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A Few Short Words

Dense Not Thick

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Stray Fictions

Spoilt Mangos

I remember watching Ikky sink and thinking I should do something, that I should be able to help, to stop it, to save her. I was never able to save her. I used to watch her playing with Dash in the orchards in summer. They’d come out for the harvests when the mangos were ripe, we all came out. It was tradition. Ikky would lift Dash onto her shoulders and he would pass the mangos down to her to fill their baskets. Every now and again Ikky would lower Dash to the ground and they’d spread themselves in the shade for a break. I remember how she used to look at those times. She always wore her hair in a high braid, the kind that wraps around the back of a girls head. I remember one year she wore a dress made of pure cotton, white and red. I thought she looked like an angel, the light playing around her braid like a halo of gold. It was unbearable to look at her sometimes, and even worse not to. Mother would curse a streak at me for my share of dropped mangos, unusually high when Ikky was about.

I don’t think Ikky ever knew I was watching her, not how I was watching her, but occasionally she would see me looking, staring like an idiot, and smile. My heart would skip like a rogue butterfly and I’d let loose another mango from my hands. She was so beautiful and so far away. Maybe it was better that way, maybe she was better that way. I used to think that if I touched her, if my hands, these callused dirty paws on the ends of my wrists, if my hands ever touched her skin she would spoil. I thought I was unworthy. I knew I was beneath her. But how badly I had wanted her, any and all of her.

When I heard Ikky was to be married I could hardly move. I remember Mother took me as sick and sent me to bed, my supper cold and untouched at the table. I lay there unable to close my eyes, breathing only out of stubborn habit. My body wouldn’t let me die as much as I had wanted it to.  My angel, my untouchable angel was to be given body and soul to another man, and worse, infinitely worse, she had wanted to be his.

Carlos was a brute. He had always been a brute. When we were young Carlos and I would play with the other children in the fields behind the tar pits. The simple games of childhood, imaginary and safe, though Carlos was never content with safety. I think to myself now that Carlos was simply never content. I remember one day while we were playing he got it into his mind to dare poor Vim to brave the tar. Vim was the youngest of us, the runt we used to say, always biting at our ankles. The older children, myself included, would take turns walking into the tar, as far as we could manage and back again before we were stuck. We never let Vim take a turn, he was too little, too scared, too likely to panic. To Carlos, this just made him sport. He taunted Vim, jeering at him, calling him names. We all joined him, none of us wanted to lose favour with the brute who could so easily torment.

I remember the knots in my stomach as Vim took his first step out onto the tar, his arms raised from his sides to balance his weight. I wished for him to make it out, and more to make it back. If he cried now or backed out Carlos would never let him forget it. Vim took his first step and faltered, I could see he was scared, we all could. It didn’t stop Carlos though, his taunts just grew to match Vim’s hesitation. I think now that Vim kept walking simply to escape Carlos and his jeers.

Vim was too far out before I knew something was wrong. His steps were coming too far apart, taking too long. I could see his feet. The tar clung to his soles too readily, too greedily. I yelled for him to come back, to turn around. I remember thinking he was too far out to hear me, that the tar ate my words as easily as Vim’s footsteps. The other Children were silent, even Carlos. I told them to run back to the village and get help. They fled, happy to be away from the sight of Vim and his sinking determination. I remember standing there beside Carlos, unable to move, unable to help. I remember looking at Carlos as the tar ate what little remained of Vim’s innocence. His face was like stone, cold and passive. I had expected there to be horror there, or shame, or regret. I had expected something to be there, but there was nothing. I saw the same look on Carlos’ face on the day he and Ikky were married.

I turned my eyes from the brute and sent them out over the pit. There was nothing to see now. Nothing to hear but the faint bubble and grumble as the tar settled its stomach. The heat coming towards us from the middle of the pit did little to warm the chill that had taken hold of my body. By the time the adults arrived it was too late. Vim was gone and so was Carlos’ humanity.

