Shipwreck

 

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Shipwreck
(1914 AD)

they came for the burial
more civilized than
ritual burning

one by one
victims gathered up
held in one last hug

empty coffins
stood in rows
waiting to be filled

bodies on the beach
scarred in an after life
black and white

stark their weird
bones bleached
among sea-weed

done the deed now
coffins filled
lids nailed down

high tide mark
carapace charred wood
rusted iron

bright bones
long dead creatures
slow washing of hands

relentless actions
wind sandpaper sea
tear-filled skies

 

15 May 2002 Pre-Rimouski 109

Boxing Day

IMG_0010Boxing Day

23 December: my mother and I travel to my mother’s mother’s house, leaving my father to follow, if he wants to. No instructions as to where we’ve gone, or how, or when. But he’ll know and follow eventually, like the good dog he is, when the Pavlovian Parties are droolingly over.

24 December: Christmas Eve. Everyone is very secretive, wink, wink, nudge, nudge, and the ‘boy’ is sent from the room while the grown-ups discuss whatever secrets grown-ups discuss when the little one is not present. I never ask questions any more. Why should I? Little boys should be seen and not heard is the only answer I ever get.

25 December:  Christmas is here. Late last night, my grandfather, on hands and knees, shoved a box under the double-bed in the front room where my grandmother sleeps using his walking stick like a billiard cue. I could see him clearly from my bed on the floor on the far side of the room, beyond my grandmother’s sleeping place. I had a feeling it would be him. It’s been a long time since I believed in Santa Claus, let alone the spirit of Christmas. The Christmas spirits, yes, I believe in them. My grandmother keeps them locked up in a little bottle beside her bed labelled Hennessy Cognac. I have sampled the Christmas Spirits. They are nice. I believe in them. My grandmother has already risen. I’ll get up soon. I guess my father will be downstairs and the Christmas Spirits will be here in plenty. My guess is they have already begun. Joy to the world, peace at Christmas, and a truce and a laying down of arms throughout the joyous day. Perhaps I’ll get a soccer ball and we’ll play soccer in the no-man’s-land that lies between the barbed-wire tongues that simulate the trenches.

26 December: Boxing Day. By the time I get up, the gloves are off and the sparring has already begun. I hear voices, walk into the kitchen, and a hush falls on the room. Knife-edge glances slash the thick atmosphere. It’s Boxing Day. On my left, in the blue corner, my mother, smoking what is probably her tenth cigarette of the day. A thin haze of grey smoke escapes from bruised lips. Whether they are beaten or bitten, I will never know. On my right, in the red corner, my father. White-faced, hungover yet again, truly into the spirits of Christmas. He is breathing heavily, like a Boxer Dog in mid-summer heat, snoring and snorting at the leash. In the middle, my grandfather. He is keeping the combatants apart, creating his breathing space so the true Spirit of Christmas can disentangle itself from the Christmas Spirits and bring peace to earth again for at least sixty seconds between each round. I look around the heaving, threshing silence of the room. My father breaks that silence, pointing at me: “It’s all your fault!” he says, his red-dimmed eyes blazing with a sudden and renewed anger. He starts to rise, but my grandfather steps between my father and me. “Go and see granny. She’s in the kitchenette, by the stove,” he says. “Go now.” I run a gauntlet of staring eyes and go to my gran. As I shut the door behind me, voices rise higher in the room I have just left. Boxing Day, indeed. The gloves are off. The battle has begun again.

 

 

 

Show Don’t Tell

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A barber shop quartet, four of them, singing in unison, spring birds at a feeder, early morning sparrows at a jug of milk, abandoned by the milkman on the doorstep.

Except they were none of that. How could they be? They were four brothers, torn apart at birth. They never knew each other, never sang together, never embraced each other, never held each other in their arms. How could they have done so? The first one was stillborn. The second one survived for a while, but struggled to live, succumbed, and drifted away. The third one lived, marked for life by the scars on his forehead where they dragged him from the womb. The fourth one stopped struggling in the seventh month, but the mother carried him to term, even though she knew he was dead.

She carried them, blessed them, gave them all names, and buried three of them. They were her babies and she never got over their loss. Oh, she survived physically, but mentally she was destroyed.

The priests wanted to know what sins she had committed for God to be so angry with her that He destroyed the fruit of her womb. She had no answer. Some refused to bless her. Others ignored her completely. A few used her sorrows to drag the survivor into the tangled web of the church. “He has been spared. He will be one of us,” they said, and rejoiced at the potential strengthening of their celibate ranks.

Three of her children were ever before her. But the fourth lodged like an albatross on her shoulders and hung like a crucifix round her neck. She could never see him clearly. How could she? He was rarely before her eyes, never in the range of her sight. She tried to mold him like putty, but like water or sand, he slipped through her fingers.

Her husband hated him. Was he the father? It’s a wise man knows his father, or his son. Yet they looked alike. But no, they never thought alike, or walked alike. Nor moved in the same circles.

The father, a gambler, had borrowed a large sum of money and placed it with a bookie, betting that this third son would never live and that his death would make his father’s fortune, if the child was indeed a product of the seed his father deposited in his wife’s child bank.

