Cat

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catThis, the man decided, as his eyes took in the comfortably chintzy living room with its gentle colours and mysterious nooks and crannies, was the most unbelievable stroke of luck!  Not an hour since, the lady who owned this house had been a total stranger; a far-off star of loveliness way beyond his reach.

Since he first met this woman he had been besotted.  He had (there was no other word he could honestly use) lusted after her, watching her through her windows from his shop across the street and dreaming.   Only In the silent watches of the night, alone in his room, had he found the words he sought to seduce her and cried them aloud, knowing she would never hear them.  A purity, an innocence defended her, so he could never speak plainly.  His innermost desires, his private yearning, remained a sad and rather squalid secret.

Now?   Now he was sitting in her living room.  Suddenly it was all possible!   Somehow, her cat had turned up in his bookshop, the cat he had seen on her windowsill; the cat she brought into his shop once on one of the occasions when she came to buy a book and her radiance had, as ever, rendered him tongue-tied and stupid.  It had made a home for itself upon his bookshelves and refused to leave.  In the end he had no choice other than to carry it across to its proper home.

She had answered the door.  Her face had lit up with pleasure; no, with joy, when she saw he had brought the cat.  And now he was sitting on her sofa in her front room, drinking her tea.

“I must just leave you for a moment.  I won’t be long.”

Another opportunity was slipping by.  He was alone with the cat, which sat upon the armchair, watching him.

“Oh, Kitty, what a night I could spend with your mistress!”   He enthused.  This was man-talk, of course, but then it was deeply felt; and after all, this was only a cat.  Who was it going to tell?

“Just a night?”  The cat responded.

“Well, alright, two or three nights I suppose.  We’d probably get bored with each other after that.”  He checked himself.  “Wait!  I shouldn’t be telling you this!  I should be telling your mistress.”

“I wouldn’t advise it.”  Said the cat.  “Do you usually conduct your amours at such a noble pitch?”

“Too direct?  A little unsubtle, I concede.”   Something felt odd.  “Just a moment!  Why am I talking to a cat?”

“I am a pretty creature, am I not?  Or so my mistress describes me, after she has called me Furis, which is my given name.  I do not answer to ‘Kitty’, generally.“  The cat stretched, anchoring its claws into the fabric of the armchair.

“You are certainly a very fine cat.”  The man agreed.  “But it doesn’t necessarily follow that we should engage in  conversation”

“Why not?  All humans talk to their animals, don’t they?  They see their own image in our eyes and they talk to that.  They even persuade themselves we understand them, a little.”

“And do you?”

“All too well.”  The cat flowed from chair to window sill with liquid grace.  “Sometimes I can see myself as if I were another cat, here in this glass, in the dark time.   We might play with one another and hone our skills for a while, my pretty other self and I, but I know my reflection:  I am not a fool.”

“This is different.  I think you do understand me and I can hear you, quite clearly.  Your mouth does not speak the words, yet your meaning is distinct.  I’ve not experienced this before.”

“Does it make you uneasy?”

“Somewhat.”

“Then stop talking.”  Said the cat, licking a protruding paw with an air of distaste.

The man tucked his legs beside him on the sofa, and lapsed into an edgy, impatient silence, but it was clear to the cat this restraint could not last long.  “Very well;”  it said.  “Let us test your assertion.  Ask me something, and try not to make your question too boorish.”

The man stared, for the cat had formed these words without interrupting its wash.  It had draped itself before the window, relishing the light of a bright spring morning.   Taken aback, he groped for something to say.  “Is that your favourite window?”  He muttered nervously.

“Oh, do speak up!”  Snapped the cat, brusquely.  “ Is this my favourite window sill?  I cannot answer that.  There are two you see –two windows, two sills, two worlds.  With the morning sun upon it this is my choice.   At night the window at the back of the house is where I sit, making my plans for the gardens and fences and waste bins outside the glass that are my world – my night-time world.   There I can chase down the little creatures, to play with them a while before I kill, or sit with my brothers upon the copings, telling tales or serenading the moon.

Now, though the street beyond this window is not of my world the sun is warm:  all the little ones sleep; while here I stretch myself on the warm paint, do the combing and washing so necessary to my body’s machine, and some sleeping too.  There!  Was my little speech sufficient to prove your point; or mine?”

“Well, you certainly weren’t speaking in the normal sense;”  acknowledged the man, frowning.   “It could be that my mind is inventing words for you; lending articulation to things I would expect a cat to say.”

“Could it?  I gather you have the monopoly of what is normal?”

“Ten minutes ago I would have presumed so.  Not now.”

“Nevertheless, I am just a ‘normal’ cat, aren’t I?   Look at me – you can stroke me if you wish!  Admire my claws.  See how I hide them, so my feet are soft and silent?  I can pat you – thus – and you will barely feel my touch.   Now see how sharp are my claws when these outstretched limbs reveal them?  They are my secret.  When my mistress cuddles and plays with me I pat and dab and keep them to myself. But they are weapons, and the little creatures have reason to fear them.”

Somewhat hesitantly, the man reached out to run his fingers over the soft fur of the cat’s warm flank.   “You must want to sleep, if the night is your time.”

“ I feel tired – I do!  Such luxury!”  The cat yawned.  “So easy to sleep, here in the sun, on the safe side of the glass.  You have questions to ask, though, don’t you?  I promise I will stay awake.  What would make you feel at ease?  Should you have brought one of those repulsive books you keep beneath your bed to help you pass the time?”

“So you know of those, too.  What do you not know?  Explain to me.  Why are you so harsh with me?”

“Because you richly deserve every barb you draw, dear man.  Yet I see there is a sweeter, finer side to your nature and so I would teach you, if I could.”

“Really?”  The man managed to dredge up some dismal sarcasm.  “Perhaps we could concentrate upon my finer points?”

“You carried me here, didn’t you, across that frightening street.  The world which is not mine.  Your hands are gentle.  Just as my mistress was carrying me, out there, when first I saw you; as you stroked my side a moment since.  You may not purr, but you are not all the leprous creature you pretend.   Your hands betray you:  you are capable of love.

“Come and join me, look down to the street that is a good jump below us, watch as I watch:  humans blundering about, vile smelling cars and lorries and vans dashing by.  Oh, I can mingle down there – sun myself upon the step, or collect plaudits from passers-by; and It is amazing what I can achieve by simply purring, or rubbing myself against an ankle – mutual grooming; favours, even food.  But the street is a place of horrors.  I have seen friends taken to Forever Stillness by the stroke of a car wheel, or crushed to meat beneath a lorry’s tyre.  To make a crossing there is fraught with peril, so my mistress carries me across, when there is the need.”