I remember watching Ikky sink and thinking of Vim, thinking that I should be able to help now where I could not back then. I remember thinking that she was right. Ikky did what she had to do to escape, just as Vim had.

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Sand Dunes and Weathermen

The hourglass exhausts itself and I turn it on its head. I watch the sand rerun, the grains tumbling over each other, erratically uniform, building a mountain out of moments from the past.

I can hear music.

Supine, Marion tells me, it’s supposed to be hot.

I watch the time drain away.

She lifts her arm into the air, palm up as though cupping a ball. ‘We should go to the beach,’ she says.

I tell her the salt sticks to my skin, that I feel granular.

Insular on the couch, Marion is silent, flexing her fingers around the ball.

I count the grains a second at a time.

‘Only, when it’s hot,’ she offers, ‘you should be somewhere that feels hot.’

I tell her that it should feel hot in hell, that she’ll be comfortable there, and watch the ball explode between her fingers.

How many grains in an hour, I say

Marion drops her arm over the back of the couch and pulls herself up. There’s a crease running down the side of her face from the way she was lying. I don’t say anything. She looks at me and scowls, the crease unyielding.

‘Science,’ she says, as though that were the end of it. The scowl slides away and she fits a smile in its place. ‘Take me out.’

Like a hitman, I say, and the smile doesn’t fit anymore.

She disconnects her arm and lets herself fall back. I hear her sigh float up to the ceiling. ‘Are you bored?’ she asks me.

I tell her no, I can’t think of a better way to pass time.

A stale piece of popcorn launches itself over the couch’s fabric ramparts. It misses me and lands on the table. I look from the popcorn to the hourglass. Grains.

‘I want to see the sun,’ the couch tells me. ‘I want to lie in the sun.’

We’ll never get you out, I say.

‘If you don’t take me,’ she says with the cadence of a threat but none of the potency, ‘I’ll take myself.’

I get up and stand behind the couch, looking down at Marion.

Why don’t you move?

Quit it

Kate had her serious face on. The one she gets when she thinks she has something important to say. It’s funny actually, I can always see it coming. First she goes very quiet, then her lips set themselves together while she works out exactly how to say it. When she’s ready she’ll tilt her head down and look over the top of her glasses in just the right way. I always thought she should have been a librarian.

‘You should quit smoking,’ Kate said.

We were sitting in my bedroom. Well, the room where all my stuff was living anyway. Technically I’d been there for a year, but I hadn’t been able to settle. It was my parents’ house, and I just couldn’t make it mine. I was sitting on the edge of the bed in front of the computer, rolling a cigarette. When we first started seeing each other I was so nervous about smoking in front of her, she doesn’t smoke and she always knows exactly what her opinions are. Apparently smoking is bad for you. We both got more used to the idea though. I started smoking less and she told me I was dying less.

‘But I like it so much’ I said and pushed my bottom lip out in a mock pout

‘Yeah and it’s killing you’ she said.

‘Slowly though, I’ve still got plenty of time left.’

‘You have all the time in the world until it runs out.’

‘Runs out where?’

‘Out of time, dickhead.’

‘I’m not going to run out. I bought in bulk,’ I said, exercising my perverse sense of humour. I always enjoyed arguing with her.

‘Don’t be a smart ass, I’m really worried. You’ve been smoking so much lately.’

‘Yeah but I haven’t been drinking as much,’ I said. It was true, I hadn’t been drinking as much, but only because I hadn’t been able to afford it. So far the cigarettes were winning.

‘Well, that’s good because you drink like an idiot.’

‘I’d like to think I drink more like an alcoholic fish.’

‘You think you’re funny don’t you.’

‘Somebody has to, otherwise all my jokes would go to waste.’

‘You’re going to waste.’ Kate sighs, ‘How much do you weigh these days?’

‘What’s that got to do with my drinking?’ I said. I always hated when she brought up my weight and she knew that.

‘Nothing. It has to do with your body not being able to run off cigarettes and sandwiches.’

