Bistro FFF

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Friday Flash Fiction
20 July 2018

Bistro 

LJ sat at a table in a dark corner of the Bistro. He held a plastic bag in his hands and moved what looked like dried brown fava beans, one by one, through his fingers. A priest at prayer, his lips moved in a silent mantra as he counted the beans:  “… twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine.”

Robin and Will watched him closely, looking for the tell-tale signs that would announce LJ’s return to his former life.

Same-sex couples danced through the Bistro. They avoided this one corner that formed an oasis of severity amidst the gaiety and noise of Carnival celebrations.

“How much does he remember?” Robin looked at Will. Will shrugged and the two men exchanged worried glances.

A whooping conga of men dressed in garish, feathered costumes that revealed more than they concealed, approached the table where the three friends sat. The conga came to a stop in front of them.

“Now what have we here?” The leader asked. He turned to his followers flashing a white, toothy smile.

“Let’s see what you’ve got, darling,” he reached towards LJ’s plastic bag.

“Don’t touch him,” said Robin, rising to his feet.

Three large men broke away from the line and two grasped Robin while the third put his arms on Will’s shoulders and held him in his chair.

“I’m warning you,” Robin said.

“Shut it,” said the leader.

LJ closed the plastic bag that held the twenty-nine fava beans and put it in is breast pocket, next to his heart.

“Don’t put them away, darling, they look delicious,” the leader grinned his enormous grin. He was a big man, not tall, but broad and heavy. “Give them to me, I want to eat one. C’mon, I’ll just pop it in my mouth and suck it.”

The Conga crowd roared their approval.

LJ got to his feet. He was a small man, but wiry. The night-fighter, they had called him. He was the one who slipped out at night through enemy lines and knifed the sentries. One hand over their mouths, one hand on his knife, all sounds extinguished till they relaxed, lifeless, then that one quick twist of the knife and the ear-lobe severed as the dead man was lowered to the floor.

“Wanna dance?” The conga leader wiggled his hips and ran his tongue over his lips, then puckered a little kiss.

LJ’s face turned red, the veins engorged, and his eyes stood out. Nobody saw him move, nobody ever saw LJ move. He grasped the Conga leader’s windpipe with his left hand and drew him forward until they were locked eyeball to eyeball. LJ’s night-fighter knife lay flat across the man’s jugular.

“LJ, no,” Robin screamed. “Not number thirty.”

LJ kept staring at the man he held. His knife disappeared.

“You’re not worthy,” he said, leering into the Conga leader’s purpling face. “You’d dishonor them.”

Will and Robin breathed a sigh of relief.

Comment: Bistro is the title story in a collection of short stories and flash fiction. Bistro, the book, was one of three finalists (and the only self-published book) in the New Brunswick Book Awards (Fiction, 2017). Bistro (the collection) is available on Amazon. The sound recording below is my own reading of the story and the opening cartoon, Belle Bottom Naval Gazing,  is the picture on the cover of Bistro, the book. It is also my own work.

 

 

 

Thursday Thoughts: Divorce

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Thursday Thoughts
19 July 2018
DDD
[Divorce, Division, Dissent)