Mollified by the cat’s altered tone, the man rose to his feet, carefully balancing the cup of tea the cat’s lovely mistress had brought him.  His eyes followed the gaze of the cat, across the thoroughfare to the bookshop where he worked.  “She brought you to see me the other day.   I think she wanted to show you off.  She dotes on you, you know.”

“As I dote on her.”  The cat said.

“I still don’t quite understand, then, how she managed to leave you behind in my shop.”

“My mistress has bought a lot of books from you in recent weeks.”

“True.”  The man frowned.  “Should I deduce something from that?”

“If you wish.  What better contrivance than to let me hide among the shelves for a while, knowing you would discover me?  Then you would have cause to return me to my owner, wouldn’t you?”

“Just so I could have an excuse to come here?”  The man found himself wondering if the object of his desires shared his feelings and needs:  but no – this was, after all, no more than an imagined conversation.  “Surely your mistress missed you.  She could have come to the bookshop.  She must have known where you would be.”

It was important to me to bring you to our home.  My mistress is beautiful, is she not?   Her raven hair, her dark eyes, her warm smile?”

“Yes.   Yes, she is.   Wait a moment!   Important to you?  You make it sound as though you plotted this.”

“Do I?   Is she not grateful?   She will return in a moment.  Meantime, you sip her warm tea and seem as though you belong here.  Was I wrong?”

“Yes….no…I don’t know.   I’ve no precedent.   I think this is the first time I’ve ever been invited to tea by a cat, especially one with critical faculties as sophisticated as yours.”  He thought of the cat’s owner, of the bottomless lake that seemed to exist behind her eyes and the intoxicating scent she wore.  And he realised that although it was a month since he had first encountered her, he had been too shy even to ask her name.

The cat was watching him intently:   “Well, then, will you stay?”

“Stay?”  Had the question been framed by a person the man would have been shocked.  But when a cat asked it, it was amusing.   His lips curved in a smile.  “What, you mean – actually stay?  The night, and so on?”

“And so on.  Yes.”   The gaze of the cat was suddenly focussed on his face, keen, almost harsh.  The intent look of a predator ready to spring.  “You must agree to stay.   Willingly agree.”

“Well, perhaps with time, if your mistress and I got to know each other better…”  What made him wary?  Why did he suddenly want to run?

“No.   Not ‘with time’.  Now.”  The cat rose to its feet, back arched.  “Feel in your pocket.  The left one.”

The man decided to remain silent.  This was becoming ridiculous.

“Check your pocket.”   The cat insisted.

“Where is your mistress?”  He countered.  But his hand explored his left jacket pocket, nonetheless.

“She is near.  She will be waiting.”

The man’s fingers encountered something roughly rectangular, which he withdrew.   “How did this get in here?”

The small rectangle of paper that now lay in the palm of his hand was wrapped, curiously, in hair – human hair.   When he pulled the hair away the rich perfume of the cat’s mistress assailed his senses, and when he examined the paper inside he saw it was a photograph of himself.

“My mistress, or I, we put it there.”  The cat replied.  “It does not matter which of us – we are one and the same.  It is a spell that binds you, and now you must fulfil your promise.  The promise you made in the night, when you believed you were alone.  But you were not alone.  I was watching.  I am always watching.”

Feeling his anger grow, the man rounded upon the cat:   “What if I choose not to?  You presume a great deal, for a cat!”

“Or a woman.”   Said the woman, who had transmuted from the cat before his incredulous eyes, standing with her back to the window so he could no longer see the street.  “For I am both.  My name is Ellandra, by the way.”

Although his heart pounded in his chest the man’s anger melted, because Ellandra was every bit as beautiful as he had thought her the first time they met.   “I don’t know what’s happening to me!”  He protested.  “This isn’t real.  It can’t – you can’t be real!”

Ellandra smiled a bewitching smile, and said simply:  “Stay.”

“But I can’t.  I mean if this was real I couldn’t.  I have a business…”

“You have no choice, I’m afraid.  You are bound by my spell, and if you try to leave, I shall simply have to turn you into a mouse.”

“And”  she said, suddenly a cat again;  “I would hunt you down and kill you.”

Aghast, the man collapsed into the sofa.  Breathing in storms, he could find no words.  The cat immediately slipped onto his lap and curled up, and there, after a few seconds, no more, it began to purr.

 

© Frederick Anderson 2016.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

I Don’t Mind

Great little poem! From Debtadema’s blog…

Debtadema's Blog

I don’t mind the blowing snow

If it’s not biting cold

I don’t mind the slippery ice

If it’s not on my road

I don’t mind the driving rain

As long as I can see

I don’t mind the lightning strike

If it’s far away from me

I do’t mind a little breeze

And won’t fear the swaying trees

I don’t mind when it’s too hot

If I can find just one cool spot

I don’t mind the big ice berg

I will watch them float on by

I don’t mind the drifting sand

That disappears with the tide

I don’t mind the sudden storms

As long as it’s not harming

I don’t mind the upset seasons

But I do mind this global warming

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Snow

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victoria-xmas-cardSome stories demand attention.   Any writer can find them – or rather, they find him, eagerly salivating little gangs that pounce each time he opens his laptop and switches on.  Headlines, oddities, issues that invite comment, or exercise a turn of phrase.  Stories that beg to be told.

So here I am, staring at the keys.

Christmas stares back at me.

Christmas makes it abundantly clear:  it does not beg to be told.  All it wants is to be put back in its box.   Its greatest hope is to be left in peace.   Over the centuries it has been written about incessantly; it has been turned over, forensically examined, boiled down and put into test tubes, sculpted by the greatest, depicted by the painty-est (yes, I know it’s a new word – I just invented it) and sung without mercy.

There is nothing about Christmas we do not already know.

We know that St. Nicholas began a legend when (allegendly – another new one, do you like it?) he dropped bags of money down the chimneys of a deceased friend’s daughters to save them from penury.  We know the first Christmas trees were religious symbols Eastern European people hung upside-down from their ceilings (or medieval equivalent) as appeasement to evil spirits, just as ‘decking the halls with holly’ dates back to days when the dark woods were never far from our doors, and we needed to be sure our friendly sprites and fairies would feel at home when the party started.

We are aware our celebrations are intrinsically pagan, and early Christians hung their own festival of Christ’s Mass upon them for convenience, because it was easier to get converts if they didn’t try to impose additional celebrations on people whose winter resources were limited.   They understood even then that Jesus was not born on December 25th:  they argued about His actual birthday from the very beginning.

So where is the new angle?  What startling revelation can I bring?

