Flash fiction, short stories, poetry …
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Mama has gone to kill Nicolæ

Thankfully, with folks popping by to read ‘Lion on the Court‘, I’ve managed to get past that rather shaky moment of 666 comments sitting on the Café. Dark shadows loomed, the door rattled. I was scared to cash up. But next day, sunshine and clouds, following some kind words of appreciation. I’m past all that. The Café is now open to its 676th comment, which must surely happen if you click below.

This week, a darker tale (perhaps slipped through the letter box on the night before).

What kind of Café is this? ‘#119 SUICIDE?’ ‘Mama has gone to kill Nicolæ?’ (complete with strange ‘æ’)?  Yeah, I’m going to have to get some nice things on the wall. But in the meantime,  mama is missing. 

***

A

n empty glove box and the knife is gone. The blade has scratched the paint down to the van’s old, tin bones.

I wish I was back at school. School is the one place where the wheels don’t move and the scenery stays still, and I can find one place to call my own. It doesn’t have to be a big place: a carved up desk; a step and a book; a sit on the cloakroom spars beneath the jackets. I don’t look to life to be generous.

Mamma has gone again and returned and gone once more, and in between there have been monsters in the truck yard, where the old families lay their vehicles down. It’s like a graveyard here – except there is rust rather than decay, and weeds for stones, and windows of algae and bird shit for eyes.

I was worried. That maybe… I don’t know what. I saw the way that Nicolæ was staring at mamma; like he wanted to own her. I’ve seen her flick her skirts away on more than one occasion; slap his butcher’s hands, cursing while covering my ears. The last time, I ran to hug her and turned like a caravan dog, all spiked up and mongrel, skinny fists to the looming bulk of spit and gold, and wondered how I might beat Nicolæ to bloody dog steak, though he is like an ogre and – as mama says – twice as ugly. Look at the hams on him. An ogre would be preferable, but still, papa taught me to box; beat me to box, until I was my own bloody dog steak. I want to believe I could take Nicolæ, but my own fear keeps me warm.

All things are a question of belief – mama says – and she also says that all things are possible, if we just believe in them enough, though that does sound like one of the well-turned, palm size, polished stories from her ‘shameless magazines’ (shameless as she calls them). I believe they are quite shameless, but mama reads them because she really is so beautiful and, she says, cosmerche was made for her thick lashes and large brown eyes and… bones.

They don’t wear makeup in the ‘other’.

I try to get comfy and there’s a baggy-ass creak of springs. A copy of Cosmo twists and rips under foot. I consumed it hours ago, word for word, like a chop dog thrown a lamb hock. I guess I was trying to remember her in pictures – in that feminine thing. I read ‘Ten Ways to Keep Your Man’, while the blower had battery, though that article doesn’t seem to have worked for her: that’s ten, small failures on two to three long outsiders.

Boys shouldn’t read that stuff. She doesn’t like me reading too much English, anyway, because we belong to a different world with its own tradicae. But I think the old ways are just another way to keep us apart from the people here, and what more so than: ‘believe enough, and so it is’? But the joke is, you don’t need to believe in the Twilight for it to creep up and get you. It’s real, anyway. That boy Sam with the light up trainers at school (blue like jaybird); and that blackbird, perched right there on a fender like a glob of watery, black marrow; and that little drop of blood on the steering wheel that hums like a hammer; and the Twilight, are all as real as each other – belief or no. I bet that boy, Sam, doesn’t vanish if I don’t look at him, either – he’s still lit up, dancing. The Twilight still darkens down; hunkers, and waits.

Papa’s old watch creaks round, buzzing like a shrew in my hand. In the van, the condensation on the windows takes on the tartan and scruffy wool of the blankets where my moving presses out.  If I could just stop breathing, perhaps that wobbly underwater of cars, stuffed high like coral, would resolve into their actual elements: tin and rubber tyres, fat like squeezed bread, treads exploding as the rubber corrodes.

My deep sea view suits the old yard well – I imagine it a place of wide mouthed things with teeth and whisp-fyre lures; or perhaps it’s the high-tide line, where what’s washed up can be much worse, more alien, than that. In the place beyond the yard, nothing is known for certain and only folklore can provide the answers.

I yank my hand away as I find spittle in my hair.

Mamma and a drop of blood. Mamma and blood. Knife gone. Mamma, blood, knife. Took it in tears and pushed me – pushed me – on the crown of my head, palm like a spider and she hurt my neck and scratched my cheek – I can see a little fleck of skin in the scab in the rear-view mirror – and took the knife. It has a blade like the edge of a dog-food tin: ragged and shiny and meaty, all at once.

Mamma said she’d never needed me to stay in the van more than now, and now she is gone walking again in the other world, and I am terribly, terribly scared. But I won’t show it. The door slam made my chest hurt with the whomp of the air.

Mama has gone to kill Nicolæ – for what he has done.

***

Jaya has come and there is to be council. I am not to bring Rahdi, because ‘this is no time for toys, boy’. And no crying, or hugs, or touching and Jaya won’t say where mama is, except ‘they will come to that, boy. Now get your shoes, and smarten that face. No need for a jacket.’ And he has a spade-struck expression, jutting with gold-capped teeth, and a firm hand on my back propelling me along so fast, I think I might fall in the truck tracks and mud, and I must carry on or lose a foot of height when he pushes my head off. This is more friendly and scary-making than I have ever seen him, and he won’t talk about mama and the knife.  I am running over my own running.  How I hate the mud.

***

This is a court of sorts.

Nicolæ has done and gone into the Twilight.

Here there are tall thrones on the heaps, and the masks of elongated whiskery hares, eyes stitched, fur worn, like a well-loved toy. Flies pick across them. The ears are like strips of sun-dried meat. They tell me, I can take the knife and follow Nicolæ into the Twilight, or I can burn the van and never come back – go to school, get my own blue jay trainers.

