Jack Coey, no matter how long he lives, is still touched by the innocence of children: their spontaneity, curiosity, & innocence makes him laugh out loud every time.
One Sour Note
She was a small woman with a low center of gravity, a surprising nimbleness, and a playful creative nature that both thrilled and delighted her occasional bed partners, that is, until she gave up whiskey. She went to Harlow’s Emporium just about every night and spent a lot of time talking to Chico who had a cynical view of people, and they made fun of the other patrons, and when she had a sexual encounter she told him all the quirks of her partner: toe sucking, cross-dressing, and domination, and that left Chico to keep a straight face when serving the partner about whom Chico thought if you only knew what I know about you. She was a good sexual partner; her low center of gravity gave her a thrust that delighted men. That and she could change positions quicker than a blink which dazzled her partners especially if they were drunk, they would go to hug her, only to be hugging a pillow. She cackled and slapped her knee in delight. She reached for the bottle on the bedside table, and took a swig, and there was a night when Lennie tried to force her to do an act, and the bottle was cracked over his head, and he woke up on the sidewalk.
“Lennie?” exclaimed Chico, “you’re shittin’ me, no?”
The booze was hard on her; she found herself in the middle of the room not knowing what she was doing or wanted. Blackout, she thought. In the morning she thought about her life, she felt sad. Sad; that was it – not empty, sad. She liked feeling lust and drunkenness, but there was something else now; that sad feeling. What am I going to do about that? she wondered. She watched T.V. and the woman talked about finding God, and she thought: That doesn’t sound like anything I want to do. She decided to take a couple of nights off from the Emporium to see how that changed things. Boredom bad. She speculated on what Chico was thinking when she didn’t show up. She tried to read, she tried to knit, and she tried to draw. In exasperation, she took a walk to the park. (This is where I do my famous park bench scene for which I’m so well known.) And yes, she sat on a park bench (go ahead, Chase.) and looked at the white clouds in the sky. A woman about thirty-five years old, shabby, dirty, wearing cheap jewelry with a guitar around her neck came along, and when she saw her, she stopped, and started singing Kumbaya. She was a sweet soprano and she enjoyed listening to her.
“You have a lovely voice,” she praised.
“Sing with me,” she answered.
“What? Me? I can’t sing,” she protested.
She started This Land is Your Land, and she tried to keep up, but didn’t know the words.
“No, no, that’s good. That’s a good sound,” said the street singer.
“Golly. I’m no singer,” she said.
“Learn the words, and we’ll rehearse, and we can make money right here in the park.”
“Oh no, I couldn’t do that. I can’t perform in front of others.”
“Sure you can. You rehearse until you can do it without even thinking about it.”
“Who are you anyway?”
She took a moment to figure if she heard right.
“Hi,” she said.
“Go to the library and find a songbook with folk songs, and memorize the words, and I’ll met you back here tomorrow same place, same time. What’s your name?”
“Hi. Here? Tomorrow?”
“Yes, of course.”
Jasmine walked away, and Alicia sat looking at the sky. She thought she would blow it off – she was no entertainer, but then, she was titillated by the thrill of performing. She decided, she decided to do it. It took a dime to copy the lyrics on the copy machine at the library, and she went back to her room, and concentrated really hard on learning the lyrics. She learned it verse by verse, but then, she would forget the verse she learned before memorizing the one she was working on. It about drove her crazy; her head was swirling with Gulf Stream waters and ribbon of highways and diamond deserts. She wanted a drink bad, and almost went to see Chico before she talked herself out of it. After twenty minutes or so, she went back to the song, and made good progress. She learned two verses solid, and the third somewhat shaky. She met Jasmine like she was told. She brought the lyrics with her, and they sang the first verse, and Jasmine said,
“Okay, again.” and they sang it over, and it sounded good. Alicia got a rush; she was thrilled with the experience.
“Okay, here’s what we’re going to do,” said Jasmine, “I’ll sing the lyric, and you echo the last word, get it? So when I sing, ‘This land is your land, this land is my land’ you come in and echo land. When I sing, ‘From California to the New York island,’ you echo island, see? Then we both sing, ‘This land was made for you and me.’”
Why the fuck did I bust my ass to learn the song for if she only wants me to sing one word? thought Alicia.
“Okay…a one, two, one, two, three, four...”
They sang, and a couple walking by stopped, and listened with smiles, and clapped at the end.
“People like us!” exclaimed Alicia. She had that rush again. Jasmine did the song over and over; Alicia was amazed at how hard she worked. Before she knew it, there were five or six people listening to them sing, and even better, they dropped dollar bills into an open guitar case. She felt an excitement she never felt before, and before she knew it, Jasmine was handing her a joint. She took a hit and passed it back. They sat on the grass, and Alicia looked at the blue sky and felt contentment, and didn’t mind that Jasmine had her hand between her legs. Jasmine leaned over to kiss her and that was all right. She didn’t reciprocate and at last Jasmine got the hint.
“You know we can make a lot of money,” Jasmine said.
“Whatever you say.”
“You don’t care?”
“Sure, I care.”
“We’ll keep it just about the music.”
“And you’re willing to rehearse to sound as good as we can?”
“We’ll make up a set list.”
“The order of the songs we play.”
They saw a figure coming on the walkway. They lifted their faces to the sun, and when Alicia looked, she saw Chico.
“Hey, how you doin’?” he said.
“You don’t like me no more?”
Alicia felt Jasmine watching her.
“Oh no, I've been around.”
“No come see me?”
“I'm being a good girl.”
“That sucks,” said Jasmine.
Chico looked at Jasmine with annoyance.
“You come see me?” he asked.
“Maybe after some time. I'll drink water.”
“I'll come see you too,” offered Jasmine.
“Come see me, OK.?” he spoke to Alicia.
“Sure...sure thing, Chico.”
He walked off, and Jasmine spoke.
“Do you know Merchant Street?” she asked, “the corner of Crofton and Merchant streets there's a garage, and the guy is going to let me use it on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons between three and six. I can even keep equipment there. I just ball him every so often, and if I close my eyes and hold my nose, I can get through it. Jesus, what we do for Art, huh?”
“My shift at the restaurant starts at five.”
“Three to four-thirty, then.”
Alicia took a moment to think about it, and had misgivings, but agreed to it anyway.
There was a theater on Main Street called The Regal Theater which in order to draw an audience on Friday night had a program called Home Grown which was made up of performers from the county who had to audition to get a spot on stage. There were magic acts and dancers and singers, and actors, and musicians. Jasmine had ambitions to play, but knew they weren't ready yet. The show got good audiences, and was a real test for any performer, and the quality went from exhilarating to embarrassing. Jasmine decided to work on three songs, and get them performance-ready and go audition. At their first rehearsal, Jasmine told Alicia her plans and Alicia agreed. They worked hard. Jasmine had a tape recorder, and they listened to themselves over and over, polishing the slightest blemish. Every so often, Jasmine would grope Alicia's ass or touch her breast, and Alicia, caught up in the work, would ignore it. She didn't like it, but was discovering her ability to make music was a consuming passion. Jasmine gave her one of her guitars, and told her to work with it. She thought about asking Jasmine to stop touching her, but realized she used her body to get what she wanted, so there was a high probability her request would not be appreciated. That and Alicia was having the most thrilling experience of her life, and why risk it? She was aware that at some point Jasmine was going to want to have sex, but she couldn't think about that now, she would confront it when it came up. After a month and a half, Jasmine asked,
Jasmine put her hand on the back of Alicia's neck, and pulled her face toward her, and stuck her tongue in her mouth, and Alicia froze until she pulled out, and said,
“That's what I wanted you to say.”