I have seated Christmas on my window sill, hoping a little cold air will wake it up.  It just stares at me, blankly.  Beyond the glass, Washington Irving’s rotund red fellow ho-ho-ho’s at me before fading away; heading back, presumably, to his inhospitable den at the North Pole.   How the hell does he cover Australia in midsummer from there and still get home before dawn?   Albert and Vicky smile regally from their cardboard portrait, the first Christmas card, before disappearing into an envelope to be despatched by a postal service that hasn’t been invented yet, making me wonder – was it an ill-advised penchant for adorning our Christmas trees with lighted candles that stimulated creation of a national fire service?

“No.” Christmas assures me.  “Insurance companies created the first organised fire brigades.  Nicholas Burbon initiated one after the Great Fire of London to protect properties he insured.  The first organised municipal brigade was probably Edinburgh’s, in 1824.”  It squirms in a weak attempt at enthusiasm.  “That’s something new for you!”

“But nothing to do with Christmas.”

“Oh, well then.”  It appears to be dropping off to sleep.  I give it a prod.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, WHAT?”

“I want a new angle.”

“There isn’t any.”

“Just something – anything – a bit different?”

It tucks its chin into its chest, adopting the shrivelled appearance it always has just before twelfth night, when nearly all its needles have dropped off.   “Snow.”  It mutters.

Snow.

Snow, of course, is the great enemy in Eastern Europe’s icy winter heart.   The Germanic peoples of history knew all about snow – the white blast that drove them to huddle within their huts, sealed up and buried, for the winter of the year.   It was an enforced hibernation, a somnolent wait for the coming of spring, and a habit as old as time.

Equal in tradition was Yule (the Nordic houl), the time of the hunt.  It began once the huts-on-the-steppeharvest was gathered in, and, just like the harvest, it culminated in a great feast – the feast of Yule.  Carcasses kept frozen by frost could be stored, so as to provision the months of incarceration.  Given a good hunting season, whatever was left over was consumed in feasting, sending celebrants to their hovels with full stomachs and hopeful hearts.

The Yule Festival – kept more formally by the Romans as ‘Saturnalia’, equally an occasion for seven days of self-indulgence – had added significance, for peoples of early times, as the winter solstice; important for those who relied so heavily upon the mood of the sun, and therefore a religious occasion:  of course, wherever there was a religious occasion the witches could be expected to put in an appearance, so it was a time of superstition and fear, too.

Perhaps it was that weak underbelly of terror that the Christians, four hundred years after the time when Christ is said to have lived, latched onto in the spread of their gentler creed; but it took all that time before Yule could be reborn as Christmas.

So there’s my angle.  It isn’t really new, and I’m sure you knew it already, but I thought I should just remind you that whenever someone laments Christmas’s ‘commercialism’, and insists upon the ‘true message’ of Christmas, it is you who has the moral high ground.   It is the time of the solstice and it is a feast:  the Romans gave gifts at Saturnalia, and so should you.

Christmas looks at me archly.  “Can I go back in my box, now?”

“Yes, of course.  Until next year, at least.   Oh, and thank you for ‘snow’.”

 

f

A Material Girl

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utility-room-hero-230816She did not remember when it began.

At first it was not a fear – not as such; but just a nagging sensation that something she had accepted without question for so long, was no longer quite right.  Ella considered this as she loaded the washing machine – was it a sound that first alerted her?  If so, when?  Days ago?  weeks?  Months, maybe?  No, not years.  It couldn’t possibly have been as long as a year…

Perhaps it wasn’t a sound at all. After all, this was a utility room, and no matter how expensively equipped, it was often filled with sound:  hard, practical sound.  So perhaps it was one of those taut strings in her brain slightly vibrating; at so low a tone, at so deep a frequency she couldn’t actually hear it.  Or even the cool basement air, so exquisitely conditioned by the silent machinery of the house.  It was simply – there.

And now it was louder.   Or more vibrant.  Or rarified to such an extent she had difficulty in breathing.  Which was why she always stayed close to the door, ashamed to admit to an instinct to actually run, yet comforted by the firm feel of the latch behind her.  She couldn’t account for it.

Above her head, the games room with its snooker table solidity was empty, now that James no longer played.  It was kept locked.  So the unpleasantness, whatever it was, couldn’t emanate from there.

She emptied her basket of clothing into the washer, reflecting how small her needs were, now her husband had gone.  A single wash each week was well within the capacity of these glorious machines, so, much as she admired them as possessions, they tested her strong sense of practicality; and she really did not like being here, in this windowless room, in this stately old house.

Ella’s reaction to the room was shared.  Angelina, her erstwhile housekeeper, had been equally reluctant to spend time down here.  In fact the woman had refused point-blank to go anywhere near the utility room in the end.

“Is bad place!  Very bad!  I am not surprised if dead people under floor in there!”

Angelina had talents in other directions which removed any question of dismissing her at the time, so Ella had choked back her own hatred of the place and taken the task of loading and discharging the machines upon herself.     But now?  A more modest utility space would suffice, would it not?  And in place of this?   Machine set, she retreated to the door, casting a backward glance over those smooth, tiles, clad walls and shining steel appliances.  A basement swimming pool maybe?  Then at least if Angelina’s suspicions were correct, the digging process would surely find out.   She would suggest this to Maggie when they met this morning.  Maggie would agree, of course.  She always did.

Maggie and Ella had remained fast friends since their childhood years:  same school, same tough, ghetto estate.  Two girls alike in their gritty approach to life, both firm in their intention to raise themselves above their impoverished beginnings, determined to consign the famine of their early years to memory.  Each had known a measure of success:  Maggie’s was a successful business, carefully honed into a franchise that had gone ‘national’ more than a decade since.   And she had married well, too:  Fergus, her husband, ran a flourishing construction business.  Maggie seemed happy with him, something Ella could not quite understand.

It was many years since the pair of lifelong friends had joined hands in a pledge that nothing; least of all love, should distract them from their ambitions.  No man would stand between them and fortune, though men were not without use; far from it.  To marry well was imperative; the fast track to a fortune:  to love, however; that was anathema to their plans.  Affection should never cause them to swerve or falter along their certain road to riches.

“He should be rich, and he should be good-looking, if possible.”  Ella decreed.  “It would help if he was older; much older.”

“So far,”  Maggie commented, “I’ve found those things rarely go hand in hand.”

“Which makes the challenge all the greater!”  Ella said.  “But once you have found him…”

“Never let him go?”

“God, no!  We want the money, not the man.  Money and independence, Mags!  Think of it!”

“Divorce, then?”

Ella reflected for a moment.  “Maybe.  Maybe not.  Are you with me?”

