Category Archives: stories

Glittering

When the ancient television’s green fish-eye smashed against the log pile with a final vacuum burp, Jenkins grinned and nodded. ‘There you are, you little sod.’ He dusted his hands, ridding them of the t.v.’s cheap wood veneer. Something in his back had popped with that final heave. But what a reward. He stood, his bare toes cracking in his cold Wellington boots, and breathed into the morning’s frosty silence. Stunted trees poked above the fence at his right like glassy menorah. At his left, a gathering of dead leaves flustered applause in a short breeze. A squirrel chucked from somewhere

Jenkins turned and walked through silence past the backyard shed, garbage cans, a misplaced shovel rusting in frosted crabgrass.

He opened the back door and kitchen warmth enveloped him. Within it, the round, antique kitchen table in front of the window. The warm teapot furling a lace of steam from its spout. The humpbacked clock on the bookshelf, ticking solidly. His friend, the armchair, its leftward tilt and polished wood armrests witness to an age of use. He smiled like Christmas, then left, forgetting to change into socks.

*

 The hill formed an island in the loam of the turned field, and an elm, rooted solitary at its crest, stabbed starkly into the pewter grey sky.  Curdled clouds  heralded the onset of winter. Mr. Jenkins’ striding form stood out like a strip of wet bark against the sky, his fists rammed into pockets of a tweed jacket that he held hunched against the chill.

He hummed as his boots battled across the earth ridges, sucking up clumps of soil and kicking them loose. ‘Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand…’ A bone white branch shifted underfoot.  Beautiful. He watched it settle into the furrow as his feet passed by. ‘Til I have BUILT Je roo sa Lem…’ His breath came harder now, as if he was singing aloud. ‘In England’s green and pleasant land.’

He felt a quick movement of happiness. He remembered old England, oak and soil. William Blake. Thatch and stone. When he was an embryo, listening to the wind.

But this wasn’t England, although just as ancient. The ancientness of underground rock, of massive, tree-bristled mountain ranges, of lakes that held their breath in the dawn, waiting for the end of the cormorant’s flight, a shadow dashing across a surface eerily metallic.

It was terrifying. Truly awesome.

Like this tree he had come to. Naked to the elements, through summer’s merciless heat and now, with winter’s frigid bite gnawing into it. His fingers stroked the rippled bark lightly, as if he were reading Braille. He hung still momentarily while the wind soughed behind him.

Nothing came from the bark, no messages from the sap. Nothing ever came to him. Just the acute realization that he was standing in a wide field, touching the bark of a tree. Such a painful impotence – the dull pain of an imagined rock, in a dream, beating against an imagined soul. Or something.

He found the rope, the end frayed like a horses mane, gathered it in one fist, then the other, and heaved himself up, scraping his knees and shins. He sat, flushed and exhilarated, in the wide crotch of the lower limbs, and leaned his head back and stared upward with his mouth agape. He felt the muscular heaviness of the limbs near him, and the splaying outward, the rushing upward of limb upon limb, smaller and smaller until a latticework of fingers tangled in the sun itself.

He stayed still like that for some time; only the rocking of himself and the tree. Cancelled. The tree, the wind, the splendid reach of the field and the air transposed him.

He thought with his fingers as they gripped a branch.

Or flattened against a knot.

He rested, settled the back of his head against a branch and waited. Breathing… one… inward, lungs filling… two… .nourishing the blood… three… the exhale.

The wind moved on the field like an ambling dog.

Clicking branches made soft percussion.

He waited for it to come to him.

A starling materialized at the foot of the tree. He watched it pecking, strutting, and standing with its head up, as if it had forgotten something under the clumps of soil. Black eyes, and invisible ears tuned. Jenkins listened as if he were within that air-weight body. He felt the endless wind of life, the gorgeous everything-scent of being. He felt the flight that all of mankind had dreamed. He entered through the starling’s obsidian eye. He became starling and tree, and Mr. Jenkins; a holy trinity smiling into oncoming snow. Glittering.

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Old Quarry

They were down at the old quarry, where the newer humans threw themselves off the cliff as though they were on fire.

“I can’t get out yet .” Her smiled duplicated his own as the realization clarified. “I’m too old… to be, shall we say, this happily tumescent”.

” I don’t mind if you don’t.” She paddled lazily around him. “And as for Arwen, she’s seen much fatter men than you wearing Speedos in Greece”.

Arwen’s vivid, lovely scream plummeted with her from the 30 meter height. then smothered in the water. Then she surfaced, eyelashes like spider legs, smiling and spouting water. The world was hers and he was entrusted to love and protect them always. For at least this Sunday.

