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The simple mechanics of human cruelty....

                                                                                                                               


                  THE FAMILIAR

 

Shadow was very angry. His ears flat against his head, claws out, fur standing on end, he bared his teeth at the mob and hissed.

The iron cage was small even for him .He was hungry and thirsty. Worst of all, he had had to sleep with one eye open for the last 5 days.

Very angry.

The wooden cart advanced slowly towards the town square, slowly so that every good citizen would have a chance to curse, spit and fling rubbish at them.

They howled like animals. They smelled like animals. Bloodthirsty.

Next to Shadow’s cage, She stood, trying not to flinch at the words, the rotten fruit, the hate thrown at her like hailstones.

She was bruised and dirty, her dress in tatters, matted hair , bare feet.

But not scared. Angry.

Shadow could feel her calm, white-hot fury irradiating in waves from her slim frame.

Not wasted, though. She was focusing her energies, channelling the anger into a purpose. Getting ready.

The cart stopped.

The pyre awaited. Dry wood to start the fire, green branches to slow its progress. A pole in the middle.

The simple mechanics of human cruelty.

Only a few days back, life had been easy. They should have left then, when they started to sense the suspicion and the fear. But there was a birth, and She wouldn’t abandon a woman in labour.

They came for her and used words and pain to turn her wisdom into something corrupt. She had inherited the wisdom, how to heal and calm and give comfort with  her fingers and her words and the gifts of nature.

She never hurt anyone.

They knew this. They came to her door with pleading eyes and trembling voices and she never refused.

When the Men in black arrived, the Word took flight like a dirty butterfly, fluttering around people’s minds, tugging at their secret fears until the beasts awoke, sniffing blood, and the Word grew louder on everyone’s lips. Witch.

They put Shadow in a cage too. No food or water for 5 days. Every once in a while, they threw a bucket of cold water at him, to spook the devils out. Their superstition saved his life. Without that moisture, which he licked from his soaked fur, he would have died of thirst.

They made her scream and cry. They wouldn’t stop.

It was time for the Fire now.

They tied her to the pole, threw Shadow’s cage at her feet.

The smell of burning  oil on dry wood filled their noses.

She was whispering. A plea, a prayer, a spell. Words to protect.

Now surrounded by a wall of flame, her foot approached the cage. She was opening the bolt with her toes. Her lips kept moving, faster.

So did the fire.

Black smoke engulfed them, eating up the air right out of their lungs. The heat was unbearable. Shadow could smell his own singed hair. Or maybe it was hers.

And then he was free. He ran, hardly touching the ground, smoking but not quite on fire.

No one noticed him. They were in a frenzy, these human beasts temporarily liberated from their everyday coat of civilization.

Shadow reached the forest, the swamps, and rolled in the mud. Cooled, he lay still while his heart slowed down and the fragrance of moss and rotten leaves cleansed his senses.

It seemed like a long time had passed. The moon was high when he heard her voice.

Hardly disturbing the green waters, She swam towards him and climbed on to a dead tree root. She was naked and perfect Gold-red hair down to her waist, the soft skin unblemished.

Smiling, She examined her new fingernails in the moonlight.

-Don’t be angry at me, Shadow-She ran her fingers through his muddy fur-It will grow back in a day. I promise.

She stood up, extended her arm and whistled. A broomstick came to meet her outstretched fingers.

The cat and the woman flew, riding the moonlight.***************

 

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Some days were hell on ink.....

                                                                               MUSES

 

 

It was so late that it was early by the time the Writer finished polishing the wittiest bit of dialogue in the world.

Nothing was too good for his girls. He went to sleep with a satisfied grin on his face. Tomorrow he would reread those lines and doubt and ponder and even despair of his midnight creatures which had seemed so perfect at conception.

For now, Morpheus left him smiling.

The sisters had come to him in a random flash of  (dare I say it?) inspiration.

He saw them on a stage. A darkened background, vague shapes of furniture. Under the spotlight, two girls. So near in age as to seem twins. Light hair, white summer clothes. They sat on the floor facing each other. Between them, a checkerboard.

 

Midmorning, he was awakened by Thalia jumping on his stomach and meowing cheerfully about breakfast.

He sat up, blinking sleep out of his eyes. Melpomene, little drama queen that she was, stood by the empty bowl making big eyes at him.

The muses fed and watered, he forced himself to have a shower and a cup of coffee before looking at the product of the previous night’s momentum.

He half-feared, half-expected that his three a.m. judgement wasn’t to be trusted, and indeed it wasn’t , but, although not the stuff of genius ,the pages were mostly usable.

He settled down to fill in some exposition. He wasn’t clever enough for fine work in the mornings. He was quite happy with the title ,SisterShare ,and had a mind to keep it. It was very theatrical.

He got back to Katy’s speech on act 2.There was a first draft but it was only half baked.

“KATY-We used to play checkers constantly then, and one of us had this idea to make our set unique. You know, it was summer, we were bored. At first we were going to draw faces on all the pieces, or maybe write words, but we couldn’t agree ,so in the end we did the colours.(she takes a sip of wine, gets up, walks across the room)All other boards are black and white, or red and white or red and black, you see, but we….

KAROL-….we chose green and blue (she walks in).Fun was a simple thing back then.(she takes a sip from her sister’s glass, who doesn’t seem to mind).remember? we had blue and green stains on our fingers for days.

KATY-Mum was so cross! she made us wear white gloves…

KAROL-….to church , and when we had guests. I couldn’t keep mine clean to save my life.(they both giggle).”

 

He   leaned back in the chair and drank cold coffee. Was it too long? should he tighten it up? It was an important piece of symbolism. Also, it was a clue to the sister’s relationship. He wondered again about the use of Russian words. In the interest of clarity, he had decided against it but maybe one or two. Like “mum”. Or something that their mother used to say when she was angry. Or happy.