“Hell, yeah!”

A few years would have to pass before Maggie and Ella were at the same party as multi-millionaire James Morgan Maltravers.  Ella set her cap at the fifty-year-old socialite so single-mindedly most who witnessed it agreed the poor man had no hope of escape.  Comments frequently referred to Ella’s ‘claws’, but she was unabashed.  Their marriage adorned the pages of ‘Hello’, helicopters almost drowned out the utterance of their vows.  Maggie, a strangely sad maid of honour, watched as her friend pledged her life to James Maltravers.  Should Ella have noticed?  Should she have seen those first signs that Maggie’s resolve was showing signs of weakening?

The honeymoon was barely over when Ella and Maggie met for coffee.  Maggie’s eyes betrayed her fervour of anticipation:  “So, when’s the divorce?”  It was only half a joke.

Ella bit her lip.   “It isn’t quite that simple.”  She admitted.

“How do you mean?”

“His people made me sign a pre-nup.  If I leave, I get only the contents of my suitcase. “

“Zounds!”  Maggie buried her lip in her coffee cup.  “Wedded bliss, then.  Poor you!”

“For a while, perhaps.”  Ella acknowledged, thoughtfully.  “The pre-nup doesn’t cover death.  I was able to negotiate that, at least.  If he dies, the majority of his estate comes to me.”

“Ella!  You’d murder him?”

“No, no.  Of course not.  Would I?”

“Quite possibly.”

“Well, I wouldn’t.  For a start, his family lawyers are firmly convinced I’m a gold-digger and they will be watching me like hawks.  Nevertheless there are ways…”

Ella found ample compensation in the loveless years that followed.  She had, after all, largely achieved her dream – a mansion in a leafy suburb and a fantasy lifestyle.  Only Maggie, who knew Ella so well, and one other, could discern the substance behind Ella’s mysterious comment; ‘there are ways’.  Although Ella never elaborated further, Maggie watched her friend’s relentless pursuit of her scheme with a mixture of grudging admiration and horror as James Maltravers’ naturally quite retiring nature was subjected to a social maelstrom of parties, a crammed agenda of political projects, and  a frenetic succession of exotic foreign vacations.

The one other was Angelina, whose position as Ella’s housekeeper seemed extremely secure and comfortable.  Angelina was discreet: discreet about her employers’ sexual athletics, even though at times she found it difficult to get out of their way, and reserved in her opinion concerning the growing regimen of prescribed medicines in James’s bathroom cabinet.  Angelina’s special talent was cooking; and her remarkable ability to cram the maximum amount of calories into the least plate-space.

You see, Ella had discovered James’s weakness.  James was addicted to food.  Looking on, she pecked like a bird at her own portions while her husband, kept afloat on a pontoon of alchohol, wolfed his way through trenchers of buttered vegetables, roasted meats and compound sauces.   As a reward, Ella might have expected James’s girth to reflect the richness of his diet, as Angelina’s undoubtedly did.  But no, he remained as slim as a whip while his pallor altered from a healthy pink, through beetroot red, to an ominous grey.

Meanwhile, the good life was there to be lived, so Ella lived it to the full.  She lacked for nothing other than the independence she craved, and the only smeary bit on her rose-tinted window was Maggie.  Somehow her friend had lost enthusiasm for the aims they had shared.  Despite Ella’s urgent warnings, rather than reap the harvest of her success in business, Maggie had chosen to marry Fergus.  They shared a gentle, almost resigned affection Ella could not penetrate, no matter how often she reminded her friend of their original vows to one another.  Maggie’s only response would be a sad smile, which Ella suspected was an expression of pity.

“Look, Mags, you’ve done well, there’s no denying.  You’re wealthy,  even.  But you haven’t got to where we promised to be:  you can’t leave your business, so there are no summers on the Riviera, no homes in the Bahamas.  There’s no yacht in your harbour.  You’ve given up on it, girl!”

Maggie replied with that same smile.   “No, I haven’t.  Give me some time.”

This conversation was raised again in the year of Ella’s twelfth wedding anniversary, when her beloved husband’s overloaded flesh finally surrendered to a massive heart attack which, by the time Ella had found the telephone to summon medical help, had already proved fatal.  Maggie attended the funeral; more in support of her friend than for any other apparent reason, because Ella was being shunned by James’s family, and together they indulged in a little genteel weeping.

“He was such a kind man.”

“He was always so thoughtful.   How is Fergus?”

“Healthy.”

The subject came to prominence just once more, on the first anniversary of the passing of James Maltravers.   Maggie’s mobile fluttered.

“Mags sweetie.  Come over for coffee, yes?   Or maybe something stronger?  It’s a year today, after all!  Kind of a celebration, here, and me rattling round this great mausoleum all by myself.”

“You sound sort of scared?”

“I’ve been in that damn laundry room again.  It seriously spooks me, that place.”

Maggie arrived within the hour, bearing Champagne.  “Where’s Angelina?”  She asked, as soon as she arrived.

“Hell, Mags, where you been?   I had to let her go; oh, ages back.”   Ella dismissed any possibility of conversation on that subject with an airy gesture.  For some reason she felt she should not admit to ‘paying Angelina off’.

“So you’re here on your own now?”

“Isn’t it wonderful?  I’ll get some fresh help, of course; but just for a while an echo or two seems good.”

“Yeah, dust is good.  What was it you said:  ‘rattling around in this mausoleum’?”

“I was depressed.  I’d been loading up the washer downstairs.  I’ve been thinking: maybe it would be better to have a pool down there, how about that?”

“Don’t rush into it.”

“Come on, babe, let’s get canned, yeah?”

Maggie understood it had not been an easy year for Ella:  James’s will had been contested, and yes, there was some unpleasantness, although nothing Ella couldn’t handle.   In the end, she had her inheritance.   She was a multi-millionaire; a status she had always sought.   Yet she seemed almost to prefer the solitude of her widowhood, for no-one with her kind of riches could fail to attract company of one sort or another.  The magnificent proportions of the house, with its endless corridors and extravagant excess of marble would have been intimidating to any lesser woman.   Why did the words ‘as cold as her heart’ pass through Maggie’s head?

The anniversary became an uninhibited morning lubricated by very good champagne, and by the time Maggie had poured out ‘one last drinkie’  Ella was drunk beyond shame.  She proclaimed her intention to go to bed.

“I’ve just got to take out some washing from the ‘chine.  That goddam ticking noise, it’s so loud now.  I hate it!”

“You go ahead, Ell.  I’ll see myself out, yeah?”