Alicia was having feelings that wouldn't go away. It was a combination of sadness and anger, and she said over and over to herself,
“This is a chance to change my life.”
So she showed up, and did everything Jasmine asked her, and when she wanted sex, Alicia gave in. Jasmine told her they had an audition the following Tuesday at 2:00 pm. Alicia was confused; one part of her life was truly exciting, and another part sad.
This is what it's like to be an artist, she thought, how they suffer, and it makes them better. The more sadness she felt, the harder she worked.
“Do we want to rehearse the day of the audition or do the audition cold?” asked Jasmine.
“Cold,” answered Alicia.
The day of the audition, Alicia was depressed and nervous. She couldn't stand it, and went to see Chico when he opened at eleven. The bar was empty, and Chico was curious about Alicia, and before she knew it, she told the story of her and Jasmine. Chico looked at her for a long moment before he said,
Alicia thought about having a drink to help her calm down, but decided against it.
“Is bad, no?”repeated Chico.
A man came to the bar and sat, and Chico went to serve him. Alicia waved to Chico as she walked towards the door. In the middle of the second song, she hit a bad note, and couldn't keep herself from laughing.
Rick Hartwell is a retired middle school teacher (remember the hormonally-challenged?) living in Southern California. He believes in the succinct, that the small becomes large; and, like the Transcendentalists and William Blake, that the instant contains eternity. Given his “druthers,” if he’s not writing, Rick would rather still be tailing plywood in a mill in Oregon. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I don’t know about other urban or suburban areas, but in my city when the police periodically round up the homeless and vagrant, the shopping carts – or wagons or bicycles or whatever – are left in place and only the flesh, clothed in rags, is impounded. One can argue that these fallow conveyances become street-side installation art, temporary testaments to the fragility of modern life, monetary instability, and municipal capriciousness.
* * *
After she produces a twenty-dollar bill from her sneaker and provides the address of a distant niece or nephew, Jane – I’ll call her Jane for convenience, but her name could be Juana or Jasmine or whatever – Jane is released at the police station and unnecessarily cautioned against prostitution. (If this had been John or Juan or Jamal, the caution would have been against pandering or panhandling; such are the vagaries of gender categorization.)
She walks the five blocks back to where she had been picked up, only to find her cart overturned, ransacked, her extra coat gone along with the garbage bags filled with crushed beer and soda cans and plastic water bottles. All worth probably forty or fifty dollars. But what hurts her most is the loss of a pair of knitted baby-booties, the only talisman; touchstone with her estranged daughter.
Jane’s life is disrupted once again. She rights the cart, shovels the discarded rags and clothes back into the cardboard box and places that inside the wire carrier. She drags the cart off the ice-plant onto the sidewalk, then starts to push, only to find that the left-front wheel no longer tracks straight, but wobbles and pulls the cart to the left. An inconvenience for the average shopper. Another major setback for Jane.
She is not a destitute dreg of society’s very public apathy and insensitivity. Nor is she an outcast or loner. She resides alternate nights at opposite ends of the city, gathers with others under the freeway overpass or down in the arroyo between the railroad tracks and the northern crawl of suburbia. She travels the length of the city most days picking up the bottle and can detritus tossed aside by affluence, and on good days finds something of minor worth to sell to a pawnshop. Her needs are minimal: food and water, warmth, and the random companionship of words. Her extravagances are also few: a taste of gin or wine, a cigarette, and the occasional companionship of fleeting love.
Jane is one of the street people who passers-by seldom see. Jane is remarkable and remarked only by those in childhood: the very young and the very old. In awe and interest by the first group; in scorn and fear by the second.
If to be remembered is the true gift of life, then Jane is bereft of presents. To dull the outward bother of living, she caresses the baby-booties in her mind and whets the inward pain of memory.
* * *
Lives enmeshed within steel cages:
Sidewalk transports; time machines.
Keyanha Galloway is a creative writing student in Orlando, FL. In her free time, she enjoys watching movies, listening to music, and playing with her dog, Midnight. You can follow her on twitter @Jagiyaskitten.
“Don’t try my bae like that!” I yelled at my television screen. I was binge watching the first season of my favorite show and it was starting to get juicy. I was already furious at how Alice was treating Quentin like he didn’t exist and now Penny had to come and try to fight him. No! I wasn’t having it.
“Penny ain’t—” I started to yell, but was rudely cut off by a knock at the door. I groaned, positively annoyed at whoever decided to visit my place at that time of night.
I’m not a lazy person, but the show had me in such a zone. I wasn’t going to get off the couch just to answer the door, no matter how close it was. I could’ve missed something important on the show and lord knows I would’ve thrown a fit.
“Door!” I screamed.
I lived in a place with two females, Jen and Carly. Our apartment was not at all big. You can see all three bedrooms from the living room and I’m pretty sure they heard the knock. My scream was merely to make sure they knew I wasn’t going to get up.
“You’re right there. Why didn’t you answer the door?” Jen asked.
I acknowledged her question with a simple hum in favor of focusing back on my show. Luckily, I missed nothing important. I was knocked out of focus again when I heard the door slam shut. I looked over at Jen with a scowl. She always had a habit of disturbing my TV time.
“It’s for you, dingus,” she said, throwing the box beside me.
I hadn’t ordered anything in a while, so that was strange. I’d been too broke to order anything online and my family had stopped sending me boxes a couple months before. Still very much into my show, I didn’t spare her or the box another glance.
“I didn’t order anything,” I grumbled, “Are you sure it isn’t Carly’s? She’s been waiting for that stupid gumball machine for over a month now.”
“If you’d look at the freaking box, you’ll see that it’s addressed to you. Mahalia Buchanan. That’s you, right?” I heard the damn smirk in her voice. She’s such a snarky asshole sometimes.
I whined loudly before pausing the TV. Why couldn’t I just watch my show in peace. I looked at the small box beside me. The box was soaked with water at the edges and started to rip, the clear tape on that kept the box concealed showed clear signs of repackaging. It was surely addressed to me but there was no sender. I squinted at the box, completely confused by it. I didn’t want to open it because I had no idea who it was from but I was curious what was in it.
“Open it,” Jen said, “What’s the worst that could happen?”
After thinking about it for a second, I felt that Jen was right. What was the worst thing that could’ve been in the box? I continued to examine the box, still very skeptical.
“Give me it,” Jen groaned and picked up the box. Before I could even stop her, my legs still not up for getting up, she ran to the kitchen to open the box.
I heard a scream and my first reflex was to run to the kitchen, which I did.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, clearly panicked.
Jen was pressed up to the refrigerator, her face pale as if she seen a ghost. Her whole frame shook as she pointed to the box that sat on the counter. I was scared to look in the box. If it was terrifying enough for Jen, the bravest person I know, to be scared then I know how wouldn’t be able to take it. With as much courage as I could, I stepped over to the box and peeked inside.
