrected her. She looked out fixedly into the pool, her eyes lost to them, focused only on a deep past they could never know. As the day wore on and the nameless guests made her cup after cup of tea, she fell ever deeper into her waking dream. It wasn’t a dream she saw like a movie, but a dream that dragged her away from reality, into a quagmire of smells, shrieks and shelters.
The smell of incense as dust fell on woolly shawls.
The shrieks of a woman giving labour in the next room.
The shelter, warm and beating, of a chest like a pillow where she could lay her head, the bristles of a dark moustache scratching fondly against her forehead.
The ripples in the pool are outside of time…
Child In A Field
Tip-toeing among the rocks she swings and pirouettes around the bushes that grow flowers like an old man’s stubble. In the distance she sees a wayward chapel and she thinks of safety. She runs towards it, almost falling over a dismembered branch, and reaches the elevated churchyard. Her arms are aloft reaching the soft belly of the sky. Now she surveys what she left behind. To the east she sees the start of a flower-bed, an urban sprawl of flowering scrubs spreading out far far into the horizon.
Jumping off the limestone churchyard she once again runs, her hair being lifted up by the wind, and then stops. A butterfly! A butterfly abutterflyabutterfly a butterfly! Its yellows were brighter than the sun, its antennae like a cockroach’s and its black body furry like a dog’s tail. She followed it as it hopped and skipped from one flower to the next. She tried to cup it in her hands, but the butterfly was alarmed by the sudden eclipse and flew away confused. The girl shrugged her shoulders and remembered where she was going.
Amidst the flowers and the ladybirds and the ants she thought of a million-zillion games she could play. She started hiding-and-seeking among the bushes knowing there was no one to ‘seek’ her. She got up from her hiding place among the bushes then started counting the chamomile flowers. She stopped at thirty. And then and then and then andthenandthen.
Muslim Woman In A Bar
The sigh of the oppressed creature blows black upon the wooden surface. Her table is high and her dress long; they look like sisters, the table and her. Her eyes follow people’s back but draw back when confronted by faces. They are grey, those eyes, soft like watercolour paint ready to be mixed. She drinks a soft, soft drink. It fizzes on her unadorned lips. From behind the rim of the glass she casts a snail’s glare around her. She watches men embracing pint glasses as if they were their women. Women too, they drink halves as if they were wrapping their babies in their arms. Their eyes look like they should – but are they happy?
It’s half-time on the big screen and shunting music comes on from behind the bar. It’s as if the television and the stereo were in tune with one another. Some men walk outside into the cold to light an unscented cigarette, others walk by her on their way to the toilets. A man goes “fuckin’ hell” after he belches, he’s so proud of his undisgustibility. She smiles and passes her finger along the edge of her silken hijab. She is not smiling at him, she’s smiling away from him.
A million miles away from him. A million miles away from the pints, the television, the men, the guttural smell of men’s insides, the cacophony. A million miles away… but still there.
Teenage Boy Abroad For The First Time
Standing at the top step of the metro stairway he saw before him the true size of the earth he’s always lived on. It’s nothing like they’d ever told him it would be. Maps don’t do it, pictures of earth from the moon are a misconception, not even the view from the plane was sincere. To be a boy standing in the midst of a city that holds millions, with more windows than there are constellations, with more streets than could ever be walked, with more stories than could ever be told… but somehow, like a confident virgin in bed with his first love, he knew just where to start.
Man On Way To Rape
His hands in his pockets feel icy as they rearrange the disobedient boxers. He had read an article on a newspaper about the slow death of the aimless stroll. Laughing to himself, he patted himself on the back, knowing that no one else was familiar with the pleasure of the power-stroll. It sounds like a power-walk, but it isn’t. It’s what it feels like when you walk with the world at your feet. Like giving a child a hundred Euros and telling him to go into a toy store where all the items cost 50cents.
But for him, despite his anxious, gleeful grin, there was no frivolity. In fact he has just had himself a melancholy whisky before he went out. It’s not an easy choice. Every single woman he saw walking past him was a goddess. A goddess that was indifferent to him and his entire existence. And for that, she was all the more a goddess. The tables turned. Goddesses are known to control man’s fate: but now, in his shadowy existence, he had a vitriolic power over them they could never imagine. Their fate was at his mercy. Of course, there were risks to him, he might lose everything, and that, in fact, makes the women think is a sufficient deterrent. He, he has nothing to lose. They could lock him up and throw away the key: he would still have forced their submission. He would still be the pebble in the stream that actually changes the flows of their lives.
All he has to do is choose, choose what woman is worthy enough to go down in flames for.