The father lost his bet. The son lived. The father hated him every day of his life.  A rich man he would have been, if … if only … and the scars of that lost bet raged ragged on his face as the father cursed the doctor who had pulled his  son, if he was his son, alive and struggling from the womb.

If he was his son … a strong man, magnificently muscled , it was not his fault, never his fault, it was the fault of that worthless woman, the woman who had carried his seed, if it was his seed, the woman who carried his other three sons, and never brought them alive into this world …

The ostrich sees danger, and buries his head in the sand. The son sees danger and learns to run. The wife sees danger and  learns to suffer, to be beaten, to be abused, to be the victim because yes, she is filled with guilt, and how could it be otherwise, when the spirit is willing and the flesh is weak, so weak that it cannot give birth and eventually takes to the black holes of victimization, of alcoholism, and eventually of oblivion.

And the son learned to hide, to make himself invisible, never to be there, never to accept responsibility, never to sit at the desk when the buck was about to stop anywhere nearby, never to be blamed … never to turn down the solace to be found in the darkest depths of those same bottles that finally destroyed the woman he loved, who was also his mother.

Instructor’s Comments:

Rewrite.
Next time, show don’t tell.
Minimally acceptable.

D

 

 

 

Double Trouble

PEI + bockle 2008 025

 

Double Trouble

“I’ll need some ID,” the guy selling Fred a new cell phone said. “Something with a photo on. May I see your driving license?”

“Of course,” Fred pulled out his driver’s license.

The salesman took it, glanced at the picture, walked over to the computer, and started to type in numbers. Fred watched him as he nonchalantly punched the keys. Then Fred saw him stiffen and straighten up as he held the license up to the light, double-checked it, and frowned.

“I’m sorry, sir,” the salesman said, looking very sad. “This license has expired. It’s more than two years out of date.”

“You’re joking,” Fred said

“No sir,” the salesman replied. “This license expired two and a half years ago.”

He handed it back to Fred who also checked it with care. At first, the figures seemed blurred. Fred took out his glasses and put them on.

“You’re right,” Fred said. “It is out of date. I must have the new one in here somewhere.”

He started to rummage through all the plastic cards in his wallet. But there was no new driving license.

“I must have left it at home,” Fred muttered.
“They usually shred the old licenses,” the salesman smiled. “They never let you keep them. You must have forgotten to renew.”

Fred placed his hands on the cell-phone counter, looked down, and saw his face mirrored in the shiny plastic. He gazed into his own eyes and they looked back at him. Then his mind flashed back two and a half years.

He had just been through the biopsy, a messy, painful, and unnerving affair, and the results had come back positive.

The urologist demanded a new battery of tests: X-rays, bone scans, blood tests, MRI’s, examinations, more examinations, questionnaires, discussions about possible forms of treatment …

The different treatments were set out like food in a self-serve restaurant and, like the strange foreign foods that Fred liked to try without knowing exactly what they were, their names meant nothing to him.

Then there was the travel: out on the road between his little place in the country and the major cancer hospitals in the province with an examination here, and a consultation over there. All the medical staff he encountered were kind and helpful and the suggestions they offered were sound. The winter road conditions complicated matters, though, and twice he was forced to cancel appointments because of road conditions.

Then, a week or so after the MRI, the allergic reactions set in and, over a three week period he lost all the skin, first off his hands, and then off his feet. He watched the skin bubble, then he saw it go very dry, and then it just flaked off. He remembered getting out of the shower one morning, drying his feet, and staring down at the little pile of flaked-off skin that had come away with the towel.

A little later on, came the injections, the tablets, and that was before the start of radiation treatment …

Now, two and a half years later, Fred’s driving license, the one that should have been renewed on his birthday, had expired. He remembered that birthday well. He lay on his side in the hospital and the specialist drove that first needle into his buttock … what a birthday present. And now, two and a half years later, he had another special gift from that birthday, an expired driving license.

He thanked the cell-phone salesman, put his expired driving license back in his wallet, and said how sorry he was that he would be unable to purchase the cell-phone at this time.

Early the next morning, Fred went down to the Driving License Renewal Center to discover his fate.

The lady on the counter was most sympathetic. She listened to his story and told him not to worry.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “It happens all the time. But I’m afraid you’ll need to take all the tests again, including the road test. That’s the law. I’ll need to see some documentation. A photo ID is preferable. Do you have your birth certificate or your passport with you?”

Fred nodded. He had checked online to see what he needed and had brought all the right documents. He handed the passport over.

The lady behind the counter took the passport, opened it, and looked up at Fred with a sad little smile.

“I’m sorry, sir,” she said. “You are in double trouble. Your passport has expired as well.”

Double Trouble appears in my short story collection Bistro 2,
also available on Amazon.

Low Tide

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Kingsbrae 22.1
22 June 2017

Low Tide

Now we can see
the reason for the buoys,
a mud bank here,
a shoal of shingle there,
and water flowing into
rock blocked cul-de-sacs.