At that moment, I could not contain my scream. In the box sat a block of ice, but that’s not what frightened me. In the block of ice was a heart, a human heart. A note was taped to one side inside of the box.
If I can’t have you, no one will.
-Your True Love
So much for trying to watch my show.
Marcetta Davis is currently living in small town of Live Oak, Florida. She currently is in college studying Creative writing at Full Sail University in Orlando, Fl. She works during the day as a preschool teacher and at night goes to college online. Her dreams is to put out stories for Pixar, Disney and Lucus films. Her influences are Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Harrison Ford, Ron Howard, and George Lucus. Marcetta enjoys the Golden Age of Hollywood and inspires her constantly. She hopes to someday see her stories come to the silver screens around the world.
The Far Side of The Moon
" Do you realize if you fly that rocket you may not come home?" Madeline said. It was her last ditch effort to convince her husband not to go to space. " What happens if something goes wrong in space? There is no coming home or saying good bye to me or your children."
Madeline said not being able to hold in her anger. David wrapped his arms around her and let her cry.
" You knew this was a possibility when we got married. This is my dream and I am going for it. I want this, Madeline it would be a better life for us." David said stroking her long ebony locks.
Looking up into his stormy grey eyes she could hardly talk. "Is your job worth more than your life, me and our unborn child." She said in a whisper. "It is not enough for me, to sit here and dream with you." she said as she pulled away from him.
"That is not fair, you throw at me our unborn child. I am scared and all I am asking for is your blessing and support. I want to make our child's future great, there is always risks.
Some of the greatest achievements come with great risks. I am going and you can either be the good wife and stand by me or you can be the wife that everyone feels sorry for me."
David said as he turned his back to the woman that he loved with all of his heart.
Madeline walked slowly behind David and wrapped her arms around him. She could feel the tense scared muscles that lied under his tanned skin relax at her touch. " Do you remember when we met?" She asked kissing the side of his face.
"How could I forget? You were the young secretary of the Boeing company . You wanted to know everything about airplanes. I wanted to be an astronaut and did not care how to get there." He said as he lovingly rubbed her arm.
"Things don't change that much do they? I mean I still work for Boeing and you are in the Astronaut core. I think the only change is we are married and expecting a baby."
Madeline said letting go of him to turn and face him. "What can I do to change your mind?"
She said hoping to change his mind.
" Nothing sweet girl, I am leaving for the moon tomorrow morning. I will be home before Christmas. Most of all I will meet that little baby in the spring because I am going to live. I choose to live." David said in an assuring yet scared voice. He was not sure he was trying to convince himself or her.
He got up and changed into his pajamas while Madeline reached into her pocket of her grey pea coat to get a present for him. He walked behind her and sat on the bed in total silence. His body told the story of being exhausted and scared of facing death in the face.
She sat behind him, resting her head on his shoulder just inhaling his scent. She loved the wooded smell of his aftershave. " I have a present for you to take with you to the moon." She said giving him the small black and white picture. " I want our child to see the moon with you and be with you." She said crying and letting the tears fall like rain.
David sat and just stared at the picture of the sweet innocent being that knew nothing of him. " I have a present for you, too." He said with tears spilling out of his grey stormy eyes.
" I am going to name a mountain on the moon after you. It will border the Sea of Tranquility and a crater. When you get to missing me you can stand out there and look. I will be there looking at you." He said with a gentle kiss on the lips that went further.
The morning crept upon them suddenly like a thief in the night. David looked at his wife sleeping peacefully. She looked like an innocent child, clutching on to the blanket with her hair splayed across the pillow. He reached over and grabbed his astronaut polo shirt and his favorite pair of khaki pants. He leaned on the bed careful not to wake her, and gently kissed her temple. This was the way he wanted to remember his wife and his future that she carried. He reached for his duffle bag and car keys and walked slowly for the door, until he forgot something highly important. He reached on the table and grabbed the ultrasound picture, he then left a note for her.
"Madeline, tonight I want you to look to the moon and watch me. I will be watching you. Love, the Man in the Moon." He placed the note right beside her pillow. He walked slowly out the door as if memorizing his house. He knew the risks of being an astronaut, and living was one of them. It was not a right but a privilege to live.
Vanja Artak is an astrophysicist from Aarhus, Denmark, where he teaches math and physics at a high school. He came to Denmark as a fugitive in 1993, and a lot of his stories are about the war-torn country of Yugoslavia, and about the struggle of being stuck between two cultures.
His work has previously been published in the online literary magazines, Five on the Fifth and Chicago Literati.
A LITTLE DEER’S MOTHER
Her little fingers already smelled like popcorn.
"Why do you eat so much before the movie?" he asked.
She looked into the half-empty cardboard box.
"You ate some on the way here, too," he said.
"Only a handful," she said.
"I'm sorry they're cold already," he said. "It's a long walk. Longer in winter."
"I like them cold," she said, gnashing another one. She showed her missing teeth and smiled, the popcorn temporarily filling the holes.
"You remember where to go?"
She groaned, kicking her head back. "You have to ask every time?”
He noticed her bleeding from her nose and wiped a sleeve over her face.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
He looked down. There wasn’t any blood.
“I thought you had a bugger,” he said and laughed.
“Dad!” she said. “Can I go now?”
He looked at the line that was forming outside the door leading into the cinema. There was a man outside, collecting tickets. He was young, perhaps in his twenties. Late teens even. He’d noticed him looking at her, twirling his fingers and wiping his sweaty brow.
“You have your ticket?”
She showed it to him.
“Good. I’ll be here until you’re inside. Then I’ll wait on the other side, all right?”
“You don’t have to wait here. I can go alone.”
He looked up at the ticket boy. “I’ll stay until you’re inside.”
“Dad, I can go by myself.”
The ticket boy nodded at some other kids, tore their tickets in half, gave back that little sliver you throw away anyway after you find it in your pocket months after you’ve seen the--
“All right. I’ll go.”
He let go of her, watched her seep into the queue like a baby deer into the forest. He watched her even as he walked away, watched her crimson hat disappear into the crowd. He glimpsed her get her ticket torn apart.
It was cold outside. It wasn’t winter, not astronomically, but judging by the frost permeating his thin jacket and the ball of snow in his hand, it might as well have been late January.
Three movies had ended while he’d sat there. After the first one, only a handful of people had left the cinema. They were all old, holding hands, laughing in the snow, the cold twinkling in their eyes. He heard them talk about how wonderfully funny the movie had been, how they wished the world was like Jack Nicholson had made it. Now they would go home, return to their empty life, and he wondered if old people like them noticed a young father sitting there like trash among the dumpsters. Maybe he was a memory passing their minds, not even there. He almost waved at them, but instead let them pass unburdened by the pains of youth.
When the second movie finished, there came a lot more people. They burst through the doors like a flood through a dam, seeping into the alley all around him. Coats and purses and rucksacks and umbrellas scraped against his knee, the thighs of men and women and young girls passing him at eye level. He noticed a girl in the crowd, her hair black and hard. She was already smoking, acting like there was no one else there, and soon there wasn’t. She supported her elbow with her right hand, her chin lifted up, and he imagined who she might be waiting for. The girl looked back at him, but somehow through him, like she didn’t bother with him there. He wanted to stand up and tell her he was waiting for his daughter.
