cautare

miercuri, 22 februarie 2012

Unfaithful

‘We need to do this.’ said the High Priest. ‘The children need us to do it.’
‘But...’
The High Priest cut him short. ‘No, Dmitry, don’t let fear win. We are angels, we are sent by God to do justice. And nothing is going to stop us. Not even one of us.’
There was a slight tension between the five priests, as they acknowledged that there would be no other way, no going back.
They didn’t all approve of it, but they would all have to live with it.
***
Karen thought about her day while she was making breakfast. She would get Susan ready for school, prepare Tom’s rucksack for the day out with his grandfather, then take a shower, put on the black dress and go to church. She decided to go on this day because it was an important day. Ten years had passed since she got married. Ten hard years, but she was about to stop the torment now, with this confession. She needed it. She needed her soul back, her family back, she needed it.
Her husband left early for work and had promised her he would be home in time to pick her up. They would then go and celebrate...
***
‘Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.’
‘What did you do, my child?’
‘I have been unfaithful to my husband.’
‘I see...’
‘Father, I need to tell you... I need to say it all.’
‘I’m here to listen, my child.’
Karen took a deep breath and with her hands numb in her lap began to tell her story.
‘I married my husband ten years ago. I was touched by his charm, his looks, his great ideas... I think I thought I loved him then. But something (just wasn’t there)(was missing). Maybe we got used to each other too fast and started to pay less and less attention to one another. Or maybe I never really wanted him as my husband, I don’t know.
After being married for six months, I met Steve, a geography teacher. We were just friends at first, but he knew how to slip a compliment into the conversation, in a way that makes a woman blush. He used to say things like nothing compares to my beauty or things like how I should be worshiped for the goddess that I am and the like. I fell for him. When I would make love to my husband, I fantasised that he was Steve. I used to say Steve’s name in my mind when asking my husband to do it to me harder. I would be cooking and ask myself what would he say about the dish? Steve was constantly on my mind. After a few months I decided to give in. So, when my husband went on a work trip, I called Steve and asked him to come over. That was the happiest night of my life. Nothing in particular happened but all the little things that did happened were perfect. We made love like you see in the films, we talked for hours, we had wine and cigarettes, and then we made love again.
It was like in that Romeo and Juliet play, when dawn came and I knew it was time for him to go... But he never really left me. Steve was my lover for eight years. I gave him two beautiful children that my husband thinks are his. Oh, I am a horrible woman, I know! But no one ever knew my secret. Not even Steve.
Two years ago he got a job in a different school and he needed to move further south. We tried to keep it going for a while but eventually we cut it off. I have suffered, I can’t lie, but now I think it all happened for the best. I want my family back; I want to love my husband and give our marriage a second chance. I know my husband never suspected me of anything, but it’s not him, I’m thinking about, it’s me... I’m unsettled, I need my peace. This is why I’ve come to you, Father, to release me of the pain I feel inside for hiding my double life all these years.’
The priest didn’t say anything for a while, and Karen saddened thinking maybe he left the confession room while she was talking. But then she heard him sighing.
‘How old are the children?’
‘Susan is nine and Tom is three years old.’
‘I see...’
‘Father?’
‘Yes?’
‘Will God ever forgive me?’
‘God will. God always does. It’s you who has to forgive yourself. It’s you who has to want to make it right. God forgives...’
‘But what about you, Father? What do you think?’
***
The church was ready for the Sunday Ceremony. The candles were lit, the carpets cleaned, the bread and the wine made ready. Karen and her family were outside the church, chatting about the week’s events.
‘Congratulations on your tenth wedding anniversary celebration!’ said Vicky.
‘Thank you. You’re not really far behind, though, are you?’
‘Not far at all, and with God’s will we’ll get there,’ said Vicky, holding tighter her husband’s hand. She and Karen shared similar stories. They’ve even convinced Tara to cheat on her husband, just to be a part of their wicked group.
‘Hey, have you received the funeral invitation?’ interrupted Tara.
‘Yes, I have!’ said Vicky. ‘What a strange invitation...’
‘I have, too. Who died? Mine has no name on it.’ said Karen, taking the invitation out of her purse.
‘Neither does mine. Let me see. Yes, exactly the same one. Who died, does anyone know?’ said Tara in a higher voice, maybe someone around there would tell them the answer.
‘Should we ask the priest?’ asked Vicky in a lower voice.
‘No, no, I don’t think we should. Maybe we just didn’t hear about it, we wouldn’t want to offend him with our ignorance.’
‘True. We are going then. Are we?’
‘What else to do in a small village like ours...’ said Karen crookedly.
***
It was a cloudy day. Rain was wrapped in thick dark clouds hanging low over the cemetery. The priest and the clerk were waiting for the guests at the gates.
Karen, Vicky and Tara were coming from the valley, their husbands a few steps back and their children running around, dipping their shoes in the muddy grit on the sides of the road.
The priest nodded and the clerk lifted the tray holding wine glasses higher. As they were approaching, the priest welcomed them with a put-on smile.
‘Good Morning!’ said the priest, almost cheerful.
‘Good Morning, Father.’ responded the women, in one voice.
‘The grave is over the hill but I think we should wait here until everybody arrives. Take a glass of wine, and thank you for coming.’
‘Mom, can I have some?’ said little Susan.
‘No,’ answered the priest, ‘Your mother is having a bit of wine here, children are not allowed to drink wine, not before they turn sixteen years old. You can have some water. Do you want some water, Susan?’
‘No, Father, thank you,’ said Susan in an imperceptible voice, her face red with embarrassment.
‘Good girl!’ said the priest as he slowly tapped Susan’s shoulder.
‘Good, the men are here too, take a glass of wine while we wait for the others.’
‘Thank you, Father,’ said the men and promptly drank and emptied their wine glasses.
Tara was fidgeting around the priest, wanting to ask the question that was on her mind all morning. ‘Father, I wonder if I can ask you... we just don’t know... Who died?’
‘The bad, the unfaithful, the vile...’
Silence followed and Tara didn’t dare ask anything more, knowing that whoever it might be, was someone who deserved his fate.
‘Nobody else seems to be coming...’
‘Yes, we will start soon...’ said the priest.
‘I don’t feel too good,’ said Vicky, her thin delicate body slowly moving from one side to another. ‘It might be because I didn’t have anything for breakfast.’
‘Mother is waiting for us with lunch, let’s just go through this,’ answered her husband, rubbing her shoulders. Vicky met his eyes with a smile.
From over the hill a thick dark smoke rose up high, merging with the clouds. The priest rubbed his hands and called a start.
‘Let’s head towards the other side of the cemetery,’ said he and took the lead.
Karen looked at the thin line made by the slope where the stone crosses pricked the sky. All of a sudden the cemetery hill was more like a mountain and she found it impossible to climb. Her strength was fading away and her vision was getting blurry. She looked for her husband but he was kneeling, a few steps further down, his head in his hands. She stopped. Vicky was holding her stomach, white as sheet, Mark, her husband, crawling to get to her. Then she looked up. As her vision was getting even more blurry she could see an army of priests coming from the top of the cemetery hill. It could have been ten, it could have been two hundred, Karen couldn’t tell. ‘The children... where are the chil...’ were her last words.
Karen’s eyes were closed, she couldn’t find the strength to open them anymore, but she could still here hear some sounds around her. Some made sense, others didn’t. She felt her body being lifted, her back heavy as her hands and legs were grabbed. She wanted to cry, maybe she did cry, but no tear appeared on her waxy, cold face. Then she felt a crush and her body hit something hard.
It was dark.
When she woke up, her head hurt. She remembered being in the church, she remembered her anniversary and... The Funeral! She opened her eyes to find deep darkness. She barely could move her finger, but she would get up and understand what had happened. She lifted her hand to hit something velvety. She moved her hand along the delicate velvet fabric. Her silent scream dissipated in the depths of her chest in realisation. She was in a coffin.
***
‘Did you get them?’
‘Yes, High Priest.’
‘Good, Dmitry. How many do we have?’
‘Four, High Priest.’
‘And in total?’
‘Three hundred and forty-six. ’
‘Good. It’s an uplifting feeling to cure the world of these sinners, isn’t it, Dmitry?’
‘...Yes, High Priest. High Priest?’
‘Yes, Dmitry?’
‘What if these new parents will be the same?’
‘What do you mean, Dmitry?’
‘What if they will be unfaithful and gossipy and... like the ones... that no longer are?’
‘They can afford to be, Dmitry. They’ve already paid for their children. Let God judge them.’