So Ella was alone as she snaked her way down the stairs to the utility room in Maltravers House; buoyed up by wine and unsympathetically inclined towards those odd vibrations:  those sounds.   Yet once she was inside – once she had closed the door behind her – they found her again.   Louder now; much, much louder, like the tick of a thousand clocks they found resonance with the champaigne bubbles in her head and turned it:  around, and around, and around.    Stranded somewhere between anger and fear, Ella made a grab for her washing basket, missed, and crashed to the floor.  She was drunk – much drunker than she had thought.  Cursing, she raised herself and attempted to crawl towards the washing machine that waited for her at the centre of the bank of machines.  There seemed to be more and more machines:  washers and driers, pressers and steamers in ranks of cold steel that whirled about her.  What was happening to her head?   Her vision danced, her eyes were blurring.

At the edge of consciousness, Ella fell back onto the floor of the utility room.   Above her, faded and indistinct at first although growing in clarity with every moment, she thought she saw the image of her husband crucified against the ceiling, his body half in decay, his eye sockets empty, his outstretched arms festooned with rotted flesh.   Did she scream?   Was there anyone to hear her, to hear the explosion of noise, the staccato cracking rupture of the beams above her head?  ?  How profound was her terror as the ghost of James Maltravers rushed down upon her, to wrap her in a final, deadly embrace?

Maggie’s attorney laid aside any doubt.   “Your agreement with Mrs. Maltravers stands.   It has not been superseded by any new bequests.”

Maggie knew that it had not.  Ella had always been honest with her.  “I get everything then?”   She recalled the day, all those years ago, when she had sat in this same office with her friend as they pledged that whatever fortunes each should make, they would bequeath to the other.

The attorney nodded.  “All of it.  The Maltraver’s estate with all of its liquid assets, property and land.  Now you have to decide when and how you wish me to initiate your divorce proceedings.”

As she opened the door to the street Maggie breathed deeply.   She had played a game and won!   She had been patient, she had taken her time, watching Ella’s scheming and revelling in the element of chance, the randomness of her own little plot.

The coroner had remarked upon the unusually localised nature of death watch beetle infestation in the Maltravers mansion, but conceded it was not unusual for these pests to make their home in old timbers.  The beams beneath the snooker table in the games room had been eaten through by the creatures, so it was only a matter of time before the 2400lb table plummeted through the floor into the utility room below.   The collapse of the table’s heavy Victorian lighting canopy and its impact like a hammer blow upon the table had triggered the process.   He recorded a verdict of accidental death.

Maggie, of course, knew why the infestation had been so concentrated.  She knew because she had put the beetles there, culture upon culture of them, down the years; and when Ella had described the loudness of ticking sounds she heard on that fateful morning, Maggie knew her moment had come.  While Ella, filled with Maggie’s drugged wine, was descending to the basement,  Maggie was upstairs, letting herself into the games room.   That rotten canopy needed no more than a nudge to bring it crashing down.

And now she had one more appointment to keep.   Angelina would be waiting for her in Starbucks.

Angelina and Maggie had known one another a long time, but their relationship had become much closer in the last year.   Angelina had supplied a copy key to the games room because, after Ella had dismissed her, she was no longer able to assist with Maggie’s sabotage.  Angelina, who knew everything, and who was already handsomely rewarded for her silence, was about to have another major payday.

Maggie ordered coffee, sat down opposite the big woman, and handed her an envelope.   When Angelina opened the envelope to reveal the check inside, her eyes widened.   “This is big, big lot of money!”

Maggie nodded.

“I do not ask for so much…”

Maggie stretched out both her hands and grasped Angelina’s pudgy fingers.  “We’re friends, aren’t we?   This is yours, you’ve earned it; you’re a rich woman now.  Together, Angie, we can go on and make this grow.  We can make much, much more money.”

“You would do that with me?”

“Yes!  Of course, yes!   That’s what friends do – they help each other.   All I ask in return is one little condition; an agreement, if you like.   If I die, Angie, all my money will go to you. Yes; yes it will!  And I would like you to agree to do the same for me…”

 

 

© Frederick Anderson 2016.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Dream of the Fat Controller

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It is the sort of figure that is whispered in awed, reverential tones.  This is money beyond the powers of imagination, a theatre of surreal dreams.

20 billion – no, not dollars, or even euros, but pounds sterling.  And bear in mind a UK billion is 1 million times a million.  Enough to overheat every slot machine in Las Vegas, or keep a zoofull of Pandas for ten years.

What could we do with £20 billion?

Well, we could pay off the National Health Service deficit for the next eight years, perhaps?  Or we might take everybody whose life is going to be made unbearable by the Heathrow third runway project and settle them on nice country estates with a 5 million pound fortune each to help them get by?

Maybe we could finance a nice set of aeroplanes for those aircraft carriers we are building so they don’t have to hang around looking useless for 10 years.  Or, philanthropically, we might build really affordable housing for every young couple struggling to get onto the property ladder; or…

The possibilities are endless.  And rest assured, those who rule us are going to spend that 20 billion.   Breathlessly, I hear you cry – is it me?  Are they really going to give me twe…

Sadly, no.

Yet there is an upside – a glorious, innovative project to stir patriotic pride within us all; the new rail link we call Phase One of HS2!    In 2026 – only 10 years time – 15000 fat businessmen every hour will be able to ride by train from London to Birmingham in just 49 minutes.   That’s a saving of 20 whole minutes on the current 9:01 from Euston, which takes 1 hour and 10 minutes  (get a taxi now and you’ll be just in time to catch it).

And 15000 will, presumably, come back. But will they want to?

That’s a lot of canned people, stuffed into 18 trains doing Japanese Bullet speeds in each direction every hour.  The strength of the argument for this project relies on overcrowding in the present service; but come on, people!  15000 an hour?   For what, eight hours every day?  Do the math, please!   This is Birmingham we’re talking about!

I’ve only been to Birmingham three times in my life, and only under duress.   I can think of no occasion when I actually wanted to go there.  I mean no disrespect to Birmingham, which I’m sure is a fine city, although I cannot see it as the new hub of Great Britain Ltd..  No, Manchester would be a more likely candidate for that crown.

Never fear!   By the middle of the century HS2 will have cut further swathes of rail to Manchester and Leeds, too, and on to Edinburgh and Glasgow, with a stop at Gretna Passport Control, if the Scots will still have us.  No-one seems to have got their head around the costs for that, yet, but rest assured, the measure in human misery will exceed any official figures.

In achieving these targets the lives of thousands will be irreparably changed.  Homes and heritage ripped down, noise and hazard brought to the thresholds of those for whom tranquility and peace have no price.   The aim of this flagship project would seem to be political, and intended to turn the UK into one enormous City State, lucrative, doubtless, but unsustainable.