“Why aren’t you in there with her?” she would ask, and he would defend himself the way he had practiced while in the bus or in the shower. The script triggered, and he got up without noticing his body was moving. He talked without a voice, moving closer towards the girl, who still didn’t acknowledge him. He lifted his finger and said, “Dirty slut,” but the same instant she disappeared, and he was alone in the alley, a faint whir emanating from within the cinema as if it was giant camera recording him. He rubbed his hands against his face and sat back down.
By the time the third movie finished, endless women seemed to pour out of the cinema. Not a man in sight, not a single boy, not a single girl. There were only women. They were of all types, tall and thin, short and fat. There were polished women, beaten women, upheld women, grieving women, joyous women, and late women. They all came out at once with their wigs and painted nails, hordes of heels against the cold pavement. He pushed back against the brick wall behind him, thinking that staying still would keep him invisible and safe. Their perfumes, every scent from exotic Brazilian fruit to soles of leather, sent his brain into a frenzy of memories. His whole life passed before his eyes, and every one of these women was in it. He drank with them, danced with them, enjoyed their company in bed. Some had blue and yellow eyes, some with no colour at all. Some had barely any eyes to begin with. This piece of human mythology, these marble giants rushing through the alley, laughing at their own names and their future graves, stole his mind like it was a purse. They slowly emptied through the alley, like wine spilling from a bottle, red and lustful. It spilled in gulps, spilled in waves, spilled in splashes like semen, and he looked up at the empty exit, and there she stood, the empty box of popcorn in her hand. He teared up and rose clumsily from the trash like a drunk man, gallivanting with dizzy temples towards his daughter. He shook when he hugged her, cried when she told him the little deer’s mother had died.
Pascal Inard writes short stories, novels and non-fiction, mostly in English, but sometimes in French. He lives a creative life in Cheltenham, a suburb of Melbourne in Australia with his illustrator and artist wife Isabella and their three children. When he's not writing or photographing, he manages IT projects for an Australian bank.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
His short stories have appeared in in the "Dark Magic: Witches, Hackers, and Robots" Anthology, The Colored Lens,Bewildering Stories, Antipodean SF Magazine, 9 Tales From Elsewhere, Flash Fiction Press, 101 Words, and StrippedLit500. Pascal Inard is also the author of "The Memory Snatcher", a science-fiction mystery about a police inspector and a quantum physicist who join forces to stop a memory thief from paralysing the world and "Web of Destinies", a time travel mystery about a doctor who inherits a mysterious typewriter that can change the past.
You can follow Pascal Inard on his blog: http://pascalinard.blogspot.com.au/
Who We Are
Dawn looked at the colourful shapes flying above the field that separated the Dysneuro ghetto from the Septentrion district: red, blue, yellow and purple rhombuses with long tails, as graceful as birds. Dysneuro children pulled strings that made the objects rotate, flip, twirl and loop.
"The ghetto’s a real eyesore," said Dawn’s friend Jenny, "but this place is all I can afford."
Dawn surprised herself thinking that she’d rather be with those children than with her friend to study for her technology degree’s final exams. An irrational feeling that she quickly suppressed, but it made her wonder again if she was normal. She resisted the impulse to ask Jenny if she also had thoughts of escaping from her banal life. It would have comforted her to know she was like everyone else, but what if she was the odd one out? The State expected unabated allegiance and gratitude from its citizens. In return it provided free education, and Dawn didn’t want to jeopardise her chances of graduating. Her parents had high expectations of her. She turned to Jenny and said, "Just think of the money we’ll earn as technocrats. We’ll be able to rent an apartment in the Fincon district, buy a CNX hovercar—"
"We’re not there yet. We’ve got to pass our exams first, remember?" Jenny’s tone of reproach stung Dawn, but she knew her friend was right. Now wasn’t the time to lose focus, when they were so close to the end of their studies.
"Dad, I saw some Dysneuro kids when I was at Jenny’s place," said Dawn at home that evening. "They looked so happy playing with their flying toys. They didn’t seem dangerous at all."
"These people are nothing but trouble, that’s why they live in ghettos. They can’t fit in and they don’t want to. They prefer to live in their strange houses and wear their weird clothes, but why are you interested in them? Don’t you have exams to study for?"
"I’m studying as hard as I can, but sometimes I ask myself questions about the world we live in."
"Well stop. You know we have to trust the State. If it says Dysneuros are dangerous, there’s a good reason for it. If it wasn’t for the State, we wouldn’t live such a good life. Be grateful instead of asking useless questions."
Dawn kept her other questions for herself, as well as her recurring dream about an old Dysneuro woman telling her she belonged with them. She couldn't explain it. Dysneuros and Mainstreams lived in different worlds; the only thing they had in common was the air they breathed. But there was something about Dysneuros that attracted Dawn. She couldn’t put them out of her mind. Maybe it was their mystery. So little was known about them, and she yearned to find out more, but this was another irrational feeling she couldn’t share with anyone, and it exacerbated her feeling of solitude. Everyone around her seemed content to obey the State as if that’s all there was to life. Dawn complied, and when her heart was restless, she smothered it with her studies. As well as her academic subjects, she also had to memorise the Orthoregix, the State’s book of precepts. It said nothing about who the Dysneuros were, just that they were not worthy to participate in the life of the State, and accordingly they were not entitled to any of its rewards. It echoed what her father said, the less that was known about them, the better.
Go away, she screamed in her head, as if the Dysneuro woman could hear her, leave me alone. I’m a Mainstream like all the others, and I am where I belong.
But if she was like the others, why did she even have to tell herself?
Dad must be right. They’re dangerous, and they’re making me doubt who I am.
After the last exam, Dawn declined Jenny’s invitation to go to the nearby gym, and instead climbed aboard a pod that was going to the Septentrion district.
When she arrived, she walked to the edge of the field where she’d seen the Dysneuro children. They were there again, with their flying toys. She imagined herself soaring in the sky, above the wood and brick houses of the ghetto painted in vivid colours. Such a contrast with the towers of glass and concrete of the Mainstream city. She looked behind her. No one in the city was paying attention to what she was doing. They would be more worried about a Dysneuro walking into their city than a Mainstream going to the ghetto, she thought.
The next day, she was at the field again. This time the children were playing with a ball, kicking it and chasing it across the field. Absorbed in their game, not once did they look at Dawn. She couldn’t understand how children could be so carefree, and this time she wished she was one of them. Her own childhood had been tightly regulated and she remembered silently wondering why everything, even the simulation games she played - the only authorised recreation - had only one purpose: to learn how to serve the State.
The day after, the flying toys were in the air again. Dawn, mesmerised by their graceful moves, walked on the field. She noticed the Dysneuros weren’t wearing shoes, so she took her shoes off and felt the softness of the grass.
Her eyes riveted to the sky, she almost bumped into one of the children, a boy with curly blond hair who couldn’t be older than seven.
"Sorry," she said, "I didn’t see you. Your flying toys are so beautiful."
"You’re so clever, making them swirl."
"It’s easy. I’ll show you how to do it if you want."
"Tahin, stop bothering the lady!"
A woman with long brown hair, a multi-coloured garment and olive-coloured skin ran towards them.
"He wasn’t bothering me," said Dawn. "I wanted to take a closer look at the … kites. But I’m the one who should be apologising. I shouldn’t be here. After all this is your … territory."
