Memories

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Memories

The old man, bag of bread crusts in his hand, walks towards that lake I knew so well in my childhood. His friends, the ducks and geese, wait for him to arrive so they can have their breakfast. The old man limps today in the early morning damp and walks, slow and hesitant, leaning on his stick.

His friends are hungry and impatient. They leave the lakeside to waddle across the road in a lengthening gaggle, fastest at the front, laggards strung out, straggling behind. When they reach him, the old man stops for a moment to greet them. Ducks and geese and traffic stand still as the world pulls to a halt. Watching, I remember how, when I was a child, those same sharp bills nibbled at the crusts I held in my fingers as my father rowed our hired boat over the lake’s smooth waters.

The old man crosses the road with his flock strung out behind him and drivers and passengers take photos and videos on their cell phones as the battalion marches on, down the slight slope, back to the waterside where the old man scatters crusts and breadcrumbs and throws corn as if it were a shower of stars from the firmament.

Greying skies threaten above dark waters. At lake’s end, above the waterfall, the monument to Scott of the Antarctic pierces the gloom with its fine, white tower. Scott sailed from this city in search of the new lands and adventures. Like me and many others he left, never to return.

I look at the bruises that decorate my wrinkled hands. Neither spots nor wrinkles were there when I left that lake behind me, was it really fifty years ago? I view the video on YouTube, shot from an I-phone in a parked car, and my eyes mist over. This was my home, this was the land of my fathers, this was the land of song that would always keep a welcome … yet I no longer go back.

The video is grainy and bears grey threads that mimic the passing clouds. I gaze on that well-remembered lake: there, so many years ago, I swam in its waters, ran and biked along its winding paths, rowed around its edges in and out of the reeds, fed the lake birds as I floated beside them, and fished the waters with my boyhood rod and line. I remember all too well the warmth of spring and the joy of the returning sun that banked the flowers and strew gold daffodils beneath budding trees.

I see myself reflected in the computer’s screen: my wrinkled skin wraps my shriveled flesh in the same way crinkly paper winds itself round an Easter egg. Yet there is so much inside that binding, so many memories and secrets dream their lives away inside me. Old bones now bind my body into its fragile box with its arteries and veins and circuited strings holding me together. I close my eyes and for a moment I am once more that youthful body flashing its jack-knife blade into those rippling waters …

Later that night, I stand in a shimmer of moonlight at the garden’s edge, my hands held out to catch a falling star. Alas, I seize only the mutterings of snowflakes strung between the stars. My scarecrow dream stretches out a long, thin hand and clasps bright treasures in its tight-clenched fist. The moon hones its cutting edge into an ice-thin blade and the lone dove of my heart flaps in its trap of barren bone. Moonlight and starlight run twin liquors, raw, within me.

Inverted, the Big Dipper hangs its question mark from the sky’s dark eyelid. A honking of geese haunts the highway high above me. I swivel from north to south to catch an impression of darkness swift and sudden that blots out the scattered grains of stars.

A finger-nail of rising moon emerges from the trees and hoists itself skywards. Stars nearby fade in its brightness. I have built a fire inside the house. When I go back inside, my goose quill pen scratches black lines in my journal as I weave words by firelight across a flickering page.

Ghosts of departed constellations drown in the nearby river. Pale planets scythed by moonlight bob phosphorescent on this rising flood of memories.

Comment: This would be a “raw poem” were it not a piece of “raw prose”! I found it among my notes late last night and revised it and put it up this morning. It was based on a YouTube video of a man feeding geese at Roath Park Lake in Cardiff, South Wales. When I was a teenager, my family moved from Swansea to Cardiff and Roath Park was a short bike road from our new home. The Scott Memorial stands at the lower end of Roath Lake, just by the waterfall. Apparently Robert Scott sailed from Cardiff on 15 June 1910 in a converted whaler in an effort to walk to the South Pole. Like me, when I left Cardiff, he didn’t return.

Here’s a link to Robert Scott: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Falcon_Scott

This is the video on which the piece is based: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=clbbMt2sl0k

Geese

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Geese

The arrowhead precedes its shaft and leads its feathers into night’s perfection. Summer catches flight and waves good-bye to Arcturus as an obsidian knife flashes black lightning across the icy threshold of a morbid sky. Darkness, swift and sudden, blots out each scattered scat of golden grain and swallows an iris of stars. Inverted, the Big Dipper hangs its question mark from the sky’s dark eyelid.