miercuri, 15 februarie 2012

The Brain

They came up with this name after a series of questions. Science people are still people, at the end of the day. And we all know people are tiny creatures in need of a bigger entity to guide them. So each time the scientists discovered an answer, they also saw the logic underneath. A strong, well explained logic. It was all physics, chemistry and applied laws discovered by other dead smart people.

So they named it The Brain. It was easier to refer to, in this way.

Journalists made appointments to see the scientists, to interview them about this new thing that they were referring to.

‘So, how was the world created?’

‘It was The Brain who did it.’

‘Right. Who or what is The Brain?’

‘Young man, The Brain is – for you to understand more easily – God as we know it.’

‘So, there is a God? Is this what you’re stating?’

‘No. I’m stating that there isn’t. I’m stating that there is The Brain and he created it all. Ok, imagine the universe as a human body. The Brain is the brain. Get it?’

‘So, are you able, through The Brain, to explain everything now?’

‘Yes! Well, not exactly, but everything that has been created without us knowing how it was done, was created by The Brain - even us. For example we can all create things, right? I can create something that will make you marvel at my abilities and wonder how I did it. But I really did do it, with my brain. Don’t tell me that you know how the TV works, I do, but you don’t. It takes smart people to understand smart stuff, smart stuff that The Brain creates. Get it?’

‘Hm...’

***

The Brain was bored of walking around, between galaxies, with nothing to do. He had created worlds, given reason to creatures and won a game of darts. What to do next? So he put on his nightcap and went to sleep on the moon. The moon wasn’t really his sleeping place, but doesn’t a bit of diversion bring a new meaning to a boring eternal life?

The Brain lied comfortably on the moon and looked at one of his favourite creations, the earth. When the earth was just a baby, The Brain had called it The Ball. The Brain used to play with The Ball, that’s how he got so good at all these ball sports. But then he became bored. One week, the Brain thought about what to do with the ball, he thought about it every minute of every day and night. He couldn’t throw it away, there were too many dear memories there. So he turned it into a planet, made a living ecosystem on it with animals, plants, clouds and humans. Then he did something that made him smile at the thought of it now: He gave humans the knowledge of playing ball games! He created loads of other planets after that, making those humans blue, orange or purple in skin colour. But only the first humans played the ball games.

The Brain gazed through the clouds at the humans. They had done well for themselves, the last time he had checked-in on them the poor things were trying to invent electricity. The Brain didn’t give them a chance! But he was wrong.

It was Rome, the place he was gazing upon at the moment. Singers in the streets, beautiful ladies waving their white dresses in the moonlight, love and peace sheltered Rome from the universe.

He noticed a girl. She couldn’t have been more than 18 years old. A beautiful Italian girl; she looked up, from her window, straight into The Brains eyes. He felt a shiver on his ethereal spine. He knew instantly that her name was Beatrice, a fair-headed virgin in a white dress, her skin soft, her moves delicate, her eyes deep and her dreams high.

The moon shook as The Brain realised the feeling that human awakened within him. She had chased his sleep away with an innocence he had never known before. He said her name to himself, Beatrice, and thought about what to do next. He wanted her for himself.