Sometimes you wake up in the morning and you realize that you can do no more. So what is it about family split-ups, the pain and ugliness of a disputed divorce, the glue coming unstuck in an already unstable marriage,  a financial settlement that satisfies nobody and splits and impoverishes both sides of a divide? And how do you bridge that divide when you are friends with father, mother, children and the wounds are so deep that everyone of them wants out, whatever the costs and whatever it takes? And what is it about the deliberate wounding of each by the others, the permanent scars that will never heal over, never be stitched over, no matter how hard a third party tries? And what right does a third party (fourth party, fifth party, sixth party) have to step in and try to force issues? And what is it about lawyers, when too many guests gather around the Thanksgiving turkey and the knives are out for everyone to take the choicest cuts and what’s left now but a skeletal carcass, no flesh on the bones, and the guests all hungry still and their empty bellies rumbling for more, more, more … and this isn’t Oliver Twist, “Please sir, may I have some more?” though everyone is heading for the poor house and the beadles are also gathering by bedlam’s door with their handcarts and dogs and the full enforcement of a blue-serge law made to twist and torment, though I have never understood the law, especially when it is left in the hands of lawyers, for “the law, dear sir, is an ass”, a striped ass at that, black and white like a zebra, though grey and costly in the areas that matter most. And what is there to do but rant away about the injustice of it all, the size of the checks and now you must check-out the food banks, the soup kitchens, the meals on wheels, the charity eating and boarding houses, because there’s no more roof over the head and the house is sold and the incomes are split and the children are more-or-less cared for, though rather less than more, and the dog is turfed from his dog house and the pussy cat booted from her feathered bed. Rant, I say, rant and rage away, rage, rage against the dying of friendship and the death of love, because that’s all you can do in this blood sport where even the spectators are spattered with the refined frenzy of friends turned into fiends and foes, and this is a protest, a rant against love that doesn’t stand the course of time, against families that break up, against a society that breaks them up, drives wedges and scissors between people once bound by the puppet strings of love, against relationships that can no longer continue, against the rattling of dead white bones in empty cupboards where the skeletons dance their way into legal daylight and the spectators call for more, more, more, more blood, more money, more blood money, and the engagement diamond is a blood diamond now, a tarnished garnet, and where is the Little Old Lady of Threadneedle Street, that spire inspired needle that will stitch their world back together, and stitch you back together when you have been shocked out of your own ruby-sweet rose-tinted world and torn into little bits in their oh-so-bitter one, the biters bitten and those bitten biting back in return, a new world this world of snapping turtles, turtles standing on the back of turtles, and turtle after turtle all the way down until this carnival world wears its dead clown mask and turns turtle in its turn …

I dreamed all of this last night and woke up this morning and realized … I can do no more.

MT 2-2 Monkey Visits the Snake Pit

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Monkey Visits the Snake Pit

Monkey’s masculine penis envy
focuses on the great snakes,
pythons, boa-constrictors, anacondas,
basking beneath hot-house lights
that maintain a rigid temperature,
desert and jungle warmth and moisture
ready at the flick of a switch.

They lounge in glass cubicles,
checking each other out
for size, weight, length, girth,
with a roll of the eye and a casual flicker
of a forked lightning tongue.

Fed for far too long
on fetched food
from the untroubled tenured trough,
many have become sedentary,
and much too comfortable

to even think about
renewing their lives,
or sloughing their skins.

 

 

 

MT 2-1 Kinder Monkey Garten

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MT 2-1
Kinder
Monkey Garten

Give him a magnifying glass
and monkey nit-picks!
He likes nit-picking.

Hunting for fleas,
he combs through the fur
of less fortunate monkeys.

Monkey see: monkey do,
and what monkey does best
is crack fleas between his nails
and stick his paw in the jam jar.

Here, in the Kinder Monkey Garten,
young monkeys learn monkey skills:
how to conduct monkey business,
how to throw a monkey wrench
into other monkeys’ plans,
how to wear monkey suits,
how to square round pegs
and fit them into triangular holes,
how to build better monkey traps,
how to reinvent the monkey wheel,
again and again and again.

Monkey likes to perch enthroned
at the top of the monkey temple.
Paradise is to squat
on the organ-grinder’s shoulder,
top banana that.

Monkey also likes to visit the rest of the zoo.

 

Dead Day

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Dead Day
A Thursday Thought
12 July 2018

Funny how a day without soccer suddenly seems a dead day. Yesterday was filled with world cup fever. Anticipation, build-up, cheering, Croatia (champions), defeat (England), football (fantastic) … today the world cup has a rest and people start to breathe more easily. As a result, all -over, boredom, cleaning up, defeat (deja vu), emptiness, future (hopes on hold) … all the alphabet soup of life packed into a few short hours.

Where do we look for meaning? Is there even any meaning to look for? I watched 120 minutes of soccer, yesterday … that’s two hours. Well spent or wasted? Meaningful or not? The world heats up. A hurricane moves up the coast, turns into a tropical storm, then back into a hurricane. Hit or miss? I still don’t know, but I hope it misses. The last big one hit in 2014. We went ten or twelve days without power, and that in the Province’s capital city. Five trees were downed in our yard. More than a dozen were tugged up in my neighbor’s place. Why? Why us? Why here? Why now? Is this personal? What did we do wrong? Values? Meaning? Yet, for 120 minutes yesterday, I could forget my immediate woes and concentrate on football’s joys and sorrows. I guess that holds meaning in itself. I thought so yesterday. Today, I’m not so sure.