Belly full, Thalia climbed onto the computer monitor to lend him a paw. She enjoyed laying there, warmed up by the machine, her paw (white toe, black toe) carelessly hanging over the screen.

 

Katerina and Karolina Kendall had inherited their names and their beauty from their Russian mother and their surname and charm from their American father.

Born eleven months apart, they had grown up like twins .In fact they enjoyed confusing people about who was who.

“KAROL- Wanna play a game?

KATY-I will win.

KAROL-No you won’t. Not every time.

KATY-I win a lot.

KAROL-(setting up the game)You are going to lose.

KATY-If I win, I get your lilac bow.

KAROL-If I win, you give me the fairy doll.

KATY-Lilac bow, and the sparkly yo-yo.

KAROL-Your move.”

 

The parents didn’t appear in the play. To better show the isolation of the sisters’ little private world, he had kept them as off-stage voices punctuating the childhood scenes in Act 1.

Melpomene walked in with her stuffed beany rabbit in her mouth. She threw him a reproachful look (he had no idea why) and curled up on the armchair with the rabbit between her paws.

She was a temperamental ginger with huge eyes that, if you flattened her ears, made her look like an alien cat.

The Writer considered tackling the fight on act three but it was a bit too early. He did a quick read instead, focusing on the sister’s voices. It worried him that the public might think them interchangeable.

Their personalities must come through, distinct, individual, ringing like two bells with different notes. Katy was more gentle  and diplomatic, a reflective girl. Karol had the frankness of practical people, moved by impulse and, while giving an impression of strength, she was more sensitive than her sister and easier to hurt.

The writer put his pen down and started making lunch. Thalia and Melpomene followed him to the kitchen. He fed them bits of cheese and Italian sausage while the spaghetti boiled.

Leaning against the counter, he munched on a salty cracker and reconsidered his parallel  dialogues with the sisters’ children.

 

Like the first-act parents, their offspring had been excluded from the spotlight to give the sisters room and time to move along.

And he knew(he knew) it was the best choice, only it stung him a little ,the loss of those two childish voices, ready, in all their innocence, to reveal their mothers’ secrets.

“MYRA-I know a secret.

RAY-I know secrets too. Grown up secrets.

MYRA-My Mum says everyone should have secrets.

RAY-Mine too. Make life interesting…

MYRA-They are to keep….(she recites)

RAY-…not to share…(he joins in)

MYRA-…except for maybe one person.

RAY-I’ll tell you one if you tell me one.”

But no. It was better this way. The kids would be good for a novel, one of those jigsaw tales where the reader has to put the pieces together on his own.

Too distracting on a play of this length.

 

He strained the pasta, dry-fried the sausage slices, added tomato sauce (not too much, don’t drown it) ,tossed in the pasta, quick turn, plate up, add cheese.

He ate on the sofa, watching the NatureDoc Channel.

The muses went to sleep, lulled by the deep voice on the TV. He ran his fingers through their warm velvet bodies and  went for his walk. When he was writing full time, he made a point of taking at least  a two hour walk. Besides, his brain was at its more unproductive at this hour. He walked briskly ,refreshed by the crisp breeze. The parks were blooming, perfumed and welcoming. His favourite one was annexed to an old mansion turned museum. It was an added pleasure to envision the(fabulously rich) family that had owned the state for generations.

 Little lords in velvet suits learning to ride ponies(Do hold on, my lord, keep your back straight).

Delicate ladies in long dresses and silk parasols gossiping on the paths(“I believe young Mr Ashcroft is about to propose to our darling Louisa. He has ten thousand a year and Lord Ashcroft’s state is entailed to him as second son.”-“Oh, I’m so pleased for you, my dear!”), their yapping lapdogs chasing frogs around the pond.

What wouldn’t he give to find one of those ghost  spots where you can listen to echoed conversations from the past.

He met a friend and spent the next three hours chatting, walking at a fast pace and, later, drinking fresh carrot and mint juice bought from a man with a juicer on a trolley. Not thinking about Karol and Katy.

 

The muses ran to greet him when he got back. Thalia bouncy and chatty, as if lots of interesting things had happened since his departure and she absolutely must tell him all about it.

Melpomene strolled languidly behind, little red panther, freshly groomed. He got out of his jacket and, a cat on each arm, he started preparations for some serious writing.

Big pot of tea (green jasmine these days),non relaxing music(a restless jazz),shoes off, bowl of mixed nuts, bowl of chocolates, notes and ideas notebook, a few pages read of a book to focus the mind and all systems on. Full steam ahead!

If only. There was more snacking and playing with the cats than working for about an hour. Then, slowly, he started turning back towards the sisters’ long necks, quick tongues and elegant shoes, until he didn’t notice that the music had stopped and he was drinking cold tea.

 

The brackets had been nagging at him.

He wanted to bracket the play in by turning the last scene into a mirror image of the first. The girls on the floor playing checkers.

The final one was the calm after the storm. It must follow the raging fight on Act 3,bringing a gradual relief on the tension, as the sisters realized there was no reason to fight because, at the end of the day, they cared more about each other than about any of the men in their lives.

Husbands faded into a darkening background, as the women’s hands moved faster and faster above the board. He made a note of white dresses and hair down, to perfectly reflect scene one.

The men, mere accessories, were Fred and Charlie. They never fully grasp their own insubstantiality in their wives’ lives.

The crisscrossing of the two couples was only a reflection (yet another one) of the Kendall girl’s adolescent games where they would exchange ,pawn and bet boyfriends with each other.

 

The game was called “SisterShare” and they had played it since childhood. They would barter men as they had done with shoes, toys, clothes, trinkets and the last piece of cake.

Ownership (or right of use) was decided over a game of checkers. Blue and green checkers.

And there were many men to play with. Karol and Katy had always been popular.