The Brain observed Beatrice for some time and was pleased by her choices. She was a good student, an obedient daughter, a cultivated young lady, a pious person. She was a beauty and she was graceful. She was what the brain always wanted, though he never imagined falling in love with a human.

The first time he talked to her was in her sleep. In her dream, she was sitting on a walnut bench, reading a poetry book. The hills were pink and the wind was slowly touching the tips of the grass leaves.

‘Turn around!’ he whispered in her ear.

She did. As she looked at him, her face gradually turned to stone. He was an immense mass of nothingness, like a giant balloon of air, his shape changing as he spoke.

‘Don’t be scared, little Beatrice, I don’t want to hurt you.’

She showed no fear on her face, that’s how scared she was. In bed, in the real world, Beatrice’s nightmare was making her wipe heavy tears, their warmth cutting her cheeks.

‘Who are you? What do you want form me?’ she managed to say.

‘I am The Brain, the creator of it all. I came to you in your dream to announce you that I want you for myself.’

Beatrice didn’t know what to reply.

‘Don’t you have anything to say?’

‘I know I am dreaming, and the priest told me that the devil sometimes comes and tempts you in your sleep. But I am not scared. There is nothing that you can do to make me, this is just a dream.’

‘The devil? Beatrice, there is no such thing as the devil.’

Beatrice almost smiled at him. ‘Yes, the priest said that too, that you’ll try to convince me of your non-existence.’ She was happy for finally being able to use this new word she read in a magazine, non-existence. The brain smiled at it too.

‘Ok, how do you want me to prove it to you?’

‘To prove what?’

‘I don’t know; ask anything. Don’t you have questions you want to ask? About yourself, about this world?’

‘No.’

‘So is everything clear to you?’

‘Yes. I’m not scared of you. I can listen, but you won’t make me believe in you.’

The Brain didn’t know how to deal with that. He paid his compliments to the girl and decided to leave her dream and come again more prepared next time. He thought it would have been easy, because what more can a human want, than him?

After taking some time to think on it, the brain returned; not in Beatrice’s dream, but in her mirror. It was Sunday morning and she was getting ready to go to church with her mother and her grandmother. She didn’t tell any of them about her dream; she had been too scared to in case they would think she had impure thoughts.

‘Hello, Beatrice,’ said The Brain from the other side of the mirror. 'I came again, as promised.' But she didn’t say anything. ‘Beatrice, can you not see me?’

‘I’m trying to ignore you.’

‘Well, you’re doing a great job. There is something I want to show you, in order for you to understand who I am.’

‘I need to be in church soon, I don’t have time really.’

‘What if I make time stop?’

Beatrice contemplated on the idea. ‘Come on then, make time stop!’

So the Brain did it. He froze the time at 6:12pm. ‘I want to tell you about this world’ said The Brain and images appeared on the mirror. First it was a black picture, a still image of nothingness. Then it all started spinning and a light appeared in the centre of the picture. The light got bigger and brighter, and then bigger and brighter some more. Then it all turned into a mass of lights, imperceptible at first but as the lights moved further apart they started to appear more like little stars. It all looked fascinating to The Brain, as he played the images for Beatrice.

But she stood there, in front of the mirror, not moving a muscle.

He showed her the earth, water moving apart and making room for the continents to be created. The mountains rising, the grass growing, the dinosaurs, he showed it all.

But she didn’t move.

‘I heard about this. I don’t like it.’

‘But this is the truth!’ said The Brain, dazed by her reluctance to see the truth.

‘I don’t believe it. But it doesn’t matter. What do you want from me?’

‘I... I want you, Beatrice, I want you to love me and to be mine forever.’

Beatrice looked at the clock, its display frozen at 6:12 pm. Her mother, a tall, heavy woman entered Beatrice’s room like a storm.

‘What are you doing? Why are you not ready?’

‘We still have time,’ said Beatrice, pointing at the clock.

Her mother leaned her head to the right and handed Beatrice a set of two batteries. ‘After you’re ready, change youre clock’s batteries, I noticed it had stopped yesterday evening. And hurry, Bea, we’re going to be there after the priest and that’s one sin that can throw us straight into the devil’s arms, my girl. And I told you to stop reading all those science magazines, they do nothing for your soul, they’ll just make you doubt yourself.’ said the mother and took the two science magazines from Beatrice’s desk.

Beatrice looked at the mirror again. Her face was beautiful, shining as if she knew a well kept secret.

A night to Forget

Sarah opened the door and glanced at the deep, black shadows in front of her. The forest. She had lived in the village all her life but she had always been anxious about walking by herself, at night, in the woods. She’d heard a lot of midnight stories about horrible things that had happened there. And tonight she would have to walk through to the other side of the forest and then along the road, to where her home – that she was about to leave soon and for good - was. She’d had a lovely evening with John, her future husband. The previous week John had proposed to her – he’d whittled into a piece of wood a miniature version of Sarah and hung the engagement ring to the sculpture’s neck before giving it to her as a birthday present - and they were both eager and excited about what would come next, the peaceful, fulfilling domestic life and all that. People used to say they made a lovely pair. And they sometimes felt like they were tiresomely and annoyingly perfect for each other, but in a good way, yeah, in a good way...

She kissed John and then said goodbye. He waited in the doorway for her figure to lose its colour in the velvet darkness of the night. Then she disappeared.

It was a dark night indeed, no moon, no stars. The wind was howling through the leaves, angrily. Sarah put on her headphones and searched for the ‘Man on Fire’ soundtrack in her MP3 Player’s list. ‘Una Palabra’. A feeling of restiveness made her turn off the music-player just as the song was reaching its dramatic moment. She stopped and looked around apprehensively. The old trees were taking human shapes! She smiled because it wasn’t like her to feel unsettled, not in there, amongst them, the comrades of her childhood games. But tonight was different and what she really needed was to hear the echo of her steps in the stillness.