But mamma is as dead and blackened and blue – in that strangely deep blood in a tyre furrow – as she’s always going to be.

I pick up the knife, feeling the tape on the handle like ribbed bone; note the bloodied blade; weigh the decision.

Jaya looks away.

That’s fair.

Others look on as if I am about to give a concert.

“It is his right.”

They are bitter and funny and pooled like decay, and for a moment I wish I could take a photo of them all. But I believe in what Nicolæ has done…

So I and the knife are gone.

12 comments

1 Joan { 08.18.12 at 2:09 pm }

Some thoughts on this, Stephen.

School represents stability to him – within it he can find a place to call his own, even if that place is small.

He saw the way Nicolae was staring at Mamma, as though he wanted to own her.

His papa beat him to box – more than taught him – the boy has been brought up with violence.

‘tradicae’ like ‘Nicolae’ – there is speech from the other world – Mamma doesn’t like him reading too much English.

The Twilight is like another character. Mamma counts belief as being worth a lot, but the Twilight is real whether you believe in it or not, and it can get you.

The story is so dense with images it is poetry – it takes more than one reading – it took me some time to link up the ‘condensation’ on the windows with his ‘deep sea view’.

It is the yard that is the reality, and the rest is folk lore. I like that idea – the boy seems to be in between places – not sure what he would want.

I’m not sure what the spittle is in his hair, but I can link it back with him holding papa’s old watch in his hand. Maybe the spittle is Mamma’s?

Is there a twist here at the end – he believes in what Nicholae has done and so he takes the knife and goes into the Twilight after him, and yet Mamma went after Nicholae to kill him for what he did?

The boy is turning away from the static place of school and blue jay trainers. The story is almost like a ‘coming of age’ – the boy has made difficult choices, but seems to be going, finally, with his nature – but is that one of violence? What did his mother stand for? A life of non-violence? And yet she goes off with the knife.

Many questions. I’ve given impressions I’ve got as I’ve read it – there are no easy answers, I feel. This is the story’s strength, though, I think, and you can’t always make things easy for the reader.

2 Stephen Hewitt { 09.04.12 at 7:01 am }

@Joan — hi there Joan. You’ve touched on a lot of what’s going on. Violence, yes. A yearning for stability. The yard is a kind of in-between place, a staging post, I think — a place where travellers can abandon vehicles before travelling on. The spittle came from Mama. A lot of it is about belief, and self-belief, so yes, he follows Nicholae into the Twilight. And it is a kind of compressed coming of age. Not necessarily the easiest to read, but hopefully an interesting one. St.

3 Steve Green { 08.20.12 at 11:08 pm }

Wonderful writing Stephen. I wasn’t too sure if he was a kind of spirit being, flitting between two worlds, or if much of this was of his imagination, and his interpretation of it.

As always though, I enjoyed being carried along on the enthralling word flow. Beautiful wordcraft.

4 Stephen Hewitt { 09.04.12 at 7:18 am }

@Steve — in my desire to show rather than tell, things can get a little ethereal at times. I do have to remember the value of some judicious telling — it does rather help to stage everything. So, probably not a spirit being, but definitely strongly defined by an ability to travel between worlds. Mostly real, though obviously he’s relaying things through his biased perception. Glad you liked them thar words — took a while to get them corralled. Can be like herding cats. St.

5 Peter Newman { 08.23.12 at 11:19 am }

I enjoyed the feel of this and there are some beautiful turns of phrase. Like the others above I came away a little unclear on things. I’m going to come back for a second read later (a good sign) but I wonder about the balance between poetry and accessibility.
*Goes off, reads again.*
Ok, maybe I just needed to read this in a child free environment.

6 Stephen Hewitt { 09.04.12 at 7:31 am }

@Peter — lol. I always have a constant battle between colour and clarity. Not a balance I always get right. Things can be quite dense and associative, and while they’re clear in my head, that’s not necessarily the case for the reader (and something I’m sure I’ll be battling with for years to come). Thankfully worthy of a second read, but is — unfortunately, perhaps — something that requires concentration.

“Yay, Dad’s a climbing frame…”

“Err, no, Dad’s trying to read fiction.”

“Yay, he’s a climbing frame…”

St.

7 Helen { 08.23.12 at 12:07 pm }

I felt it was almost like the boy was wrestling with memories in order to be able to find a direction. As always your writing is captivating.

8 Stephen Hewitt { 09.04.12 at 7:34 am }

@Helen — thanks Helen. Definitely with the memories and the wrestling; and a lot about finding direction. Glad you liked it. St.

9 Aidan Fritz { 08.25.12 at 2:14 am }

I enjoy how every paragraph has its own little gems (like the tin bones of the truck, etc.) and the story comes across heart wrenching, as if the child is suffering mental shock, which I expect makes sense given what has happened to his mother.

10 Stephen Hewitt { 09.04.12 at 7:36 am }

@Aidan — mental shock is probably a good way of putting it. Everything is at a singularity of change — even change of world — so a lot to process, for reader and for cast. 😉 St.

11 John Wiswell { 08.25.12 at 2:08 pm }

That first section is a gorgeous voyage into voice, Stephen. Longing and pondering can make for fine fiction, and this is a strong example. Interesting how you chose to unpack it later.

12 Stephen Hewitt { 09.04.12 at 7:43 am }

@John — glad you liked that first section, and the fact you liked the voice is brilliant. The latter section moved into summary — into where it was always going to go — but a definite change of pace and involvement. Never quite sure how such things work, and a lot was condensed in a few words — such stabs with a pen/keyboard sometimes work well, sometimes not so well. Hopefully it adds up as texture. St.

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