We British, it seems, have no capability to assemble a structured plan for these precious islands.  Instead we flounder beneath the constant bitching of one pressure group or another, one political agenda or another with no single entity to coordinate anything.  Every five years the government sets off upon a new track, postponing or promoting according to the words it thinks the public want to hear; every county sets a conflicting agenda, and nothing ever really gets done.

All that results is chaos – a long string of white elephants trailing back to the far horizons of history, each with its own tale of inhumanity and sorrow.

Oh, and as a footnote:  this is British Rail we are talking about, so I assume we are going to be asked to finance another ultra-fast bus service to cover the route on Sundays?

 

See the Tree, How Big it’s Grown…

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Honey (Labrador; blonde, too fat) exhibits all the cool intelligence of her breed.   Wide brown eyes, folds of extra flesh that cushion her head as she sleeps, a judgmental poise that speaks of wisdom as old as time.  She surveys her territory from her French windows with an imperious air, where her growl of warning causes the boldest heart to flutter.  She does not merely understand the word ‘cat’, she can spell it; just as she knows three words for ‘walk’.   She is 34 kilos of muscular objectivity.  Any intruder would be entirely justified in vacating her space with all possible expedition – or, if you prefer, running like hell.

“Is the dog all right?”  Our postman asks nervously, as Honey shows him a mouthful of teeth.  He has read the sign at the gate:  ‘Intruders may be gnawed.’

Never have appearances been so deceptive.

Confronted by a stranger male of our species Honey reacts like a garrulous gander; head borne low, eyes wary, throat vibrating with guttural sounds of danger – but just like the gander she utters her threats whilst walking backwards, and if her immediate pack members are present she will hide behind their legs.  In such situations I have sometimes wondered if she were moved to carry out those muttered menaces she would bit my leg rather than that of the intruder – a sort of assault by proxy:  fortunately, however, although she has no love of men she has never been moved to bite.   Ever.

Females evoke suspicion, though hostility is rare.  Children provide amusement, for the most part, as long as they do not tease her.  She is selective in those she likes and those she does not, whether of our species or hers.  She will not tolerate the ritual bottom-sniffing that is expected by other dogs she meets.  She detests small-talk.

She likes:

Investigative walking,

Chasing (birds, cats, anything that will run away)

Tummy rubs

Back scratches

Moisturizing Creams (which she licks, BTW.   Honey doesn’t moisturize, personally).

 

She dislikes:

Wearing a lead that is unfashionable

Wearing a lead at all

Confronting anything (birds, cats) that will NOT run away

Floor tiles (She skids on them and they terrify her).

Postmen.

It is five years since Honey interviewed us in some depth and decided she would agree to be part of our family.  She was a rescue dog;  by which I mean we rescued her former owners from her.  There was no written contract – Honey mapped out the terms of our agreement by her actions, and obedience is not a word that applies to Honey.  She is not entirely disobedient; she will respond if lacking better things to do, generally subject to negotiation.  She will not, for example, abandon a really interesting scent in the cause of ‘coming to heel’, or return indoors on rainy days, at least until she has swum in a minimum of two polluted ditches to load up her claws with mud.   Nor will she consent to visit anywhere resembling a veterinary surgery, allow clandestine attempts to cut claws, or agree to have reeking flanks washed after rolling in a particularly interesting odor.

The areas where response is possible, and therefore our House Rules, have developed and modified over the years of her stay.  There are many, so I will limit myself to a few examples:

‘Bed’ – she will go to bed if commanded.  (‘Bed’ consists of the most comfortable chair or settee in any given room, whether or not it is already occupied).

‘Game’ – this consists of ‘rough-housing’ and allows Honey the opportunity to practice on her Pack Leader the moves (and wounds) she would like to apply to the Postman, if she had the courage.   The throwing of balls or Frisbees as a ‘game’ is not recognised.     She is happy to chase or catch a ball, with the object only of acquiring the ball.  Apart from a certain squeaky rubber item which has become her lifelong companion, all toys are for trade.   If Honey presents either of her pack members with a toy she makes it plain she wants something in return.

‘Treats’.   She can hear the opening of the appropriate cupboard door for one of these (usually a chew) from approximately half a mile away in a gale. ‘ Treats’ are an entitlement, not a bargaining chip.  They are awardable upon set occasions, like the end of a walk, or returning from garden ablutions before bed.

‘Walks’.  Walk times are prompted by the closing music of certain television programs, or when anyone passes within ten feet of her lead, which hangs in the hall.  The route for a walk is determined by Honey, who will pick her desired program for the day.  Attempts to vie with this are subject to refusal.   The whole exercise ceremony is complex, and takes account of such things as clothing worn, weather, and the possibility of a ride in the car.

‘Daily Schedules’.  These must be rigorously observed:  Honey rises at 7:00am, acknowledging the right of the male Pack Leader to have his first coffee of the day in peace.   Bedtime is midnight at the latest, when the dominant female retires.  (Female Pack Leader’s status is constantly questioned, and this issue often results in argument.  If FPL fails to keep to designated bedtime, Honey will tend to retire by herself).

‘Meals’.  Meal times are 7:00am and 5:15pm, with a special exception for Tuesdays when cooked fish is on the menu, which she is happy to eat as soon as possible, often straight from the pan if the cook turns her back.  At the moment food approval ratings are high, but it is incumbent upon the Pack Leader to vary her diet from time to time.   Honey has a special look of disappointment she reserves for a choice that has been badly made, together with the final sanction she may return the dish with interest ten minutes later on the best rug.

In return for our consent to honor these basic conditions she has formed a deep attachment to us; a devotion a little like stalking.   In practical terms this means we must survive the rest of her lifetime without stepping backwards, knowing that to do so will mean falling over Honey.  It also means she feels free to follow her Natural Retrieval Instinct Part One, which consists of bringing back any box or packaging we throw away.  She seems never to have achieved a Pass Grade in Natural Retrieval Instinct Part Two; delivery of the retrieved object in good condition to her owner.  Instead she tears the object, symbolically, a few times, before losing interest.

The fierceness issue; that deep bass voice which could give such an able rendition of ‘Old Man River’ (if she knew the words) has never withstood any logical test.  An early morning outburst occurs as she erupts from the door into the front garden, although there is rarely any threat at that hour.   Thereafter she will sit on guard at the gate, ready to bark a warning at – well, not everybody, as it happens.  Uniforms generally evoke a savage-sounding response, otherwise we can only conclude that her vocal warnings imply a judgement of character.