She walked carefully, trying to pick her way between trunks and branches that the forceful wind had thrown on the ground.

“You’re pathetic!” Hearing her own voice echoing in the dark was strange and even more distressing. She kept on walking. To take her mind off the gloom that the forest had spread into her heart, she decided to plan – well, to fantasise about - her wedding. She imagined herself being married in that very forest, amongst the old trees; she, appearing as a goddess, in a virginal white dress, more flowing than walking...

She heard steps behind her, on the fallen leaves, and looked back, but could see nothing but trees winding angrily and chaotically. She took a deep breath and then shouted. “Is anybody there?” She waited for a while. No one answered. It must have been nothing more than a poor animal scared by the strong wind.

***

John took his brown-leather suitcase, switched off the light in the living-room and went upstairs. At twenty-two, he had done well for himself, restoring his grand-father’s shop and earning respect in the village. And the climax, he was to marry Sarah, the love of his life, his best friend and closest confidant, the amazing Sarah! He knew some of his friends were a bit jealous of his good fortune... Sarah, he loved Sarah... And, as he was taking out some files out of his suitcase and organizing them on the desk in his office, he thought of her contagious smile.

The wind slammed the window closed with such rage that the glass broke into tiny pieces. He cursed through his clenched teeth and went downstairs to find a broom. He checked his pockets for his mobile phone but couldn’t find it. He wanted to call Sarah to see if she was alright all by herself, in this kind of weather, in the woods. But he didn’t.

***

Sarah stopped walking and looked again through the emptiness around her.

“If there’s anyone out there, please, say something!”

She waited. Nothing. She started walking faster, almost running. Then she heard him, far behind.

“Stop!”

The human voice frightened her, as up to that point she’d convinced herself that it was nothing but a lost, frightened fox. She started running. “I will not stop” she whispered, “even if I have to burst my heart running.” A branch with strong, sharp thorns cut her tights. There could have been some blood drawn but she didn’t stop to check. She was hot, drops of sweat wetting her forehead and bony cheeks. She clenched her teeth and kept on running. When she thought she was far enough, she stopped and held her breath. Her heart was beating so fast that she could hear it. But also... He was running too, now closer than before and towards her. She didn’t think any further but started running again.

“Stop!” she heard him shouting - a hoarse, breathless voice -, but she had no intentions to. “Damn, woman, stop running!” Sarah could sense anger in his voice and for the first time she cursed her stubbornness in not allowing John to drive her home. Fear was spreading through the woods like plague.

She turned her head while running. The man was behind her. He must be a vagabond, a homeless person living in the woods. Suddenly he launched himself into a lofty jump and landed right behind her, his hands on her shoulders.

“Stop, I won’t hurt you,” he shouted, but Sarah was wild. She scratched his face, ragged his clothes, tried to punch him, all the moves she had seen in the movies, as she had never been in a real fight before.

“You stupid woman!” cried the man, “I don’t want to hurt you!” But she couldn’t understand the meaning of his words. They were on the ground now, him on top of her, trying to keep her still; she, shouting and kicking, tossing and striking. Then he slapped her, hard.

“Stop it, I said!... I am not from around here, I got lost and I needed to ask someone for directions. And, as I’ve met no one else in the last four hours, I thought to catch up with you. I am sorry for scaring you...” and released Sarah’s arms. She looked at him, her eyes empty; her face expressionless. Why didn’t he answer in the first place? Why did he run after her? Why did he scare her like that and jump on top of her and pin her to the ground? She let her arms rest on the wet, cold fallen leaves and there it was! She grabbed the neat branch that providence had placed for her in that exact place and hit him hard, several times. She got up and started running again.

***

John couldn’t find his phone anywhere, but he kept bumping into his car keys. He would take the car and wait for Sarah at the other end of the forest. She’d arrive there in approximately ten minutes, he knew, because she always liked to walk cautiously, with no hurry. What a fool had he been to let her leave like that! But she’d had always been stubborn as a mule, no point arguing if she had made up her mind on anything. He threw his jacket on the other seat and got into his car. He put some music and the AC on and set off. The road was clear. He kissed his teeth in annoyance. It would have been nice to wait for her with a rose, he had roses at home, but he left in a hurry so he forgot. Twenty-two years old, and he was starting to forget things, who knew what could come next?

***

Sarah couldn’t feel her legs and she was sure some things had fallen out of her pockets, but she didn’t care. She could see the road now. She needed to turn left and then walk alongside it until she reached her house. Almost there. She must have put on quite a show, because ever since she hit the vagabond, he’d stopped following her. She kept on running all the way, just to be sure. Now she was just a few steps away and she let a smile light her face. “I got away...”

***

John was driving fast, listening to the radio and humming some old song he knew since childhood. He didn’t see her... but her lovely smile hit the wind-screen of his car and she looked at him for the last time, blood coming out of her mouth.

The Guest

Friday, 21 September

18.37: She’s come home. Black trench coat, medium heels (not an important day). She wears Tuesday’s suit, as usual on a Friday.

18.40: Sits at the table. Looks happy - excited maybe; throws her shoes on the floor.

18.43: She is planning something. Thoughts flick across her face as ideas form in her head. I like that about her. Still at the table. Phone rings. From the way she talks, it must be Fat (the subject’s best friend, an ugly woman, surely mistaken for a man many times); feet on table, it’s surely Fat. Why didn’t I plant a microphone in there when I had the chance?

18.54: Goes to the bathroom. I’ve just realised I’ve never been curious enough to observe her in the bathroom.

19.40: She’s back, wearing red dress, knee length. It makes her breasts look big. Her breasts are not that big; high heels. Nice hairdo, the going out one. Goes to the kitchen and back. Tidies up the room. Lights candles, I bet scented ones. We’re going to have a little show tonight. First in _____ (check previous files). I’m making myself comfortable.