“KATY-Are you done with Sean? Iam so bored of listening to Steve talk about horses’

KAROL-I did warn you.

KATY-can we play for Sean then?

KAROL-I don’t know. He is a good kisser. And sweet.

KATY-Sistershare. I’ll throw in the red skirt.

KAROL-and the ankle chain?

KATY-Deal. I’ll get the board.”

When Karol found herself pregnant by a boy she had no interest in seeing again, she chose Fred for a husband. As  he was on Katy’s possession at the time, they played for him and Karol won. It was easy to manipulate boys ,redirect their interest.

Only after the speedy engagement did Katy discover her own pregnancy by Fred. For the first time, she kept a secret from her sister.

She simply chose a husband of her own and they celebrated a double wedding.

 

“KATY-wasn’t it a lovely day?(she picks up the photograph. Karol looks over Katy’s shoulder).

KAROL-We looked beautiful.(they giggle).”

 

The checkerboard was left behind at their parent’s home, where the play unfolds ten years later.

The Writer scrolled back to Act2.They had an argument over a pair of green sandals when they were 15 and 16 which would serve as a blueprint for the big fight on Act 3.

It was a rarity for them so he must be careful to establish ‘how’ they argued.

He was interrupted by  two cats climbing onto the keyboard and rubbing their heads against his. Dinner time.

 

He fed the cats and started chopping. Apples, chicken, ginger. He browned them up in oil and added a bit of water to simmer while he grinded the spices. A pinch of paprika fell on the floor and crazy Thalia ran to lick it.

-You little addict-he muttered affectionately.

While the smells filled the apartment, he had half a glass of white wine(any more made him sleepy) and thought about the husbands.

They were there to listen to their wives’ memories and as objects of desire but he wondered if he had left them too removed. After all, they must be believable as men worth fighting for.

He turned off the stove, added a handful of spinach and filled a bowl. He ate with the TV. Those clever guys on CSI. The cats watched with him, then asked to be let out.

After his muses vanished into the garden’s night life, the Writer washed the dishes of the day. In his head ,the sisters were already yelling at each other.

 

“KAROL-You were in love with Fred. You’ve always been.

KATY-Maybe, but  we never did anything. You…(she’s so angry she stutters), you had an affair with Charlie!

KAROL-what do you care? It’s not like you love him!

KATY-Neither do you! and he is my husband! I never touched yours.

KAROL-No. No you didn’t .You did worse. You kept loving him and he kept loving YOU.

KATY-You don’t know….

KAROL-Yes I do. I’m not blind. You two were in love and kept being in love to my face! my husband! MINE!I had to do something.

KATY-So you slept with Charlie? I fail to see how that makes things better.

KAROL-It doesn’t(almost a sob).

KATY-(softly)Of course it doesn’t .But you did it.

KAROL-I needed to feel…to do…It was empty. It was sad empty sex. Not that we would admit it.

KATY-Just as sad as Fred and I, not looking at each other… 

                   KAROL-all those motels….

KATY-talking about the weather…
(their voices wind down,gradually)

KAROL-he gave me jewellery. As if I could have worn it.

KATY-making small talk, never touching…So stupid.

KAROL-He is my husband.

KATY-My husband. (in unison)

KAROL-Do you want Fred now?

KATY-No. It’s too late. It’s gone.(they both sigh)”

 

The muses were back. They took their stations. Thalia on top of the computer monitor, Melpomene on his lap, purring in harmony while he drank lemonade and toiled for two more hours.

His vision getting blurry reminded him of the time.

Time for dessert.

He came back with a bowl of caramel vanilla ice cream for himself and a bit for Melpomene in an egg cup. She loved the stuff.

Since he didn’t want a diabetic toothless cat on his hands , she didn’t get this treat very often. Tonight she did.

 

“Act4.Final scene..

(Lights slowly dimmed down. Spotlight centerstage. Checkerboard on Karol’s hands, Katy finds the  box of game pieces in a drawer. They approach the circle of light, sit on the ground, set the game)

KATY-I know what we should do. Get a divorce.

KAROL-who?

KATY-All of us. Don’t you think?(Karol thinks for a minute).

KAROL-A double divorce. And why not? We did have a double wedding.

KATY-It will be beautiful.(they smile at each other .They start playing. Quick, sure. Lights out.)

 

The Writer and the muses crawled into bed, tired and satisfied. It had been a good day. Some days, some days were hell on ink, dozens of crumpled pages in the wastebasket, his finger spending more time on the DELETE key than on any of the others, doubt and despair. Worse of all, nothing to show for your efforts.

That would push the dirty snowball downhill. Chaos ensued. Irregular sleeping hours. Too much senseless TV, not enough fresh air. Beer, fast food of the worst greasy kind.

The muses would despair of him. They would glare disapprovingly, impatient tails flickering.

He would eventually drag himself outside, into normal life, until his brain’s cobwebs cleared out so he could see the way for his pen again.

Some days. But today, bliss of a day, he fell asleep with their young voices ringing inside his head.

“KATY -I’m wearing the blue dress with the flowers.

KAROL -I was going to wear it!

KATY -Sistershare. I’ll play you for it!”

 

                                            THE END

 

 

 

 

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Domestic Gods



 

 

                                          DOMESTIC  GODS

 

 

Maya  was awakened from her afternoon nap by  the arrival of the lady Saffron.

The woman kneeled two steps away respectfully and, eyes on the multicoloured tiles, began to whisper. Maya stretched her golden paws, folded them under her body and listened.

The temple was empty and peaceful at this time. Maya enjoyed the soft amber light , afternoon sun filtered through yellow glass windows reflecting on the pure whiteness of the temple’s walls.

Lady Saffron always visited the temple at this time, after closing her spice stall at the market. Maya could smell all the spices on her , like a cloud that she wore instead of a shadow, but the saffron scent seemed to linger long after she was gone.

