New Brunswick Book Awards

It was quite the surprise, but I am very happy to see that my book of Flash Fiction Short Stories, BISTRO, is one of the three finalists in this year’s New Brunswick Book Awards, organized jointly by the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick (WFNB) and The Fiddlehead. It’s great to see that self-published books can get recognition at the highest (for me) level. Thank you to all who are involved in organizing this annual book award.

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Bistro is available online at

https://www.amazon.com/Bistro-Flash-Fiction-Roger-Moore/dp/1537254405/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1490464520&sr=8-2&keywords=Roger+moore+Bistro

Here’s the link to the Writers Federation of New Brunswick / Fiddlehead New Brunswick Book Awards short list page

https://thefiddlehead.ca/content/announcing-finalists-new-brunswick-book-awards

 

Minus

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Minus

“The earth is geoidal, i.e. earth-shaped.”
These words, dictated to me by the geography
master when I was about fifteen years old,
taught me that teachers didn’t really know
all there was to know. Nor, indeed, did they
need to know everything. “I don’t know,
I’ll check and tell you later,” breaks the myth
of infallibility but sets up sympathetic links.

“What do groundhogs eat?” the little girl
asks her classroom teacher. “Spaghetti,”
comes back the instant answer from one
who doesn’t know that every day the child
watches the groundhog that lives in her yard
devour delicate New Brunswick violets.
“Spaghetti, with mushroom sauce, of course.”

Then one day comes the spelling test:
“How do you spell minus?”
M-I-N-O-S.”
“Wrong. Try again.”
M-I-N-A-S.”
“Wrong again.
You think you’re so clever.
Everybody knows it’s
M-I-N-U-S.
Don’t we class?”
The class breaks into shrieks and giggles.

Everyone knows how to spell minus:
even the one who has just read how Theseus
followed Ariadne’s thread to escape from
the Minotaur who roamed the Labyrinth
beneath the Cretan Palace of Knossos.

That one was present too, in her own mind,
at the Siege of Minas Tirith, when Gandalf
held five evil kings at bay and Aragorn fought
the nameless Dark Lord who dwelt beneath
the shadow in the land of M-O-R-D-O-R,
a Lord not so powerful M-I-N-U-S his ring.

Miracle at Lourdes

 

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Miracle at Lourdes

Ed walked through Heathrow Airport. It took him ninety minutes to go from one terminal (Madrid) to the next (Montreal). The black strips on his Achilles tendon held his leg together. He limped a little, towards the end, but the Spanish osteopath had done a good job on his damaged leg. He made it to his next flight with ease.

Thirty years ago Ed had visited Lourdes. It wasn’t a pilgrimage. He was passing by and took a side trip on the way through. He watched old ladies, on their knees, rosaries in their hands, ascend the Via Crucis towards the cross at the top of the man-made hill. Then he went into the sanctuary. He stood there whole, unhurt, curious. A wave of hatred rose up from those who sat in wheelchairs or kneeled at the altar, praying, hoping for healing to descend. Ed needed no healing. He was whole and complete. Ed made the sign of the cross, bobbed his head before the high altar, and left.

Next day, a Saturday, Ed sat in a café, somewhere, downtown, in Lourdes, and he asked for a cup of coffee. An enormous barman towered over his customer, a stark rock on the sea shore, and showered the table with his displeasure. He was big and antagonistic. Ed sipped at his coffee. Then, after a moment or two of thought, he went to the bar.

“Excuse me.” No response. Ed tried again. “Excuse me … can you help?”

“What?” The barman flicked the glasses beneath the counter with his cloth. He refused to look up. An ice block, he froze Ed out.

“Uh, I’m a stranger here. A foreigner. Could you help me … ?”

“What?” the man mountain flicked at the glasses and turned his broad bluff shoulders to meet Ed’s face.

“I’m Welsh,” Ed said. “Gallois. Du Pays de Galles. I would like to see a rugby game tomorrow. Could you tell me where I might go to see a good one?”

“Welsh? Les petits diables rouges?  Rugby?” The barman straightened up and snorted. “Why didn’t you say so?”

He took a deep breath and gave Ed an analysis of every game taking place next day in the region. Then, raising his shoulders and giving Ed a beaming smile, he said, “Jean, le petit Gachassin.”

Ed had seen Gachassin play for France, against Wales, in Cardiff, but he had lost track of him. Le petit Jean had gone to Bagnères-de-Bigorre when they were in the third division, had seen them rise through the second division, and now they were playing their first game in the French first division against Mont-de-Marsan.

“And they have Roland Bertranne,” the big man said. “A future colossus for France. Go to Bagnères-de-Bigorre and watch them play.”