When daylight breaks cold sunshine over broken ground, the great white geese lay their burdens down by the riverside. Pristine as they drift to the land, flake by fluttering flake, they accumulate the colors of mud daub and anonymity as they grub food from the neat ploughed fields that march their earthen armies across the land. Fallen angels, they sprawl down from heaven and abandon eternity to adopt their waddling time-and-earthbound shapes.

Now, the afternoon gropes steadily to night. Some people have built fires; others read by candlelight. Geese litter the riverbanks with their mud-stained snowdrifts. Freshet mud besmirches them — or is it the black of midnight’s swift advance? The geese step on thin ice at civilization’s edge. Around them, the universe’s clock ticks slowly down. Who forced that scream through the needle’s eye? Night gathers its darkening robes and the seabed reaches its watery arms out towards a magnified moon.

Ghosts of departed constellations drown in the river. Pale planets scythed by moonlight bob phosphorescent on the flood. I walk on the beach sensing the flesh that bonds, the bones that scarcely bind, the shoulders and waist on which I hang my clothes. Now I stand nameless in a shimmer of moonlight and listen at the water’s edge to the whispering night. I catch the mutterings of snowflakes strung between the stars.

My dream stretches out a long, thin hand and clasps bright treasures in its tight-clenched fist. The moon hones its cutting edge into an ice-thin blade and the lone dove of my heart flaps in its trap of barren bone. Moonlight and starlight run their twin liquors, raw, within me. What will I bury beneath this year’s fallen leaves?

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

 

Monumental Madness

 

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Monumental Madness

                  A long time ago, at Niagara Falls, I dressed in yellow oilskins, walked behind a tumbling wall of water, and knew I was close to the edge. Back outside, everything changed and beside that brightness of grass and rock, water screamed like shorn hair as it tore down the precipice. Have you been there? Have you walked to the end of the world, stood at the edge and peered into the starless, foam-speckled darkness that beckons below?

                  The deed leaves a bleakness dangling at the end of your wrist. Silent, you fear to dip your toes into an icy bucket of fire. Sun through dark clouds: a candle illuminating the scene. You cannot see your breath, but you know that it hangs there on the air before you. A spider web of smoke strings its impenetrable cloak between you and reality.

                  An animal urge to surge and run makes your muscles twitch but your feet are trapped in sand as crazy glue binds your limbs and banishes flight. Beads of sweat pearl on the upper lip and below the eyes. There is a melting at the temples’ edges where the short hairs tense and prickle. Now your back is on fire. Sparks fly from your hair as you prepare, Roman Candle in this unlit bonfire’s gloom, to explore a subterranean cave of unknowing.

                  The walls around you slowly congeal and your sweat flows thick then dries.  Your toes sink back into their frosty oblivion. There is no movement from your knees down. Your fingers stiffen and arthritis steals movement from inflamed joints. A voice inside your head tells you to punch the emergency numbers on your frozen cell phone, but wisdom is drowned in the mind’s dark urgings and your fingers cannot respond. You sense that this will not bring the beginning of the end. It will be the continuing of the same, torment without end, until a century of centuries stands in your mind like a single day. Eternity stretches before you with its long, dark, endless winter night: no stars, no sun, no moon, no spark, no hope, just this eternal cold that suspends all motion.

                  Within you, an animal rages carnivorous against the bone bars of its cage. It can see you; it can sense you; it can smell the atoms of fear that rise from between your toes and flow out of your armpits. Your own nostrils flare and stiffen and you too can smell that fear; you can taste the bestial desire that flesh holds for fresh torn flesh. A black velvet band binds your eyes and pulls itself tighter and closer across your chest. Your heart is a stone thrown into an icy pond. Down, it plunges, down and down, and as it descends it bumps the bodies of other beings locked there in the deep pool of your chest.

                  Somewhere in this Arctic night there is a shuffle of white pads. Sleek feet move across the snow. The polar bear’s snuffle is a whimper of hope that the end will come swiftly in the bright light of midnight descending, all red in tooth and claw. You shiver. You bite your hand. You quench your chattering teeth and hope they do not wake the nightmare. Yet still you sense it drawing close with an acquiescent dragging of slow feet.

                  The illusion, the dream, the nightmare, the chimera, the dragon that dwells in the depths, the ice cold sucker of souls that emerges in a sudden gasp of bated breath, the red hot air that flees from the anthracite when the door of the dream world flies open and the devil dances on the hot coals of his promised hell and condemns your ice to melt in those sinister flames.