"Don’t worry, it’s just surprising to see a Mainstream here."
"The kites are so beautiful, and none of them is the same."
"I thought you guys weren’t interested in such things."
"Mum," said Tahin, "can the lady come with us to see Mémé Jesinda?"
"Who’s Mémé Jesinda?"
"A lovely old lady who lives in my street. She loves looking after the children in her neighbourhood. They love her, and her chocolate cake of course."
"Don’t you Mainstreams know what chocolate is?"
Dawn shook her head.
"It’s a delicious sweet, but the State must’ve banned it because, like all good things, it would distract its citizens from their mission. You don’t know what you’re missing out on."
"Please come," said Tahin, his eyes pleading. How could she resist?
"Are you sure she won’t mind?" asked Dawn.
"On the contrary, she’ll be happy to see a Mainstream. She has a special connection, you see, and it’s rare that a Mainstream deigns to visit us. It’s never happened in my lifetime." She shook Dawn’s hand. "My name’s Clarissa."
Dawn followed her into the ghetto. Despite what she’d been taught, she didn’t feel any fear. The Dysneuros weren’t threatening, but many looked puzzled to see a Mainstream walk in their quarter. With her short hair and dark brown trousers and jacket, she couldn’t hide who she was.
Clarissa stopped at a yellow timber house and opened the door.
"Mémé Jesinda, you have a visitor," Clarissa said as they walked into a lounge room where an old lady was sitting with two needles and a ball of blue yarn. Dawn’s eyes adjusted to the dim light, and she recognised the woman from her dreams. Who was she and what was the connection Clarissa mentioned?
Dawn looked at Jesinda and saw her eyes were brimming with tears.
"I’m sorry … I didn’t mean to intrude."
"No, it’s not that. It’s just you look so much like my son." Jesinda took a frame with a photo – It seemed Dysneuros didn’t have vid screens - or indeed any technology – and handed it to Dawn.
The man in the photo had the same build and same face as her father. She recognised his green eyes, pointy chin, light brown hair and protruding ears, features that she'd inherited from him except for her hair, which she got from her mother. He looked like he was the same age as Dawn, and he wore Dysneuro clothes: blue shorts, and a shirt printed with bright flowers and palm trees.
"It's amazing how he looks like my dad," said Dawn.
Jesinda nodded and motioned Dawn to sit on an armchair next to her.
"How old are you?"
"You must be his daughter. I can feel it in my bones, and they rarely lie," said Jesinda with a smile.
"That's impossible! He's a Mainstream, like my mother."
"That's what he wanted everyone to believe, and it looks like he succeeded. Only he didn't know how it would affect his own flesh and blood."
A wave of disbelief and confusion swept over Dawn. She could have rejected what Jesinda told her as a lie, but she sensed the truth in her words. She didn't know where that feeling came from, but she couldn't ignore it or sweep it away. It had been buried deep inside her until now, waiting for this moment to burst open and dissolve the veneer of deceit that had coated her life.
Jesinda bowed her head and clasped her hands, muttering to herself. She wiped her tears with a small piece of fabric and said, "Xili be praised, after all this time!"
Dawn’s body, suddenly cold, trembled. Dizzy and breathless, she stared at Jesinda, unable to speak.
"Clarissa, please give Dawn a slice of cake. She needs something to soothe her."
Dawn took the piece of cake that Clarissa gave her and took a mouthful. It was unlike anything she’d tasted before. Her usual nourishment consisted of bland nutriment bars which, according to the State, contained everything her body needed in the right proportions to achieve optimum performance and an ideal weight. So far the Dysneuros she’d seen were on the curvy side, but she found them beautiful.
The trembling stopped, and when Jesinda saw Dawn was ready, she said, "Your father left us twenty-three years ago."
"Why did he leave?"
"Life in the Xilithi community wasn't enough for him. He wanted the money and the status of a Mainstream."
"Wait, you're losing me. What's a Xilithi?"
"That's who we are. The State calls us Dysneuros to make everyone think we're crazy, but we are the followers of Xili." She raised her hand and said, "I'll explain who Xili is later. Let me tell you your father's story first. When he turned eighteen, he applied for a reformation, and the State granted him his wish. He renounced his religion and his gift, and he pledged allegiance to the State."
"We have the gift of creativity. It lets us imagine things as they could be. We write stories and songs, we draw and we paint. Our gift and our religion are the reasons we’re excluded from Mainstream society. We’re too different to the State's ideal of obedient and uniform servants of its cause."
"I think I have the gift too. Sometimes I imagine things, and stories come into my mind. It makes me feel nervous because I’m the only one who has these ideas. Mum didn’t believe me and Dad got upset when I mentioned it, so I’ve learned to silence these thoughts. I didn’t know it was a gift, I thought I was abnormal."
"There was a clause in the contract your father signed about raising his children as Mainstream children. He had to quash your gift."
Jesinda saw a change in Dawn's mood. "Don't be angry at him. He really thought he would have a better life and his children would too. He knew what he was getting into, but he saw the State's treatment of the Xilithis as an injustice and it made him angry that we were treated like second-class citizens and denied access to wealth and status. I told him that our way of life was more valuable than all the money in the world. We have our faith, our freedom of thought, and our creativity. Your grandfather tried to stop him too. He told him he couldn't deny who he was and it was an insult to Xili to do so, but there was nothing we could do. Your father was firmly decided, and he even managed to talk one of his friends into joining him."
Dawn looked out of the window and got up.
"It's getting dark. It'll be curfew time soon."
"Why don't you stay here and have a rest? We can get to know each other."
She had a lot of questions to ask, and no doubt Jesinda had too, but her parents were going to be worried if she didn’t come home. She took her handheld out of her pocket, and saw there was network coverage.
"I have to call my parents, but what will I tell them? I don’t like lying to them."
"Tell them that you're sleeping at a friend's place, which is not strictly a lie, is it?"
Jesinda got up, took Dawn in her arms and hugged her.
Dawn felt secure in the arms of her grandmother. There were no lies in her heart, just the truth. No matter how painful and bewildering truth was, it was liberating because it allowed you to be who you were.
The next morning, Dawn was woken up by a mysterious sound, metallic but melodious. She opened her eyes and wondered where she was. Her encounter with Jesinda came back to her, piece by piece, word by word. She'd learned a lot last night, about her father and his brothers and sisters, about the Xilithis and their lives.
Until yesterday she'd been a Mainstream girl, and then Jesinda gave her a new family, a new heritage, a new identity, but she didn't know what she was going to do with it.
She looked around the room. A shelf with books covered an entire wall, paintings of children and landscapes, mostly Jesinda’s, covered another. When she saw the Dysneuros didn’t have access to the Nexus and relied on paper and ink for their knowledge, she thought they were primitive and backwards, but after she browsed some books, she realised what a treasure they were. Once words were printed, they were there to stay, unlike the contents of the Nexus that could be altered to suit the State at any time. Books had the power to defy and resist the State.
The story she’d made up when she was eleven came back to her. The queen of the elves was ill, and her most loyal subjects went on a quest for a dragon egg that could cure her. She hadn’t finished the story because her father had scolded her for wasting her time when she read it him. She jotted the ending on her handheld. The elves would face many trials but of course they would save her queen.