The lady Saffron had beautiful children and a prosperous business, but she came to pray for her husband, who drank and got depressed. He started fights in taverns. He disappeared for days. He regularly threatened with suicide.

And the lady Saffron , exhausted and anxious, loved her difficult husband. She believed that, under the drunken troubled man, she could still find the dreamer she had married.

Maya half-opened her almond shaped eyes, pools of cobalt blue, and watched lady Saffron’s turmeric stained fingers while they played with the cardamom pods she had brought as an offering for the altar.

The woman was very sad today. Her once unbreakable faith in a brighter future earned with hard work and patience was starting to crack, like a porcelain cup dropped too many times.

Maya, now wide awake, jumped off the altar, sat up straight and looked at her. The lady Saffron met her eyes for a long minute. She dried her tears, took a deep breath and went home, walking with purpose, like one with much to do and never enough time. She left behind a handful of cardamom in the offering bowl and a haunting trace of spice in the air.

 

The Golden House was just like a temple ought to be. High domes, imposing size ,an echoing emptiness that made people whisper and  golden light as in a dream.

It was more or less divided in three big naves, surrounded by innumerable little chapels , like petals on a flower .A clear stream ran through the front patio and fed the fountains.

Here lived the Gods. Gods have a complicated genealogy and their own kind of logic. Then again, so do cats.

These Gods were made of gold  and brandished their symbols from white marble pedestals. There were many Gods, a numerous family that fought for the best places to be worshipped, which were behind the main altars, facing the golden doors, forever tended by priests and virgins. The weaklings sought refuge on the little peripheral chapels, where it was a bit darker and their tarnished skin wouldn’t show.

 

The lady Milk had arrived. She kneeled near a column, out of the way.

Maya drew closer.

She was a woman balancing herself on the sharp edge that cut reality from the other side, that where the mind got so easily lost.

Once she had had a baby, a tiny perfect girl who cried like a kitten.

She was only weeks old when she died, leaving her mother with an empty heart and painful breasts full of useless milk.

Other babies needed her milk, babies of rich mothers who wanted to go dancing, babies of sick or dead mothers who couldn’t feed them.

She became a nursemaid, a breast for the hungry children of other mothers .She rocked them to sleep, singing for them, nursing their illnesses ,but never looked into their eyes because she wasn’t their mother.

Lady Milk was only mother to one, and she was dead.

Maya curled up against lady Milk’s leg, purring hard to drown the ghostly cries, to give the woman a moment of peace. The cries rang inside her head at night, or on quiet moments. Kitten cries of her daughter.

 

The priests moved around the altars with the sure step of saved souls. The Gods surveyed their faithful from the heights.

Such Gods were called by kings and heroes and fairest maidens. They interceded in battles and wars, tilted the luck in the slaying of monsters and delighted on star-crossed lovers.

Even their least fortunate brothers in the little chapels all had epic powers.

Little Rosewater would never dare to speak to any of them directly. She was slight and nervous, always ready to take flight like a frightened bird. Kneeling on a dark corner, she hid her face in her hands to pray.

It was a stolen moment, to visit the temple when she was sent out on errands. She owned nothing.

Not time, not things, not herself. Little Rosewater was a slave.

To bring an offering, she would have had to steal it, so she left little replaceable pieces of herself on the altar.

Locks of her beautiful blond hair tied with linen strips. She had started to visit the temple in search of mercy. Her master had taken to calling her up to his chamber late at night. Bruised and ashamed, she begged Maya for help.

Soon prettier slaves were bought , and he forgot her.

Little Rosewater was a bath maid. She carried buckets of hot and cold water, kept the fires going in the steamroom and washed her mistresses’ hair.

It wasn’t the worst of jobs. The perfumed oils and herbs employed on the bathing rituals had so penetrated her pores that she walked in a sweet mist, although she didn’t notice it herself.

Maya rubbed her head against the girl’s body, until she uncovered her face so that she could rub her little pink nose against hers.

Little Rosewater shivered to the touch, her skin reacting to the soft warm caresses of the golden creature. Sold as a baby, she had never been touched gently, nor  kissed or loved. Had never been looked at as anything more than an object.

Freedom and happiness are unconceivable states of being for a slave , and Little Rosewater was very tired. Although young, she felt old and spent.

She worked every hour of light, the days went by without words and fear never left her chest.

So she started to offer her hair on the dark corners of the temple until she summoned up the courage to whisper her secret wish in the golden ears of a cat.

Little Rosewater prayed for death.

Maya knew it wouldn’t be long now. She could smell the hunger of the lithe body and the poisonous herbs that Little Rosewater stuffed in her mouth every time she had a chance.

Not long now.

 

The Temple cats were chosen for their beauty, bred by monks and treated like holy vessels, but their purpose was mostly decorative. That’s what the priests would tell you. The cats knew different, and so did the women.

Madam Mint’s visits were irregular but, when she came, she took her time. She was a matronly lady who wore dark colours and hid her face with veils, jewels and make up. There was  heavy gold around her neck and precious stones on her fingers but she lived under a big weight, a dark cloud of secrets that haunted her thoughts and even her dreams. She drank mint tea all day long and chewed on fresh mint leaves to calm her unruly stomach, which tortured her even more when she felt her mysteries threatened.

Because she knew that she didn’t like to be noticed, Maya pretended to sleep nearby while the lady knelt by one altar or other, and never approached her.

Madam Mint had a shameful past that went tick-tock like a bomb, ready and able to destroy her present of married respectability if it ever were to explode.

For years, she feared only for her own fate and was careful but now, herself too old to save, she worried about  her daughter’s future. The mother’s secret shame would soil the daughter if it was exposed and Madam Mint could feel the tikc-tock growing louder inside her head. She remembered her past fondly, some days with nostalgia for a time when pleasure and feeling had seemed enough to justify her rebellion. Those were the days when she didn’t care about the future and that had made her free.