Life is also always wasted on the olde, he thought. We don’t understand it. Like cutting fretwork; you always snap something. But this summer, he wouldn’t think of that. His role was to be oldish and enjoy the myriad miracles. He almost had that down. It was becoming a doorway he could open at will, rain or shine. He wondered how it would feel when it all caved in, when he felt the knife’s twist, the seeping poison that was jealousy.

They all submerged at once and bobbed to the surface in a magical synchronicity. It would be easy enough to say those words, those three words that would bludgeon everything they had delicately built. His hand touched her thigh as he lifted a hand to wipe water from his eyes. She was too beautiful for words. And Arwen, simply a miracle. He pushed himself down into the colder current, pushed deeper, eyes straining through the murk. What are you after?, he interrogated himself. “Something from my past that has gone,” he answered himself. The quarry’s deeps were impenetrable.

The thing, when you were young, was to be seen out of the water, not in it.

He stayed deep, watching the churning entry of the jumpers and divers; in fragments of silence listening to his heartbeat.

He surfaced with a tranquilly empty mind, to Claudette’s voice. This was rare, and he listened like an anthropologist, never quite keeping up with her words. “What the hell? Where did you go? We thought you’d drowned or something.”

Her words echoed away. And what could that ‘something’ be?, he wondered. Impossible to answer, impossible to put right. He paddled arms and legs, listening, watching the leaping world of youth as if he were a tree, deep-water-rooted. When the time was right, he could simply say “I’m sorry” and probably have to do it maybe once more and then the day would right itself.

He beckoned to her and she ignored him, her gaze scanning the water and cliff for Arwen, until Arwen popped up at her mother’s back.

“I was trying to find you and couldn’t see you anywhere.”

“Well, here I am.” She kicked off, spraying them both with water.

“Just kiss him,” she said.

They stared after her and noticed that they had held hands somewhere in between then and now. He lifted her hand to kiss it. Then she turned, this secret woman, and kissed him fully… gently… on his lips.

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Old quarry

They were down at the old quarry, where the newer humans threw themselves off the cliff as though they were on fire.

“I can’t get out yet .” Her smiled duplicated his own as the realization clarified. “I’m too old… to be, shall we say, this happily tumescent”.

” I don’t mind if you don’t.” She paddled lazily around him. “And as for Arwen, she’s seen much fatter men than you wearing Speedos in Greece”.

Arwen’s vivid, lovely scream plummeted with her from the 30 meter height. then smothered in the water. Then she surfaced, eyelashes like spider legs, smiling and spouting water. The world was hers and he was entrusted to love and protect them always. For at least this Sunday.

Life is also always wasted on the olde, he thought. We don’t understand it. Like cutting fretwork; you always snap something. But this summer, he wouldn’t think of that. His role was to be oldish and enjoy the myriad miracles. He almost had that down. It was becoming a doorway he could open at will, rain or shine. He wondered how it would feel when it all caved in, when he felt the knife’s twist, the seeping poison that was jealousy.

They all submerged at once and bobbed to the surface in a magical synchronicity. It would be easy enough to say those words, those three words that would bludgeon everything they had delicately built. His hand touched her thigh as he lifted a hand to wipe water from his eyes. She was too beautiful for words. And Arwen, simply a miracle. He pushed himself down into the colder current, pushed deeper, eyes straining through the murk. What are you after?, he interrogated himself. “Something from my past that has gone,” he answered himself. The quarry’s deeps were impenetrable.

The thing, when you were young, was to be seen out of the water, not in it.

He stayed deep, watching the churning entry of the jumpers and divers; in fragments of silence listening to his heartbeat.

He surfaced with a tranquilly empty mind, to Claudette’s voice. This was rare, and he listened like an anthropologist, never quite keeping up with her words. “What the hell? Where did you go? We thought you’d drowned or something.”

Her words echoed away. And what could that ‘something’ be?, he wondered. Impossible to answer, impossible to put right. He paddled arms and legs, listening, watching the leaping world of youth as if he were a tree, deep-water-rooted. When the time was right, he could simply say “I’m sorry” and probably have to do it maybe once more and then the day would right itself.

He beckoned to her and she ignored him, her gaze scanning the water and cliff for Arwen, until Arwen popped up at her mother’s back.

“I was trying to find you and couldn’t see you anywhere.”

“Well, here I am.” She kicked off, spraying them both with water.

“Just kiss him,” she said.