‘Not even tasty grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato and stuff?’ I said trying to get her off the track.

‘Nope, not even the tastiest of sandwiches.’

‘What about all the yeast in beer?’ I offer. ‘Do you know how many calories alcohol actually has?’

‘Not enough to live off obviously,’ She moves a lock of hair away from her glasses and tucks it behind her ear, ‘and cigarettes are sugar free.’

‘So there shouldn’t be a problem with me smoking then.’

‘At this point sugar would be good for you.’

‘Awesome, cause I’ve been eating a heap of candy lately.’

‘And that’s why your teeth are going to hell. You need to put something more substantial in you,’ Kate said, fixing me with her quiet in the library face.

‘Do you want me to put something substantial in you?’

‘Like the sense of satisfaction I’d get from convincing you to be healthy and treat your body better?’

‘Nah, I was thinking more like my-’

‘I know what you were thinking,’ she said sharply, ‘and I don’t know how you even have the energy.’

‘Milo,’ I said plainly, ‘is slow burning energy you know.’

Kate grunted, ‘Do you know how frustrating you are?’

I looked at her calmly, I could tell she wasn’t really angry, there was a smile hiding at the corners of her mouth. ‘Is it anything like trying to get the lid of a jar of pickles or something, but the lid just won’t come off, so you get a tea towel and wrap that around it, trying to get a better grip, but that doesn’t work so finally you just pry at it with a knife until the knife breaks and you decide to eat something else? Is it anything like that?’

I could tell I had won when she smiled.

‘Kind of,’ she said. ‘Except that I can’t eat anything else, I’ve already chosen my meal and I have to stick with it’

‘Is it pancakes? Cause they’re really tasty you know. I like mine with lemon juice and sugar’

Kate groaned into her palm.

‘What’s the matter babe? Are you a syrup girl?’

Cowboy Rhapsody

I dreamt I was a cowboy last night. You were there. It was like a Hollywood cliché with a sterilized bent; in Technicolor. I wore a gun at my hip and my hat cocked askew. You wore a ribbon in your hair and a lurid red petticoat affair, with just a hint of garter and hem.

I fought bandits and scoundrels, and scandalized as much as either might. At night I took you roses. You refused to swoon without a searing parody of my advances. I persisted and insisted and persevered. You were adored.

By day the bandits came. Quietly at first; not one of us heard them arrive. They made out for the bank, but not one of them left it alive. I went in with my gun at my hip and my hat cocked askew.

They barked at me, demands, indignations and torments, or so they thought. But they held no glamour on me. This day I was blind to their leers, my mind’s eye struck with other visions. This day I was deaf to their jeers, my ear serenaded by midnight whispers. This day I fought with my heart.

Visions of red, scarlet, garter and hem, danced in front of me and lead my hands. One by one the bandits fell, while bullets rattled around me. Faint glimmers of steel, distant and harmless. I was invincible while you danced in my head. You were incredible.

Caroline

I run into Caroline outside Wicks office and she won’t shut up about some band she saw on the weekend. I’m told they’re named after a dinosaur and have almost a dozen members. The coolest part, she’s telling me, is how the lineup keeps changing but the band stays together, brought to life by the music.

Caroline talks the way a house fire burns.

I suppress a yawn as the oxygen around me dies. I can’t concentrate. A group of high school girls walk past. It’s hard to tell where one starts and another stops, they’re indistinguishable but for the colour of their clothes, like watching a slutty rainbow slink across the sky.

I’m thinking about killing myself.

There’s a jab in my ribs and Caroline asks me if I’m listening. I look at her and try absently to focus. I tell her, of course, that I was just trying to imagine how cool that must be, all those people.

‘Oh, you have no idea,’ she says.