Madame Mint didn’t regret her past, but there was a daughter to protect now. She left shiny gold coins in the bowl. Maya kept her secrets locked.

 

At sunset, the priests walked around the temple lighting up candles and burning incense pellets on the altars.

They collected the offerings of the day and brought in bowls of night blooming flowers.

It was time for the Gods of Night to have their rites and receive their worshipers .

The cats were wide awake and the lady Dust was singing. Maya followed the voice outside, where the woman was washing her hands and feet in one of the fountains.

She was a traveller by blood. Even though she lived in a house now, she thought nothing of walking all day long

Every once in a while, her steps brought her to the Golden House.

She undid the scarf that protected her long, dark braids from the road’s dust. The other pilgrims felt their aches melt in the purity of her voice. The last pink of the day stained the sky while she walked inside.

She filled the offering bowls with wild berries collected from the forests she had crossed on her way. Black, red and green juicy jewels, still dewy from the stream she had washed them in.

The lady Dust prayed for the fertility of her  daughters.

Although not an old woman, she was the matriarch of her family. Having a rooted house hadn’t changed her perspective of life. For a nomad, her home was her clan and   the prosperity of a clan was on its numbers.

Inside four walls or under a tent, she felt happiest and safest when surrounded by many of her own blood.

Under the road dust that clung to the woman’s clothes, Maya could smell campfires. The scent of her freedom.

The lady Dust was one of the few women who didn’t have a confused sense of guilt about visiting the temple cats.

It seemed natural to her to communicate with the Goddess of Life and the Forces of Nature who kept the universe in motion through a living creature. Specially one that was so obviously perfect and powerful on its own right.

All those big lumps of gold in the temple were nothing but dust catchers to her. They probably required a lot of polishing.

Most women had learnt the secret custom from their own mothers and grandmothers. There were no gods who listened to insignificant problems like sick children, violent husbands and not enough money for bread or shoes. No gods for women’s blood, for their spirits.

There were only gods of big things. No deity for small daily troubles was to be found in the Golden House. Except for the cats. Cats lived in kitchens and hid under beds. They protected food and babies from the rats. It was a comfort to have cats in a house, to conjure up a feeling of home. And they were fearless, explorers of every corner, creatures of darkness who adored the warm sun.

It was quite natural that their golden siblings at the temple had became secretly worshipped, the little domestic gods of everyday worries.

The priests would scream heresy if they knew, so the women kneeled by the altars and filled the bowls with regular offerings but, undercover of night or diversion, other bowls were placed on hidden corners.

Bowls full of fresh milk sweetened with honey and vanilla.

 

It was still dark, but Maya could smell the dawn when Coconut Girl slipped into the building like a shiny ghost, betrayed by the jingling of bracelets on her wrists and ankles.

Her red hair was scented with tobacco smoke and the musky memory of men’s desire.

Coconut Girl made men happy for money. She danced for them ,poured  liquor and fulfilled their wishes behind a red curtain.

Most of them were easy to please and generous with her. Tall and slender, she didn’t care much for food but loved fresh coconut slices, and often seemed to survive on them alone.

Coconut Girl came to Maya with a need that women of her kind were not supposed to satisfy.

During the day, laying alone on the bed behind thick hangings that kept out the light ,she daydreamed of motherhood.

Her arms hungered for a baby to rock and love. Coconut Girl fantasized about a tiny heartbeat inside her and breasts swollen with milk.

It was part of her job to avoid such things .Besides, she wouldn’t want her child to grow up in a brothel. Born with a scarlet letter branded on their skin, such children never managed to climb out of the gutter of society.

It was easy enough to obtain a man’s seed. Respectability would be a bit harder to pin down. She would have to go very far away and start over.

So she sat with Maya in the dark and fought to gather her courage. The silvery light of a fresh new day filtered through the stained glass.

Yawning, Coconut Girl stood up, dropped a pearl earring in the bowl, gift from a passionate gentleman, and walked away with the jingling sway of a tired dancer.

On a silk rug knotted by the tender fingers of the lady Milk, Maya curled up for her morning nap.

 

 

                        --------------------------------

 

 

 

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To be read after dark....

         TO BE READ AFTER DARK

 

It began with a familiar creak .You’ve heard it too. We all have. Even deaf people know what I’m talking about, that particular vibration heard-felt in your bones late at night, in the dark, near your bed , just as you were starting to fall asleep.

It is an old memory. It belongs in childhood bedrooms, under beds, behind doors. In the closet.

A primeval memory, firebranded in our primate brains. The creak, just outside the cave, or behind that tree, or right next to you. A creak with sharp teeth.

But I digress.

There was a creak.

I ignored it ,as you do. Could be any of a thousand rational explanations. A floorboard, a piece of furniture, the TV, the windowpane, the radiator. All of them make little noises because of the temperature changes during the night. Even the lightbulbs cooling off. Everyone knows that.

There was a crackling sound then. I proceeded to remain in bed, eyes shut, breathing regular.

But.

But I jumped inside. My body hadn’t moved an inch, only my heart and nerves seemed to have given me an electric jolt.

The survival instinct kicked in, adrenaline pumping and muscles tensing while my ears strained to locate the source of sound.

Meanwhile, I pretended to be asleep. I pretended to myself, which is sad.

You know, at least children are honest. They cry and scream. They beg to spend the night somewhere else. They say the words out loud.

“There is a monster under my bed”

Children listen to their instincts. They know when their senses are telling the truth. Later, they grow up and learn about “what would people think”, “they’ ll lock me up “ and , above all, “impossible”.

Grown ups, they’d rather be eaten by a sabertooth than go through the potential embarrassment  of telling someone about it.

“It must be my imagination. Everyone knows they are extinct”-They would tell themselves while a 2 ton cat licks their liver to pieces.