So here we are, Honey’s pack, five years on.  I won’t pretend they have been easy years:  the words ‘Dog Pound’ have been uttered more than once, and by her reception of him, I judge she has never quite forgiven our son for bringing her to us.  But she has condescended to share some of her time with us, to deliver her verdict upon other dogs she meets and for that, I suppose, we must be grateful.    Otherwise please do not stint in your sympathy:  we are truly worthy of pity.

God of the Rocks

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35They said of him that he would be watching.   They said he would see the last of them to their graves, and the world itself would spiral down into infinity, before his eyes could rest.  He brought to them the seasons, the sun and the rain, and he taught them dread.

They said he was a god.

They worshipped him.  They beseeched him often, in their times of peril or of pain; sought in vain for his solace, begged fruitlessly before him that he might forgive their sins, because even though they could not explain the meaning of sin, the gift was not theirs to understand.  And although they believed they heard his voice, he never answered.

Enthroned upon his mountain-top among the frozen rocks, his immortal flesh scoured by wind and ice, he was a king, at least, of all he surveyed:  his eyes always open, his ears filled by the knowledge of man, unsleeping, watching the ages pass.  And he learned.

In his time he was accused of many things, at once feared and admired for his indiscretions.   He took the innocence of a king’s beautiful daughter they said; came to her disguised by the night in a cloak of swan-down to give her a son she would raise to be his intermediary with the people – but no-one saw, or had word of the child.  Time brought rumours of many sons, to whom were accorded the powers of minor gods, and daughters too.   He divided his responsibilities among them, his subjects claimed – for childbirth, for death, for fire and fertility – children unseen, with powers never proved.

The people prospered.  Their numbers grew.  They lost their fear of him, spurning the myths of his children and turning their prayers to the mountain less often, yet they committed greater and greater enormities in his name, and still they had no understanding of their wrongs.

He had left the mountain long before the first bold feet ascended to his high watchtower, left no trace of his presence among those merciless rocks; so they allowed themselves to laugh, perhaps a little nervously, at their primitive notions of his existence.  But he was watching, just as before.

There were some who knew his presence still, and many who pretended.   They made proclamations, they wrote laws they said that he had written, and words they said that he had spoken.  Some said he lived within each one of them, others believed him to rule from somewhere beyond the sky.  Few knew the truth; for the truth was that his home was where it had always been; beneath their feet – that he was the ground whereon they walked.

In all the world there were none who suspected, or truly understood his mind; who could fathom his relationship to man.   They sought his guidance when he had none; prayed for his favour when he gave none, but because they had shaped him into a loving and merciful image in their own minds they were sure, despite all evidence, he must be righteous and just.

With time he grew tired of learning about the imperfect mortals that moved about him.  He resented the barbs they plunged ever deeper in his flesh.  And he recognised signs of a transformation in himself, because of all the lessons he had acquired from the human infestation one stood tall – they had taught him emotion.  Their unnatural agriculture used chemicals to burn his skin and their treatment of beasts that truly were his own creation moved him to tears; and where he wept new waters sprang, and where he vented his fury he sent fire into the sky.  Now, at the last, he would prove worthy of their prayers.  Now at last, far too late, they had reason to fear him.

Knowing these creatures could never be true custodians of his world he was not yet moved to their destruction, though his impatience with them grew.  He shrugged his shoulders, sending their dwellings tumbling, more and more.  He charged the air with fire, he turned oceans to ferment, ice to rain.  Yet he did not dispatch them.  They vexed, but they did not infuriate.  Not yet.    Why?   Well, there was yet something in his aged world to gladden his heart.

He had seen her walking by this river before, a girl with pale cheeks and features that were perfection; whose dark blue eyes were filled by the mystery of the waters and whose soul was clear of mortal sin.   She walked with a man, another human, but this did not deter him, for no mortal could withstand his presence.   He had seen her, and he had wanted her.

“I think,”  said Nadia, as she crouched on her heels by the riverbank, reaching to dabble her fingers in the water;  “You should leave the poor fish alone.”

“Do you?”  the young man laughed.  “So you would consign the most popular pastime of all to the dustbin of incorrectness at a stroke, would you?”  He baited his hook.

“No, Ben, but I don’t see the point.  You entice them to bite on those horrible barbed things of yours, terrify them by hauling them from their natural element, then rip their mouths apart before you toss them back in.  Why?”

“Fish can’t feel pain.”  Ben shaped to cast his line.

“Are you sure of that?”

“It’s been proven.”

“Not, I take it, by a fish.”  Nadia sighed.  “Oh, look at the swan, isn’t it beautiful?”

“It’s a bird.”  The young man’s baited hook zipped over Nadia’s head on its way out into the torrent.  “If you don’t like fishing, why did you come?”

“I like the river, and I like you.  Ben, is it me, or is that swan swimming towards us?”

“Maybe it thinks you’ve got some bread for it.  Give it a sandwich.”

“I’m sure you shouldn’t….”   Nadia’s voice faded into silence as she found herself gazing into the eyes of the swan, which were the most thoughtful and visionary eyes she had ever seen.  They were eyes  of knowledge and destiny, bearing a message for her alone.   It was all she could do to remain where she was upon the riverbank, because the bird’s stare was mesmerising her.  It wanted her to join it, to give herself to its embrace.  Reflected in shimmering white upon the water, the noble creature glided ever nearer, dipping its head to nibble at a temptation that skipped by on the current.

“It’s taken my hook.”  The young man shouted.   “The bloody thing’s taken my hook!”

“Oh no!  Do something!” Nadia rushed forward, plunging to her waist into the river to reach for the swan, all her instincts screaming that this bird must be protected; must be rescued.   For a few dread filled seconds the swan’s powerful wings churned the water as it thrashed wildly against the line, then, as suddenly as it had been taken, it was gone.  Running with the current on desperate feet it gained the air.   Graceful yet crippled, its neck crooking as it tried to cough the metal hook free, it ascended,  and all Nadia could do was watch it depart.  She rounded on Ben.  “I could have got to it.  Why didn’t you wait?”

“I cut the line.   I couldn’t hold it, I’d have lost the rod and everything if I’d tried.”

“You let it go.”  Nadia wept bitterly, for she had seen in the space of a second everything the world had missed.  “You condemned it.”

She turned from Ben to walk home alone.  As she walked the world grew cold and a different darkness fell.

#

“Another one?”    Baldai asked.

“The third in this cycle.”  Procator affirmed, as they watched the screen.  “Most regrettable.  It seems this is the critical evolutionary phase.  The statistics for this galaxy are quite damning, I’m afraid.  We’re having some success, but almost entirely with acquatic solutions.  Land-based life forms are simply too fallible.  It’s almost as though the stock is corrupt.”