Ed did. It poured with rain. He got soaked. But he saw some scintillating rugby.

Thirty years after that visit to Lourdes, Ed took the train from Avila to Madrid. He planned to spend the night in a hotel and catch the early morning flight first to London and then to Montreal. There was only one problem. He had injured his Achilles tendon and could hardly walk.

The hotel Ed had chosen sported a notice on the reception desk. Massage Service Available. Ed thought about it for a long time. No, he didn’t call for call girls when he traveled. Nor call boys. Massage service: what did it mean? Ed took the plunge, phoned, and made an appointment.

Half an hour later: a knock on the door.

Ed opened it.

“I’m the osteopath. You called?” A handsome young man stood there, his eyebrows raised.

“Yes,” Ed said. “I did. Uh, um …” his face turned red. “Er, you’re not gay, are you?”

“No,” the osteopath said. “Are you?”

“No,” Ed said.

“Thank God,” the osteopath smiled. “I’ve had six requests from gays today. I don’t do that thing.”

“Nor me,” Ed said. “Come in.”

The osteopath entered the room set up his folding bed, and helped Ed on to it. Then he examined him, slowly and carefully. They spoke Spanish at first and then, in a moment of illumination, the osteopath told Ed how, for two years, he had been the physiotherapist for the rugby team at Bagnères-de-Bigorre. Then they spoke in French and ran the rule over their heroes, le petit Jean Gachassin and Roland Bertranne.

The osteopath treated Ed for an hour and a half and charged him for an hour.

Next day, Ed walked through Heathrow Airport, a long, long walk and suffered no pain.

What could Ed say? Serendipity? The good finding the good?

Finally he put it all together and found a phrase for it: the Miracle at Lourdes.

 

People of the Mist 18

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11:00 AM

            … hard baked loaves of stone … hot cobbles beneath the feet … the burning street forced upwards through the shoe leather to scorch the feet … the sun’s orb an irresistible hammer beating the strength out of the sweating body … the heart sucked dry … the lungs shriveled … a man dehydrated … already dried up by the baths … from the inside out …

Everything seemed different to his distorted vision. Translucent people, pale ghosts of themselves, passed before him and wandered across the street, shadows in a dream cast against a cave wall. Tim walked to the central square and entered the cathedral through the same carved glass doors in which he had seen his father’s image, but his father was no longer there. Wary of flames and flickering candles, Tim stood in the dust-laden beam of sunlight that fell from a stained glass window high in the roof.

Wave after wave of colored light broke across his face and played fragmented games upon his hands. He inhaled sunshine and felt the sea-surge of a body being reborn. A new man, he emerged from darkness into light, a spiritual being, neither of this world nor yet of the next. The colored light danced its chiaro-oscuro upon the surrounding walls and he felt soft sunlight flooding into him.

            … inside massive stone walls … candles … crucifixes … paintings of saints … statues … carved wooden images … outside in the sunlight … alebrijes … staring eyes … wagging tails …  protruding tongues … their spirits breaking through the wood … turning from darkness into light … within the man’s head … once open doors slowly closing …  keys no longer turning in locks … unwound clocks no longer ticking … cobwebs gathering in forgotten rooms … flowers on the altars… nochebuenas with their single and double petals … crimson and cream … cempasúchiles … marigolds lighting  a golden walkway to guide the dead … loved ones returning to visit the living …

Standing in the cathedral, drenched in a rainbow shower of light, Tim’s mind drifted in and out of sun and clouds. All around him he saw secret worlds opening like oysters before his eyes. Flames through the candles made hard, crisp sounds, hissing and sharp, like the inside of an apple when strong teeth penetrate the outer skin. Candlelight brought an unexpected peace as its yellow bees’ wax light wandered over the altar.

Tim went to the chapel dedicated to La Virgen de la Soledad, the patron saint of Oaxaca. A girl knelt in front of the altar with a basket of flowers upon her head. With a click, wheels turned in his head and Tim realized that he had seen her that morning in the square in front of St. James. He didn’t want to disturb her prayers, so he tiptoed to the far side of the altar rail and started to kneel. As he did, the flower girl turned her head towards him.

Señor: I am so glad you have come. Please, I need your help.”

“My help?” Tim stood up and moved towards her. “Of course, what do you want me to do?”

“These flowers, I must place them on the altar. But the basket is caught in my hair. I cannot remove it. Could you …?”

“I saw you with a boy, this morning outside St. James, didn’t I?”

“Perhaps. My cousin walked with me until he slipped on the cobbles and could walk no more. He would have helped. Now there is nobody.”

