Flash fiction, short stories, poetry …
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Posts from — July 2011

“Wow. Ow. Bow. How. Ow. Ow.”

There’s some swearing in this one. Those of a tender disposition might want to look away.

***

I

can see the breakers rolling up the beach: white lines smearing out like wrinkles. A dog is barking. “Bow. Wow. Ow. Bow. How. Ow. Ow. Ow.” And it keeps barking. It’s so incorporeal, it could be lost in a building along the coast, could be dropped down a well, or it could be as close as the flat next door. That’d mean it belongs to the guy who’s renting us this holiday home.

I realize that dog has been barking its way around my subconscious for days now; a never ending, barking metronome that just won’t shut up.

Damn owner should be shouting at that damn dog.

But: “How. Bow. Ow. Ow.”

There it goes again.

A barbecue is blowing smoke in my face. We’ve got it pitched out on the veranda, and that salty sea air is rolling around in the smoke like it’s playing with it. And that dog is calling for its supper. Wanna bit of burger?

“Bow. Ow. Ow.”

Little snapper. Wanna plug its woof-hole with a half-pound of chuck-steak.

Though I guess that would be just what it wants.

We sit in bed discussing the psychology of pet ownership. I’ve never had a dog; never walked on the moon, neither, but figure I’m more of an expert than NASA.

Damn dog is ‘owing’ and ‘bowing’.

1 AM. Dear God. You furry little shit!

There was this other dog. I’m in the queue for the butcher. Dog’s outside. One of those rough, little dogs they keep up in the schemes, with a harness – practically a neck-scarf – and floppy jowls. It’s the colour of malt-brown caramel.

“Baby, Baby. Don’t you worry.” That’s what it’s owner says when that dog starts blowing out on the pavement. ‘Cept this dog is so loud it sounds like it’s in the shop with us.

Whining. Barking.

That dolly totters over to the door, trying to keep her place in the queue with an outstretched hand and backwards glances. “Baby, mummy’s just getting’ dinner. Don’t be like that, honey.”

Dog yowls, yawns, whines, one sharp bark. Looks worried around the door, but I know this little, brown torpedo is spoiled to high-hell. I never owned one, but I know this woman is apologising to that little rust-spot. Tick, tack, back in the shop, fake tan swinging on her arms, and I’m just wishing she’d snap the umbilical to that pooch-hound.

“Ow. Bow. Wow. How…”

Tick, tack. Tick, tack. “Bertie! You be a good boy. Mummy’s only going to be a minute. What a silly billy. Mummy’s here.

Dear, god. Dog’s got it’s eye set on a chop the size of its head. A long cord of drool drags around on the pavement, before pulling itself down as a frothy bolus of saliva. Dogs like that little sput have a bad rep round here. They’ve attacked kids.

“Bow. Ow. Ow. Ow.”

Tick, tack.

Christ. Push her out of the queue you lilly-livered sons-of-bitches.

Dog is sitting with its ass on the warm pavement, pale furry underside leading to pink flesh, like its stomach is receding; dog bits flopped around all doolally.

“Ow. Ow.”

Tick, tack. Tick, tack.

“Baby, don’t be like that.”

It goes on and on. And now I realise I can’t remember if I ever did get my pack of pork chitlins, or whether Bertie and the tick-tack woman ever made it out of the shop, or whether we all turned on them with pitchforks and torches; her and the damned Hellhound.

“Ow. Bow. How.”

But, I can’t concentrate to remembering, what with this multi-headed monster right next door. Barking out on the dog radio; barking back through time, like it’s that dog in the store talking to me, dissing me, sticking up the little dog ‘V’s.

3am. No sleep. “Ow. Bow. How. Ow.”

5am. No sleep. “Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. How. Bow. How.”

5:45am. Carving knife in hand.

July 8, 2011   12 Comments

Gyoza and Pushchairs

S

andy is pissed off. Her shadow tries to nod in what it hopes is a comforting manner, but, quite frankly, it’s out of its depth. Anything with an extra dimension generally does that, but add an emotional component…

Sandy twists a pigtail. “I was going to get cornflour. For Gyoza. Y’know, Japanese dumplings. I make them, now. I tell you?”