She found her way to the kitchen, which was filled with a peculiar smell.
"Good morning sweetie, I've just made some coffee. Another thing you've been missing out on. We grow it ourselves, like the cocoa we use to make chocolate and just about everything else we eat and drink. The State gave us land it thought was worthless, but we've put it to good use."
"What was that metallic sound I heard when I woke up?"
"The church bells for the first service."
"What's a church?"
"It's where we get together and thank Xili for everything he's given us. Xili is the creator of the universe. Come with me to the next service. It starts at ten."
"I don't know. This is all so new. I've been taught all my life that there was no higher power than the State. I never heard anyone question the State and I didn't dare voice my doubts, but I wondered if everyone really believed that story or pretended to, like I did. Now that I've heard a different story, all I feel is confusion."
"Sorry, I'm just an impatient old woman. Now that I have a granddaughter I want to make up for lost time. "
"I better go. I have a lot of thinking to do."
"Take your time. You can come back whenever you want, for a chat, a piece of chocolate cake, or for more. Tell your father he’s welcome if he ever changes his mind. Xili bless you." Jesinda's voice was laden with hope but she saw that a battle was raging in her granddaughter's mind, and she prayed that Xili would win.
Dawn walked out of the ghetto with a heavy heart, but when she saw a young man smile at her, she blushed, and her heart suddenly felt just a little bit lighter.
Since she came back from the ghetto, Dawn itched to tell her father about her visit, but she didn’t know how to broach the subject and feared his reaction. She could feel his eyes on her as if he suspected something, but she acted as though nothing had happened, and her life would continue unchanged, which it probably would in a way. Dawn wasn't a Xilithi and she wasn't a Mainstream either. She would never completely fit in anywhere. If she lived with the Xilithis, it would be harder to hide her Mainstream origins because she’d lived twenty-one years as one, but if she stayed where she was, she could continue to pretend she was like every other girl, and at least she had a career. She convinced herself that Mainstream life was better. The State provided everything its citizens needed, and she couldn’t imagine living without technology. She looked at her handheld and deleted her notes on the fate of the elf queen.
There was one difference her visit had made: she knew who she was. She resolved that when she would have a child, she wouldn't hide his Xilithi ancestry from him. As diluted as it would be, it would still manifest itself somehow, and she didn’t want the child to feel the anger and confusion she was grappling with.
Dawn's father interrupted her musing. "I spoke to our district warden about you, and he has a son your age who would like to meet you. I think he was very impressed with your exam results. You’ve done well. Think of what it would mean for our family to be related to a State administrator family."
Dawn's mother nodded in agreement, of course she did. Connections to the State authorities opened doors. They were like a prize in the game of Mainstream life.
Dawn didn't want to disappoint her parents.
The district warden's son had an unblemished physique, he was articulate and knowledgeable, a faithful servant of the State.
Her life was mapped out for her in a straight line, bland and with no surprises: work and serve the State and her husband until the end like every other Mainstream woman.
Dawn thought about her grandma and the peace that she'd felt in her arms. The colours of the kites and the houses, the smells and the tastes of chocolate and coffee, the sounds of the church bells and laughing children came back to her. The young man’s smile too, bright as the sun. She imagined the different life she could live in the Xilithi community. Instead of serving the State, she would live in a world where men, women and children loved and helped each other. A life of uncertainty and risk, but a life of freedom and joy.
I’m leaving to be with my grandmother Jesinda and our people. She told me you turned your back on her for a new life, but she still loves you. She is an amazing person and I wish I'd known her before.
The choice you made wasn't just for you, but for me also. I didn't get a say in it. You probably believed it was the best choice, and maybe it was for you but not for me.
You're living the life you wanted to live in the Mainstream world. You erased your past, and when I was born you thought you could do the same with me.
I'm sorry it didn't work out, but we are who we are. It's in our heart, our soul and in every cell of our body.
I hope you'll understand my decision, but I'm not asking you to approve it, just to accept it. I feel closer to Xilithis than Mainstreams, maybe because I crave for something that's been taken away from me and I want to fill the hole that's in my soul.
You might think I'll get tired of Xilithi life and want to come back. Time will tell, but right now I know where I belong.
Thanks for everything you and Mum did for me. I'll miss you both.
My full name is Patrick Wayne Duzan born June 27th 1988 in Jasper, Indiana. But was raised in Marshall, Illinois for 28 years now. I am just a creative writer who is looking, and finding to leave his mark on the world. I take things easy, very relaxed, and I keep things real while writing and creating unimaginable stories.
An unidentified object had been blasted in the starry moonlit sky. “Bogey is hit, I repeat bogey is hit!” A pilot said from the jet that had shot down the unidentified object. The unidentified object than began spiraling down with black smoke, and orange flames surrounding it as it descended faster, and faster heading for an empty field in the United States of America. The unidentified object left a huge crater of a hole in the middle of the field, then within seconds the unidentified object exploded causing massive damage to the surrounding area. The trees, hills, meadows, lakes, ponds, and rivers were all caught up in the massive explosion that small pockets of floods started pouring into nearby towns, and cities.
There was a body floating/hovering above the damage that had been caused by the unidentified object. The skin of the mysterious body is black, with green, blue, and purple spots, covered around the whole body. The mysterious body’s head has spikes, and dreadlocks it has the face of both a lizard, and a bird, with yellow piercing eyes. It also has three razor sharp claws on both hands, the same thing for the feet, and a very long tail. The hovering creature began moving towards solid ground. Then the creature closed its eyes, to try and to sense any signs of nearby life. The closest town is east fifteen minutes on foot. The creature than began walking east, but just then sirens could be heard coming from behind the creature. But the creature did not concern itself with such trivial matters. It just continued walking east one of the driver’s in the emergency vehicle noticed the figure of the creature. The driver than slammed his foot on the brake pedal. “What the fuck is that?!” One of the emergency personnel said panicking. Every one of the emergency personnel got out of their vehicles. “CWPD!” “Stop right there!” The creature just continued to walk towards the nearest town. “I said STOP!” Then the creature quickly turned around and unleashed an invisible razor sharp gust from its hand. All the emergency personnel were either cut in half, or pieces. Then the creature continued walking to its original destination.
The creature noticed and saw a place full of lights. The creature than began hovering with incredible speed towards the lighted area. A young couple exited the doors of the building, and froze in terror as they saw the strange creature. Then the creature used its senses to speak as American humans do. “What is this place?” The creature asked. The young couple shook in terror and fell to the ground as to faint, but they were still very conscious. “I mean you no harm, I just want to know. What this place is?” “It’s a gas station.” A guy said as he was stuffing his face with a beef, cheese, and bean burrito. “A gas station?” The creature asked. “Is this gas station deadly?” The creature asked. “Well, that depends on who you ask.” The guy said as he belched. “Well I’m asking you.” The creature said. “No, it’s not dangerous, but these burritos sure are here.” “Eat it.” The guy said. The creature then threw the burrito down on the ground. “I don’t have time to eat, I need to get back to my home.” “Alright, where is your home?” The guy asked with reluctance in his voice. Then the creature pointed up high into the sky with its razor-sharp claws. “Sorry pal, I don’t have a pilot’s license, or even a damn airplane for that matter, but I know where to get one.” The guy said. The guy then said come on follow me, the creature followed the human to his tow truck. “Hop in over there.” The guy said. The creature got into the passenger’s side. The tow truck than backed up out of the gas station parking lot, and began heading for a destination that only the guy knew. The creature tried to read the guy’s mind, but no thoughts were running through just a bunch of humming. Within minutes they arrived at a military air base. “Okay here’s the plan I’m going to lie to the gate guard and you’re going to sneak in, hop into an airplane, and fly to wherever your home is.” “Thank you, human when the invasion begins I’ll be sure that my people spare you from a most excruciating pain.” The creature manipulated the airplane controls to that of its ship. Then it took off for the sky.