“I’ll help. What must I do?”

“Take the weight of the basket and try to see where my hair is caught. You must untangle it, if you can. Then I can place the flowers on the altar as I have vowed.”

She knelt, motionless, an animal frozen in a trap. Tim lifted the basket and its weight shocked him: the stones within must have weighed at least twenty pound. As he lifted the basket, she winced and he saw where her hair had caught in the basket’s wickerwork.

“Can you hold the basket now?” he asked her.

She raised her hands and held it aloft. As she did so, Tim began to untangle her hair from the weave, a slow, difficult task. At last, the basket came free and the girl’s black hair fell smoothly into place.

“I hope I didn’t hurt you when I pulled your hair free.”

‘”Thank you and no, it didn’t hurt,” She took the basket in her hands and he opened the altar rail for her. She mounted the steps and placed the basket of flowers on the altar at the feet of La Virgen de la Soledad.

“There,” she bowed her head, crossed herself, and muttered a prayer. “My father will get better now.”

The girl returned through the altar rail and she and Tim knelt side by side in front of Oaxaca’s patroness.

“They say she will answer your prayers,” the flower girl looked weary and distressed. “She has worked many miracles for those who have walked the road. My cousin walked with me for a bit, but he was in great pain, so I sent him home.”

“Surely you could have finished the pilgrimage another day?”

“Oh, no, señor, it must be completed between the hours of six and twelve. My cousin should have helped, but I did it on my own. Señor, I must go now. It is time for me to change. I have completed my pilgrimage and now there is work for me to do.”

“Perhaps I can walk with you a little way?”

“Oh no, señor, that wouldn’t be right. I must go alone. But thank you.”

Tired, but full of grace, she got to her feet and walked backwards, away from the altar, not taking her eyes off the Virgin’s face. When she got to the chapel’s entrance she turned and left.

Tim knelt there in silence and thought of the strange things that seemed to happen in Oaxacan churches. Last Sunday he had gone to mass in La Consolación. The lady in front of him had opened her blouse and offered her breast to her youngest child who sucked there, greedily, throughout the service. The old man at the back held a roll-your-own smoke in the palm of his hand and closed his eyes in ecstasy as he inhaled the drug. Three dogs, tongues lolling, were pursuing a bitch in heat and she came into the church for sanctuary. The dogs chased her up and down the aisles as the high priest doggedly murmured the blessings that uplifted the hearts of the faithful: a bored acolyte passed the anointing oil and presented the sacred wine to the priest. Flowers and candles adorned the altar. When the old man from the back of the church stubbed out his smoke and knelt for communion, night breath lay whisky thick on the high priest’s tongue.

La Virgen de la Soledad stood tall on the altar wearing a black kirtle. Silver stars and planets swam through the dark night of the velvet that flowed down from her waist. Beside her, a young man with open, staring eyes hung from a rough, wooden cross. He recognized Tim and called him by his baptismal name, but Tim no longer knew how to answer. The young man had the jewel eyes of a flayed Mexican god, living forever, and never quite dead. Black blood flowed down the carved face and formed a river of coal dust waxed with carmine. The heavy smell of incense mingled with the smoke from the candles and transported Tim to an internal world in which time rolled on and on and lost all meaning.

… impressions … a nose here … a pair of eyes there … long black hair … a tree swaying to the music … a nose wrinkled in disdain … a black bible banged on a wooden table … a thin girl … a Cubist nightmare of female body parts … multiple pin balls released in a rush by an errant slot machine … light falling from high windows … stained glass … reds … blues … greens … smoke from a candle twisting in the air …

People of the Mist 16

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9:20 AM

Tim walked up the street towards the centre of town, moving slowly, from window to shop window, still hesitant to go to the baths. A craft shop packed with bric-à-brac and old curiosities caught his attention. The shop held an irresistible sense of mystery and he tried to look in but couldn’t see much through the dust and cobwebs. He opened the door and copper goat bells jangled. An old man, dressed in an artist’s smock, emerged from a room behind the counter.

“Are you looking for anything in particular?”

“I’m not sure. May I look around?”

“Of course you may.”

The old man’s eyes followed Tim as he walked from shelf to shelf and examined the dusty objects. A figure of the Spanish knight, Don Quixote, built from scrap metal sat on the reinforced toe of a workman’s boot. Tim marveled at the artist’s innovative use of recycled materials: valves soldered together with nuts and bolts and springs.

“Did you make this?”

The artisan nodded and smile. Tim took the medallion out of his shirt where he had hidden it next to his skin and showed it to the shop keeper.

“Have you ever seen anything like this before?”

The artisan’s eyes narrowed and he shook his head.