                  Your pale face floats through the gloom: yellowed teeth, frail lips curved, a Cupid’s bow that will shoot sweet darts of poisoned love, dry mouth, desiccated words, sounds that form into sinister sequences, their meanings misunderstood, false hope dangling by its neck from a choking rope, the bare words pacing, naked bears across a chain of dancing memories strung out like good times, past and dead, and dangling stiff from their skeletal chains.

                  Your flightless fancies flit through a darkness of despair, as awkward as auks, as clumsy as penguins stranded in zoo cages far from their native seas, as meaningless as the dodos, as dead as the ashes lying cold beneath the crematorium’s fire.

                  A sudden bucket clatters down the well. But there is no water. This ice will not melt. These desert sands may burn your feet but they will not warm your glacial heart. The manner of your third or fourth coming brings forth no nourishment.

                  A mirror grows from a spider web on the wall. Face to face, the present and past are ambulant tenses that foretell no conditional. There is no future, let alone a future perfect. A dislocation of infinitives stretches into the infinity of an invisible futurity.

                  To be: and now you are permitted to see the depth to which you will descend. Now you see yourself sinking lower and there is only one exit. A rope and a beam appear before you; a tin of Ant Trap; the silver tusk of an open razor; that bottle of pills; that steering wheel, one twitch of which will veer you into the path of that passing truck; that bridge which crosses into the fog and ends half way across the river; the mystery and madness of that final plunge into an even longer night.

                  Or not to be: lips move and promise an end to heat and cold. Here, they say, is darkness without memory; here is sleep bereft alike of nightmare and dream; here is oblivion; here is the cessation of strife and struggle; here is peace.

                  If you take that step, you leave your present hell and enter into another hell leaving behind you family and friends to suffer without you in their own living hell.

Those Almost Perfect Hands

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Those Almost Perfect Hands

            In my dream, my father’s rough brown hands deal me six cards: 2 3 7 7 8 8. I cast away the 2 & 3. My father cuts a six. After the pegging, my father watches as I score: 15/2, 15/4, 15/6, 15/8, and 2 are 10, and 2 are 12 …

I turn on the mini-flash light that I clip each night to my Teddy Bear’s ear and I check my watch. Three o’clock in the morning: half way through another difficult night.  Do I really I need to get up and pee? I rub my eyes with the backs of my hands. Surely the walk to the bathroom, the cool night air, the movement will be better than lying here, dozing and dreaming. I take the flashlight from Teddy and pin it on to my nightie. Supporting my bad leg with one hand and hanging on to the bottom sheet with the other, I haul myself to a sitting position, legs over the bed. Then I reach for my walking sticks and stump towards the bathroom.

Still half-asleep and wandering in dreamland, I push my left foot forward only to stub the little toe against the cane. A sudden shock of pain wakes me and I stumble forward and jam the middle toe of my right leg against the other stick. This is my bad leg, the one gripped by sciatica, and I swear out loud as a knife blade splits my flesh and sends electric shocks down my leg, through my buttock, and into my spine. Fifteen days now: when will it ever end, this attempting to sleep on my own, these nights of restlessness.

My neighbor has left his garage lights on and they cast wind-blown shadows of dancing trees and waving limbs across the bedroom walls. Hands reach out to grasp me then fade away as more shadows dance and shift. The shadows on the wall remind me of Plato’s Cave: a wonderland of myth and adventure and what if any of it were true? Falsehoods flash their alternative realities and reality and dream clash in my half-awake mind. Crazy patterns continue to trace their waves across the walls. They form and march their silent jack boots, turning them into ballroom pumps that caress unwitting partners in an eternal yin and yang of light and shade.

I look out of the window. Three deer stand in the yard beneath me. They wander through our garden each night, journeying alternately from west to east and from east to west. I think of them as a family of Hobbits, traveling there and back again. Tonight they are headed west, in search of something, somewhere, but I know not what or where. They gather round our bird feeder and the wind chimes clatter as their long black tongues lick out to feed on bird seed. My flashlight beams into the baby deer’s eyes. She snorts a warning to the others and jumps ten feet backwards, turning in mid-air, to land facing away from the house.  The other two deer follow the baby and leave reluctant steps across the snow. So beautiful: I wish I hadn’t frightened them. I wish they didn’t have to go.