20.05: Goes to kitchen.

20.12: Brings plates to living room. Wine. Iceland frozen food tonight, most probably.

20.17: Sits at dressing table. Puts make-up on. Too much make-up. Can somebody tell women that too much make-up is not appealing? They wouldn’t listen if a guy like me told them so.

20.30: Interphone rings. She jumps; answers. She paces nervously in and out of sight.

20.32: A man arrives. 32-36 years old, looks important. I’ve never seen him before. He carries himself with dislikeable self assurance. I suppose that makes him attractive to women. They kiss. She blushes. Both sit at the table. Her hands tremble. She laughs too much, nervously. That annoys me.

20.40: He’s already drunk 2 glasses of red wine. She talks without stopping, gesticulates, has barely touched the wine, nervous. He is not listening. Not as a man who comes for the first time to a woman’s house should. I bet if she puts a mirror in front of his face she would instantly regain his interest.

21.00: She brings in the food. Fast food with advice on how to eat healthy printed on the label. It looks good. They dine.

...

Albert Core is in a wheelchair. One night, a few years ago, he got drunk with his mates and they decided to pinch a couple of wheelchairs from the Hospital Emergency Room and race them along the high street. Hospital wheelchairs lack the lightening system that would make them visible in the dark. He was unfortunate. Jane, his mother, said he got what he deserved and that him not being able to walk again was God’s way of saying ‘Hey, take that Albert, I’m a funny guy, too.’ But he is not like that anymore, people say. Even his mother likes him a bit more now. It’s been fourteen years since it happened. He’s stopped drinking and his mates never visit any more. It’s not cool to hang out with a guy in a wheelchair. Anyway they all have families and kids and crappy jobs now.

He doesn’t feel lonely. He enjoys his own company. He has got used to not wanting much from life. When family come to visit, he gets tired. They talk loudly, fidget, offer to give him a hand with this and that. And walk around. Why on Earth would they be walking around for, when he can’t, to make him angry? He’s better off without people in his space. He needs them out there, though, on the other side of his window. He bought binoculars with night vision function, a tripod, a recording device that he hasn’t used much, as he likes to write it all down in his notebooks. He has a notebook for each of his subjects.

Her name is Elodie. She’s a French woman who moved to his neighbourhood several months ago; seven, to be precise. Maybe her real name is not Elodie and maybe she is not French but she certainly fits the profile. He knows her clothes, her friends, her eating habits and her body. He best knows her body. But he never thinks about masturbating whilst looking at her. Not because that would be sick. It wouldn’t be so sick, if you think about it. He doesn’t feel the need to think about it. It’s not his thing.

...

21.26: They finish eating. She takes the empty plates to the kitchen. He drinks more wine. He empties the second bottle in his glass. Her half full glass is still on the table, barely touched.

21.29: She brings desert, some sort of multi-coloured ice-cream with a red topping. He refuses. Bowls remain on table. They kiss. I bet I’m going to witness some sort of body-to-body action...

21.35: The ice-cream is melting. He lifts her red dress, her skinny legs open like the gates to Heaven. Not for him, though. He acts like he deserves it, like he owns her. Her face is burning red. Her mouth opens. He must be having a finger inside her, lucky bastard. He lifts her up, puts her on the table, between ice-cream bowls and glasses of wine. She doesn’t like it. She stops him.

21.45: They talk. She looks at him apologetically. He’s pissed off. A shade of discontent appears on her face. I know her so well! She takes his face in-between her hands and tells him something. He pulls back.

21.48: He walks nervously to the window. He looks up. He narrows his eyes. Is he looking at ME? Did he see me? He leaves.

21.53: She is trying to touch his arm, he pushes her aside. She nearly fell. Now she is a bit angry. No sex show after all? Fuck! He just slapped her. Again! Again. I feel a warm sensation in my back like when mother used to put hot bottles of water in-between my sheets. She stands up and starts crying. She is not telling him to stop, just looks at him and weeps. His rage is not entirely released; I can see it in his eyes. He curls his finger into a fist and hits her on the right side of her jaw. Blood comes out of her nose. She falls.

...

Albert puts the binoculars down and looks at himself, at his body sitting inert in the wheelchair. He had felt something, something that reminded him of his former self. The nails cutting the palm of one’s hand when turned into a fist, the pleasure of hitting another, of launching your punch with power into someone’s face. His hands start to tremble. He put his palm on his chest and lowered it. He closed his eyes. Could it be? Could anything still be alive down there? He left Elodie and let his mind shift to the time when he raped a girl. He lowered his hand even more. He was going home, drunk, and there she was, two blocks away from his house, sitting on the pavement and crying. He stopped and asked her what was her problem. He had no intention of hurting her. She said all men were pigs. Pigs with a capital P. He leaned forward and spat on her face. She called him a mother-fucker. His mother was ugly and he was no Oedipus. They used to have this joke in their little gang. So he hit her hard. And again. And his dick was getting harder with every punch. She stopped screaming when he looked down on his cock . His penis was so erect that he couldn’t think of anything else. He tore her clothes apart there, on the pavement, and started his job. His job. He whispered in her ear that he would break her neck if she moved. So she didn’t. Remembering that, he smiled. His eyes were still closed. His hand was nearly there. The images of Elodie, blood coming out of her nose gave him the courage to unzip his trousers.

Nothing. Dead meat. Dead fucking meat. Nothing at all. His penis lay on a side, connected to his body but not his to control. Not anybody’s to control, just a dead piece of meat attached to his body. He wanted to take a saw and cut the lower part of his hapless body. He was so angry he could run. He couldn’t. He started slapping his dick with all the strength his upper body had. Harder. Harder. His cadaveric skin turned pink and he continued, thrusting his uncut nails into the soft skin, pulling out pieces of flesh, crying. Crying. Fuck. Crying. Why, God? Crying. He didn’t want this for the night. He had blood on his hands. His blood now. And no erection. Blood.