Out driving yesterday, I pulled into the roadside twice to allow ambulances to pass. An ambulance, a mysterious closed vehicles, lights flashing like a mad Christmas tree manned by a crew of Dr. Who Daleks. Yes, it was warm. Yes, people were excited. I guess someone, somewhere, was overcome by something and the telephone rang and the call went out to the ambulance. Values? Meaning? “What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stop and stare” … at the ambulance, lights flashing, sirens sounding, as it rushes by and we pull over into the side of the road to allow it to pass. Values? Meaning? A sense of an ending? A sense of a beginning?

Today, more than anything, a sense of being suspended, of waiting in a bubble, in a certain silence, for something to happen, don’t know what, or when, or why, or where, or to whom. The world, instead of moving on, seems to stand still. Even the leaves on the trees have stopped shaking. The silence before the storm, perhaps? What storm? And who will it strike? And where? And how? And when?

How will it begin? How will it all end?

 

 

Lullaby

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Lullaby
Wednesday Workshop
11 July 2018

One of my close friends asked me if I would write her a lullaby. Without a moment’s hesitation, I said “Yes, of course”. Like a fool, I rushed in where no angel would ever care or dare to tread. I sat down and straightaway started to write.

The first thing I discovered was that a lullaby has to rhyme. I couldn’t write one unless it went bumpety-bumpety-bump + rhyme. I wrote several of those and they were all awful. Well, I thought so anyway, and I couldn’t imagine any young child willingly go to sleep while having an adult leaning over them and chanting at them.

The next thing I found out: it’s not easy to write poems, even a lullaby, for other people. Why not? It took me some time to understand that while I write poetry from within myself, heart, stomach, and gut, the lullaby I was writing was not written for me, but for a second person who was not me. What would this friend like to read? How would they like it to sound? By extension, there were not two people involved: I was also writing for an unknown child whom I had never seen. I didn’t know their likes and fancies, nor what would fill them with fear, nor what would successfully send them off to sleep. This three-way traffic was unnerving.

Third problem: a lullaby is a cliché and is filled with clichés. Close your eyes. Sleep, baby, sleep. I will rock you. More important, perhaps, the clichés are not just verbal, they live in the rhymes as well: sleep, deep, keep.

My telephone talks with other writers led me to the theory that rhythm was what mattered. Rhythm, comfort, rhyme, gifts, and the allaying of fears. So easy to write, so hard to fulfill, especially in an age of instant communication. As I wrote, so different formulae marched through my head. I recalled the lullabies my parents and grand-parents sang for me, apparently not very successfully, I was a terrible infant at bed-time. I have more memories of being set to bed, often without supper rather than being sang to in bed. Then there was boarding school (age 6) and the faceless matrons in comfortless dormitories where, more often than not we cried ourselves to sleep. Hush little baby don’t you cry.

So, rhythm, rhyme, nonsense words, dream worlds where everything is good. Along with traditional lullabies like All through the night / Ar hyd a nos, my head filled up with reminiscences of Dylan Thomas, and in the evening, when the sun goes down, / I ask a blessing on this town, and Federico García Lorca, La luna vino a la Fragua / The moon came to the forge.

So much happening. So much laundry passing through the washing-machine of my mind where the waters churned away and rhymes were soaped, rhythms were bleached, ideas were blended and rinsed. I wrote five. I am not sure of any of them. They certainly kept me awake most of last night, syllable counting on my white woolly sheep-fingers, that brought no sleep. I tried counting my blessings too, but that didn’t work either.

Question: does anyone actually want to read my lullabies to keep a child awake? If so let me know. You might persuade me to post one or two.

 

Shadows

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Shadows

My front door stood open,
but I thought I’d left it
closed.

I tip-toed in and called:
“Is anybody 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.

Nothing. No one.
The house stood
still and empty,

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

First published on this blog, Shadows, 27 April 2017. Here now with some minor changes and a voice recording.