Purple FF

img_0199

Purple

I close my eyes and return to Paris, Easter holidays, 1961. Algérie-française, Algérie-algérienne, the car horns tweet in the street as we drive the boulevards of a city divided. This is all new to me, a seventeen year old student in Paris to learn about French culture. My friends in the car have heard the tooting before and join in the fun.  Algérie-française the driver toots.

Turning a corner, flattened and blackened, still flaming against a fire-burned tree, the metal skeleton of a Deux Chevaux, a ‘tin of sardines’, bears witness to the car bomb that has laid its occupants low.

* * *

Hitching the highway, from Paris to Chartres, thumb stuck out to catch the wind, a purple Citroen stopped and offered me a lift. I trusted the car: a Citroen, like Simonet’s famous detective Maigret used to drive.

When the car stopped and the door opened, I got in and saw that the driver wore black leather gloves. His hand movements on the steering wheel were stiff and clumsy and he made exaggerated gestures when he changed gear.

“No hands,” he explained. “Lost them in Algeria. Listen: I used to be the driver for a top General. I drove him out of an ambush once. I lost my hands later, when the car exploded, caught in a crossfire. They teach you things in the Army. I can still drive.”

He accelerated and threw the car at four times the speed limit through the S bend that snaked through a small group of houses. I bounced from side to side, held back by no seat belt.

“You see,” he said. “They train you to do this before they let you drive. Ambush. The sniper at the corner. The Molotov Cocktail. You must always be prepared.”

I closed my eyes and returned to Paris.

Collateral damage: the young girl with her photo in the Figaro next day, scarred for life; her mother, legs blown off, lying in the gutter in a pool of purple blood.

Maman, maman,” the young girl cried. But her mother was never going to reply.

The Pom-pom-pompiers arrived in their fire trucks, sirens screaming. The ambulances screeched to a halt. The young girl cried. The mother bled out her life-blood in silence. Her blood turned purple and black as it flowed through the gutter.

Parisians emerged from dark doorways and stood there, bearing silent witness. Evening draped itself over the Paris skyline. The sky darkened and became one with the purple of the car bomb’s angry flame. Purple bruises marked my arm where I had gripped myself with my own fingers. An indigo angel squatted above the faubourg street, with shadowed wings, brooding.

* * *

I opened my eyes.

We left the village in our wake, travelling five times faster than the speed limit.

“They trained me for this,” the driver said. “I am prepared for anything.”

He stopped the car by the cathedral in Chartres. I thanked him and got out. He offered me his hand and I shook it. Inside the glove, the hand was hard and metallic. Alcohol sweated out through the purple veins that stained his nose and flowed in abundance over his sun-tanned face.

Battle Axe

img_0199

Battle Axe

Grim-faced, ageing,
wrinkles bone-deep
sculpting her skin
into unsightly waves,
a grimaced frown,
much practiced,
worn as a mask
to keep the world at bay.

Over her shoulder,
the mail-pouch slung,
brimful of letters,
bills, in all probability,
their content unknown
until the recipient’s
thumb or pocket knife
slits open the envelope
and reveals the secrets.

She carries more secrets.
They bob along in the streams
that flow beneath her skin
where joy and sorrow mingle.

Tomorrow, the surgeons
will perform their biopsy
and search out those secrets.
For now, she walks
with her eyes cast down,
unwilling  to meet
my all-seeing gaze.

Lost

img_0363

Lost

My body’s house has many rooms and
you, my love, are present in them all.
I see you here and there, glimpse your
shadow in a mirror, and feel your breath
brush on my cheek when I open a door.

Where have you gone? I walk from room
to room, but when I seek, I no longer find,
and when I knock, nothing opens. Afraid,
sometimes, to enter a room, I know you are
in there. I hear your footsteps on the stair.
Sometimes your voice breaks the silence.

It whispers my name in the same old way
I remember … how can it be true, my love,
that you have gone, that you have left me
here alone? I count the hours, the days,
and snatch at sudden straws of hope,
embracing dust motes to find no solace
in the sunbeams, salacious as they are,
that drag me from my occasional dreams.

CROCODILE TEARS: FFF

img_0184

Crocodile Tears
Flash Fiction Friday
28 April 2017

The crocodile lives in the wind-up gramophone. The gramophone lives in the top room of the house. The boy winds up the gramophone with a long brass handle, round and round, till the spring is tight. A tight spring frightens the crocodile and he sits quietly in his cage. But as the record goes round and the spring loosens up, the crocodile roars and demands to be freed. He’s the Jack that wants to jump out of the box. His long-term dream is to eat up  the witch who looks out of the window and watches the boy as he plays in the yard.

Last week the boy decided to dig. He picked up a spade and dug a deep hole that went all the way down to his cousin in Australia. The little dog laughed and joined in the fun, scraping with his front paws and throwing earth out between his back legs like happy dogs do. The witch in the window cackled with laughter and the rooks in the rookery rose up in a cloud and cawed in reply. Only the boy is able to see the witch and he only sees her when she sits in the window. But he knows she wanders through the house, and the air goes cold when she enters and exits the rooms, especially when she brushes past the boy and sweeps his skin with her long, black gown.