I do remember the creaking from my own childhood. It would start by the door, on the corner. In the dead of night, every little crackle rang like a gunshot.

The sounds made the rounds of the room, getting closer and closer. By then, I would be praying that it was the cat.

Not that I ever believed that the cat made the noises. Usually, you only knew he was in the room when he landed on the bed. Cats don’t do footsteps.

So, here I am, all grown up, home alone, dark house, warm bed, some creaking (to recap) and then I feel the cat on the bed.

Cat owners will be familiar with this .Your pet decides to join you in the middle of the night. He jumps  on the bed and proceeds to select the best place to lie down. He’s in no rush.

You can feel the little paws treading carefully around you ( or all over you, some are more considerate that others), negotiating the dunes and valleys of your duvet , then finally settling down on a choice spot. The cat relaxes and so do you.

That’s what happened next. As a child, it would reassure me against the monsters.

Not so much now, since, as I was saying I felt the cat on my bed and I haven’t had a cat in 10 years.

The “Rational Explanation Firewall” jumps to it : my imagination, I am dreaming, nervous muscles spasms and, my favourite, stress. I push the panic down , refusing to listen, but there is something here. In my house. In my room. On the bed with me. It came to me.

I’m covered in goosebumps and my spine is tingling but I haven’t moved yet.

Breathing.

Can I hear breathing? I hold my breath to listen I think I  hear it but i can’t  be certain because my heart is pounding on my ears and I can’t stop that one, at least not until I take a fakir course. So I breath again.

I wish I had a cat. I’ll get one in the morning.

First thing.

Childhood wisdom tells me that I need to turn on the light. I’ve no cat, mum and dad and granny aren’t across the hallway, and so  I must move, send my hand outside the duvet, across the bedside table, fingers outstretched to find the switch of the reading lamp.

All by itself, my hand. A lonely hero, an explorer of wilderness ,naked and vulnerable, on a rescue mission. I must move.

There is a click.

It’s near.

I replay it in my head and I think it sounded faintly wet, like a tongue.

I don’t dare to move. What if I move and I feel the weight of a warm body pressing against mine? Even moving enough to hide my head under the duvet would be too risky. No , the hand must go. Light is my only chance. But, what if It is on the table now?

My fingers might find It (fur, scales, slime?) on their way to the light switch, and then what?

My eyes are firmly closed. I could just sit this one out. Stay still and wait till morning.

Buy a cat. Keep the light on tomorrow night. Drink myself to sleep. Invite someone over. Anything. Anything but this.

There’s a movement in the air. A faint breeze on my skin. Must be a draft. An open window somewhere?

But no, because the alarm is on and the windows are practically airtight , double glaze for a better energy conservation system.

It is a breath. The Thing’s breath. Slightly colder than room temperature. Waiting is not an option. I must reach the light switch.

I concentrate. Where was it exactly? And what else did I leave on the table?

The alarm clock, some tissues, a book, the phone, pocket junk(the jumble of small change, crumpled receipts and unopened sugar and salt sachets from take-away joints that I poured  on the table  before taking off my trousers) A family portrait.

But I believe I know where I’m going .My hand initiates the operation, almost of her own volition,  since I am too petrified to make up my mind. Once started, we might as well keep going. Hand slides over my body , upwards, nearly out now, quietly , reaches the frontier, the protection of the sheets falls away and Hand is on its own in hostile territory.

Nothing attacks or gives any indication that my intrepid explorer has been detected. I find the table, trying not to rush, nothing could be worse than rushing and knocking the lamp over. It would roll on the carpet, farther away than I could possibly reach without leaving my bed-fortress.

Swift fingers jump from phone to book to picture frame, bounce off the alarm clock, but they make a quick recovery and yes! , they are on the lamps rounded base.

From there, it is easy. Climb up to the little oval switch that is right there, waiting, cheering silently for me.

It was hard to breath.

I had stretched my arm and there was a tightness in my chest. Maybe because I was holding my breath, forgetting to exhale, focused on The Dangerous Adventures of Hand.

No.

It was hard to breathe because there was a weight on my chest, something that had slithered on top of me while I was distracted elsewhere.

And, if I was holding my breath, the quick panting I had been hearing couldn’t be coming from my throat.

Panic took control. I turned my head  away, fingers found the switch and light inundated the world. At the same time, I opened my eyes. I desperately needed to confirm that there was nothing there. My empty room. Nothing there.

                                       ------------------------------------------

My house is lit at all hours. I have extra batteries , flashlights and candles in every room. I bought 2 cats whom, contrary to most people, I encourage to sleep on my bed. But I hardly sleep myself. I allow my eyes to close only for brief intervals, enough so I won’t die ,and  I always wake up startled. I tried coffee and drugs to help me stay awake but the truth is, I don’t need them anymore.

Terror keeps me from indulging.

I don’t relax, ever.

It was just a glimpse, a split second, I might have missed it.

But I saw.

As the lights came on , I opened  my eyes. I can’t say that I saw anything, because I didn’t, there was nothing there. But it left me a memory. Branded into my pupils, like the flash from a camera, was an afterimage of its face.

Bright, deep eyes, close up to mine, and that smile full of teeth and malevolence. A hungry smiled that said “I’ll be seeing you”.

The worst is that it wasn’t a strange face. I’ve seen it before. It has been with me since childhood. I grew up and I forgot. But it doesn’t forget.

It’s hungry.

I listen harder these days.

                                                             THE END

 

 

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Objects have a story too....


This is a rescue piece I wrote a while back.
I'm still tweaking.

This is what happens when you tell me:  "Write a story about a common household object, like a hairbrush"


HAIRBRUSH

I brush my hair, a hundred strokes before bed.
In front of the mirror, I brush my hair like my mother did, like many women of my family did before.
I brush my hair with their hairbrush. It is a beautiful piece. When I was a child, I used to run my fingers over the minuscule birds, fig leaves and flowers engraved on the polished silver.

