Flash fiction, short stories, poetry …
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The Star

T

auri had a real scare of bright red hair. Her momma was sticking it down with a comb and a cup of water. It was about as futile as licking a flame to put it out; it just kept springing back up there.

The sky was dark; black almost.

“You got to look your best, Tauri. Don’t you let your momma down.”

“Sure, momma. I don’t mind doing this. Just give me the stupid thing.”

“’Kay, but he’ll be here soon.”

Tauri held a fistful of red and started dragging the comb through.

Momma got back to looking out the window at the gathering crowds. “I’m gonna get that rat for what he did to us.”

“But he’s a star, momma.”

“Star or no, he’s gonna pay for what he did. Look at you, so young, just out of school. Startin’ some dead-end job – hairdressin’ or somethin’.”

“Hey, momma, I like hairdressing.”

Momma sniffed. “That’s not the point, now, is it?”

“You shouldn’t want to be no hairdresser. You should be wantin’ college or some such. If he’d been around – been around with some money, even – then we wouldn’t be in this mess.”

“It’s not a mess, momma. We got a home, don’t we?”

“But it would’ve helped to have a man around. I’m just sayin’.”

But he’s not a man, now is he, momma?

Momma had cashed in whatever amounts of jewellery, sold the antique dog over the fireplace, and gotten them a hotel in the city. It was a rush and riot and Tauri had never seen so many people busy-bein’-busy; going up and down on the moving stairs or swinging through the revolving doors with those funny, little plastic cups of coffee they have. But momma wasn’t interested in coffee. She wanted restitution. That’s what she said, and she’d looked that word up special in the dictionary.

If you listened to momma’s side of it – and how could you not – Tauri was an immaculate conception. Just like that lady Mary, but on some beach up at Lake Havasu, on the ‘Arizona Riviera’. It was a hundred and ten, a real hot summer, and momma had been sunbathing. Then she’d come over kind of funny, felt too warm, had a cold drink and that was it. Nine months later she had a child with red hair.

“And nobody in the family had all that red, now did they?”

When she was eighteen – old enough to know what leads to what – Tauri had asked: “You wasn’t drinking were you, momma?”

“Now how can you ask your momma a thing like that? Course not! And there was nothing in that water, neither. It just happened, and it was him – I knows it – and that’s the end of it. Too damn warm. I shoulda known.”

So here they were.

With about ten minutes to go, they took the lift down to the foyer, and momma barged them past the merchandise. “Fifty bucks a T? They must be crazy! Stay away from them.”

Outside the hotel, all those press-men were getting ready. According to momma, it was a goddamn free-for-all. “We better get past this. Now you smile, Tauri. And I’ll point you out, and then we’ll say what we’ve come to say.”

It was midday but the sky was growing dark and the heavens were beginning to show – a billion pinpricks of light. It had been happening for around two days now.

A murmur went round the crowd. The TV vans began pushing up their satellite dishes on hydraulics, cameras swung to the skies, presenters threw pieces to the camera and were pointing back and up and over their shoulders, as they talked excitedly to the viewers at home.

And then he was there: a blazing light, with four white horses, trailing fire and flame, impossibly bright to look at. The smell of seared tarmac filled the air, and then the arc-light flared and vanished. A white limousine remained, with a few wisps of blue smoke trailing off the paintwork. A tall man, tall as a barn door, stepped out in a dazzlingly white suit.

This was the most famous face on earth.

Of course the crowd surged forward, and momma got her elbows out and sharpened, and started elbowing whoever got close; she could be real fierce. Problem was she wouldn’t let go of Tauri’s hand, and Tauri was getting squeezed between a policeman who smelt of pastrami and a woman reporter who was slippery with sweat, and worst of all she could feel that shock of hair springing back up.

But momma was determined – another force of nature – and before Tauri could draw a breath, they were squeezed up against the still-scalding metal barriers, and there was flashguns going off, and automatic cameras winding on, and reporters screaming, and momma screaming along with them and pointing down at Tauri. But it was so loud, Tauri couldn’t hear a thing momma was saying. In fact, it was a little scary.

Tauri woke up with a slurp. With a jolt of embarrassment, she found the back of her hand was already sliding across the dribble on her chin.

“Uch.”

There was a smell of leather and the fleshy, plastic feel of it beneath her cheek. Where the hell are we?

“Momma? Momma? What …? What happened?”

Muzzily, she pushed herself upright. It was way too bright.

“You got squeezed a little, girl. But we got you out.”

Unaccountably, she sounded pleased.

“Where?”