My name is Tyler Erdman. I was born at May 22, 1996, and I have three younger siblings, one brother and two sisters. I am currently enrolled at Full Sail University. I am also a guy.
I was walking down the road from where my car broke down in the middle of nowhere. My phone was dead and would you look at that not a spot of electricity for miles. I was walking and hoping a truck or something would come by and pick me up and save me from this godforsaken heat! But at the distance I see a shimmer. At first I thought it would be a mirage as it wouldn’t be the first time this happened, but as I got closer it turned out to be a truck driving by. Oh happy days! I slid into the classic hitchhiking stance, which is the thumbs up signal and yelled, “Hey got room for one in there!”
He stopped and the said, “Sure.”
So I got in and I said, “Boy, I hope my cousins isn’t too mad about my tardiness. Say you got anything I can charge my phone into, would you?”
Geraldine McCarthy lives in West Cork in the Republic of Ireland. She has been writing creatively for over a year now. Her flash fiction has appeared in The Fable Online and The Incubator Journal and her short story in Seven Deadly Sins: A YA Anthology (Gluttony).
The 8 a.m. bulletin flashed on the little television perched on the worktop. Another gangland murder in Dublin. Bill was finding it harder and harder to watch the news.
"What do you think, Rosie, pet? Should I organise a media blackout?"
The sheepdog shot him a quizzical look, hoping for a crust of bread or some other titbit from the table.
"No, you're right, I'd have withdrawal symptoms if I had to go without."
Rosie got up, wagged her tail and nudged open the back door in order to take her morning frolic around the back meadow.
Bill chided himself for allowing her to sleep at the end of his bed. It was a bad habit to be giving her. Rita would never have approved. But then, Rita was gone. That was the holy all of it. Rita was gone and poor Rosie was only doing her best.
He would need to get a move on and shave. The Mass crowd would be quick to notice if he turned up looking rough. He had started going to the nine o'clock since Rita passed away, two years ago now. It constituted social contact of a sort, which he sadly lacked, alone in the workshop for hours on end.
Still, the carpentry kept him going, a hobby now, rather than a means to make a living. It was hard to remember a time when he wasn't fashioning wood into pieces of furniture. He made a present of his creations to charity auctions, or to friends and neighbours, but sold the odd bit, when approached to make a unique piece. 'Bespoke' they called it nowadays.
He climbed the stairs of the old farmhouse to the bedroom and ran the electric razor over his cheeks, chin, and neck. He thought of the weekend ahead - nothing much on the agenda. Fridays were the hardest days to get over. When Rita was alive they used to collect the pension and do a big grocery shop together on a Friday.
As he came out of the bedroom the landline pealed. He made his way down the stairs to the hall table.
"Hello, Bill. It's Hilda. I was wondering could you drop me down to the bus-stop on your way to Mass? Such a curse to be living out the country."
"No bother, Hilda. Glad to oblige," Bill said, "I'll pick you up shortly."
Hilda, never having learned to drive, was marooned in her house since her husband died. Bill never minded bringing her into the village. She and Rita had been good pals, both obsessed with gardening and cooking, liking nothing better than to swap geranium cuttings or risotto recipes.
Bill shouted goodbye to Rosie and pulled the front door behind him. He sat into the car and started her up, turning with difficulty in the narrow space in front of the house. It was ironic that Hilda depended on him, because he was a poor driver, and old age only made the manoeuvre more tricky.
As he wound his way to Hilda’s place, he admired the profusion of bluebells in the hedgerows, swaying in the gentle breeze.
She was waiting at the front door of her cottage when he pulled up. She sat in, out of breath, as always. "The Lord spare you, Bill. I don't know what I'd do only for you."
"Ah, ‘tis nothing at all, Hilda. Off to Cork, are you?"
"No, just into town for a few messages."
In a matter of minutes they had reached the village.
"There you are now," he said, pulling up at the bus-stop outside Shanahan's pub. "What bus are you coming back on and I'll collect you?"
"I'll be in about twelve, but I can get a cab."
"Not at all. I'll be down for you. Sure it will give me a break from the sawing and chiselling.”
The usual suspects were crossing the churchyard when he arrived. Mrs O'Reilly, who sat up the front, and had a poisonous tongue. Mrs Kane, who preferred the centre aisle, and kept herself to herself. Mrs Duillea, queen of the back seat and all she surveyed. Sometimes he wondered why he came. He went in and took his pew a few rows from the back.
Fr McMahon appeared on the altar and began intoning the prayers. Bill had made it just in time. The nine o'clock was a quick Mass - no sermon, no singing, no trimmings. The priest did the readings, not like on Sundays, when there was a rota. Bill read about every two months. It was his contribution to the parish.
The first part of the Mass passed in a blur. Now they were into the consecration, and Bill was on his knees, praying silently for Rita –“Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, may perpetual light shine upon her...” He didn't go to Communion.
As he crossed the yard to his car, the women huddled by the holy water font, making arrangements to go for coffee. They had often invited him, but he always declined. There was an ease with which women could meet up and chat. He preferred the solitude of his workshop, the satisfaction of seeing a project come to fruition.
As he approached the farmhouse a strange red car with English number plates was parked outside. He wondered who could have poked him out, on a country road like this, with grass growing down the middle. He got out of the car and heard Rosie barking at the back of the house. A lady sat in the driver's seat of the English car. She was about fifty.
"Can I help you?" he said, wondering if maybe she had some sort of engine trouble.
The lady opened the car door and alighted. She was tall and elegant, with high cheekbones, and cropped strawberry blond hair, possibly dyed - he found it hard to tell.
She reminded him of someone.
"I'm not sure," she said. "Are you Bill Ryan?"
"Yes, I am."
"I wonder if we could talk?" she said, in clipped London tones.
He didn't know whether he should invite her in, a complete stranger. "Would you like to sit down?" he said, indicating the wooden seat by the front window, a piece which he had carved himself.
"Thank you," she said, arranging her skirt around her knees, squinting in the morning sun. "This is a bit awkward," she said, pausing. "But I'm Peig O'Flahery's daughter."
His mind whirled. He was transported back home to Galway, to his twentieth year, when he and Peig used to walk the prom at Salthill, hand in hand, seagulls swirling.
"Peig's daughter," he echoed. But something was amiss. She didn't look like Peig. "And how is Peig keeping?"
The lady's face clouded. "She passed away last year," she said, needlessly smoothing the lines of her cerise skirt.
Bill absorbed this news. Dear Peig, his first love. He had often thought of what might have been. Her family never approved. His parents' farm wasn't big enough. They weren't important enough. And Bill wasn’t educated enough.
"How did you find me?" Bill asked.