They stared after her and noticed that they had held hands somewhere in between then and now. He lifted her hand to kiss it. Then she turned, this secret woman, and kissed him fully… gently… on his lips.

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May 31, 2013 · 12:29 am
English: Adolf Hitler as a soldier during the ...

English: Adolf Hitler as a soldier during the First World War (1914 – 1918) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Banana Sandwich

It was another one of those times when Luke became conscious in another dimension, and he didn’t enjoy it. He had been on a beach in his shorts and t-shirt, drinking a cold beer and it had been the summer of 2013. Now it was 1924 and he was trussed up in some pseudo-ceremonial/military garb that itched furiously, and there was a perennially pleasant man to his left holding up a small ornate box. In it, Luke presumed, another gold medal, obviously meant for him. It was not conceit which made him sure of this; it was simply that it kept happening, in different dimensions and times. The pleasant fellow was simply his assigned psychic prefect, from centuries previous – he knew your history and he gave you medals, or dressings down.

Some things never changed. Yes, it was 1924, and another dimension, but things looked similar to earth, and a horrible brass band was belting out something heavy enough to crush all musicality. Honoured, among others, he could see at least three people to his right, a man and two women, who jauntily displayed their chest medals. For them, things had not yet got deathly boring.

“So what’s this one in aid of?” he asked wearily. A large pizza and a case of Corona would have been preferable by far. The prefect, who wore a golden doctorate gown, smiled.

“Well, you can’t win them all, but the good things do add up, dimension by dimension. You’ve done some good things during your dimensional peregrinations.”

“I damn well wish I’d never learned how.”

“You didn’t learn, exactly. It came upon you as it does for most, like a bad cold that never leaves.”

“You put that well. And here I am again, suffering the effects.”

“Ah, but it all adds up in karma. Or did you forget, karma functions between all dimensions? Killing that frog with a rock in 1974 was a minor case of bad karma.”

“Not for the frog” Luke admitted. “I truly do feel sorry about that one.”

“Well, the frog forgave you and came back again.”

“As what?”

“A frog.”

“Imaginative.”

The marching band was still bleating and bashing, so he tried another tack.

“So, if I’m getting a medal, I must have done something significantly good.”

“You’d think so, wouldn’t you?”

“Uhhh, yes.” The unpredictability, or the fact that he might be wrong irked him. He wanted beer and pizza even more.

“And you did. If only in this dimension. We tried to get you to do the same in other dimensions but you fucked up. Let’s say your intuition was not always up to the task”

“So what did I do?” Luke was so surprised by the prefect’s language that he wasn’t sure what the question was aimed at, the good or the bad.

“Banana sandwich.”

“Huh?”

You were in art school, Vienna, lunch time. Your wife had made you a banana sandwich.”

“I hated them. Still do. The bread gets all soggy and…”

“… and the banana turns brown… we know. You must have told a dozen people in the dimensions in which bananas grow.”

The old man shifted the small box to his left hand. “So it was lunch time and you were sitting next to this rather nasty artist named Schickelgruber who you had played a part in accepting to the art school. A ragged chap…”

“Yes, I remember. Geez, who wouldn’t, knowing what we know. If he’d had a sense of humour he might have taken Chaplin’s place. I know they laughed at him at the school, for his hair, his moustache, his ratty clothes.”

“But you didn’t laugh, did you?”

“True, but I didn’t do very well. Must be some bad karma attached in this dimension anyway….”

“For giving him a banana sandwich?”
“I hated it. And I didn’t like him much. I thought they both stunk, so I gave Schickelgruber the banana sandwich.”

“Which he ate in a hurry, choked on, and died.”

“Which is bad, right? After all, he was just a mediocre artist. He could have lived harmlessly.”

“He nevertheless still wanted to rule the world. That fact rules every one of his dimensions, even now. Your choking him on a rotting banana sandwich saved this dimension a horrific world war, but not all.”

The prefect presented the ornate box. “Sorry to say, your future karma is always to be linked with Schickelgruber/Hitler’s.”

“Why?”

“He refused to forgive you this one mishap. He’s an infinitely paranoid, vengeful man, and now he has glued you to himself through petty hatred.”

Luke considered. “Well, a medal might buy a case of beer back in 2013. Fuck Shickelgruber.”

The prefect opened the box and presented it to him. Inside sat a rotting banana sandwich and a scrawled note from Hitler. “Banana sandwich, 1; World War, 2. And so on.”

“Huh?” said Luke.

“Hitler’s little joke. You’ll be seeing him again. So look sharp,” said the prefect.

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