“You’re in the car, Tauri. In his car. The celestial car, is it? Where do the horses go? Is that one of those mini bars?”

Momma was sitting propped up on the back seat, as prim and proper as a queen.

“It’s all sorted, Tauri.”

“It is?”

“Sure it is. Your pappa’s a gentleman. I always said as such.”

I keep telling you momma, not a gentle man, a gentle sun. The Sun.

Helios sat in the back of the car, reclining on the leather, just looking at her; an irresistible presence, tied to every living thing on the planet. He could be of any nationality, or all of them. He was incredibly handsome. His olive skin gleamed with a faint iridescence and his frame was lean and muscled. Above all, though, he was crowned with the shining aureole of the sun.

I read this in the Sunday paper: he drives those horses all day to the West, circling Oceanus, and at night it’s through the world-ocean to the East.

He leant forward and held out a tiny clump of red berries. The green of their stems was emerald and translucent, like crystal, and the berries scintillated beneath the surface like hot coals; flaring red and yellow; revolving within their own skins.

“If you like, Tauri. Only if you want to, I can take you with me.”

“Where?” she whispered.

And his smile was rich and golden, and could put a better complexion on anything, and he said, “Up there, Tauri. Where you belong.”

February 21, 2011   12 Comments

Tattooed to the Bone

Dragon Tattoo Tattooed to the Bone

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his tattoo has gone so deep it’s on his bones, it’s on his liver. His heart beats one out for the human race, while his hand leans against the wall.

Down the street, Jimmy Ju Long’s tattoo parlor is nothing but the red dragon neon outside, lost in the harbour mist – like that dragon is breathing fire. It catches a rhythm with the fire on his ribs, where the bandages and tape are sliding off, covered in blood.

There’s an old man right here, picking through garbage and cans. He tosses away a plastic bottle in disgust, but when paraffin slops out, he smells it – a strong kick to the face. He picks up the bottle and slides a dirty fingernail around the rim before taking a swig.

Deshi is more taken aback by the filth on that black, cracked nail, than he is that the old man is drinking turps. Seems to like it too – has a look on his face that says, ‘that shit is sweeter than plums’.

“Hey, you sticking in my light,” says the old man.

“Shit, sorry,” says Deshi and staggers off trailing shreds of red like a communist parade.

“What’s up with you?” shouts the old man after. “You have an accident?”

Deshi says nothing and just shakes his head, while red knives chop up and down on his spleen.

“Yeah, you better run,” calls the old man.

“Poq gai,” shouts back Deshi. Then regrets it – the old man really will die in the street.

The El Train rattles past, causing a massive ball of fog to well up around it and roll down the road like bat wings. Deshi tries to duck as the swirl passes overhead, but can’t get far, what with the pain. A coloured lantern and a few phone wires bob around.

Two kids run past, one says, “You ain’y gonna get into my mamma’s for supper!”

Deshi waits for the hard-core sarcasm, or the punch in the gut, but the kids keep running. Good, they’re following the train – gonna stick gum on it, or something, from a footbridge further down the line.

“What is it? Whadya get from that old hatchet merchant?”

It’s Mamma Xu, out for a ride. Her bike has an old carpet hanging over the handlebars, and she has trouble stopping with the weight. There’s a scrape of Chinese plimsolls on the tarmac as she judders and scrapes to a halt. The bike almost tips. “Shit!” she hisses.

Her grey hair is smoothed back into place. Teeth all angles. “So why the tattoo?” The ‘s’ on ‘so’ catches a high rat’s squeak.

“Yeah, well, I thought it was a good idea. I got the one my wife wanted.”

“She wanted you to get? Or you wanted?”

“You can guess – just to piss her off.”

“Uh,” said Mrs Xu. “You going up to the old bell? The old temple?”

“Maybe later.” There’s fire down here, and here, and all over – as if the old man had just poured the turps on, or the kids had punched him after all.

Mrs Xu shakes her head, “Why you do it. It’ll not come off – not on this side, anyway.”

A car rolls up, bottle-green, long and flat like a kid’s Matchbox car. Do’hip is at the wheel, looking stern. But he stops long enough to wind down the window, cranking like a cob, and saying – spit out the window – “Ni Gan Ma? What have you done there? Eh?” He pushes back a pair of shades onto his head, to get a better look.

Mrs Xu leans in the car.

“Hey, I got a pair of glasses just like that free with my weekly.”

“Get your shit-bird shit-hands off,” he says, swatting away her long, arthritic fingers.

“Hah, hah,” she says, as she knocks the shades off his head and down under the seat somewhere.