In the bathroom, I reach for the analgesic balm to ease my pain. My mind is numb with all those drugs I have been taking. The alcohol hasn’t helped. It makes me clumsy and I stand thick-tongued, dull-witted. The pain in my hip is gnawing away at my mind. I know I won’t go back to sleep. My fingers fumble across the counter and I unscrew the top of the first tube I encounter. I rub toothpaste into my back and leg and now I smell of spearmint.
 
I wander back to bed, sit on the edge, and raise my perfectly scented dead leg with a helping hand. I pin my flashlight back on Teddy’s ear. He’s a good Teddy and doesn’t make a sound. Unlike me: I wince and moan and groan. Mars, the red planet, stalls for a moment and is framed as a circular dot at the center of my tic-tac-toe window panes. I watch as an overnight flight seeks the sun and looks for the right spot in which to place its flickering cross of sparking flame. I enter a hollow dream of scarecrows reaching with twig fingers to thumb a carrot nose at leaping deer. The old raccoon gnaws at the moon and soon it is a pared rind floating its narrow lemon boat across the sky. I snuggle in beneath the blankets that Teddy has kept warm and I enter a wonderland of half-awake dreams. My childhood lies down in a primrose hedgerow and falls asleep to the tinkling of blue bells and the wafting, newly minted scent of lily of the valley.

            … and 12 are 24.  My father checks my hand and grimaces. I take the cards and shuffle them. My father cuts. His hands are as white as fresh-brushed teeth glowing in the moonlight. My hands and the deck bear the rich scent of spearmint.

Contract: Flash Fiction

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Contract

The door to the Principal’s office opened just as Tammy approached, hurrying because she was late for class. Tom, her Department Head, stepped out and stood in her way.

“Tammy,” his tongue swiveled around his thin lips in nervous fashion. “I’m just talking with the Principal about your new contract. Come in,” he extended his arm and shepherded her towards the open door.

“Not now,” Tammy replied.  “I’m late for class. “Can’t it wait?”

“Strike while the iron’s hot,” Tom showed teeth yellowed from tobacco. “We’ve got a great deal for you. Come in, come in.”

Tammy found herself face to face with the Principal.

“Tammy, my dear, we’re so proud of you,” the Principal flashed a row of crocodile teeth, two of them gold-capped. “I have some papers for you to sign.”

“But, I’m late for class and …”

“I know, don’t worry. This won’t take a moment,” Tom winked at her as he and the Principal led her towards a typewriter that sat on the desk with a blank page and two carbon copies inserted in it.

“Here, at the bottom of the page, just sign here,” Tom pointed.

“But it’s a blank page. I can’t sign a blank page,” Tammy stammered in response.

“You’ll see it when it’s typed and signed,” the Principal assured her. You can always change it later.”

“Can’t I come back after class?”

“I’m afraid not,” the Principal frowned. “I have an important meeting in half an hour, with the school board, and you’ll still be in class. This must be signed now if it’s to get board approval.”

“But you said … you said I’d only be here for a year …”

“We’re very pleased with you,” the Principal flashed the sunshine of his teeth. “We want to keep you here.”

“Very pleased,” said Tom. “This is a first class, independent school run, as you well know, on a non-profit basis. Only the children of the rich and privileged come here to study,” he paused. “And some of them come here because of you. That’s why I’m recommending you for this new and improved contract. I signed my first three-year contract this way, didn’t I?” he looked towards the Principal.

“You did indeed,” said the Principal. “And just look where you are now: Head of your Department.”

“A three-year contract …” Tammy blinked and ran her tongue over her lips. “I wasn’t expecting that. I thought a year … thank you … but …”

“No buts. Jobs are scarce nowadays, particularly in your field,” Tom looked at his watch. “Time’s getting on. You don’t want your students walking out of your class, do you? Here you are now: just sign here,” he handed her the pen he held in his hand.

“You’d better be quick,” the Principal said. “This offer may not be here tomorrow and … my goodness, look at the time. You are running late.”

“Sign,” Tom told her. “I signed and I never regretted it. Remember, we can always change the wording later.”

“Drop in after class,” the Principal smiled. “It will all be approved by then and you can read it and we’ll modify what you want.”

Tammy sighed and signed.

The Principal and the Department Head ushered her to the door.

“Hurry,” they exhorted. “Run. You don’t want to be late.”

Tammy ran to her class.

The two men watched her go. Then they went back into the office, shook hands, and grinned at each other.

Tammy never saw that contract. She stayed at the school for three more years, as she had promised, but in all that time she never got a pay raise and the not-for-profit school board never allowed her to join the employees’ health and pension plan.