I point at the pack of smokes she’s holding and raise my eyebrow. She draws two out and slips me one without missing a beat. ‘I mean they play this really cool mix of old school surf rock and instrumetal, but it has this really heavy indie twist to it. It’s like, if Brian Jonestown Massacre and the Beach Boys had a baby, and then Muse fed the baby to Sigur Ros. I mean, it’s just incredible you know. I can’t believe you weren’t there.’

I want to get out of this conversation, but she doesn’t leave me any spaces. I nod slowly and light our cigarettes.

‘The lead singer, Tony, we kind of know each other from around, you know. Well, he was completely making eyes at me the whole time. I’m pretty sure he has a girlfriend, but it can’t be that serious if he’s making eyes at me right? Anyway, I saw her out one time and she wasn’t even that cute. I’m way cuter right?’

In my head I’m imagining a bottle of red wine, something vintage, and a bottle of valium. The note I leave next to my bed reads: This isn’t a good enough reason to stay.

Caroline flicks her cigarette into the planter behind us. ‘I have to go,’ she says. ‘I have to meet Jessie over at Caxton and then we’re going to some cider bar he heard about. I’m sure he thinks it’s cool, but I don’t even drink cider and he knows that. If he wasn’t so good in bed I swear I wouldn’t bother. You know what I mean?’

I have no idea. The words seem to make sense, but I can’t decipher them. I nod and tell her I’m meeting Dylan in the valley. She throws her arms around me and brushes her lips lightly against my cheek.

After she’s gone, I stand there and count my breaths.

Wicks

Underneath all his hair, Dr. Wicks looks like some kind of rat, twitchy, nervous and cunning. He’s okay, I guess, but he’s a total hippiecrit. He keeps shoving all these affirmations at me, telling me about the power of belief. I can, if I believe I can, sort of thing. He still charges me by the hour.

I’m reading the spines on Wicks’ bookshelf. Most of the titles sound vaguely pornographic and I’m thinking about masturbating, only half listening to what he’s saying. I grunt inquisitively and look up. He’s got this, We’re both on the same team, look on his face that really grinds me for some reason.

‘Why don’t you know how the story ends?’ He says.

‘I haven’t made my mind up yet if they die or not. It’s the same either way really. I mean, in my mind, both have already happened. It doesn’t matter if they live or die, because both are true. So nothing happens.’

I can tell he doesn’t get it.

Wicks looks out at me from the underbrush of his eyebrows and twitches his nose. ‘Let’s talk about something else for a bit, hey?’

I don’t want to talk about something else. I don’t want to talk about anything really. I feel so tired.

‘I feel so tired.’ I say.

‘How are you tired Jonah?’

I sigh and don’t tell him. Questions like that really fuck me off. They’re meaningless little probes designed to open me up, but all they do is get under my skin. Wicks just sits there companionably, twitching his nose and darting his eyes at the notebook on his lap. The silence in the room itches at my skin.

Company

Dylan’s hand is heavy upon my leg. It sits there like a passionless paperweight, placed on my thigh to keep me from moving. I have nowhere to go though, so I stay, moored under his paw, draining every glass that lands in front of me and watching for my cues.

Sarah-Jean, is braying incomprehensible things at me between mouthfuls of salmon. I nod my head to fill in the gaps like some half chewed ellipsis. My neck hurts. Her vapid patois keeps sticking to my palate. I chase it down with lick after lick of scotch, but it always returns.

Connor’s tirade continues across the table from me. I can hear his rhetoric in the rhythmic clutching of my husbands hand, keeping time on the inside of my thigh. I count the seconds. It’s a four, four beat. Of course Connor is a complete ass, but among this idiot council I’m sure he must seem like a reasonable man. In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king, they say.

Some raw vestige of etiquette must live on in me. I’ve been able to feign interest in these people so far, but it’s becoming increasingly hard as they drone into the night. I imagine I’m attending the reading of some third rate play. I’m trying to enjoy myself, but I have no passion for it. The players are callow things with more real drama in the pages of their scripts than the words on their lips.

I feel harassed.