The shadow blinked noncommittally – somewhere between, ‘Uh, hu?’ And, ‘May…be…’

“So, like I’m going to Tescos. Where else? But I have a bag of stuff from the Chinese supermarket. Bags, I mean. Pak Choi, soy sauce, real heavy: plastic handles and white tips. And this, this, this” – her hands sculpt a snowball the size of a man’s head, made of puke and flesh-eating acid. Thumbs go into the eye-sockets, hands shaking – “A-hole is pushing a baby-buggy. So there’s a split second decision –”

The café, the shadow notices, is filling up with its relaxed midday crowd. The steamer sighs a depressurised hiss; cups clatter like blunt, porcelain knives; the chatter of the day is still light-hearted (at least at other tables) before the rest of the day is lived. A warm blanket envelopes everything: the spicy scent of coffee wafting across the wooden floors, and leather, comfy-chairs, like the Ghost of Christmas Past. But most importantly, sunlight rafts through the blinds in the window. It casts an abstract stencil – a lattice, of warm, comfortable twilight – across the table, outlining a warm, comfortable body in all its Mondrian complexity. It’s a good day for shadows.

“Muh, hu,” it murmers. Sandy throws out a hand like she’s weighing a cabbage. Like it or not, they’re stuck with each other.

“– You believe that? So I go left, quick. Could’ve gone right. But the guy is aiming left too, shooting for a wooden bench outside the door; maybe wanting to arrange his shopping better. Next minute he’s throwing up his hands in a WTF, having a strop at me. He was young, too; maybe twenty. Baby ain’t going anywhere; pushchair is stopped. I like, well, I wish I told him to –

“Anyway, I guess, in the heat of the moment… I said sorry. Why’d I do that? And my voice sounded sooooo pathetic. Even I noticed; like I was hearing it on somebody else’s earphones. And I just –”

The shadow nodded sagely, balling its paws. It was making good use of the draught in the window that was stirring some bamboo leaves – rank-upon-rank of brave, bamboo survivors living on clear nutrient gel in transparent plastic tubes – the movement adding a measure of wilting acknowledgement. Empathy? Perhaps. Though the fluttering was somewhat slanted towards the exit.

Oh, God.

Tears plunge craters into latte foam. Surprisingly big splashes run down the back of her hand; splot on the table. The shadow has never seen tears literally spurting before. Look at that. Touched to its core – which admittedly isn’t very far in – it pats (flickers, strobes) her gently on the shoulder.

Gyoza? Pushchairs?

Her movement is infectious of course. So the shadow reaches out to form-before-words: to the dust motes that dance into its darkness, to the sly steps of a woman coasting by – who’s looking and not looking at that ‘girl of deficient mental needs’ (or whatever they call it these days) who’s apparently sobbing alone – to the barista in her front-down apron, elbows out, wrists rotating, clearing glasses. It’s complicated, but a mouth of sorts forms from these shadows, and from others besides: a hand crossing an armpit; a car slipping past the window; Sandy’s own Grande mug – the size of a concrete bucket – and a final flick of ponytail to make a beribboned tongue.

This is a mouth of black, crepe paper. But words? Ah…

As the drawer for used coffee-grounds opens up with a squeal, and the door out to the street bangs closed – that one, last inch as its spring-loaded armature expires – and some guy with a ‘rocky road’ and three gold-foil, chocolate coins gets his loyalty card stamped with a ‘ker-punch’ on glass, some words – from a distance, ears squinted – may have said, “Hey– there, there – I got your back.” And then, quieter, but still with affection (the squeak of an extractor fan) and a mischievous little wink of a rubbery doorstop, “If the sun’s got your front, that is.” It fades with the neon purr of a light fitting, and the commiseratory laugh of the wonky castor on the mop-bucket.

Shadows are the best of confessors.

It’s just Gyoza. It’s just some guy who made a face and ‘lost it’ on some random moment. A pushchair? Shit, he probably wasn’t feeling so confident pushing the damn thing and was concentrating so shit-hard on the responsibility, he wasn’t looking where he was going. You both chose wrong. You got upset for the rest of the day. You plotted his downfall. I was with you, remember – midday sunshine is straight down, and hard, but I was there underfoot, as usual. But it was you who felt weak. Who walked away fast, without looking back, imagining – in your own head, mind you – the acerbic looks and pointing, nodding heads, as he gets down to dissing you with his girlfriend, sitting on that wooden bench he was aiming for. You squeezed oranges for ten minutes, right at the back of the store, just to make sure he’d gone…

This is where your energy goes.

As the woman, sitting behind, thoughtfully turned the page of her magazine, and a small child picked his nose and considered the surprisingly, fruitful fingernail, the sunlight flitted ‘just so’ and the shadow sat back. Take it from someone who knows – who is paper thin – there’s more to you than this.

 

July 1, 2011   9 Comments