  In the real world, I’m in a motel room with ugly prints on the walls, nicotine-stained curtains and a faint smell of bleach and mildew. But, as long as I brush my hair, I am safe.
I can feel how bad the abyss wants me.

   Once upon a time, 200 years ago, a branch from a Mediterranean oak tree was carved to make a hairbrush. This brush was decorated with silverleaf, engraved and sent to join the matching comb and hand mirror in their silk-lined red leather box.

A foreign gentlemen bought it from an elegant shop in Rome and took it home as a present for his goddaughter, who was fifteen and had already decided to start a collection of hairbrushes. It must have been fashionable for wealthy girls at the time. Her new Italian silver piece quickly became a favorite . There is a portrait of her in some dark room right now. My mother told me that my hair is the same shade of auburn as that girl’s.

   She was seventeen when she fell in love. By custom, marriage was a business contract, but her chosen one had the position and wealth that made him acceptable to her family. And he liked her too. But, just when the fairytale was going so well, the girl’s pretty cousin got in the way.

   

I’ve always imagined her as an exuberant character, with a flashier beauty and a worldlier wit than the auburn-haired girl. She charmed the prince charming. It couldn’t be allowed. One evening, the auburn-haired girl offered to brush her sweet cousin’s hair. When she had her on the chair, she hit her on the head with her favorite hairbrush, the hardest one, until she was dead.

   Then she pushed her down the stairs and went back to her room to wait. She was wearing a dark blue dress. Carefully, she wiped the hairbrush on it and placed it in the glass cabinet where she kept her collection. Then she picked another brush and put it on her dressing table. Washed her face. Scrubbed her hands. When she heard the screams, she ran down the stairs and made sure to get blood on her hands and clothes while she cried by the body. That tidied up all the incriminating details.

   The auburn-haired girl married prince charming and lived happily. It was only on her deathbed when she told the story of the hairbrush to her youngest granddaughter, who later inherited the collection. Since then ,the secret has been passed on from mother to daughter with the brush itself. My grandmother died soon after giving birth to my mother so it was up to my great-grandmother to bring up the baby.

   

My mother was seventeen when she got pregnant .Rebellious teenager that she was, her reaction to great grandma’s suggesting an abortion was running away in the middle of the night and never going back. She stole the hairbrush that night.

   I brush my hair.

Hair is a curious thing. It doesn’t feel pain when you cut it but it keeps growing for a while after you are dead, as if it was an independent being. More dead and more alive.

Hair for black magic. Hair keepsakes that last forever.

   Six months ago, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. It was too late, the beast had crawled through her vital organs. She refused treatment. It would only give her a few extra months in a hospital bed.

‘I don’t want to waste precious time’ she said’ above all, I don’t want to see my hair coming off in handfuls on my grandmother’s silver brush’

   Well, that didn’t happen. Her hair was as beautiful as ever on the day she died.

I brush my hair.
I got a letter last week. My family wants to meet me. The motel room is almost exactly halfway between mum’s flat and great grandma’s manor.

   This hairbrush is going home.

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Warning! may contain sex...


The following post is the result of a Twitter-dare to write a sex scene in a public place(the sex,not the writing,but you knew that).My co-conspirators are at various stages of build up with their scenes, except for @lil_monmon who finished first http://tinyurl.com/3cosltt

And here is @Werewolfmike's bit of naughty http://bit.ly/fB1osl

And here is mine (runs and hides):

                                                   TASTY

 

 

That morning, she was oblivious to the painfully cold water on her hands or the antiseptic soap’s sting in the little cuts and burns.

The warmth inside her had nothing to do with her usual take-away cup of caramel mocha. Neither did the caffeine have any claim over her nervous energy.

She followed the other chefs through the double doors, into the cold of the industrial kitchens, collected her laminated duty sheet and occupied her station in a haze of far away thoughts.

As she began to gather bowls, utensils and ingredients for her first chore (baking scones today), her mind replayed the events of that morning again and again.

It hadn’t been love, or even lust, at first sight. Not for her. But there was something there, a buzz between them that she had tried to ignore, partly because she didn’t understand it (he was so not her type) and partly because he didn’t seem remotely interested, so why risk any unnecessary embarrassment? Her work place was already a nest of gossip and malicious pranks, no need for fuel on that fire.

 

Their morning coffee together had become a habit out of pure serendipity (a word that she couldn’t use anymore without feeling corny, damn rom-coms ). But their commute was long enough to justify extreme earliness, hers to avoid traffic, his to avoid choked public transport, and day break found them at the sad corner café, with three perpetually occupied tables. They found an alternative at the picnic area of the little park across the road. With a weathered concrete table between them, they shared twenty minutes of hot coffee and sleepiness, until their boss, keeper of keys, showed up for work.

 

Their conversations were shaky, never predictable, at times animated and whimsical, others strained and full of awkward pauses. She did her best to hide her feelings, and was confused by them, but, given the lack of flirting on his part during these golden matutinal opportunities, there was no doubt on her mind about his indifference.

Until today.

It had been icy and unpleasant in the park, but they were veterans who spent their mornings in a frigid kitchen (it was hell-hot in the afternoons). Stoically, they zipped up their coats and sat on their backpacks to keep away from the chilly concrete benches.

There was a bit of chatter, there was a sip of coffee, there was a pause….She was distracted, contemplating nothing, her mind unfocused for a minute. And then she caught him looking at her. It was so sudden; they froze, unable to break visual contact for just long enough. She saw it, transparent, obvious and painfully familiar.

The longing and tenderness. The sad certainty of the impossible .It was all in his eyes. It was all about her.

He broke away, embarrassed, but then looked back, searching for her reaction, at once hoping and fearing.