Markers stand
in appropriate places,
exposed to sun and wind.
As the sea roughens,
a bell clangs,
gently at first,
and then louder.

Here on the shore,
sea voices reach out to us,
high-pitched, irregular,
deeper with the rising surf.

Pity the poor black ribcage
of the burned-out barge,
its blackened bones
a playground stage
for schools of tiny fish.

Teddy Bears FFF

Empress 077.jpg

Teddy Bears
Friday Fast Fiction

Now they sleep in separate rooms in single beds each tucked in with a monogrammed teddy bear.
He likes to cuddle his, keeping it warm, tucking it carefully under the bedclothes. He calls it Ready Teddy, and his favorite game, especially in summer, is to hold his teddy bear by one back leg and say in a loud voice “Ready, Teddy, GO!”
At the word “GO” he hurls his teddy bear skywards and takes great delight in the fate of a sleeping fly, pinned against the ceiling and squashed. His delight doubles if one of the pointed waves of ceiling paint impales the fly and leaves it squirming there, buzzing impotently. This means target practice and he hurls Ready Teddy, “GO, GO,” skywards again and again until the unfortunate fly, falling like a condemned angel, tumbles back to earth.
She still follows the same ritual as when they were sleeping together in the same bed. First she pummels the pillows, fluffing them up with sideways movements of the hands. Next, she lays them on the bed and beats them flat. Then she picks them up and plays them like a concertina, pushing them together then stretching them out again. As for her teddy bear, she likes to discipline it, to beat it into shape. Once upon a time, it made noises and let out little squeals and squeaks, but the constant violence has silenced its sound box.
When they slept together she often took her teddy and beat it against her husband’s head. He would wake from the deepest dream head a-throb, ears and cheeks stinging, as she flailed him with her teddy and struck him blow after blow. When his headaches grew worse, they decided to sleep apart. He felt it was better and safer that way.
Last night, she sleepwalked into his room, and sat on the side of his bed. She clasped her teddy by the feet, a rabid Rottweiler with a rag doll, and thumped her teddy’s head against her husband’s face again and again.
The sleeping tablets had made him drowsy and slow to wake. His wife kept up the barrage until he finally woke, eased the teddy bear from her grasp, and walked her back to bed
On the way back to his own room, he checked into the bathroom and examined his face in the mirror. Blood seeped from his nostrils. He had bruises under his left eye and his cheeks glowed red where veins had broken near the surface
Next morning, he sat at the breakfast table, his grandfather’s First World War magnifying mirror in his hand, and examined his face. The ice pack had taken effect and he looked less damaged now. He reached for the color correction cream in the packet beside him and read the directions with care. Then he placed a tiny drop of the magic serum onto the paintbrush and worked the correction cream over the marks on his face. He watched them disappear one by one. Now he would be ready to face the world.
He stared into the magnifying mirror gazing deeply into his own eyes. Was that how it had happened? Or had their first child really fallen downstairs, banging her little head on each wooden step at eighteen months old?
The inquest had been inconclusive, his wife held blameless. They had remained childless after the trial.
Was that a blessing or a curse?

Empress: A Survivor Contemplates

15 May 2002 Pre-Rimouski 141.jpg

A Survivor Contemplates
the Crucifix on the Point
Ste. Luce-sur-mer

Christ of the Rocks
hanging here on the point
from the crucifix
with your open eyes:

do you see, out at sea,
where gray waves cover
the graveyard of the Empress,
at rest, her passengers,
caressed beneath shallow waters.

They have gone on before me,
those friends I numbered,
their piercing eyes
lie covered now.

Splayed toes:
last night’s footprints
erased by wind-blown
dust and sand.

 Dry crunch of skull and skeleton
crushed underfoot by sea boots
ascending, descending
the beach’s gentle slope.

Unknown,
these lands around me:
emitte lucem tuam /
send forth Thy light!

 Unexplored,
these mountains that surround me:
ipsa me deduxerunt /
such things have led me on.

 Unsolved,
these mysteries that confound me:
in montem sanctum tuum /
unto Thy holy hill …
in nomine Patris /
… in the name of the Father.

 I wander from grave to grave,
reading the headstones:
quare me repulisti? /
why hast Thou cast me off?

Coarse grass weaves bindweed
with columbines combining.

Incessant mourning of glove grey
morning doves,
drawing tears from dawn’s face:
quare tristis incedo? /
why do I go sorrowful?

 Verdant stems,
unsophisticated flowers,
weeds dark between stark
granite stones.

 Names!
Whose names?
My long lost brothers’ names,
Eric, Phillip, Peter,
not yet carved in stone:

 non in tabernacula tua /
not yet in Thy tabernacle.

 This churchyard,
will it always be
as steady as a headland
even in a storm?

 Here, the terrestrial
centre is stable:
quare tristis es, anima mea? /
why art thou sad, oh my soul?

 The ark on the waters
moves from side to side,
lulled by the sea waves,
up and down.

 On the altar,
a gilded chalice,far from the far flung
malice of the sea:
quare conturbas me? /
why dost thou disquiet me?