When the boy got tired of digging, he drove the spade into the ground and left it standing by the hole. When his father came home it was well after dark. He didn’t see the hole but he saw the spade. So he didn’t fall in to the shaft of the coal-mine that went down to Australia. No free trip to the Antipodes for that lucky dad. He beat the boy for that, for digging that hole. Then he beat him again for lying: the hole didn’t go to Australia. Australia was too far away and the angle was wrong. The boy laughed when he saw that his dad didn’t know where Australia was.

“Ha-ha,” he laughed. And his dad beat him again, this time for laughing.

Sometimes at night the boy can hear rats running through his bedroom walls. They scuttle and scuffle as they hunt through the guttering. The crocodile growls from time to time in that upstairs room. The witch cackles with laughter. The boy puts his head under the blankets and cries himself to sleep. Sometimes he wishes the crocodile would come and eat up his dad. But he loves his dad like the dog loves his dad even though his dad beats both the boy and the dog. Sudden beatings, they are,  that arrive without warning: hail and thunder from a sunny summer sky.

“Well, you’re not laughing now,” his father announces. “A beating a day keeps disobedience away.  There will be no disobedience in this house.” When the father beats the boy, the dog cowers beneath a chair. The boy hears the crocodile growl and smiles through the tears as he wipes salt water from his eyes.

“Are you laughing at me? I’ll make you laugh on the other side of your face,” the father taunts the son and beats him again.

The crocodile growls. The old witch cackles. The rooks in the rookery rise up in the air and the father’s hair stands up on end like it does when lightning lights up the sky, and thunder rolls its drums, and the sky’s wheels rattle like an old warrior’s chariot whose wheels have not been greased. The veins stand out in his father’s cheeks as the old man raises his hand to the boy.

The old man tells the same old jokes again and again. The boy must always remember to laugh at them as if he had never heard them before. If he doesn’t laugh, his father gets angry. Some of the jokes are good, and the boy likes the one about the Catholic who goes into the bar in Belfast and asks the barkeep if they serve Protestants. Or  is it the one in which the Protestants go into the bar and ask the barkeep it they serve Catholics … anyway … whatever … one night, the boy dreams and it happens like this. The crocodile escapes from the gramophone. The witch hands the boy a leash and a collar and between them they restrain the crocodile.

“Walkies?” says the boy.

The crocodile nods his head and crocodile and boy walk down the street to the Kiddy’s Soda Fountain on the corner.  When the boy walks in with the crocodile, the waitress raises her eyebrows and opens her mouth.

“Do you serve grown ups in here?” the little boy asks her.

“Of course we do,” says the waitress.

“Good. I’ll have a glass of Dandelion & Burdock for myself and a grown-up for the crocodile. Please.”

The witch says grace, the boy sips his Dandelion & Burdock, and they all shed crocodile tears as the boy’s pet crocodile chomps on the fast disappearing  body of the boy’s dad.

Hollow

IMG_0457.jpg

Hollow

I am a hollow man,
my heart and soul scooped out
by worry, wear, and care.
Water fills my bones.
My muscles shake like jelly.

Hope?
I abandoned it long ago.

Faith?
In these changing times
it’s a series of corks
bobbing their apples
in a party barrel.

Charity?
Love grows old and cold
and loses its charms
as we shiver in each other’s arms.

For now, I’ll dodder
my dodo way
towards extinction.

As I shuffle
from room to room
I’ll rest for a while
upon this chair.

My mother went this way.
My brothers and my father too;
I soon will follow,
just like you.

Shadows

IMG_0147

Shadows

My front door stood open,
but I thought it was closed.
I tip-toed in and called:
“Is anyone there?”
Echo answered
‘there, there, there …”
then silence.

I walked from room to room,
startled by shadows.
I opened doors,
looked under the table,
searched behind chairs,
no one.

The house stood silent and empty,
save for the fear,
the silent fear,
that lurked
like a remembered cancer
and occupied each room.

An Old Man

img_0360

An Old Man and His Memories

Me and my broken-record memories,
like a vinyl disc going round and round
on the turn-table, and the needle stuck
in a groove, as I repeat myself endlessly
like any old man with his stories and jokes,
told and heard so often that his old lady
knows the endings before he clears his
throat to start the tale, and the ancient
mariner who lives in his brain stops
people in supermarket and street to tell
them, again and again, about life’s doldrums
where no winds blow and the ship is stuck,
like a gramophone needle in a one-track
groove, no moving air to fill the sails,
and life’s albatross lies heavy on this old
man’s neck, and bends his back so he leans
on his canes, and points with rubber-tipped
stick at the falling snow, never as thick and
heavy as it was in his youth, when he climbed
Mount Everest and ran a four minute mile,
though that’s about the time now for his
one hundred stumbled meters, as he leans
on a grocery cart, like other old men who
grin and wink and nod “Nice cart, eh lad?”
and back in those days, every game was won,
except when the ref was biased, and look:
he still walks lop-sided from that collection
of chips off the old family block that he carries
around, like a slow snail carries his house,
always on the move, from face to fearful face.