“I’m looking for the other half. Could you make one for me?”

“Impossible.”

“Why?” Tim offered it to him for closer inspection, but the artisan threw up his hands and backed away.

“I don’t need to look closer. I can’t help you.”

“I need to repair the medallion.”

“I can do nothing for you.”

“Then what do you suggest?”

“Go to El Brujo. He’s the only one who can help you.”

Door bells jangled and the shop door opened.

“Speak of the devil ….” the artisan looked relieved. “It’s the man himself.”

“My ears were burning,” El Brujo‘s eyes held a mischievous twinkle.

“Here he is,” the artisan turned to Tim. “You can ask him yourself now.”

“Ask me what?” El Brujo stared at Tim who turned red in the face as he pushed the medallion back under his shirt.

“It’s nothing,” Tim readjusted the buttons.

“You won’t find it here.”

“Find what?”

“The other half of your medallion; have patience, my friend. It knows that you are searching for it. It will be drawn to you, never fear. The baths are across the road, incidentally. Alonso told me you might go there this morning. I’ll go with you.”

“But I thought you were going to Yalalag; I saw you on the bus this morning. You spoke to me.”

“Indeed I was and indeed I did. But I got off the bus, didn’t I? And you didn’t understand me when I spoke to you, did you? So I’m here, now; where I’m needed. Come along. Let’s go.”

He nodded to the artisan.

Adiós, Pepito. Thanks for calling me. By the way, have you thought about that offer I made you?”

“I have indeed.”

“And your answer?”

“I think you know what I will say.”

“I do. But you must make up your mind quickly. The circle is broken and we must rebuild it.”

“When I am needed, I will be there.”

“You will be needed tonight.”

“Then I’ll be there.”

El Brujo and Tim exited the shop together, crossed the street, and walked towards the baths …

People of the Mist 15

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9:00 AM

Back in the apartment, Tim opened the bottle of mescal and poured a large shot into a glass. He gulped it down and the mescal burned as it rushed down his throat and into his gut. It relaxed him and he felt less haunted. Its swift invasion of his brain left him stunned for a moment and he sat down at the table, picked up his medallion and held it in his hands.

…  papier-mâché figures sway in the square … a cacophony of traditional music … massed village bands … the rhythm of rising rockets thumping into the air … dancing trees flap miniature limbs in time to the music … eyes flash from the trees’ waistbands … dryads and satyrs cavort carved and painted …  liquid motes of fiery tunes float in the air … music visible and almost tactile for a moment or two … stamping feet … stilt dancers … the music stops … young children … boys and girls … emerging from the trees … live dryads bark-skinned brown-eyed … a nymph walks over eyes open in invitation …

Tim’s mind clicked back into gear. Of course, that’s where he had seen the girl from the paper kiosk: she had been dancing in a papier-mâché tree, in the zócalo, and when the music stopped,  she invited him to join her in her tree.

            Colibrí, the tiny bird with the warrior’s soul, whirrs its wings … twin windmills, sun-dog ear-rings, draw circles round a suddenly-clouded sun … a flock of tiny feathered angels as bright as postage stamps sit in the trees in the courtyard to raise their voices in their afterlife of praise …

Tim checked his watch: if he wanted to visit the baths, it was time to get going. He got up from the table, slipped his medallion around his neck, walked out of his apartment and closed the door behind him.

Ketch Up …

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Ketch-Up …

I guess it’s going to be one of those Ketch-Up / cat’s up / catch up days. They’ve closed the schools and the little man with the weather map has pointed to everything on the gloomy grey and dark blue thunder side: rain, snow, icy rain, ice pellets, slush, sleet … it’s all headed straight for me. It’s not what I voted for when I went to bed last night. Guess it’s one of those alternate facts of life.

Never mind. “I’ll make it a true, daily double, Ketch-Up Category, Alex.”

Log fire, easy chair, great book … I’m going to finish reading Margaret Sorick’s Tainted Money, the fourth novel in her Buck’s County series … I read the other three: took me less than a day each and this one is going down just as fast. Ketch-Up? The pages are smoking as I turn them over. I’m on my computer break now, giving my eyes a rest. Then it’s “snap the cartoons” time, possibly “post a cartoon”, followed by lunch.

The wind is just starting to move the trees. Oh-oh, or do I mean eau-eau … I live in Canada’s eau-nly officially bilingual province / province bilingue … and now it’s starting to rain. I can hear the pitter patter of pellets of pluie against the fly-screens I forgot to take down last fall … oh-eau … last automne …   I guess if we had a shipping line as well as an air line we’d call it Eau Canada.

I think I’d better get off this new medication.