“That is possible, of course.”  Baldai admitted.  “However, there’s nothing to be done.  Is he recovering?”

“To a point, I suppose.  Avian disguises are particularly difficult to treat, and he had been in a river for three weeks before we could bring him up.  The physical recovery is good, but…”  Procator made a gesture of futility;  “his psychological makeup has completely burned out.  He has expressed a wish to retire to his galaxy of origin and I think that is probably best.”

“And that?”  Baldai waved at the image on their screen of the bereft planet:  “What shall we do with that?”

“Oh, dispose of it.  There’s another eligible candidate closer to this sun-star, if you think we should have another try – but I would be inclined to emphasise the oceans, this time.”

 

© Frederick Anderson 2016.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content

 

 

 

 

 

Two Households, Both Alike in Indignity

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Well, I watched it.

Trump, prowling around the stage like a caged lion, large and intimidatory.   Incoherent in his analysis of any specifics, vociferous and boisterously ready to rip and tear whenever another rag strayed into his jaws.

Clinton, unintimidated and disciplined, delivering her party line in practised prose- a consummate political professional who occasionally referred to policy, and cunning in disguising that not one item of policy was hers, but a declaration of her sponsors’ shopping lists, ticked off one by one.  Why, when I look at her face, is her mouth the only thing I see?

Anyway, my thought was (because I’m British and it is not my problem)  who the hell do you vote for?

I do not count myself among those who smugly dismiss Trump as a fool.  That camp has been wrong on so many levels.   I believe that in the face-off with Russia that must inevitably happen Trump has the necessary steel – he’s no JFK, (although his womanizing tendencies might suggest otherwise) but then Putin is no Khrushchev.  He had the common sense to avoid being embroiled in the Syria issue, too, and a great proportion of the art of diplomacy is knowing when to stay out.  I’m also persuaded that he will at least try to resolve America’s issues at home with something more than rhetoric, although that must be dependent upon his support from his fellow Republicans.  His stance on law and order, though, restricted currently to a few sound bites, intrigues me.   How exactly does he intend to resolve the ‘problem with our inner cities, with Chicago; it’s terrible’?   And oh, his stance on the Second Amendment!

Clinton, on the other hand, is a woman who proudly proclaims her record in public service; and that would be okay if her record was spectacularly good, but from an outsider’s standpoint it seems average, possibly even a little self-indulgent.  I tried to pick through Hubby Bill’s testimony (at her inauguration) to her fabulousness; and certainly she has had a very active political life, yet did I discern a long series of ‘she attendeds’ and ‘she worked fors’ without too much emphasis upon the things she actually achieved?   The conclusion I reach is of someone who has had thirty years to become politically tired, who has built up so many associations in the political class she has no hope of extrication, or ambition left for independent decision-making.  That’s probably wise, BTW, because there is evidence her judgement is not always that good.

If Hilary succeeds in becoming President,  I see her uneasily enthroned in the Oval Office, under constant siege by Iran, blackmail by the Sauds, and bullying by Putin, Assad, and Xi Jinping in turns.  Her heels will be riddled with bite-marks from Kim Jung Un and clawed by Rodrigo Duterte – in short, I don’t believe she has the strength to deal with a world of which a strong President is a vital component.

Should Donald find his way to that chair, however, what then?   A whole spectrum of wonderful – some might say frightening – prospects will be unveiled.   His quixotic nature coupled with his blunt terminology is capable of delivering him into a scrape or two, isn’t it?  But I am more perturbed because when I watch him all I see is his latent anger, and that, I am certain, could place half the world in peril.

Two households, then, both alike in indignity; both allegedly dishonest, neither prepared to deliver a cure to the inequalities that are at the root of  America’s ills, and neither really bent upon tackling the gun laws in any meaningful fashion.  I don’t think we should require our leaders to be superhuman – on the contrary, the greater the leader, as history has proved, the greater their foibles.  We only ask for the ability to lead, and to instill faith in we who are compelled to follow.

That is, of course, only my particular view.   If I were an American voter this year, I think I would be inclined to stay at home on polling day.

The Ride

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hospital-image

Above him, strips of light rush past: beneath, the onrush of the gurney wheels, rhythms in counterpoint, treble and bass.  Their song teases his memory –what is it?  He cannot think.   He cannot remember.  ‘It means nothing to me…’

Concerned faces look down upon him as they steer his progress, watching his face, clinical figures in clinical scrubs – clinical concern.  So many times now he has taken this desperate ride, each time with that vague, intangible strand to reach for:  but there is no strand this time – this, he knows, must be the last.

He clasps his hideously bloated abdomen and he knows.   He feels that great alien presence inside him that has grown relentlessly through months of burgeoning agony, consuming him, and he knows.  All the therapies, all the treatments; all done.  His destiny lies at this journey’s end.  ‘It means nothing to me…’

In a momentary remission and before the next wave of pain’s powerful fist clamps down on him, his arms flail wildly.   “Mr. Carmody?”

“I’m here,  Michael.”   The consultant stoops over him, his gentle hand touching,  an oasis of calm in the hot sands of his terror.   “Be of good heart, Michael.  It is soon over now, you know.”

“I know.”

The pain has lost him for a time.  He wonders, ludicrously, if the pace of the gurney was too fast for it?  Could it have been left behind?  Maybe it is somewhere back there, writhing in impotent fury upon the tiled floor, lashing out at all who pass?  But no; it finds him.  It creeps in, uncertain.  It probes.  It seizes.

Oh no! Oh no!  Oh please, please God!   Worse this time – worst this time.  This must, must, must be over, please!   Let me go?  ‘It means nothing to me; nothing to me, nothing…’

“We can manage your pain.”  Carmody had assured him in those first days.  “Things have improved so much, Michael.  You needn’t be afraid.”

He had hope then.  Oh, the hope he had then!  But he was still very afraid.

“We’re going to do everything we can.”

“Is there any possibility…?”

“Well, we have come close to a solution many times…”

The gurney has turned a corner.  Doors opening, closing; floating figures in gowns, new and different lights.   Operating Theatre One.

“Right, people!  Places, everyone!”  His consultant’s authoritative voice.

Pain coming again; a tsunami this time of massive, unstoppable proportions.  The needle he so needs thrusts home, imparting a little numbness, a moment of comparative peace, helping him, finally, to remember:   ‘This means nothing to me….Vienna’.

Carmody’s words murmur in his ear:

“Alright, Michael, this is our time.  Let’s make history together.   Push!”

 

© Frederick Anderson 2016.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.

 

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