He took his binoculars in one hand and the pen in the other. He wheeled to the window.

...

22.06: She is on the floor. She is breathing. He is nowhere. His coat is gone. The fucker left. She doesn’t move. She breathes, but she doesn’t move.

22.09: She’s still not moving. Ice-cream melted. She has to move. I would be disappointed if she stopped breathing, I need her. She breathes. Not moving. Should I do something? I should do something.

...

Albert looks for his phone. It’s in his reach. Without putting the binoculars down, he dials a number. Ring. Ring. Ring. She breathes, her chest moving up and down, her sole trapped between life and death. Ring. Ring.

‘Hello?’

‘Oh! Hi, Albert! What can I do for you tonight, sugar?’

‘The usual.’

‘Ok, honey, enjoy! I’ll pass you to Linda, ok sugar?’

Albert doesn’t say anything. He waits. She is still breathing.

‘How are you, you hot stallion? Do you want mammy to fuck you hard tonight? This is what you want? Tell me, you want me to fuck you hard?’

Albert rests his head on the top rail of his chair. Linda is talking fast in a foreign accent. She is breathing. He rests.

Momot

‘What’s wrong with us?’ said the wife. She wasn’t looking at her husband but through the window, somewhere far away, over the hills, at the deep, dark sky. The room was silent apart from the crackling fire.

‘How do you mean?’ said the husband after a while.

‘I mean, she was a good woman, John. A good woman! She didn’t deserve it.’

‘It happens so rarely for someone who deserves it to actually get it,’ replied the husband in a humorous way. ’So rarely that I don’t question these things any more. You should learn this…’

‘You’re talking nonsense. Why don’t you just shut up for now?’

*

The candle was burning and its light had chased the shadows into the ghostly corners of the room. Mariette was on her knees, praying. She was always praying at this hour; and at any hour. She was always praying. As if praying would bring her husband back. As if praying could generate a miracle. Tales yes, miracles no. But she kept on praying, every day, every night. She kept on praying.

There was a soft knock at the door but she remained stone-still. Only her lips moved as if she was speaking, but no sounds were released in the praying room. Then she kissed the ground and the baby Jesus in the picture and stood up.

‘The pig is ready, ma’am. I can’t do it by myself. I need four hands for all the little babies.’

‘They are called piglets, Angela,’ said the woman in the softest of voices.

‘Not for this wild beast here!’ said Angela, pointing towards the pregnant pig. They both laughed softly and Mariette touched Angela’s arm, as a sign of friendship.

‘Do you know what I ask for, in my prayers?’ Mariette started to say, but the pig started to squeal so loudly that they needed to bring the hot water and the blankets right away.

18th of March. By midnight, six healthy piglets had been born. But the mother-sow was still squealing loudly. ‘There has to be at least one more.’ said Angela, rubbing the sow’s swollen belly.

‘I’ll do it,’ said Mariette, and Angela saw, for the first time since her husband died, something that looked like a light in Mariette’s eyes. ‘Come on, little pig, come on… I’ll take care of your babies, I promise, come on!’

And there it was. The answer to all her prayers, there it was! A child! A human child, a tiny, red, soggy little creature, with a round head, two hands, two feet: A human child! The women fell silent, the pig stopped squealing and time stood still… A baby, sent from Heaven, a holy child!

*

That summer the rain flooded the fields, the crops were destroyed and the people in the village started to go to church more often. Every Sunday all they talked about at the meetings was how to turn God’s face back to them. They killed cows and burned them on the open fields, they killed goats and hens, turkeys and horses; they sacrificed everything they could lay their hands on, hoping that God would stop the rain. But He didn’t. God was upset.

Only Mariette didn’t mind. She had it all, in her praying room. A little bed, dressed in nice, cotton sheets, holding in its wooden safety a magical life. Momot. Mariette named the boy Momot. Every day he looked more and more like her, even Angela said so. But he was growing so fast. By the end of the summer he had hair and teeth and had started to walk. By autumn he was stroking Mariette’s cheek and calling her mama.

One afternoon, in mid-November, Mariette and Angela were having camomile tea in the praying room. The bells from the church were ringing, rain was pouring and the clouds were furious. ‘Where is Momot?’ said Mariette all of a sudden, fear spreading on her face. ‘He can’t be outside, it’s pouring…’

They started calling him, but he was nowhere to be found. They searched every room; Mariette went outside, started running up and down the alleys, crying, calling his name, pulling out her hair. Angela wanted to go to ask the neighbours. ‘Wait!’ said Mariette, ‘what are you going to tell them? Tell them it’s my baby; tell them I want him back!’ But an old woman, all dressed in black was coming their way. She was holding Momot’s hand. Mariette ran and grabbed the boy in her arms. ‘Don’t ever leave like that, Momot, you hear me? Never do this to mama, never, never!’ and she held him tight and wept tears of happiness.

‘Whose baby is this?’ asked the old woman.

‘My baby!’ said Mariette proudly.

‘Is he really? Because he told me his mother is a pig and you are his other mother. That’s what the boy said to me. Mariette, are you hiding something from us?’

‘Did I not come out of that pig, mama? Are the piglets not my brothers and sisters, mama? Tell her, you tell her, she’ll believe you!’

*

It was almost Christmas. Rain had turned into snow, so much snow that the mayor had to employ people permanently to clean the alleys and the streets; so much snow that houses were nothing but roofs, surrounded by a sea of white; so much snow that no other place in the world had snow that year.

People were getting their pigs ready for the Thursday slaughter. By Friday the village would smell of blood, roast pork, sausages and meat rolls, goodies for Christmas Day.