“Yeah, thanks a lot,” he says, one hand on the wheel, foot accelerating, other hand under his ass, searching the polystyrene cups and discarded newspapers. He roars off, and a hubcap plinks off at the first intersection and rolls off up the hill, sparkling in the sunlight that’s starting to come through.

Back at the shop is the land of mists and eagles. Back here, on the concrete sidewalk, it’s Mrs Xu smoking a black, saggy cigarette and telling him he’s a fool.

September 27, 2010   No Comments

Samuel Watches the Cat

S

amuel watches the cat. The cat is completely unaware of the Jew – it clumber-saunters along the up-and-down planks of the fence with some awkward claw work. Samuel waits with a stone. He has turned it so that the sharp edge points out like a shark tooth. He runs his finger along it experimentally, visualising piercing the cat’s hide.

The cat teeter-totters along, up-and-down. Rage burns in Samuel’s brain at the unabashed disrespect, as the cat nuzzles the clambering honeysuckle, dishes its backside through the willow, swats at a fly – an odd, three-legged operation, with the cat hanging on like a crab and the fourth paw high-fiving a plank and skittering around. It’s the perfect moment to throw the stone.

Cara wanders out of her yellow shed, brushing compost from her soft, brown hands. She spots the cat and strokes it. The cat arches its back appreciatively. Cara’s hair is down – long, black, glossy hair that suggest oil and hazelnuts and sparkles on an Irish oxbow lake. She laughs her soft Irish laugh. She is everything a twenty-two-year-old Irish girl should be.

Samuel hides the stone – for now – in the soft cotton pocket of his jeans, twisting the cat’s demise around and around, out of sight. He waits patiently for the glowing figure to notice him, where he stands by the butt and compost, in the shadowy lee of his own shed. His shed is weathered and dirt-grey, where soft, untreated wood has retreated. There is no paint – no colour – that appeals to him.

She doesn’t see him. She lets the cat twist about her hand. The cat sniffs appreciatively. Samuel scowls.

Later, Cara is watering her hydrangeas with a ridiculously small watering can. It’s a child’s thing, of purple, with a yellow plastic flower for a spout. This boggles Samuel’s mind. There is no sign of the bastard cat, but he has the stone ready.

Cara is sowing seeds – tiny, black, mustard grains – a seed at a time. She holds them between her finger and thumb, with some difficulty, where her long pink nails scissor together. The drops are both delicate and awkward. As each seed is placed, she carefully shifts a little soil on top with one of those self-same nails. Samuel might have thrown a fistful of seeds over half an acre in the time it has taken Cara O’Dare to plant her immaculate half-dozen.

When dusk falls, and the midges begin to whine and buzz about – suddenly brave now the heat of the day has passed – Samuel strikes a heavy brown match and lights his paraffin lamp. The lamp is burnished in black soot and oil, mirrored, in places, between the rusting seams. A coat hanger holds it in place, embedded in the chest of a dressmaker’s dummy. The dummy sags in brown folds of torn material, hunched over in its wooden ellipses and metal stays.

Clara looks up from the birdbath she is rotating: pulling it one way, then the next, walk-dragging it into position. It’ll make a nice centrepiece, he assumes she assumes. He can’t help staring at her chest – two globes of firm, brown, flesh that spread out from her dungarees. Gravity and her movements are page three conspirators. She waves cheerfully.

Samuel nods. He is using a tough pair of pliers to throttle a hosepipe, twisting heavy-duty wire around the fleshy, green rubber. Where he kneels, the stone is digging into his thigh. A little bit of the hurt for the cat has found him instead. But he will get his revenge when he next catches sight of its black-and-white patches, and when he is alone. Revenge is best enjoyed quietly and carefully, where hands can throttle rather than ball up impotently. Samuel wants, needs, to get his hands on the cat – or at least a stone in its flank. It is getting too dark to throw stones, though. Neither is he alone.

An hour later, and it’s too cold to continue. He pulls on his jacket, safely padlocks his shed, and walks off the allotment. Cara has already gone – gone with the sunshine – her shed ‘secured’ with a willow branch she has painted with spirals.

Back at home, Samuel stares through the television. The cat lolls on top of it, occasionally dropping a tail or paw down, but mostly just snoozing in the warmth from the vent at the back. The stone is in Samuel’s jacket pocket; the jacket is hung neatly in the hall. It would be no good anyway, he is not alone. Samuel’s wife strokes the cat and sits down heavily with the remote control. She has brought Rich Tea biscuits and strong coffee.

The cat cracks an eye open, studying Samuel disdainfully, before drifting back into sleep.

September 26, 2010   No Comments