I excuse myself to the kitchen. More wine, I say, Sarah-Jean looks frankly parched, the poor thing. I laugh lightly to show how nonchalant I am, that their company is the last thing I’d wish to be away from.

I take two bottles of Shiraz down from the pantry. My eyes flicker to the bottom shelf and over the rat poison there. I think briefly about seasoning their wine with it and proposing a toast to better times. I wonder how hard it is to dig a grave and if we own a shovel. I will tell my husband I am woozy from excess and can not stomach another drink, though I know how he thinks. Nonsense, he will say, and I will be compelled to drink to my death along with the rest.

Better off dead maybe. That or answering a slew of uncomfortable questions to the police. A couple of somber detectives with rugged jaws. Five o’clock shadows in long coats with understanding expressions draped over their steely gazes. Tough men, with maybe a soft spot for a fresh young widow. Perhaps one who is understanding and bold enough as to offer his shoulder in a consoling way. Perhaps Prison. I’m not so sure prison would be any worse than here, I doubt that it could be. At any rate, I am sure I’m not tuned for it. I think I would miss sleeping in on weekends and not being stabbed while I do so. I quite enjoy my freedoms.

I slink back to the table with the wine as quietly as I can. I sit down and compose myself. Even with a mouthful of meringue, Sarah-Jean will not shut up and Conner must have hit his stride because I can feel the tempo in my thigh growing more upbeat when Dylan casts his meaty anchor back over my leg. I fill their glasses and raise mine. To better times, I say.

I think after dinner I will play the piano.

Rising Tide

We’ve been stuck in here for days, a week maybe. I’ve lost track. Just the three of us, the rain and the rising tide. Build a house on stilts and expect to need it I guess. The power went out last night, now all we have to occupy us is the sound of the rain; A relentless rooftop tattoo and a constant reminder of our captivity. I tell Christie, this is how cabin fever starts, just to stir her up, but she only shrugs and looks at me with sad wide eyes.

The water is lapping tenderly at the back deck, urged up and down by the whims of the river’s tide. If I lay on my stomach with my arm hanging down, I can press the flat of my palm against its skin. I stay like this for hours. I imagine I can hear it wanting. It needs us.

I can hear Dale and Christie arguing in the kitchen. Its the same argument they always have, only amplified. They call my name for mediation, but its more than that, I know they want a side to be taken. I stay at my post, listening to the impartial lapping of the water. Christie comes out, wielding my name like a blunt instrument, and kicks me sharply in the heel of my foot. We’re running out of food, she says. I tell her not to worry, that at least we have plenty of water. She gives me another kick and storms back into the house. The rain sounds like a thousand whispers and I strain to hear its secrets. I press my palm to the water and listen, but the noise from inside is drowning it’s voice. If only they’d be quiet.

Dale looks relieved to see me back inside at first. I watch his relief turn to shock while I slide the knife into his stomach. Christie starts screaming as Dale hits the ground. I swing around to silence her, but my foot slips in Dale’s mess and I fall forward. My head connects viciously with the kitchen bench and the world turns white for a moment. I can hear Christie running through the house while I pull myself up. I shake my head lightly and listen to her footfalls, there’s nowhere for her to go, the house has become an island. My island. I can hear the rain again, beating restlessly against the roof; marching orders.

I find Christie in the bedroom, she hasn’t even locked the door. She’s crouched in the corner next to the bed, hands over her face, sobbing quietly. I stand over her and she looks up at me with those sad wide eyes, her face wet and her mouth moving. I know there’s meaning there, but the rain is so loud now I can’t hear what she’s saying. Its not important. She scrambles to her feet and tries to push past me. I knock her to the ground and kick the fight out of her. She doesn’t struggle while I tie her up.

The water’s so high now that Dale and Christie are almost submerged before I roll them off the deck. There’s hardly even a splash. I lay back on the deck with my arms out wide and my head lolling off the edge. I can feel the water tousling my hair gently. I think I’m crying, but I cant be sure. I stay like this for hours. The rain feels so warm on my face.

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