By now, everybody in the village knew about Momot. They all came to see him, and the more people came, the faster he grew. They liked him; he was smart and had an answer to any question they asked. But, most importantly, Momot couldn’t lie. ‘Where did you come from?’ they would ask. ‘From Heaven.’ He’d reply. ‘How is Heaven?’ And his face would hold a wide smile as he spoke. ‘A bit like this place, a lot of white around, but no snow; and not so cold. They don’t kill pigs for Christmas in Heaven, either…’

‘That’s because it’s pigs Heaven.’ they whispered to one another.

On Christmas Day, all the wealthy people in the village met in the mayor’s house to dine. There were no more than a dozen of them. Mariette came too – she left Momot with Angela for two or three hours – to maintain her place in the village’s hierarchy. She was the only daughter of one doctor and the widow of another; both dead.

They all stood around the table, talking about this curse, about how God hated them for a reason they didn’t know, how they would all end up dying under the snow. Mariette didn’t want to listen to any of that. She knew nothing of any curse. All she could think of was the miracle God had blessed her pitiful life with, her baby, her treasure, her Momot.

‘Friends,’ she said, ‘let’s talk no more of the misfortune that has fallen upon our village, not today, not on this holy day. Let’s pray, let’s be thankful and let’s taste the holy food that we are so lucky to have on our table. Mayor, tell the girls to bring the platters.’ She was in high spirits; she remembered being like this when she got married. She had loved her husband so! All she had ever wanted was him and his baby. She got one of two. She was happy.

The saloon’s doors slid open and the girls came with hot platters, covered with silver lids. They were all put on the table and the mayor stood up to make his speech.

‘Dear friends, we are gathered here today to celebrate a holy day. We are gathered here today to pray, to ask for forgiveness and to do right again. There are good people in this village, but something has cast a shadow over our simple, peaceful lives. And we need to make it right today, in this day when Christ came for us. We ought to thank Him. We ought to show Him our love.’ And with that he lifted the lid of the big platter. There he was, roasted, a golden apple stuck in his open mouth.

Mariette released a sharp scream and jumped on the table. Momot! Her dear Momot, her baby, not only dead, but cooked, naked, her poor baby, naked on a silver plateau! Were they going to eat him? Was that the way they deal with a miracle? She kissed the body, between tears, and tasted the salt, the vinegar and the flames still burning his skin. Her baby…

‘I curse… I curse you… I curse you, sinners, for taking the last piece of life out of me, I curse you to never give birth again in this village, not you here, not anybody who will ever live in this village, I curse you…’

*

‘You know, as well as I do, Angela, you know that we all wanted her to die.’ said the husband.

‘I didn’t want her to die, John. I didn’t want her child to die and I never wanted her to die. Did we do the right thing? Did we stop the rain? Yes! But twelve years, John, and no new-born. You answer me now; you tell me what the answer is. Did we do the right thing?’

‘God works in mysterious ways.’

‘He does. We have no idea how to handle His ways. If I’ll ever be with child, I will name him Momot,’ said Angela, continuing to look through the window, over the hills. Then she turned and looked into her husband’s eyes.

‘I’ll be in the praying room.’