She felt so naked in that instant that she couldn’t hide. She smiled, openly, a yes to his unspoken question.

What followed was not the most coherent or romantic of exchanges, but it resulted in a bit of holding hands and a dinner date for that very night.

 

His station was visible from hers today. While she made her breakfast pastries on automatic pilot (thank God for muscle memory), she watched him work. This, she had done many times. She knew the tempting curve of his neck and the easy grace of his movements. The dexterity of his hands flustered her at times.

He was under a lot of pressure today, with a special assignment for a particularly picky customer. Very busy.

 

That was why it surprised her when, a couple of hours later, she walked into the pantry and he followed her to the last aisle, where the dried fruit resided. She turned and smiled, about to say something, but the thought was gone and forgotten when, quite without warning, he kissed her. It was brief and delicate, a promise of a kiss. Their eyes met and she could see her own desire reflected in his. If their first kiss had suggested sunsets and candlelight, the second one clearly stated rumpled sheets and love bites.

She barely knew they had been moving until she felt the ice-cream freezer behind her. He picked her up and sat her on it, making her height much more convenient. She had no objections, as this allowed her to slide her hands under his uniform to find more skin. He gasped at her fingers down his spine, but it only gave him pause for a second. Soon he was busy undoing her buttons so he could sprinkle kisses all over her neck, which rendered her helpless and might have made her knees falter, had she been using them to stand up, instead of wrapping her legs around him, as his mouth reached the lacy edge of her bra.

The door opened with a bang, giving way to two of their co-workers. As silent as possible, he helped her down from the fridge while her shaky fingers struggled with the buttons of her shirt. Two aisles away, a half-whispered chat, kitchen gossip, muffled laughter, boxes being unpacked, and then the door closed and they were alone again.

They got their breath back, barely, before he took her in his arms with a slow kiss that melted her insides. She wanted him, in that moment, with every bit of herself. Thus distracted, she did not notice his hand about her waistband until he started to pull down her pants. She began to object, only to be interrupted by the spine-tingling feel of his tongue travelling down her stomach. She tangled her fingers through his hair (she had wanted to do that so many times) and let him. When he reached his target, his touch was so light, it made her skin sing.

His timer went off, with an urgent strident bleep that made them jump. He stood up, fumbling to silence it, but they both knew what it meant. Something in an oven needed to be taken out and it was his job to do it. Right now.

They shared a look of amused annoyance and he kissed her neck once more (“I’ll see you tonight,” in her ear) before running out, adjusting the regulation paper hat over his rumpled hair. With a smile, she returned her uniform to a decent state. She had the feeling that tonight’s promised dinner would be more of a midnight snack.   


 

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now you see me,now you....


I know,I know, I've neglected my LiveJournaly duties for months, broken promises and been lazy.

Stuff happened,
then, other stuff happened a bit to the side of the first stuff and I had to go pick it up.

So,I'm only here on a fleeting quickie bimbamboom visit.Probably.
Just to post this:

http://bit.ly/fv1Qqp

My first published story.First ever.
Been happydancing all week.
Mind you, it has been an eventful week.Several things happened, a couple of which I never expected to happen.Nevermind.Babbling.
So,there's my story.
If you read it,I would like your feedback, good or bad.
I'm hoping to post more of those.

Toodley-Do
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Halloween read -SPACE HORRORS-

SPACE HORRORS: Read it and Shiver.

 

Are you ready for the future?

After reading “Space Horrors”, I feel I am fully prepared. My plan is simple. I’m going to spend it in the spaceship’s broomcloset.

It’s dangerous out there, in ways I had never imagined before.

But, now that the helpful authors of the “Space Horrors” anthology have imagined them for me, I am truly prepared. Yep. Broomcloset.

 

Space is scary. It looks vast and empty from our small-creature point of view. Hostile territory. No oxygen, no gravity. Very passive-aggressive towards humans, if we want to take it personally. You go out there and your head explodes.

Only it isn’t empty. It is choke-full of planets, suns, moons, stars, black holes, red dwarves, singularities ,wormholes and probably aliens.(We all want to believe).

Unexplored territory. The Unknown. And, since Earth has been explored to death and charted to tears, space is the ultimate Heart of Darkness.(thank you, Joseph Conrad)

 

 “Space Horrors”, a Flying Pen Press anthology edited by David Lee Summers(a very brave man) ,is divided in 5 parts. A menu of Horrors, if you will.

Aliens, Vampires, Spirits, Zombies and Man.

Guess which one is the most terrifying.

 

I’ll only say this: never get yourself put in cryogenic sleep for a many-years-long trip across the galaxy. It sounds easy and comfy but, trust me, you never know if you’ll wake up, what you’ll be when you wake up or who will wake you up.

Of course, you have no guarantee that staying awake will keep you safe either.

But hey, that’s just me. There is a plethora of terrifying options  in “Space Horrors”. Choose your own.

 

It comes as no surprise how often the unfortunate events of a story are a result of the human race’s worst traits .Greed, cruelty, cowardice, obsession, paranoia…become the catalyst that condemns a space crew, when they might have had a chance of survival. We are, perhaps, the monster we fear the most.

But you’ll also find love, loyalty and integrity in this book. Human empathy taken to a world where most of the elements are other than human.Sometimes,in musical form.

 

The vehicle is ,for the most part, adventure .Space is adventure. Travellers, explorers, pioneers, scientists, merchants ,central computers, thieves, colonists, cats(yes ,you heard me, cats) go on with their lives and encounter ….well, you’ll see. Each tale has its own little nasty way to set your heart racing and make your skin crawl.On at least one ocasion,your skin will be eaten.Just saying.
But there is adventure and you will find yoursef whispering "just one more" until,surprise,surprise you reach "Plan 9 in Outer Space".

Every story is a ride .Enjoy.

 

I’ll be in the broomcloset ,at the back of the cargo bay.