The lady shifted in the seat, crossed her ankles and uncrossed them. "My mother spoke of you a few days before she died. She was aware you had gone to live in West Cork. Your friend Alfie wrote from time to time and kept her filled in."
"Oh!” Silence grew thick between them. “ You haven't told me your name."
"Margaret," she said.
Another memory rose up. " Your mother never liked the name Peig and wished she’d been called Margaret."
"Yes, that's right," she said, a hint of surprise in her voice.
Bill studied her face again, her profile, the Roman nose, the proud bearing, and like a bolt, it hit him. It was his own mother he saw in her.
"When my mother - Peig - spoke of you there was something she told me..."
Bill raised his hand. "Are you my daughter?" he inquired, as gently as possible.
"Yes, I am," she replied, her eyes glistening.
He gazed at her until he could bear it no longer. "Please wait a moment," he said, lightly placing his hand on hers, "I have to see to Rosie, my dog. I'll be back."
In a haze Bill turned the key in the front door, went down the hallway, through the kitchen and out the back door. He poured some water from the outside tap into Rosie's bowl and she began lapping it up, tail wagging. Sitting on a garden seat by the back door, he tried to digest this news. That Peig had a daughter. Their daughter. His daughter.
What would Rita have said? Poor Rita, who had wept and taken to the bed every time a new wave of emptiness came over her. He felt disloyal to her now. For his daughter to appear, like an apparition, after all their years of sadness and longing.
He realised that he had left Margaret alone for too long. He rose from the seat and made his way through the house, savouring its coolness. When he emerged Margaret was pacing up and down, taking deep and swift drags of a cigarette.
"I'm sorry for leaving you like that," he said.
He approached her, placed a hand on her bare arm.
"Maybe it was a bad idea to come?" Her voice wavered.
"It wasn't a bad idea at all," he said, "I was just taken by surprise, that's all. But it's a lovely surprise all the same."
She held the cigarette up above her head, trying to shield him from the smoke.
"Will we have a cup of tea?" he asked.
She gave a half smile. "I wouldn't mind something stronger."
He didn't drink or smoke himself, but kept a bottle of whiskey in the house for visitors. "Of course," he said, "Come into the kitchen."
She followed him down the dark hallway, through to the airy kitchen at the back.
"Please, sit down", he said, swiping a tea-towel from a chair and pulling it out from the table for her.
He wanted to ask why Peig had never made contact. But he was afraid to ask, afraid to put the kibosh on this delicate relationship before it even began.
"I thought my mother's husband was my father," she volunteered. "He died when I was ten. Car accident."
"I see. I’m sorry," Bill replied, his back to her as he foraged in the top press for the bottle of Jameson. He poured a house measure into a Waterford crystal tumbler. "Will I put water in a separate glass for you?"
"No, thank you, I'll sip it neat," she said, looking around the kitchen, noticing the piles of baked bean tins in the see-through recycling bag.
"So, what do you like to do, Bill?"
He turned to face her. "Hobbies, do you mean?"
"Yes, what do you get up to on a Sunday afternoon?"
Bill sat opposite her, his hands tracing the pattern of red roses on the oil-cloth. "I go road bowling," he replied. "It's very popular around here. I don't ever bet on it, though. The other men slag me about that."
He was babbling now. Why did he tell her that? She wouldn't have a clue what road bowling was.
"And what do you get up to yourself?" he asked. “On Sundays, I mean.”
"Oh, I usually end up going for a walk in the park. Ellie and Kate are grown up now, twenty-four and twenty-six."
Grandchildren. Over in England. His own flesh and blood.
He wondered what Mrs O'Reilly would make of this? Or Fr McMahon. Would Bill be struck off the reading rota on Sundays? Would they whisper about him in the coffee shops after morning Mass? Still, there might be no need for them to know. He could always write to Margaret, go over to visit her.
"What are you thinking there, Bill?" Margaret inquired, her voice soft.
"Just that it would be nice to get to know one another through letters. I'm not one for the computer myself. This Skype business baffles me."
"Well, there might not be any need of letters."
He frowned. "I don't understand."
"I'm thinking of moving to Ireland. My marriage ended before Christmas. It was messy. I might make a fresh start."
Dear God, she would be on his doorstep and he would have to come clean and the altar lickers would have a field day.
He appraised this woman once again, his mother's double, bar the London accent and the highlighted hair. What would his mother have advised? That soft and gentle soul, who never spoke ill of anyone.
He took a deep breath and released it slowly. "Margaret, love, that would be wonderful."
He stood to embrace her, casting aside his guilt that Rita had never experienced this.
Glancing at his watch he realised it would soon be time to pick up Hilda from the bus.
"Margaret, I've to collect a neighbour from the village in a few minutes. Would you like to come with me to meet her?"
Margaret’s face lit up. "I would love to," she said.
They left the kitchen, went down the dark hallway and out the front door into the April sun. Bill opened the passenger door for his daughter, before sitting into the car.
As they drove to the village the bluebells danced by the side of the road and Bill marvelled at this new beginning bestowed upon him, so late in life, and he saw that it was good.
Catherine Moore is the author of three chapbooks including “Wetlands" (Dancing Girl Press, 2016). Her fiction appears in Tahoma Literary Review, Illinois Wesleyan University Press,Tishman Review, Mid-American Review and The Best Small Fictions of 2015 anthology. She holds an MFA from the University of Tampa and can be found @CatPoetic.
She came upon the stone child soon after the snows left, a dwindled winter that exposed the rock in its ice receding. This child was limestone, not marble. A child of erosion, not chisel. The formation of face haunted the woman as she recalled its hued crevices for seven days at length. Twice she reached for a spade and stopped herself. At the early sign of a late freezing-rain she touched it for a third time, and decided to shovel the child out. This was no small feat as the earth has a grasp on all things it wants to own. By dusk, the woman and the stone child were inside her home’s warmth. That evening, she watched the moonlight pour in the windowpanes as it had never before and its luminosity moved quietly across the half-carved body. She wondered how to free the child from this frigidness.
She knew it would be difficult to thaw a stone child. A child left to the elements has hardened surfaces. Would resist chiseling. Has poised itself to blend with the landscape. Has learned to stay mute within the forest noise. A state of pristine silence, beyond the beyond, inside the cold of winter rock. The woman tried everything—immersion in water—consumption in fire — but the deeply engraved remained untouched. Neither the blazing heat of midnight tears or stone-cold day blade split the rock. The stone child was immovable. She would not be able to do anything other than wait for erosion’s child.
If the worship of statues could bring thaw, the woman would have held a child’s flesh forty-eight moons ago. What she didn’t realize is how much the mother moon could miss a stone child. Its cool steadfast light always seeping in to trickle an aloof caress on rocky crevices. The woman filled the child’s room with pitch black styrofoam, nebula filters to block the moon’s beckoning. But the cast of light between edge and thresh flickered under the door, like a purplish butterfly whispering under nets.
Soon there were nights that the moon did not come visit. Nights endless with the vile that loves the dark. Opaque clouds of sediment and intimidation drove folks from the streets. Shadows filmed over the house. The woman knew she had to give the stone child back. The moon would never cease. Softly she positioned the etched child on the front porch between shrouded-air and hearth.
They are there, living still— stone, woman, moon, all using shapes for what they are saying.