joi, 5 ianuarie 2012

Hercules and the Serpent

The Serpent wasn’t his real name. His name was Peter. The nickname came from childhood. Not many people knew that The Serpent could not walk until the age of five. He had crawled instead.
His uncle James used to make fun of him. ‘This child of yours, Dorothy, is ugly like a devil. And he crawls like one too. You know what? Why don’t we call him The Serpent? ’
‘Why don’t you go to hell, James?’ Dorothy used to say. But James never stopped calling him The Serpent and soon enough everybody else called him that too. Eventually, after some years passed, even Dorothy started calling him The Serpent.
People took his new name as a reflection of his personality, assuming he was sneaky and devious.
Preconceptions.
The Serpent and Hercules met when they were both about ten years old. When Hercules’ family moved to the village, the boy had been properly introduced to class by the principal. Mr. Hornick sat Hercules next to The Serpent, giving him precise instruction on how to take care of the new boy. Fifteen minutes into the Geography class, Hercules pushed a note onto his mate’s side of the desk and said ‘I have two awesome sandwiches. Want one?’ They had been desk-mates and best friends ever since.
Unlike The Serpent, ‘Hercules’ was his class mate’s real name. His mother named him after a drink she used to have when she was pregnant with him. If it wasn’t for Hercules’s close relationship with The Serpent probably a lot of youngsters would have made fun of his name. But that wouldn’t have been the only thing to poke fun at him at; Hercules weight was something one couldn’t ignore.
They made a good pair, those two.
They grew up together riding their bikes in the afternoon; only the two of them because nobody really wanted to waste their time on a pair of losers, one ugly as hell, the other one fat as hell. They went to the same local college, which was fine by them; nobody really had any high expectations of them. When they were old enough they decided to take an important step in their lives: they moved to the city - together. There were approving nods from family and Dorothy’s friends; yes, it was a good idea for Hercules and The Serpent to make this step together. They have been watching each other’s back for a while, so it was just the right thing to do.
They rented a small flat in the city. Each one had his own bedroom room and they shared the living room, the kitchen and the bath. But they shared everything really. Not one time did night fall to find them asleep in the living room, on the sofa and under a woolly blanket, with the TV on.
One night, when a fire alarm woke the neighbours up, The Serpent left his room to go and check on his friend. Hercules was sobbing in his sleep, aware of the alarm but unable to wake up. The Serpent contemplated on waking him up, but changed his mind and tiptoed under the blanket, next to him. He put his arm on Hercules’ shoulder and rubbed it slowly to calm him down. Hercules stopped sobbing after a few moments but didn’t open his eyes. He put his arm around The Serpent. They stayed like that for a while, both awake but keeping their eyes closed. Hercules waited for a sign of sleeping from his friend and then opened his eyes. He looked at The Serpent’s peaceful face.
The idea had come to him a long time ago; but he had pushed it to the back of his mind for some years now. Not until now though did Hercules have this kind of opportunity, to be inches away from The Serpent’s face in the stillness of the night.
So he kissed him.
His lips were soft and his breath smelled like freshly boiled milk. It had been a delicate, innocent kiss on the lips and The Serpent didn’t seem to sense it. So Hercules got bolder. He moved his head closer and touched his lips again, this time opening his mouth a bit and letting his tongue touch The Serpent’s lips. Hercules wasn’t breathing at all, too scared not to ruin the moment. Then he stayed silent in bed, looking at the ceiling and smiling inside.
‘How was it?’ asked The Serpent, in a whisper.
Silence followed; a silence that didn’t allow time to pass anymore. Blood rushed to Hercules’ face and his reactions were frozen by the uncertainties of his actions.
‘I liked it.’ continued The Serpent. ‘I have been thinking about it too but never had the courage... I’m glad you did it.’ Hercules smiled and pulled him closer. They did it again; they kissed, this time holding each other’s heads, stroking each other’s cheeks, searching for ways of getting closer together. It was beautiful and pure. Sincere.
They slept holding hands. Without speaking they both knew it had been enough for one night. Enough for the first night.
They were still desk-mates and best friends. But now also lovers. They enjoyed their new way of spending time together but neither of them wanted to talk about the implication of it. They were living being driven by that feeling and that feeling only.
After a while Hercules started to accept that he was not straight. He was happy to be with The Serpent, to share his life with the only man in whom he trusted and believed in most, who shared his experiences, who meant everything to him.
The Serpent, on the other hand, had his doubts. He had never been with a woman, with anyone really apart from Hercules ever since he was ten years old. He didn’t have any doubts about not loving Hercules, he knew he did, but sex with another man... he wasn’t so sure.
And there was a girl. The Serpent spent quite a few nights out with Ann. She had chased after him and made him go out on a date with her. But he didn’t really seem to mind that.
‘I know all about you.’ said Ann from across the table.
The Serpent doubted that, but you can never be sure. ‘What do you mean?’ he responded cautiously. She meant that she knew he was not romantically involved with another woman, which was true.
‘And I’m attractive. Am I not attractive? Come on, I’m not asking you to marry me, maybe I’m not your type, but you have to give me the chance of one date.’
‘Why?’
‘Why would I want to go on a date with you why?’
‘Yes.’ Said The Serpent, turning red all the way to his ears.
‘Oh, I don’t know, maybe because you never seem to mind anything around you, nothing really catches your attention.’
‘Oh...’
‘Plus, you spend too much time with that fat friend of yours. Are you guys together? Maybe that’s why you don’t...’ The Serpent stopped her. ‘I’ll go on a date with you, but don’t make stupid assumptions.’
And mostly for the sake of not raising suspicions about Hercules and himself, they both decided that he should go out with Ann.
In the beginning The Serpent’s feelings hung in the balance between liking and disliking her. She was so loud. But she was also funny and witty. . She knew the answer to every question. But she would ask more questions than one could imagine. One thing was for sure. It was like a breath of fresh air and The Serpent admitted that to himself. Also she was really cute and she had managed to surprise him with some really good poems.
‘You will never believe what I heard.’ said Hercules angrily as he came in one day.
‘Well?’
‘Ann is bragging all around that she’s your girlfriend and that you two are going away together for this romantic weekend or something. She is lying, isn’t she?’
‘What if she isn’t? Would you be jealous?’
‘No. But nevertheless I would have to kill her.’ A moment of silence passed and then they both burst out laughing. Though it wasn’t a joke, The Serpent thought.
‘So?’
‘She did mention something, but we haven’t decided.’
Hercules eyebrows rose with surprise. ‘And when were you going to tell me about it?’
‘It’s no big deal, don’t sweat over it.’
‘It’s not... Fine! Just fine! You’re going on a romantic weekend with another...’
‘You’re not a girl, Hercules, and she is not your rival. I thought you knew that. Don’t act ridiculously, we’ve both agreed on this.’
‘I knew they didn’t call you The Serpent for nothing, you sneaky bastard.’
‘Hercules! Don’t talk like that!’
‘Or what? You’ll fight me like a man?’
The Serpent did go on that romantic weekend with Ann. It was an amazing weekend; they walked in parks, sharing cigarettes, glasses of wine and stories. Ann questioned him about his relationship with Hercules and he had put it in a very casual light. It gave him a feeling of freedom to do so.
One other time Ann came with the idea of inviting Hercules out for a movie with her and The Serpent. The Serpent didn’t know how to put it in the right words, she insisted, so they did it. The three of them went out. It wasn’t as bad as one would have thought, but bizarre moments occurred during the night. The movie, a chick flick, would have been a nice way to spend an evening if only the tension had not thrown them all into a rigid politeness. Ann figured out that something wasn’t right. She told the Serpent that she had this theory about his best friend, Hercules. Ann strongly believed that Hercules was in love with The Serpent and that his attempts at excessive good manners were springing from jealousy.
There is a point when someone dear to you, or a stranger, a child on the street, an advertisement or something sends you the message that you’ve been waiting for, to make your decision. For The Serpent that was the moment, the only moment in which he could’ve escaped, the last moment.
He told Hercules he would go for some days to visit his uncle James.
Now, ten years later, Hercules and his wife Ann have a beautiful daughter, Tamara. They live in the suburbs. Ann commutes every day to the city, working as a journalist and Hercules teaches geography in a school nearby.
No one ever heard about The Serpent again. But everybody who knew him said that the true nature of oneself eventually comes out. And he did prove himself to be a sneaky bastard.
Preconceptions.